Social Research as a Craft

Course content

This course is an invitation to PhD scholars in political science (and closely related fields) who want to learn more about how to systematically tackle some of the issues pertaining to the craft of designing good social science research. Political science is a broad discipline covering a wide range of research questions studied across diverse contexts by using a variety of methodological approaches. Even a cursory inspection of the research published by major scholarly journals and university presses reveal an almost infinite number of themes covered and an abundant variety of research methods and approaches. Within different research traditions, there are either established or developing best practices, suggesting that good social science is a craft that can be learned.

In this course, we will explore best practices in three core research traditions in the social sciences: variance-based, case-based, and interpretivist approaches. This is not a philosophy of science course, but some rudimentary understanding of the core ontological and epistemological building blocks of each approach is required in order to make sense of the best practices of the three different research traditions. The aim of the course is to present and discuss how to identify puzzles and good research questions, develop theoretical arguments and propositions, and craft appropriate research designs within different research traditions. We will only pay scant attention to the different techniques of data collection and analysis (interviewing techniques, survey measures, regression analysis etc.). A premise of the course is that scholars, regardless of their own methodological approach, will benefit from knowing and reflecting on how alternative research traditions approach the craft of social science research. Moreover, the course is intended to provide each participant with the opportunity to critically reflect and get feedback on design-related elements of his or her own project. The goal of the course is to help fostering more ambitious and cutting-edge PhD projects.

Course requirements:

 1.       Each participant is expected to submit a description of his or her project in advance of the course. The focus of this description should be on research design, anticipating the core themes of this course. The deadline for sending the project description (by e-mail to both instructors) is October 28, 2021. Each project description must be no longer than five pages (not including references) and include:

  • An account of the research question/problem to be studied and a comment on the relevance of the project. Focus in particular on the core ‘puzzle’ that your project deals with
  • Definitions of core theoretical concepts in your project
  • An account of YOUR theoretical argument(s), specific propositions/hypotheses, and – if applicable – the causal model. We do not need a long review of the theoretical state-of-the-art
  • A discussion of the types of data and methods of inference that you plan on using
  • Presentation of the case(s) that might be selected and why (if relevant), and what types of generalizations (if relevant) will be made

The project descriptions will be read by other participants during the course (in preparation for small weekly working groups that give feedback on specific methodological aspects of your project).

2.    Each participant is expected to read all assigned materials before each class and to be prepared to participate actively in discussions of the materials.

3.       Each participant is expected to write short 1-2 page memos answering a research design related question and upload at Dropbox in due time before Lessons 2 through 7 (see instructions below).

4.       Each participant is expected to participate with constructive comments and suggestions on parts of projects discussed in both small working groups and plenary sessions throughout the course.

The project descriptions and a discussion scheme will be circulated on Dropbox.