olivier godechot

Epistemology and Logics of Social Research

Sukriti Issar and Olivier Godechot


The aim of this course is to learn how to do social science research. The focus is on research logics and epistemologies. The class will start with fundamentals of research – what is science and epistemology, what is reason or truth, what is the scientific method, and what is our responsibility as researchers. The course will then move to understanding the role of theory in research, and developing a vocabulary for the key parts of a research paper. This is followed by a few weeks focusing on specific methods. This list of methods is not for the purposes of learning technical how-to; rather, the aim is to explore the research logics and epistemological assumptions embedded in different methods. For example, event history is really about how processes unfold over time, while spatial analysis is about how processes can diffuse over space. Similarly, formal models are a way to think more abstractly about how we expect people to behave, and can be useful in hypothesis generation and model building. The readings will be exemplary readings to be read not for substantive content alone, but for unpacking how these papers work, and understanding their research logics. Throughout the class, students will use the readings to practically learn how to write a social science research question, craft an argument, reflect on the research process, and integrate the various elements of research (planning, data collection, linking theory and evidence).

The main learning goal is to understand the relationship between research question, methods, and academic literature. What is an effective research question? How do you find a good empirical case? How do you link question, method, and literature into a coherent research paper? These questions will be answered through lectures, class debate, practical application on class, deconstructing research papers, and work-shopping of student writing.

Assessment: For the end of week 4 (30%) students will produce a short 2-3 pages epistemological reflection on the hydrochloroquine controversy. They will in parallel be expected to produce a research paper, ideally linked to their masters topic, that allows them to work on all the key elements of social research – asking a question, framing hypotheses, evaluating alternative explanations, and using evidence. In week 8, students should produce a 5-pages draft for that paper (30%).

Students are expected to participate actively during the class through the presentation and the discussion of papers.

The final paper, expected in week 12 will be 10-12 pages long (40%). More information on those assignments will be given by the instructors during the first session and by email.


Weekly Schedule

  1. What can we know? From ontology to epistemology
  2. Are social sciences worth a distinct epistemology ?
  3. What do scientists do? From epistemology to sociology of science
  4. Epistemology in practice: Controversies on hydrochloroquine
  5. Introduction to Research Papers
  6. Interviews
  7. Cases
  8. Mechanisms
  9. Time
  10. Space
  11. Causation
  12. Mixed methods


 Condillac, Chapitre 1 et 2. Traité des sensations.

 Popper, Karl. 2005. Chapter 1. A survey of some fundamental problems. The logic of scientific discovery. Routledge.

 Malterud, Kirsti. "The legitimacy of clinical knowledge: towards a medical epistemology embracing the art of medicine." Theoretical medicine 16.2 (1995): 183-198.

 Kerr, Norbert L. "HARKing: Hypothesizing after the results are known." Personality and Social Psychology Review 2.3 (1998): 196-217.

Feyerabend, Paul. "The strange case of astrology." Philosophy of Science and the Occult (1982): 19-23.


Kuhn, Thomas S. The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago press, 1959.


Friedman, Milton. 1953. “The methodology of positive economics.”, Essays in Positive Economics, Chicago.

Stone, Lawrence. "The revival of narrative: reflections on a new old history." Past & Present 85 (1979): 3-24.

Gorski, Philip S. "1. The Poverty of Deductivism: A Constructive Realist Model of Sociological Explanation." Sociological Methodology 34.1 (2004): 1-33.

Passeron, Jean-Claude. 1991. Le raisonnement sociologique, Paris : Seuil. 


Durkheim, Emile. 1982. Chapter 1. Rules of sociological method. Simon and Schuster.

Hobsbawm, Eric J. "The revival of narrative: some comments." Past & Present 86 (1980): 3-8.

Weber, Max. ""Objectivity" in social science and social policy." The methodology of the social sciences (1949): 49-112.

Bourdieu, Pierre, Jean-Claude Chamboredon, and Jean-Claude Passeron. 1991. The craft of sociology: Epistemological preliminaries. Walter de Gruyter.


Merton, Robert K. "The Matthew effect in science: The reward and communication systems of science are considered." Science 159.3810 (1968): 56-63.

Rossiter, Margaret W. "The Matthew Matilda effect in science." Social studies of science 23.2 (1993): 325-341.

Callon, Michel. "Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St Brieuc Bay." The sociological review 32.1_suppl (1984): 196-233.

