Problematization Analysis: How and Why something is and became a Social Problem

Course content

Imagine that instead of approaching social phenomena with the aim of testing causal relationships, interpreting meaning or accounting for social constructions, we set out to understand how and why something has become a social problem worthy of our research interest in the first place. This would change our way of posing research questions, of designing qualitative inquiry, of gathering material (e.g., of conducting interviews or taking field notes), of coding and analysing the material – and it would probably lead to new contributions not only to research, but also to our dialogue with practitioners.


One example will illustrate this: Using problematization analysis methods, Pernille Steen Pedersen has recently found that processes leading to stress-related sick-leave from work are not always driven by work overload (as is generally assumed), but by a vicious circle of emotional shame. This is an entirely different problem that calls for innovations in both stress research and management practice.


Problematization analysis is a social research method in the making: It is a topic of increasing interest not only in sociology, but also in organization studies, political science, nurse studies and yet other fields. It is rooted Foucault’s own reassessment of his work late in his life – not in terms of power and discourse, but of problems and responses: ‘What I tried to do from the beginning was to analyse the process of “problematisation” – which means: how and why certain things (behaviour, phenomena, processes) became a problem’.


The aim of the course is not to make students conform to one established standard, but to engage them in the collective endeavour to develop and employ problematization as a method in sociological research. Hence, students will be required to outline and carry out a ‘pilot’ study using problematization analysis methods and a substantial part of the time in class (about ½) will be consecrated to students presenting and discussing their work in progress in written and/or oral form (peer feedback) at the different stages of the research process. The aim is not to produce a full-blown research project, but to get a hands-on experience with the different stages of problematization analysis. Students are invited to use this as an opportunity to develop pilot projects as preparations for their MA theses. The aim of the course is also reflected in the oral exam with synopsis that does not require a full-blown and finalized research product, but the capacity to actively engage in and critically reflect upon it in the making (see the intended learning outcome for details).


During the course, students will:

  • Be introduced to and discuss various attempts at developing problematization analysis into a coherent research method
  • Get an overview of the methodological and theoretical commitments of problematization analysis that distinguish it from positivist, social constructivist and hermeneutical traditions
  • Get a clear sense of and reflect upon how problematization analysis can and should be conducted through the different stages of the research process: formulation of research questions and research design, gathering of materials, coding and analysis, and producing outputs of value not only to a research community but also to practitioners.
  • Design and conduct their own problematization analysis of a sociological phenomenon of choice.
  • Reflect on how the results can renew dialogue with practitioners about the problem

Research Methodology and Practice (MSc Curriculum 2015)

Course package (MSc 2015):

Welfare, inequality and mobility
Knowledge, organisation and politics
Culture, lifestyle and everyday life


Credit students must be at master level

BA-Undergraduates from foreign countries (exchange students) can sign up for this course

Learning outcome

The learning aims of the course follow below, which is identical to the assessment criteria of the course:



  • Summarize the theoretical and epistemological commitments of problematization analysis
  • Account for and relate the objectives and methods of problematization analysis at the different levels of the research process: formulation of research questions and research design, gathering of materials, coding and analysis, and producing outputs
  • Differentiate between problematization analysis and positivist, hermeneutical and social constructivist approaches
  • Account for and critically discuss uses of problematization analysis in the existing literature and their differences     



  • Conduct problematization analysis of a sociological phenomenon of own choice
  • Formulate research questions and design adapted for problematization analysis
  • Gather relevant materials employing problematization analysis research techniques
  • Identify new problems in qualitative material
  • Evaluate the new problems in relation to known ones
  • Put into perspective the findings in terms of consequences both for future research and practitioners



  • Propose and critically reflect on relevant topics and strategies of dialogue with practitioners based on findings from a problematization analysis, as well as on the expected value of the findings for practitioners.

Class instruction

Students will be asked to outline and carry through a ‘pilot’ problematization analysis. About 1/2 of the time in class will be consecrated to students presenting their work in written and/or oral form, and to discussion of their work in progress (peer feedback) at the different stages of the research process. The aim is not to produce a full-blown research project, but to get a hands-on experience with the different stages of problematization analysis.

The remaining 1/2 of time in class will be spent on lectures and discussion of the curriculum in plenum.

Book to be acquired before course start:

Foucault, Michel 2002. The Arcaeology of Knowledge. Routledge.

One syllabus chapter will be made available on Absalon from Colin Koopman’s book: Genealogy of Critique: Foucault and the Problems of Modernity. 2013, Indiana UP. The remaining chapters of the book are suggested supplementary reading. Students particularly interested in the theoretical underpinnings of Foucaultian problematization analysis may thus consider acquiring this book as well.


The syllabus of the course will cover central texts on:

  • Foucaults problematization as well as on discourse analysis.
  • Intellectual roots of Foucault’s notion of problematization
  • Contemporary attempts to employ problematization in sociological and related research
  • Related qualitative research methods
  • Different ways of doing comparison
  • Doing problematization analysis: gathering materials, coding and conceptualizing
  • Research examples from various fields

No specific competencies are required for attending the course. General knowledge of sociology at BA level or equivalent is expected, in particular general knowledge of Foucault’s work and the BA courses Advanced Qualitative Methods (‘Videregående Kvalitative Metoder’) and Methodology and Research Design (‘Metodologi og Forskningsdesign’) or equivalent.

Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral defence
Individual or group.
If the synopsis is written by more than one student, the oral exam will generally be a group exam. Further details for this exam form can be found in the Curriculum and in the General Guide to Examinations at KUnet.
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

See learning outcome.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 28
  • Preparation
  • 158
  • Exam Preparation
  • 20
  • English
  • 206