Postgraduate study

Social Science Research (Political Science and International Relations) MA

Providing broad-based training in social science research, this course will equip you with the skills to manage a successful research career and contribute to society in a number of ways.
 
  
Duration
1 year full-time, 2 years part-time
Entry requirements
2.1 (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject in the arts, humanities, or social sciences
IELTS
7.0 (no less than 6.0 in any element)

If these grades are not met, English preparatory courses may be available
Start date
September
UK/EU fees
£7,785 - Terms apply
International fees
£17,910 - Terms apply
Campus
University Park
 

 

Overview

You will develop the following skills and the ability to apply them to practical research contexts:

  • Comprehension of the principles of research design and strategy, including an understanding of how to formulate research questions for empirical investigation
  • Appreciation of alternative approaches to research
  • Understanding of a broad range of research methods (including quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods) and the use of appropriate software for their application
  • Advanced research skills and techniques relevant to your field of study
  • Research management techniques, including data management, and conducting and disseminating research in a way that is consistent with both professional practice and the normal principles of research ethics
  • Understanding of the significance of alternative epistemological positions that provide the context for theory construction, research design, and the selection of appropriate analytical techniques
  • Solid grounding in the basics of probability and a critical understanding of the scientific method and the nature of reflexivity
  • Application of good ethical practice across the entire research process

Primarily aimed at students following an ESRC-funded pathway onto a PhD, this course may also be suitable if you are intending to apply for +3 ESRC funding (that is, to cover a PhD) or are interested in developing a wide range of social science research skills.

Academic English preparation and support

If you require additional support to take your language skills to the required level, you may be able to attend a presessional course at the Centre for English Language Education, which is accredited by the British Council for the teaching of English in the UK.

Students who successfully complete the presessional course to the required level can progress to postgraduate study without retaking IELTS or equivalent. You could be eligible for a joint offer, which means you will only need to apply for your visa once.

Key facts

  • Top 100 worldwide for politics and international relations in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2018
  • Committed to excellence in teaching, having won 13 Higher Education Academy awards
  • Expert academics who contribute to public debate through national and international media, including appearing on BBC TV, BBC Radio 4, the BBC World Service and in such publications as The Guardian, The New York Times and Le Monde
 

Full course details

You will complete 80 credits of core research methods modules, plus 40 credits of either advanced research methods or politics-specific training, and a 60-credit dissertation.

 
 

Modules

Core modules

Foundations in Qualitative Methods

This module provides a conceptual overview of the various approaches and debates associated with theory and practice of qualitative research. It examines a range of contrasting perspectives on the design of research including problem identification, selection and sampling, and analysis.

Research ethics, and the role of the researcher in generating qualitative data, are key themes which run through the module. Specific consideration is given to the ways in which qualitative and quantitative approaches may be seen as complementary, and the use of mixed methods.

The module will also cover the ways in which qualitative research can be evaluated. The module will also facilitate dialogue between members of different social science disciplines, to give an understanding of how some issues or practices may be viewed differently from different disciplinary perspectives.

 
Fundamentals of Quantitative Analysis

The objective of this module is to further your familiarity with the practice of quantitative data analysis in the social sciences at an intermediate level. The lecture component of the module will explore a variety of the most commonly used statistical methods; in the laboratory component, you will learn to apply these techniques to the analysis of social science data.

Through assignments, you will have the opportunity to develop and test your own hypotheses and explanations on major research data sets. The module should provide a sound grasp of the possibilities, methods, and dangers inherent in quantitative social science research.

 
Philosophy of Social Science Research

The course has three parts:

  1. Science and the philosophical critique of science
  2. Epistemological debates in the social sciences - including, but not limited to, positivism and its critics, interpretative approaches including phenomenology, critical realism, social construction and the politics of knowledge and the sociology of science
  3. The funding environment - interdisciplinarity and the impact agenda
 
Research Design, Practice and Ethics

This module focuses on the analytical, practical and ethical organisation of social science research. 

The analytical organisation is often referred to as 'research design' and will constitute the bulk of the content of this module. Research design consists of choices necessary to transform a research question into actual research. These choices pertain to strategies and modes of case selection, observation methods, data collection and modes of analysis. 

