Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module SGIA48930: Designing Political Inquiry

Department: Government and International Affairs

SGIA48930: Designing Political Inquiry

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This module explores how we research in Politics and International Relations by examining key theoretical, methodological or paradigmatic debates within the fields;
  • To provide students with a general understanding of how research is conducted in Politics and International Relations;
  • To support students in the identification of different research questions that have shaped research in Politics and International Relations;
  • To explore the application of different methods and methodological approaches within Politics and International Relations.


  • This module is largely based on a methodological survey of Political Science and/or International Relations. Its primary focus will be methods and methodological differences in key disciplinary theoretical and related empirical traditions within Political Science, Political Theory, and/or International Relations. These may include:
  • • Scientific realism/ behaviouralism, Marxism and Critical Theory
  • • Structuralism, Positivism and post-positivism
  • • Deconstruction, Feminism, Interpretivism
  • • Reflexivity
  • • Analytical and continental traditions in political theory
  • • Module content may also address such methodological concepts that define the scientific method including, including, for example:
  • • A paradigm
  • • The concept of falsifiability and its significance
  • • Causation
  • • Naturalism
  • • Induction and deduction

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On completion of this module, students will acquire knowledge and understanding of:
  • • The central disciplinary debates or theoretical fault lines in Politics and International Relations, and of their significance;
  • • The different methods and methodological approaches that characterise research in Politics and International Relations;
  • • The implications of different research strategies and the different research programmes within Politics and International Relations;
  • • The nature, significance, and contestation of Politics and International Relations as academic subjects.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Critically assess specific approaches and argue why Politics and International Relations should be studied from a particular perspective;
  • Use and critique the philosophical and methodological arguments in the evaluation of substantive work in Politics and International Relations using appropriately specialised and advanced skills;
  • Assess methodologies in support of student's own work;
  • Describe accurately a broad range of political theories, concepts, institutions and processes in a variety of contexts;
  • Use diverse sources effectively, including some primary sources;
  • Analyse and evaluate competing conceptualisations and explanations of political phenomena, producing defensible, evidence-based judgements;
  • Develop a self-critical and independent approach to learning.
Key Skills:
  • Students will also develop some important key skills, suitable for underpinning study at this and subsequent levels, such as:
  • • Independent learning within a defined framework of study at an advanced level;
  • • Independent thought in analysing and critiquing existing scholarship on the subject area and in evaluating its contribution;
  • • Advanced ability to seek out and use relevant data sources, including electronic and bibliographic sources, as well as primary sources, and policy reports;
  • • Ability for independent thinking informed by the academic debate at an advanced level;
  • • Advanced essay-writing skills and the ability to work to a deadline;
  • • Effective written communication of research and policy applications;
  • • Ability to reflect critically on their own work and performance.

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

  • Lectures introduce the main methods, methodological and conceptual frameworks in the study of Politics and International Relations, including the identification of key terms.
  • Seminars develop students’ skills in communication and argumentation. Discussion and debate deepen students’ knowledge and understanding of different points and perspectives.
  • Students are required to submit a 1500 dissertation proposal to allow for written feedback on their academic writing dissertation project and to identify the appropriate literatures for their research according to both subject and methodological relevance.
  • Students are required to complete a 3000 word written assignment.
  • The formative assessment for this module:
  • • The formative assessment is a take home 1500-word critique of two articles from opposing research perspectives. The formative assessment will assist students in preparation for their summative assessment and also assist them in developing skills relevant to their dissertation with an additional focus on methodological considerations relevant to research design. In this regard the formative provides students with the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of the course content as preparation for the summative assignment.
  • The summative exam for this module:
  • • The summative assessment is a 3000 word written assignment that will ask students to answer two questions from a selection, with each answer being 1500 words. This assignment assesses students’ knowledge of the course content but requires them to work to a deadline. The small word count requires students to focus their answers and hone their written communication skills. The time pressure tests students' organisational skills and their ability to effectively structure and deploy knowledge and communicate clearly and concisely. The assignment allows students to demonstrate their academic writing skills, including referencing skills.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 10 Fortnightly 1 hour 10
Seminars 9 Fortnightly 2 hours 18
Preparation and Reading 272
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Written Assignment 3000 100% August

Formative Assessment:

Article critique totalling 1500 words.

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