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ECPR Joint Sessions 2020 Sciences Po Toulouse

WF102 - Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences – FREE COURSE

Instructor Details

Instructor Photo

Patrick Jackson

American University

Instructor Bio

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson is Professor of International Studies, and Director of the AU Honors Program, at the American University in Washington, DC.

His award-winning book The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations has recently been published by Routledge in a second, revised edition.

At present he is working on projects on explanation in the social sciences, theological responses to climate change, and the theory and methodology of Max Weber.

Patrick's personal website

Twitter icon  @profptj

Course Dates and Times

Monday 17 – Friday 21 February, 08:00–08:50
This is a FREE supplementary course. You must register and pay for a one-week or two-week course in order to take it. To book, please check the box when registering.



Prerequisite Knowledge

The course requires an open-minded curiositiy, especially with an eye to the fundamental philosophical and political issues at stake in any form of social research. Good books to zoom in on the topic include:

Richard Bernstein, The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory

Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What?

Short Outline

Why should political scientists bother to engage with fundamental issues in philosophy of science and methodology?
Should we not leave that to specialists, in particular philosophers of science themselves?

To answer in the negative and to demonstrate the value of both for the study of politics, this short course aims to introduce and discuss core themes in philosophy of science so that it becomes apparent how they are very much at play in everyday research practice.

Why Care? Philosophy of Science and Political Science Research
This session will prompt a discussion of how theory, methodology and research practice are connected in your work.
Who Wants to be a Positivist?
This session will prompt a discussion of what kinds of knowledge claims you make in your research.
Critical Theory and Empirical Research
This final session will encourage you to think about how your knowledge production is inextricably political.

ECTS Credits
Long Course Outline

This course is a broad survey of epistemological, ontological, and methodological issues relevant to knowledge production in the social sciences. The course has three overlapping objectives:

  • To provide you with a grounding in these issues as they are conceptualised and debated by philosophers, social theorists, and intellectuals more generally
  • To introduce some of the ways in which these issues have been incorporated (all too often incompletely or inaccurately) into the social sciences
  • To promote reflection on how these issues relate to your own empirical research

This is neither a technical research design nor a proposal writing class. As we proceed through the course, however, you should come to appreciate the consequences of philosophical debates for your own research practice. You are encouraged to approach this course as an opportunity to think critically, creatively, and expansively about the status of social scientific knowledge, both that which you have produced and/or will produce, and that produced by others.

The 'science question' rests more heavily on the social than the natural sciences, for the simple reason that the successes of the natural sciences in enhancing the human ability to control and manipulate the physical world offer an effective rejoinder to scepticism regarding the scientific status of fields such as physics and biology. The social sciences have long laboured in the shadow of these successes. One response has been to try to model the social sciences on one or another of the natural sciences, or more specifically, on one or another philosophical account of knowledge production in those sciences. This naturalism forms one of the recurrent moves in the philosophy of the social sciences. We will engage it, both in its incarnation in the Logical Positivism of the Vienna Circle, and in the more widespread embrace of falsification as a demarcation criterion for science. Problems generated by the emphasis on law-like generalisations in these naturalistic approaches to social science subsequently informed both the reformulated naturalism of critical realism, and the rejection of naturalism by followers of classical sociologists like Max Weber. Finally, we consider the tradition of critical theory with its commitment to an emancipatory form of knowledge production.

While not an exhaustive survey of issues in the philosophy of the social sciences, the course offers an opportunity to explore perennial issues of great relevance for the conduct of social science research, the methodological training of new social scientists, and the aspirations of many social scientists to move from the commonplace that our work somehow can make a difference to a reflexive awareness of the politics of social research. The course should thus serve as a solid foundation for subsequent reading and reflection.

The course will be organised into three sessions, each of which combines a discussion of core themes at the intersection of philosophy of science, methodology, and political science with an invitation to reflect on how these core themes play out in your own research.

Day-to-Day Schedule

Day-to-Day Reading List

Software Requirements


Hardware Requirements




Additional Information


This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc). Registered participants will be informed in due time.

Note from the Academic Convenors

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, contact the instructor before registering.

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