This course examines qualitative methods in the social sciences with a special emphasis on epistemological and ethical issues in research. Drawing upon sociological, anthropological, critical feminist and participatory methodologies, we will not only discuss and practice particular research techniques but also critically assess their assumptions, contributions and limitations. A goal of the course is for students to think carefully and reflexively about questions of theory construction, site selection, methodological choices, researcher positioning, field relations and the politics of representation, as they carry out their own original research.
The course has two main components. The first consists of readings, student-led discussions and in-class exercises on various dimensions and methods of qualitative research. We will begin with foundations in research design, research ethics, and field relations and then explore major methodological approaches in qualitative research including ethnography, case studies, and comparative-historical research. In the core of the course, we will focus on developing skills in various methods of data collection such as participant-observation, composing fieldnotes, interviewing, archival research, visual methods, analysis of material culture, online research, and activist and community-based research. We will conclude the course with discussions of data analysis, theory construction, and writing.
The second component of the course consists of an original research project that students will undertake over the course of the semester. This project offers an opportunity to practice and experiment with different research methods in a relatively low-stakes project before embarking on thesis research. As a member of a graduate seminar, each student will be asked to bring to the table his or her own writing and research-in-progress. In class, we will draw upon critical response papers to deepen our discussion of readings and we will workshop proposals, fieldnotes, interview transcripts and other research materials that students produce in their projects.