Course description

Epistemological pluralism and “decolonizing” methods in ethnographic research


Comparative Study of Ideas and Cultures (3rd cycle)

Anthropology: Understanding Worldmaking Practices

Course principal:
Assoc. Prof. Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Ph.D.


Course code: 63

Year of study: Not specified

Workload: lectures 60 hours, seminars 30 hours

Course type: general elective

Languages: English, Slovene

Learning and teaching methods: lectures, seminars


Course Syllabus


None required.


Content (Syllabus outline)

  1. Knowledge-production and epistemological pluralism;
  2. Cultural truth-making and evidential regimes;
  3. Science, traditional knowledge and ways of knowing;
  4. Embodied knowing in Amazonia;
  5. Relationality between human and nonhuman beings;
  6. Indigenous ways of knowing as methodological tools;
  7. Ethics of anthropological research.



  • Bird-David, Nurit. 1999. ‘Animism’ Revisited. Personhood, Environment, and Relational Epistemology.” Current Anthropology 40(S1): S67–S91.
  • Denzin, Norman, Yvonna Lincoln in Linda Tuhiwai Smith (ur.). 2008. Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
  • Di Giminiani, Piergiorgio. 2015. “The becoming of ancestral land:Place and property in Mapuche land claims.” American Ethnologist 42(3): 490–503.
  • Drugge, Anna-Lill (ed.), Ethics in indigenous research: past experiences – future research. Umeå: Vaartoe – Centre for Sami ResearchKohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Helander-Renvall, Elina 2010. Animism, Personhood and Nature of Reality: Sami Perspectives. Polar Record46 (236): 44–56.
  • Holbraad, Martin. 2008. “Definitive Evidence, from Cuban Gods.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14: 93–109.
  • McCallum, Cecilia. 1996. The Body that Knows: From Cashinahua Epistemology to a Medical Anthropology of Lowland South America. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 10(3): 347–372.
  • Mignolo, Walter. D. 2011. The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
  • Santos Granero, Fernando 2009. The occult life of things. Native Amazonian theories of materiality and personhood. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
  • Santos-Granero, Fernando. 2006. Sensual Vitalities: Noncorporeal Modes of Sensing and Knowing in Native Amazonia. Tipití: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America 4 (1&2): 57–82.
  • Sillitoe, Paul. 2010. Trust in development: some implications of knowing in indigenous knowledge. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 16: 13–30.
  • Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (2nd ed.). London: Zed Books.
  • Turner, Terry S. 2009. The Crisis of Late Structuralism. Perspectivism and Animism: Rethinking Culture, Nature, Spirit, and Bodiliness. Tipití: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of South America 7:3-42.
  • Virtanen, Pirjo Kristiina. 2009. New Interethnic Relations and Native Perceptions of Human-to-Human Relations in Brazilian Amazonia. Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 14(2): 332–354.
  • Virtanen, Pirjo Kristiina & Sanna Saunaluoma. 2017. Visualization and Movement as Configurations of Human-nonhuman Engagements: The Geometric Earthwork Landscapes of the Upper Purus, Brazil. American Anthropologist 119(4): 614–630.
  • Virtanen, Pirjo Kristiina & Marja-Liisa Honkasalo. 2020. Evidence work in negotiations with state authorities and new practices of cultural truth-making. Anthropology of Consciousness 31(1): 63–90.
  • Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2007. The Crystal forest: Notes on the ontology of Amazonian spirits. Inner Asia 9(2): 153-172.
  • Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2012. Cosmological Perspectivism in Amazonia and Elsewhere. Master Class Series 1, str. 44–168. Manchester: HAU Network of Ethnographic Theory.
  • Wilson, Shawn. 2008. Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Fernwood.


Objectives and competences

This course introduces a research design beyond object and subject divides. It urges students to rethink the colonial past of Euro-American science, validity, authority in academia, and the research process in general. In decolonial context, epistemological power hierarchies and diversity of knowledge-production have become more discussed. Students will gain novel understanding of evidence, approaching knowledge claims and their evaluation. Examples will be given from Amazonian ethnographies that have generated new conceptual insights. How knowledge received from nonhumans (such as animals, plants, atmospheric phenomena) can be understood, organized, evaluated, and benefitted? The course also explores how to carry out research with the other, and presents some methods of collaborative and community-based research. The last lecture of the course includes the study of research ethics and research agreements, as well as the current EU ethical guidelines of research involving humans.


Intended learning outcomes:

Students will gain practical methodological tools to carry out decolonising research and novel skills to approach and evaluate truth claims.


Learning and teaching methods:

Types of learning/teaching:

  • Frontal teaching
  • Work in smaller groups or pair work
  • Independent students work
  • e-learning


Teaching methods:

  • Explanation
  • Conversation/discussion/debate
  • Work with texts



  • Short written assignment (20 %),
  • presentations (20 %),
  • final examination (written/oral) (60 %)


Anthropology of consciousness and practices of awareness

Asst. Prof. Maja Petrović Šteger, Ph. D.,


Anthropology of Fertility

Assoc. Prof. Duška Kneževič Hočevar, Ph.D.,


Cosmology of Mesoamerican Societies

Prof. Ivan Šprajc, Ph.D.,


Epistemological pluralism and “decolonizing” methods in ethnographic research

Assoc. Prof. Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Ph.D.,


Laughing politically: toward the anthropology of humor

Prof. Tanja Petrović, Ph.D.,


Public anthropology, social engagement and activism

Assoc. Prof. Ana Hofman, Ph.D.,


Research Methodology in Anthropological Linguistics

Prof. Borut Telban, Ph.D.,

Karmen Kenda-Jež, Ph.D.,


Space and movement: towards anthropology of locations and migrations

Asst. Prof. Nataša Gregorič Bon, Ph.D.,