Postgraduate Course: Research in Africa (PGSP11340)
|School||School of Social and Political Science
||College||College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||Research in Africa (RiA) is a dedicated Africa-focused research training course that equips students with some of the relevant skills required to undertake postgraduate fieldwork on the continent. The course introduces the principal methodologies and strategies that are commonly applied to academic research in the Social Sciences, and considers their practical application for students who might undertake postgraduate fieldwork in Africa. In essence, the course approaches some standard research methods from a perspective that is constantly mindful of the African setting - a setting that can present quite different challenges from the (implied) northern/western setting of many research training courses.
It is expected that students taking Research in Africa are planning actual fieldwork in Africa later in the year. (This is certainly not a requirement for taking the course though.) Students are encouraged to consider their work for this course as part of their preparations in shaping a research topic and agenda for their fieldwork, and to help them anticipate and plan around potential methodological, ethical and practical issues.
'Research' is introduced, with emphasis on interdisciplinarity and the need for flexibility in methods and techniques that the course discusses, and a preparedness to adapt to situations when conducting fieldwork. Some practical issues in preparing for fieldwork are covered, and discussion is devoted to perceptions of the researcher - be s/he 'local' or 'foreign' - and formal and informal ethical considerations. In their design of a research project, students are given the chance to reflect upon and begin to anticipate challenges of the African setting - punctuated throughout the course in 'what if?' scenarios raised by the course organiser. Ethics, bureaucracy, and some practical concerns that can strongly influence research in Africa are cross-cutting themes that are raised in all sessions, and they come under discussion in a dedicated session.
Research in (and about) Africa: an overview
This session opens with an outline of the course, then turns to an overview of research as a project. Some of the key terms that are applied to research are introduced, including: Research questions, research paradigms, research design, research methods ('methods of data collection'), and research methodology ('methodological considerations'). The relationship between research design and research methods is discussed, and emphasis is placed on the need for flexibility in Africa-based field research.
Focus group discussions:
This session offers an introduction to focus group discussions. It includes consideration on when to use focus group discussions, how to conduct them and who to get involved, and potential pitfalls. The session also considers related issues of language and research assistance.
This session begins with an introduction to interviews and interviewing, looking at the types of interviews available, when they might be used, and how the interview might be explained to 'interviewees' who may not be familiar with this method of data collection.
This fourth session provides an introduction to ethnography, from its origins to its more contemporary application in Africa. Discussion is given to what ethnography 'looks like', when it might be used in research in Africa, along with some of the methodological considerations that relate to its application. (Note that interviews, a frequent component of ethnographic research, are addressed in detail in the preceding session.)
Essay plan discussions:
In readiness for the submission of the forthcoming essay plan, for the first half of the session all students are asked to come prepared to present the following to the class:
A research question and at least two sub-research questions that the essay seeks to answer:
A brief explanation as to why the research is important:
Section headings that outline the structure of the essay:
References to at least two academic publications that are relevant to the essay topic - and which do not appear in this course handbook!
All students' names will be put into a hat and a number of names will be picked at random to decide who presents. All students must therefore be prepared to present! Time will be set aside for students to ask questions on the essay plan and the final essay.
The contribution of qualitative research in enriching research data and analyses is graining recognition across many disciplines. However an increasing emphasis on the monitoring and evaluation of research and development programmes in African countries necessitates an understanding of the various methods available for quantifying observations.
Positionality and reflexivity:
This session considers the important issues of positionality and reflexivity. How, if at all, does your position - age, education, ethnicity, gender, local knowledge, marital status/sexuality, religious beliefs, nationality, research experience, socio-economic status, and so on - affect your data collection and influence your findings?
Ethics, bureaucracy and other important considerations:
This session deals with the important issue of ethics, and also with bureaucracy and some other practical concerns that can strongly influence research in Africa. Emphasis is placed on the need to carefully consider these issues at an early stage in the research project, and to set some of these processes in motion well before undertaking field research - especially formal ethical review, and research clearance.
An understanding of the past is essential to any research on the present. This applies to every research topic, however contemporary and seemingly forward-looking. The session introduces students to archival research in Africa, and points to some of the rich sources of information that can inform our knowledge of 'possible futures' and 'contingent pasts'.
Research in Africa: common themes
This session opens with a lecture that provides a summary of the key points from each class and ties together the main themes of the course.
Student Learning Experience:
In the main the first half of the meeting sees the course organiser presenting on the week's topic. The second half then gives the opportunity for students to learn from a range of invited doctoral and post-doctoral researchers who present on their fieldwork and reflect on what they have learnt through the course of their research in Africa. As in the first half of each meeting when the course organiser encourages group discussion, time is set aside towards the end of every session for students to ask questions to and discuss issues with the weekly presenters.
It is expected that students taking Research in Africa are planning actual fieldwork in Africa later in the year. (This is certainly not a requirement for taking the course though.) Students are encouraged to consider their work for this course as part of their preparations in shaping a research topic and agenda for their fieldwork, and to help them anticipate and plan around potential methodological, ethical and practical issues. The assessment for the course - an essay plan worth 20% of the course mark, and a final essay worth 80% - is geared towards this end.
