Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Micro-Methods

So it’s looking as though L Magee and I (with the assistance of others who just might be lurking, and who are welcome to out themselves if they so choose ;-P) will be responsible for a second-year undergraduate social science methods course, with an emphasis on qualitative research. This is the sister course to the quantitative methods sequence we took on a couple of years ago. This time around, we have considerably more time to design and prepare for the course (a colleague laughed when I said this, but in relative terms, this is true… I tend to get… rather little notice of what I will be teaching…). My hope is that this wealth of preparatory time might help us avoid the occasional difficulties we experienced last time around, particularly in coming up with concrete examples that are… pedadgogically appropriate

Which brings me to a bleg. If anyone has favourite websites, readings, syllabi and other materials they would like to share, for an introductory social science qualitative methods course: love to see them. More specifically, I am particularly interested in developing very bounded, small-scale projects or activities that will help students obtain a hands-on feel for particular methodologies: the tentative course design concept is that, over the term, students will design and carry out one primary research project – but that, before they do this, they will first do a series of micro projects/activities that will give them at least a gestural sense of a range of research methods.

If anyone has ideas that have worked well for them in the past, materials, readings – would be much appreciated if you could share…

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6 responses to “Micro-Methods

  1. Andrew July 5, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Perhaps your students can do an ethnography of the bizarre seating rituals of coffeeshop denizens? :-)

    It doesn’t sound like you’re going to be focusing on computer applications – QSR / NVivo and the like – but if that’s wrong, I just got through a CAQDAS refresher and would be happy to send that syllabus along.

    You may already have a textbook, or a set of readings, identified – but for what it’s worth Silverman and Marvasti’s ‘Doing Qualitative Reserch’ gets used around here as a basic text, though that’s geared toward grad students (it should be intelligible to undergrads, but there’s a lot in there that seems unnecessary – how to pass your PhD exams, for instance). One or another of Creswell’s books on research design may be useful too.

    As for websites, I enjoy perusing http://www.qualitative-research.net; some of the articles are interesting and give something of the flavor of potential scholarly outcomes of qualitative research.

  2. N Pepperell July 6, 2008 at 7:28 am

    Hey Andrew – Many thanks for this. This course, unfortunately, won’t focus on computer applications – but I would love to see the syllabus anyway, as we’re considering doing some optional “modules” for students who are interested (that, and I also teach a more advanced methods course, and it would be useful to look at the syllabus for those students).

    We’re still selecting readings (on a tight timeframe…), so suggestions of favourites are helpful…

    And yes: I’m sure I can suggest a few favoured fieldsites for students who want more intensive observational opportunities… :-)

  3. Carl July 11, 2008 at 3:02 am

    Check out this droll post from Rex at Savage Minds. The references are good and the technique should be easily adaptable to focused little student projects. The coffee shop would be a great choice, but other classes, workplaces, families, clubs, sports teams, cliques, old folks’ homes, any social setting will do. Of course you can study the setting and its interactions, and/or you can interview the people.

    I’ve used Goffman and Geertz in my versions of this kind of class as orienting sages. “On Face-work” and “Balinese Cockfight” respectively, but there are other good choices. I love Stigma, for example, but it’s deceptively easy to read and misunderstand.

    For gender as an example of something to look for in qualitative research I quite like West and Zimmerman’s now-classic “Doing Gender” in which they argue that gender is an interactive accomplishment that can be detected in many apparently-ungendered social settings. There’s a satisfactory review here. From my limited experience I’d say that Australia is or should be a hot zone for qualitative gender research.

    I still like The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down as one of the most thoughtful and readable ethnographies I’ve seen.

    I’ve looked at a variety of qualitative research handbooks and they all say roughly the same things. Not exactly a waste of time, but for my money it’s better to give the students a general conceptual orientation and a few choice ethical imperatives, then let them experiment. It’s actually better in some ways if they don’t get out there thinking they’re ‘experts’ already.

    If there are any other eggs you’d like me to teach you to suck, Grandma, just let me know.

  4. Carl July 11, 2008 at 3:24 am

    Just thinking a little more about this, when you say you want to give them a taste of different methodologies, I’m brought up a bit short. In some sense this is the key difference between quantitative and qualitative research. With quant you have to figure out in advance what it is you’ll be studying and counting, then design a way to do that counting, figure out how to process the numbers to get ‘significant’ results, all while ignoring the uncountable. Quant is really methods-driven.

    Qualitative research is much less so. You may go into a setting with a general idea of what you’d like to figure out about it, but no methods-driven preconceptions about what ‘counts’. Certainly there will be lenses and filters on your perceptions and you want to be mindful and flexible about those to start with. You also want to let the setting ‘teach’ you how to see better; so good qual research is transformative in a way quant may not and may not should be.

    I guess what I’m saying is that ‘methods’ in qual research are best worked out on the fly in mindful engagement with social settings, rather than imposed a priori on those settings. Each study is accordingly sui generis and ‘unrepeatable’. This of course is exactly what drives quant types nuts about qual. Does that make sense?

  5. N Pepperell July 11, 2008 at 4:08 am

    Hey Carl – Thanks for all this. My problem is that, from my point of view, and in relation to how I personally approach methods, you’re making too much sense :-) Which is why this particular course design is… complex for me. In other words, the major pedagogical goal of the course is to get students to think about questions – and then to apprentice a bit to the process of muddling their way through how to think about ways to go about answering those questions, where question – method – examination of the literature, etc., are not understood as atomised steps you undertake in comparative isolation, but as repeated and ongoing dimensions in an iterative process…

    The difficulty, though, is that there’s a certain amount of just… exposure? that students need, in order to be able to engage with the process of research in the first place. A certain amount of just getting a feel for the range of things researchers do (the very very wide range of things), what those sorts of “doing” involve, etc. Otherwise, I have two hundred and fifty students who think that method = “do a survey”…

    So I agree with you on the quant/qual issue (and, for this reason, found the quant course much easier to design, in spite of not being a “quant person” in the normal scheme of things). But what I’m reaching for isn’t so much a regulative instruction in what gets to “count” as a method, as something that will compensate for what has been, in my experience here, students’ just plain lack of background in what might constitute a means of carrying out research. So I’m looking to broaden, rather than to constrict.

    The course is already not designed around individual methods – it’s designed (to the extent I can use this term for an incompletely developed course) around thinking about the research process, in relation to students’ individual questions. I’m just trying to work out how to give the students a more hands-on feel for the sorts of things they might be able to do.

    It may be that it’s something I don’t need to worry about – that it will sort itself out as students start doing their own things… But this is where I was thinking, when I wrote this post. Sorry if it looked a bit weird…

  6. Carl July 11, 2008 at 4:43 am

    Yes. Question formation, wow. Not looking weird, I spent three years teaching in a program entirely designed to work through this stuff (good luck with one class).

    So, pedagogically – you show them a couple of examples of qual research conducted with different questions in mind. Show them how ‘similar’ settings can look different through the lens of different questions, and ‘different’ settings can look similar through the lens of similar questions. To begin the permutations.

    Carry this over to their relatively naive, passive field notes on some setting familiar to them. Throw them into groups according to setting, have them read each others’ stuff and question each other about it. Open-ended, curiosity-driven. Use class time, stroll around, effervescent bustle of activity. They report that out, you collate in that way you do. All of this goes in a field journal for each of them. Back to the setting they go with their new questions. Lather, rinse, repeat. Final project: the field journal and its writeup.

    Just a thought. I really miss teaching sociology so I’m living vicariously…

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