Explanation & Understanding in Geography
Office Hours: By email appointment. Smith 416B
TA: Jesse McClelland
I. Course Aims
The objectives of this course are fourfold:
1.) to design your own geographic research effectively- for 4th year classes and future career.
2.) to evaluate critically the research designs of others.
3.) to develop your appreciation of how knowledge is acquired, and
4.) to prepare you for your future courses in geographic data analysis (317, 326, 425 and 426 for example).
By the end of this course, you will come to appreciate the diversity of methods in geography, the appropriateness of different methods for different research questions, and the standards by which each method should be evaluated. You will have practical training in a wide variety of research protocols, organizational management and project design.
II. Course Structure & Content
The course is scheduled to meet MWF 9:30-10:20 in Smith 102. Discussion Sections meet on Tuesdays & Thursdays. Consult MyUW for your section details. Please attend the section in which you are registered.
This course is divided into two parts. The first half introduces you to larger issues of methodology and geography generally. The second offers you a survey of different strategies geographers use to collect information in their research. Both sections will start with a conventional social-scientific perspective and move to a more qualitative, interpretive one.
You will be asked to formulate an original research problem and specify the appropriate methods to answer that question. YOU DO NOT ACTUALLY CARRY OUT THE RESEARCH. This project puts lecture material into practice. It involves library research and the creative assimilation of existing literature, in order to specify your own original research question. You will write and rewrite this project throughout the term in order to clarify your thinking and sharpen your research focus. Consequently you will receive a “W” credit for this course.
III. Assignment Schedule, Due Dates, and Text
Brief statement of topic: Monday of Week 2 (October 1st)
Preliminary Bibliography: Friday of week 4 (October 19th)
First Draft of Literature Review: Monday of Week 7 (November 5)
Final Research Proposal (including measurement instrument discussion) due: Week 11 Friday December 7th. No late papers accepted.
Final Exam: Wednesday, December 12th 8:30 in our lecture hall
Participation: In Lectures (in class assignments, etc.) and Section. Class attendance is, of course, up to you. There are, however, several in-class exercises that will count towards your base participation grade. If you are not there, you obviously cannot participate in these exercises.
NOTE: failure to turn in any one of your assignments on time will likely lead to lower grades on future ones, and will hurt your participation grade..
Required Text: Earl Babbie (2004) The Basics of Social Research, (Belmont: Wadsworth). Note that this book is extremely expensive and previous editions do not differ that much from the current one, at least in terms of the content of this course. You may also use Babbie's The Practice of Social Research (7th edition or higher) since the chapters we use for this course are identical to those in The Basics. If you can find recent previous editions, you may use those. There are also copies on reserve at Odegaard.
30% for Project Components (broken down as: Brief statement of topic: 5%, Preliminary Bibliography: 5%, First Draft of Literature Review: 10%, Revised Literature Review & Proposed methodology: 10%
30% for Final Proposal
30% for Final Exam
10% for Class and Section Participation
No exams can be administered outside of the schedule listed above. Late assignments will be penalized per day without proper documentation of illness, etc. Assignments are due hard copy, in class or section. We refuse to accept assignments by email. Pay careful attention to the due dates of your assignments in order to receive credit. We follow the University rules on plagiarism. Don't do it. When in doubt, speak in person with your TA or Prof. Brown. Plagiarized work will receive a "0" and may be reported to the University.
IV. Weekly Schedule
Readings should be done before the week’s lectures (i.e. for Monday’s lecture), or according to Professor Brown's instructions. Participation in lecture may depend on you having done the reading. Therefore, attending class will allow you to be much more efficient in doing the reading. Obviously, you should therefore keep pace with the lecture schedule. Reading material, of course, is examinable.
Part A: Basic Issues of Method
Week 1. Geography
This week covers the introduction to the course, discussion section, as well as a brief introduction to Geography as an academic discipline. By the end of the week you should be able to situate yourself and your research interests in the field. We also offer you an introduction to the department, and faculty’s research interest as a means of helping you with your research proposal.
