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Module SS5400 (15 credits)
The research project consists in a report, to be written individually by each student and whose words limit is between 8,000 and 10,000 words.
This assignment is strictly interconnected with the theoretical module Social Policy & Social Theory (SS5317) in that it constitutes a concrete application of the theoretical competence acquired during the first semester. Thus, this module will begin in January after the completion of SS5317.
Module SS5400 includes a few collective introductory lessons on academic writing skills and requirements, referencing and bibliographical details, general methodological issues, ethical guidelines, and, finally, an outline of the research assignment. However, this module’s teaching hours are mostly dedicated to individual supervision so that students can receive guidance and support in the design and development of their research project -if needed- and discuss arising issues and/or doubts. Supervision hours are available on Wednesday (9.00-11.00 a.m.) and Thursday (11.00a.m.-12.00p.m.). Students are required to arrange their meetings with the lecturer a few days in advance.
To facilitate a smooth engagement with the research process, students are required to write a draft of their research proposal (inclusive of interest area(s), prospective title, research question(s), core bibliography and preferred supervisor) prior to the beginning of Module SS5400. This can be finalized into a formal research proposal after the completion of this module’s introductory lessons.
Choice of research topic
Students are expected to come up with a research topic of their choice, provided that it falls within the remit of Social Policy & Social Theory. More specifically, they are supposed to critically explore and assess one or more social policy issues of their interest, in light of their recently acquired knowledge of social theory and social policy.
If they find it difficult to define a report title, it could be useful to begin with a reflection on their present or past professional/voluntary/life experience and pick a topic/phenomenon/event/practice that has been particularly relevant for them.
For instance, if somebody is involved on a professional or voluntary basis in a NGO campaigning against racism/poverty/heterosexism and so on (or has experienced it first hand), s/he could start by theoretically locating the organisational practice as well as her/his role and personal perspective and experience vis-à-vis the NGO itself.
These could be some possible guiding questions to begin the design of the research project with.
• What understanding of racism/poverty/heterosexism is implicitly or explicitly underpinning this NGO?
• What are regarded as its causes and implications? In which ways does this organisation attempt to provide solutions to this issue?
• What core philosophical notions are assumed in anti-racism/anti-poverty/anti-heterosexism work?
• What perspective on equality, justice, need, welfare etc. does implicitly or explicitly underpin this organisation’s actions?
• Does the student identify fully or partially with that perspective? If not, what issues or dilemmas does s/he face?
• How open is the organization to diverging perspectives among its members and to change? What kind of structural set-up does it rely upon for its decision-making procedures?
• What actions does this organization take to fight racism/poverty/heterosexism?
• Does it aim at helping and supporting those affected by these phenomena in the short term or does it also combine long-term actions aimed at eradicating racism/poverty/heterosexism and structural inequality?
• What is the local/national/international context that frames the phenomenon under scrutiny?
• What approach to the State does this organisation adopt? Is it conflict or consensus or some way in between?
• Does it rely or not on state funding? If so, in which way does the state constrain, shape and/or enable this organisation’s work?
• What impact do public social and other policies have on the phenomenon of racism/poverty/heterosexism (etc.) and on people affected by racism/poverty/heterosexism (ect.)?
• What are the assumptions, implicitly or explicitly, underpinning state policies in this regard?
• What are the policy and political debates that are influencing both state policies and this organisation’s practice?
• Can ideological struggles be detected with regards to the analysed issue?
• Can this phenomenon be interpreted in light of the theoretical insights on the interplay between structures and agency in the making of the social world?
These are only a few of many possible questions that can be considered by the students so they are invited to come up with other possible questions to guide their projects.
Some students might have worked in the past or might still be employed in social services provision within the public or private sectors (education, health, social security, accommodation provision, ect.) and they might set specific aspects of this experience as the focus of their projects.
However, others might prefer to reflect on how social and other policies or the national constitution and/or the legal system as well as broader societal practices and conventions impact upon their life experience and identities. They could focus on some aspects and dimensions of their identity (-ies), whether individual or collective, thus considering their personal reality on the basis of class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national membership, age, dis/ability (and so on), or a combination of any of them. They might choose to focus on issues and dilemmas that have affected their lives or people who are close to them, but this is not strictly necessary. Even general phenomena such as the gendered division of care within the household, even though it is often taken for granted, might become the starting point for a specific research project.
Alternatively, specific policies or social theories, which have been explored during the theoretical module (or other modules attended within the Higher Diploma) and appear to be appealing to students, can be focused upon within the research project.
These are only suggestions. Students are invited to take this project as an occasion of critical reflexivity on themselves and the social world in which they live, with its often taken-for-granted assumptions.
Whatever topic/theory is chosen for this research project, the important is that the student goes beyond the mere reproduction of information taken from other expert authoritative sources by applying it to their social world. They should dialectically engage with it, appropriate it to some extent, integrate it if necessary with other insights, make links, while relying on and engaging with the relevant literature on the topic. The benefit of this approach is that it helps develop critical skills and an awareness of theory’s concrete relevance to everyday’s life. It is also about learning to locate ourselves as professionals and human beings, recognising where we stand, what are our values, beliefs, attitudes and how we got to become these kinds of people rather than others. It can also enable us to recognise our strengths and shortcomings and find ways to challenge and overcome the latter, to some extent, and attempt to become better beings.