Available in 2021
Course code



20 units


4000 level

Course handbook


This course introduces students to key debates and perspectives on theory and methods in the social sciences, more specifically sociology and anthropology, human services and criminology. Through interdisciplinary enquiry, the students will explore the questions of 'what is knowledge?' and 'how do we know what we know?'. The core concept of the course is 'epistemology' and a central learning objective is for the students to gain insight into how epistemology features in their own research. Through this course, students will gain an understanding of how research problems are conceived and acted upon in the disciplines of anthropology and sociology, human services and criminology. They will explore the philosophical underpinnings of social research, as well as ethical and political components of research.

Availability2021 Course Timetables


  • Semester 1 - 2021
  • Semester 2 - 2021

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the course students will be able to:

1. Explain how historical and emerging knowledge infrastructures influence the philosophy and practices of scholarship in the Social Sciences.

2. Select and synthesise key intellectual issues and debates in the Social Sciences to justify the focus and boundaries of a research study.

3. Apply critical reflective practices when engaging in complex multi-disciplinary Social Science contexts.

4. Identify the criteria used to evaluate the quality of research conducted in the Social Sciences.


SCHS4090 centres on the question: 'what is knowledge'. In this course, students will be introduced to philosophical and historical discussions related to the question of knowledge and how we know what we know. Topics that will be covered may include:

  • epistemology: the theory of knowledge
  • what is truth?
  • epistemological positions: positivism; phenomenology; hermeneutics; social constructivism; interpretivism; empiricism
  • from philosophy to practice
  • research as action
  • reflexivity
  • positionality, subjectivity and bias


Students must be active in the Bachelor of Arts (Honours) [40209] or the Bachelor of Social Science (Honours) [10726] program to enrol in this course.

Students who have successfully completed SOCA4090 or SPSW4010 cannot enrol in this course.

Assumed knowledge

A major in sociology and anthropology, human services or criminology with a minimum credit grade average.

Assessment items

Essay: Epistemology essay 50%

Journal: Reflexive journal 30%

Written Assignment: Research blog 20%

Contact hours


Self-Directed Learning

Self-Directed 18 hour(s) per Week for Full Term


Face to Face On Campus 2 hour(s) per Week for Full Term

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.