Spring 2016 - SA 386 D100

The Ethnography of Politics (SA) (4)

Class Number: 8964

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 5 – Apr 11, 2016: Tue, 1:30–5:20 p.m.

  • Instructor:

    Matthew Guffin
  • Prerequisites:

    SA 101 or 150 or 201W.



An examination of the ways in which ethnographers seek to understand a world experiencing profound changes in the relationships between governments and the societies they govern. Topics to be considered may include: relations between indigenous peoples and governments; the social and cultural dynamics of public policy making; the articulation of human rights issues. The focus of the course will vary from semester to semester.


When we think of politics, what often comes to mind are elections and legislative bodies, or maybe protests or advocacy groups or bureaucratic policy-making. Politics, however, pervades people’s day-to-day lives and activities. Ethnography as a method is particularly advantageous for considering the dynamics of how this plays out, as it allows researchers to granularly delve into how people’s motivations and actions work on each other at a variety of scales to create and navigate systems of power. As such, this course will focus on ethnographies of everyday politics and what Michael Schatzberg calls “the politics of everyday life,” particularly as they are played out in countries of the Global South. Through a diverse set of case studies, we will explore everyday, small-scale political interactions between ordinary people and how they feed into dynamics of power as played out between these people and the state systems with which they are faced—including, at times, avoiding state power altogether. The goal of the course is to help you develop a deeper understanding of how ordinary people shape and are shaped by political processes and to extend and deepen your analytical skills particularly in thinking about issues of power in everyday life.


  • Class Participation and Attendance: 20%
  • Weekly Reading Responses: 20%
  • Midterm Paper: 20%
  • Final Paper: 40%


Grades in this class will be based on a percentage scale. Reading responses will not be accepted after 5:30pm the Monday before class; late submissions for other assignments will result in a grade reduction of 5 percentage points per day, unless you present documentation for a medical reason or other significant emergency. With the exception of reading responses, all graded assignments in this course must be completed for a final grade other than N to be assigned.

Academic Dishonesty and Misconduct Policy
The Department of Sociology and Anthropology follows SFU policy in relation to grading practices, grade appeals (Policy T 20.01) and academic dishonesty and misconduct procedures (S10.01– S10.04). Unless otherwise informed by your instructor in writing, in graded written assignments you must cite the sources you rely on and include a bibliography/list of references, following an instructor-approved citation style. It is the responsibility of students to inform themselves of the content of SFU policies available on the SFU website: http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student.html.



Bonilla, Yarimar. 2015. Non-sovereign Futures: French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Scott, James C. 1985. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Thomson, Susan M. 2013. Whispering Truth to Power: Everyday Resistance to Reconciliation in Postgenocide Rwanda. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Wedeen, Lisa. 2008. Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

White, Bob W. 2008. Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu's Zaire. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Additional required readings are available through Canvas, the SFU Library, or online as noted.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html