The Ireland of today is a foreign country to the Ireland of fifty years ago. It has moved from being an agrarian economy to a technological one; from a largely monocultural society to one that is multicultural; from a relatively poor nation to a wealthy one, and back again. Attitudes towards family, religion and culture are in a state of flux. All of which goes to make the social sciences more important than ever in sorting through the country’s issues and reaching some kind of understanding of where and who we are – and, more importantly, where we are going.
These are multidimensional concerns requiring an analytical, multidisciplinary response – an approach that is fostered in students of Sociology at postgraduate level across over the country.
A central discipline within the social sciences is Social Policy, which explores how real-life public policy affects issues such as citizenship, poverty, education and sustainable development. One such programme is the taught Masters in Social Policy at UCC (one year full time). It provides students with an opportunity to engage in social political analysis of major issues in Ireland and the wider world. The Director of the course, Ms Eluska Fernandez, describes the programme as ‘very engaging’ with a lecture on a specific topic held once a week followed by a discussion during the succeeding week.‘It’s a very full course with a module theorising social policy and a more applied module looking at contemporary policy issues,’ Fernandez explains. ‘It has a seminar-style approach but with some lectures and a strong research module connected to the final thesis.’
The course attracts a broad demographic of students from both the professional arena and graduates of politics, social science and sociology. Course participants include those from the areas of social work, youth community work, civil service and state agencies such as the HSE. Applicants normally hold second-class honours primary degrees in the Social Sciences. ‘There aren’t many colleges in Ireland running a masters in Social Policy so it’s a great opportunity for people with a background in social science to learn different skills, including research skills, and to get a better understanding of Social Policy,’ says Ms Fernandez.
One way of augmenting this understanding is through enrolling on a research programme. Trinity College Dublin runs a Social Work and Social Policy programme (research) at both masters and doctoral levels. Vital areas of research include Ageing and Social Policy, Family and Gender, and Immigration and Social Policy. Much of this research is conducted in collaboration with related schools or organisations such as the School of Psychology, the School of Business and the Trinity Consortium on Ageing.
For students wishing to study the topic of social policy at a more introductory level, both UCD and UCC run one-year conversion courses (HDip) in Social Policy for graduates of non-social science degrees.
Sociology represents a more theoretical branch of social science than Social Policy does. It looks at the origin, development, organisation, function and interplay between social groups, utilising the work of classical theorists such as Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, as well as more modern thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu.
Masters programmes in Sociology are available from NUI Maynooth, UCC and UCD. An important facet of each programme is developing an understanding of social change, along with how it might be identified, evaluated and better managed – an invaluable task in today’s climate. Graduates with a high degree of social research skill are also a key objective.
An innovative master’s programme is the Sociology of Health at UCD (one year full time, two year part time). The course is aimed at those working in the health professions as well as recent Sociology graduates or those from a related humanities discipline (philosophy, history, psychology, politics, etc.). Students on the course will develop an in-depth and critical understanding of social analysis, research methods, health issues and health policy analysis. Modules include Health, Illness and Society (compulsory); Cultural Theory and Analysis (optional); and Race, Ethnicity and Society (optional).
The University of Limerick provides an MA in Sociology – Applied Social Research (one year full time, two years part time). Central to the programme is the computer-aided analysis of qualitative data and statistical analysis of large-scale survey data sets. This statistical work is carried out in a number of social contexts, such as social exclusion, employment, marriage and divorce, education and community development. Graduates of the programme typically go on to embark on research careers in the private, public, voluntary or academic spheres.
As with Social Policy, it is also possible for students interested in the subject to enrol on a Sociology conversion course. These are ideal for graduates without a background in the social sciences. One notable option is the HDip in Sociology offered by UCD (one year full time). Applicants should possess at least a second-class honours degree; they must also submit letters of recommendation from two academic referees.
With a number of ways to study the social sciences why not research your course options on Postgrad.ie?
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