Critical Social Research: Truth, Ethics and Power - SOCI8320

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2021 to 2022
Spring Term 7 20 (10) Benjamin Geiger checkmark-circle


This module 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 critically analysis central concepts such as truth, power, ethics and uncertainty in social research. When addressing these issues, the module engages with how they are dealt with and approached in qualitative and quantitative research. In the module students will engage actively with these issues and critically reflect upon their own views and how they apply them in their own research projects. We particularly discuss 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?).


Contact hours

Contact hours: 22
Private study hours: 178
Tota study hours: 200

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods
Coursework - Reflection (2,500 words) - 50%
Coursework - essay (2,500 words) - 50%

Reassessment methods:
100% coursework

Indicative 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)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes are as follows. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1.Have a critical understanding of the political and policy contexts of social research, how they are related to power structures and how they influence social research as well as the reflexivity of social research;
2.Have a comprehensive and in depth understanding of how to conduct and present research in ways that adds to knowledge as well as having has a wider 'impact'. Impact is here discussed in the context of how the term is used within research in the UK, e.g. by funding bodies such as the ESRC, and elsewhere.;
3.Have comprehensive and critical understanding the various theoretical and philosophical bases for social research, different epistemological models used in the social sciences and how they relate to and differ in terms of concepts such as the role of social research and understandings of truth, power and ethics;
4.Embark on in depth and systematic criticisms of the methodological choices made in published research studies;
5.Critically appraise at a level appropriate to postgraduates the epistemological limits of different research methodologies;
6.Critically reflect on, evaluate and criticise the data analyses they encounter in the literature in their field;

The intended generic learning outcomes are as follows. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1.Design and communicate a research question, design, results and implications to academic and general audiences in a systematic way informed by a deep reflection and understanding of the role and ways in one can approach social research;
2.Successfully manage their time, prioritise workloads and manage stress as well taking responsibility for their learning and professional development;
3.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.Solve problems that are common in social research in a systematic and comprehensive way.
5.Plan for their future and understand career opportunities in a reflected way, informed by new knowledge of the ranges of approaches to social research covered in the module.


  1. Credit level 7. Undergraduate or postgraduate masters level module.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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