Qualitative Methods Course: Interviews, or, What Do People Have to Say for Themselves?


This post is part of a series of blogs offering a week-by-week account of my first year qualitative methods course. You can find them all under the tag GEO1018: Qualitative Methods

After two weeks of introduction, this week we’ve moved on to the first of the module’s three methods, semi-structured interviews.

The three main blocks all have the same structure:

Week Time Activity Topic
1 09:00, Thu Lecture The first lecture introduces the method
Seminar Slots Practical The first practical helps you plan a research activity
2 09:00, Thu Lecture The second lecture is a more detailed ‘how to’ guide
Week Fieldwork – you have time to carry out the methods
3 09::00, Thu Lecture The third lecture looks at the analysis of the data
Seminar Slots Practical The third practical helps give space to analyse your data

So in week 1, I introduce the method and in the practical we have a go at starting to plan a project around that method.

For semi-structured interviews, I take a fairly conventional approach. In lecture 1, we look at why it’s important to get qualitative detail about experiences, beliefs and perceptions in a way that questionnaires – the comparable quantitative method – may fail to do so. I illustrate my lecture in relation to Gill Valentine’s 1989 paper The Geography of Women’s Fear (“cited 589 times in Google Scholar” as my slide says) and my own paper ‘Streetlighting in England and Wales: new technologies and uncertainty in the assemblage of streetlighting infrastructure‘ (“not cited 589 times in Google Scholar” – one of the few jokes that seems to get a smile from the students!). This allows me to talk about my own research design, but also to flag a classic paper in the discipline.

The seminar asks students to start to design an interview schedule. The research topic is  student experiences of changing home when moving to university: a fairly unoriginal topic perhaps but one which is easily accessible to the students, which I think is important as I want them to be thinking primarily about the method rather than the topic area!

This is the first block to use a workbook for the two seminars and fieldwork, which outlines core seminar tasks and readings.

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