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S Sullivan Working Paper 139/04

Sian Sullivan and Dan Brockington

CSGR Working Paper No. 139/04

September 2004


This paper originally appeared as a book chapter in a volume oriented towards social science graduate students preparing for fieldwork, primarily in ‘developing country’ contexts. It has been reworked extensively here as a contribution for a recent CSGR seminar series by core research staff regarding our methodological approaches to research. As such, the paper provides an overview of some qualitative research methods in the social sciences, and of their relevance for conducting research in a continuing context of ‘globalisation’: which here refers to increasing supraterritoriality in domains of human organisation, and the relative collapsing of temporal and spatial scales that this implies. We focus on three key methodological domains: participant observation (and/or observant participation), oral testimony and the production of ethnographic texts; discourse analysis; and considerations of the subjective implied by phenomenological and embodiment approaches. We also make some comments regarding relationships between qualitative and quantitative methods and the implications of these different tools for engagement in terms of the information they yield. We observe that it is not so much research methods that have changed under contemporary globalisation processes. Rather, we note that orientations to research and to the interpretation of ‘findings’ - particularly in relation to certainty, to the implications of notions of difference and ‘the other’, and to aspirations of objectivity - have been much affected by the intertwined theoretical fields of poststructuralism, postcolonialism and feminism. Thus by highlighting the infusion of power in research praxis as in social relations more generally, we acknowledge the always politically constitutive role(s) of academic engagement.

Keywords: qualitative research methods; globalisation; participant observation/observant participation; ethnography; oral testimony; discourse analysis; subjectivity; phenomenology; embodiment; poststructuralism

Address for correspondence:

Sian Sullivan

Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation (CSGR)

University of Warwick




Phone: +44 (0)24 7657 4420

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