Social Theory and Critique: Contested Knowledge

School: School of Government and Society
Department of Political Science and International Studies

Modular value: 20 credits
Duration: Term 1
Teaching: 2 hour seminar

Lecturers: Justin Cruickshank

Module Outline

This modules engages with various forms of classical and contemporary post-positivism, seeking to explore how post-positivist positions are located in terms of both changing intellectual traditions and explicit or implicit normative commitments. No prior philosophical knowledge is presumed.

Positions discussed include:

  • Dewey's pragmatism and its relation to Lippmann's elitism and the Frankfurt School critique which regards pragmatism as an expression of instrumental rationality
  • Rorty’s development of pragmatism, including his arguments against epistemology and the post-Nietzschean hermeneutics of suspicion, and his arguments for a post-foundational reformist liberalism
  • Bhaskar’s critical realism which seeks to turn from epistemology - and the ‘epistemic fallacy’ of reducing questions about reality to questions about how we know reality – to ontology, and which seeks to develop a realist (as opposed to positivist) argument for the unity of the sciences
  • 'Strong' and 'weaker' versions of social constructionism
  • The Sociology of knowledge as advocated by Barnes and Bloor which follows on from Durkheim by seeking to develop a causal – and relativist - account of knowledge
  • Popper and Kuhn’s philosophies of science, which are explored in terms of whether criticism should replace justification in the production of knowledge
  • Critics of the neo-liberal university as a site of knowledge production

Key Questions explored in the module:

  • Can knowledge have foundations?
  • Can there be epistemic authorities to underwrite knowledge ?
  • Is the knowledge produced by the natural sciences qualitatively different from other branches of knowledge and, if so, should the social sciences be based on the method used in the natural sciences?
  • To what extent is knowledge socially mediated?
  • Can there be a sociology of knowledge as well as a sociology of error?
  • Is knowledge caused?
  • To what extent should be look at the processes and institutions involved in the production of knowledge?
  • How do debates about knowledge link to debates about democracy?
  • Is there any escape from instrumental rationality?
  • Does the hermeneutics of suspicion undermine all knowledge and socio-political agency?


  • 1 essay (100%)

Related modules:

Related courses:

The optional modules listed on the website for this programme may unfortunately occasionally be subject to change. As you will appreciate key members of staff may leave the University and this necessitates a review of the modules that are offered. Where the module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you make other choices.