This course introduces students to theoretical and practical foundations of empirical social science research. One basic premise is that social research should investigate empirically falsifiable claims about the observable world, be it social, political, legal, financial, or some other aspect of human behaviour or institutions. Throughout we will be focusing on the foundations of social scientific research designs. In short, scientific inquiry aims to be cumulative, evidence-based, systematic, sceptical, ethical, and based on rational argument.
This course is neither qualitative nor quantitative in focus. The logic of the course is to build from narrowly defined questions to more broadly defined questions as the course proceeds. Each week, we will expand the scope of inquiry, and this will tend to be associated with increasingly flexible research designs. How we do research ultimately depends on the nature of the particular research question and the type and kinds of evidence that are available. There are strengths, weaknesses and trade-offs to most of the decisions we make when planning research, and as the weeks of the course progress, the strengths and weaknesses of the research designs we consider will change and the implicit trade-offs will as well. Our goal is for students to better understand the consequences of the design decisions that are made in the published research that they read and that they will need to make to proceed in their own research.