The course is therefore relevant to any student who may be considering conducting fieldwork on the continent, and is equally applicable to researchers from Africa, Europe, North America, or elsewhere - all of whom are looking at Africa while at an institution located in a former colonial power.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
||Other requirements|| None
Information for Visiting Students
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2022/23, Available to all students (SV1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20,
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
||Students are assessed by a 750 word essay plan worth 20% of the course mark, and a final essay of maximum 3,000 words length worth 80%.
Students on this course are not given a list of essay questions to choose from. The essay should critically discuss the relevance and application of any, or a combination of several of the course topics in reference to a future research project.
1. The essay plan should serve as a first step towards the final essay. (See details below on final essay.) The course organiser will provide students with individual written feedback on their essay plan within 15 working days of submission.
Students must submit an essay plan containing all of the following elements:
- completed cover sheet.
- an essay title. You may find it helps you focus your essay, and inform the reader, if the essay title links your research topic (which is addressed in the research question) and some component of your critical discussion of the relevance and application of any, or a combination of several of the course topics in reference to your research project.
- a research question and at least two sub-research questions that the essay seeks to answer.
- a brief explanation as to why the research is important (minimum 100 and maximum 200 words in total).
- a short structured outline of the essay in sections (minimum 200 and maximum 450 words in total). You may choose to use this part to outline how you will critically discuss the relevance and application of any, or a combination of several of the course topics in reference to your research questions.
- a preliminary literature list with at least eight references to academic publications relevant to the essay topic (no word limit).
As an exercise addressing a planned future research project, the essay plan should not seek to answer the research questions.
2. The final essay of maximum 3,000 words length. It is recognised that you may have changed your research topic since the essay plan was written. The submitted essay plan will not be taken into consideration during the marking of the long essay. The long essay does not have to rigidly follow the above elements required for the essay plan.
For the essay, students should briefly outline a planned future research project, indicate why the research is important, and give one research question and at least two sub-research questions that the project intends to address. This section of the essay should not exceed 500 words. The remainder of the essay should critically discuss the relevance and application of any, or a combination of several of the course topics in reference to the same planned future research project. As an exercise addressing a planned future research project, the essay therefore should not seek to answer the research questions.
There is clearly insufficient space in the long essay to discuss every topic covered in Research in Africa. You might decide to indicate why what you focus on in your essay is more important to address than other topics covered in the course.
Extensive reference should be made to scholarly literature; both those publications devoted to methods and methodological considerations, and also publications where the topics you address are discussed by authors in relation to their own field research. But do bear in mind that the course is about research in Africa, so excessive reference to approaches that are aimed at a (implied) northern/western setting may not always be appropriate.
The planned future research project may be for a dissertation for an MSc degree, or it may be for a doctoral thesis. (In exceptional circumstances it may be for a hypothetical research project - in which case you should briefly indicate in the introduction why the research project may/will not be taking place in reality.)
||Written feedback for both the essay plan and the long essay will be returned within 15 working days of submission. Students are also welcome to discuss feedback in person, either during my Guidance and Feedback Hours (Thursdays, 1400-1600) or by appointment: Thomas.Molony@ed.ac.uk.
|No Exam Information
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Identify some principal research methodologies and strategies, and have an understanding of their application in an African setting
- Conduct interviews and ethnography, and anticipate and reflect on the different challenges of a non-western research environment
- Consider, and address in advance, some of the practical preparations of Africa-based fieldwork
- Deal with complex ethical and professional issues and make informed judgements on issues not addressed by current professional and/or ethical codes or practices
- Understand the requirements of the dissertation, and appreciate how the issues discussed in the course might feature in it.
|Textbooks on social research methods have sections on some of the topics covered in the weekly sessions, albeit usually with no mention of anywhere in Africa. Regardless of its implicit Northern focus, this is an excellent introduction to social research methods (that is used by a number of Africa-based researchers), and includes sections on some of the issues discussed in this course: |
Bryman, A. 2008. Social Research Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press
For a background covering some seminal works about Africa, with discussion on understandings of the continent:
Grinker, R.R., Lubkemann, S.C., et al, eds. 2010. Perspectives on Africa: A reader in culture, history, and representation. Chichester, West Sussex; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell
On various methods of data collection, and/or methodological considerations:
Becker, H.S. 1998. Tricks of the Trade: How to think about your research while you're doing it. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Excerpt here: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/041247.html.
Davies, C.A. 2008. Reflexive Ethnography: A
guide to researching selves and others. New York: Routledge
Hammett, D., Twyman, C., et al. 2015. Research and Fieldwork in Development. London: Routledge
Ritchie, J., Lewis, J., eds. 2003. Qualitative Research Practice: A guide for social science students and researchers. London: Sage
Robson, C. 2002. Real World Research. Oxford: Blackwell
This has been recommended for writer's block:
Becker, H.S. 1986. Writing for Social Scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Further literature beyond the compulsory class readings will be added to Learn during the course of the semester.
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
||Please note that it is not permitted to Audit this course.
|Course organiser||Prof Paul Nugent
Tel: (0131 6)50 3756
|Course secretary||Mr Adam Petras