University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Sociology

Postgraduate Course: Researching Global Social Change (SCIL11029)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course explores various approaches to researching sociological topics and issues in a global framework. The emphasis is on engaging with actual instances of research, in the readings and as presented by staff, to better understand the challenges of studying social processes that are spatially diffuse, and sometimes temporally extended. By focusing attention on such research it aims to help students think more concretely about dissertation work, especially when concerned with global and international issues.

This course combines lectures by the convener and guest lectures by sociology staff with student-led presentation and discussion (again, perhaps supported through a course linked blog, as in Nationalism Studies). The course progresses from problematising what it means to do global research in the first half, to exploring approaches taken by various sociology staff, to researching topics of global scope in the second half.

Aims and Objectives
This course explicitly aims at: (1) preparing students for their dissertations, (2) helping them to think about issues of (desk-based) research design, (3) sensitizing them to the challenges of doing research that is transnational/global in scope, (4) introducing them to examples pertinent research done in Edinburgh sociology, (5) teaching them how to search for literatures (broadly defined) and produce literature reviews and annotated bibliographies.
Course description This core course for the Global Social Change programme provides an introduction to the theoretical concerns, methods, and multitude of data sources used in researching various issues, processes, and dimensions of global social change. Anchored around a range of issues, the course critically examines the nexus between the research question, an appropriate methodology, and the most relevant evidence for better researching global social change.

Outline Content

1. To Research or Not to Research Global Social Change

In this introductory session we consider some of the key epistemological, methodological and pragmatic choices involved in conducting research on global issues.

2 The Labour of Culture in the Global/Digital Economy

This session will provide an overview of contemporary theories of labour, with special emphasis on the relationship between cultural practice, digital technologies, and the rise of what is referred to as "digital labour." As digital labour has forbearers in feminist analyses of care work, emotional labour, immaterial labour, and affective labour, this session will provide an overview of these terms and will ask how using an explicit labour framework can help us to formulate research questions, as well as research methods adequate to working with such theories.

3 Culture, Digital Labour, and Enchantment?

This session will draw from fieldwork among esoteric practitioners in New York City to explore how enchantment and spirituality are "entangled" in both local social structures and cultural practices, as well as shifting global configurations of work, labour, and technology. This session will pay attention to practical methodological issues that present themselves when one is working with theories of affect, as well as digital labour frameworks.

4. Popular Culture, Glocalisation and the City

One of the key questions in globalization studies is the following: should globalization be understood as a top-down process of increasing cultural homogenization (captured in Augé's idea of the "non-place") or a bottom-up process that only makes sense at a local level when populations generate or "re-make" culture according to their own distinct values, traditions and languages? After some introductory scene-setting, this session will be driven by your own experiences of popular culture and consumption in the cities you are familiar with. We'll be examining the concept of "glocalization", as a way of making sense of the push and pull between broad economic forces and globalization "on the ground" and trying to get to grips with the development of particular consumption habits and cultural forces - particularly music scenes - that illustrate these dynamics.

5. It's Not (Just) 'the Environment, Stupid!': Using Mixed Methods to Explore Influences on Lower-carbon Lifestyles

This session will use my research involving people who have adopted lower-carbon lifestyles as a starting point to explore the pros and cons of different methods of research into everyday practices of energy use. We will consider narrative interviews, open and closed survey questions, more innovative methods drawn from my own and others' research, and the benefits of using mixed methods. We will also explore how these methods relate to different conceptualisations of everyday practices and behavioural change, including the sociological concept of practice theory and more psychosocial theories regarding values and motives.

6. Researching the Hidden - Investigating Drug Trafficking and the Darknet

Sociology often places a lot of store in giving voice to the marginalised. But what about those who deliberately seek out and occupy the marginal or hidden, who participate in global flows of illicit goods and migration? I present my research on drug selling and buying on the darknet - the hidden internet. Illicit markets and activities are becoming more like legal ones - informationalised, globalised, and financialised. Research methods have to adapt to contexts in which people wish to remain hidden and engage with the ethics and politics of the hidden.

7. How is the global made, and how do you trace it?

This talk focuses on two particular aspects of many (perhaps all) global/transnational phenomena. The first is that, although they stretch over huge geographic distances, some of the human interactions involved are among only small numbers of people and are in a sense quite 'intimate'. The second is that (because of the physical distances involved in global/transnational phenomena), those phenomena typically involve technologies. Because many global phenomena are made possible by electronic communication (instant messaging, the web, social media, etc), the talk will continue the discussion begun by Karen Gregory and Angus Bancroft on how web-based methods can supplement more traditional research techniques.

8. Researching Global Bodies

Processes of globalization have bodily consequences and here we look at what some of those might be and how they might be researched. From an international trade in body organs and other aspects of a global health system, to international divisions of labour in everything from making clothes to sex to caring for children. Are human connections being increasingly stretched? What new patterns of global inequalities are emerging and with what bodily consequences? How can social scientists find out about and make sense of these complex patterns and the embodied experiences entailed?

