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Qualitative Methods Portfolio and Essay

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Summary and guidelines

Your methods portfolio and essay will be comprised of 3 assignments of up to 1,500 words each. You need to pick 2 of the 4 methods tasks for your portfolio AND you need to answer 1 of the 3 questions for the essay component. Submit your entire portfolio as one document, using page breaks/titles to distinguish between the 3 pieces of work. Your bibliography will go at the end of the entire document.

Read the instructions for each task carefully, and look also at the draft marking proformas on moodle.

You will use far fewer references for this piece than for a standard essay usual but there may be a small number. These may be from the reading lists, or from standard methodology textbooks.

Introductions and conclusions are likely to be brief. They may help you say something about what you have learned. E.g. an introduction to task A would be a discussion of why your chosen field is interesting, and its conclusion might be ideas for further study of emergent themes or your reflections on why you realized ethnography was not suitable for your chosen topic.

In total the entire portfolio, including methodology pieces and essay should be 4000 words, excluding bibliography. You should provide a bibliography after each portfolio item.

You may provide appendices for each task and these are excluded from the word count. We have suggested what these appendices might comprise, but you can include other relevant material you need to refer to in your writing. We have distinguished between essential and optional appendices. Optional appendices should only contain material you have referred to in your writing.

Remember we are interested in seeing how you learned from your mistakes and reward reflexive awareness of things that went wrong.

We know that the word limit is very restricted: aim to make your writing clear and concise, and consider ensuring you leave time to edit your work to make sure you’ve made the most of those few words.



                You need to answer 1 of the following 3 questions.

  1. How should sociologists approach the idea of objectivity in conducting research?
  1. Drawing on Patricia Hill Collins, explain why attention to marginality and insider/outsider status is significant for sociological research.
  1. “The sense of unease of social observation as ‘spectacle’ (Bourdieu 1979) is endemic to qualitative social research and should be faced honestly rather than ignored or swept aside” (Mah, p. 11). How can research ethics help us address the issues of conducting qualitative research identified by Mah?

Methods tasks

You need to complete 2 of the 4 tasks listed as A, B, C. D.

  1. Conduct a ‘mini-ethnography’

Pick a group or organisation to observe and immerse yourself in it. How you organise your observations will depend on the setting: in some instances you might do several short observations, in others you might immerse yourself in the field for a longer period. In total, you should expect to spend around 5 hours doing your ethnography, and you should make extensive fieldnotes. Ensure you negotiate suitable access to the setting.

Your assessment consists of a short report that:

  • Introduces your setting and says why it is interesting to study.
  • Considers what you observed: what anticipated and unanticipated themes emerged from your observation? Here, you will draw on your fieldnotes to say something about the setting.
  • Reflects on how you approached carrying out the observation and fieldnotes, including comments on what you might do differently.

Optional appendices: excerpts from fieldnotes; analytic memos; photos or documents gathered as part of the ethnography.

  1. Formulating, Conducting, and Transcribing In-depth Interviews

Research topic: The presentation of self in different social contexts.

Research question: Do Warwick students share the fact that they go to Warwick differently in different contexts or among different types of people?

Develop an interview guide to suit this research question. Carry out interviews with two Warwick students who are not taking this module. The interviews should last at least 20 minutes. Make sure each respondent signs a consent form. Once you have conducted the interview, transcribe 15 minutes’ worth of one of the interviews.

Your assessment consists of your interview practice and reflections on interviewing

  • Comment on your interview guide. How useful was it? Did you refine it between interview 1 and interview 2? How did interviewees respond to different kinds of questions? What use did you make of prompts (verbal and non-verbal) that weren’t on the original interview guide?
  • Based on your interviews, does context affect self-presentation? In other words, did you find that your respondents reveal that they go to Warwick differently in different social settings or interpersonal contexts? Make use of both your interviews and provide appropriate quotations evidence.
  • If you were to conduct another in-depth interview, what would you do differently? Think about how you could improve your interviewing technique as opposed to changing the research design.
  • Reflect on the interview process. What was the most difficult part of the interview process for you? What did you learn? What were you good at

Essential appendices: transcription of interview; interview guide, clean copy (not filled in by a respondent of your adapted information and informed consent sheets*.

Optional appendices: different versions of interview guide; analytic memos.

* we have provided a sample informed consent sheet and information sheet that you can adapt. You’ll see that they are both pretty extensive, so you should feel free to edit them (1 page with both information and details of consent would be enough). You can find other examples on the internet and we’d like to see you use your own judgment.

  1. Coding, analysing and writing up interviews

Research topic: Exploring identity and migration

Research question: ‘How do British migrants to Spain make sense of their everyday lives?’

From moodle, download the 3 transcripts (6963int03, 6963int04, 6963int10) from the ‘Living in Spain’ project, and the information about the project. Read these and develop a coding frame; then apply this frame to the selected transcripts.

Your assessment consists of:

  • A presentation of your coding frame, with a short explanation of how you developed it and how it changed as you applied it to your interviews.
  • A discussion of three of the themes that are present in the interviews, considering the similarities and differences between the 3 interviewees, and providing appropriate interpretations of these interviewees. Use both summaries of your analysis and direct quotation in presenting these themes.
  • A short reflection on doing secondary analysis: what are the limitations to analysing someone else’s transcripts? Given the themes you identified, what questions would you have asked the interviewees and why?

Essential appendix: your coding frame.

Optional appendix: analytic memos

  1. Digital Methods

Research topic: The quantified self

“the metrics also create a more general state of anxiety, as we wait for more “likes,” as we look for more quantitative evidence of acknowledgement from others, and as everything gets old right before our eyes. We are left with a need to escape that anxiety, and the easy way out is the metric more.” (Grosser, 2014)

Develop a research design for a qualitative project that explores this quotation

A research design proposal is a summary of research aims and plans. It includes a brief outline of the aims and scope of a project, and a discussion empirical sources and methodology which justifies the reasons for methodological decisions. This project should have a limited scope, suitable to be carried out by a single researcher who, if they were working full time on it, would have 2 months to do the work. The best proposals will be those where the author shows they have thought through their research strategy and can show that it is feasible.

The Research Design Proposal should have the following sections.

  1. Title
  1. Brief introduction including:
    1. Your interpretation of the topic: what is your focus?
    2. Why is it important?
  1. Methodology, paying attention to
  1. How you are narrowing your focus (what is your research question?). Whether you are looking at specific digital practices or platforms, or more general uses of social media (think of this as the difference between a project that looks specifically at facebook or at fitbit use (for example), and one that looks at how specific groups of people make use of social media. Consider how what you study affects the research you would do.
  2. What kind of methods you might use in this study, and why they are appropriate. Will you use entirely online methods? What are the strengths and limitations of mixing on- and offline methods?
  3. What kind of sample you will look for: as well as considering who or what you study, you may wish to consider time and space.
  1. Ethics: what ethical questions are raised by your proposal?
  1. Conclusion – What you expect to come out of your proposed research? Which contexts it might be useful in (for whom)

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