Every research question can be elaborated in different ways (ie with different designs), none of which will be ideal in all respects as the various choices pertain to trade-offs. Each design has its own implications in terms of costs and in terms of potential threats to the validity of its eventual results. These implications will be elaborated in the module, as well as ways how to handle the resulting choice problems in actual practice.

The practical organisation of research is closely related to design choices, but focuses particularly on logistical and timing issues. Ethical organisation of the research involves awareness of ethical issues, of ethical consent procedures and of their implications for research design and practical organisation.

 
Dissertation

The research and writing of a substantive dissertation of 12-15,000 words within the field of political science and international relations.

 

Optional modules

Plus up to 40 credits from the school in advanced research methods and/or any other modules, subject to approval.

China and the World

This module introduces you to the traditional Chinese and the Maoist world views, though it focuses on the changes that have taken place since the start of the reform period.

It explores how domestic politics and other developments have contributed on the one hand to the rise of China as a great power of the first league, and to the emergence of a 19th century European type of nationalism on the other.

It addresses China's use of force in support of foreign policy as well as its attempts to project soft power. It also reviews China's relations with its major partners or competitors, including the USA, the EU (including the UK), and the importance of Taiwan in China's relations with the rest of the world.

 
Comparative Democratic Development

At the dawn of the 21st century, the status of democracy across the world is uncertain. In Central and Eastern Europe, it has become the only game in town, but in other regions like Russia or the Arab World it has suffered reversals.

To make sense of these events, this module examines and is structured around some of the big, important questions that have long interested political scientists around the questions of democracy:

  • What is democracy? 
  • Why are some countries democratic and others not? 
  • How did democracy emerge in different countries? 
  • What difference does democracy make for people's lives? 

The module adopts a global and comparative perspective, by focusing on countries in specific regions and by studying different data-sets on the design, functioning and influence of democratic institutions.

 
Democracy and Elites in 20th Century Europe and America

From the Occupy Movement and its slogan of the 1%, to Brexit and Trump, the problematic relationship elites – whether financial, social or political – entertain with democracy has been forcefully brought back onto the political agenda. How can the fact that a small number of people wield disproportionate power in the economic, social or indeed political world be reconciled with democracy understood as political equality? Whilst this is no doubt a burning topic, the question of what role elites play in democracy has been raised before.

The aim of this module is to delve into the history of political thought to see how authors in the past century have conceptualised the relationship elites entertain with democracy. Starting with the so-called classic 'elite theorists of democracy' – Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca, Robert Michels, Moisie Ostrogorski – who were the first to theorise the elite class within a modern democracy setting, we will explore how their thought impacted upon the development of democratic theory both in Europe and the US through figures such as C. Wright Mills, Robert Dahl, Joseph Schumpeter, Raymond Aron, Bernard Manin and Pierre Rosanvallon.

Our goal will be to come to a better understanding of both contemporary democracies and the precise nature – whether good or bad – elites play in them, and to think about ways in which some of the more deleterious aspects of our contemporary politics might be tackled.

 
Designing Political Enquiry

The module is designed to allow you to develop a critical understanding of the methodological issues involved in designing and undertaking political science research and to strengthen their ability to read and evaluate political science literature more generally.

The first part of the module focuses on issues of research design in political science, in particular, the use of the comparative method in political science research. It exposes you to a broad range of methodological issues involved in designing, conducting and writing up research based on a relative small number of cases in areas of comparative politics, international relations, and public policy. 

Topics that are addressed in the module include issues involved in developing a research question, problems of conceptualisation, measurement, and strategies and approaches to causal theorising in small N research.

The second part of the module addresses various methods of generating and processing data for political science research. Methods that are covered include the use of documentary sources, observation, and various forms of interviewing.

 
Disasters, Rehabilitation and Resilience

This module will focus on post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation and how 'resilience' is articulated and experienced. Key themes will include vulnerability (to shocks and slow onset disasters), risk and resilience. Examples will be drawn from various real world disasters and you will be able to research the disasters of your choice.

 
EU-China: Trade, Aid and Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century

In this module, you will learn about the state-of-the-art of western engagement with China during the past 35 years (1978-), in particular western trade and development policies towards China and gain insights into the interplay between bilateral and multilateral development agencies and Chinese domestic partner organisations.

