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POL S 463 A: Law and Violence Data Laboratory

Meeting Time: 
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm
MGH 251
Professional Picture
Geoffrey P.R. Wallace

Syllabus Description:

POL S 463 A Law and Violence Data Laboratory
Advanced Seminar in International Relations

Winter 2024
M/W 1:30pm-3:20pm
Mary Gates Hall (MGH), Room 251

Course Syllabus PDF

*Important Note Regarding Enrollment*
Registration for this course is by Add Code only with the instructor’s permission. Because this is a small seminar, there are only a limited number of seats available and not everyone who is interested may be able to register. If you are interested in being considered for this course, please fill out an application using the following link. Students who are selected will be contacted for additional information and next steps.

Course Description
This seminar introduces students to some of the crucial earlier stages of the social scientific research process – including concept formation, research design, but in particular the many matters of measurement and data collection. In most courses, students are often presented with the “final products” from scholarly endeavors, usually in the form of journal articles or books (e.g., on different arguments about compliance with treaties, or targeting civilians in war). These publications are frequently the culmination of years of hard work, resulting from countless decisions large and small made along the way. But often left not fully answered are questions like the following: How did the researchers come to formulate the questions they asked? What challenges and trade-offs did they inevitably encounter in the early stages of the research process, and how did they address them? And how did they come to select particular types of methods and data for answering their questions (or perhaps just as crucially, why did they choose not to use others)?

In this seminar, students will address these and related questions by thinking through, and engaging with, the many steps that together form the data collection process. We will do so through an in-depth examination of different approaches to conceptualizing and measuring political and social phenomena. While these approaches are relevant across various fields, we will focus substantively on applications from the study of law and political violence – areas with particularly rich and varied methodological traditions. To make some of these abstract principles more concrete and put them into action, this course also has a large collaborative and experiential component, where students will work individually and together on a larger data collection initiative related to violence against journalists worldwide. 

Course Objectives

  • Define and describe some of the main considerations in conceptualizing and measuring phenomena in the social sciences, including validity, reliability, and precision.
  • Compare and contrast a range of data collection approaches, including archives, government and non-governmental reports, interviews and surveys, experiments, newspapers, social media, and satellite and other spatial data, among others.
  • Identify and apply some of the particular dynamics involved in, and tools available for, collaborative data collection endeavors.
  • Advance a larger existing research project on the use of violence as a strategy against journalists and other members of the media.

Course Requirements

Students are expected to attend all class meetings.

Final grades for the course are determined by the following components:

  • Data Collection/Classification Chunks and Logs/Journaling (weekly) – 50%
  • Data Presentation – 10%
  • Reflective Essay – 15%
  • Participation – 25%


Catalog Description: 
Conceptual, theoretical, organizational, and ethical considerations involved in the data collection process in the social sciences. Emphasis on applications and data sources drawn from the study of law and violence.
GE Requirements: 
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated: 
October 19, 2023 - 2:27am