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Improvisational Pluralism in Field Research 1: Pre-Field Planning

Chair: Benjamin L. Read, University of California, Santa Cruz

Presenters: Jesse Driscoll, University of California, San Diego; Gareth Nellis, University of California, San Diego; Jennifer Cyr, Universidad Torcuato di Tella

Monday, September 27, 12:00-4:00pm

There are strong professional incentives to collecting one’s own data in graduate school, and original fieldwork tends to yield compelling projects. This series of two short courses is aimed at two audiences: (1) graduate students considering or conducting fieldwork, and (2) advisors and mentors who navigate dissertation prospectus advising roles.

The goal of the two short courses is to pool practical advice about best practices, with an eye toward minimizing start-up costs for prospective field workers. Research design and measurement issues are discussed in passing, but much of the course content is broader advising issues involving psychological and physical well-being, professionalization, management, self-presentation, and professional ethics. The course theme is “improvisational pluralism”: an ethos-based appreciation that fieldwork rewards an ability to improvise and adapt when constraints are discovered or things go wrong. Planning helps, but taking advantage of opportunities as they arise may require shifting approaches. The focus on pluralism is also a recognition that conducting high-integrity observations of another society requires special kinds of preparation and demands a certain degree of methodological flexibility. In this short course, we assume that a mature attitude toward pluralism begins by taking a diversity of aesthetic opinions seriously, listening respectfully, and appreciating the myriad ways of understanding what ought to “count” as a contribution. On the other hand, planning can maximize the probability that fieldwork will enable scholarly output.

Process Tracing: The Logic and Best Practices of Process Tracing

Chair: Andrew Bennett, Georgetown University

Presenters: Tasha A. Fairfield, London School of Economics; Jeffrey T. Checkel, European University Institute

Wednesday, September 29, 9:00am-1:00pm

This short course will cover the underlying logic and best practices of process tracing, which is a within-case method of developing and testing causal explanations of individual cases.

We will briefly summarize the philosophy of science behind explanation via reference to hypothesized causal mechanisms and then outline the logic of process tracing, which entails asking whether the evidence we find in a case would be more or less plausible if a given explanation of that case is true as compared to a rival explanation. Throughout the session we will emphasize best practices and applications to exemplars of process tracing research. The examples we use will be primarily in international relations and comparative politics, but the methods we discuss are applicable to all the subfields of political science, to sociology, economics, history, business studies, public policy, and many other fields. Students will practice applying process tracing reasoning in small group exercises. As time allows, and depending on the numbers, students will discuss how they plan to use process tracing in their current research so the instructors and fellow students can offer constructive advice on how best to carry it out.

Managing and Sharing Qualitative Data

Chair: Sebastian Karcher, Syracuse University

Presenter: Diana Kapiszewski, Georgetown University

Monday, September 27, 9:00am-12:00pm 

Research data management entails developing a data management plan and handling research materials systematically throughout the research lifecycle. Effectively managing data makes research more robust, allows data to be useful over a longer period of time, and facilitates sharing data with the broader research community. This short course equips participants with a range of strategies for effectively managing qualitative data. Hands-on exercises allow participants to practice basic data management tasks in the context of their own projects. The short course particularly emphasizes writing data management plans (DMPs), as required by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other funders and organizations, for research involving qualitative and multi-method data. We also consider the benefits and challenges of sharing data and demonstrate appropriate techniques for mitigating them, again with the help of exercises and tools that participants will be able to use with their own research. Finally, the short course introduces and briefly discusses new techniques for making qualitative research more transparent, including developing interview methods appendices and tables, documenting analysis performed in qualitative data analysis (CAQDAS) software, and employing Annotation for Transparent Inquiry (ATI).

Center for Qualitative and Multi-Method Inquiry
346 Eggers Hall