Introduction To Social Theory For Researchers SPS5036

  • Academic Session: 2023-24
  • School: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 5 (SCQF level 11)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: No

Short Description

This course aims to introduce students to the main debates and issues in the philosophy of social science. It will examine the philosophical foundations of the social sciences, explore the nature of scientific knowledge, and the differences between the social and the natural sciences. The course will be structured historically and its emphasis will be on the foundations of empirical research.


Lectures: Tuesdays 10am-12pm
Tutorials: Tuesdays 1pm-2pm / 3pm-4pm / 4pm-5pm

Requirements of Entry


Excluded Courses





One essay (3,500-5,000 words) = 100%


There is no set essay question or questions. The course organisers are concerned that the assessment for ITSTFR should have added value for the students' research rather than distract from it. We hope, therefore, that each student will devise an essay topic which applies one or more of the themes of the course to the subject matter of their prospective thesis or dissertation, or which relates to their research interests in some other way. Do this in consultation with your tutor.


The purpose of this assessment is to assess students' understanding of social theory through the application of theories and relevant concepts in social sciences research.


Students are expected to select a theoretical framework and/or concepts introduced in the course and reflect on the usefulness and applicability of this in their own research field


Specifically the essay should include:

- A section, which will outline and discuss the selected theory and relevant concepts, and provide a -discussion of the epistemological value of the selected theory/ies.

- A section which discusses and assesses the applicability of such theory in a particular research field or a research field of interest drawing on relevant research literature. This section may also highlight gaps or summarise the ways in which such theory has been applied which may differ from the way student's wish to utilise this in their own research.

- A section which introduces the research topic and explores the ways in the selected concepts and theory/ies will be applied

- A section that reflects on the strengths and limitations of concepts and theories in light of the research topic.

Course Aims

The course aims to introduce students to the main debates and issues in social theory. The course will be structured broadly historically, looking at the dominant theoretical positions in social theory as it has developed over the last century or so. It will, for instance, look at the ways in which the methodological concerns that underlie social research stem from debates and issues in social theory and the philosophy of social science (issues such as the nature of scientific knowledge, the role of values in social scientific research, and the difference between individualistic and holistic methodologies/structure and agency, amongst others).


The course aims to show the integral role that theory plays in the grounding of all research projects and in the successful integration with, and defence of, these projects in the wider academic community. As such, special emphasis is placed on exploring the manner in which the various theoretical positions map onto the students' own individual projects. At the end of the course students should be able to place their own research somewhere along the social theory continuum, making their own projects more robust and penetrating, and providing a platform for greater assuredness and confidence throughout their programme of studies at Glasgow and beyond.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

■ provide a critical account of the development of social theory;

■ display a wide-ranging awareness of a number of recent influential developments in, and reassessments of, social theory;

■ display knowledge of the way in which social theory connects to social research methodology, and, where appropriate, to their own research projects;

■ examine the debates regarding the scientific nature of social research;

■ reflect on the social nature of scientific research;

■ compare individualistic and holistic methodologies in social research.

■ demonstrate an understanding of key terms such as: 'historical materialism', 'functionalism', 'interpretivism', 'interactionism, 'structuralism', 'postmodernism', 'poststructuralism'.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components of the course's summative assessment.