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Unit of study_

SSPS4402: Philosophy of Social Science Research

Semester 1, 2024 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

What exists in the world? What, and how, can we know about what exists in the world? In this unit, we explore these fundamental questions about being and knowing in the context of debates about philosophy and methodology in the social sciences. We examine how these debates about being and knowing shape and inform decisions about research and research design (methodology). We further explore the politics of knowing and knowledge production, thinking otherwise about knowledge production and its cultivation. We also explore the possibilities for thinking beyond existing debates, focusing on debates about biases of methodologies, Indigenous knowledge, and decolonisation of the social sciences.

Unit details and rules

Unit code SSPS4402
Academic unit Political Economy
Credit points 6
144cp including FASS3999 or equivalent
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Claire Parfitt,
Lecturer(s) Claire Parfitt,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment hurdle task Positionality paper
Positionality paper
20% Week 05
Due date: 22 Mar 2024 at 23:59
1000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO2 LO3 LO5
Presentation hurdle task group assignment Group multimedia presentation
Generate a multimedia presentation (video or podcast style)
30% Week 13
Due date: 24 May 2024 at 23:59
1750 words (equivalent) / 4-5 min
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO4
Assignment hurdle task Essay
Essay responding to one of three set questions
50% Week 13
Due date: 24 May 2024 at 23:59
3250 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
hurdle task = hurdle task ?
group assignment = group assignment ?

Assessment summary

Positionality paper 

  • Draft a paper which articulates their epistemological and ontological assumptions and how these are informed by sociopolitical position

Group multimedia presentation 

  • Work in groups based on disciplinary cohort to generate a video or podcast which responds to the material in one of the weekly seminars. Students are also required to respond to each other's presentations on Canvas (at least 3)


  • Draft essay in response to one of the set questions, or another question as agreed with the unit coordinator

Assessment criteria

Result name Mark range Description
High distinction 85-100 Exceptional
Distinction 75-84 Very high standard 
Credit  65-74 Good standard
Pass 50-64 Acceptable standard 
Fail  0-49 Does not meet learning outcomes to an acceptable standard


For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

This unit has an exception to the standard University policy or supplementary information has been provided by the unit coordinator. This information is displayed below:

Late penalties are imposed as per the faculty policy (5%) per calendar day after due date

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

Support for students

The Support for Students Policy 2023 reflects the University’s commitment to supporting students in their academic journey and making the University safe for students. It is important that you read and understand this policy so that you are familiar with the range of support services available to you and understand how to engage with them.

The University uses email as its primary source of communication with students who need support under the Support for Students Policy 2023. Make sure you check your University email regularly and respond to any communications received from the University.

Learning resources and detailed information about weekly assessment and learning activities can be accessed via Canvas. It is essential that you visit your unit of study Canvas site to ensure you are up to date with all of your tasks.

If you are having difficulties completing your studies, or are feeling unsure about your progress, we are here to help. You can access the support services offered by the University at any time:

Support and Services (including health and wellbeing services, financial support and learning support)
Course planning and administration
Meet with an Academic Adviser

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 Knowledge creation in historical and sociopolitical context Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 02 What’s critical about critical approaches? Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 03 Reflexivity and positionality Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 04 Ethical and emancipatory considerations in social sciences Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 05 What’s scientific about the social sciences? Positivism and beyond Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 06 Decolonising knowledge production Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 07 Non-positivist Approaches: Symbolic Interactionism & Constructivism Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 08 Critical realism Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 09 Poststructuralism Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 10 Participant observation Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 11 Indigenous ways of being, knowing and doing Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 12 Reflexivity revisited Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 13 Social Sciences knowledge in the era of ecological catastrophe Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. Explain the roles of and relationship between, theory, methodology and research design in different types of social science.
  • LO2. Identify and defend the ontological assumptions that students bring to research.
  • LO3. Articulate the epistemological position that informs their research.
  • LO4. Articulate and criticise historical and contemporary debates, and on-going controversies, about knowledge production in the social sciences.
  • LO5. Coherently articulate how their social positionality influences their ontology and epistemological position.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

New course


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