Section 001 - Term 1 - W 2:00 - 5:00, BUCH D205
Instructor: Alan Jacobs
This seminar will prepare graduate students to be both thoughtful designers of their own qualitative research projects and careful consumers of other qualitative studies. The course revolves around the question of how we can derive causal inferences and tests of causal theories from the intensive study of a small number of cases. We will focus on two broad, complementary strategies of qualitative research: comparison across a small set of cases and process-tracing within one or more cases. In addition to considering these general strategies, the course will examine a set of specific tasks and challenges that qualitative researchers face as they design and carry out their projects, including case selection; the selection and assessment of types qualitative evidence; and the formation of concepts that can travel across cases.
A key aim of the course is to help students make informed choices among alternative methodological approaches in their own research and to assess the tradeoffs made by other scholars. To that end, we will pay special attention to the points of overlap and divergence between quantitative and qualitative approaches - specifically, by identifying the ways in which small-N and large-N research can employ similar or differing logics of causal inference. We will, in turn, examine and debate the distinctive strengths and weaknesses of case-study research and small-N comparisons, and the nature of the tradeoffs that analysts confront when choosing among qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods.
Our focus will be on strategies and challenges of causal inference that span subfield boundaries. The course will thus be useful to most students of international relations and comparative/Canadian/U.S. politics as well as to students of political theory who are interested in illuminating causal relationships or in critically assessing causally oriented work. Alongside methodological texts, we will read and critique substantive works from across the discipline that exemplify key qualitative approaches. Over the course of the term, students will develop their own qualitative research designs, which might form the basis of a future dissertation prospectus or thesis.
N.B.: While a course in qualitative methods, POLI 571
makes some use of basic statistical concepts for the
purposes of comparing and contrasting the two
methodological traditions. It is thus recommended that
students enter the course with some understanding of basic
statistical principles, including some basic familiarity
with regression analysis. Students who have not yet taken
a course in basic statistics or do not feel comfortable
with their command of the subject may find it helpful to
work through a readable introductory text or to sit in on
an undergraduate statistics course (e.g., POLI 380).