Information regarding our 2023/24 admissions cycle

Our 2023/24 postgraduate taught admissions cycle will open on Monday, 10 October. For most programmes, the application form will not open until this date.

MA Political Science - Political Theory Pathway (Research Route)

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Researching Elites

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI70022
Credit rating 5
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Political science research regularly encompasses the study of elite actors – either as individuals or as key actors within institutional settings.  Every institution is comprised of individuals, and each of those individuals has something to say about the nature of that institution, decisions which have been reached and how they have sought to influence this. Researching elites therefore helps us to understand the what, why and how of decision making and policy change and institutional decision making. It also helps us to understand the motivations, experiences and challenges faced by political actors and how they interact with broader social and economic actors or institutions as well as with the general public.  Researching elites also offers insight into the workings of institutions themselves, and often cannot be disentangled from broader research into institutional cultures, rules and activities.

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course students will have:

  • Reflected on what elite research is and the various methods which may be involved.
  • Considered how elite research may be different from other types of research within the social sciences.
  • Considered strategies for accessing, interpreting and analysing relevant research material including interviews, official documents, archives and transcripts.
  • Had the opportunity to gain initial practical experience of using elite research tools or material.
  • Had the opportunity to develop skills in summarising material and reporting findings.
  • Reflected on their own research practice and considered this in light of the academic literature on elite research.

Teaching and learning methods

This year our course will be divided into two 3 hour workshops. Workshop one begins by defining elite research. Who are elite actors and where do we find them? We will go on to consider what (if anything) makes elite research different to other types of research. Are there any particular features which make it easier or more challenging than other research you have engaged in? What methods are commonly used in this area? In the second half of the class we will look in more detail at some of these methods and challenges, drawing on practical examples relating to UK political elites.        

Before the second workshop students must carry out some preliminary research on an elite actor and/or data source of your choice which they will use as the basis for the written assessment e.g. locating and analysing an official document, accessing material held in an archive etc.  At the second workshop we will discuss any challenges or observations on this task before reflecting in more detail on the use of interviews with elites. A separate drop in session will be arranged towards the end of the module for any queries about the assessment.



Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Assessment: 1,500 word reflective report – Deadline for submission: 23rd MARCH 2023

The object of the written assignment is to demonstrate your grasp of the methodology and practice of elite research at the level either of the project itself or of the individual actor/document/source. This means that you can reflect on:

  1. The exercise you carried out between session 1 and session 2 – this could be a focus on the type of elite actor or the source you studied e.g. researching prime ministerial behaviour.
  1. A broader reflection on one aspect of elite research  (e.g. formal vs informal spaces; gatekeepers; power dynamics in interviews)

Students are advised to complete whichever type of reflection will be of most use to you going forwards. It can be (but does not have to be) related to your own masters or PhD research project. Whichever approach you take, you are encouraged to do the following in your reflection as it is on this basis that the reflection will be assessed:

  1. Focus on one or two key themes: This may be something that you found particularly challenging or interesting about this elite actor or type of data source (the difficulties of using parliament TV during hybrid proceedings; the reliability of theyworkforyou data). Those taking a broader approach may wish to complete a reflection focusing specifically on the sample used for elite interviews, or the ethical considerations involved in an interview with an elite actor.
  1. Engage with the academic literature on elite research: You are encouraged to read wider material, particularly that which relates to the precise theme or topic you will be exploring in your reflection.  You do NOT need to include academic literature on your specific research topic (i.e. if you are researching elites in the area of security studies, you do not need to include literature on security itself, but you could include something on researching key actors in this area).
  1. Make sure that you are actually being reflective: Try to include specific examples either from the exercise you carried out between the sessions, or related to the future research you are hoping to carry out. How would you need to adapt or refine your methods? 


Recommended reading

  • Philip Norton (2019) ‘Power behind the scenes: The importance of informal space in legislatures’, Parliamentary Affairs, Vol. 72 245 – 266.

    Brown, C. (2017) Being a Hansard Reporter: 10 Things You Thought You Knew, Parliamentary Digital Service Blog, 24 July. Online at:

    Lobo-Guerro, L. (2012). “Archives” pp. 121-4 in: Research Methods in Critical Security Studies: An Introduction. London: Routledge (using archival documents)

    Phil Cowley (2021) ‘Interviewing MPs’. Online at:

    Kenneth Goldstein (2002) ‘Getting in the Door: Sampling and Completing Elite Interviews’, PS: Political Science & Politics, Vol. 34 (4) 669n – 672.

    Marie le Conte, ‘Sharing screenshots of an MP’s voting history misses out vital pieces of context’, GQ Magazine, 10 June 2019.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 6
Independent study hours
Independent study 44

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Louise Thompson Unit coordinator

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