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Module Reading List

Nature and Philosophy of Social Science Research, 2021/22, Semester 1
Andrew Brown
Tutor information is taken from the Module Catalogue

Nature and Philosophy of Social Science Research

General Reading

There is a recognised discipline or sub-discipline called ‘philosophy of social science’ which draws from philosophy and from the work of social scientists, especially from classics of sociology (e.g. Marx, Durkheim, Weber). Books in this field often claim to be relevant across social and human sciences, as well as in philosophy (though sometimes the books seem to be oriented rather closely to sociology). Inevitably, in covering such a lot of ground, inclusive of philosophy, these texts are all rather difficult, at least from the perspective of a practicing social scientist. The main text we have chosen for this module is no exception but has the advantage of covering some important material for the module, giving us a common point of reference (and it is relatively short and cheap!):

Benton, T. and Craib, I. (2011) Philosophy of Social Science: The Philosophical Foundations of Social Thought (2 nd ed.), New York: Palgrave Macmillan.    

In the sessions we will try get over key points in as clear a way as possible, thereby we hope illuminating the textbook, and assisting you in reading beyond the textbook (which will certainly be necessary).

There are a range of other general texts in this area (worth browsing in the library), including:

Hollis, M. (2012) The Philosophy of Social Science: An Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rosenberg, A. (2015) Philosophy of social science (5th ed.), Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Both books can be difficult but they each offer fresh perspectives and you may find one of them to your taste. Hollis has the advantage of being available on high demand from the Edward Boyle Library. All the above mentioned books offer useful guides to further reading.

A recent textbook that focuses on new developments in the area is 

Cartwright, N. and Montuschi, E. (2015) Philosophy of Social Science: A New Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press

There are alternative sources that may be useful. Firstly, textbooks on social science research techniques often contain discussion of the philosophy of social science. Indeed, one reason you are doing this module is to go into more depth on the rationale for the methodology and methods used in the social science (inclusive of in your own research). CHAPTER 2 of the following book is an example:

Easterby-Smith, M., Thorpe, R. and Jackson, P. R., Jaspersen, L. J. (2018) Management and Business Research (6th ed.), London: Sage.

Chapter 3 of this book gives you an idea of the basic notions that it is the intention of this module to elaborate upon.

Another possible source of help on this module is to consider the philosophy and history of your own particular discipline. Taking, for brevity, the ‘core’ disciplines then, an excellent relevant text for economics is:

Reiss, J. (2013) Philosophy of Economics: A Contemporary Introduction, New York: Routledge.

For sociology, then you need go no further than the texts on the philosophy of social science already mentioned since, as noted above, these texts sometimes steer very closely towards sociology (this is the case with the Benton and Craib recommended text for this module).

For psychology, the following are useful:

Symons, J. and Paco, C. (eds) (2009) The Routledge companion to philosophy of psychology, London: Routledge.

Richards, G. (2010) Putting psychology in its place : a critical historical overview (3rd ed.), East Sussex: Routledge.

Finally, we would also encourage you to pursue specific articles concerning methodology and philosophy in your own particular field of research or discipline, since these are the most important thing for your own research. Do not feel daunted by the content of the module or the reading list – you are not expected to know it all. What is ultimately important is to be able to offer a cogent rationale for your own methodology and research – such a rationale will inevitably involve issues in the philosophy of social science, so some of the reading below will be useful for you – it is in that spirit that you should treat the material.

Reading by Topic

Sessions 2 and 3 (debates around positivism and empiricism)

A brilliant, comprehensive an illuminating book length treatment of positivism:

Halfpenny, P. (1982) Positivism and sociology : explaining social life, Hemel Hempstead: George Allen & Unwin.

A very useful brief summary of positivism and its influence:

Outhwaite, W. (1987) New philosophies of social science : realism, hermeneutics and critical theory, London: Macmillan, chapter 1 (pp. 1-18).

The following is a classic philosophy of science text, with a first chapter that rather briefly discusses empiricism and logical positivism, then comprehensive coverage of Popper, Kuhn and Lakatos:

Chalmers, A. F. (1999) What is this Thing Called Science? (3 rd Ed.), Buckingham, Open University Press.

