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Introduction to Qualitative Methods: Researching Politics using Interviews, Observations and Fieldwork

Module Code

PUBL0010

Module Tutor

Dr Alexandra Hartman (Department of Political Science)

Assessment

One 3,000 word essay

Credit Value

15

About this module

Why are some ethnic groups important for politics in some countries and not in others? Why do people participate in fascist movements? How does age shape perceptions of the government’s role in intervening intimate relationships that grow violent? How does physical space of a neighborhood make or remake local or national politics? What makes a “natural experiment” in politics? How do I conduct an interview that generates interesting information?

This module will not necessarily tell you all the answers to these questions, but it will help you understand how researchers have gone about trying to answer them and how you could try to answer similar questions about politics using observations, interviews and other field data.

This is a module that focuses on how we can use observations, interviews and mixed-methods to answer interesting and important questions about politics. You can often do this sort of research in your own community, or you can use data collected by other people in other parts of the world. If you are interested in learning how collect data from other human beings, this course will spend time exploring how to do this ethnically and the steps required to conducted high quality field research. **For many master’s students, collecting data from human subjects requires an additional investment of effort beyond what required of a student. There is a lot of existing data that you use gathered by other people. This module will introduce techniques for collecting data from other people and their environments. **

Textbooks

There is one core textbook for the module. We recommend that you purchase it. There are also a number of other relevant textbooks that we recommend that go into more specific detail.

If you would like to do some preliminary reading over the summer, these texts are a very good starting point and will help you get ahead on the course materials.

Core Textbook:

  • Sandra Halperin and Oliver Heath (2016) Political Research: Methods and Practical Skills. Second Edition Oxford: Oxford University Press. (NB: If you purchase a copy, make sure you get the second edition.)

Additional textbooks:

  • John Lofland, David Snow, Leon Anderson and Lyn Lofland. 2006. Analyzing Social Settings: A Guide to Qualitative Observation and Analysis. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth is an accessible book about using data generated through observations and interviews in social science research.
  • Herbert J. Rubin and Irene S. Rubin. 2005. Qualitative Interviewing. The Art of Hearing Data, Second/Third edition. is a good place to start if you are interested in interview-based data.
  • Annette Lareau and Jeffrey Shultz, eds. Journeys Through Ethnography. Realistic Accounts of Fieldwork. Westview. This is a text that talks about some of the practicalities of fieldwork.

Summer Reading 

If you are looking for some (slightly!) lighter reading over the summer, we would strongly recommend one of these books as a starting point for thinking about the ways researchers use observations, interviews and other kinds of field work to study politics:

  • Alice Goffmann. 2014. On The Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. is an accessible ethnography that raises important ethical issues.
  • Erica Simmons 2016. Meaningful Resistance: Market Reforms and the Roots of Social Protest in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. An example of case studies based on interviews and observation and that engage in both interpretation and comparison.
  • Nicholas Sambanis, “Expanding Economic Models of Civil War Using Case Studies.” Perspectives on Politics 2 (2): 259-280 (June 2004). An article that specifically looks at the some of the interaction between qualitative and quantitative research.

As you are reading, try to think about what the researchers actually did to carry out their research or what they are proposing that other researchers do. What observations, interviews and other kinds of data did they use or are they proposing and why? Would you do the research any differently? Do their methods impact on how convincing their argument is? Do you think that researching using observation, interviews and other types of evidence both qualitative and quantitative might be for you?

*Please note that this module is only available to SPP students. Students taking this course are not permitted to take PUBL0058 Advanced Qualitative Methods.

Note: this module is not available to students registered on PUBL0085 or who have previously completed either PUBL0010 or PUBL0085, due to overlap in course content.