Teaching Qualitative Inquiry to Ignite the Social Psychological Imagination

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Abstract

In this article I discuss how incorporating a module of assignments requiring students to conduct qualitative inquiry in an undergraduate social psychology course fosters a greater understanding of diverse theoretical perspectives within social psychology, builds practical research skill competencies, and stimulates the growth of their Social Psychological Imagination; a concept I base on Mills’s (1959) idea of the “Sociological Imagination” (1959). Through a series of field observations and low-stakes writing assignments (Elbow, 1997) that build toward a final report of findings about social behavior observed in public spaces, students learn how to observe, analyze, and write like a social psychologist. In this module, students are required to observe social behavior in a public place and generate a theory about a social norm that impacts behavior in the place they observed. Actively carrying out qualitative inquiry and writing about it is important for developing core competencies in social psychology. Qualitative inquiry affords the opportunity for students to indulge their Social Psychological Imagination and engage in reflexive, critical, historically informed and person-sensitive practices. Furthermore, the practice of communicating the process of qualitative inquiry develops academic and professional writing tools that are useful to students in multiple domains. By incorporating practice conducting qualitative inquiry into a content-based course like social psychology, students’ understanding of course material is enriched as they come to learn how knowledge in the discipline is produced while providing real-life examples of social psychological theories in action.

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