Doing Fieldwork in China


Subject to change


Course Instructors: Dr. Tianshu Pan and Dr. Jianfeng Zhu

This seminar aims to situate students’ field work experiences within a framework of the Chinese and US medical contexts; to provide students with methodological tools for approaching their field placements; to evaluate their own experiences and observations through critical reflection; and to integrate their understanding of Chinese and US medical systems through written exercises.

In addition, this course establishes a forum for students to direct their work and creative energies towards social and cultural issues in the medical field. This approach allows the students to discover “communities,” to create a channel of communication, to find ways of continual engagement and project development, and to perhaps carry knowledge and expression beyond the immediate workings of the community and into the realm of culture. Ethnographic narratives will be woven into the in-class discussion of these themes.


Required readings:

Maria Heimer and Stig Thøgersen 2006. Doing Fieldwork in China. University of Hawaii Press.

Emerson, Robert, Rachel Fretz and Linda Shaw. 1995. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.


Course Requirements

As a course that introduces important theoretical and methodological material, attendance is mandatory.  Class participation is critical as it provides the conditions for discussion or debate premised on the ability to analyze and question assigned readings.

Attendance and Participation  10%

Organizational Assessment of fieldwork sites: prepare and present (briefly) to fellow students 10%

Journal of field experiences (with guidelines)  20%

Fieldwork assignments I & II

In-class presentations   20%

Write-ups  20%


Guidelines for Fieldwork Assignments

The fieldwork assignment is your chance to reflect upon and analyze what is being taught in the course. This reflection should incorporate your own experiences, observations, and interpretations. Despite appearances to the contrary, it is not a diary – a regular recording of one’s activities, thoughts, and dreams. It is not a log of daily activities. It is not a psychological journal designed to track inner feelings and psychological states. Instead, it is an intellectual exercise in which I am asking you and your classmates to describe and explain your own experiences and observations from a sociological/anthropological perspective.



Located as we are in China’s largest, richest city and biggest port, which is arguably also the focal point of China’s moves towards globalization. The city’s extraordinary development over the past 150 years has been inseparable from globalization, even if the term itself had not yet come into being. As the host city for World Expo 2010, Shanghai has a special place in the sociological imagination, particularly at this junction of history. Part of this field inquiry will be to explore the nature of cities themselves, and how they have figured in the past and how they are likely to figure in the future.

There are three purposes of this assignment. First, one of the important objectives I have for this class is to help you learn to apply insights gained from course readings and class discussions to your own experiences and observations (as opposed to simply memorizing theories and definitions). The beauty of this assignment is that it “makes” you think about and apply sociological/anthropological concepts, principles, and theories. The better inquiries are those that successfully make direct and detailed connections to specific course content. Second, this assignment will help you become better researchers in dynamic marketplaces. While I want you to feel free to report your personal observations and to relate those observations to theory or research from the course texts, I also hope that for some of your inquiries you will take the time to do a little research on the topic. Finally, the inquiry assignment gives me a chance to get to know you. It also provides continual feedback to both you and me regarding the learning taking place. Hopefully, you will find it enjoyable.



It might be easiest to think of this assignment as having two parts. The first part describes an event or observation you think is relevant to class material. Examine your daily experiences and observations for examples you can connect to class information. Think about past experiences (e.g., market settings you are familiar with). Think about decisions you have made, articles you have read, movies and television programs you have watched, etc. When you can’t think of topics to discuss you may have to actively look for subject matter in the newspaper and magazines. Newspapers, magazines, TV, and the Internet routinely report on topics about. Sometimes their accounts may be distorting (i.e., they may not get the “facts” straight, or they may be sensationalistic), which is one of the reasons the popular media is an intriguing source of examples.

Second, you need analyze the event in light of course materials learned in class (studies discussed in the book or in lecture, videos seen in class, articles you find on your own). You need to make a connection between the topic you have selected and one of the central themes of this course. Remember that the primary purpose of this assignment is to get you to apply principles of sociology/anthropology and related disciplines to the local social worlds around you. If you cannot apply specific concepts, theories, or studies, your entry is probably incomplete. Whenever possible you should think about ways your research might contribute to your (and my) understanding of the topic.


Guidelines for project proposals and write-ups will be distributed in class.

Grading Guidelines:



  • does the write-up define the research question
  • does it provide sufficient explanation of the phenomena under study to be understandable to the reader
  • does the write-up establish a connection between the problem or question and the general domain of the data that the writer is approaching
  • does the write-up present factual evidence (data) to make an argument
  • does the write-up discuss the limitations of the data and/or possible other interpretations
  • does the write-up draw logical conclusions from the data and from the argument as it has been structured


Research methods 

  • does the write-up describe the way in which the research was conducted
  • do those methods conform to what was specified in the assignment
  • do those methods make sense of the kinds of field data being collected



  • clarity of expression
  • logic and organization of presentation
  • appropriate grammar
  • spelling, punctuation, proof-reading


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