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Social Research: Issues and Debates

1. Epistemology

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about epistemology – is it possible to know objective truths about society, and if so, how? We focus on four theoretical perspectives: (i) positivism, which argues that there are universal truths, and that these can be known through scientific testing; (ii) relativism, which denies the existence of truths independent of context and people’s subjective perspectives; (iii) realism, which recognises objective truths exist but says that subjective interpretations are also significant; (iv) feminist standpoint epistemology, which argues that people’s access to truth is shaped by their social position, and particularly that marginalised groups have a more objective view of societies’ failings.


In this course, Professor Tim May (University of Sheffield) explores several important issues in social research, and the debates which surround them. In the first module, we consider key perspectives on epistemology – is it possible for research to uncover objective truths about society, and, if so, how? The second looks at the place of theory in research through two contrasting approaches – the hypothetico-deductive model and grounded theory – and the third module thinks about the role of values in research, examining Max Weber’s concept of value-free sociology and its critics. In the fourth module, we reflect upon ethics and the ways in which constraints of funding, time and resources influence the research process. The final module suggests some things to consider when presenting research, and ways in which researchers can make their presentations participatory and engaging.


Professor Tim May is a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield. He has a wide range of expertise relating to research methodologies, sociological theory, and the philosophy of social science. His recent publications include Social Research: Issues, Methods and Process (2021, co-authored with Beth Perry), Thinking Sociologically (2019, co-authored with Zygmunt Bauman), Reflexivity: The Essential Guide (2017, co-authored with Beth Perry).

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APA style

May, T. (2022, January 26). Social Research: Issues and Debates - Epistemology [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

May, T. "Social Research: Issues and Debates – Epistemology." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 26 Jan 2022,

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