Methods for Social Research (Sociology UN3010)

Spring 2021 Columbia University

How do social scientists know what they know? This course will teach you how to 1) formulate questions and hypotheses about the social world that are both interesting and empirically tractable, 2) identify the appropriate method (or methods) for answering a given question, 3) design and implement a data collection strategy that employs said method(s), and 4) interpret the data you gather in light of your initial questions and hypotheses. Throughout the semester, you will develop and hone these skills through practice. This practice will include research exercises as well as careful critiques of prior research.

You will not become an expert in any one method of social inquiry; instead, you will become familiar with a range of methods. Armed with this toolkit, you will be able to select the method that is best suited to answering the questions that interest you. As you will learn, all of the methodological tools at our disposal have strengths as well as limitations. Our job as social scientists is not to take a dogmatic stance in favor of one kind of method or against another, but to glean whatever insights we can from the various vantage points each method offers us. To this end, you are expected to complete research exercises that involve qualitative and quantitative, observational and experimental methods.

This course is a good starting point for a larger research project, such as a senior thesis. However, I hope you will apply your newfound skills beyond sociology and across diverse situations that require you to collect or evaluate empirical evidence: as a consumer of news, when writing reports in a professional setting, when serving on a jury duty, etc.