AMERG001: Researching the Americas: Latin America and the Caribbean

Course convenor: Dr Néstor Castañeda

Course Tutors: Dr. Thomas Grisaffi (TG), Professor Kevin Middlebrook (KM), Professor Maxine Molyneux (MM), and Dr. Graham Woodgate (GW)

Module  Description

This team-taught course presents different methods and applications of interdisciplinary research on Latin America and the Caribbean. It also reflects on the challenges of data mining and social science research in the region. In particular, this course explores how a range of social sciences, historical, and ethnographic research methods might be applied to Latin American and Caribbean societies and research problems. The first part of the course focuses on the basic concepts of research design,measurement, and causal inference. The second part of the course focuses on specific issues related to research ethics, fieldwork, and dissertation writing. Finally, we will present a general survey of qualitative and quantitative methods that could be used to do rigorous research on Latin America and the Caribbean.

This course will provide students with preparation in the research methods and skills necessary to undertake independent research on Latin America and the Caribbean, and in particular the skills required to facilitate the research and writing of their dissertation.

The assessment is based on a literature review (30%), an oral presentation (20%), and a research proposal (50%).

Aims and Learning Objectives

This module will give students a practical introduction to theories and methods of research and how they can be applied to the study of Latin American and Caribbean societies. Students will learn how to evaluate and apply research methods and gain an understanding of the principles of investigation and inference necessary for carrying out original research. In particular, the module will provide students with preparation in the skills required for researching and writing the dissertation.

Learning  Outcomes

On successful completion of this course you should be able to:

1.    Distinguish between different methods of applied social sciences, historical, and ethnographic research.

2.    Understand how to apply different research methods to the study of the Americas.

3.    Understand how to plan and execute independent research based on primary and secondary materials.

4.    Design and execute a suitable research plan for graduate dissertations.

Module Outline

Part I: Basic Principles of Applied Research

October 5, 2015. Introduction: the path from broad questions to academic dissertations (NC)

October 19, 2015. Mixed-method strategies for comparative research (NC)

October 26, 2015. Referencing and Plagiarism (GW) *

* Plagiarism is a very serious academic offence that carries severe penalties. It can be avoided by careful note taking and proper referencing. This session is compulsory and is designed to ensure that all of the Institute's students are fully aware of UCL's plagiarism policy, how plagiarism is detected and how it can be avoided by employing appropriate referencing and citation conventions. The session is scheduled prior to the submission deadline for your first assessed assignments. Failure to attend a Referencing and Plagiarism Session will not be accepted as an excuse for breaching UCL Examination Irregularities (Plagiarism) regulations.

Part II: The mechanics of writing a dissertation

November 2, 2015. Writing a dissertation proposal (GW)

November 16, 2015. Designing and conducting fieldwork. Issues on research ethics (GW)

Part III: Survey of Research Methods

November 30, 2015. Critical methodology: gender and development studies (MM)

January 19, 2016. Varieties of qualitative methods (GW) - CHANGE OF DATE! This seminar was originally scheduled to take place on January 11.

January 25, 2016. Ethnography (TG)

February 8, 2016. Elite and structured interviews (KM)

February 22, 2016. Varieties of quantitative methods (NC)

Part IV: Presentations

March 7, 2016. Dissertation proposal workshop (ALL)

Teaching and Learning Methods

The course is divided into ten seminars of two hours. Each seminar consists of an introductory lecture and some practical group work generally based on relevant case studies for research on Latin American and Caribbean issues.

In the final session, students are divided into smaller breakaway groups based on disciplines and/or research topics. In these sessions, students will give a presentation on their proposed research and will receive feedback from their classmates and academic tutors.


  • Literature review paper (30%). This paper (1,500 words, Times New Roman, 12pt font, double-spaced) consists of a bibliographic essay chosen from a list of set topics. This assignment tests the ability to assess the debates in a given scholarly field. This paper is due on November 16, 2015.
  • Presentation (20%). This assignment consists of a 5 to 10 minutes' oral presentation outlining your proposed dissertation topic and research design. The oral presentation must be passed in order to pass the module as a whole. Presentations will take place on March 4, 2016 (all day).
  • Dissertation Proposal (50%). A 2,000-word dissertation proposal. This proposal should discuss: i) Research question; ii) Theoretical framework; iii) Hypotheses and alternative explanations; iv) Data and Methodology; and v) Research Ethics

Submission of non-assessed outline of dissertation proposal : February 22, 2016

Allocation of dissertation tutors: February 29, 2016.

Submission of research proposal: March 21, 2016.

Submission of site-specific risk assessment: May 9. 2016

All the assignments must be uploaded to the module's page in Moodle.