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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Explanation and Understanding in Social and Political Research (PGSP11017)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course explores theoretical issues that arise for those undertaking social and political research. It aims to both offer a clear introduction of a range of theoretical issues and puzzles, as well as stimulate discussion and debate about how to deal with these. The course is divided into two halves. In the first half, the main concern is what the units of study should be for social and political analysis. Should we focus our attention purely on individuals and their choices, or are there institutions that shape and constrain what individuals do? If such institutions exist, how can we characterise them? Does it make sense to look not only at institutions, but also systems? In the second half of the course, we look at issues around the status and purpose of social scientific knowledge. Is it the case that social scientists can justifiably criticise the understandings of actors? Do the social and political sciences make progress? By the end of the course, we hope to have encouraged students to think in new ways about the nature, objects and goals of social and political research. We also hope to have encouraged students to reflect critically on research in their chosen fields, and to be able to use theoretical concepts to inform and develop their research in these areas.
Course description An indicative syllabus would be as follows:

Week 1: Course Introduction: Being and Knowing
Week 2: Rational Choice Theory
Week 3: Institutionalism
Week 4: Social Constructionism
Week 5: Systems Theory
Week 6: Justification
Week 7: Criticism
Week 8: Feminism and Difference
Week 9: Progress
Week 10: Political Concepts and Conclusion
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2015/16, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  30
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Assessment will be by a 3500-4,000 word course paper, which can either be purely theoretical or link theoretical issues with particular research topics.
Feedback Not entered
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Have a good understanding of key ontological issues within the social sciences, that is, be able to participate in debates about the basic building blocks of the social world
  2. Understand central epistemological debates within the social sciences. This will mean grasping different views about the status and purpose of social scientific knowledge
  3. Critically reflect on ontological and epistemological theories
  4. Make insightful connections between theoretical debates and empirical research issues in their area of interest
  5. Productively discuss theoretical debates and their empirical consequences with other students
Reading List
There is no set text for the course, but the following textbooks might be helpful:

Hay, Colin (2002) Political Analysis: A Critical Introduction, Houndmills, Palgrave
Smith, Mark J. (1998) Social Science in Question, London: Sage

Examples of course readings include:

Dowding, Keith (2005), 'Is it Rational to Vote? Five Types of Answer and a Suggestion', British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 2005, 442-459
Hall, P & Taylor, R (1996) 'Political science and the three new institutionalisms', Political Studies 44 (5) 936-957
Haas, P M (2004) 'When does power listen to truth? A constructivist approach to the policy process', Journal of European Public Policy 11 (4) 569-592
Edwards, D. Ashmore, M, and Potter, J. (1995) 'Death and Furniture: The Rhetoric, Politics and Theology of Bottom Line Arguments Against Relativism', History of the Human Sciences, 8(2): 25-49
Kapur, R. (2002) 'The Tragedy of Victimisation Rhetoric: Resurrecting the "Native" Subject in International/Post-Colonial Feminist Legal Politics', Harvard Human Rights Journal, 15: 1-38 Spring
McCall, Leslie (2005) 'The Complexity of Intersectionality', Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 30(3): 1771-1800
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Richard Freeman
Tel: (0131 6)50 4680
Course secretaryMr Andrew Macaulay
Tel: (0131 6)51 5067
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