You will learn to critique emerging partnerships between international NGOs and domestic civil society organisations and academic institutions. Drawing both on primary and secondary sources you will familiarise yourself with the increasingly lively international debates among Chinese and non-Chinese social and political scientists, educators, media professionals, civil society practitioners, government officials, and lawyers about goals and means of western China engagement.

This module will provide a socially relevant policy curriculum and help you develop necessary skills for a democratic practice of public policy inquiry.

 
Gender and Development

This module examines major themes, debates and issues in the field of gender and development. We will focus on the relationship between ideas and concerns of gender (in)equality and processes, policies, and practices of economic, social and political development.

The module will explore the key literature and major debates in the field of feminist political economy, linking academic, policy-related and practitioner/activist debates. It will also explore how political, economic and social processes of globalisation and development intersect, impact, and are in turn influenced by gender relations in the South.

 
Global Asia

This module examines major themes, debates and issues related to the study of politics and international relations in the specific regional context of Asia.

It will explore key features and themes in Asian politics including political systems, political economy and development, political values and ideas, as well as pan-Asian themes and international relations/global politics including intra-regional, trans-regional and international issues. It combines theoretical perspectives with historical developments and contemporary issues in Asian politics.

 
Government and Politics of China

This module deals with some key concepts, processes and institutions in contemporary Chinese politics, including:

  • the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership and succession
  • legitimacy and stability in Chinese politics
  • central and local elections
  • political opening and experiments
  • the development of civil society in the reform era
  • social and political life in cities
  • regulation and governing the market
  • the Party in transition
 
Institutions, Governance and International Development

In recent decades, the quality of governance has become central to our understanding of the effectiveness of international aid and development policies as well as our understanding of the failures to successfully tackle poverty, inequality, conflict and instability in developing countries. This module takes a twofold approach to introduce you to theories and practice of governance and institutional reform in developing countries.

First, it examines theories of development to trace the emphasis on state and governance in contemporary development thinking including the history of the good governance paradigm. Second, the module examines a range of issues to build governance effectiveness in developing countries including debates on strengthening the fiscal capacity of the state, curbing patronage practices and professionalising the civil service, the role of decentralisation, civil society and the establishment of effective anti-corruption policies.

The module is thematically structured and draws on examples from all major developing regions, in particular, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. The module will combine the study of academic debate, practitioner material, for instance, from international aid and assistance organisations and case study material to directly experience the challenges of engaging in institutional reform in developing countries.

 
International Political Economy

The study of international political economy is essentially interdisciplinary, based on the premise that the political and economic domains are inextricably intertwined in the international system.

The module will introduce you to the main approaches to international political economy, provide a brief overview of the post-war international political economy, before the main focus is turned towards globalisation and the related structural changes in the global economy. This will include a theoretical engagement with the concepts of globalisation, regionalisation and regionalism as well as an analysis of empirical changes in the areas of international trade, finance, production and development with a particular emphasis on the current global economic crisis.

The module will further address the question of the relationship between globalisation and the individual instances of regional integration including the EU, NAFTA and APEC, before it looks at recent formations of resistance to globalisation expressed in demonstrations against G8 meetings (for example, Heligendamm 2007) as well as developments around the European and World Social Forums.

 
Justice Beyond Borders: Theories of International and Intergenerational Justice

The module introduces and explores the concept of distributive justice on an international and intergenerational basis. Standard accounts of distributive justice typically operate upon the assumption that the relevant principles are framed by, and apply within the borders of the nation-state.

This module examines how justice has traditionally been conceptualised, and challenges the idea of the nation-state as providing limits to the proper operation of principles of justice. Justice between nations, and between generations, as well as between humans and non-humans, forms the focus of this module.

The programme for dealing with these themes includes:

  • international theories of justice, with particular reference to faminie relief and humanitarian intervention
  • intergenerational justice and personal identity
  • 'biocentric' theories of justice
  • animal rights
  • direct political action
 
Measurement Models

This module focuses on the use of methods commonly used to assess whether a set of variables can be assumed to measure the same underlying phenomenon (often referred to as a latent factor, trait, or dimension). If that is the case, the information from the separate variables can be combined into a composite measure (multiple item measurement), which yields important benefits for further analysis.

The module will focus in particular on two methods that are very frequently used in the social and behavioural sciences: factor analysis (including exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis) and item-response scaling (including Mokken and Rasch scaling). The module covers both kinds of measurement models, practical considerations in actual applications, empirical examples from different disciplines, and hands-on training.

