Week 1: Research Methods

Lecture: “quantitative and qualitative techniques for obtaining and organizing information. Lays a foundation for both academic and practical investigation questions that students will encounter throughout their careers in the field while conducting and evaluating research.”

Halperin and Heath tell us early on that their book “is concerned with how to formulate questions that are significant and how to develop meaningful and persuasive answers to them.” (p. 3)

source: Halperin & Heath, Chapter 1, Political Research and Chapter 2, Forms of Knowledge

Chapter 1

Approach to political research based on three positions:

  1. pluralism: qualitative and exploratory work; quantitative and comparative work
  2. problem-driven: what research question is being investigated
  3. relevance to important questions or policy issues

significant question: one that is ‘directly relevant to solving real-world problems and furthering the goals of a specific scientific literature.’

  • generate valuable knowledge about questions addressed
  • author makes clear and coherent argument about the conclusions they’ve reached

There is a tendency to separate real-world issues and normative issues and study of political ‘ideas and values’ as involving separate areas of research

Politics and international relations both concerned with nature of states, political systems, development, conflict, ideology, social movements, geopolitics, nationalism, political participation, and political philosophy.

Empirical: answers questions about real world

Normative: argue value systems over another; why one argument is more meaningful than another

Positivism: scientific knowledge of the social world is limited to what can be observed; empirical data, causal relationships

  1. scientific method
  2. observational data
  3. distinct facts and values

Interpretivism: knowledge of the social world gained through interpreting the meanings which give people reasons for acting; understanding human behavior

Quantitative research is statistical; qualitative is descriptive.

ontology and epistemology: questions about the complexities and ambiguities of knowing and gaining knowledge of the social world

methodological individualism: argues individuals are basic units in society and social life must be explained through actions of individuals

methodological holism: ‘social wholes’ as the basic unit of analysis, understood as distinct from it’s parts

Debate about the relationships between agents (actors) and structures which shape their actions

Descriptive questions: describe characteristics of something or model how it works

Explanatory questions: explain what factors or conditions are causally connected to a known outcome

Normative questions: what ought to be done

Hypothesis: in quantitative research, it is a prediction.  It may be described as a ‘haunch, assumption, suspicion, assertion or idea about a phenomenon, relationship, situation’

Research design: plan for research

  1. what observations to make and how to make them
  2. what test of evidence will confirm or disconfirm hypothesis
  3. data relevant to demonstrating the relationships and how will collect them
  4. Procedures and methods

Data collection and data analysis: experiments, interviews or focus groups, participant observation, or collective archival data or documentary records such as speeches, policy documents, or media reports.

Validity of measurement: description and detail; validity of inference: explanation and generalization


Chapter 2

Ontology is concerned with what is.  Epistemology is concerned with what is knowable, and methodology is concerned with how we obtain knowledge.


  • behavioralism application of positivism and empiricism
    • focused on behavior of individuals or parties, classes, interest groups, governments, and social movements
    • what political actors do and why
    • based on empirical observation, testing evidence, and causal determination
  • applying methods found in natural sciences
  • naturalism: no difference between scientific and social world
  • empiricism: what we know is limited to what we can observe
  • world is regular, systematic, and law governed
  • induction: means of reasoning with observations
    • gathering of facts as basis for laws
  • causation, X precedes Y
  • scientific method
  • Logical Positivism: logical reasoning and mathematics
  • Deduction: drawing implications from theory
  • Verifiability: basis for establishing truth claims
  • Falsifiability: anything non-falsifiable is outside science, requires ability to be falsified
  • Deductive-nomological model: logical and contains at least one law

Scientific realism: accepts the social and physical worlds are both similar, but holds realism such that the world operates independently from those around it; committed to identifying unobservable structures that work to generate observable outcomes

Causal mechanism: ‘series of events governed by lawlike regularities’

Inference: reasoning involved in the process of drawing conclusions based on facts or premises

Abduction: starts with a hunch that facts are connected in some way; can be confirmed with induction and deduction

Interpretivism: social world is fundamentally different from world of natural phenomena, and can’t explain it using methods used in the natural world


Quiz 1

Explain in your own words the distinction Halperin and Heath draw between positivism and scientific realism.  An adequately developed answer should contain a definition of each concept and a explanation of the important distinctions between the two.

Positivism asserts that scientific knowledge of the social world is limited to what can be observed and is based on empirical data and causal relationships.  Positivism incorporates the scientific method process and uses distinct facts and values acquired from observations of the natural world.  Positivism in an ontological sense, that is, nature of the physical world, accepts that the social world is no different than the natural world such that phenomena act according to causality.  Positivism often incorporates behavioralism such that the behaviors of individuals and actors are studied meticulously.  Behavioralism involves collecting observations and testing.

Positivist studies use scientific method reasoning such that a process of data collecting, hypothesis testing, and conclusions are drawn from the observed results of analysis.  Positivist scholars argue what can be known is limited to observations and that without rigorous testing using the lawlike scientific method, conclusions about the physical or social world cannot be drawn.  Positivism uses statistical methodology.

Scientific Realism takes on a naturalist ontology such that the social world is separate from our behavior and exists independently from it.  Scientific Realism accepts the social and physical worlds are both similar, but maintains a realist perspective such that the world operates as a isolated entity.  Scientific Realists are concerned with unobservable phenomena such that unobservable agents might have a causal affect and generate an outcome.

Scientific Realism unlike Positivism uses theories to explain the natural and social world, such that unobservable entities can be examined indirectly.  Positive holds the opposite such that only through observation can outcomes be examined.  Scientific Realists use logic and deductive means to analyze phenomena.  Both Scientific Realism and Positivism use  the scientific method however while Positives draw conclusions based only on observable data, Scientific Realists draw conclusions based on theories and indirect methods.

On pages 44-46, Halperin and Heath present analyses of ethnic conflict from a positivist perspective and from an interpretivist perspective.  What are the major differences in the questions each approach asks about ethnic conflict? What are the major differences in the results each approach comes up with?

The Positivist or Rational Choice approach to ethnic conflict in Yugoslavia would be to analyzse actors or agents and determine what strategies the actor would use and what would be the resulting outcome.  The approach holds actors and agent’s behavior is observable and therefore an outcome may be predicted to a certain degree; this is a type of game theory.

When applied to ethnic conflict, Rational Choice scholars have asked what outcomes (what behavior an actor or agent would appear to make) given certain conditions with a given level of uncertainty.  What moves would the actor or agent make given a situation and under certain conditions?  For example, to explain rapid polarization or ethnic groups in Croatia following independence, behavior models can be used to calculate what scenarios lead to the outcome, in this case, polarization.  Scholars model behavior then use deduction to find what scenarios and conditions fit with the model of behavior.

An interpretivist position, unlike the rational choice model, analyzes the behavior of individuals and what conditions the individual would be under to form the outcome of behavior.  In the case Yugoslavian crisis, scholars might argue how ethnic identity would affect behavior studying the means to why a crisis would occur.  Interpretivists use a model of ontology that argues the social world is not like natural phenomena but that the world is subjectively created by individuals; scholars discuss how cognitive features such as subjective perspectives influence outcomes of agent or actor behavior.  Interpretivists, unlike Positivist or rational choice scholars, do not seek causality or causal influences but argue studying the individual or personal mechanisms for behavior as a way of seeking truth.

submitted quiz 22 January: 171psc53514402


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