Qualitative Methods and the Study of Civil War
This course is about the application of qualitative methods to the study of civil war. It begins with an overview of the cutting edge in qualitative methods, intentionally casting its epistemological net broadly. We thus assess methods inspired by positivism (case studies, process tracing) and those more interpretative in nature (discourse analysis, ethnography) - the goal being to provide students with a robust set of tools for explaining and understanding the dynamics of civil war. The course also reviews the promise (and pitfalls) of methodological pluralism or so-called mixed methods, and introduces students to current debates over openness and transparency.
The stage set, we then explore applications of qualitative and mixed methods to the study of civil war. Our focus is not so much what these studies say about civil conflict; rather, we assess their use of qualitative methods. What slippage occurs (and why) between the abstract methodological ideal and real world applications? What counts as good process tracing in the context of civil war? What are the special challenges of employing mixed methods?
The course operates at two levels – data and epistemology. On the former, we explore the strengths and weaknesses of various qualitative methods, and how they shape and influence data collection in the special context of civil war. Epistemology brings us to the more foundational level of 'how we come to know.' How does one's epistemological position influence methodological choice, and why might this matter for students of civil war?
There are three requirements
1) Active Participation in Class Discussions: The course will be run as a seminar, where debate and discussion are the norm; for each session, written discussion questions will serve as our starting point. For this format to be successful, students need to read the seminar readings prior to our first meeting on 24 April.
2) Preparation of Discussion Points: For each class session, students should prepare a brief list of discussion questions and comments (3-5 in number); these should be based on the readings and will be distributed to all other seminar participants. (Please make sufficient copies for distribution!) Your questions/comments should reflect a critical assessment of those readings. What are their strong and weak points? Their meta-theoretical, theoretical, methodological, empirical contributions? How do they relate to or build upon other readings or discussions?
3) Completion of an Analytic Essay: Students have two options. (I) Prepare an analytic review on a topic that is of special interest and is consistent with the course's purpose and theme; or (II) prepare a draft research design for a PhD project on civil war where qualitative methods play some role. In either case, essays should be 6000-10000 words and are due by 15 August 2019. On the first day of class – Monday, 29 April - students should provide the instructor with a 1-2 page introduction to their proposed essay.
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