Course Description

Course Name

International Relations Research Methods

Session: VPGS1324

Hours & Credits

6 ECTS Credits

Prerequisites & Language Level


Taught In English

  • There is no language prerequisite for courses at this language level.


1.    Course Description
This course is intended to equip students with advanced methodological skills necessary to successfully complete a major research project in the social sciences. In the spirit of interdisciplinarity, its aim is to enable learners to develop an understanding of the basic methodological choices available in the field of political science and in cognate fields such as International Relations, Law, and sociology. 

Problems of methodology and research design will be approached in the broader context of the philosophy of social science. Throughout the course students will have the opportunity to engage a series of debates concerning the core methodological and philosophical traditions in the social sciences such as positivism, hermeneutics, Marxism, poststructuralism, and formal theory. These include perspectives which seek to understand human action from ‘the inside’, by paying attention to its subjective or intersubjective meaning, but also to rival, scientific perspectives of studying the social world which assume the human subject away. An alternative set of theories present the entire social reality as a ‘text’, whereas rival formal theories discard the idea of meaning, language and reflexivity. Additionally, students will acquire competences in research design with a particular emphasis on qualitative research (ethnography, participant observation, case studies). The aim is to enable each researcher to develop an independent research project by identifying a given methodological tradition and to acquire basic knowledge of its fundamental principles, as an indispensable prerequisite for sound research. 


2.    Student Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this course, students should be able to:
•    demonstrate basic understanding of the main methodologies and philosophies of social science (positivist, critical, interpretive, and formal theoretical)
•    show awareness of the opportunities and pitfalls associated with specific research methodologies, including the hazards of mixing incompatible methodologies 
•    understand the practical, ethical, and budgetary constraints of conducting research in the social sciences 
•    develop an independent piece of research such as a term paper, a thesis proposal or grant application which exhibits a clear logical design, conceptual consistency, and methodological maturity. 


3.    Reading Material

Required Materials
(1)    Halperin, Sandra & Heath, Oliver (2019) Political Research: Methods and Practical Skills. Oxford: Oxford University Press (AAU library, reserve section, call number 320.072 HA)
(2)    Bryman, Alan (2012) Social Research Methods, 4th edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press (AAU library, reserve section, call number 302.3 BRY)
(3)    Martin, Michael & McIntyre, Lee C.  (eds.)  (1994) Readings in the Philosophy of Social Science. MIT Press. (probably the best available anthology) (NEO & order placed via AAU library)
(4)    Rugg, Gordon & Petre, Marian (2007) A Gentle Guide to Research Methods. New York: Open University Press/McGraw-Hill (NEO)
(5)    Baylis, John, Smith, Steve & Patricia Owens (2011) The Globalization of World Politics, 5th edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press (AAU library reserve section, multiple copies available – call number 327 BAY) 

Sources (1) and (2), designated as ‘Halperin & Heath’ and ‘Bryman’, contain the key readings on research design for this course. You are strongly advised to purchase at least one of these sources – both are available in the reserve section of the AAU library (see above). The rest of the required readings will be posted on NEO LMS (designated with ‘NEO’).

Recommended Materials 

The following represents a short list of the key recommended readings – some will be made available via NEO:

(1)    On the Philosophy of Social Science

Chalmers, Alan (2013) What Is This Thing Called Science? 4th edn. St Lucia, QLD: University of Queensland Press (NEO).
*French, Steven (2007) Science: Key Concepts in Philosophy. London: Continuum (NEO).
Hollis, Martin (1994) The Philosophy of Social Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (NEO).
King, Gary, Keohane, Robert O. & Sidney Verba (1994) Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research. Princeton: Princeton University Press (useful for positivist methodology). (AAU library, reserve section 300.72 KIN)
Ladyman, James (2002) Understanding Philosophy of Science. New York and London: Routledge (NEO)
*Marsh, David & Stoker, David (2002) Theory and Methods in Political Science 2nd edn. Basingstoke: Palgrave (emphasis on epistemology and ontology)
Nagel, Ernest (1961) The Structure of Science: Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation. Harcourt, Brace & World. (classical statement of positivism)
Delanty, Gerard & Piet Strydom (2003) Philosophies of Social Science: The Classic and Contemporary Readings. Maidenhead: Open University Press

(2)    On Politics and International Relations 

Hollis, Martin & Smith, Steve (1991) Explaining and Understanding International Relations. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Burchill, Scott, Linklater, Andrew, Richard Devetak et al. (2009) Theories of International Relations. 5th edn Basingstoke: Palgrave. 
Smith, Steve, Booth, Ken & Marysia Zalewski (eds.) (1996) International Theory: Positivism and Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (AAU Library - call number 327.101 SMI)
Further Supplementary Materials

Moses, Jonathon W. & Knutsen, Torbjorn L. (2007) Ways of Knowing: Competing Methodologies in Social and Political Research. Basingstoke: Palgrave. 
Delanty, Gerard (1997) Social Science: Beyond Constructivism and Realism. Buckingham: Open University Press (research methods with an emphasis on sociology)
Rosenberg, Alexander (1988) Philosophy of Social Science. Boulder: Westview Press.
Smith, Mark J. (2003) Social Science in Question. London: Sage. 
Bird, Alexander (2000) The Philosophy of Science. London: UCL Press.

Materials on How to Write a Research Project or Dissertation 
Booth, Wayne C., Colomb, Gregory G., & Joseph M. Williams (2003) The Craft of Research. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2nd edn. (a popular guide to the writing of a dissertation—everything from how to identify a research question to the final draft).
Turabian, Kate L (2007) A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 7th edn. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Harvey, Michael (2003) The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing. Indianapolis: Hackett (a classic).
Bell, Judith (2005) Doing Your Research Project: A Guide for First-Time Researchers in Education, Health and Social Science, 4th edn. Open University Press.
Punch, Keith F.  (2006) How to Write an Effective Research Proposal. London: SAGE. 
Robson, Colin (2007) How to Do a Research Project. Blackwell.


4.    Teaching Methodology
Format: Weekly sessions of circa 150 min (lecture + seminar). There will be at least one 10-minute break between the lecture and the seminar. 

Lectures conducted by Dr Lechner followed by seminars including class discussion of the weekly readings and student-led presentations. 

In order to facilitate class discussion and exchange of ideas, it is important to attend all lectures and seminars having read the assignments in advance. You should read the required readings for each session carefully and more than once if necessary. Please take written notes and whenever certain concepts or arguments seem difficult or unclear to you, do not hesitate to bring these questions up for discussion during our seminars. You are encouraged to read the weekly recommended readings as well but this is not per se necessary. Rather, the recommended readings are supposed to help you write the final research proposal for the course as well as your final presentation.


*Course content subject to change