 
The Politics of South Asia

This module introduces you to the politics of modern South Asia, focusing on Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The region is growing in international importance both strategically, economically and politically. The module evaluates alternative explanations for the different democratic trajectories of these states, despite their shared colonial past, and the interaction between 'tradition' and 'modernity' in developing political institutions. 

In so doing it examines the different strategies of nation building adopted by the elites of these very diverse states, and how and why the considerable ethnic and religious diversity of the region has impacted on the 'quality' of democracy. It concludes with an examination of the international politics of South Asia, and considers future scenarios for the region.

 
Quantitative Political Analysis

This module introduces you to the estimation, quantification, and coding of political data as well as the descriptive and inferential analysis of data using probabilistic and statistical techniques.

The module will also provide you with hands-on skills of data analysis and will enable you to write professional academic reports on these analyses.

 
Research Design, Practice and Ethics

This module focuses on the analytical, practical and ethical organisation of social science research. 

The analytical organisation is often referred to as 'research design' and will constitute the bulk of the content of this module. Research design consists of choices necessary to transform a research question into actual research. These choices pertain to strategies and modes of case selection, observation methods, data collection and modes of analysis. 

Every research question can be elaborated in different ways (ie with different designs), none of which will be ideal in all respects as the various choices pertain to trade-offs. Each design has its own implications in terms of costs and in terms of potential threats to the validity of its eventual results. These implications will be elaborated in the module, as well as ways how to handle the resulting choice problems in actual practice.

The practical organisation of research is closely related to design choices, but focuses particularly on logistical and timing issues. Ethical organisation of the research involves awareness of ethical issues, of ethical consent procedures and of their implications for research design and practical organisation.

 
Russia in the World Today

With the end of the Cold War, the Russian Federation lost its superpower status. However, not least due to its size, geostrategic location, richness in energy and influence in international organisations, the country continues to be an important actor in international politics. The module examines Russia's role in the world today. Analytically, it focuses on the contrast between Russia's own understanding of its role in the world and the country's international reputation.

Substantially, the module will study Russia's image and self-image as an international actor; the factors driving Russian foreign and defence policy (including the role of energy); and Russia's relations with its neighbours (former Soviet states; the West, including NATO and the EU; and the East, ie China, Japan and North Korea).

 
Secret Intelligence and International Security

This module is an introduction to the concepts and practices of secret intelligence and its place within international security. The module is split into three sections.

The first examines conceptual issues and models; the second explores some of the roles of intelligence in the 21st century; and the third examines how intelligence actors can actively shape international relations. These are highly relevant issues, which are regularly in the media. 

 
Special Project A

This module will consist of special essay work, arising from the work completed on another module offered.

 
Structural Equation Modelling

This module focuses on the use of structural equation models (SEM, sometimes known by the name of the software, for example, AMOS, LISREL, etc) in empirical social research. SEM is sometimes referred to as causal modelling, because of the possibility to specify a full causal model and subject it to empirical scrutiny.

Such models differ from, for example, regression and ANOVA models because they do not distinguish between a single dependent variable, and all other variables being independent. Instead, the distinction is between exogenous (not influenced by other variables, reflected in a graphical representation of the model by the absence of incoming arrows) and endogenous variables (which are influenced by others, shown in graphical representations by incoming arrows). Endogenous variables can simultaneously be influenced by other variables and exert influence on yet other ones. Under certain conditions SEM can even model reciprocal effects between variables. This allows the development of empirical models that are closer to substantive theories, as well as the explicit comparative evaluation of rivalling causal theories.

The module covers the methodological background of SEM, practical considerations in actual applications, empirical examples from different disciplines, and hands-on training.

 
Terrorism and Insurgencies

This module is designed to acquaint you with two of the most important aspects of contemporary international security: terrorism and insurgencies.

Both threats have become more acute in recent years and much intellectual, military and economic capital has been used up in efforts to contain them. In taking this module, you will begin to understand the nature of the threats posed by terrorists and insurgents. You will understand how such threats come about and why individuals are drawn towards exercising the use of force against certain governments, their representatives, and the citizens of those governments. 

You will also understand the nature and scope of counter-insurgency practices. You will discuss what works and what does not and the controversies encountered in implementing certain measures. By the end of the module, you will be conversant with, and have an appreciation of, factors which affect the security of many people in today's world.

