CMNS 581: Qualitative Research Methods

Spring 2013

Dr. Daniel Makagon

Permanent Office: 14 E Jackson, 1828

Temporary Office LPC: SAC 597

Office Hours: Monday 9-10pm and by appointment

Phone: (312) 362-7979


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


Option 1:

Research Paper Proposal         5%

Research Paper:                       70%

Quiz Grade:                             15%

Participation:                           10%


Option 2:

Interview Assignment:                                                37%

Observation/Participant Observation Assignment       38%

Quiz Grade:                                                                 15%

Participation:                                                               10%



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. Additionally, because your other written assignments may not directly engage the bulk of our course readings for a variety of reasons we will discus in class, these quizzes are opportunities for us to assess how well you understand the materials that will guide our attention each week. 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).



Option 1: You will write one research paper. Prior to this you will submit a 4-5 page proposal.


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

2. Completed paper (12-16 pages), which might incorporate some of what you write in the proposal 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      



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 as you develop the literature review/methods section for the final paper. 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 (i.e., don"t turn in a literal timeline for the project or a collection of bullet points). The proposal is due in hard copy at the beginning of class in Week 3.


The final paper should follow the outline presented above (standard format for a journal article or white paper). You should conduct original research that advances an argument about an issue or set of issues that you find compelling. You should not study vulnerable populations: children, adults with mental disabilities, or prisoners since none of these groups can fully consent to a study. You should avoid studying family and friends. This option is likely best for students who want to pursue a Ph.D., who will already work or will likely work in an industry where longer research studies will be conducted (e.g., white papers), or who are excited by the idea of conducting a term-long study on a single subject.



Option 2: You will write two 6-8 page papers.


The first paper, an interview assignment, asks you to interview a minimum of 3 people who can be linked in some fashion (e.g., human resource officers, service industry customer service representatives, skyscraper window washers, city tour guides, community activists). You should not study vulnerable populations: children, adults with mental disabilities, or prisoners since none of these groups can fully consent to a study. And you should avoid interviewing friends or family members. However, you are encouraged to ask friends and family members to introduce you to prospective participants.


You should transcribe each interview after you finish the interview, identify common themes, and consider literature that might connect with your topic of study and course materials about interviewing that can help contextualize your research. Develop a paper that advances an argument about the topic of study based on the conclusions you draw from the interviews. I understand that a minimum of 3 interviews in a 5-week period does not allow time for a fully developed sense of the topic at hand, so this assignment is designed with two goals in mind: (1) You will gain practice interviewing and developing conclusions from qualitative fieldwork. (2) You will be able to clearly communicate what you learned from those fieldwork interviews. This paper is due in hard copy at the beginning of class in week 5.


The second paper, an observation/participant observation assignment, asks you to study a place or series of places that are connected in some way. You should participate in the life of that place and observe what happens there. Try to learn about the cultural practices (work, leisure, consumption, tourist, etc.) that are central to the place. Your study should be guided by our readings about observation and participant observation and our class discussions about these methods of data collection. Jot notes about what you observe and learn while you do the work. Try to use informal and unstructured interviews to help you understand the culture of the place. Use those notes to help you draw some conclusions about the space itself and/or central issues that connect to everyday life in that space. As with the first paper, I encourage you to select a topic that relates to some of your broader scholarly interests. Additionally, you are encouraged to consider the opportunities and limits of studying a public space versus a private space (i.e., each has its advantages and disadvantages, as we will discuss in class during the first few weeks of the term). You should not study vulnerable populations: children, adults with mental disabilities, or prisoners since none of these groups can fully consent to a study. And you should not study your place of employment, your own home, or the home of a friend/relative unless there is some extremely unique thing that happens there. This paper is due by email on June 10 by 6PM as a .doc or .docx file only.


Both papers will be graded based on your ability to clearly communicate what you did in terms of qualitative fieldwork, how you can contextualize your brief study via relevant literature, and to explicitly address why the topic at hand is important (i.e., why a reader should care). Additionally, grades will be based on quality of writing, the ability to advance some unique understanding of the issues studied vis-a-vis the selection of interview participants (assignment 1) and places to study (assignment 2).



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 Proposal (option 1) or the Interview Assignment (option 2). All other materials should be sent in .doc or .docx form only. 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:

Course Policies


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


Attendance and Active Participation are expected and required. Participation grades are factored by considering how often you participate in class discussion (both in the class and in the field) and how that discussion advances our overall learning (i.e., I will consider how your questions help us understand difficult reading passages, how your contributions further discussion rather than hinder discussion, how your comments foster lively debate, how your participation grows from an engagement with the reading and urban experience rather than functioning to advance an autobiographical tale only). In short, I assess participation based on quantity and quality.


You are allowed one absence in this class. If you miss more than one class session, which means you have missed 20% of the class, you will receive an "F" in the class (even if the absences are excused). Missing this many class sessions 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 Dean of Students to discuss withdrawal options. Leaving before the class ends or arriving more than 10 minutes late is an absence.


All assignments are due on assigned days and in class. There will be NO MAKE-UPS. Documented illness or documented emergencies are the only exception to this policy. Changes in work schedules, personal celebrations (e.g., birthdays), assignments due in other classes, car problems/EL congestion, etc. are NOT considered to be legitimate reasons for missing deadlines or class meetings. If you have an excused absence (documented medical illness, legal emergency, or official university business only) for a class session when you would turn in a paper then you can submit the paper on the next date you attend class. If you miss a quiz, and your absence is excused, contact me to make arrangements to make up the quiz. (Note: If you will be missing a class because of a religious holiday, let me know in writing at least two weeks before the holiday so we can make arrangements to make up missed work.)


Students with disabilities should provide documentation from the Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD) #370, Student Center, LPC or call (773) 325-1677. 


Cellular Phones: If you have a cellular phone or pager, 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.


E-mail: I often send e-mail announcements to the class. You need to (1) make sure your preferred email address in Campus Connect is the address you check regularly so messages do not bounce back and (2) make sure my email address will pass through your spam filter.




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 1             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 8             H. Russell Bernard, "Participant Observation" and "Unstructured and Semistructured Interviewing"

                        Liz Bird, "Understanding the Ethnographic Encounter"


April 15           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"

PROPOSAL DUE IN CLASS (Option 1 students)


April 22           Thomas Lindlof and Bryan Taylor, "Qualitative Analysis and Interpretation"

                        Recommended: Berg, "Content Analysis"


April 29           Business Week, "The Science of Desire" and supplement

                        Lawrence Osborne, "Consuming Rituals of the Suburban Tribe"

                        Lexa Murphy, "The Dialectical Gaze"

                        INTERVIEW ASSIGNMENT DUE (Option 2 students)


May 6              Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (excerpts)

                        Eric Klinenberg, "Dying Alone"


May 13            John Van Maanen, Tales of the Field  (excerpts)

                        Daniel Makagon, Where the Ball Drops (excerpts)


May 20            Tom Wolfe, "Like a Novel," & "Seizing the Power"

                        William Finnegan, "The Unwanted"

                        Susan Orlean, "The Congo Sound"


May 27            NO CLASS MEMORIAL DAY


June 3              Daniel Makagon and Mark Neumann, "Writing Culture and Recording Culture"


June 10           FINAL PAPER (Option 1) or OBSERVATION/PEER OBSERVATION (Option 2) DUE BY 6:00 PM