‘Theory Construction’ explores the nature of theorizing in the social sciences. It focuses on some of the main building blocks in social inquiry, such as concepts, research questions, and causal explanations. This course is designed to help students learn how to construct the theory and concepts for their research papers and to be able to search for some public policy problem and prepare, design and select public policy theories or program to analyze and study the problem. This course aims to teach elementary knowledge and practical skills for conceptualizing social science inquiry. The emphasis throughout the course is not on theories themselves, but on creative and disciplined theorizing as a practical skill.  Therefore, at the end of the course, the students should be familiar with theoretical choices and debates to conduct social scientific and public policy scientific research, while possessing necessary skills for creative, independent, and disciplined theorizing. Students will have opportunity to discuss their phenomenon understudied during the seminar sessions. Through lectures, working seminars and individual assignments, you are encouraged to reflect on social scientific approaches to reality and different choices entailed in research design.

The first part of the course introduces essential aspects of theorizing, such as thinking sociologically, the specificity of social-scientific inquiries and the application of creative heuristics.

The second part treats essential aspects of the research process, such as developing research questions, a research design, conceptualization, operationalization, and measurement both in (post-)positivist and interpretive approaches. It also discusses how social scientists deal with causation and explanation.

In the third part of the course, we treat some typical recurring problems in public policy research:

(1) Varying levels of sociological analysis (micro, meso & macro) and (2) Problems of comparative research in public and social policy.


Learning Objectives and Outcomes

  • Students will understand the general features of scientific research and methodology and are familiar with some basic concepts of the epistemology and philosophy of social sciences
  • Students will have a good understanding of the specificity of sociological and social science research and the interconnectedness within different research goals, research strategies and paradigms. Students will be able to illustrate the sociological and public policy approaches and different research goals and strategies, using a given or self-chosen societal phenomenon
  • Students will have a good understanding of the different choices and issues at stake in the research process (finding a research question, conceptualization, operationalization, etc.) and they will be able to apply this understanding in small research assignments during the semester.
  • Students will have a good understanding of essential issues at stake in the description as well as explanation of social life. Students will be able to distinguish descriptive and causal arguments.
  • Students will know some general heuristics and specific heuristics of the social sciences and can use them to turn a vague interest into their research question.
  • Students will understand the various possibilities and problems involved in comparative research
  • Students will be able to distinguish the main levels of analysis in the social sciences and understand the main problems when developing explanations across different levels of analysis
  • Students will know how to use social-scientific sources to find a research problem and develop social-scientific arguments. Students will be able to report orally and written on this phenomenon understudied.

Final competences