Interpretive Research Methods

Course Description: 

Interpretive Research Methods is designed to provide students with the knowledge, skills and tools required for data collection (in-depth interviewing, participant observation, and archival/document research) and analysis (coding and coherent theme/conceptual understandings).  The course builds on the understandings asserted in the pre-requisite Fall course entitled, "Approaches to Social Research" that provides students with the epistemological basis for conducting interpretive research.  Through readings, class exercises and assignments, theoretical and practical understandings of interpretive (qualitative) methods are strengthened.  By the end of the course, those students that fulfill the course requirements should be able to conduct field research and analysis needed to develop a thesis at the master's level based on an interpretive epistemology.   

Learning Outcomes: 
  • Be able to think critically about interpretive data collection and analysis.
  • Ability to conduct participant observation for ethnographic fieldwork.
  • Know how to prepare and conduct an in-depth interview to maximize data collection.
  • Understand how to analyze interview and field notes (and texts, in general) data.

Key understandings for this course include:

  • an applied understanding of interpretive methodologies
  • knowledge of theoretical arguments, skills and tools, and practical experience and insights that support and strengthen data collection methods (e.g., in-depth interviewing, participant observation) in line with what is often referred to as the qualitative research tradition.
  • a general approach to interpretive data analysis using coding in which themes, concepts and their characteristics are discovered in an iterative process of identifying perspectives and meanings garnered from raw data in order to shed light on a particular environmental problem or phenomena. 

The class will engage in a short self-study on the relationship between nature and humans/culture.  Research teams will be organized and provide the opportunity to collect data and launch a preliminary analysis of the entire class data set.  In addition to class participation and attendance (20%), assessment of student learning will involve a three stage process of assignments directly related to interviewing, field observations, and data analysis:

1) In-depth interviewing

Activity/Assignment: Conduct a short recorded interview of one of your class peers and transcribe a minimum of 3-5 pages, word for word. The research protocol (interview questions) will be developed in class (to be discussed). Assessment criteria will be based on sound interviewing techniques explained in course reading(s). (25%) 

2) Participant/Non-Participant Observation

Activity/Assignment: Prepare 3 pages of field notes from a field observation based on the research focus designated as part of the class (to be discussed). Assessment criteria will be based on sound field notes writing techniques as explained in designated course reading(s). (25%)

3) Data Analysis

Activity/Assignment: Data (interview transcript and field notes) will be open-coded by each student, and shared in a collective class effort to initiate an analysis of the entire set.  Each research team will prepare a 1-2 page synopsis based on the coding results of their individual team member data sets. (30%) The entire data set will be convened and analyzed preliminarily in a final class exercise.


Approaches to Social Research (Fall Term)