The following has an excellent and extended account of the developments in logical positivism and the philosophy of science (Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos):

Caldwell, B. (1994) Beyond Positivism: Economic Methodology in the Twentieth Century, London: Routledge.

Primary Sources for Philosophy of Science

Popper, K. (1959) The Logic of Scientific Discovery, London: Hutchinson

Kuhn, T.S. (1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2 nd ed., Chicago: Chicago University Press

Kuhn, T.S. (1970) ‘Reflections on my critics’, in Lakatos, I. and A. Musgrave (eds) Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Lakatos, I. (1970) ‘Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes’, in Lakatos, I. and A. Musgrave (eds) Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Primary Sources for Philosophy of Social Science

There are varied primary sources for the philosophy of social science – too many to list here. Perhaps the most obvious and influential is the work of Durkheim to which you will find references in the philosophy of social science texts but there are many others varying partly with the discipline of interest. Feel free to ask me for further advice on such references. Here I will just note a classic of Durkheim’s:

Durkheim, E. (1952 [1896]) Suicide, London, Routledge.

Sessions 4 and 5 (interpretivist approaches and social constructionism)

There are simply too many and varied approaches under this topic for a comprehensive or definitive reading list. You will find that the general philosophy of social science texts suggested above each give useful further reading. We would also encourage you to pursue readings concerning interpretive approaches, social constructionism, post-modernism etc. that occur in your own particular field of research or discipline (if they do so at all). For example, there has been plenty of debate concerning research methodology, and its underlying philosophy, in relation to management research. Even in disciplines that are firmly positivist in orientation one can sometimes find relevant strands of literature. For example, the ‘rhetoric of economics’ is an ongoing ‘post-modernist’ project of some thirty years standing in economics. Below I list some references associated with the main authors mentioned in the slides and a few further references.

Weber, M. (1978) Economy and Society (2 Volumes), Berkeley, University of California Press. With very useful introduction by the one of the editors (Roth).

[A translation of the first part of the above is also available as The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, first published 1947, The Free Press, New York. This has useful introduction by the editor, Talcott Parsons, which relates to our Sessions on interdisciplinary social science.]

Schutz, A. (1967) The phenomenology of the social world, London, Heinemann.

Berger and Luckmann (1968) The Social Construction of Reality, Harmondsworth, Penguin.

Key reference on ethnomethodology:

Garfinkel, H. (1967) Studies in ethnomethodology, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall.

Linguistic turn and Wittgenstein:

A secondary source close to my own views, referred to in Session 5, and trying to write in an accessible way for non-philosophers:

Sayers, S. (1985) Reality and reason : dialectic and the theory of knowledge, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.

Classic statement of an anti-naturalist position based upon later Wittgenstein:

Winch, P. (1958) The Idea of a Social Science, London, Routledge.

Useful slim introduction to Althusser:

Callinicos, A. (1976) Althusser's Marxism, London, Pluto Press.


Perhaps most accessible of several major works is:

Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and Punish, London, Allen Lane.

A useful reader is:

(1984) The Foucault Reader, edited by Paul Rabinow, London, Penguin.

[The quotes from Foucault regarding ‘discursive regimes’ in Session 5 slides are taken from pp.54-55 of this book which are reprinted as an excerpt from Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writing, 1972-1977, edited by Colin Gordon, Harvester Press]

Useful introductory text on Foucault and ‘discourse’ more generally:

Mills, S. (1997) Discourse, London, Routledge.

An excellent ‘beginners guide’ to social constructionism:

Burr, V. (2003) Social constructionism (2 nd ed.), London: Routledge.

A useful introduction to post-structuralism and post-modernism:

Sarup, M. (1993) An introductory guide to post-structuralism and post-modernism, Hemel Hempstead, Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Many possible texts on post-modernism, also many specific strands across social science disciplines. In Session 5 we briefly mentioned:

Lyotard, J.-F. (1984) The postmodern condition : a report on knowledge, Manchester University Press.

Baudrillard, J. (1985) The mirror of production, St Louis, MO, Telos Press.

