Methodologies for the Social Sciences I

Anno accademico 2020/2021
Docente Lorenzo Bosi, Donatella Alessandra Della Porta

Didattica integrativa


Examination procedure

Prova orale e relazione di seminario


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

Optional for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"


Approaches and Methodologies in the Social Sciences


Donatella Della Porta and Lorenzo Bosi


First Term


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.

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.

In the second part, PhD students will present their own work in progress with the support of slides (Power Point, Prezi, MindMeister etc.): each PhD student will be allocated a time slot of 40 minutes that will include a maximum of 15 minutes presentation and 25 minutes of in-class discussion and feedback by the instructor and their colleagues.




Day 1.  November 23, 10am to 1pm and 3pm to 6pm

A pluralist perspective to  An introduction

With the participation of Martin Portos (Universidad Carlo III Madrid) and Phil Ayoub (Occidental College, US)

This day is devoted to address 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.

We will then address  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

Phil Ayoub and Martin Portos will help us reflecting on the specificity of research design when using quantitative and qualitative methods. They will both then hold special (non compulsory) sessions during the week.


Assigned Reading:

D. della Porta and M. Keating (eds.), Approaches and methodologies in the social sciences, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.



Day 2. Norms and ethics in field work, December 1, 2-6pm

With the participation of and Kevin Koehler (Leiden University) and Ilyas Salibas (WZB, Berlin)


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


Kevin Koehler (Leiden University) and Ilyas Salibas (WZB, Berlin) will present the book they co-authored  on Safer Research in the Social Sciences (Sage 2020)


We will then screen the documentary Sociology is a Martial Art.


Assigned Reading:

J. Grimm et al. (2020) Safer Field Research in the Social Sciences, Sage, Chaps 1-4.


Day 3. Dicember 15, 9 am to 1pm and 3pm to 7 pm

Presentations and discussion of research projects (Lorenzo Bosi)

Bibliographical references