SOCI 7325/8325 Qualitative Research Seminar

Professor: Carol Rambo, Ph.D. Office: Clement 225 Phone: 678-2611 for messages

Best way by far to get me-------------------------E-mail:

Required Text: The New Language of Qualitative Method by Jaber Gubrium and Jim Holstein. 1997. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509994-X

Required Tape Recorder: Play and record voice recorder. Micro recorder is best. Any will do. has them for $25.00 and up. Sony, Panasonic, whatever.

Required email updating: Please email me so that I have your email address. Through the semester I will keep you appraised of changes to the class schedule and possibly readings, thus it is up to you to regularly check your email for notices regarding the class.

The Quality of Qualitative Research: Instructor Bias

All things I thought I knew but now confess

The more I know, I know the less.


Recently a debate has been raging regarding the nature of Qualitative Methods. Is it a science? Was it ever a science? Is it more like the humanities, journalism, or even art? The answer to all of this is "Maybe." In the act of attempting to pigeonhole just what qualitative methods should or should not be, the essence of the mission of research becomes lost, fixed in a myriad of expectation which limits our possibilities as observers and as humans.

There are at least two "research" fundamentals I hope to emphasize this semester: Storytelling and Understanding. At its core, is the act of looking (searching), again (re) is the essence of research. When we do research, we throw basic, taken for granted reality up into the air. We make a conscious decision to observe social reality and withhold judgment (is it right/wrong) about that reality, in an effort to invite in compassion and a deeper understanding of how our subjects are situated by themselves and others in society. In doing so, we become open to the possibility of discovering new stories and new understandings about how subjects make sense of their worlds and why they make the choices they make.

How do we go about shaking up reality, throwing it up into the air, and dislodging our pre-conceptions so that we are free to see other possibilities about what might be going on? One way to accomplish this is through the use of theory. Theory can serve as a springboard through which to launch a study. Theory offers alternative lenses through which to view the world. For instance, conflict theory illuminates how power might be at work in a situation. Structuralism brings into our awareness how systems serve to simultaneously produce and reproduce lived experience and culture. Social constructionism shows us how all of reality can be seen as an ongoing story that is constantly under revision at both the individual and collective level. Multiple theories enable us to see multiple things that we would not otherwise be sensitized to.

Another approach to dislodging ourselves out of our own taken for granted realities is to consult our experience. This is hard to do and not typically what you might hear recommended in a course like this, but logical mind is not always the most insightful mind. The linearity of logic, the trap of codification (like, for instance, your own personal beliefs or a theory), often constrains us with blinders which we are unable to see outside of. In this course, as we start to grow together into the researcher identity (You did notice that your education process here is really about socialization and acculturation, didn't you?) it is my hope that we can move through a "theoretical way of knowing" on into a "stand with instability." Doing research from this space means being relaxed, and dropping the "scientist" posturing.

Many of us find ourselves attached to a "scientific" way of knowing. Often this image of being a scientist, a professional, (a professor?) is some of the lure which brought us into graduate school. It is okay to make the choice to be a scientist, but buying into the image of "scientist" and trying to "act" like a scientist will trap us into a mind-set that is forced and awkward. Ultimately it will channel the work we produce in such a way that by the standards of "science" it will not be very creative, but a technologist's reproduction of what other people say is valid in order to get respect, approval and legitimation. These are not the very best motivations to be doing research.

However we choose to present the understandings of the world we produce, whether as a science, a quasi-science, cultural critique, or as an art-form, the fundamental mission is to (re)present the social world in a way that makes a unique contribution to the literature on your topic in your discipline. We can evaluate the presentation based on the following criteria: Does this work offer insight into this particular situation that would not have otherwise come about except for the application of this perspective? Perspective arises from the choice of topic, choice of theory, choice of methods, and at it’s very best, from an open space which accommodates instability.

As we move through this course, it is my hope that we will open up to theory, journalism, science, critique, and art as forms of story telling; tools through which to communicate what we saw, thought, and felt while engaging our topics. In the final analysis, all we have at the end of our lives is our story. What story would you like to tell? Welcome to your Qualitative Research Methods Seminar.

Skills Development Goals:

  1. Develop an overview of the field of Qualitative Methods.

  2. Develop the ability to efficiently review the existing literature in a given area of research.

  3. Develop the ability to write an integrative proposal with a clear, logical, cohesive argument, start to finish.

  4. Develop the ability to constructively guide and critique the work of others.


Weekly Papers: Unfortunately, we exist in a structure that requires evaluation. To that end, there will be a number of opportunities to write response papers and/or hand in assignments. Students must be present to hand in these assignments. Fifty percent of the grade will be based on the “take home assignments.” 10 total assignments must be handed in, when they are due, to be counted for credit. By the end of the semester, each missing assignment will count five percentage points off the top of your grade. For example, if at the end of the semester, you have only handed in seven of the ten assignments, 15 percentage points will be deducted from your grade. Assignments marked REQUIRED must be done and handed in on the day they are due. They are movement towards a larger project. On the other hand, if you choose to hand in extra papers, only the ten best grades will be averaged. No exceptions to the “hand in policy” without documentation, and even then, I may choose not to waive the requirement.

