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A postgraduate workshop and guest event series on anthropological research methods

where and when
extended description

Sydney Staff and Student Workshops on Anthropological Research Methods (SSSWARM) is a postgraduate workshop series aiming to encourage dialogue and debate on the diversity of ways in which anthropologists understand, use, and reflect on research methods. This includes conventional ethnographic fieldwork methods, but also emergent methodologies developed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, transdisciplinary approaches, anthropology at home, anthropology in a decolonizing or decanonizing vein, issues surrounding citational politics, auto-ethnographic, engaged or applied methods, digital methods, and more. Led by student and staff’s respective research interests, the workshops offer an informal space for conversation surrounding ethics, positionality, reflexivity, and power, as these shape our relations with, and accountabilities to, our situated fields and field interlocutors, and to the discipline. 

The workshops and events will entail a mix of student-, staff-, and guest-speaker led discussions, supplemented with one or two short resources, picked by the presenter. Speakers will present their research methodologies for 15 – 20 minutes – what these methods are, what they illuminate, and what ethical, practical, or epistemological challenges they raise. The bulk of the session will be devoted to questions and discussion. Alongside short scholarly works, we encourage multi-modal supplementary materials including podcasts, news pieces, film/audio clips, interviews, or artwork. 


Events: Wednesdays, 3:30 – 5:00 pm, Social Sciences Building A02 Room 441 and on Zoom. To RSVP, click here

Workshops: Thursdays, 12:00 - 1:00 pm, Social Sciences Building A02 Room 441 and on Zoom. To RSVP, click here.


Ethnography has historically been a hallmark of social and cultural anthropology, and immersive, long-term, participant-observation fieldwork has likewise been a defining quality of its practice. Sociocultural anthropology, at the same time, has never had a single, simple, or fixed concept of the places or situations in which it applies its distinctive methods and out of which it generates ethnographic knowledge. In keeping with this, anthropology research students are encouraged to reinvent the concept of the field site when they design their specific research projects. As emerging scholars, anthropology students must plan on creating their own methods for the field which they enter, taking into account the dynamics, composition, and concerns that shape it.


Moreover, future anthropology researchers will enter a profession in which reflexivity, transdisciplinarity, and heterogeneity are increasingly recognized as central to the transformation of established institutions, disciplines, practices and policies. Future anthropology researchers also need to prepare to collaborate with a range of disciplines and a variety of institutional contexts beyond the university on both short and long timeframes, and study forms of human behavior and experience that take place in new, changing, and sometimes unprecedented and challenging settings and situations. The discipline’s methodological techniques thus cannot simply be taught to or modeled for its students. Rather, doing “field work” and writing ethnography must be approached as fundamentally creative practices and future anthropologists must be equipped to be creators and co-producers of new kinds of ethnographic knowledge.


SSSWARM aims to encourage collaboration among the discipline’s HDR student and staff community that leads to the innovation, development, and refinement of methods in anthropology and modes of analysis and interpretation in ethnographic writing. In doing so, it aims to build intellectual communities and networks at several, interrelated levels—among students, between students and staff, and with national and international-level scholars and collectives who are actively involved in debates within, and increasingly shaping, the discipline of anthropology.


Since its establishment in 1925, the Discipline of Anthropology has maintained a reputation for its critical insights into the contemporary world, for the breadth and variety of our ethnographic research, and for our outstanding commitment to the training of postgraduate research students. Our members and students use in-depth fieldwork and ethnographic description to capture the perspectives and experiences of people across a wide range of situations and communities in which people live today, from the global scale of transnational movements and organizations, to the rhythms of life in urban environments, rural landscapes, and nation states. The Discipline seeks to represent the breadth and diversity of contemporary social and cultural anthropology today. We have long focused our research and teaching on the regions of Oceania, Indigenous Australia, South-East Asia, and Latin America. We are continuously deepening and expanding our ethnographic and theoretical inquiries within and beyond these geographical settings. To find out more, click here.

