Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module SOCI58815: Qualitative Methods in Social Science

Department: Sociology

SOCI58815: Qualitative Methods in Social Science

Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2019/20 Module Cap


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to the presuppositions, practices and products of qualitative research in the social sciences.
  • To help students evaluate the outcomes of qualitative research.
  • To contribute towards students' preparation for carrying out qualitative research projects.
  • To introduce students to the computer programme Nvivo for analysing qualitative data.


  • Topics
  • Introduction to qualitative research (explores what qualitative research is, its history and why it is important)
  • 'Mobile methods' (explores walking interviews, capturing inner monologues, uses of new technologies (Go-Pro) to capture movement of/around the social world)
  • Choosing a research sample and gaining access (explores how researchers choose people and settings for research)
  • Ethnography and observation (explores the roots of ethnography in European colonial projects and looks at how to do participant observation)
  • Conducting interviews (explores what interviews are and how to make them successful)
  • Running successful focus groups (explores what focus groups are and how to make them successful)
  • Using visual methods in qualitative research (explores the visual turn in social sciences, what we mean by visual methods and how to analyse them)
  • Thematic analysis (supported by the practical sessions using NVivo) (explores how to identify common themes in textual and visual data to make conclusions)
  • NVivo practical sessions (explores the potential for using computer software to manage qualitative data, students are introduced to the potential benefits and limitations)

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • At the end of the module, students will:
  • Understand the underlying rationale for qualitative research in the social sciences.
  • Be aware of the practical and some of the ethical issues that arise in the conduct of qualitative research in the social sciences.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • At the end of the module, students will:
  • Be able to critically assess the conduct and outcomes of qualitative research projects.
  • Be able to undertake empirical qualitative research.
  • Be able to use Nvivo to analyse a set of qualitative data.
Key Skills:
  • Communication skills (through seminar participation, written skills in assignments).
  • Group work skills (through seminar participation).
  • Time management (through working to deadlines).
  • Data management (through handling empirical data for assignments).
  • Independent study skills (through individual work for assignments).

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The module will be delivered through weekly lectures and seminars.
  • Lectures will introduce students to the key theoretical bases and rationale for particular qualitative research methods. Lectures will draw on on-going and existing research to highlight the key challenges and opportunities in these methods. Lectures encourage students’ key skills in listening and active note-taking.
  • Seminars will be structured around particular questions and/or tasks which students will be asked to work through in pairs or groups. These tasks will get students thinking about the practical ways in which to execute particular methods in practice. Seminars encourage collaborative working, communication and problem-solving skills.
  • Students are offered individual written feedback on their formative and summative assignments and can seek additional one-to-one feedback in staff office hours if they require this.
  • The final lecture/seminar session will run as an assessment workshop for students to discuss their summative assignments.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 10 weekly 1 10
Seminars 10 weekly 1 10
Practicals (Nvivo) 5 weekly 1 5
Preparation & Reading 125
Total: 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Research project (to be chosen from a list of options) 3000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

A 1,500 word essay to be chosen from a list of options. The options for the formative assignments all ask students to offer a reflection on a particular method, or aspects of a method. A critical analysis of this kind will also be expected in the summative research project. Hence, the formative assignment prepares students for the summative work by having them think critically about methods. Students will be provided with individual written feedback on their essay which will support them in developing their critical analysis for the summative assignment.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University