Qualitative Research: Design and Methods >> Content Detail



In addition to the weekly assignments given here, students are required to give an oral presentation and write a dissertation research proposal. Details can be found in the syllabus section.


Introduction and course rationale

Course overview and rationale

Why qualitative research?

Come to class prepared to discuss your own research interests. What are you interested in studying? Why? How? Where? What kinds of methods were you thinking of using?

Philosophy of social science

Philosophical commitments of social science

Positivist vs. (and?) interpretivist approaches

Behavioral assumptions in social science research

Write a brief memo about how one's assumptions about human behavior, and various social, economic and political processes, shape one's approach to research. What questions you ask, what kinds of data you collect, what "findings" you find interesting are all shaped by these assumptions. What are your own underlying assumptions? Where do you stand on the positivist vs. interpretivist divide? Why?

Causation, explanation, and mechanisms

What is causal explanation?

Can qualitative research establish causality?

How can qualitative research reveal mechanisms?

Write a short paper (3-4 pages will suffice) on any research article or book that you believe provides a convincing explanation: what questions did the author pose, what alternative explanations were considered, what method was employed, and why in your opinion do you think the proposed explanation is convincing?

Research discovery and design

Discovering a research question

Designing qualitative research


Write a brief memo describing your own research question. How did you "discover" this question? Describe the process. How do you propose to design a research project around this question?

Case studies

What is a case?

Value of case study research

The problem of case selection

Comparative case method

Choose a book or major article that employs a case study for testing a theory. (Do not choose the same book or article as used for the previous assignment.) How did the author decide what village, town, factory, or institution should be selected for the study? Do you think the criteria were appropriate? Is it a "crucial" case for the theory? Can any generalizations be drawn from the case? How does the author define and limit the unit for study? Might the choice of other units lead to different results? Answer these questions in the form of a brief three or four page paper.

Interviews and documentary evidence

Interviews as social events

Issues of language and power

Using documentary evidence

Imagine that you want to answer the following research question: What determines success in academia? To carry this out, you decide it is worthwhile to collect the knowledge, opinions, and beliefs of current and aspiring academics. Your assignment is to develop a questionnaire and interview both a faculty member and a student in your department. Write a brief memo describing your interviews. How did you choose your interview subjects? How did you motivate them to provide you with the information you needed? How did you deal with stereotyped answers, evasiveness, lying? Please attach your questionnaire to the memo.

Participant observation

What is participant observation?

Thick description

Under what conditions is this approach feasible?

Attend a public meeting and write a brief report on what you observe. (Examples: a town council, League of Women voters meeting, a protest rally, etc.). Your task is to come up with observations and insights not ordinarily offered by journalists. You might, for example, devise a method for ascertaining the social composition of the audience; a measure of audience response to the speakers; tell us why people came to the meeting; give a content analysis of themes or metaphors presented by the speakers; tell us something about the symbols employed in the event; provide a kind of ethnographic description of the event (a la Geertz and the Balinesian cockfight); provide a "discourse analysis"; analyze the event as a "play," a "fight," a "religious" revival, or whatever else appears to be an appropriate metaphor. Use your imagination and ingenuity.
8Survey researchWrite a 3-4 page research proposal that could draw from existing survey data. You may want to compare attitudes in two or more countries, propose a study of changing attitudes within a single country, examine the relationship between social class, ethnicity, gender, or age to a particular set of attitudes. In your memo be precise as to the questions you propose to answer, hypotheses you wish to test, and the suitability of the data for your proposed study.

Doing fieldwork

Gaining Access

Maintaining field notes

Ethics of fieldwork

Write a brief essay discussing the potential ethical issues raised by your proposed research project. What are the issues? How do you propose to resolve them?
10-12Research proposal presentationsPrepare a 1 or 2 page single-spaced summary of your research proposal similar to the "Thesis Colloquium" abstracts circulated in the Department of Political Science. The summary should briefly indicate the research question, the hypotheses, the methods to be employed, and what the expected contribution of the research would be to the body of literature related to your topic. A total of 30 minutes of class time will be devoted to each proposal. You must limit your presentation to 15 minutes, at which time the instructor will stop you. Fifteen additional minutes will be reserved for class discussion. It is therefore important that all students have read the proposed summaries and come to class prepared to offer constructive comments to their classmates.


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