A seminal realist/materialist/Marxist assessment of post-modernism:

Harvey, D. (1990) The condition of postmodernity : an enquiry into the origins of cultural change, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.

There is a ‘post-modern’ strand in economics (and branching across disciplines) called the ‘rhetoric of economics’ which, inter alia, stresses the distinction between ‘statistical’ and ‘economic’ or social significance. There are many references here (see me for a list) of which I mention one:

Ziliak, S.T. and McCloskey, D.N. (2008) The cult of statistical significance : how the standard error costs us jobs, justice, and lives, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Sessions 6 and 7 (realist approaches)

Edwards, P., O'Mahoney, J. and Vincent, S. (2014) Studying Organizations Using Critical Realism: A Practical Guide, Oxford: Oxford University Press.  

Archer, M. (2003) Structure, agency, and the internal conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Archer, M. S. (1995) Realist social theory : the morphogenetic approach, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. [Key text on critical realism and social theory]

Archer, M., Bhaskar, R., Collier, A., Lawson, T., and Norrie, A. (eds) (1998) Critical realism : essential readings London, Routledge. [Brings together in 1 volume several key texts]

Bhaskar, R. (1975 [1997]) A Realist Theory of Science, London, Verso.

Bhaskar, R. (1979 [1989]) The Possibility of Naturalism, Hemel Hempstead, Harvester Wheatsheaf. [The above 2 books by Bhaskar are the definitive early texts of critical realism: the 1975 book deals with natural science and the 1979 book with social science]

Brown, A (2014) ‘Critical realism in social research: approach with caution’, Work, employment and society, vol. 28, no. 1: 112-23 [see also reply by Steve Fleetwood in the same journal]

Brown, A., Fleetwood, S. and Roberts, J. M. (eds) (2001) Critical Realism and Marxism, London, Routledge.

Carter, B. and New, C. (2004) Making realism work : realist social theory and empirical research, London, Routledge.

Collier, A. (1994) Critical Realism, London, Verso. [The best introduction to the philosophy of critical realism as found in Bhaskar’s early texts. Admirably clear for the non-philosopher.]

Danermark, B., Ekstrom, M., Jakobsen, L., Karlsson, J. (2002), Explaining society : an introduction to critical realism in the social sciences London: Routledge.

Dean, K., Joseph, J., Roberts, J. M. and Wight, C. (2006) Realism, philosophy and social science [electronic resource], Basingstoke and New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Downward, P. (ed.) (2003) Applied economics and the critical realist critique, London, Routledge. [This book may be useful for anyone interested in the relationship between realism and maths/stats, e.g. econometrics or psychometrics].

Downward, P. and Mearman, A. (2007). “Retroduction as mixed-methods triangulation in economic research: reorienting economics into social science”, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 31 (1): 77-100.

Elder-Vass, D (2010) The Causal Power of Social Structures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fleetwood, S (2011) Sketching a socio-economic model of labour markets. Cambridge journal of economics. 35(1): 15–38.

Fleetwood, S. and Ackroyd, S. (2004) Critical realist applications in organisation and management studies, London, Routledge.

Frauley, J. and Pearce, F. (eds) (2007) Critical realism and the social sciences : heterodox elaborations, Toronto, University of Toronto.

Lawson, T. (1997) Economics and reality, London, Routledge.

Lawson, T. (2003) Reorienting economics, London, Routledge.

McAvoy, J. and Butler, T. (2018) 'A critical realist method for applied business research', Journal of Critical Realism, Vol. 17, No.2 pp. 160-175

Olson, W. (2004) ‘Triangulation in social research: qualitative and quantitative methods can really be mixed’, in Holborn, M. (ed) Developments in sociology, Ormskirk, Causeway Press.

Outhwaite, W. (1987) New philosophies of social science : realism, hermeneutics and critical theory, London: Macmillan.

Price, L. and Martin, L. (2018) 'Introduction to the special issue: Applied critical realism in the social sciences', Journal of Critical Realism, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 89-96 [see also the papers in this journal symposium and the useful reading list]

Sayer, A. (1992) Method in Social Science, London, Routledge.


This list was last updated on 17/09/2020