CPLN 508:  Urban Research Methods\\Professor Akira Drake Rodriguez                                           

Course Time and Location: Thursday, 2 - 4:30 PM\\David Rittenhouse Lab 2C2

Office Hours and Location: Tuesdays, 1-3 PM and by appointment\\Duhring Wing, Rm 314

Course Overview

Designing and conducting urban research is an exciting and exasperating endeavor.  The means and ways of collecting, understanding, and disseminating information on “the urban” are innumerable, and researchers are often unable to capture much of the complexity of a city as a result.  In this course, we will explore the urban research process through a qualitative lens.  From asking a research question to scheduling a research plan, this course will take students from the beginning of the research process to the beginning of the data collection process.  This course will also survey qualitative methods and methodologies, including semi-structured interviews, focus groups, archival and document content analysis, participant observation, and case studies.  Students will also receive an orientation from the Penn Library, organizational tools and guides for conducting and organizing a literature review, and an opportunity to present their thesis proposals at the end of the semester to PennDesign students and faculty.  

This course is designed for graduate students undertaking urban research theses.  It is also an opportunity to practically apply qualitative methods and methodologies in one of the best laboratories – the City of Philadelphia.  Students will engage with the city’s resources: sounds, smells, sights, institutions, places, and spaces as skill-building exercises that will hopefully drive or supplement the data collection of their own research projects.  Finally, students will have an opportunity to write, workshop, and refine their research proposals.  Students will post sections of their proposals to the course website and workshop in small and large groups before presenting to the wider faculty. Students are encouraged to comment on each other’s work as well as to post their sections as they finish them. Deadlines are intentionally absent in this course for proposals to accommodate the varying stages and progress of student research in the course.     

The readings assigned in this course are critical and intended to decenter and decolonize research methods and methodologies that center the interests of white supremacist capitalist patriarchs.  Students will learn of decolonizing practices such as presenting with acknowledgements of the land, the ongoing colonizing impacts of the production of knowledge on urban “subjects,” and the harms and trauma of urban research on “marginalized” peoples.  Students are encouraged to investigate and adopt methods that center community knowledge, nontraditional mediums, and minimize harm in urban communities. Students will submit critical self-reflections of methods and notes with assignments.  

Weekly Schedule

Week  Date                Topic 

Part I

1          Aug. 30           Introduction and proposal roundtable

2          Sept. 6            Research questions and design

3          Sept. 13          Library orientation and literature review\\Kleinman Center 

Part II  

4          Sept. 20         Ethics of qualitative research\\Assignment 1 Due

5          Sept. 27         Participant observation & ethnographic methods

6          Oct. 4             FALL BREAK - No Class 

7          Oct. 11            Focus Groups & Survey Research\\Assignment 2 Due

8          Oct. 18            Narratives, interviews, stories

9          Oct. 25            ACSP Conference - No Class

10        Nov. 1             Case Studies\\Assignment 3 Due

11        Nov 8              Archives and document coding

12        Nov. 15           Analyzing and writing qualitative results


Part III

13        Nov. 20           Virtual proposal writing and workshop

14        Nov. 29           Proposal writing and workshop

15        Dec. 6            Final class/presentations\\Assignment 4 Due



Assignments, Attendance, Course Participation and Expectations

1.    Description of research question & implied logic model (Due: Sept 20) [10%]

2.    Field notes (Due: Oct 4) [15%]

3.    Interview protocol and transcript (Due: Nov 1) [25%]

4.    Final Presentation and Proposal (Week of Dec 5) [25%]

5.    Participation and In-Class Exercises [25%]


Students who submit proof of the Human Subjects Certification will receive additional points toward their participation and in-class exercises grade. 


Students are expected to participate in a variety of ways: by asking questions and otherwise prompting discussion during class; by posting and commenting on other student’s work on the course site, by suggesting articles (in academic and popular presses) that reflect innovative or interesting uses of the qualitative methods and methodologies covered in the course.  The course is focused on customizing the discussion around students’ research interests, and students are encouraged to bring readings from other classes to familiarize fellow workshop attendees with their subject matter.  

Students are expected to be respectful of others during the workshop. Participation is encouraged, but it need not always be through vocal participation in the classroom.  Students are encouraged to reflect on readings, lectures, and questions before participating.


