SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Introduction to Research Methods

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year

This module is designed to provide a general introduction to problems, approaches and debates in social science methods. The aim is to make undergraduate students familiar with different methodological languages and approaches and foster a critical understanding of them. It is roughly divided into two parts: an engagement with basic issues in the philosophy of social science and epistemology (weeks 2-5), and an introduction to quantitative and qualitative approaches to knowledge production (weeks 6-10). 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Make students familiar with the language(s) of social science methodology and provide both a solid grounding in the key issues and a critical understanding of them
  • Introduce students to basic epistemological questions, approaches and debates in the philosophy of social sciences
  • Introduce students to common/popular methods in the social science, both positivist and interpretivist, qualitative and quantitative


1 hour lecture per week

1 hour tutorial per week

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introduction: How do we know?
  2. Positivism and Interpretivism
  3. The Question of Causality
  4. Theories and Concepts
  5. Critical Approaches to Knowledge Production
  6. Data Collection in Quantitative Research
  7. Interpreting and Presenting Quantitative Data
  8. Discourse Analysis
  9. Ethnography
  10. Conclusion: the art of not-knowing 

Method of assessment

Assessment is 100% coursework (one 1500 word essay worth 30% and one 2500 word essay worth 70%).

Suggested reading

  • Bayard De Volo, Lorraine and Edward Schatz (2004) ‘From the Inside Out: Ethnographic Methods in Political Research’, Political Studies Online, 267-271
  • Foucault, Michel (2001 [1966]) The Order of Things: Archeology of the Human Sciences (Routledge Classics)
  • Hollis, Martin (2002) The Philosophy of Social Science: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press
  • Kuhn, Thomas S (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago University Press)
  • Lebow, Richard Ned and Mark Irving Lichbach (eds.) (2007) Theory and Evidence in Comparative Politics and International Relations, New York: Palgrave
  • Little, Daniel (1991) Varieties of Social Explanation: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Social Science, Boulder: Westview Press
  • Popper, Karl 2005 [1963] Conjectures and Refutations, London: Routledge
  • Shapiro, Ian, R. M Smith and T. E. Masoud (eds.) Problems and Methods in the Study of Politics, Cambridge University Press
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1988) ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’, in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, eds. Cary Nelson & Lawrence Grossberg (Basingstoke: Macmillan), 271-313. 
  • Steinmetz, George (ed.) (2005) The Politics of Method in the Human Sciences (Durham: Duke University Press)
  • Tilly, Charles (2006) ‘Afterword: Political Ethnography as Art and Science’, Qualitative Sociology 29: 409-412
  • Yanow, Dvorah and Peregrine Schwartz-Shea (2006) Interpretation and Method: Empirical Research Methods and the Interpretive Turn.  New York: ME Sharpe


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules