Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)


Department: Government and International Affairs


Type Tied Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Not available in 2020/21 Module Cap
Tied to L2K407


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • The module aims to familiarsie students with debates about thje conduct, methods and foundations of the social sciences, particularly political science and international relations. It provides knowledge and tools to critically review scholarship in specific areas within the discipline. It thereby promotes and offers training in the exercise of critical judgement of actual social-scientific works encountered in the M.A. programmes offered by the School of Government and International Affairs and in postgraduate research in the School, as well as in other postgraduate contexts. The module construes 'methododlogy' in more philosophical terms than ' methods', as a basis for reflection on choice of method within substantive research.


  • Module topics follow a sequence that moves from general and foundational issues concerning the nature of science and social science to a focus on prevailing approaches in political science and international relations. An indicative programme of seminars is therefore as follows:
  • 1. Positivism
  • 2. Falsification and Paradigms
  • 3. The Distintiveness of the Social Sciences
  • 4. Behaviour and Values in Political Science
  • 5. Political Culture Research: Positivism and Interpretivism
  • 6. Rational Choice Theory
  • 7. Social Construction and Deconstruction

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module students should have:
  • The ability to master the complex and specialised area of knowledge and skills concerning:-
  • the debates and controversies in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of social scienecs and their bearing on the conduct of political science and international relations.
  • selected approaches in political science and international relations, examined from the point of view of their philosophical foundations, their disciplinary evolution, and thier methods of inquiry.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • the ability to recognise, analyse and account for the philosophical and methodological foundations of substantive work in political science and international relations.
  • the ability to use and critisise the philosophophical and methodological arguments in the evaluation of substantive work in political science and international relations using appropriatley specialised and advanced skills.
  • the ability to assess methodologies in support of student's own work.
Key Skills:
  • independent thought and judgment in analysing and critiquing existing scholarship on the subject area and in evaluating its contribution.
  • the ability to work to a deadline and complete written work within word limits.
  • writing a substantial essay in appropriate scolarly style and format.
  • the ability to seek out and use relevent data sources, including electronics and bibliographic sources.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The module is taught by means of a series of 2-hour seminars in which students (either singly or in pairs) make presentations to the class, accompanied by briefing notes, followed by class discussion guided by the teacher.
  • Formative assessment is a presentation to be given in the last seminar. Details of the presentation will be outlined during class.
  • Summative assessment is via a terminal essay of 3,000 words to be outlined during class.
  • In general terms, the contrual of 'methodology' indicated above demands a discursive approach with an emphasis on class discussion and the testing of its results via essays.
  • Specifically:
  • Presentations: encourage reading and research and require the structuring of the results in a digestible format.
  • Class discussion: enables critical assessment of presentations and allows gaps and errors to be identified and rectified.
  • Summative essays: test the acquisition of knowledge and the ability to apply it in critical argument in relation to a specific question.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Weekly 2 hours 16
Preparation and Reading 134
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay - submitted on the first day of the following term 3,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

A 1,500 word essay outline, to be submitted three days after the seminar in which the topic of the outline is discussed. This will normally be on the same topic on which the student has delivered a presentation. The presentation will identify methodological positions that best characterise the research found within an identified journal. Presentation with written feedback via proforma.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University