ORG6031 Qualitative Research Methods
Fall 2004

Alliant International University
California School of Organization Studies
San Francisco Bay Area Campus

Professor Mary Fambrough Teaching Assistant Alexis Shoemate

Tuesday 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Course Overview

This course is designed for graduate students engaged in the study of organizations and the people who comprise them. It presumes some knowledge of the foundational texts and theories of organizing and management, as well as an awareness of the various paradigms of inquiry a researcher might adopt. The purpose of this course is to familiarize students with qualitative methods of research. The approach is both theoretical and experiential. We begin with an exploration of the nature of qualitative inquiry—its purpose, scope, and contribution to knowledge in the social sciences. We will proceed to investigate specific methods used in qualitative work with a focus on ethnography and ethnographic methods including participant observation and interviewing. We will also explore approaches to data collection, interpretation, and analysis.

The latter part of the semester will offer an opportunity to read, talk, and think about questions of rigor, credibility, and validity in qualitative inquiry. These are highly contested areas in the arena of social science research that demand our creativity and critical thinking skills—areas in which the answers must come from us, not from the well-negotiated debates of historical experts.

Because qualitative research methods involve high levels of contact between the researcher and the researched, we will also spend time understanding ourselves as a key instrument of inquiry. The inherent subjectivity and intersubjectivity of knowledge creation in the qualitative realm raises important questions of ethics associated with the roles we assume and the implicit and explicit agreements we make with our informants.

This class involves significant reading and completion of applied fieldwork designed to structure and stimulate your thinking, while simultaneously building the skills of a qualitative researcher. Numerous assignments are required, most of which are connected with a multi-part field project culminating in a written ethnography.

Approach to Learning

Classes will be highly participative and interactive. Successful learning will be dependent upon your completion of field activities and reading assignments. I use an adult learning approach to course design, meaning that I believe all true learning for adults must be self-directed, propelled by a personal desire to engage in mental, emotional, and spiritual growth and development. My role is to create an environment and opportunity for you to learn the things you want and need to know. Your role is to approach the class with a positive attitude toward learning, a willingness to do the work necessary to acquire (or expand and refine your existing) skills and knowledge, and a desire to further develop as a scholar, practitioner, and human being. We all start in a different place, depending upon our educational backgrounds, life experiences, and natural abilities. I am committed to working with you to make this course relevant to you and your needs.

Required Texts

∑ Mishler, E.G. (1986) Research Interviewing: Context and Narrative. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

∑ Spradley, J.P. (1979). The Ethnographic Interview. Forth Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.

Course readings will be available for copying.

You will also need to have the use of a portable tape recorder for interviews and several blank tapes.

Basis for Performance Evaluation

In order to complete the course, you are expected to carry out all assignments in a timely manner. You are also expected to produce work that warrants a grade of B or better. This is a standard for all work at AIU and is a standard for graduate work in most, if not all, institutions. All students are capable of exemplary work.

Homework assignments—Short papers, 40%
Interviews, transcriptions, and analyses.

Field Notebook with all sections completed: 15%
∑ Condensed accounts.
∑ Expanded accounts.
∑ Journal.
∑ Analysis and interpretation.

Completed Ethnographic Report 20%

Participation 25%
Class preparation, contribution to the
learning community, positive attitude toward
new learning, support of other learners,
and attendance. Participation also means
raising relevant issues (e.g., unmet expectations,
lack of clarity about assignments, perceived
problems among the learning community) to
either the instructor, teaching assistant, or the
entire learning community.

Course Structure

This course is organized around a multi-part semester long assignment. The design is created to enact, as opposed to simply simulate, the process of conducting a qualitative research project. The structure of the course will expose you to the various steps or stages involved in carrying out research and should continually reinforce the applied relevance of what you are reading, writing, and actually doing in the field. Having used this design in the past, I can tell you with great certainty that your learning and success in completing the course with ease is directly dependent upon your staying current with all assignments. Please trust me on this one.

The design of each class is not rigid and may change somewhat with little warning. It is my hope that we will create a learning environment that is responsive to the emerging needs of the members of the community. Thus, there may be times when a topic arises that takes precedence over the one stated in the syllabus. Because this course is so dependent upon your engagement and participation, the shape of the class is likely to reflect your personal interests and needs. I invite you to be an active force in shaping the learning experience for yourself and others.

Much of this class will be conducted in a seminar format. We will participate in frequent discussions in both large and small groups. The richness of this experience depends on you. There will be some lecture, but this methodology will be used minimally. During the course of the semester, I will involve you in conversation about my current research, and may also invite outside presenters to share some of their research experiences. We will also spend considerable time practicing interviewing and supporting each other’s learning through feedback and coaching.
Course Schedule

August 30

Week 1

Introduction to the course and qualitative research.

Overview of the semester long assignment.

