Methodologies for the Social Sciences I

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Compulsory for the 1st year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Compuslory for the 1st year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"


The aim of this course is to discuss main approaches to political science and sociology, the principal steps in designing research, and some methods for data collection. In this sense, it aims at introducing all main choices that needs to be addressed in the preparation of the April prospectus.

Taking into account the diverse national and disciplinary background of first year research, the seminar attempts to develop some common knowledge, without losing the richness of plurality. The seminar as a whole, as well as the individual sessions, aim at critically contrasting the advantages as well as problems of the various strategies in the construction of scientific knowledge.

In the second part, some specific research designs will be presented and researchers will be asked to present their own work in progress within chosen sessions.

Session 1.  A pluralist perspective: An introduction

November 6, 2-5pm

This session introduces some most important debates related to ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies in the social sciences, with attention to the interactions between the three. A pluralist perspective is then discussed.

Assigned Readings:

Chapter 1. Introduction by Donatella Della Porta and Michael Keating

Chapter 2. How Many Approaches in the Social Sciences? An Epistemological Introduction, by

Donatella Della Porta and Michael Keating

Session 2.  Concepts, theories and case-selection within a pluralist perspective

November 13, 2-5pm

This session introduces some main steps in the development of a research design, moving from the research question to theoretical grounding and conceptualization as well as case selection and methods choices.

Assigned Readings:

Chapter 4. Causal Explanation, by Adrienne Héritier

Chapter 10. Concepts and Concept Formation, by Peter Mair

Chapter 11. Comparative Analysis: Case-Oriented versus Variable-Oriented Research, by Donatella della Porta

Session 3. Research designs in a pluralist perspective

November 20, 2-4pm

Chapter 15. The Design of Social and Political Research, by Philippe Schmitter

Chapter 16. Comparing Methods and Approaches. Some Concluding Remarks, by Donatella della Porta and Michael Keating

Session 4. Norms and ethics in research (with Hans-Joerg Trenz)

November 20, 4-6pm

This session addresses some main ethical concerns in empirical research addressing ethical dilemmas during field work, as well as the public use of research results.

Assigned Readings:

Chapter 3. Normative Theory and Empirical Research by Rainer Bauböck

Stefania Milan, The ethics of social movement research, in D. della Porta (ed.), Methodological Practices in Social Movement Research, Oxford University press.

Second part: 10 hours

In the second part, PhD students will present their own work in progress with the support of slides: each PhD student will be allocated a time slot of 45 minutes that will include a maximum of 15 minutes presentation and 30 minutes of in-class discussion and feedback by the instructor (Lorenzo Bosi and Hans-Jorg Trenz) and their colleagues.

Session 4. Presentations and discussion  of research projects

13 December, 10-13 and 15-18

Session 5. Presentations and discussion  of research projects

15 December, 9-13

Obiettivi formativi

The seminar stems from SPS department’s commitment to methodological pluralism and informed debate. Specifically its aims are:

  • To provide an overview of approaches in the social sciences, in order to help students to choose their own approach for the thesis, to justify this approach, and to situate it within the discipline;
  • To ensure that PhD graduates become fully literate social scientists, able to read and understand work written within different traditions and approaches;
  • To introduce researchers to the main issues of debate and contention in the methodology of social sciences and to demystify some of this debate, identifying commonalities, historic continuities, and genuine differences;
  • To give first year researchers a common experience and socialization and to encourage them to discuss their own work across sub-disciplines and methodological approaches.