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Qualitative methods

Syllabus for pre-PhD Distance learning course on Sociology

QUALITATIVE METHODS IN SOCIOLOGY

Bagrat Harutyunyan, PhD, Associate Professor
Yerevan State University, Distance Learning Laboratory

1. Course module description
Qualitative, non-statistical sociological research methods can form the basis of surprising and profound discoveries about individuals and societies. Observation, interview, focus groups, life histories, content analysis etc. contribute insight and depth to our understanding of the human condition.
The central goal of this course is preparing student researchers to be able to choose and use main qualitative methods in research projects.
A particular emphasis of this course is anticipating and solving problems that may emerge in fieldwork settings. In sociology we may work with traumatized individuals: those from economically-ravaged or war-torn cultures, those from countries with weak or non-existing democratic principles, or those who suffer human rights issues. In this course we will discuss fieldwork strategies that prepare us for cross-cultural complexities related to ethnicity, gender, class, culture, age, and power dynamics.

2. Objectives of the Course Module 

  • To introduce students with the core concepts of qualitative methodology.
  • To introduce students with the main qualitative methods used in modern sociological researches.
  • To explore possible ethical problems of each research method.

3. Assessment
Since this is a distance-learning course, assessment will be based only on students’ written work:

  • Weekly written essays – 70% of final grade.
    • Every written essay - 10% of final grade.
    • Every written essay may consist no less than 4.5 and no more than 6.5 pages (font 12, spacing 1.3, paper size A4, margins: top 2 cm., bottom 2 cm., left 3 cm., right 1 cm.)
    • Every day after deadline decline grade on 3,3%.
  • Final essay-30% of final grade
    • Every day after deadline decline grade on 5%.
    • Final essay may consist no less than 14.5 and no more than 16.5 pages (font 12, spacing 1.3, paper size A4, margins: top 2 cm., bottom 2 cm., left 3 cm., right 1 cm.)

4. Course module program

Class 1 Introduction to qualitative methods
Key points

  • Key concepts of QM
  • Review of QM understanding on different levels
  • List of most cited sources on QM

Readings: 

  • Qualitative Sociology Review 2005-2009 archive
  • The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods

Assignment 1: (Up to 5 pages)
Provide your understanding of the following issues

  • Formation of qualitative tradition
  • Utilitarian aspects of methodology for understanding social reality
  • Interrelation of qualitative sociology and other social sciences
  • Difference of qualitative and quantitative understanding/description of social reality

Class 2 The application of QM to social research
Key points

  • Theoretical and applied research
  • The functions of qualitative research
  • The functions of different qualitative methods
  • Combining qualitative and quantitative methods

Readings:

  • Qualitative Sociology Review 2005-2009 archive
  • The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods

Assignment 2: (Up to 5 pages)

  • Explain your understanding of theoretical and applied aspects of QM
  • Explain your understanding of latent and explicit functions of qualitative research
  • Combining qualitative and quantitative methods (pay attention on opportunities of triangulation and complex analysis)

Class 3 In-Depth interview
Key points

  • The description of in-depth interview
  • The staging of an interview
  • Asking questions to achieve breadth and depth
  • Question formulation
  • Techniques for achieving depth

Readings:

  • Qualitative Sociology Review 2005-2009 archive
  • The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods
  • Griffin - Narrative, Event-Structure Analysis and the Causal Interpretation in Historical Sociology (provided in PDF format)
  • Interview - Data Preparation and Transcription(provided in PDF format)
  • McCormack_From Interview Transcript to Interpretive Story Part 1-Viewing the Transcript through Multiple Lenses (provided in PDF format)
  • McCormack_From Interview Transcript to Interpretive Story Part 2-Developing an Interpretive Story(provided in PDF format)

Assignment 3: (Up to 5 pages)

  • Compare In-depth interview with quantitative interview
  • Give careful consideration to an interviewer and place selection issues
  • Give careful consideration to a gathered data anonymity and ethical issues of the method
  • Imagine any cross-cultural case (interviewer and narrator belong to different cultural traditions) and consider possible problems and solutions

Class 4 Observation
Key points

  • Overview of Observation
  • Ethical Guidelines
  • Logistics of Observation
  • How to Be an Effective Observer
  • Observation Steps

Readings:

  • Qualitative Sociology Review 2005-2009 archive
  • The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods
  • How do sociologists observe (provided in PDF format)
  • Cohen_Problems in the Field Participant Observation and the Assumption of Neutrality (provided in PDF format)

Assignment 4: (Up to 5 pages)

  • Compare Observation with In-depth Interview
  • Give careful consideration to an observer, observation place selection and ethical issues
  • Imagine any cross-cultural case (Observer and observing object belong to different cultural traditions) and consider possible problems and solutions

Class 5 Focus group
Key points

  • Features and types of focus group
  • Group processes and the stages of a focus group
  • Conducting the discussion
  • Using the group process: some further strategies
  • Group composition and size
  • Practicalities in organising the group

Readings:

  • Qualitative Sociology Review 2005-2009 archive
  • The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods
  • Qualitative research methods: a comparison between focus-group and in-depth interview (provided in PDF format)

Assignment 5: (Up to 5 pages)

  • Compare FG method with Observation
  • Explain the role of moderator from research and group dynamics points
  • Give careful consideration to a FG moderator and place selection issues
  • Imagine any cross-cultural case (moderator and FG members belong to different cultural traditions) and consider possible problems and solutions

Class 6 Case Study
Key points

  • Definitions of CS
  • Features and types of CS
  • Conducting the CS

Readings:

  • Qualitative Sociology Review 2005-2009 archive
  • The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods
  • Design and control issues in qualitative case study research (provided in PDF format)

Assignment 6: (Up to 5 pages)

  • Compare CS method with Observation
  • Compare CS method with FG
  • Give careful consideration to a case selection issues
  • Imagine any cross-cultural case (2 cases belong to different cultural traditions) and consider possible problems and solutions

Class 7 Generalization and Validization
Key points

  • Definitions of generalization
  • Approaches to generalization
  • Reliability and validity

Readings:

  • Qualitative Sociology Review 2005-2009 archive
  • The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods

Assignment 7: (Up to 5 pages)

Provide your understanding of the following issues:

  • Assurance of qualitative data reliability
  • Assurance of qualitative data validity
  • Opportunities of generalization and ethical issues linked to reported qualitative data (pay attention to anonymity, possible copyright issues with narrators)
  • Opportunities of parallel generalization of qualitative and quantitative data

Class 8 Closing exam (up to 15 pages)
Conduct a simulative research using one of the methods (FG, CS or Observation) paying attention to the following issues:

  • Role of a researcher
  • Ethical issues
  • Validization issues
  • What problems you could face and how would you solve them if the research was real?
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