US Field Course

Module titleUS Field Course
Module codePOC3048
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Joanie Willett (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks

1 (year 3)

4 (year 2)

Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Studying politics involves not only desk-based research but often undertaking field work within a given context, in order to witness the evolution of political processes and their impact on society first hand. Such field work can take a variety of different forms, ranging from interviews with important stakeholders, to focus group discussions with community members, and the analysis of politicised spaces and public forums. By offering you the opportunity to travel to New York on a Departmentally subsidised field trip, this module provides you with the basic training required to carry out ethical field work, and then provides you with an opportunity to do so under a controlled, supervised setting.


Through four methodological workshops and a six day field trip, you will apply a variety of research methods to specific spheres of analysis within North American and New York State politics. You will keep an ethnographic notebook of your travels, collect photos of meaningful sites, conduct interviews with key individuals and critically assess the politics of commemoration and the negotiation of space in New York, so as to produce a report on the city’s politics.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module is intended to familiarise you with the complexities of ethnographic fieldwork within a safe and controlled setting, and under the supervision of Exeter University staff. The course highlights the interconnections between space and politics through an exploration of various social and geographical spaces that form the background of political activity in North American society. It does so by enabling you to visit symbolic spaces of commemoration, negotiation, learning and debate, while taking you on fieldwork in New York. You will visit media headquarters, United Nations Buildings, 9/11 memorial sites, Universities and so on. You will approach these sites through various lenses, working in groups studying migration, human rights, electoral processes and media politics in the United States of America.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. demonstrate knowledge of major political processes affecting the State of New York in the various subfields we examine in oral and written work;
  • 2. evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different research methods in oral and written work;
  • 3. apply a range of theories about politics and change to historical and contemporary issues in oral and written work;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. use key concepts pertaining to New York and North American politics in oral and written work;
  • 5. synthesize a variety of theories and arguments in the field in your written work;
  • 6. demonstrate understanding of the implications of new evidence for a given political perspective in your oral and written work;
  • 7. demonstrate that you understand different methods of research in the field and their implications for findings in your oral and written work;

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. work independently and in groups, including presentations for class discussion, and in spontaneous discussion and defence of arguments in class, and to manage conflict;
  • 9. demonstrate oral and written analytical and organizational skills in essays, group presentations and group discussion;
  • 10. write essays to a deadline.

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover the following topics:


Seminar 1: Field Work Ethics

An introduction to power relations in politics research, overviewing key concepts such as; voluntary informed consent, research bias, anonymity, confidentiality and the dignity of research participation. Training provided as part of this module is mandatory for participation in the field trip. Participation will be monitored, and those students who miss the seminar will have to retake it.


Seminar 2: Commemoration

A seminar on reading space, visiting memorial sites and understanding narratives of commemoration in context.  


Seminar 3:  Interview Techniques

An overview on structuring interview questions, and conducting focus groups as well as stakeholder interviews.


Seminar 4:   Ethnography

A seminar on how to conduct ethnographic research and keep effective records of fieldwork.


Field Trip:

A six day field trip to New York, including visits to the United Nations, ABC headquarters, the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, a University, etc. Content of the field trip will vary from year to year, depending on the current political climate.


Seminar 5: Debrief, and completing your assessments.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity 4The module will be taught through 4 seminars of 1 hour each
Guided Independent Study256Private study – reading and preparing for seminars (around 2 hours of reading and note-taking per lecture); researching and writing reports (around 98 hours researching, planning and writing the each essay).
Placement/study abroad40 (over 1 week)The module will include one field trip to New York under staff supervision. The 40 hours will take place during the week of the trip.


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Photography Competition: “Documenting Life in New York”To be held at the end of the trip6,7Verbal feedback from module convenor and other members of the class.
Ethnographic Field Notebook500 words of reflection per day1-3, 4, 6, 7, 8-10Written feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Consultancy Report403,000 word report directed at an organisation of your choice, with operations in the US. Your report will evaluate the impact of an aspect of US politics on the organisation that you choose. For 2016, the topic will be the US Presidential elections.1-10Written feedback
Portfolio50Including the following: -a selfie (with a sentence explaining the theoretical points recalled) next to a place of symbolic significance; -a 1000 word reflective record of 5 conversations that members of your study have held with members of the public about life in America, American politics through academic theories of your choice; -5 newspaper cuttings with a paragraph explaining theoretical significance; -3000 word essay discussing identity, memory and politics in contemporary United States;1-10Written feedback
Group presentations to be held at the end of the field trip in New York1015 minutes per group4, 5, 7-10Written feedback


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Consultancy ReportConsultancy Report1-10August/September assessment
PortfolioPortfolio 1-10August/September assessment
Presentation15 minute viva4, 5, 7-10August/September assessment

Re-assessment notes

Re-assessment of the report will require the completion of a new report based on knowledge of the same topics, but a different question will be given. Reassessment of the presentation will take the form of a viva.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Calvey, D. (2008) The Art and Politics of Covert Research: Doing Situated Ethics in the Field. Sociology, 42, 5, 905-918.

Fiorina, M. (et al. Eds) (2011) America's New Democracy. Penguin Academics

Iphofen, R. (2009) Ethical Decision Making in Social Research.  A practical guide.  Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

McKay, D. (2013) American Politics and Society. Oxford: Wiley and Sons

Mertens, D.M. and Ginsberg, P.E. (Eds) (2008)  The Handbook of Social Research Ethics.  London: Sage.

Munro, E. (2008) Research Governance, Ethics and Access: A Case Study Illustrating the New Challenges Facing Social Researchers. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 11(5),429-439.

Israel, M., and Hay, I. (2006)  Research Ethics for Social Scientists. London: Sage.

Van Maanen, J. (1983) The Moral Fix: On the Ethics of Fieldwork, in R. E. Emerson (ed) Contemporary Field Research: A Collection of Readings, Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

New York politics field trip, Field Work Ethics, Commemoration, Interview Techniques, Ethnography, New York, United Nations, ABC headquarters, the Statue of Liberty


Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Last revision date