SSSWARM's creator and convenor, Dr Sophie Chao, is Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellow and Lecturer in the Discipline of Anthropology at the University of Sydney. Her research investigates the intersections of Indigeneity, ecology, capitalism, health, and justice in the Pacific. Chao is author of In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua and co-editor of The Promise of Multispecies Justice. She previously worked for the human rights organization Forest Peoples Programme in Indonesia, supporting the rights of forest-dwelling Indigenous peoples to their customary lands, resources, and livelihoods. At the University of Sydney, Chao teaches Ecological Anthropology (ANTH3604) and The Anthropocene (DVST6908). She supervises PhD students working on fashion and gender, extinction and conservation, food and sovereignty, water management and environmental change, among other topics. Chao is of Sino-French heritage and lives on unceded Gadigal lands in Australia. To find out more, click here.


"As someone who has recently completed PhD fieldwork, I am loving these informative and collegial sessions which provide a much-needed space to talk about ethnographic methods. Each of the presenters has shared a different perspective with plenty of time to ask questions and discuss ideas. I particularly enjoy the mix of people in the discussions, from undergraduate students through to experienced anthropologists reflecting on lessons learned in the field." Meherose Borthwick, PhD candidate, University of Sydney


"SSSWARM offers a platform for students, research trainees and seasoned researchers alike to share their thoughts on methodology, realities of the field and the evolving relationship of anthropology with wider society. I've benefited routinely from these sessions as they've encouraged me to rethink the building of relationships, negotiation of positionality and ethnographic practice in a world rapidly being transformed by ever-changing global relations and innovations in technology, communications and security. For these reasons and more, I'd highly recommend dropping in to a Zoom or in-person session as you will be guaranteed thought-provoking conversations and, most of all, a community that understands the importance of a conscious, accessible and continually upskilling anthropology." Angela Wong, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

"I have designed and taught courses on ethnography and just finished delivering a module on it, but all the thinking involved in doing all that is nothing compared to listening and talking to people who are doing ethnography." Dr Robbie Peters, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Sydney

"Getting together at SSSWARM and sharing experiences has given me so many great ideas and tips on how to kick start a field project!" Janelle Si Yi Yeo, undergraduate student, University of Sydney


Thursday 16 March

Presenter: Matthew Gutmann

Title: Sinking or swimming in methods? (more info here)

Monday 27 March

Presenter: Nicholas Peterson (Australian National University)

Title: Doing ethnography (more info here)

Thursday 6 April

Presenter: Misty Shan-el-Shalam (University of Sydney)

Title: Ethnography as a method of data collection for qualitative research (more info here)

Thursday 4 May

Presenter: Luis Angosto Ferrandez (University of Sydney)

Title: So what does a national flag really mean (more info here)

Monday 22 May

Presenter: Megan Warin (University of Adelaide)

Title: Multi-object ethnography (more info here)

Thursday 3 August

Presenter: Sophie Chao (University of Sydney)

Title: The body as method (more info here)

Wednesday 9 August

Presenter: Timothy Neale (Alfred Deakin Institute)

Title: Scraps, scavengings, and being scavenged (more info here)

Thursday 7 September

Presenter: Gregoire Randin (University of Sydney)

Title: Fieldwork reflections on the realities of decolonizing ethnography in Fijian iTaukei (Indigenous) communities (more info here)

Wednesday 13 September

Presenter: Rihan Yen (University of California San Diego)

Title: Coyote's method

Wednesday 20 September

Presenter: Elizabeth Chin (ArtCenter College of Design)

Title: TBC

Thursday 5 October

Presenter: TBC

Title: TBC


Monday 1 August

Presenter: Angela Wong (University of Sydney)

Title: A World between Worlds: Vietnam's Boatpeople in Liminal Spaces of the post-Vietnam War Exodus 

Monday 5 September

Presenter: Thuy Duong Tran (University of Sydney)

Title: Queer Identity Formation in Socialist Vietnam – Reflection on Research Methods

Monday 3 October

Presenter: Dominic Sidoti (University of Sydney)

Title: The Permanent Reduction of Anxiety: Devereux and Fieldwork in a Remote Aboriginal Community

Monday 7 November

Presenter: Meherose Borthwick (University of Sydney)

Title: Navigating Difference

Monday 5 December

Presenter: Dr Robbie Peters (University of Sydney)

Title: The Ethical Stakes of Pseudonyms

anthro at Sydney
get in touch


To join the SSSWARM mailing list or make inquiries, contact Dr Sophie Chao at

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