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SSSWARMERs Meherose Borthwick and Mardi Reardon-Smith quilting. Credits: Elizabeth Chin.


A postgraduate workshop and guest event series on anthropological research methods

extended description

"The space that SSWARM creates is sorely needed – one where openness and play are not only permissible but welcome, and where building community is a foundational activity.  It’s an example of the kind of direction possible in academia, one where rigor and generosity shape the ethos in ways that allow participants to grow and benefit in myriad ways." Prof. Elizabeth Chin, Editor-in-Chief, American Anthropologist

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. 


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.



"As an academic staff member still finding my way in the discipline, I found the SSSWARM series to be illuminating and thought provoking. I always left with new ideas for my own research and writing. Indeed, sometimes I learned about wholly new subjects and methods to explore. Perhaps even more significantly, the SSSWARM series helped to rebuild a sense of community in the discipline at Sydney, promoting new conversations between graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and senior academic staff. Through these workshops, we regained feelings of our mutual endeavour and our durable commitment to the discipline." Warwick Anderson, Janet Dora Hine Professor of Politics, Governance and Ethics in Health, University of Sydney


"As anthropologists deal with novel situations, experience sharing assist new researchers in preparing themselves for difficult and unique situations. Personally, the feedback that I received from the audience of my SSSWARM presentation, and listening to all the other SSSWARM workshops, has assisted me immensely in learning new techniques and strategies to conduct successful ethnographic field study." Misty Shan-E-Alam, PhD candidate, Discipline of Anthropology, University of Sydney

"The SSSWARM series is enriching for all those studying and working in anthropology ­ – students, post docs and senior academics alike. Each seminar is a space that encourages intellectual growth and supports the cross pollination of ideas and experiences." Cate Massola, Postdoctoral Researcher, Discipline of Anthropology

"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. I have found the SSSWARM workshops an invaluable space to learn about the variety of approaches to research methods and to discuss my own ideas and research. This is an engaging and open space where everyone - from undergraduate students to anthropologists with a lifetime of experience in the field - is encouraged and supported to ask questions and share information. Taking part in the workshops has enhanced my final year of PhD thesis writing through broadening my knowledge of research methods, meeting academics with a diversity of research approaches, and through the support and engagement these workshops provide." Meherose Borthwick, PhD candidate, Discipline of Anthropology, 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, Discipline of Anthropology, University of Sydney

"As a PhD Candidate, participating to SSWARM series was an amazing opportunity to expand on some aspects of my research while getting feedback from fellow researchers, lecturers, and anyone else present. To get insights from such a various crowd was extremely valuable at this point in my thesis. It was also eye-opening and exciting to get to know other people’s research experiences, realities, and strategies. SSWARM has definitely helped me in clarifying some aspects of my research and in my writing process!" Gregoire Randin, PhD candidate, Discipline of Anthropology, 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, Honours student, University of Sydney

"Attending the SSSWARM has been very beneficial in many aspects. The wide diversity of topics, research areas, and professional profiles discussed in the sessions is a valuable aspect for researchers in the field of anthropology. Ideas coming from different fields can create connections with one’s own field in terms of methodological and theoretical frameworks. At the same time, SSSWARM offers a good opportunity to directly get in touch and to meet (whether in person or online) with very influential individuals in the field of anthropology. That is a great chance for emerging scholars and PhD students to build connections within the academic world that are positive for their professional development and future scholar career. There is no doubt that the dialogue SSSWARM enables is a definite instance of fruitful anthropological discussion that has a positive effect on the anthropological practice of the attendees within their present and future work." Carles Jornet, PhD candidate, Discipline of Anthropology, University of Sydney

“The SSSWARM events have been interesting, rich, and engaging, providing a space for ethnographic researchers at all career stages to share and learn and be exposed to really different ways of doing research. Sophie has brought together such a varied and exciting group of scholars to share their reflections with the department (and beyond!). After the disconnect wrought by Covid, the SSSWARM series has provided a much-needed opportunity to engage with others face to face in the university context. For me personally, the workshops have functioned as a kind of intellectual home away from home, as I am working remotely and mostly interact with my colleagues online. The opportunity to be sharing experiences, methods, reflections, and ideas in person has been so important, and I wholeheartedly thank Sophie for creating a space that all are welcome in.” Mardi Reardon-Smith, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation

"The invitation to participate in SSWARM was a huge boost in so many ways.  As I develop workshop-based research methods, the opportunity to prototype  with fellow anthropologists was invaluable. Being able to meet and spend time with Australian colleagues was such a treat, and hearing about peoples’ various works-in-progress was invigorating.  The space that Sophie Chao creates via SSWARM is sorely needed – one where openness and play are not only permissible but welcome, and where building community is a foundational activity.  It’s an example of the kind of direction possible in academia, one where rigor and generosity shape the ethos in ways that allow participants to grow and benefit in myriad ways." Prof. Elizabeth Chin, Editor-in-Chief, American Anthropologist

