Ethnography as Empirical Philosophy: Studying Samsø’s Renewable Energy Transition

Research output: Other contributionResearch


This case study is based on my methodological reflections during and after conducting ethnographic fieldwork on Samsø, Denmark’s Renewable Energy Island, for my doctoral thesis. Interested in how the citizens of Samsø managed to “renew” their island through the installation of new energy infrastructures and in how the island’s subsequent status as a globally renowned renewable energy transition role model was managed, the fieldwork proved a continually evolving process of knowledge formation. In this case study, I discuss the process of knowledge production through a distinction between “traditional ethnography” and “ethnography as empirical philosophy.” The latter describes my ethnographic journey as characterized by relations of complicity with my research subjects, by difficulties with keeping the different stages of the research project separate (perhaps these distinctions were fragile constructs to begin with), and by the need for alternative evaluative criteria prioritizing surprise and flexibility over a rigorous and systematic research plan. Importantly, these seeming troubles of the research process, in an “empirical philosophy” perspective, become productive moments of knowledge formation where new insights are generated. As a pedagogical tool, the case highlights not only the challenges but also the benefits of working exploratively in such a way that the object of study is not fixated or narrowly defined but rather allowed to emerge and take different shapes in the course of the fieldwork process.
Original languageDanish
Publication date2019
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherSAGE Publications
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Cite this