 
Theories and Concepts in International Relations

The War on Iraq and the US and British invasion of the country in 2003 has led to huge tensions in geopolitics. At the same time, the supposed 'threat' of international terrorism and continuing financial turmoil in the world economy have both brought to the fore the global politics of co-operation and confrontation.

Whilst it might be possible to agree on the signifcance of these events, the explanation and/or understanding of them is dependent on prior theoretical choices. The purpose of this module is to make you aware of the diversity of approaches to international theory.

Within international relations theory there exist highly divergent interpretations and applications of key concepts (for example, power, the state, agency, structure, and world order) as well as contested views about the practical purpose underpinning theories of world politics. The overall aim of the module is to provide you with a solid theoretical and conceptual grounding of this diversity. As a result, it will be possible to recognise not only how international theory informs policy-making and practice but also, perhaps, how truly contested the underlying assumptions of world politics are.

 
The Theory and Practice of Diplomacy

This module focuses on the changing nature of diplomatic practice, together with the range of conceptual tools that seek to explain this international activity. Its focus is contemporary.

It provides a political analysis of new developments such as the public diplomacy, the decline of resident embassies and foreign ministries, and the role of regional/multinational organisations and summitry. It also encourages you to consider future theoretical and practical developments in this field.

 
War, Peace and Terror

This module explores the blurring boundaries between war and peace, and the implications for understanding security.

The first section assesses the changing nature of warfare, including theories of asymmetric warfare and terrorism; the second section examines the 'dark arts' of international relations, from assassination to psychological warfare, operating in the grey area between war and peace.

With large scale conventional warfare increasingly unlikely, the third section considers 'new' security issues in peacetime such as poverty and disease.

 
When Does Russia Expand and Why?

Russia's annexation of the Crimea will strike many Westerners as merely the latest chapter in a long history of Russian imperialism. Does Russia always expand when it has the opportunity? Or is its expansion, when it occurs, explained by contingent factors?

This module will examine Russia's expansion and contraction from the 17th century to the present, and the causes underlying it.

 

 

The modules we offer are inspired by the research interests of our staff and as a result may change for reasons of, for example, research developments or legislation changes. This list is an example of typical modules we offer, not a definitive list.

 
 

Funding

This course forms the '1' component of a 1+3 ESRC-funded scholarship with the Midlands Graduate School. It will equip you with the research methods training needed to apply for +3 study on the political science and international relations pathway.

See information on how to fund your masters, including our step-by-step guide. Further information is available on the school website.

Government loans for masters courses

The Government offers postgraduate student loans for students studying a taught or research masters course. Applicants must ordinarily live in England or the EU. Student loans are also available for students from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

International and EU students

Masters scholarships are available for international students from a wide variety of countries and areas of study. You must already have an offer to study at Nottingham to apply. Please note closing dates to ensure your course application is submitted in good time.

Information and advice on funding your degree, living costs and working while you study is available on our website, as well as country-specific resources.

 
 

Careers and professional development

This course is particularly suitable if you are interested in pursuing PhD study in the social sciences. It may also be useful if you are looking to pursue a career in a statistical or quantitative discipline, such as analysis or planning roles.

Placements

We offer a range of local, national and international placement opportunities, which may be paid or voluntary, part-time alongside your studies or longer placements during University vacations.

Progression

If you wish to continue your studies after completing this course, we offer a range of research opportunities with PhD supervision in most subject areas.

Employability and average starting salary

95.2% of postgraduates from the School of Politics and International Relations who were available for employment secured work or further study within six months of graduation. £25,000 was the average starting salary, with the highest being £42,000.*

* Known destinations of full-time home postgraduates 2016/17. Salaries are calculated based on the median of those in full-time paid employment within the UK.

Career and professional development

Whether you are looking to enhance your career prospects or develop your knowledge, a postgraduate degree from the University of Nottingham can help take you where you want to be.

Our award-winning Careers and Employability Service offers specialist support and guidance while you study and for life after you graduate. They will help you explore and plan your next career move, through regular events, employer-led skills sessions, placement opportunities and one-to-one discussions.

 
 
 

Disclaimer
This online prospectus has been drafted in advance of the academic year to which it applies. Every effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content) are likely to occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for the course where there has been an interval between you reading this website and applying.

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