CMNS 581

Qualitative Research Methods

Spring 2009


Dr. Daniel Makagon                                                              

Office: SAC 596

Office Hours: Thursday 4:45-5:45

Phone: (773) 325-7376


home page:      


Course Description and Objectives


This course provides a graduate-level introduction to the philosophical issues surrounding and fieldwork practices that make up qualitative research. We will pay special attention to questions concerning ethnography, including ethical issues and imperialist initiatives, relationships between objective reporting and subjective voice, and various presentational forms. The course has a dual focus: (1) students will develop an understanding of qualitative research as a methodology and (2) this knowledge will inform studies conducted by students.



Required Texts


All course readings are available on-line at



Assignments and Grades


Research Paper:              75%

Quiz Grade:                        15%

Participation:                      10%


You will write one substantial research paper. But that work will be completed in stages. Each stage will be graded and cumulated in a final grade. Check the course schedule for due dates.


1. Proposal: description and justification of the project chosen. (4-5 pages)

2. Literature review and discussion of method. (4-5 pages)

3. Completed paper (12-16 pages), which incorporates the above and comes together in the following fashion:

                  Introduction and justification of the project

                  Literature review and description of methods

                  Analysis of issue(s)

                  Conclusion: Broader implications        






Reading quizzes will feature short answer questions. The quizzes will allow me to gauge how well you understand the arguments made in the readings. Unlike your papers and class discussion, where I am interested in your opinions about the issues and the strength of the writer's argument(s), the quizzes are designed for you to state the author's argument only. If we do not understand what s/he's saying then our critique of her/his work will not be properly grounded. You should treat these quizzes as opportunities to write through your understanding of the issues raised in course materials and a tool that can help prepare you for comprehensive exams. Possible points for each quiz question will be listed after the question (usually 10 or 20 points per question and usually 2-3 questions per quiz). Answers will be graded based on your ability to clearly summarize the author's argument(s) and use examples from the reading to support your answer(s).


The proposal is a 4-5 page document that explains what you are studying, why, and why the study is important on some level (i.e., Why should a reader care?). Your proposal should explain whom you plan to interview, what/where you will observe/do participant observation, a general timeline for the project, the theoretical context/materials that will help frame your study (i.e., what types of literature will help you flesh out your argument in the final paper), and why the study is important. You have just begun the class so I don’t expect a lot of details about the qualitative fieldwork; that will come when you turn in the literature review/methods section. Similarly, you will turn in a literature review later in the term, so the discussion of types of literature will also be general at this point. For now, you need to develop a general plan for the study. The proposed study will change as you begin your research but this proposal should function as an introduction to the project (i.e., a scaled-down version of this 4-5 page paper will likely become your 1-2 page introduction in your research paper). The proposal should be written in paragraph form; don’t turn in a literal timeline for the project or a collection of bullet points.


I will record a grade for this assignment and provide written feedback but that grade and feedback should be used to help gauge the quality of your work; it is not a final grade. The final grade will be assigned for your final research paper. The proposal is due April 9.


Literature review and discussion of method (4-5 pages) is due May 7 and is described in a separate handout that can be found in the folder containing PDFs for this class.


Writing Guidelines


All papers must be typed, paginated, double-spaced throughout the entire essay, and use a consistent style (e.g., Chicago, MLA, or APA). Use one-inch margins and 12-point font. Please include a title page that contains your name, the date, the assignment, and any other information you feel compelled to include. Please number your pages. Do not send me electronic copies of your work. Also, see the syllabus addendum (available in the folder that contains pdfs for this class) for a description of my grading policies and expectations as well as further details about written assignments.


Contact or visit the Writing Center for assistance with your writing: Lincoln Park at 802 W. Belden, 150 McGaw Hall, 773-325-4272. The Loop at 25 E. Jackson, 1620 Lewis Center, 312-362-6726.




Course Policies


Attendance and Active Participation are expected and required.


Promptness is expected as a general rule. If you are consistently late to class, your grade will be negatively affected.


