Qualitative approaches to research
This course aims to deepen students’ understanding of core methodological issues in the sociology of law/socio-legal studies. Its primary approach is practical – the focus is on what makes ‘good’ research, on the skills, techniques and intellectual content of influential social research. Inevitably we are led into the issue of what ‘good’ research means, although this issue is not the primary focus of the topic.
We will deal with a series of core issues in empirical social research: research questions, research design, sampling, making data, analysing data and discussing data/results/findings. There are several core components:
1. thinking about the research (literature review)
2. designing the research (methodology)
3. identifying appropriate/feasible methods
4. doing the research (data collection); and
5. analysing results (writing up).
In each case, we first consider general issues and methodological approaches. We then take a number of pieces of sociological research and examine how each dealt with the issues, and ask about alternatives. We may also do some in-class exercises on some subjects. In the last part of the topic, students apply the earlier material covered by defending or critiquing a monograph length research report. Another set of issues relates to ethics and also funding; empirical research is often resource intensive. Students successfully completing the course should be able to: • Critically evaluate research that relies on quantitative and qualitative methods • Formulate research questions that can be examined empirically • Design a program of research • Design a survey • Prepare and undertake research relying on interviews • Access officially collected statistics and secondary data sources; and • Be aware of the benefits and limitations of different research methods and strategies