Support and Accommodations


The University of Pennsylvania has numerous support services and accommodations for all students.  Below is a list – that is not at all exhaustive – of some of the services offered at the University.  Please feel free to reach out to me directly if you need a referral or guidance navigating these services.  The website and office for the Vice Provost for University Life will also have guidance for students in need.



Mental Health and Mindfulness

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is the counseling center for the University of Pennsylvania. CAPS offers free and confidential services to all Penn undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. CAPS helps students adjust to university life, manage personal and situational challenges, develop coping strategies, and grow personally and professionally. CAPS' trained clinicians offer individual and group therapy. Students can access CAPS in a variety of ways, depending on their individual situation.  CAPS also offers general programming and

Call: 215.898.7021

Visit: 3624 Market St. 1stFloor West [PennCard Required]


Sexual Harassment and Intimate Partner Violence 

Sexual violence, relationship violence, domestic violence and stalking in any form, including sexual assault and rape, are prohibited by University policy. Sexual violence includes a range of behaviors in which an act of a sexual nature is taken against another individual without the individual’s consent or when the individual is unable to consent.

Resource offices are available to assist members of the Penn community and visitors to the campus who have been, or know someone who has been, the victim of sexual violence. The staff of these offices are available to provide information regarding options for pursuing a complaint as well as counseling and support. The information provided generally will be held in confidence, consistent with the University’s obligation to address complaints of sexual violence, unless the person making the complaint gives his or her consent to the disclosure of that information. The commitment to confidentiality does not preclude the sharing of information among responsible University administrators as needed to address the complaint or to keep members of the University community safe. 

·      Office of the Chaplain(students, staff, faculty or visitors)

·      Counseling and Psychological Services(students)

·      LGBT Center(students, staff or faculty)

·      Office of the Ombudsman(students, staff or faculty)

·      Penn Women’s Center(students, staff or faculty)

·      Special Services Department, Division of Public Safety (students, staff, faculty or visitors)

·      Student Health Service(students)

·      Vice Provost for University Life(students)

The University also has resources available to respond to informal and formal complaints of sexual violence. The staff of these resource offices will provide information regarding the process to be used in responding to the complaint, investigate the allegations, and ensure that appropriate action is taken.

·      Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs(complaints by or regarding students, staff, faculty or visitors)

·      Dean’s Offices and Department Chairs(complaints regarding faculty)

·      Division of Human Resources, Staff and Labor Relations(complaints by or regarding staff members)

·      Penn Police Department, Division of Public Safety (complaints by or regarding students, staff, faculty or visitors)

·      Office of the Provost(complaints by or regarding students or faculty members)

·      Special Services Department, Division of Public Safety (complaints by or regarding students, staff, faculty or visitors)

·      Office of Student Conduct(complaints regarding students)

·      Title IX Coordinator/Executive Director, Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs (complaints by or regarding staff, students, faculty or visitors).

Food Insecurity and Microloans

The First Generation Low Income Center (FGLI) is a new initiative at the University of Pennsylvania intended to assist first generation and/or low-income undergraduate and graduate students.  Penn students who are first generation and/or low income may find themselves in need of emergency funds during their time on campus. The Division of the Vice Provost for University Life's Access and Retention Fund provides one-time Emergency Funds or Opportunity Grants to help low-income and/or first-generation students participate in experiences they otherwise cannot afford. The FGLI office also offers a textbook library, library assistance, assistance for students remaining on campus during breaks, community food pantry, and commencement regalia.  


Website: https://www.vpul.upenn.edu/fgli

Visit: Greenfield Intercultural Center, 3708 Chestnut St.




Substance Abuse Counseling and Student Intervention Services

The Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Program Initiatives and Penn’s Student Intervention Services serve as long-term and immediate resources for students dealing with substance abuse.

The mission of the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Program Initiatives is to reduce harm related to alcohol and other drug use at the University of Pennsylvania.  Key efforts focus on education, prevention and confidential, non-judgmental brief interventions for both individual Penn students and student groups.  In accordance with this mission, the office oversees policies, environmental management efforts and educational programs that encourage a safe and healthy campus environment for students. Penn Student Intervention Services (SIS) assists the University community in handling emergencies or critical incidents involving the welfare and safety of students.

