Methodologies for the Social Sciences III: Qualitative

Anno accademico 2020/2021
Docente Manuela Caiani

Didattica integrativa


Examination procedure

Relazione di seminario.


Compulsory for the 1st year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Compulsory for the 1st year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"

Optional for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"


Overview of course:

The course gives an introduction to the qualitative methods that are most commonly used in the social and political sciences. The objective is to provide an encompassing illustration of a wide range of techniques that researchers employ to gather and analyze qualitative data. Moreover, the course will put qualitative methods in the broader context of the overall research process, addressing topics like the consistency between the research puzzle and qualitative methods, the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods (i.e. triangulation), and discussing some specific qualitative methods, like process tracing, frame analysis and in depth interviews. The course will also discuss the role of the Internet and digital technologies in the process of data gathering and data analysis.

The practical details of a given methodological tool will be demonstrated with the help of examples and exercises drawn from empirical research. Exercises will include the practical construction in class of the tools of analysis (i.e. codebooks, questionnaires) necessary in order to applied the above mentioned research techniques. Assignments at home will complement the applied part of the course. 

Course format:

The course will be divided into seven sessions of 3 hours each. Each session will begin with a presentation by the instructor, followed by a general discussion. The last part of each session will be devoted to ‘Research in practice comments’: Students are expected to prepare comments related to the topic of the session and linked to their own research projects. The aim is to use the readings to let emerge doubts, questions and comments related to the students’ research projects (not just a summary of the readings). Students might also bring very practical research dilemma about data gathering and data analysis, linked to at least one of the compulsory readings.


Session 1:  Case Studies: How to design them?


Yin, Robert K. (2003) Case Study Research: Design and Methods. Third edition, Thousand Oaks: Sage, pp. 3-24 (‘How to Know Whether and When to Use Case Studies as a Research Method’)

George, Alexander L. and Andrew Bennett (2004) Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 89-108 (‘Phase Two: Carrying Out the Case Studies’).

Further Readings

Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, “Can One or a Few Cases Yield Theoretical Gains”, in James Mahoney and Dietrich Rueschemeyer (eds.), Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 305-336.

Yin, Robert K. (2003) Case Study Research: Design and Methods. Third edition, Thousand Oaks: Sage, pp. 67-108 (‘Preparing for Data Collection’ and ‘Collecting the Evidence’).

Session 2:  Acting as Sherlock Holmes: Process Tracing


Gerring, John (2007) Case Study Research: Principles and Practices. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 172-185 (‘Internal Validity: Process Tracing’).

 George, Alexander L. and Andrew Bennett (2004) Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 205-232 (‘Process Tracing and Historical Explanation’).

Further readings

Venesson, Pascal, “Case studies and process tracing: theories and practices” in della Porta, D. and Keating, M., eds. Approaches and Methodologies in the Social Sciences, a pluralist perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, 241-239.

George, Alexander L., “Case Studies and Theory Development: The Method of Structured, Focused Comparison,” in Paul Gordon Lauren, ed., Diplomacy. New Approaches in History, Theory, and Policy, New York: The Free Press, 1979, 43-68.

Derek Beach and Rasmus Brun Pedersen (2013), Process-Tracing Methods Foundations and Guidelines, University of Michigan Press , Introduction

Session 3:  Analysing texts and speeches: claim –making analysis


Caiani, M. and Graziano, P. 2016, “Varieties of Populism: Insights from the Italian Case”, in Italian Political Science Review, 46 (2), 243-267.

Donatella della Porta and Manuela Caiani, 2006, The Europeanization of Public Discourse in Italy: A Top-Down Process?”, in European Union Politics, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 77-112.

Further Readings

Trachtenberg, Marc (2006) The Craft of International History: A Guide to Method. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 140-168 (‘Working with Documents’).

Koopmans, Ruud and Paul Statham, 1999, Political Claims Analysis: Integrating Protest Event and Political Discourse Approaches, Mobilization: An International Quarterly, Volume 4, Number 2, 203 - 221


Session 4: Analysing texts and speeches: Discourse and frame analysis


Tonkiss, Fran, “Analyzing discourse”, in Clive Seale (eds.), Researching Society and Culture, London, Sage, 1998, 245-250.

