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Unit information: Philosophy and Research Design in the Social Sciences in 2015/16

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Unit name Philosophy and Research Design in the Social Sciences
Unit code SPAIM0030
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Tucker
Open unit status Not open




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


This unit discusses central challenges in the design of sociological and political research. Key questions that will be addressed in this unit include: How do we develop a research question? What are the philosophical and meta-theoretical foundations of research design? How do we construct theories and hypotheses? What kinds of claims can be made in sociological and political research? What countries and cases should we compare? What kinds of methods should we use to test our theories? What are the advantages and disadvantages of different methodological approaches, and what are the key trade-offs associated with them? How should research ethics be taken into account when designing a research project?


  • To discuss key principles of sociological and political research and research design.
  • To discuss some controversies surrounding the principles of research design and causality.
  • To discuss some philosophical foundations of research design.
  • To discuss the core elements of a research project, such as theory, variables, concepts and measurement.
  • To discuss the strengths and weaknesses of different research strategies and methods.
  • To examine actual examples of sociological and political research and critique these research designs
  • To discuss key principles of research ethics

Intended learning outcomes

Upon completion of this unit students will:

  • Be familiar with standard guidelines for research design and some controversies surrounding these principles
  • Understand the key steps in formulating a research project.
  • Know how theory, concepts and measurement are related.
  • Be aware of the philosophical foundations of research design
  • Understand the advantages and disadvantages of different research methods, including common problems faced by researchers.
  • Be aware of the ethical considerations associated with sociological and political research.

Teaching details

The unit will be taught over 10 weeks with a weekly two hour seminar.

Assessment Details

Each of the learning outcomes will be assessed both formatively and summatively:

Formative assessment: a seminar presentation.

Summative assessment: 3,500-4,000 word essay.

Reading and References

  • Donatella Della Porta and Michael Keating (eds.) (2008), Approaches and Methodologies in the Social Sciences: A Pluralist Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Gary King, Robert O. Keohane and Sidney Verba (1994), Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research, Princeton: Princeton University Press
  • Henry E. Brady and David Collier (eds.) (2010), Rethinking Social Inquiry: Diverse Tools, Shared Standards, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2nd edition
  • James Mahoney and Dietrich Rueschemeyer (eds.) (2003), Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Charles Ragin (1989), The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies, Berkeley: University of California Press
  • Edward Schatz (2009), Political Ethnography: What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power, Chicago: University of Chicago Press