Critical Social Research: Truth, Ethics and Power - SO832

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
(version 6)
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7 20 (10) MS TD Sundberg







This course provides students with the understanding and skills necessary to use research, whether within a research career or outside of it. Building on other training in the details of specific methods, it focuses on two sets of broader questions. Firstly, it looks at uncertainty in social research – how confident are we about what we know? In answering this question it looks at issues of quality in qualitative and quantitative research, the difficulties of causal inference and generalisation, coming to conclusions from research reviews, and philosophical issues around ‘truth’ and values. Secondly, it looks at the link between research and action. In doing this, it goes from the very practical (how to ensure that your research is used by policymakers and/or practitioners, and to deal with the political pressures on researchers) to the conceptual (in what ways does evidence get used by wider society?) to the normative (should researchers be ‘critical’, and if so, what are their ethical obligations in doing this?).


This module appears in:

Contact hours

22 hours in total
11 hours of lectures
11 hours of seminars



Method of assessment

100% coursework, 2 assessments worth 50% each.

A 2,500-word portfolio
A 2,500-word essay

Preliminary reading

Brady, Henry E., and David C. Collier, eds. 2010. Rethinking social inquiry: Diverse tools, shared standards [2nd edition]. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Buroway, M (2004/2005), ‘For public sociology [2004 American Sociological Association Presidential Address]’. British Journal of Sociology, 56(2):259-294. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2005.00059.x
Douglas, H (2009), Science, Policy and the Value-free Ideal. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
King, Gary, Robert O. Keohane and Sidney Verba. 1994. Designing Social Inquiry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kuhn, T (1962/2012), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Nutley, S; Walter, I and Davies, HTO (2007), Using evidence : how research can inform public services. Bristol: Policy Press.
Vayda, AP & Walters, BB (eds) (2011), Causal Explanation for Social Scientists: A Reader. Alatamira Press.
Weiss, Carol H (1979), ‘The Many Meanings of Research Utilization’. Public Administration Review, 39(5):426-43.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes and, as appropriate, their relationship to programme learning outcomes.

On successful completion of the module, students will:

1 Have knowledge of the political and policy contexts of social research as well as the reflexivity of social research
2 Understand how to conduct and present research in ways that adds to knowledge as well as having has a wider 'impact'
3 Have knowledge and understanding of theoretical basis for social research, different epistemological models used in the social sciences
4 Be able criticise the methodological choices made in published research studies (in relation to MSR programme outcomes
5 To critically appraise at a level appropriate to postgraduates the epistemological limits of different research methodologies
6 Have the ability to evaluate and criticise the data analyses they encounter in the literature in their field

The intended generic learning outcomes and, as appropriate, their relationship to programme learning outcomes.

On successful completion of the module, students will:

1 The ability to communicate a research question, design, results and implications to academic and general audiences
2 The ability to manage their time, prioritise workloads and manage stress as well taking responsibility for their learning and professional development
3 The ability to access and evaluate ICT and library based resources appropriate for postgraduate study; make critical judgments about their merits and use the available evidence to construct a developed argument to be presented orally or in writing
4 The ability to solve problems that are common in social research
5 Knowledge of career opportunities in their field and ability to plan for their future

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