Instructor:  Judith Taylor
Department:  Department of Sociology
University:  University of Toronto
Office hours:  Wednesdays 10-12
Office location:  Sociology 344
Office phone:    416-946-5720





Spring 2007

Meeting Place:  Sociology 240
Time:    Tuesday 10-12

Course Materials: 


Reader:  Available at 3 Cent Copy:  304 Brunswick Ave (Brunswick and Bloor, upstairs from Future Bakery) 416-923-0542.


Books:  Toronto Women’s Bookstore.  73 Harbord Street.  416-922-8744

Becker, H.  Tricks of the Trade

Emerson, Writing Ethnographic Field Notes




A cursory perusal of this syllabus might lead you to sigh and think to yourself,  “Not a survey of qualitative methods again!  I did this as an undergraduate!  Please erase this thought from your mind.  Do you think scholars of Russian literature show up for their first doctoral level course and say, “War and Peace?   Again?  I’ve already read it!” Developing as scholars over a lifetime requires us to revisit texts and methods, constantly reflecting on our research tools and the questions to which we apply them.      


That said, most of what you read in this class will probably be new to you.  We will not be reading much by way of simple description of these various qualitative methods. This class assumes basic knowledge, but you may want to brush up using one of the introductory texts listed below.  Rather, we will be reading critical analyses of them written by experienced social scientists, and key journal articles and book chapters that are instructive as illustrations.  These examples are chosen for what they can teach us about where qualitative research has been and is going.  They may be classics, contemporary exemplars, or projects completed by junior scholars.


It is imperative when reading these texts to treat the process more like an autopsy than a Book of the Month Club.  In other words, our job is to unpack what was done, how, and with what results.  Whether we appreciate the findings or the subject of the research is not our focus.  When you read the research examples, take notes on the question, “how’d they do what they did?” not on the subject of their article. 


Project:  The Politics of Preservation


Each year, students conduct research in groups of 2-3 on a shared subject that allows for creativity but provides sufficient structure to enable completion and gain university ethics approval.  13 weeks is not a lot of time to introduce you to qualitative methods -- the techniques, analyses, and exemplars – and to give you time in the field to conduct research.  As a consequence, I have designed a research focus for us all that will enable us to work and learn together on a manageable project. 


The project is timely, illustrates the multitude of ways you can go about studying something qualitatively, and does not present glaring ethical dilemmas or negatively impact people in our midst in service of training graduate students in sociology. 


This project is going to require you to formulate a loose question concerning some aspect of preservation politics that can be answered using qualitative research methods.  We will collectively prepare an ethics review application, conduct several weeks of research, and prepare reports based on our findings.  My hope is that we will have many fruitful discussions based on the comparative discussions we will have.  We will not be constructing a literature review in the context of this class, nor is one necessary before we enter the field.  We can think of this research as preliminary and exploratory.  The second week of reading is constructed to give us a sense of the pros and cons of embarking on research in this manner.


Examples of groups focused on preservation: 



Notice that in each of these categories that while the subject can be sensitive, we are speaking to practiced representatives who are often trained to speak publicly and seek out opportunities to be heard on these issues.  We are not asking them to deviate from these scripts.  In each of these cases, we are choosing spokespersons, not vulnerable or at-risk populations. 



Assignments and Mark Distribution


  1. Research proposal Due:  January 23th             25%
    1. Question (why is it important?  How are you going to attempt to answer it?)
    2. Justification for chosen method
    3. Completed expedited review application for preliminary research


    1. Consent form


    1. Supporting documents (interview schedule, etc.)


  1. Field Notes Workshop            25%
    1. Sign up for a week:

                                                              i.      Jan 30th

                                                            ii.      Feb 6

                                                          iii.      Feb 13st

                                                          iv.      Feb 27th

                                                            v.      March 6

                                                          vi.      March 13th    

    1. Photocopy 2-3 pages of field notes for classmates and instructor
    2. Write and Photocopy 2-3 page narrative based on your field notes
    3. These must be circulated the prior week by email. 
  1. Participation                            25%
  2. Final Portfolio Due April 3    25%
    1. Field Notes
    2. Preliminary Research Report
    3. Analytical reflection on choice of method
    4. Presentation


Introduction to Qualitative Methods Texts:



Methods Texts: 




Useful Methods Websites:


NIH funds qualitative research and held a week long Summer Institute on

Qualitative and Mixed Methodologies.  NIH's Office of Behavioral and Social

Science research also published a guide several years ago for applicants

wishing to employ qualitative methods entitled "Qualitative Methods in

Health Research: Opportunities and Considerations in Application and Review.

It is available on their website at  Qualitative researchhas become a significant component of much health research.  That being said, there is a great diversity of methodologies subsumed under the category of qualitative research, and some are more easily used in mainstream health research than others.


Relevant Readings on the History of Sociology:




Weekly Schedule


1. January 9                 Introduction


Lecture:  What is a case? 

Group work:  Brainstorming projects


2. January 16               (re)Orienting to Qualitative Research







3. January 23               Getting into the field




4. January 30               Access and Ethics






5. Feb. 6                      Observation






6. February 13             Interviews







7.         February 27     Focus Groups           





8. March 6.                  Action Research/ Evaluation






9. March 13.                Life History




·         Newman, Katherine. 1999.  Falling From Grace:  Downward Mobility in an Age of Affluence.  Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press. 

o       150 in-depth life history interviews. 

·         Gluck, S. and Patai, D, editors.1991. Women's words: The feminist practice of oral history. New York: Routledge.

·         Plummer, Ken. (1983). Documents of life: An introduction to the problems and literature of a humanistic method. London: George Allen and Unwin.

·         Perks, R. and Thomson, A. (Eds.) (1998). The oral history reader. London: Routledge.

·         Hatch, J. and Wisniewski, R. (Eds.), (1995). Life History and Narrative. Philadelphia: Falmer.

·         Watson, Lawrence and Watson-Franke, M-B. (1985). Interpreting Life Histories. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.



10. March 20.              Photography and Sociology




o       Hagaman, Dianne (1996). How I learned not to be a photojournalist. Lexington, KY: The University of Kentucky Press.


11. March 27.              Discourse Analysis, Content Analysis, Narrative Analysis







12. April 3.                  Analysis and Writing







13. April 10                 Presentations