SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Methodology in the Social Sciences

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

This module is designed to provide a general introduction to problems, approaches and debates in social science methodologies (broadly understood). The aim is to make MSc students familiar with prominent methodological angles and language(s), to provide both a solid grounding in the key issues and a critical understanding of them. It is roughly divided into two parts: philosophy of social science, epistemology and ontology (weeks 2-5) and an introduction into understanding and applying popular/relevant methodological approaches (weeks 6-10).

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • 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


2 hours Lecture per week

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introduction: What is methodology?
  2. The Science Question: Positivism and Interpretivism
  3. Post-Colonial Approaches
  4. Theories and Concepts
  5. Let’s talk about Causation: Structure, Agency and Counterfactuals
    Reading Week
  6. Data Collection and Datasets in Quantitative Research
  7. Interpreting and Presenting Quantitative Data
  8. Discourse Analysis
  9. Interviews and Surveys
  10. Ethnography

Method of assessment

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

Suggested reading

  • 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
  • Hall, Stuart (ed.) (1997) Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices. Sage Publications
  • Hay, Colin (2002) Political Analysis: A Critical Introduction (Palgrave Macmillan)
  • 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)
  • 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