The aim of this course is for the candidates to develop a thorough understanding of research methodologies and their grounding in the philosophy and history of science, and the application of these to practical work in the field of research on built environments. Furthermore, the course will provide the PhD candidates with elementary theory of science, insight in the differences between a hermeneutic and positivistic tradition, and criteria for good research. The course also aims to provide a solid foundation for understanding and reflecting on the ethical and legal aspects related to conducting scientific research. Finally, the course will introduce candidates to various methodological approaches for developing new knowledge on built environments in line with the established research traditions. This includes an introduction to the perspective of responsible research and knowledge development.

Pedagogic overview
This course seeks to introduce PhD candidates to issues of philosophy/theory of science in a way that is directly connected to the needs of their research project. The focus for this module is in challenging PhD candidates to understand these issues in terms of their own framings, explicit and implicit, in undertaking the research activities. The module seeks to enable PhD candidates to step outside of those framings, which may reflect underlying assumptions, project practicalities or path dependencies, and make explicit the choices they are making regarding their PhD projects. The PhD candidates are supported to develop the self-confidence to make those choices explicit, to defend those choices, explain the alternatives, and justify why their choices are adequate in terms of undertaking high quality social sciences and health science and producing ‘good’ knowledge about their respective domains.

The module encourages PhD candidates to understand their own framings and lacunae and sensitise them to the need to seek out these “hidden elements” that may be important to their doctoral research project’s explanatory power.

The teaching aim of this course is to focus on the following items:
• Overview over the two established research traditions
• Eight criteria for good research practice
• The explanatory power of statements in line with the two research traditions
• Common concepts, problems and theories of philosophy of science, particularly related to epistemology and ontology and how different philosophical assumptions contribute to the above-mentioned strengths and weaknesses.

In-depth presentation of:
• Knowledge about the relationship between philosophy of science and research design, i.e. how epistemological and ontological assumptions provide possibilities and restrictions for how specific research ought to be designed.
• Methodological challenges that arise when designing research projects based on different epistemological and ontological assumptions.
• Challenges for developing theories or general understandings in line with the established research traditions.

PhD candidates are assessed on a reflective report (essay) in which they describe and make explicit their project’s framing and the consequences of their researcher’s gaze. In this report they identify one or more knowledge process issues that this focusing might raise for them in the course of their research, and reflect on possible ways to address that issue proactively. 

Learning objectives

At completion of the course the student will have the following knowledge and skills:

• explain the main positions in the philosophy of science that are relevant to innovation research and contemporary critiques of these positions.
• define the main methodological approaches to research in the natural and social sciences and their theoretical underpinnings.
• The most common advantages and disadvantages of the different common solutions to epistemological and ontological problems, e.g. the distinction between "to explain" and "to understand".
• The fundamental epistemological and ontological differences between human, social and natural sciences.
• The common ontological and epistemological theories employed within different types of sciences.

• identify the scientific-theoretical foundations for a specific research project.
• apply existing research methodologies to their own research projects and critically evaluate their results in the light of eventual weaknesses or reservations concerning the theoretical foundations of these methodologies.
• Ability to test and to build theories, and the limitations of existing theories.

General competence
• ability to analyse all kinds of knowledge claims with regards to their philosophical status.
• ability to critically assess the types of knowledge produced by different kinds of research.
• ability to critically assess the validity of knowledge claims presented in scientific literature
• ability to employ insights from philosophy of science to identify and appreciate (evaluate on all possible parameters) the weaknesses and strengths of knowledge claims. 

Teaching method

The course is organised into four half days, with lectures, seminars and small group discussion activities. During the course, the balance of the activities shifts from lectures towards more seminar and group discussion activities, to allow the participants to successfully reflect on their own gaze and the implications this brings for their own research activities as well as developing an understanding for the other researcher’s gaze (methodological tolerance).

The content of the seminars:
Session 1: Eight criteria for good research, normative and descriptive matters, and introduction to two established research traditions: Positivism and hermeneutics

Session 2: Explanation and understandings: The explanatory power and the use of modal logics

Session 3: The critical realistic view and theory building regards the two different established research traditions.

Session 4: End presentation and discussions

This module is assessed through a single report (essay) in which participants demonstrate that they are able to reflect on their own philosophy/theory of science in the context of their own individual doctoral research contexts. The reports must make explicit choices in each of these areas, and motivate those choices as being adequate in terms of the relevant literatures as well as the contexts within which they are carrying out research activities. Each report sets out the doctoral research project, and then provides a critical reflection on the explanatory power of their research projects. 


Session 1: 12 October 2021, 10.00 – 12.00, 13.00 – 14.00 group work in the afternoon

Session 2: 2 November 2021, 10.00 – 12.00, 13.00 – 14.00 group work in the afternoon

Session 3: 9 November 2021, 10.00 – 12.00, 13.00 – 14.00 group work in the afternoon

Session 4: 25 January 2022, 10.00 – 12.00 End presentations and feedback of reports 

How to enroll

Please send an email with your name, mail address, start date, research group and title of your research to abe@tudelft.nl 

Course Info

Course code

Course type
Post Graduate and PhD student level 

Number of participants
Max. 20 

Name of lecturer(s)/coach(es)
Prof. dr. Akkelies van Nes

Course load
4 half days seminars, one week independent working 

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