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Module Description

Learning and teaching style

The course provides invaluable skills and knowledge for anyone seeking to develop familiarity with some of the major techniques in qualitative research and the practical skills in collecting and analysing data using these techniques. The module structure consists of 9 weekly seminar sessions of two hours each plus one reading week. At the beginning of each session, there will be a short introductory lecture designed to outline the topic and to prepare the ground for the seminar discussions. Most of the time will be devoted to the discussions, however. As such, the module requires the active
participation of all class members through group activities, presentations, active listening, debate, and discussion.

Learning objectives

The module aims ...

  • to introduce students to a broad range of issues and techniques in qualitative research;
  • to highlight the (particular) strengths and weaknesses of different qualitative techniques;
  • to help students make the right choices in conceptualization, case selection, approach, data-gathering technique, and data-processing method for particular research designs;
  • to apply specific methods in order to answer a question in political science research.
Requirements

In this module we will work on two complementary skills: understanding qualitative research and practising qualitative research techniques. The first one is acquired by reading and critically discussing quality papers published in scientific journals. The second one shall be reached through working on your own research project as from the beginning of the course. Your success in the course will depend on your capacity to relate readings and course interactions to your personal research project. It is your final essay only that will be assessed, but its quality is likely to depend on how you managed to go through the previous assignments. To this end, the following is required of all students enrolled in this course:

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Short article reviews.

These should be concise reviews of each week’s applied readings. The reviews should not simply summarise the articles. Instead, you are expected to identify the main research question and to critically evaluate the arguments and evidence in relation to the questions for discussion identified in the seminar programme. Keep them to one page, single-spaced maximum. The short reviews do not need to be in a continuous text form, they can be a series of points. Bring them to the seminar every week as they will help you to contribute to the discussions. In essence in your reviews you should…

  • summarize the main arguments of the readings for the week. What are the readings about? How do they relate to each other? (Keep this part short–half of the page, maximum)
  • identify the main techniques used to in order to collect and analyse the empirical material. What kind of data is collected? How is it collected, and how is it analysed? What would have been alternatives?
  • critique the readings–consider methodology, logic, biases, omissions, etc. Are there any unexplained assumptions? Do the authors provide empirical evidence that convincingly support what they proposed? Why (not)?
  • note some questions that you would like to discuss in class.
Mini symposium.

In the final seminar session, we split in small groups. Each student is expected to present his/her study before the group. Presentations should include the motivation/relevance of the research question, theoretical background & argument, working hypotheses, methods that will be used for data collection & analysis, the preliminary results, and also address anticipated challenges (see below). For each student, the rest of the group constructively discusses/critiques the strengths and weaknesses of the project, and suggests ways in which it could be carried out more fruitfully. The goals of this session are for students …

  • to begin to shift their focus from reading/analysing/discussing the work of others to actually creating their own project,
  • to get early feedback for their own research ideas, and
  • to engage with and to provide critical but constructive feedback to the research ideas of the other participants.
Non-assessed (formative) essay [research plan].

Please note that in this module, the formative (non-assessed) essay takes the form of a detailed version of the research design. This essay will be returned to you together with feedback within 20 working days. Each student is asked to present his/her outline for the assessed essay in class at the mini-symposium. The research design should be written in the form of a prospectus (max. 2,000 words). It should be accompanied by an adequate bibliography of the sources and should include the following aspects:

  1. A clear and concise presentation of your research question, your argument and a very brief outline of your theoretical framework. This includes the specification of the dependent and independent variables (definition, operationalization and measurement).
  2. Specification of the principal (testable) hypotheses. Explain what links your independent to the dependent variables based on existing accounts. What is (are) your hypothesi/es How do they relate to your research question? Do they cover it completely or do you sacrifice some aspects? Do they form a coherent set?
  3. Discussion of data that you plan to collect, or use. What material do you plan to obtain/use? Is it from a primary or secondary source? Has it already been examined/collected? Why is it relevant to your research question? Are there any other material or documents that you could have used but that you decide not to, and for what reasons? Do you expect specific difficulties in accessing your field or your material, and if so, how will you overcome them?
  4. Discussion of the method you are proposing to employ, including a justification of your case selection (try to be as concrete as possible). This section will probably be your main development. What method(s) do you opt for, and if need be, do you choose any variant? What schedule do you realistically plan to follow (steps, order or steps, etc.)? What equipment and/or collaboration do you need? What are the most relevant case studies you are inspired by, or reversely, what cases do you not want to follow?
  5. Discussion of the most relevant methodological issues you are anticipating. Here you should address the difficulties and dilemmas of research that will (maybe already did) present themselves to you. If you plan field investigation or interviews, what position and what role do you plan to hold or define for yourself? If you plan to analyse documents, what are their limits and biases? How do you plan to collect and store information during your investigations? Do you expect resistances and if so, how do you plan to overcome them? What ethical challenges do you expect and how will you solve them? Do you plan to deliver any feedback to your observees? Will you develop a specific writing strategy? How will you incorporate your material into your final report?
  6. Identification of limitations of your research design in general. To what extent and in what way can your findings be generalized beyond the cases studied? Acknowledge what kinds of evidence would disconfirm your hypotheses. Can you really demonstrate causality? Why not, and what would be needed to do so?
Attendance note

This module follows a sequential, building-block approach. Each methodological concept builds upon what has gone before. As it is hard to understand more complex topics if you did not assimilate previous, simpler ones, all students are expected to more forward with the rest of the group. This means going week after week, starting on week 1, through readings, in-class demonstrations and between-class exercises. This also means that it is difficult to "make up" for missed classes. Please make every attempt to attend classes. If you have to miss a class, it is your responsibility to make prior arrangements with one of your classmates to share notes. If you know you will be unable to attend a session it is both courteous and helpful to the rest of the class to make all reasonable efforts to notify the lecturer in advance.

You are expected to engage in intensive independent study, employing the reading lists provided to deepen their knowledge of the subject. In addition to attendance at seminars and lectures, you should spend 8-10 hours per week on your own independent study for this module.