 Website: https://www.vpul.upenn.edu/intervention.php

Visit: 3611 Locust Walk, Vice Provost Office for University Life


LGBT Center,  Preferred Name and Pronouns

The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center enriches the experience and fosters the success of Penn's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. The Center assists faculty, staff, and alumni, particularly in their efforts to serve students. The Center increases the general Penn community's awareness, understanding, and acceptance of its sexual and gender minority members. The primary activities of the Center are outreach and education, supportive services for individuals and campus organizations, including network facilitation, and advocacy for sensitive, inclusive University policies and practices.


In support of the University of Pennsylvania's commitment to providing an equitable and safe experience for students whose birth name and/or legal name does not reflect their gender identity and/or gender expression, Penn accepts requests from any student seeking to use a preferred first and/or middle name in University records.  A student's preferred name can and will be used where feasible in all University systems unless the student's birth name and/or legal name use is required by law or the student's preferred name use is for intent of misrepresentation.


Contact: Director Erin Cross: ecross@upenn.edu

Visit: 3907 Spruce St (Carriage House)


Learning Resources and Disability Self-Identification Form

The Weingarten Learning Resources Center provides academic support services and programs for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students at the University of Pennsylvania through its two offices. The services and programs of both offices are free and confidential.  The Office of Learning Resources Provides professional instruction in university relevant skills such as academic reading, writing, study strategies, and time management to the Penn student community. The Office of Student Disabilities Services Provides comprehensive, professional services and programs for students who self-identify with disabilities to ensure equal academic opportunities and participation in University-sponsored programs.A disability self-identification form is found on this website: https://www.vpul.upenn.edu/secure/lrc/form/selfid/


WLRC website: https://www.vpul.upenn.edu/lrc/

Visit: Stouffer Commons, 3702 Spruce St., Suite 300


The University does not have an office to handle complaints of racism and/or racial harassment.  Department Chair Lisa Servon is making an effort to listen to and address student complaints of racism and sexism within the department, and you are free to contact her or attend one of her many outreach events.  I will announce these meetings in class.  


Schedule and Readings

*all readings are posted on the Canvas site, under "Pages"*

*Textbooks are also on course reserve*


PART I:  Research Framing & Design

August 30:  introduction and proposal roundtable

·      Stephen Terrell. (2016) Writing a Proposal for Your Dissertation-Guidelines and Examples.The Guilford Press. Chapters 1 & 2.

·      Robert A. Beauregard. (2015). Planning Matter: Acting with Things. Chicago:  University of Chicago Press.  Chapters 2, 3 & 6.

·      Wacquant, L. (2008). Relocating gentrification: the working class, science and the state in recent urban research. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 32(1), 198-205.

September 6:      Research questions and design

·      Stephen Terrell. (2016) Writing a Proposal for Your Dissertation-Guidelines and Examples.The Guilford Press. Chapters 4 &5.

·      Lester, T. W. (2012). Labor Standards and Local Economic Development: Do Living Wage Provisions Harm Economic Growth? Journal of Planning Education and Research32(3), 331-348.

·      Carmona, M. (2014). The place-shaping continuum: A theory of urban design process. Journal of Urban Design19(1), 2-36.

·      Holden, M. (2006). Urban indicators and the integrative ideals of cities. Cities23(3), 170-183.

·      Cutter, S. L., Burton, C. G., & Emrich, C. T. (2010). Disaster resilience indicators for benchmarking baseline conditions. Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, 7(1).

·      Gyourko, J., Saiz, A., & Summers, A. (2008). A new measure of the local regulatory environment for housing markets: The Wharton Residential Land Use Regulatory Index. Urban Studies, 45(3), 693-729.

·      Landis, J. D. (2017). The End of Sprawl? Not so Fast. Housing Policy Debate, 1-39.

September 13: Library orientation and literature review - Meet in Kleinman Center for Energy Policy

Part II: Qualitative & Survey Methods

September 20: Ethics of qualitative research

·      Dowling (2010) Power, Subjectivity, and Ethics in Qualitative Research, Qualitative Research Methods in Human Geography,26-39

·      Hunt, M. 2010. ‘Active Waiting’: Habits and the Practice of Conducting Qualitative Research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. 9(1): 69-76.

