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Qualitative Methods in Social Research

Why did a researcher think it was a good idea to hang around in public toilets observing men who engaged in illicit sex? Why did a group of researchers film women watching reality TV? How do researchers try to change the world in the process of researching it? What can we learn about society through a photo? These questions, and more, are all addressed by this module.

Qualitative researchers state that in order to know the social worlds we study we need to understand the meanings that people hold. In other words, we need to understand the social world from the perspectives of its members.

One way to do this, according to some qualitative researchers, is to adopt methods that allow social life to be studied in its ‘natural settings’. Ethnographic researchers, for example, will often seek to directly participate in those settings spending years at a time living alongside the people they seek to understand.

Methods such as these are not straightforward, however, and they often raise a whole host of ethical, political and practical issues. It is the aim of this module to consider such issues, while providing postgraduate level social science training in specific methods of qualitative research, such as interviews, participant observation and visual sociology.

The course is structured around a series of highly participatory lecture-workshops, where emphasis is placed on learning though active interaction with lecturers and other students. Workshops include small group discussions, debates, practical exercises and trainings.

"I initially decided to take Qualitative Methods in Social Research as an optional module since qualitative research is becoming more and more sought after by employees. Although skills in quantitative research has long been known to be favoured by employees, it has never been my strength because I‘m not a facts-and-figures person. Hence, this module suited me very well. This module focused on the different qualitative methods that are used in research. What I liked about this module was the variability in activities and tasks we’ve had to prepare for many of the weeks, though they were not assessed. It cultivated practicality as well as many opportunities for group interaction. This module was assessed by two essays that were due a few weeks apart towards the end of the term."

- Fatima Shehzad, MA Sociology 2017