Reading:Read this syllabus over very, very carefully.
Week 2. Science and the Scientific Method
Objectives: This week we want you to understand the specifics of social science research, versus simple human inquiry. We want you to acquire a firm grasp of the scientific method, and train yourself to appreciate the different relationships between theory and empirics.
Readings: Babbie “Human inquiry and science,” Babbie "Paradigms, theory, and social research"
Week 3. Defining a research problem
Objectives: To delineate and appreciate the different steps in a research project. To specify the conditions of causality. To introduce key vocabulary terms that you will use through the remainder of your career. To introduce you to how geographers approach research specifically.
Readings: Babbie “Research design”
Week 4. Moving from ideas to measures
Objectives: To work through the point that there are different ways to think about and measure social phenomenon, and that there are different criteria to assess their goodness.
Readings: Babbie “Conceptualization, operationalization, and measurement”
Week 5. Sampling
Objective: All empirical research involves some form of sampling. You need to know which strategy is appropriate for which type of question.
Readings: Babbie “The logic of sampling”
Week 6. From Big Issues to Project Design
Objectives: To begin to understand the relationship between epistemology, theory and method in social science research. We do this by considering the relation between the big issues of research design with the more prosaic aspects of data collection. This is a review of the first half of the course and an introduction to the second half.
Readings: You should skim the Babbie's chapters on experiments, surveys, qualitative field research and unobtrusive research.
Part B: Data Collection Strategies
Week 7. Modeling and Experiments
Objectives: This week we begin to explore a series of techniques to collect data. This week we gain an appreciation of the classic form of scientific data collection and analysis: the experiment. We also look at the common geographic technique of modeling reality.
Readings: Babbie “Experiments”
Week 8. Survey Research
Objectives: This week we detail the work behind the classic form of social-science data collection: the survey. In order to appreciate the pros and cons of questionnaire construction, you must know the differences between indices, scales, and typologies—data collection tools typical of surveys. Here we build on your understanding of the logical relations between conceptualization and operationalization in research design.
Readings: Babbie “Survey research”; Babbie “Indices, scales, and typologies”
Week 9. Field Research and Ethnography
Objectives: Geography has a longstanding tradition of field research- whether locally or far away. This week we turn to a popular example of that technique: ethnography. We also cover the technique of qualitative interviewing, which is typically a component of ethnography, but can also be done independently.
Reading: Babbie “Qualitative field research”
Week 10. Unobtrusive Modes of Observation
Objectives: Often the best way to collect data on people is not to talk to them! This week we consider basic unobtrusive methods, where you do not directly interact with people during data collection. Unobtrusive techniques are quite varied, and can often be extremely interesting and even fun.
Reading: Babbie “Unobtrusive research”
Week 11. Ethics & Politics of Research
Objectives: We save often the most difficult and thorniest topic for last: the question of ethics and politics in social research. We also consider IRB mandates that are now typical in both academic and industrial research. Our goal is to introduce you to some typical issues that arise in the practice of social research, discuss various strategies of coping with these issues, and ask you to incorporate a discussion of ethics, politics, and positionality in your final draft of your research proposal.
Reading: Babbie “The ethics and politics of social research”
V. Assignment Guidelines
Assignments should be typed, double spaced, 12-point font, with 1” margins. You must use proper grammar and style. You must include the previous version/draft when handing in the new one.
They are due at the start of class.
We will not accept any late assignments without documentation of illness or bereavement.
Plagiarized work will receive a "0". Don't do it.
Failure to turn in any iteration of your proposal will result in a 0, and will make the next draft much more difficult and time-intensive.
We will not accept assignments electronically. Hard copies only with previous, graded versions attached.
We will not accept assignments done for another class.
Once you decide on a topic, after your preliminary statement, you cannot change topics. No exceptions!
No incompletes or "X" grades are given in this course.