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Unit information: Philosophy of Social Science in 2015/16

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Unit name Philosophy of Social Science
Unit code SOCIM3125
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. McLennan
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

The main purpose of the unit is to examine some of the main developments and issues in what is traditionally known as the 'philosophy of social science', or in a more recent phrase, the 'meta-theory' of the social sciences. As part of this task, we need to address the current climate of opinion concerning the status of the idea of 'social science' itself. What exactly does the 'science' in the 'social' signify, and the 'social' in the 'science'? A closely related question is: what is the nature and role of theorizing in social science understanding today? These questions lead us to some interesting conceptual dualisms and pairings such as: positivism/post-positivism, explanation/interpretation, objectivism/relativism, science/ideology, universalism/situationism, and realism/constructionism. The unit relates these ideas to the practice of social science and the 'culture wars' that continue to divide the modern academy.

This Unit alms to:

  • Provide a critical overview of post-war developments in the philosophy of the social and human sciences
  • Investigate changing ideas about how social science understanding differs from ideas about natural science research and knowledge
  • Clarify the meanings and sig nificance of 'theory' and 'explanation' within social science research practice
  • Analyse the overlaps and differences between 'modernist' epistemological concerns and 'postmodernist' critiques of traditional philosophical goals

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Grasp the key elements and thinkers in the shift from positivism to post-positivism
  • Be conversant with some significant new cu rrents In social and cu ltural theory
  • Pursue and display independent reading and thinking on meta-theoretical issues
  • Develop their own reasoned preference for particular perspectives on social knowledge and research frameworks

Teaching Information

The main method of teaching will be weekly face-to-face seminar sessions which will Involve a combination of lecturing, group discussion and student presentations.

Assessment Information

The assessment will relate directly to one of more of the learning outcomes specified above in 15 and will be an extended essay of 4000 words (or equivalent) showing an in-depth understanding and integration of key aspects of the unit.

Reading and References

  • Gerard Delanty, Socia/ Science: Beyond Constructivism and Realism, Open University Press, 1997.
  • Mark J. Smith, Social Science In Question, Sage, 1998.
  • Andrew Ryan The Philosophy of the Socia/ Sciences Macmillan 1 st ed 1970.
  • Martin Hollis, The Philosophy of Social Science: An Introduction Cambridge, 1994
  • Alexander Rosenberg, The Philosophy of Social Science Westview Press, 2nd ed, 1995
  • Delanty, G., Strydom, P. (eds.) Philosophies of Social Science: The Classic and

Contemporary Readings Open University Press, 2003 .