In the compulsory sessions that start and end the course, key qualitative social science research concepts and principles undergirding the choice and use of specific qualitative methods are presented and applied. In between, there are six ‘free choice’ sessions available that cover a range of qualitative data collection methods and techniques. Students choose (a minimum of) four sessions that best fit with the research they are undertaking or wish to undertake. However, while at least four must be chosen, students can attend all six if they wish!
Compulsory session - Interpretation, representation, comparison and validity Meghann Ormond and Peter Tamás
This introductory session helps students understand the choices they will need to make in terms of the relationship between their chosen conceptual standpoint, the type of methods they will use, how they will interpret their results, and how they will then represent all of this in a product.
Compulsory session - Making knowledge about/with others, reflexivity and positionality, power relations and research ethics
Elisabet Rasch and Trista Lin
In this session, we review how different ontological and epistemological points of departure shape not only how we understand the worldly phenomena we are seeking to study but also our roles as social scientists in relation to those phenomena and the production of knowledge about them.
‘Free choice’ session - Interviews and focus groups Meghann Ormond and Elisabet Rasch
There are many ways to get people talking. But it’s first essential to consider what it is that we as researchers actually expect from what our respondents say and how they express what they say. Do we wish to reveal objective truths about something that happened, to gather different perspectives on and perceptions of a specific event or policy, or perhaps to see how people collectively come to frame particular topics or experiences? In this session, we examine a variety of interview and focus group methods, including the use of graphic elicitation techniques, keeping in mind students’ diverse epistemological points of departure in their research projects.
‘Free choice’ session - Participant observation and (auto-)ethnography Robert Fletcher and Stasja Koot
In this session, we delve into the ‘poetics and politics’ of the central method in ethnographic field research: participant observation (PO). While PO can be done in a variety of ways, at a deeper level it can involve making oneself simultaneously the researcher, the subject, and the instrument of observation in order to develop a subjective, experiential understanding of the phenomenon in question. In this respect, PO may be described as ‘auto-ethnography’ (the ethnographic study of oneself) as well. Whether this actually qualifies as a legitimate research strategy is often contested, however, as are the ethics and politics surrounding how this type of research should be done. This session will explore these issues in order to give participants the basis to decide whether—and if so how—to incorporate their own experiential researcher positionality into their future research.
‘Free choice’ session - Techniques for capturing discourse and studying policy and governance Jessica Duncan
This session will introduce students to discourse analysis, with a more practical focus on policy and governance. Used by researchers in varied academic fields (e.g., education, health, law, sociology, gender studies, psychology, public policy, political science, management and organization studies), discourse analysis involves studying the use of language and non-linguistic systems of meaning (i.e., images) as forms of social practice. Discourse analysis is part of a collection of approaches that emphasise the constructed nature of language and politics, and highlights the importance of struggles over interpretation for political processes and for the definition of political ‘realities’. Participants in this session will gain an understanding of the importance of language in and across research, as well as the value of discourse analysis as a conceptual and methodological approach. This session starts with a review of interpretive policy analysis which is part of the broader social science research tradition in which discourse analysis can be located. We will then discuss discourse analysis with a focus on what, how and why. We conclude by discussing specific practices that will enable participants to use discourse analysis in their own research.
‘Free choice’ session - Techniques for gathering and using secondary sources Meghann Ormond
It may not always be necessary to do primary data collection. A wealth of secondary data sources is available to those of us undertaking qualitative research, leading us to do traditional archival work in dusty libraries, study the official documents of relevant organisations or tap into the ever-changing landscape of social media that surround us in our everyday lives. In this session, we will experiment with, and explore the strengths and limitations of, using secondary versus primary data and address the logistical and ethical challenges their use poses.
‘Free choice’ session - Revisiting ontology with ‘more-than-human’ and ‘more-than-representational’ approaches
Clemens Driessen and René van der Duim
This session will introduce social science perspectives on networks, technologies and science (in terms of Actor Network Theory (ANT)) and the relevance of the ‘post-/more-than-human’ perspective, subjectivity and affect in the field. We will discuss a series of applications of ANT as an approach in several research projects having to do with tourism, food, and agriculture. We will also cover ‘multispecies ethnography’, and the ways in which non-humans can be taken seriously in research practice. In so doing, we will discuss how ideas generated over the past years by scholars such as Haraway, Latour, Whatmore, Mol and Tsing may be further developed into new methodologies that crosscut or combine established disciplines and methods. As part of this session, we will visit the Wageningen livestock research laboratory.
‘Free choice’ session - Visual research methods Rico Lie
This session will introduce visual research methods (VRM). VRM are methods that use film, photographs, drawings, graphs and other visuals in social science research. The focus in the session is on 1) producing and collecting visuals as primary data, 2) various roles that visuals can play in collecting data and, 3) various ways of analysing visual data. The emphasis in the session is on photographs and film. Several examples are reviewed to illustrate what VRM can contribute to social science research.
Compulsory session - Revisiting the basics of research design Peter Tamás
In this session, we will revisit some of the key aspects of research design and focus on the place of data collection methods in a project’s overall design. Building on students’ research questions, we workshop them through design for data collection.
Compulsory one-on-one meeting to receive feedback on students’ methodological strategy drafts, followed by submission of all course assignments Meghann Ormond