Callon, Michel. "Éléments pour une sociologie de la traduction: la domestication des coquilles Saint-Jacques et des marins-pêcheurs dans la baie de Saint-Brieuc." L'Année sociologique (1940/1948-) 36 (1986): 169-208.

Brodeur, Abel, et al. "Star wars: The empirics strike back." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 8.1 (2016): 1-32.


Bourdieu, Pierre. "Le champ scientifique." Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 2.2 (1976): 88-104.

Latour, Bruno. Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Harvard university press, 1987.



  • Holland, Alisha. The Distributive Politics of Enforcement. American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 00, No. 0, April 2014, Pp. 1–15.
  • Besbris, Max and Shamus Khan. 2017. Less theory. More description. Sociological Theory, Vol. 35(2) 147–153.
  • Howard S. Becker Interviewed by Harvey Molotch. 2012. Public Culture, 24 (2): 421-443[1].


  • Becker, Howard. 1953. Becoming a Marijuana User. American Journal of Sociology, 59:3: 235-252.
  • Lamont, M., & Swidler, A. (2014). Methodological Pluralism and the Possibilities and Limits of Interviewing. Qualitative Sociology, 37(2), 153–171.
  • Jerolmack, C., & Khan, S. (2014). Talk is Cheap: Ethnography and the Attitudinal Fallacy. Sociological Methods & Research, 43(2), 178–209.
  • Lucas, Samuel R. 2014. Beyond the existence proof: ontological conditions, epistemological implications, and in-depth interview research. Quality and Quantity, 48 (1): 387-408.

 WEEK 7: CASES (Issar)

  • Flyvbjerg, Bent. 2006. Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research. Qualitative Inquiry, 12: 2: 219-245.
  • Ragin, Charles. 1992. Introduction : Cases of ‘What is a case ?’.


  • Brady, Henry E. 2010. “Data-Set Observations versus Causal-Process Observations: The 2000 U.S. Presidential Election.” In Rethinking Social Inquiry: Diverse Tools, Shared Standards, 2nd ed., ed. Henry E. Brady and David Collier, 237–42. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
  • Bo Bengtsson1 and Nils Hertting. Generalization by Mechanism: Thin Rationality and Ideal-type Analysis in Case Study Research
    • Collier, D. (2011). Understanding Process Tracing. PS: Political Science & Politics, 44.4, 823–830.


  • Campbell, W., Twenge, J., & Carter, N. (2017). Support for Marijuana (Cannabis) Legalization: Untangling Age, Period, and Cohort Effects. Collabra: Psychology3(1), 2.
  • Mishler, William and Richard Rose. 2007. Generation, Age, and Time: The Dynamics of Political Learning during Russia's Transformation. American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 51 (4) : 822-834.
  • Powerpoint on event history [will be emailed]

 WEEK 10: SPACE (Issar)

  • Logan, John R. 2012. Making a Place for Space: Spatial Thinking in Social Science. Annual Review of Sociology 38: 507-24.
  • Bergstrom, Lina and Maarten van Ham. Understanding Neighbourhood Effects: Selection bias and Residential Mobility. Discussion Paper no. 5193, 2010.
  • Tucci, Michele, Rocco W Ronza & Alberto Giardano. 2011. Fragments from many pasts: layering the toponymic tapestry of Milan. Journal of Historical Geography, 37: 370-384.
  •  Clerval, Anne. 2011. The spatial dynamics of gentrification in Paris: a synthesis map. Cybergeo


  • A gentle introduction to instrumental variables, read the first four pages
  • Desmond, M., Papachristos, A. V., & Kirk, D. S. (2016). Police Violence and Citizen Crime Reporting in the Black Community. American Sociological Review81(5), 857–876.https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122416663494
  • Kirk, David S. “A Natural Experiment on Residential Change and Recidivism: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina.” American Sociological Review 74, no. 3 (June 2009): 484–505. 


  • Small, M. L. 2011. How to Conduct a Mixed Methods Study: Recent Trends in a Rapidly Growing Literature. Annual Review of Sociology, 37: 57–86.
  • Desmond, Matthew. 2012. Eviction and the Reproduction of Urban Poverty. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 118 (1): 88–133.
  • Francois Bonnet, Etienne Lalé, Mirna Safi, Etienne Wasmer. 2016.  Better residential than ethnic discrimination! Reconciling audit and interview findings in the Parisian housing market. Urban Studies, 53 (13) : 2815-2833.


[1] http://howardsbecker.com/articles/HSB%20interview%20with%20HM.pdf


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