Qualitative Methods and Research Design
This course is designed for students who are beginning their dissertation projects. The aim of the course is to give students the tools to conceptualize their theses in terms of research questions and design, methodology, data collection and qualitative analysis. In doing so, this course focuses more narrowly on the issues, problems and strategies related to “small-N” qualitative research, for the most part setting aside the techniques of large-N statistical analysis, which are best taught in a separate course. Students will read and discuss texts related to theory formation and hypothesis testing, creating proxies and measurement, descriptive and causal inference, longitudinal, comparative and case study research, field data collection, working with texts and analyzing qualitative data; and, finally, dissertation write-up. Throughout the course, we will not avoid issues of epistemology—how we know what we know and how to adjudicate competing “truth” claims. However, since this course is intended as a practicum for conducting “normal” social science, we will set aside or bracket many of the epistemological and ontological debates in order to learn techniques for researching and analyzing social phenomena on a practical level. This course is divided into four main parts focusing on the following topics: (1) the goals of social science and elements of research design; (2) selection and application of different methodologies for conducting research; (3) collection of primary and secondary data on the field; and (4) analysis and synthesis of qualitative data in the dissertation-writing process.
Goals of the Course:
By the end of this course, students should be familiar with:
(1) How to formulate a viable research question;
(2) Principles of model building and case selection;
(3) How to distinguish probabilistic from deterministic explanations;
(4) The role of the comparison in controlling for variation;
(5) The benefits and drawbacks of different methodologies;
(6) How to identify and interpret patterns in data;
(7) How to eliminate alternative explanations; and
(8) How to prepare and execute a feasible research proposal
(1) Weekly Assignments (40%). Each seminar students will be given an assignment that will be due at 10 a.m. on the day of the following seminar. Assignments will pertain to the readings for that week and range from (1) summarizing the readings to (2) critiquing ideas in the readings to (3) providing examples of how you might apply these ideas to your own research projects. Students will be expected to work either individually or in a group and should come to class prepared to discuss and critique the assignments/readings for that seminar.
(2) Research Paper (40%). This is the main requirement for the course. The paper will serve as an important exercise in how to design a social science research project. For those who plan to conduct empirical research in their dissertations, this paper should ideally form the basis of their dissertation proposals. Students should consult with me about the paper at some point during the semester.
(3) Class Participation (20%). Students will be expected to attend all the seminars and contribute to class discussion. Students will also be expected to give a 15 minute presentation of their work during one of the seminars (the latter requirement makes up half of the participation grade).