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Regular version of the site
Postgraduate course 2020/2021

Research Methods in International Relations

Type: Elective course
Area of studies: Political Science and Area Studies
When: 2 year, 1 semester
Mode of studies: offline
Open to: students of one campus
Instructors: Iain Ferguson
Language: English
ECTS credits: 4

Course Syllabus


This is an intensive course on the methodologies that can be used to address research problems in world politics. It is designed specifically for advanced, postgraduate students. As such, it assumes a basic-to-intermediate knowledge of qualitative research design and the theories of international relations. It is a course about methodologies rather than methods. Methods are techniques for gathering and analysing bits of data, whereas methodology is “a concern with the logical structure and procedure of scientific enquiry” (Sartori 1970, 1,033). All research projects are to some extent multi-method. The question we must ask ourselves in our research projects is not about whether to mix methods, but how to do so in a manner that is coherent, or hangs together. The problems come when we try to mix methodologies. This is a much more fraught exercise, inasmuch as a methodology implies an epistemology and perhaps also an ontology – in short, a philosophy of science – in the way that a method does not. With that in mind, the course is divided into two parts. The first part The Problem of Explanation deals with two research traditions in the philosophy of social science, the extent to which these are in tension, and why this matters for doing research on world politics. We will cover the philosophical debates about rationality, causality, agency and structure that continue to shape the research agenda in the study of world politics, and the social sciences more broadly. The second part of the course, The Problem of Discourse Analysis, explores the main methodological approaches to analysing expressions of language (spoken and written) in world politics. This is a deliberately broad and inclusive conception of what discourse is. We shall cover hermeneutical (or interpretive) and critical approaches to discourse analysis and how they have been applied in celebrated works by leading researchers of world politics. The course closes with reflections on the problem of doing discourse analysis (and indeed any form of research in the social sciences) in ways that combine two different philosophies of science, one that is positivist/realist and the other that is hermeneutical/critical.
Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

  • To introduce students to the philosophical analysis of explanation in world politics
  • To introduce students to the philosophical analysis of relevant key concepts for their PhD research projects including facts, values, cause, reason, rationality, agency, structure, interpretation, action, rhetoric and discourse
  • To introduce the history of philosophical debates that underpin current controversies regarding social scientific explanation in world politics, particularly with regards to the analysis of discourse
  • To introduce the philosophical analysis of methodologies including positivism, scientific realism, poststructuralism and hermeneutics
  • To evaluate the application of these methodologies to the analysis of discourses of world politics
Expected Learning Outcomes

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • Evaluate their own position on these key debates, in particular where they stand (with regards to their PhD research projects) on the positivist/realist versus hermeneutical/critical divide
  • Revise and update the research proposal / methodology chapter of their PhD dissertation with reference to some of the leading work in the philosophy of social science and/or discourse analysis
  • Relate the history of key philosophical debates and controversies regarding the social scientific explanation of world politics
  • Grasp the meaning of key concepts of this philosophical analysis and be able to explain them in academic writing
  • Understand the basics of the philosophical analysis of explanation in world politics
Course Contents

Course Contents

  • Theme 1: The Problem of Explanation (1 Lecture & 7 Seminars)
    Week 1, Lecture 1. The problem of explanation in world politics Week 2, Seminar 1.1. Two traditions Week 3, Seminar 1.2. Rationality vs. Reasonableness Week 4, Seminar 1.3. Positivism and deductive explanation Week 5, Seminar 1.4. Scientific realism and causal explanation Week 6, Seminar 1.5. Interpretation and the critique of causal explanation Week 7, Seminar 1.6. Agency vs. Structure Week 8, Seminar 1.7. Mid-term test
  • Theme 2: The Problem of Discourse Analysis (3 Lectures & 7 Seminars)
    Week 9, Lecture 2. The problem of discourse analysis in world politics Week 10, Seminar 2.1. What is discourse analysis? Week 11, Seminar 2.2. The interpretive theory of discourse Week 12, Seminar 2.3. Situated-agency, rhetoric and action Week 13, Seminar 2.4. Traditions, dilemmas and foreign policy Week 14, Seminar 2.5. The critical theory of discourse Week 15, Seminar 2.6. Identity, practices and foreign policy Week 16, Seminar 2.7. The problem of mixed methodologies Week 17, Lecture 3. Dealing with methodological problems Week 17, Lecture 4. Conclusions and the written assignment
Assessment Elements

