Faculty of Arts


Research Design in Empirical Political Inquiry


This postgraduate course is meant to serve students in Politics and International Relations, including those pursuing the Honours (Hons), Masters In Terrorism and Conflict Studies (MCTS) and Masters in Professional Studies in Human Rights and International Relations (MPS IRHR) degrees, as well as cognate social science disciplines through a comparative introduction to some of the main tools and approaches in professional political inquiry.

By the end of the course, students will have an understanding of the relative merits and drawbacks of a range of methodological tools, demonstrate an awareness of the trade-offs inherent in any research design strategy and will be able to apply these tools and approaches as appropriate to a research project of their choosing. The main aim of the course is to enable students to formulate a cogent research design for their own dissertation projects, providing a justification for the research methods and approaches chosen. Secondarily, the course aims to make students more informed consumers of research.

The course will consist of twelve two-hour seminars, held weekly for one semester, at which students will be expected to engage in a group discussion of the assigned readings.

The course will consist of four parts. Part one explores the epistemological and ontological debates that inform approaches to political research, and develops an awareness of the properties of theory.

Part two then examines the core approaches in contemporary empirical research, framing each in the context of scholarly debate regarding the benefits and drawbacks of each. These approaches include rational choice and game theoretic modelling, political opportunity structures, historic and liberal institutionalisms and the role of ideas in political research, including cognition, constructivism and culture.

Part three undertakes an exploration of methodological techniques commonly employed in the conduct of empirical political science. Topics may shift to accommodate student interests but may include an introduction to the basics of quantitative analysis (i.e., sampling techniques, randomisation), case studies and case selection, small-n structured comparisons, historiography and process- tracing and experimental methods (including natural experiments).

The fourth component of the course will consider questions relating to research ethics, the sociological composition of social science disciplines and their effects on how knowledge is built. The final session of the semester will take the form of a student colloquium, at which students will be expected to communicate their research plans through prepared poster presentations.


Coursework only

View the course syllabus

Availability 2020

Semester 1


Coordinator(s) Dr Stephen Noakes


POLITICS 701: 15.0 points

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