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Unit information: Philosophy and Research Design in the Social Sciences in 2020/21

Unit name Philosophy and Research Design in the Social Sciences
Unit code SOCIM0012
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Tsilipakos
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 philosophical issues in sociological and political research as a means of reflecting on research design; it is does not aim to be a 'how-to' manual. Key questions that will be addressed include: Is social science closely related to science and what is science like? What are the main positions in reflecting on social science and what are their historical origins? What kinds of claims can be made in sociological and political research? Should social scientists be committed to emancipatory values and can those values be justified? How should research ethics be taken into account when designing a research project? On the whole, we will consider the advantages and disadvantages of different philosophical and methodological approaches by looking at important philosophical texts and examples of empirical research.


  • 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 through blended learning methods, including a mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching activities

Assessment Details

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

Formative assessment: a seminar presentation.

Summative assessment: 4,000 word essay.

Reading and References

  • Hughes, J. A. & Sharrock, W. W. (1997). The philosophy of social research. Longman
  • Ryan, A. (1970). The philosophy of the social sciences. Macmillan
  • Risjord, M. (2014). Philosophy of social science: A contemporary introduction. Routledge
  • Martin Hollis (2002), The philosophy of social science: An Introduction. Revised. Cambridge University
  • Martin, M., & McIntyre, L. C. (Eds.). (1994). Readings in the philosophy of social science. Mit Press.
  • Blaikie, N. (2009). Designing social research. Polity.
  • Donatella Della Porta and Michael Keating (eds.) (2008), Approaches and Methodologies in the Social Sciences: A Pluralist Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Alan Bryman (2015), Social Research Methods, 5th edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press