Selecting a research informant and site. What does it mean to “enter the field?”

IRB, Human Participants Committee approval.
To be completed in class: Personal statement of what you hope to learn from this course, specific research interests, and what new skills and knowledge you hope to gain.

September 13

Week 2

Overview of qualitative research methodological approaches and why we’re focusing on ethnography.

Introduction to ethnographic techniques and the role of the self-as-instrument.

“Contracting” with your informant.
Paper 1: Reflections on your thoughts and concerns about entering the field as a researcher. What do you expect? What do you fear? What do you hope to learn? (2-3 pps.).

Identify your informant and gain entry in the field. Obtain informant’s signature on the Informed Consent form. Give a copy to your informant and keep the original for your records. Turn in a copy in class. Be an observer or participant observer in your site.
Paper 2: Turn in a written statement describing your informant and your case for why you selected this individual and site (1 page).

Vidlich & Lyman, “Qualitative Methods: Their History in Sociology and Anthropology” (Reading #1)

Reinharz, “Who Am I? The Need for a Variety of Selves in the Field” (Reading #2).

Spradley, Part One, “Ethnographic Research” pps. 1-40.

September 20

Week 3

Why do we care about underlying assumptions?

Framing your work in an epistemological and ontological frame and surfacing your embedded underlying assumptions.

Observation and participant observation.

Field notes and record keeping.

The art of fieldwork.

Introduction to interviewing. Paper 3: Consider your epistemological and ontological stance as well as your assumptions about your prospective informant and site (2-3 pps.). Include in this paper a list and explanation of your underlying assumptions about research in general, and this research project in particular.

Set up a notebook/binder for your field notes. Include sections for condensed accounts, expanded accounts, journal, and analysis and interpretation. Spradley will guide you in this process. Make at least one entry in each section covering your actions, findings, and responses to date. Bring your notebook to class.
Spradley, Part Two, “The Developmental Research Sequence” Steps One through Three, pps. 41-77.

Wolcott, Cpt. 5, “Fieldwork: The Basic Arts” (Reading #3).

Warren, “Qualitative Interviewing” (Reading #4).

September 27

Week 4


Group check-in after first interview

Interviewing Practicum—Getting started. Continue field observation and taking of field notes.

Interview 1. Prepare for, conduct, and record a descriptive ethnographic interview with your selected informant. Transcribe and turn in the document created.

Written interview self-reflection 1. (Answer guiding questions at the end of the syllabus. Use these questions for each of the interview self-reflection papers assigned throughout the semester.)

Bring the tape of your interview and your tape recorder to class.
Spradley, Part Two, “The Developmental Research Sequence” Step Four, pps. 78-91.

Week 5

October 4

Beginning analysis—the domain search.

Concretizing the product of an ethnographic study using examples.

Discussion of the presentation and representation of findings.
Continue field observation and taking of field notes.

Conduct a preliminary domain search based on all or part of the interview you conducted. List the tentative cover term and included terms for each of the domains identified. Turn in results. Paper 4.

Spradley, Part Two, “The Developmental Research Sequence” Step Six, pps. 107-119.

Miller et al., “Writing and Retelling Ethnographic Tales of a Soup Kitchen for the Homeless.” (Reading #5).

Tillman-Healey, “A Secret Life in a culture of Thinness: Reflections on body, Food, and Bulimia” (Reading #6).

Kiesinger, “From Interview to Story: Writing Abbie’s Life” (Reading #7).

Kunda, “Methods: A Confessional of sorts” (Reading #8).

Foltz & Griffin, “She Changes Everything She Touches” (Reading #17).
October 11

Week 6

Data interpretation and meaning-making.

Interviewing Practicum. Continue field observation and taking of field notes.

Conduct a thorough domain analysis of all material collected and turn in the completed document. Paper 5.

Interview 2. Based on your analysis, prepare for and conduct a second ethnographic interview using primarily descriptive questions introducing several structural questions to further investigate several domains. Transcribe and turn in.

Written interview self-reflection 2.

Bring the tape of your interview and your tape recorder. Spradley, Part Two, “The Developmental Research Sequence” Step Seven, pps. 120-131.

Mishler, Cpt. 4, “Language, Meaning, and Narrative Analysis” pps. 66-116.

Gubrium & Holstein, “Biographical Work and the New Ethnography” (Reading # 9).

October 18

Week 7

Continuing interpretation.

The informant as co-inquirer and the joint construction of meaning.

Preparing to write an ethnographic report.

Revisiting field notes and the research notebook.
Continue field observation and taking of field notes.

Conduct a taxonomic analysis on one or more domains identified. Include a taxonomic diagram of one or more domains (see Spradley, p. 154). Paper 6.

Bring a sample of your field notes to share (make copies for everyone).
Spradley, Part Two, “The Developmental Research Sequence” Step Eight, pps. 131-154.

