University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Social Policy

Undergraduate Course: Social Policy Enquiry (SCPL08009)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 8 (Year 2 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe main aim of the course is to show how social research can shed light on topical social and political debates and to reflect critically on the cross-disciplinary evidence basis of public policy decisions.
There are three components:
-Topical issues
Each year, four political issues concerning policy that are prominent in public debate in Europe or North America will form the backbone of the course. Examples are given below, and they may vary from year to year: the only requirements will be that they will be topical, so that students can see that academic enquiry can contribute to public debate and to policy outcomes and practice, and that they be significant, in the sense both that they raise important political questions about policy and also that they raise important theoretical questions.
-Evidence and reason
As well as providing students with an opportunity to debate topical issues, the course will also encourage them to pay attention to the kinds of evidence that might be relevant to these debates and the modes of reasoning and of public intervention that might enable evidence to have an impact. Students will be encouraged to think critically about the conflicting and contested nature of the claims about evidence that are made in political debate. The course will enable students to detect when apparently evidence-based arguments are not supported by good methodological approaches, but driven by ideology, emotion or partisan political concerns.
The overall goal is to show how social scientific theory and research is relevant to everyday topical debates, and (in principle if not in practice) to formulating good public policy. Examples will be provided where research questions arise from topical social and political debates, and analysis and discussion will show how those questions relate to theoretical debates in social science. The course will not be structured by theoretical ideas, but such ideas will permeate the discussion of current issues, and lectures will draw out the capacity of theory to illuminate even the most heated of political debates about policy.
The course replaces the School-wide course Social and Political Enquiry.
Course description Week 1
(1) the world of policy making, ideology, partisanship, lobbying and (sometimes questionable) evidence;
(2) the world of social science - research questions, theory, evidence and the problems of impact.
The course then focuses on when these two worlds collide.
Weeks 3-9
Weeks 2-3: topic 1
Weeks 4-5: topic 2
Weeks 6-7: topic 3
Weeks 8-9: topic 4
The topics will vary each year, depending on current political and policy issues. The evidence debated for each topic will be of diverse kinds qualitative, documentary, quantitative, public debate. To illustrate the approach, if the course had run in the present session (2013-14), current topics might have been selected from among the following. These are merely illustrative examples.
Migration: outline of current political debate; explanation (in terms of politics) of where the debate has come from (e.g. paying attention to social attitudes surveys); evidence from research that would enable the debate to be assessed (e.g. on the economic, welfare, and cultural effects of migration).
Policy relating to alcohol consumption: outline of political debate, of diverging approaches in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and of legal challenges by the alcohol industry; evidence from research deployed by both sides, and the intensely political nature of the debate about evidence; the role of the state in regulating, guiding or policing individual behaviour.
Forms of benefit provision: outline of policy options, comparing European systems; political debate provoked by these; situation of these debate in policy response to the recent recession and in longer-term history of welfare and different kinds of welfare state; evidence from research on relationship among benefits, labour market participation, and poverty.
Student finance: outline of policy developments in this area since the 1990s (with history from the 1960s); evidence from research (drawing on comparison of policy in several higher education systems internationally as well as within the UK) on likely effects of various schemes of student finance; relate the policy debate to debate about the meaning and purpose of higher education.
What is Just in Criminal Justice?: outline of some prominent topical debates in criminal justice, and comparison of different approaches in different jurisdictions; evidence relating to patterns of crime, and how political debate has responded; relate to general theories about the meaning of crime and about the role of the law.
Week 10
Concluding ideas:
-The role of public debate in democratic decision-making.
-The relevance of evidence to informing public debate.
Week 11
Conclusion & revision
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
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. begin to understand public political debates and public policy from the point of view of academic enquiry
  2. understand how evidence informs debates, and how it is sometimes distorted and misused in these debates
  3. learn how social and political theory can be brought to bear on understanding topical debates
  4. learn the skills of engaging in topical debates in a rational and evidence-based way while also taking cognizance of the important role of ideology and emotion
Reading List
Barry, B. (2001). Culture and Equality: an Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Cartwright, N. and Hardie, J. (2012). Evidence-Based Policy: A Practical Guide to Doing it Better. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Machin, S. and Vignoles, A. (2005). Whats the Good of Education? The Economics of Education in the UK. Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Pierson, C., Castles, F. G. and Naumann, I. K. (2014). The Welfare State: a Reader. London: Polity.
Pittau, M., Zelli, R. and Gelman, A. (2010). Economic Disparities and Life Satisfaction in European Regions. Social Indicator Research 96(2): 339-361.
Wolf, A. (2002). Does Education Matter? Myths about Education and Economic Growth. London: Penguin.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserProf Lindsay Paterson
Tel: (0131 6)51 6380
Course secretaryMr Edwin Cruden
Tel: (0131 6)50 2543
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information
© Copyright 2015 The University of Edinburgh - 18 January 2016 4:51 am