Snow, D. (2004), “Framing Processes, Ideology and Discursive Fields”, in David A. Snow, Sarah Anne Soule, Hanspeter Kriesi (eds.), The Blackwell companion to social movements, pp.380-412

Further Readings

Caiani, M. and della Porta, D., 2011, “The Elitist Populism of the Extreme Right: A Frame Analysis of Extreme Right Wing Discourses in Italy and Germany”, in Acta Politica, Vol 46, n2, pp.180-202.


Session 5: Types of Interviews: surveys, in depth, semi-structured interviews and life histories


Corbetta, P. (2003), “The Qualitative Interview”, Ch 10. in Social Research: Theory, Methods and Techniques, Sage Publications, London, pp. 264-283.

Della Porta, Donatella, “Life Histories Analysis of Social Movement Activists”, in M. Diani e R. Eyerman (eds.), Studying Social Movements, London, Sage, 1992, pp. 168-193.

Magnusson, E. and J. Marecek (2015) Doing Interview-Based Qualitative Research, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. CHAPTERS 5 AND 6

Further Readings

Symposium on ‘Interview Methods in Political Science in PS: Political Science and Politics 35(4), 2002, pp. 663-688. Articles by Beth Leech (‘Asking Questions: Sampling and Completing Elite Interviews’), Kenneth Goldstein (‘Getting in the Door: Sampling and Completing Elite Interviews’), Joel Aberbach and Bert Rockman (‘Conducting and Coding Elite Interviews’), Laura Woliver (‘Ethical Dilemmas in Personal Interviewing’), and Jeffrey Barry (‘Validity and Reliability Issues in Elite Interviewing’).

Weiss, Robert, Learning from Strangers, New York, Free Press, 1994, chapter 4.

Session 6:  Interviewing in Practice (+ class simulation)


Holstein, James A. and Jaber F. Gubrium, 2002, “Active Interviewing”, in D. Wenberg (ed.), Qualitative Research Methods, Oxford, Blackwell, pp. 112-126.

Bazeley, P. (2013) Qualitative Data Analysis, London: Sage. CHAPTER 7,

Further readings

Seale, Clive, “Qualitative Interviewing”, in Clive Seale (eds.), Researching Society and Culture, London, Sage, 1998, 202-216.

Deakin, H. & Wakefield, K., (2014) Skype interviewing: reflections of two PhD researchers. Qualitative Research, 14(5), pp.603–616.

Session 7:  When relations are important: Social Network Analysis

Diani, M. (2003), ‘Leaders’ Or Brokers? Positions and Influence in Social Movement Net-works, in Social Movements and Networks Relational Approaches to Collective Action, Edited by Mario Diani and Doug McAdam , ch.5

Caiani, M., (2014) “Social Network Analysis”, in della Porta, D. (ed.), Methodological Practices In Social Movement Research, Oxford University Press, pp. 368-396.



The assessment of the course is based on: class participation (50%);  3 assignments (50%).



Assignments will pertain to the readings for that week and, as a general rule, will ask students to provide illustrations of how they might apply the principles of research design and various methods discussed that week to their own research project. Students will be expected to work either individually or in a group in class or at home.

Assignments may consist in short problem sets with practical exercises. E.g. solve a practical methodological exercise related to your own research, for example writing the contact letter for interviews; construct the ‘codebook’ for your documents analysis; select and justify the sample of your  interview partners. Students will illustrate the results and discuss ideas with the rest of the class. In total 3 assignments will be given for this course, as the basis for the final assesment. The required length of each assignment is 2 pages (for a total of  about 6-8 pages, to be considered as the ‘final paper’ for the course).

The assignments can be conducted in Italian for the 'allievi del corso ordinario'.

Textbook and other Materials:

Reader prepared by the instructor. Papers to be downloaded from SNS’s Website. Students are expected to read the compulsory readings before each session.  

Bibliographical references

see above the schedule of the course