(Systematic social) observations in social science research


PhD students (and researchers) who are currently conducting observations or will be conducting observations in the near future. The course focusses on the application of observation in the social sciences, with a specific focus on criminological research.
No foreknowledge is expected from the participants. Preparation mainly entails a presentation and a one page outline describing your research (with a specific focus on the observations you are or will be conducting). Participants are expected to be able to discuss with other participants in English (language in which the course will be given).

Organising & Scientific Committee

  • Prof. Dr. Antoinette Verhage (Faculty of Law and Criminology, Department of Criminology, Criminal Law & Social Law)
  • Yinthe Feys (PhD researcher, Department of Criminology, Criminal Law & Social Law)

Inter-university partnership with:

- UGent: Prof. Dr. Bart Defrancq
- KUL: Prof. Dr. Jeroen Maesschalck
- VUB: Prof. Dr. Kristel Beyens
- UA: Prof. Dr. Wim Hardyns


Observations are increasingly applied in social science research. In this specialist course, researchers will learn which types of observation exist (including (dis)advantages and tips and tricks) and which of these types is most suited to your research project. After this general introduction, the course will zoom in on systematic social observations (SSO), the development of an SSO protocol and tips and tricks for SSO application. This will also be practiced actively. The course will incorporate both theoretical lessons and practical applications (based on the research projects of the participants and the experience of the lecturer).


This specialist course relates to the topic of observation methods in social science research. Both within and outside the Doctoral Schools training programme, courses on (systematic social) observations are only rarely organized. As such, researchers wanting to conduct observations are usually dependant on self -study, learning themselves about observation methodology. It would be useful, however, to give a clear overview of different types of observations, to which extent they are used, their (dis)advantages and practical implications. This specialist course wants to bridge this gap by not only giving a theoretical outline about the different types of observation but also applying it to the specific research projects of the participants of the course. Special attention will be given to systematic
social observations, which are increasingly being used in the field of criminology to enhance objectivity by using a codebook.


This course aims to enlighten the participants about the different types of observation and how to conduct (systematic social) observations. Not only will theoretical insights broaden the researchers’ knowledge about the different possibilities, the application of this knowledge to the researchers’ projects as a form of individual feedback will help start (or continue) their observation phase.


  • Prof. Dr. John McCluskey

Affiliation: Department of Criminal Justice, College of Liberal Arts, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)
Contact details: Mail:
One Lomb Memorial Drive, Rochester, NY 14623

John McCluskey earned his BA, MA, and PhD from the University at Albany. His primary teaching areas include Criminal Justice and Theory. His most recent research has included the study of body camera adoption in two divisions of LAPD with Justice and Security Strategies, a large scale longitudinal data collection effort to measure prevalence, causes, and consequences of teacher victimization in San Antonio, Texas with Dr. Byongook Moon, and a national study of the evidentiary value of body worn camera among prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Dates and Programme

  • Day 1: Monday February 3rd, 2020 from 10h00 - 17h00

Introduction course
Theory on observation methods
Lunch break
Practical example of (systematic social) observations

  • Day 2: Tuesday February 4th, 2020 from 9h00 - 16h00

Presentations participants
Short break
Presentations participants
Lunch break
Interactive session: practical exercises

  • Day 3: Wednesday February 5th, 2020 from 9h00 - 13h00

Interactive session: practical exercises in real life
Short break
Interactive session: developing an observation protocol or codebook


  • Ghent University, Large IRCP-room, Faculty of Law and Criminology, Ghent University (Universiteitstraat 4, 9000 Gent)

Registration fee

Free of charge for members of Ghent University and other Flemish Universities Doctoral Schools of Arts, Humanities and Law + Social and Behavioral Sciences


Number of participants

Maximum 15 PhD students

Teaching material

The teaching material will mainly consist of a literature list of basic literature on the topic and (where possible) the full-texts of those articles that are crucial in this field. It will be complemented with the powerpoint presentations of the lecturer and the presentations of the PhD students.

Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

The course will be evaluated by attendance (100%), the presentation of the observations the participants are currently conducting or will be conducting in the near future and the development of an observation protocol (or codebook). Before the start of the course,
participants will also be asked to send in a one page outline describing their research (with a specific focus on the observations they are or will be conducting).