Qualitative methods (PHD103)

The course addresses researchers within the social sciences broadly; sociologists, geographers, anthropologists, political scientists, economists, health researchers, etc., who use or plan to use qualitative methods for their PhD research. Qualitative methods include interviews, document studies, fieldwork, observation, and may be used as stand-alone methods, or in combination with quantitative methods (cf. mixed methods, etc.).

Course description for study year 2023-2024. Please note that changes may occur.


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Researchers use the qualitative methodology for a variety of purposes, be it to investigate the meaning ascribed to social and cultural phenomena by individuals or groups, or the construction of meaning/discourse in society at large, to study historical processes, to gather more factual information about enterprises or political processes, etc. Furthermore, we can analyse qualitative data on how they inform us on people's perspectives, information about processes, as well as for the joint construction of meaning between researcher and participant. All this may differ between academic disciplines. This course highlights especially the practical and applied side to qualitative research.

The course will make students acquainted with methodological issues within qualitative research in general. It will help students to frame their respective research studies in a methodologically sound manner and to identify key practical-methodological issues within their studies. Topics include:

  • Some classical and recent methodological tools for constructing and interpreting qualitative data, by way of interviews, field conversations, written documents, media publications, photos, and observations.
  • The course will enable participants to reflect critically about crucial practical aspects of qualitative research, regarding access to the field, obstacles in the recruitment of participants, and other practical aspects of carrying out of the research.
  • The course will also prepare participants to argue epistemologically for the methods they apply in their theses.
  • Crucially, the course will achieve the above by grounding the discussions and the students' individual papers in methodological reflections about the respective PhD projects.

The course is integrated with PHD101: Research Design, but can also be taken as a stand-alone course.

Learning outcome


After completing the course, the students should:

  • have advanced knowledge about key qualitative methods, such as interviews, document studies, fieldwork/ethnography.
  • have advanced knowledge about methodological positions within qualitative research, especially as regards the theory-data interface (cf. grounded theory, abductive analysis, etc.), and be able to contribute to such debates


By the end of the course, the students should be able to:

  • identify methodological implications of specific qualitative methods
  • be able to evaluate the use of different qualitative methods in the applied analysis of social phenomena, in ways that mirror the status of the research front
  • be able to navigate complex questions in qualitative methods, and to challenge established methodological positions.
  • produce new knowledge about methodological tools that enables them to plan and conduct interpretive analyses of various data sources such as interviews, conversations, observation, and documents.
  • reflect critically on methods, and to produce scientific papers on the theme of qualitative methodology, departing from one’s own ongoing research; papers of the near-publishable standard
  • handle complex methodological implications in ongoing qualitative research.
  • communicate the results of his/her reflections in speech and writing in a clear and systematic way, and in ways that contribute to moving the research front.

General competence

By the end of the course, the student will be able to:

  • meet social phenomena and theoretical-academic subjects with methodological assumptions that must be a basis for an analysis of the data through research-based production of insight and knowledge.
  • contribute to social science debates (research front) about the methodological choices one makes in developing and conducting qualitative research

Required prerequisite knowledge

Participants must be enrolled in a PhD programme.


Form of assessment Weight Duration Marks Aid
Individual paper 1/1 Passed / Not Passed

The individual paper of 3000 words (+/- 10%) in English on a self-chosen topic approved by the instructor, which builds on the participants’ on-going PhD project. However, the paper must take the form of a contribution to a more general literature on methods/methodology (papers that are simply ‘methods chapters’ will not be accepted). Ideally, a paper is worked from a methodological 'problem' or 'issue' in one's own PhD project, which is addressed by engaging methodological literature, and presented as an individual contribution. Examples of good course papers will be available via the course online solution (CANVAS). The paper must be submitted within six weeks after the end of the course and will be evaluated as Pass/Fail.

Coursework requirements

  • Prepare a 1 p. (ca.) note on methodological questions building on your PhD project, which outlines the planned topic for the course paper. This note must be submitted one week in advance of the course.
  • Prepare comments to one of the other participants’ note
  • An individual presentation at the end of the course week. The presentation should be a reflection on the 1 p. note submitted in advance. Students may then highlight elaborations and possible alterations as a result of discussions over the week.
  • Prepare for individual lectures (see in particular description for Corte’s lecture on academic writing)
  • Prepare by reading literature
  • Generally participate actively in discussions in class.

Course teacher(s)

Course coordinator:

Anders Vassenden

Method of work

The course will be given in the form of a seminar for four full days. The first three days will be lectures given by subject teachers (on various themes), Thursday and Friday will be oral presentations from the individual participants (but only half of the participants each day). A detailed timetable will be made available at the beginning of the course-semester.

Open for

PhD candidates enrolled in PhD programmes at the University of Stavanger or accredited universities/university colleges in Norway or abroad.

Course assessment

There must be an early dialogue between the course coordinator, the student representative and the students. The purpose is feedback from the students for changes and adjustments in the course for the current semester.In addition, a digital course evaluation must be carried out at least every three years. Its purpose is to gather the students experiences with the course.


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