Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Epistemology is the theory of the nature of knowledge.

explanatory context

Epistemologies relating to the social world are categorised in a number of ways. The simplest is the dichotomy of materialism and idealism.

Cross-cutting that classification is another popular approach which (usually) defines three categories, positivism, phenomenology, and dialectical or critical. This last category includes a number of different perspectives including Marxism, structuralism and feminism.

analytical review

Steup (2005) wrote:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? As the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one's own mind? Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry....

associated issues


related areas

See also


Researching the Real World Section 1,6


Steup, M., 2005, 'Epistemology', in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, first published 14 December 2005, available at, accessed 8 February 2013, still available 3 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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