Semester Project: Fifty percent of the grade will be based on a semester project the student will write and present to the class. Much more will be discussed regarding these projects during class. The student must choose to do one of the following three projects to fulfill the semester project requirement:

Option One, Project proposal: The project proposal will be 15-30 pages in length and will include a statement of the problem to be investigated, a literature review, a theory section, and a methods section. The proposal will be an integrated document that would ideally be proposing original research, the kind of research one might do for a thesis project.

Option Two, Pilot Study: Some of you have qualitatively oriented projects already up and running. For your semester project, with the appropriate protections in place, you will be permitted to gather data and write up your preliminary results for presentation in class. If you choose this option, we will meet individually and discuss more what the evaluation criteria would be in your case. Substantial progress made on your project will be the primary criteria. A draft of an article for consideration for publication is another possibility.

Option Three, Systematic Sociological Introspection: This will be a paper 15-30 pages in length, which will be fashioned on the “emotional sociology idiom.” The paper will be an integrated document that would ideally be original research, which would include theory, methods, personal reflections, and some literature review. You may choose to not present parts of this paper in class, however, consider that the final goal here too will be movement towards a publishable paper. I am open to performances, art, video, poetry, music, etc. for the presentation itself, but if must be accompanied with a paper!

In summary, at the end of the semester you will have handed in:

(4) REQUIRED assignments.

(6) other assignments, you choose which ones and you must attend the class they are due. This allows you two absences if you need them. Or do all of them and have your best 10 count towards your grade.

(1) Semester Project.

Tentative Course Outline

(Instructor reserves the right to change this schedule at any time)

August 31. Introduction. Review Syllabus. What is a proposal? What is a literature review? Getting to know each other. In class interviews. Write up “Who was my research participant?” and “Why did I choose the interview strategies I chose?” Make sure you email me at the above address so that I may email you reading assignments or links to their locations. No readings. Take home writing assignment, “Doing Nothing.”

September 7. Discuss writing assignments. Hand in all three papers. The two in class assignments will count as one paper; “Doing Nothing” will count as your second. Johnny Cash and Trent Reznor present. What is an Identity? Symbolic Interaction, Presentation of Self, Ethnomethodology, Postmodern, Deconstruction. Take home assignment, “Reflections on the Mirror.”

September 14. Discuss writing assignment. Finish up theory lecture materials. Read Chapter 1 of The New Language of Qualitative Method, and read Institutional Review Board materials at in particular the materials regarding human participants. Click human participants on the left hand side of the site. Required take home assignment, “What I am now seriously considering for my Semester Project.” Try to formulate a statement of the problem.

September 21. Discuss writing assignment. Read Chapter 2 of The New Language of Qualitative Method. Read Ronai and Ellis article, “Turn-ons for Money.” Take home writing assignment, “Go into a setting you are unfamiliar with and write about the experience.”

September 28. Must be here or make arrangements before hand to participate in interviewing. Discuss writing assignment. Administer formal interview schedule. Read Chapter 3 of The New Language of Qualitative Method. Also read Ronai and Cross Article on “Narrative Resistance” and Steven Lyng’s article on “Edgework.” Required take home assignment: Transcribe interviews of each other; come to class with one copy for everyone, including the instructor.

October 5. Discuss interview/interviewing/transcription experience. Discuss the nature of theory again and what it means to apply theory. Hand out transcriptions. Take home writing assignment, “Search the transcriptions for patterns, and write up your observations. Frame the discussion with theory.”

October 12. Discuss writing assignment. Lecture on Emotions. Read Chapter 4 of The New Language of Qualitative Method, and Ellis and Bochner’s “Abortion Article,” and Ronai “Multiple Reflections,” OR “A Night in the Life.” Take home writing assignment, “My own systematic, sociological, introspection.”

October 19. No Classes, Fall Break.

October 26. Discuss writing assignment. Explore/discuss class projects further. Lecture on Post Modern and Deconstruction further. Read Chapter 5 of The New Language of Qualitative Method. Read Lyotard Article, Denzin article, and Seidman. Read Ronai articles on Derrida. Take home writing assignment, “Is there a Crisis of Representation?”

November 2. Discuss writing assignment. Explore/discuss class projects further. Read Chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9 of The New Language of Qualitative Method. Required take home assignment, “Semester Project literature review with refined statement of the problem.” Bring 2 copies to class on November 9.

November 9. Discuss “Semester Project literature review.” Required assignment, constructively edit your colleagues paper. Take home writing assignment, “Is the Crisis of Representation relevant to what I am trying to accomplish with my Semester Project?”

November 16. Cushion day for foul ups, screw-ups, and other shenanigans. Semester Project Clinic. Take home writing assignment, “Have Gubrium and Holstein resolved the issue of a crisis of representation?” or you propose a topic to me and do it if I approve it!

November 23. Present semester projects. Please attend.

November 30. Last class meeting. Present remaining semester projects. Semester projects due. Please attend, even if you already presented your paper last time. Seriously politically incorrect to leave your colleagues without an audience.