PhD Workshop on
Theoretical and Methodological Approaches
to the Study of Local Politics in Developing Countries

Roskilde University (Denmark)

May 5-7, 2010

Call for Applications

Organisers: Laurids Lauridsen, Eric Komlavi Hahonou, Paul Stacey, Tina Maria Jensen and Signe Marie Cold-Ravnkilde, Graduate School of International Development Studies, Roskilde University

Participants: Open to all PhD students. Maximum number of participants: 20

It is intended that the workshop will be of value to all PhD students, in various stages of their projects, who are completing or plan to undertake field work for the study of local politics.

Course venue: Bymose Hegn, Helsinge (5-7 May 2010), www.bymosehegn.dk

ETCS:   4 points.

Invited speakers (confirmed):

Thomas Bierschenk, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Mainz, Germany
Carola Lentz, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Mainz, Germany
Sten Hagberg, Uppsala University, Sweden
Giorgio Blundo, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales, Marseille, France
Jesse Ribot, University of Illinois, USA
Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales, Marseille, France


The workshop develops and discusses the theoretical and methodological aspects of studying local politics in developing countries with the aim of covering a wide range of social science issues, among others decentralisation, democratisation, resources access and control, conflict occurrences, migrations, border issues and the configuration of local powers. Common to all these themes are how a good researcher strives to produce worthy, original and insightful work where there is perhaps already an abundance of existing literature.

There are three elements of concern. First is to share tested theories and methods. Second is to make known some common pitfalls researchers may fall into during the project process. Third is to move beyond the tried and tested and write solid and hopefully innovative, inspiring work. We expect discussions to deal with a variety of issues such as analytical frameworks of local politics; political economy vs. historical sociology; domination or negotiation; government, governance, and governmentality and clashes of institutions or friction in local politics.

Workshop Objectives

The methodological aspect of a dissertation concerns the question of how one actually investigates the research question. This element of the workshop concerns approaches to issues such as authority and question of legitimacy, in locations where political tension is perhaps quite high, where corruption is endemic, where informants contradict each other and where testimony may be based on local translators. How can one best approach such a ‘messy field’?

The relationship between utilised theoretical frameworks and applied methodologies is additionally vital for good research, although in practice, theory positions in dissertations may range from the explicit to the virtually absent. Here the aim is to raise concrete understandings of what explicit or implicit relations there should be between use of theory and analysis of empirical data from field work. How much or how little may empirical material be manipulated to fit suitable concept construction? What is ‘enough’ data?

Another important consideration to address is how much theory should one take into the field and how, in practice, does the researcher find the correct balance between theoretical parsimony and undue or unwarranted categorisation and classification?

Overall the workshop’s primary concern is to take a critical look at established theoretical and methodological approaches to studies of local politics and to provide scholarly support for students in their dissertations. These objectives will be achieved through discussions regarding concept use, theory application and methodological styles. Here, the invited speakers will comment on the students’ submitted papers. The workshop thus gives the participants access to expert comments on their own approaches, aiming to improve students’ ability to critically reflect on applied methods. Moreover, the workshop allows an exchange of theoretical ideas, methodological insights and empirical knowledge at the forefront of contemporary research and provides students an opportunity to both discuss and receive productive feedback in an open and informal atmosphere. Taken as a whole, the intention is that all will leave the course with better understandings of their own strong and weak points regarding studies of local politics.

The key note speakers will address:

1. How to bring out the unique aspects of each contributor’s work and find the correct balance, between discussing and criticising the theories of others, and building on these with a view to construct an original and dynamic framework
2. How to apply and discuss the theoretical and conceptual framework in relation to empirical material in the thesis’s analytical chapters.

Learning outcomes

1. To raise awareness of how to theoretically and methodologically approach studies of local politics in developing countries through discussion, feedback and active participation.
2. To evaluate and bring to the fore the specific role of method and theory in a dissertation.
3. To make explicit the relationships between theory, method and empirical material.
4. To incorporate the received inputs into strong method chapters.

Workshop principles and structure

On the one hand the theoretical and methodological framework will be provided by the invited speakers, who each select a required reading that serves as a common background for a general academic debate during the discussions of the key note speakers’ presentations. On the other hand the students will receive feedback on their own method papers in the afternoon sessions where these will be discussed. This makes the paper to be presented by each participant an important part of the preparation for the workshop.

The course requirements also include participation, engagement and preparation. The students are expected to read the required readings submitted by the keynote speakers beforehand. A compendium containing the required reading and students papers will be sent to all participants by April 1st, 2010. It is our experience that a successful course is best achieved in an atmosphere of open, frank and friendly discussions with active participation and constructive criticism from all. It is intended that a central aspect of the workshop will also be the key speakers’ discussion and presentation of their tried, trusted as well as failed experiences concerning uses of theory and methodological approaches.

The role of the lecturers will be twofold:

1. They will present both theoretical and methodological aspect together with recent findings in their own work in plenary sessions
2. They will serve as discussants and advisors to the PhD-students on how to move along in their analysis (see below for more detail)

Invited speakers’ lectures

Carola Lentz 
Lecture: Elusive boundaries, negotiable identities: researching Northern Ghanaian ethnicities in historical perspective
Jesse Ribot
Lecture:A theory of access

Jean Pierre Olivier de Sardan
Lecture:The politics of field work

Thomas Bierschenk
Lecture: ECRIS: Rapid Collective Inquiry for the Identification of Conflicts and Strategic Groups (with tentative confirmation)

Sten Hagberg
Lecture:Making Multisited and Multiscalar Ethnographies: Methodological challenges in studying political practice in West African municipalities

Giorgio Blundo
Lecture:Investigating corruption: describe the hidden (with tentative confirmation)


PhD-student’s application for the course is to be sent to <mailto:inge@ruc.dk>inge@ruc.dk including name, address, institutional affiliation, telephone number, and email by November 1st, 2009, including an abstract of a maximum of 500 words for the PhD-paper. Participants will be selected on the basis of their abstract, as themes are expected to relate to the overall theme of this workshop.

Notice of acceptance will be sent by December 1st, 2009.

Deadline for the PhD method paper, of a maximum of 6000 words, is March 1st 2010. The paper is to be sent to the same address, together with a half page abstract of the research project.


Fee for the participation in the workshop is 400 Euro, payable after the notice of acceptance. This includes food, and accommodation (5-7May). The fee is not refundable.


Participation in the workshop earns the student 4 ECTS points.

Back to Research

Search the SASNET Web Index

SASNET - Swedish South Asian Studies Network/Lund University
Address: Scheelevägen 15 D, SE-223 70 Lund, Sweden
Phone: +46 46 222 73 40
Webmaster: Lars Eklund
Last updated 2009-10-01