Postgraduate Course: Explanation and Understanding in Social and Political Research (PGSP11017)
|School||School of Social and Political Science
||College||College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||This course explores a range of theoretical and philosophical issues that arise in social and political research, asking about the nature of the social world and how it might be understood. It raises questions about the derivation and status of social scientific knowledge, its function and purpose. It explores ways of thinking about the actions and interactions, individuals and groups, ideas and institutions, structures and systems of which the world seems to consist, as well as about the relationships between them.
This course offers students a chance to explore theoretical issues that are relevant to social and political research at the postgraduate level. We will look at a range of issues under three broad headings. The first are ontological issues, to do with debates about the distinctive character of the social world. Indicative concerns here include the question of whether the social world is messy and complex in character, or, rather, it is made up of relatively persistent structures that analysts can identify. The second are epistemological issues, relating to the challenges of knowing the social world. An indicative question here would be: to what extent we can expect different researchers to agree in their interpretation of qualitative data? The third set of issues relate to the politics of social and political research, such as the question of whether researchers should adopt a critical stance in their investigations. We will reflect on theoretical issues in these areas and link them to specific areas of research/cases in order to explore how different theoretical stances make a difference to the research that is produced.
By the end of the course, students will hopefully be thinking in new ways about the intellectual materials, processes and purposes of social and political research. Students will be encouraged to reflect critically on research in their chosen fields, and to use key theoretical ideas to inform and develop their own research.
An indicative set of topics might include:
¿ What does it mean for a social scientific analysis to be intersectional? Should all social scientific analysis be intersectional?
¿ Should social analysis be primarily concerned with humans?
¿ Is the analysis of social interests a powerful tool for social science?
¿ What does it mean to say that something is socially constructed?
¿ Does social science make progress?
The course is taught in two-hour workshops, with both lecture and discussion components. There are set readings for each class. The course engages with issues relevant to all social science disciplines.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
||Other requirements|| Only available to students of Data Science, Technology and Innovation online distance learning programme
Information for Visiting Students
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2021/22, Available to all students (SV1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20,
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
||Assessment is by a 3,500 to 4,000 word course paper, which may be either wholly theoretical or link theoretical issues with particular research topics. Students may write on topics set by the Course Organisers, or identify relevant issues in their own work and write about them.
||The project workshop provides an opportunity for formative assessment and feedback from peers as well as from academic staff, and students are encouraged to discuss their ideas for course papers with staff as they develop.
|No Exam Information
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- 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
- Understand central epistemological debates within the social sciences. This will mean grasping different views about the status and purpose of social scientific knowledge
- Critically reflect on ontological and epistemological theories
- Make insightful connections between theoretical debates and empirical research issues in their area of interest
- Productively discuss theoretical debates and their empirical consequences with other students
|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
Indicative course readings:
Driver, J. (2011) ¿Rethinking the interest-convergence thesis¿, Northwestern University Law Review, 105(1): 149-198
Latour, B. (2008) ¿Where are the Missing Masses: The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts¿ in Deborah Johnson and Jameson Wetmore, eds. Technology and Society, Building Our Sociotechnical Future, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, pp. 151-180
McCall, Leslie (2005) 'The Complexity of Intersectionality', Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 30(3): 1771-1800
Miller, Leslie (2000) ¿The Poverty of Truth-Seeking: Postmodernism, Discourse Analysis and Critical Feminism¿, Theory and Psychology, 10(3): 313-352
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
|Course organiser||Dr Stephen Kemp
Tel: (0131 6)50 3978
|Course secretary||Mr Dave Nicol
Tel: (0131 6)51 1485