You are allowed one (1) unexcused absence in this class and two absences total if at least one of those absences is excused. An excused absence is documented in terms of medical illness/emergency, family illness/emergency, required by a court of law, a religious holiday, or university business. If you miss more than two class sessions, or if you have more than one unexcused absence, you will receive an "F' in the class (even if the absences are excused). Missing this many class sessions (more than 20% of the term) undermines the integrity of the classroom experience. If you miss this much class because of illness or a family emergency, you should meet with the Graduate Director to discuss withdrawal options.


All assignments are due on assigned days. There will be NO MAKE UPS. Documented illnesses or documented emergencies are the only exception to this policy. Changes in work schedules, personal celebrations (e.g., birthdays), or vacations are NOT considered to be legitimate reasons for missing assignment deadlines or class meetings. If you miss a quiz and have documentation for your absence then you will take the quiz on the next date you attend class.


Students with disabilities should provide me with documentation from the Office of Students with Disabilities.


Cellular Phones: If you have a cellular phone, turn it off or set it to vibrate, and keep it in your backpack or purse. All cell phones must be put away during the class session. I will confiscate cellular phones for the remainder of the class session if you are sending or reading text messages or using your phone to check email/surf the Internet.


Please make sure my e-mail address is listed on your approved list if you are using a commercial e-mail provider.




I have often found that plagiarism becomes tempting if students are feeling pressured. Remember, when in doubt quote. If you are quoting someone else in your presentation, you need to clearly identify the information as a quote and the source. Similarly, when paraphrasing, you should clearly identify your source. If you are quoting somebody directly in your paper then you need to list the information within quotation marks and cite a page number. If you are paraphrasing then you need to cite the person and a page number. Never copy and paste entire documents into your paper and do not quote others to the point where your ideas become indistinguishable from your source's ideas. There is no reason to plagiarize given the resources available to you (e.g., opportunities to meet with me; coaches in the writing center; my handout on writing for the class; and DePaul’s policy on academic integrity, which can be found at If you do plagiarize, you will automatically receive a grade of “F” in this class. Moreover, the Academic Affairs office will be contacted.


Grade Scale


93-100 A, 90-92 A-, 88-89 B+, 83-87 B, 80-82 B-, 78-79 C+, 73-77 C, 70-72 C-, 60-69 D, 0-59 F




April 2                   Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln, "Introduction: The Discipline and Practice of Qualitative Research"

Recommended: Bronislaw Malinowski, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (Forward, Introduction, Ch. 22)

Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard, The Nuer (Introductory)

[These recommended materials are not in the PDF folder]


April 9                   NO CLASS--Conference

                                    PROPOSAL DUE BY EMAIL          


April 16                H. Russell Bernard, "Participant Observation" and "Unstructured and Semistructured Interviewing"

                                    Liz Bird, "Understanding the Ethnographic Encounter"


April 23                Erving Goffman, "On Fieldwork"

Robert Emerson, Rachel Fretz, and Linda Shaw, “Fieldnotes in Ethnographic Research”

Greg Scott, "'It's a sucker's outfit': How urban gangs enable and impede the reintegration of ex-convicts"


April 30                Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (excerpts)

                                    Nick Trujillo, “Interpreting November 22”


May 7                    George Marcus and Michael Fisher, Anthropology as Cultural Critique (excerpts)

                                    Eric Klinenberg, “Dying Alone”

                                    LITERATURE REVIEW/METHOD SECTION DUE


May 14                 Thomas Lindlof and Bryan Taylor, “Qualitative Analysis and Interpretation”

                                    Recommended: Berg, “Content Analysis”


May 21                 John Van Maanen, Tales of the Field                  (excerpts)

                                    Daniel Makagon, Where the Ball Drops (excerpts)


May 28                 Tom Wolfe, "Like a Novel," & "Seizing the Power"

                                    William Finnegan, "The Unwanted"

                                    Susan Orlean, “The Congo Sound”


June 4                    Business Week, “The Science of Desire” and supplement

                                    Lawrence Osborne, "Consuming Rituals of the Suburban Tribe"

                                    Lexa Murphy, “The Dialectical Gaze”


June 11                FINAL PAPER DUE BY 5:45 PM