9. Beyond Borders: Quantitative Analysis of Political Participation

After an excellent economic decade for the advanced capitalist economies of the world, the 2007 U.S. crisis propagated around the globe like wildfire bursting "bubbles" and capitalistic dreams equally. The European Union, especially the member-states of the South, fully caught fire in 2008. Demonstrations and riots in Greece warned everyone of the real severity of the situation: homelessness skyrocketed, unemployment was leaving tens of thousands of families without anything to put on the table. But the crisis was not only geographically limited to Greece. In 2011 "Los Indignados" took to the streets and squares of Spain, thus propagating another wildfire, a political counter-wildfire that reached the whole planet. What motivates people to engage in such passionate ways in social movements? How do macro-level factors like international policy and economic crises affect people's political engagement? And more importantly, What kind of role does material inequality play in all this? If capitalist crises and neo-liberal policies are of a cross-national nature, expect resistance to be global too.

10. Between a Block and a Hard Space: Concepts, Methods and Challenges of Urban Social Research

Whilst the city can seem to provide a landscape of fixed boundaries and defined areas, understanding how people subjectively experience this can problematize key areas of social research. How do people understand their neighbourhood, their community and themselves in this complex environment? How does this relate to the information researchers use when making key decisions - such as cartographic maps and surveys? These two lectures will consider what it means to try and research within the urban environment, through looking at both contemporary urban sociology and how we as researchers can consider creativity and subjectivity as part of our methods.
Therefore this lecture looks at social research within the urban environment, examining analytical and methodological challenges faced by the researcher. We will explore contemporary research projects within Chicago, site of some of the earliest urban sociology conducted by researchers such as Robert Park and Louis Wirth. Particularly, we will be considering exactly how a researcher decides on important issues of scale and boundaries, especially when coupled with problematic concepts of community, neighbourhood and social change.

11. Up Close and Personal: Creative Documentation of the Urban Environment

In this follow up lecture, we will look at how theoretical and methodological tools can be used for leverage on a subjective experience of the urban environment. By problematizing the fundamental concept of space, we will move into examining how creative methods can offer purchase on aspects of the urban experience that are otherwise hard to capture. Using examples of film and art, amongst others, we will consider how social space can be explored through these mediums, and how they can inform and complement more traditional research methods such as interviews and survey data.

The course involves one two-hour session every week for the whole class. The first hour may be a lecture, whereas the second hour may be discussion or presentations and group work, or there may be two hours of lecture/discussion format. Students are expected to do the assigned readings in advance and arrive fully prepared to participate. You are required to do key readings, and you are strongly encouraged to read beyond these.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2018/19, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  40
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) All students will be assessed through the writing of an essay (word-limit 4000 words), to be agreed with the course organiser
Feedback All essays are electronically marked and moderated, and given extensive feedback comments. Students are invited to submit an essay abstract and outline to receive feedback in advance of submitting their essay, that they can feed into the final essay.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. engaged with substantive issues in comparative policy analysis
  2. Students will have the ability to assess the appropriate use of a range of research strategies and methods in gaining sociological knowledge in a global context.
  3. Students will have the ability to set their own sociological research agenda in relation to global and international issues.
  4. The students will have be able to present their ideas about their own research to a group of peers for critical discussion.
  5. Students will engage in preparation and presentation of scholarly work for public seminars, and where appropriate, submit work for publication
Reading List
Alcoff, L. M. and Mendieta, E. (2003) Identities: Race, Class, Gender and Nationality, Oxford: Blackwell. [See esp. parts V and VI, National/Transnational Identities and Reconfigurations.]
Boyes, R. (2009) Meltdown Iceland: How the Global Financial Crisis Bankrupted and Entire Country, London, Berlin and New York: Bloomsbury.
Hannerz, U. (1996) Transnational Connections: Culture, People, Places. London: Routledge.
Inglis, T. (2010) Sociological Forensics: Illuminating the Whole from the Particular, Sociology 44(3): 507-22.
Knorr Cetina, K. and Bruegger, U. (2002) Global Microstructures: The Virtual Societies of Financial Markets, American Journal of Sociology 107(4): 905-950.
Tilly, C. (1984) Big Structures, Large Processes, Huge Comparisons, New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Torpey, J. 1999. The Invention of the Passport. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The Urban Sociology Reader, Jan Lin and Christopher Miele (eds), London: Routledge, part (2005), part 5, Globalization and Urban Change.
Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2009) Income Inequality and Social Dysfunction, Annual Review of Sociology 35: 493-511.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Angelica Thumala
Tel: (0131 6)50 6631
Course secretaryMr Joe Burrell
Tel: (0131 6) 51 3892
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information