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

Scientific Realism  

Heikki Patomäki

This chapter addresses scientific realism. After the heyday of empiricism in the interwar period and its immediate aftermath, many critical reactions to empiricism seemed to suggest scientific realism. It was widely agreed that scientific theories make references to things that cannot be directly observed (or at least seen), and thus emerged the issue of the status of non-observables. As scientific realism became increasingly dominant, new philosophical stances such as Bas C. van Fraassen’s constructive empiricism were often defined in opposition to it. Van Fraassen understands scientific realism as a claim that science aims to give us, in its theories, a literally true story of what the world is like; and acceptance of a scientific theory involves the belief that it is true. More in line with established forms of scientific realism, Ilkka Niiniluoto talks about verisimilitude, or truth-likeness. This concept is supposed to avoid the consequences of claiming to have access to the truth itself. The chapter then considers how the social sciences seem to pose difficulties for scientific realism.


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


State of the Art and ‘Best Practice’

Onna van den Broek and Adam William Chalmers

This chapter addresses hypotheses. Empirical social scientific research often entails an interaction between observations and theory (a logical and precise speculation about an answer to a research question). In the application of deductive reasoning, a specific theory will inform a set of hypotheses that are then tested through empirical observations. Accordingly, hypotheses can be defined as ‘testable propositions entailed by the logic of the theory’. The chapter then details five basic principles to build a theory. Although critics have pointed out that these principles are unsuitable for the investigation of a small-Number of cases due to the reliance on random selection and generalization, it remains an important work in developing procedures for avoiding bias and making reliable inferences. The chapter also discusses the formulation of a good hypothesis.


Cover Human Rights

Genocide and Human Rights  

Scott Straus

This chapter discusses the correlation between genocide and human rights. It examines Raphael Lemkin's concept of genocide which resulted in an international treaty on the punishment and prevention of genocide. The UN Genocide Convention became the law that embodied the landmark treaty on genocide. Additionally, the chapter explores the social scientific theories on why genocide occurs. Classic theories on genocide tend to highlight intergroup antipathy, authoritarianism, and hardship. The chapter also references the historical background and international responses to the genocides recorded in Rwanda and Darfur. It reflects on the possibilities and limits of the Genocide Convention as a human rights instrument.