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Postgraduate course 2020/2021

Theoretical and metodological problems of the qualitative methods research

Type: Elective course
Area of studies: Political Science and Area Studies
When: 2 year, 1 semester
Mode of studies: distance learning
Instructors: Olga Y. Malinova
Language: English
ECTS credits: 4

Course Syllabus

Abstract

This is an advanced, 9-week course on qualitative methods in political science. It is designed to help students make choices about which method(s) to use in their PhD dissertations The methods that we look at on this course involve either a positivist explanation of political cases and processes or an interpretive explanation of political ideas and actions. What distinguishes these approaches to research in political science is not where we look for evidence, or even how we gather that evidence, but what actually counts as evidence. The course opens with an exploration of this problem of explanation with reference to the ‘democratic peace theory’ in international relations. The claim of this theory is the absence of war between democratic states “comes as close as anything we have to an empirical law in international relations” . Where a positivist test of this theory focuses on regime type and institutional incentives, an interpretive test focuses on the action-guiding ideas of a certain mode of political association. These different empirical foci (regime type or political ideas) support different explanations of political behaviour and arrive at different conclusions about whether this theory is reasonable or not. The ‘positivist’ and the ‘interpretivist’, in other words, see the world differently. Where we choose to begin in our qualitative research – what explanatory angle of vision we take – will have significant implications for the evidence we gather, the methods we use and the conclusions we reach. This choice is one that we will return to at the end of the course in our discussion on research design. Two important points to add: (1) There is more of an emphasis on the interpretive approach to qualitative research in this course; which is justifiable given that most courses on methods and methodology in the Department emphasise a positivist ontology and epistemology. (2) The ‘democratic peace thesis’ is the one international relations example of qualitative research we will look at. The bulk of this course is aimed at supporting qualitative research on comparative politics and government.
Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

  • Students will develop a familiarity with key aspects of qualitative research design and their application in political science, as well as awareness of resources and skills to develop in order to pursue different (positivist and interpretive) research agendas.
Expected Learning Outcomes

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • By the end of the course, students will have a necessary toolkit to evaluate: a) what qualitative methods go best with what kind of research questions, and b) what implications a positivist or interpretivist choice to qualitative research is likely to have on their own research projects i.e. on how this research is done and the standards by which the results of these inquiries can and will be evaluated.
  • Students will learn how to apply key elements of positivist and interpretive research design to their own research, and critique the work of other scholars using principles learned in the course.
Course Contents

Course Contents

  • Course Plan
    The course will consist of 9 classes and run for 9 consecutive weeks. It will be conducted in module 3 (January), starting at a date that is still to be determined. Some classes will take the form of lectures with Q&A discussion at the end (classes 1, 4 & 5), others will be student-led seminars (classes 6,7, 8 & 9) and some will be a mix of the two (classes 2 & 3). In the lectures, students will be introduced to the theoretical and practical issues involved in an aspect of research design. In the seminars, students will either work with the instructor and in small groups to implement the techniques to which they were exposed, or lead class discussions on aspects of qualitative methodology with a view to explain the extent to which a methodological approach can disclose something new about a particular aspect of political activity. More specifically, the plan is as follows:
  • Class 1: The Problem of Explanation (2 x lectures)
  • Class 2: Positivism I – Causality: experiments and natural experiments (1 lecture, 1 seminar)
  • Class 3: Positivism II – Causality: observational analysis (1 lecture, 1 seminar)
  • Class 4: Interpretive Political Science & Research Design (2 x lectures)
  • Class 5: Interpretive Explanations of Politics (2 x lectures)
  • Class 6: Applying the Interpretive Lens I (2 seminars)
  • Class 7: Applying the Interpretive Lens II (2 seminars)
  • Class 8: The Choice of Research Design I (2 seminars)
  • Class 9: The Choice of Research Design II (2 seminars)
Assessment Elements

Assessment Elements

  • non-blocking Participation
  • non-blocking Homework
  • non-blocking Presentation
  • non-blocking Essay
Interim Assessment

Interim Assessment

  • Interim assessment (1 semester)
    0.3 * Essay + 0.2 * Homework + 0.3 * Participation + 0.2 * Presentation
Bibliography

Bibliography

Recommended Core Bibliography

  • Adcock, R., & Collier, D. (2001). Measurement Validity: A Shared Standard for Qualitative and Quantitative Research. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0003055401003100
  • Darden, K., & Grzymala-Busse, A. (2006). The Great Divide: Literacy, Nationalism, and the Communist Collapse. https://doi.org/10.1353/wp.2007.0015
  • Finkel, E. (2015). The Phoenix Effect of State Repression: Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust. American Political Science Review, 2, 339.

Recommended Additional Bibliography

  • Coppedge, M., Gerring, J., Altman, D., Bernhard, M., Fish, S., Hicken, A., Kroenig, M., Lindberg, S. I., McMann, K., Paxton, P., Semetko, H. A., Skaaning, S.-E., Staton, J., & Teorell, J. (2011). Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy: A New Approach. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1537592711000880
  • Rhodes, R. A. W., & Bevir, M. (2015). Routledge Handbook of Interpretive Political Science. London: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1021249
  • Wright, G. H. von. (2009). Explanation and Understanding. Routledge.