A pivotal point for our efforts to reflect and clarify the various underlying and consequential assumptions inherent in empirical research is the epistemological question. What counts as social scientific knowledge? What are legitimate criteria and procedures to judge if our theories about social phenomena are right or wrong? And, how does one's theoretical perspective as a researcher influence her empirical perception of the social world? In respect to those questions we can find diverse and opposite traditions in social research ranging from fundamental empiricism to radical constructivism.
The goal of this module, however, is not to dissolve the conflicts between those traditions by finding the one and only appropriate epistemological position for the social sciences as such. Rather it aims at clarifying the appropriate links between diverse epistemological positions and specific methodological approaches. Although we assume that the latter are – at least partly – guided by the former, this does not mean that these connections are made explicitly or even coherently. At the same time it is obvious that a clear and systematic epistemological contextualization of methodological approaches is crucial to elicit the status of respective kinds of data, to judge their validity and to guide their interpretation. Moreover, the reliability of methods as techniques of gathering and analyzing data can only be adequately evaluated against the backdrop of epistemological assumptions justifying them.
Thus, by raising these basic questions, by elaborating on the conflicts between epistemological traditions and by clarifying the links between epistemological positions and appropriate methodological choices this first module prepares the ground for tackling the problems raised by the other three modules of the week.