"I found Dr Sophie Chao’s organization of the SSSWARM session extremely professional yet refreshingly informal. Dr Chao made it clear that the seminar had an informal style and was a safe space to test and discuss new ideas. I think this approach is crucial if we want to work openly and collaboratively on developing and strengthening the discipline. However, it is getting increasingly rare in a neoliberal academic world that for many is characterized by competition and insecurity. As my first participation in a SSSWARM seminar it struck me how warm and inclusive the atmosphere was. Dr Chao treated everyone with the same respect, inclusion and warmth, whether one was professor or PhD student, presenter or listening participant. I have not experienced that to the same extent anywhere else. I got the impression that everyone participating felt appreciated and seen. It was clear that people were returning to, enjoyed, and benefited from the seminar series as an intellectual-social event. For all of the reasons mentioned, I got the impression that SSSWARM is an exceptionally good space for community building and development for postgraduates and staff alike." Dr. Tom Bratrud, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo [READ A NEWS PIECE ON TOM'S SSSSWARM EVENT HERE]

"Dr Chao was a gracious host and facilitator, creating a space that was both welcoming for me as a guest but also clearly also inviting for Sydney staff, students and other colleagues. The session fostered community-building and student-focused development to a significant extent, with students actively encouraged to contribute comments and questions relating the session to their own research. I was very impressed with how forthcoming students and early career attendees were, a clear signal of the open and engaged environment fostered in prior sessions. What was distinctive about this session was that it centred on methods and placing methods in the context of one’s own research. Academic seminars in the humanities very rarely focus on methods, which is a great pity given that we also make too little time to teach methods within graduate programs, and when they do they are in the abstract. Having researchers discuss the challenges and adaptations of methods in current and recent projects gives students and others an innovative perspective of “live” research." Dr. Timothy Neale, Senior Lecturer, Alfred Deakin Institute


events in S1 2024



Thursday, 29 Feb 2024 • 03:30PM - 05:00PM
A02 Social Sciences Building, Room 441

There’s a Good Boy: making kin with a symbiotic virus

Ben Hegarty (University of New South Wales)

Virological research is now attending to the possibility that not all viruses cause disease. Some viruses may even be good for us. In this paper, I discuss opportunities for theorising viral symbiosis drawing on my research about the human pegivirus, also known as the ‘Good Boy Virus.’ Good Boy was accidentally discovered in 1995 in the context of hepatitis research. Since then, Good Boy was found to have beneficial impacts for people living with HIV and Ebola, and even touted as a potential 'biovaccine' at a moment of increasing antimicrobial resistance. An ethnography of the human pegivirus offers an ideal opportunity to develop a theoretical account of multispecies symbiosis, in turn opening new vistas on how to live ethically with viruses. However, viruses are notoriously tricky to study as a participant observer: they are microscopic and can be dangerous to human and non-human hosts. This paper will bring together concepts and approaches from virology, queer theory, and more-than-human anthropology, to invite participants into a dialogue about how ethnographic methods can advance new understandings of multispecies relations through an empirical, multisited account of the Good Boy virus. Find out more here.


Wednesday, 20 March 2024 • 03:30PM - 05:00PM
A02 Social Sciences Building, Room 441

"Circulations of Law: Translation and the Work of Language"

Iza Hussin (University of Cambridge)

‘Circulations of Law’ explores the material and textual life of law across a shifting global landscape, and in doing so considers how law moves, what happens when it arrives, and how it gains its onward momentum and direction. The much-travelled figure of Abu Bakar of Johore (1833-1896) provides its narrative and archival spine: his travels and encounters encapsulated a world of sovereigns in the shadow of empire, from Java to Japan, Delhi to Constantinople, Cairo to London. At the time of his death, he was responsible for the promulgation of Southeast Asia's first constitution, and of one of the earliest iterations of a now-familiar formulation: "Islam shall be the religion of the state." The talk considers the dynamics that aided the transport, translation and domestication of these iterations of Islam in law. More broadly, it invites discussion around methods for the study of law in motion, in which the work of language plays a critical role. 


Thursday, 21 March 2024 • 03:30PM - 05:00PM

A02 Social Sciences Building, Room 341

"Viability, Bearable life, Dignity
Ghassan Hage (University of Melbourne)


Following the Ruth Benedict Lectures I delivered in April 2022 at Columbia University on the topic of ‘Anthropology and the viable life’, I have moved, drawing on ethnographic material I collected in Australia and the middle east to examine certain experiences of life at the intersection of the bearable and the unbearable. This has further led me to examine situations where the question of ‘dignity’ is central for thinking this intersection. I explore the way the delineation of a space of research between questions of  ‘viability’, ‘bearability’, and ‘dignity’ might offer us ways to think human and non-human futures in the face of the tendencies of continual social and ecological decline.