Assessment Elements

  • non-blocking Seminars
  • non-blocking Mid-term test
  • non-blocking Written assignment
Interim Assessment

Interim Assessment

  • Interim assessment (1 semester)
    0.3 * Mid-term test + 0.3 * Seminars + 0.4 * Written assignment


Recommended Core Bibliography

  • Campbell, D. (1998). Writing Security : United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity (Vol. Rev. ed). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=185233
  • Dunn, K. C., & Neumann, I. B. (2016). Undertaking Discourse Analysis for Social Research. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1527157
  • Finlayson, A. (2007). From Beliefs to Arguments: Interpretive Methodology and Rhetorical Political Analysis. British Journal of Politics & International Relations, 9(4), 545–563. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-856X.2007.00269.x
  • Glynos, J., & Howarth, D. (2008). Structure, Agency and Power in Political Analysis: Beyond Contextualised Self-Interpretations. Political Studies Review, 6(2), 155–169. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-9302.2008.00149.x
  • Hall, I. (2012). Dilemmas of Decline. United States, North America: eScholarship, University of California. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.742B1732
  • Hansen, L. (2006). Security As Practice : Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War. London: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=116634
  • Howarth, D. R. (2013). Poststructuralism and After : Structure, Subjectivity and Power. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=659241
  • Jackson, P. T. (2010). The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations : Philosophy of Science and Its Implications for the Study of World Politics. Hoboken: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1214790
  • McIntyre, L. C., & Rosenberg, A. (2017). The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Social Science (Vol. 1 [edition]). New York: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1435679
  • Rhodes, R. A. W., & Bevir, M. (2015). Routledge Handbook of Interpretive Political Science. London: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1021249
  • Toulmin, S. E. (2001). Return to Reason. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=282149
  • Wendt, A. E. (1987). The agent-structure problem in international relations theory. International Organization, (03), 335. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsrep&AN=edsrep.a.cup.intorg.v41y1987i03p335.370.02

Recommended Additional Bibliography

  • Archer, M., Lawson, T., Norrie, A., Bhaskar, R., & Collier, A. (2013). Critical Realism : Essential Readings. Hoboken: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=602668
  • Bevir, M. (2000). The Logic of the History of Ideas. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.922A6A01
  • Bevir, M., & Rhodes, R. (2015). Interpretation and its Others. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.95B48A6A
  • FINLAYSON, A. (2014). Proving, Pleasing and Persuading? Rhetoric in Contemporary British Politics. Political Quarterly, 85(4), 428–436. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-923X.12122
  • Hall, C. (Ian), Bevir, M., & Daddow, O. (2015). Interpreting Global Security. Australia, Australia/Oceania: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.9FE84B95
  • Hays, S. (1994). Structure and Agency and the Sticky Problem of Culture. Sociological Theory, 12(1), 57. https://doi.org/10.2307/202035
  • Hollis, M. (1994). The Philosophy of Social Science : An Introduction. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=366240
  • Holzscheiter, A. (2014). Between Communicative Interaction and Structures of Signification: Discourse Theory and Analysis in International Relations. International Studies Perspectives, 15(2), 142–162. https://doi.org/10.1111/insp.12005
  • JON ELSTER. (2009). Explaining Social Behavior. More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.4D41703F
  • Joseph, J., Palgrave Connect (Online service), & Wight, C. (2010). Scientific Realism and International Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=356544
  • Mark Bevir, & Jason Blakely. (2018). Interpretive Social Science : An Anti-Naturalist Approach. Oxford: OUP Oxford. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=2245835
  • Moses, J. W., & Knutsen, T. L. (2012). Ways of Knowing : Competing Methodologies in Social and Political Research (Vol. 2nd ed). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1525147
  • Neumann, I. B. (1999). Uses of the Other : “The East” in European Identity Formation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=185228
  • Ruben, D.-H. (1992). Explaining Explanation. London: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=94818
  • Shklar, J. N. (2004). Squaring the Hermeneutic Circle. Social Research, 71(3), 655–678. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=asn&AN=14829593
  • Wight, C. (2006). Agents, Structures and International Relations : Politics As Ontology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=174462
  • Winch, P. (2008). The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy. London: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=495203