Mishler, Cpts. 1 & 3.

(I recommend that you review the Mishler book and refer to it throughout the semester to learn more about the theoretical underpinnings of interviewing, transcribing, and narrative analysis.)

October 25

Week 8

Review the ethnographic process.

Interviewing Practicum. Continue field observation and taking of field notes.
Interview 3: Conduct an ethnographic interview using both descriptive and structural questions. Transcribe and turn in.

Written interview self-reflection 3.

Bring the tape of your interview and your tape recorder.
Spradley, Part Two, “The Developmental Research Sequence” Step Nine, pps 155-172.

November 1

Week 9

On writing, and the continuing exploration of the role of the self.

Interviewing Practicum Continue field observation and taking of field notes.

Review field data and search for contrasts that distinguish folk terms in one or more contrast sets you have already identified. Summarize. Paper 7.

Interview 4: Formulate questions and conduct an interview in which you use descriptive, structural, and contrast questions. (See Spradley, p. 172). Transcribe and turn in.

Written self-reflection 4.

Bring the tape of your interview and your tape recorder.
Richardson, “Writing: A Method of Inquiry.” (Reading # 10).

November 8

Week 10

Appreciation of Ethnographic Representation, Composition, and Presentation Continue field observation and taking of field notes.

Use this week for any catch up on interviewing or transcription.

Does, J., “Organizational and Social Change Opportunity:
Ethnographic Study of a Security Guard in Berkeley, California” (Reading #16)

Additional reading may be handed out for this class.

November 15

Week 11

Ending our engagement in the field.

Rigor and quality in qualitative research.

Interviewing Practicum. Continue field observation and taking of field notes.

Make a componential analysis of one or more contrast sets. (See Spradley, p. 184). Paper 8

Interview 5. Conduct an ethnographic interview to gather the necessary data to complete your componential analysis. Transcribe and turn in.

Written self-reflection 5.

Bring the tape of your interview and your tape recorder

Spradley, Part Two, “The Developmental Research Sequence” Step 10, 173-184.

Guba & Lincoln, “Establishing Trustworthiness.” (Reading #11).

November 22

Week 12

Interpretation, analysis, and narrative.

Situating the self in writing up qualitative research. Issues of voice, authenticity, validity, and reliability in qualitative scholarship.

Rigor and quality in qualitative research. Make a cultural inventory and identify as many cultural themes as possible. State all the cultural themes as brief assertions and turn in this document. Paper 9.

Spradley, Part Two, “The Developmental Research Sequence” Step Eleven, pps. 185-203.

Kvale, “The Plurality of Interpretations.” (Reading # 12).

Charmaz & Mitchell, “The Myth of Silent Authorship.” (Reading #13)

Richardson, L. “Evaluating Ethnography,” (Reading #14).

November 29

Week 13

Ethics of research and the multiple levels of consideration.

Write and turn in a rough draft of your ethnography.

Spradley, Part Two, “The Developmental Research Sequence” Step Twelve, pps. 203-222.

Fine et al., “For Whom? Qualitative Research, Representations, and Social Responsibilities” (Reading #15).

December 6

Week 14

Qualitative Methodologies Broad discussion of qualitative research methods and their application.

Final Paper: Write and turn in a final draft of your ethnography.

Informal discussion of work in class. Focus on aspects of the research experience that can contribute to the learning of others in the community.

Final wrap-up and evaluation.
Additional readings will be provided.

A Note About Your Written Work:

At this point in your education, I expect your writing to be clear and well organized. Your work should show a growing level of scholarly sophistication and professionalism. All work turned in should be proofread, revised as needed, spell-checked, and in APA style. If you use references, a bibliography should be automatically included. I will provide some feedback on your writing in an effort to support the development of your skills in this area. In some cases, however, I may ask you to redo an assignment if the paper is submitted without adequate revision and proofing.

Overview of Written Assignments

All of the written assignments in this class are interrelated in some way. Most of them involve planning and conducting a field project, which will result in writing up a piece of original research. The other assignments are related because they build your skill as an interviewer and your self-awareness as a researcher and practitioner. These assignments can all be seen as supporting your field experience. The summary below is meant to help you structure your time. The readings are not equally distributed over the course of the semester. Rather, they are grouped categorically in ways that will probably be intuitively logical. This means that you will need to plan ahead to manage a varying workload.

Week # Assignments Due

Week 2 Paper 1: Reflections on entering the field.
Paper 2: Description of informant and site.

Week 3 Paper 3: Assumptions.
Design and create notebook.

Week 4 Transcription of Interview 1.
Written interview self-reflection 1.

Week 5 Paper 4: Preliminary domain search.

Week 6 Paper 5: Thorough domain analysis.
Transcription of Interview 2.
Written interview self-reflection 2.

