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Course content

The field of Social Policy examines the definition, pattern and range of social problems in contemporary society and the various policy responses to them. It explores the role of the state in relation to the welfare and management of its citizens and the role of state intervention in determining the conditions under which people live. This programme is designed to provide you with a grounding in social research as applied in social policy investigations.

Course Structure

You will take a range of taught modules primarily in the first two terms of the academic year. Starting in the first term, you will undertake a module on research design which will enables you to develop a research proposal for your dissertation.

Core Modules

In previous years, typical modules offered were:

Perspectives on Social Research (15 credits)

  • Introduction to social scientific research
  • Establishing cause and interpreting meaning in social sciences
  • Essentials of quantitative and qualitative research in the social sciences.

Statistical Exploration and Reasoning (15 credits)

  • Spreadsheets and data analysis
  • Populations, sample data and sampling distributions
  • Point estimates and confidence intervals
  • Significance tests, cress-tabulations, and Chi-Square tests
  • Correlation and linear regression.

Research Design and Process (15 credits)

  • Formulating research questions
  • Evaluating and developing a research proposal
  • Reviewing relevant literature
  • Experimental vs. observational studies
  • Sampling and selecting respondents
  • Measurement.

Qualitative Research Methods in Social Science (15 credits)

  • Introduction to theory and research practice in qualitative methods
  • Ethnography and grounded theory
  • Group discussions
  • Data analysis and management processes.

Quantitative Research Methods in Social Science (15 credits)

  • Sampling and sample design, questionnaire design
  • Numerical taxonomy and cluster analysis in practice
  • Methods for representing complex systems.

Social Policy and Society (30 credits)

  • Spanning two terms, this module covers theory and concepts in the first term, and applications of concepts in the second term
  • Critical perspectives in Marxism, feminism, anti-racism, and environmentalism
  • Social control, regulations and resistance
  • Citizenship and community
  • Applications in healthcare, education, social security, housing, crime, justice and punishment.

Policy Related and Evaluation Research (15 credits)

  • Relationship between theory and empirical research in evaluation
  • Defining and measuring outcomes
  • Case study analysis
  • Poster presentation and participatory evaluation.

Dissertation (60 credits)

  • 15,000 word dissertation based on a supervised research project.

Academic learning is assessed through a range of summative essays, statistical/computer-based projects, research proposals, and a dissertation.

Course Learning and Teaching

These MA Research Methods programmes are full-time, starting in early October and continuing over 12 months following university terms. 

The main teaching methods include lectures, seminars, and computer practical sessions. Lectures introduce the key concepts, theories, current debates and other issues critical for understanding the topics. Seminars are opportunities for you to discuss any questions arising from the readings, to share experience of conducting research, to present your own work for comments. Modules that teach the use of computer software packages have practical sessions in computer rooms so that you can carry out hands-on exercises under supervision and further assistance. 

Modules are usually assessed through essays. Statistics modules may require you to complete specific analyses with more structured instructions. Some module conveners may allow you to submit formative assignments in order for you to obtain a sense of how well you understand the subject. Some modules’ assessment may contain a proportion of presentations and group projects. 

Further academic support is available. You will have the opportunity to learn from your dissertation supervisors at individual tutoring meetings, dissertation workshops, and forums. Every member of teaching staff has two hours of office hours each week where you can access additional support for your modules, assignments and so forth. In addition, both the University and the School host seminars for external speakers that are open to all students.

You will have access to a variety of learning resources, including learning spaces in libraries and teaching rooms, readings and textbooks, computers, databases, etc. 


Visit the Social Research Methods (Social Policy) - MA page on the Durham University website for more details!

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