Thursday, 28 March 2024 • 03:30PM - 05:00PM
A02 Social Sciences Building, Room 441

"Feral Love: Drawing Animal Companionship and Citizenship from Singapore"

Chitra Venkataramani (Australian National University)

The thousands of stray dogs in the city-state of Singapore are called “Specials,” and their existence is predicated by a web of relationships that link animal and urban governance. In my talk, I look at how Singapore Specials are as much the outcome of genealogies of animal control and public housing policy as of biological reproduction. It was only in recent times that the government allowed stray dogs in public housing–where over 80% of the city’s human population resides. This growing acceptance of stray dogs hinges on an idea popular in animal welfare campaigns: that they all share a common identity as Singapore Specials, that they are a breed with roots in the city. This is an ethnographic exploration of the ways in which animal landscapes reside within anthropocentric policy designs. Through a combination of images and text, I trace the old and new imaginaries of human-dog relationships, and consider ideas of companionship and canine citizenship from the Singaporean context.


Thursday, 11 April 2024 • 03:30PM - 05:00PM
A02 Social Sciences Building, Room 441

Title TBC

James Dunk (University of Sydney)

Description TBC


Thursday, 16 May 2024 • 03:30PM - 05:00PM
A02 Social Sciences Building, Room 441

Title TBC

Hannah Gould (University of Melbourne)

"Secret-keeping and the ethnography of heart-wrenching fields"

This talk explores the ethical and methodological challenges raised by working in and writing about ‘heart-wrenching’ fields. It draws on recent experiences working alongside crematoria operators and funeral celebrants in Australia. How might we as ethnographers practice care for our readers by  strategically choosing to disclose or reveal the lived realities of these taboo spaces? And what are we to do with the emotionally-charged secrets that we keep?
Please be advised: This presentation will likely contain images and stories related to dying, death, and body disposal.

past events in S2 2023

WORKSHOP: Thursday 3 August

1:30 - 2:30 pm, Social Sciences Building A02 Room 441 and on Zoom (link here)


Presenter: Sophie Chao (University of Sydney)

Title: The body as method (more info here)

GUEST EVENT: Wednesday 9 August

3:30 – 5:00 pm, Social Sciences Building A02 Room 441 and on Zoom (link here)


Presenter: Timothy Neale (Alfred Deakin Institute)

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

WORKSHOP: Thursday 7 September

1:30 - 2:30 pm, Social Sciences Building A02 Room 441 and on Zoom (link here)


Presenter: Gregoire Randin (University of Sydney)

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


GUEST EVENT: Wednesday 13 September

3:30 – 5:00 pm, Social Sciences Building A02 Room 441 and on Zoom (link here)


Presenter: Rihan Yen (University of California San Diego)

Title: Coyote's method (more info here)

GUEST EVENT: Wednesday 20 September

3:30 – 5:00 pm, Social Sciences Building A02 Room 441 and on Zoom (link here)


Presenter: Elizabeth Chin (ArtCenter College of Design)

Title: Electronic story quilts (more info here)

GUEST EVENT: Wednesday 4 October

3:30 - 5:00 pm, Social Sciences Building A02 Room 441 and on Zoom (link here)


Presenter: Yancey Orr (University of Sydney/Smith College)

Title: Methodological Dividualism: Experimental Methods to Studying Life in Bits (more info here)

GUEST EVENT: Wednesday 18 October

3:30 - 5:00 pm, Social Sciences Building A02 Room 441 and on Zoom (link here)


Presenter: Tom Bratrud (Bergen University)

Title: ‘Proper’ ethnographic fieldwork in the digital age: ambitions, experiences and lessons from rural Norway
(more info here)

past events in S1 2023

GUEST EVENT: Thursday 16 March

Presenter: Matthew Gutmann

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

GUEST EVENT: Monday 27 March

Presenter: Nicholas Peterson (Australian National University)

Title: Doing ethnography (more info here)

WORKSHOP: 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)

WORKSHOP: Thursday 4 May

Presenter: Luis Angosto Ferrandez (University of Sydney)

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

GUEST EVENT: Monday 22 May

Presenter: Megan Warin (University of Adelaide)

Title: Multi-object ethnography (more info here)

past events in S2 2022

WORKSHOP: 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 

WORKSHOP: Monday 5 September

Presenter: Thuy Duong Tran (University of Sydney)

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

WORKSHOP: Monday 3 October

Presenter: Dominic Sidoti (University of Sydney)

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

WORKSHOP: Monday 7 November

Presenter: Meherose Borthwick (University of Sydney)

Title: Navigating Difference

WORKSHOP: Monday 5 December

Presenter: Dr Robbie Peters (University of Sydney)

Title: The Ethical Stakes of Pseudonyms

anthro at Sydney
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