Week 7 Paper 6: Taxonomic analysis and diagram.

Week 8 Transcription of Interview 3.
Written interview self-reflection 3.

Week 9 Paper 7: Summary of contrasts.
Transcription of Interview 4.
Written interview self-reflection 4.

Week 11 Paper 8: Componential analysis.
Transcription of Interview 5.
Written interview self-reflection 5.

Week 12 Paper 9: Cultural themes.

Week 13 Rough draft of final paper due.

Week 14 Final paper due.

Guide for Written Self-Reflection of Interviews

After conducting and transcribing an interview, please write your answers to the following questions. Think about these questions as you listen to the interview and read your transcripts. Please feel free to include additional questions that assist your process of reflection on your effectiveness as an interviewer. Approach the assignment with an open mind. Your improvement and skill level as an interviewer will increase if you adopt the habit of self-reflection. Critical compassionate self-reflection is a skill that is developed. It requires the desire and intent to learn, and an acceptance that practice is key to growth. Personal development is eased by a sense of humor, particularly an ability to laugh at yourself, and a belief that we can all become better at most everything we do, even if we already do it pretty well. Holding the intention to be less judgmental of others and yourself will serve you well as a learner, both in this course and throughout life.

As you respond to the following question, be sure to provide examples from the tape that support your points.

Ask yourself:

1. How do I feel about the success of this interview overall? Was it generally good, bad, or mixed?
2. What do I feel good about as I relive this interview?
3. How did I do with the explanation of the research purpose and/or the intent of this particular interview?
4. How did the interview context enable or constrain the interview process?
5. How did I do in building rapport with the informant? What worked? What didn’t?
6. What kind of questions did I ask in the interview?
7. What kind of responses did I get?
8. How did my questions influence the informant’s responses?
9. Were my questions leading? Did I put ideas in the informant’s head?
10. Did I ask closed ended questions? Open-ended questions?
11. Did I ask multiple questions simultaneously?
12. Did I follow-up on things the informant brought up that might have been important, even if the question wasn’t in my protocol?
13. How did I handle time within the interview?
14. Was there overlapping talk during the interview? Interruptions? How did I handle these things?
15. Did I use continuers and encouraging words during the interview (e.g., okay, mm-hmmm. Um)?
16. Did I treat the interview as a conversation? If so, what did I contribute to the conversation? If not, what was the effect?
17. Did I evaluate the informant’s responses to my questions within the interview? If so, how did the informant respond to my evaluation?
18. Were my interview questions focused on the purpose of the research?
19. What would I do differently if I were able to do this interview again?
20. What suggestions for improvement do I have for my own interview techniques?
21. If I will be interviewing this informant again, what might I experiment with next time regarding my interviewing style, approach, or method?
22. One thing that really surprised me about myself in this interview situation was.

The Human Participants Committee (HPC) at Alliant International University has approved the form letter on the following pages for use in your field assignment. It will serve as an introductory letter and consent form for your use in the required field project for this class. No research is to be conducted until this form has been signed and filed with the instructor or teaching assistant.

Thank you for agreeing to participate in this small research project. The project will be conducted between September 1 and December 1, 2005.
I am a graduate student enrolled in a course in qualitative research methods at Alliant International University, College of Business and Organizational Studies, in San Francisco, California. In this course, I am learning to conduct an ethnographic field study in an organizational setting. In order to gain the skills necessary to be a competent researcher, I must practice observation and interviewing techniques in a real world setting. Thus, a requirement for completion of this course is to engage in field observation at a selected site, and to conduct five interviews with one individual. I will be keeping detailed notes of my observations. I will audio record, transcribe, and analyze the interviews as part of my hands-on training in research methods.
Through my observations and interviews, I will try to gain an understanding of the organizational environment and to answer questions like: “How are things done around here?” and “what do the things people say and do mean to them?” I will be writing a paper describing my findings as a requirement of the course I am taking.
You will be a confidential participant in this study. All tapes will be identified with a code rather than your name. Your real name will not be used in any written documents associated with this project. Likewise, the real name of your organization will not be used. All tape recordings will be erased or destroyed by December 31, 2005. The data collected and the paper written may be shared with my learning colleagues and professor.
Participation in this project is voluntary. You may stop your participation at any time, for any reason. You are subject to minimal risk as a participant in this study since your name will not be used in association with any of the records or documents. Furthermore, you will not be asked to discuss anything you may consider private or confidential. You have the option to refuse to answer any question posed.
I appreciate you willingness to participate in this project. Please know that you are making a positive contribution to my education.

Your signature below signifies that you have carefully read and understood the above project description and voluntarily agree to participate. I will provide you with a copy of this form for your records.
Date: _
Please feel free to contact me at any time at the following:

_(Fill in your name)