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Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts (1st edn)

Jean-Frédéric Morin, Christian Olsson, and Ece Özlem Atikcan
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date: 09 December 2023



  • Gianfranco Pellegrino


This chapter illustrates epistemology, which is the discipline devoted to the study of knowledge and justified belief. Epistemology concerns issues of the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular fields of inquiry. Assuming that knowledge is distinguished from mere opinion for its being true — a common assumption in epistemology — truth is also connected to epistemology. In the social sciences, epistemology is a source for methodological criteria employed in research, as well as for guidance on ontological issues — such as the existence of theoretical entities and the relationships between the social and the natural world. The chapter then looks at the divide between scholars who understand social sciences as positive, objective disciplines, according to the model of natural sciences, and scholars who understand social sciences as less precise, more humanistic disciplines, with a looser standard of objectivity. This divide refers in its turn to an even broader topic, namely the discussion about when and whether objective knowledge can be obtained in the social sciences, and on the very meaning of ‘objectivity’ and ‘knowledge’. This topic belongs to the general field of epistemology.

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