·      Lin, A. 1998. Bridging Positivist and Interpretivist Approaches to Qualitative Methods. Policy Studies Journal, 26(1): 162-180

·      Minkler (2004) Ethical Challenges for the ‘Outside’ Researcher in Community-Based Participatory Research, Health Education and Behavior, 31(6)

Assignment #1 Due

September 27: Participant observation

·      Kearns (2010) Seeing with Clarity: Undertaking Observational Research, Qualitative Research Methods in Human Geography

·      Walford, G. 2009. The Practice of Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, Ethnography and Education, 4(2): 117-130

·      Gorman, R. 2016. Changing Ethnographic Mediums: the Place-Based Contingency of Smartphones and Scratchnotes. AREA,49(2): 223-229

In-Class Exercise: Neighborhood Walk

October 4: NO CLASS

October 11: Focus Groups & Survey Research

·      Brown, S. 2015. Using Focus Groups in Naturally Occurring Settings. Qualitative Research Journal, 15(1): 86-97

·      Lijadi, A.A., van Schalkwyk, G.J. 2014. Online Facebooks Focus Group Research of Hard-to-Reach Participants.International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1-9

·      Halkier, B. 2010. Focus Groups as Social Enactments: Integrating Interaction and Content in the Analysis of Focus Group Data. Qualitative Research, 10(1): 71-89.

·      Survey readings TBD

In Class Exercise: Focus Group Administration + Survey Quizzo

Assignment #2 Due

October 18: Narrative, interviews, stories

·      Feldman, M., Skoldberg, K., Brown, R.N., Horner, D. 2004. Making Sense of Stories: A Rhetorical Approach to Narrative Analysis. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 14(2): 147-170.

·      Meyer, I. et al. 2011. ‘We’d Be Free’: Narratives of Life without Homophobia, Racism, or Sexism.Sex Res Social Policy. 8(3): 204-214.

·      Beuthin, R. 2014. Breathing in the Mud: Tensions in Narrative Interviewing. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 13(1): 122-134

·      Mikecz, R. 2012. Interviewing Elites: Addressing Methodological Issues. Qualitative Inquiry, 18(6): 482-493

·      Arendell, T. 1997. Reflections on the Researcher-Researched Relationship: A Women Interviewing Men. Qualitative Sociology, 20(3): 341-368.


October 25: ACSP – NO CLASS

November 1: Case studies

·      Flyvbjerg, B. (2006). Five misunderstandings about case study research. Qualitative Inquiry12, 219-245

·      Smalls, M.L. 2009. How Many Cases Do I Need? On Science and the Logic of Case Selection in Field-Based Research. Ethnography, 10(1): 5-38

·      Elwood et al (2007) Participatory GIS: The Humboldt/West Humboldt Park Community GIS Project, Chicago, USA, Participatory Action Research Approaches and Methods

·      Prins, Esther. 2010. Participatory Photography: A Tool for Empowerment or Surveillance? Action Research8(4): 426-443.

Assignment #3 Due

November 8: Archives and document coding

·      Nagai, A. 2015. Content Analysis: Its Not Just Bean Counting. Academic Questions. 28(4): 472-479.

·      Messinger, A. 2012. Teaching Content Analysis through Harry PotterTeaching Sociology, 40(4): 360-367

In Class Exercise: Coding and Archives


November 15:  Writing and analyzing qualitative research

·      DeVault, M. (1995). Ethnicity and expertise: Racial-ethnic knowledge in sociological research.Gender & Society, 9 (5), 612-631.

·      Temple, B., Young, A. 2004. “Qualitative Research and Translation Dilemmas.” Qualitative Research4: 161-178.

·      Colyar, J. 2009. Becoming Writing, Becoming Writers. Qualitative Inquiry, 15(2): 421-436.

·      Lather, P. 1986. Issues of Validity in Openly Ideological Research: Between a Rock and a Soft Place. Interchange, 17(4): 63-84.


Part III: Proposal writing and presentation


November 20: NO CLASS - Virtual proposal writing and workshop


November 29:  Proposal writing and workshop


(week of) December 6: Final presentations and proposal due

**December 7 from 10-2PM we will present our proposals to advisors, faculty, and the wider school. Room TBD**

Assignment #4 Due