Philosophy of Science and Social Science Research Practice (500X8)

30 credits, Level 7 (Masters)

Autumn teaching

The aim of this course is to introduce you to some of the standard methodological and philosophical problems posed by social inquiry. These mostly branch out from one central question: are the methods of the social sciences essentially the same or essentially different from those of the natural sciences? An additional aim of the course is to show how theoretical and philosophical traditions in social science influence the methodological approaches and theoretical models that guide social research practice.

Each week we take one or, in some cases, two examples of major philosophical or theoretical approaches. These will be outlined with an emphasis on the theoretical model of society that they advocate. Secondly, it will be demonstrated what methodological implications for social research follow from these philosophical and theoretical ideas. In this way it will be shown that broad theoretical frameworks and concepts, often based in philosophical traditions, lead to particular methodological approaches around theoretical models. Overall the objective of the course is to show how theory can be instrumentalized in shaping research methodology.

The topics that will be addressed include: developments in the philosophy of science from positivism to post-positivism and their relevance to social inquiry, explanation versus interpretation and the interpretive critique of social science; problems of validity and values; realism and constructivism; the advantages and disadvantages of taking a critical stance; and feminist and postcolonial critiques of social science. Although the problems will be illustrated in specific texts, you are also encouraged to pursue parallel arguments in different sources.


100%: Seminar


100%: Written assessment (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 33 hours of contact time and about 267 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2022/23. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to COVID-19, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.