Contextual Sources of Social Behaviour and Attitudes

Course content

A cardinal and age-old question of social science is how human behaviour and attitudes are shaped by the social environment and, vice versa, how the social environment emerges from human action. While the classical question of the interplay between individual and environment has been investigated since the origin of the social sciences, it has seen a remarkable resurgence in the last decades. Theoretical and methodological advances have allowed social scientists to revisit a number of longstanding questions. For example, how neighbourhoods or workplaces impact individuals’ social mobility, as well as their political attitudes and social behaviour. Other important contextual sources of human behaviour include spatial diffusion of cultural norms (e.g. fertility) or criminal behaviour (e.g. attacks against refugees), or media imagery (e.g. fake news) shaping people’s perceptions on contested issues.


This course introduces students to the study of context effects in a broad sense by reviewing and discussing contemporary theories and methods to study these phenomena. The course deals with a range of topics including both political attitudes on, e.g., immigration, welfare redistribution, and homosexuality, but also concrete behaviour such as fertility, collective violence, voting, or educational choices.


MA Research Methodology and Practice (MSc Curriculum 2015)

Course package (MSc 2015):

Welfare, inequality and mobility
Knowledge, organisation and politics
Culture, lifestyle and everyday life


Creditstudents must be at master level

Learning outcome


  • Overview of theoretical literature in the area of contextual research broadly understood.
  • Overview of methods used to study context effects, such as multilevel models or spatial regression.
  • Overview of knowledge and recent contributions on social phenomena with a spatial component such as attitudes, fertility, voting, or collective violence etc.



  • Students will be able to read and comprehend advanced analyses of context effects.
  • Students will be able to assess research designs and evaluate their pitfalls and strengths.



  • Students should be able to formulate their hypotheses about how contexts affect individuals.
  • Students should be able to propose research designs to test their hypotheses about context effects.
  • Students should be able to conduct and write up an empirical study.
  • Students should be able to give brief and concise presentations of advanced research results.

Lectures, class discussions, student presentations, a final paper that entails an empirical analysis. Students are expected to contribute actively to discussion of core theoretical-analytical tools as well as the more specific analytical examples and studies.

Readings are comprised primarily of peer-reviewed journal articles. The syllabus will consist of roughly 1400 pages of reading.

Strong English skills and a good comprehension of quantitative research methods, especially multiple regression. All lacks of skills can be compensated by hard work and interest. This course will not introduce students to quantitative methods in a formal sense, but discuss their applications in detail.


We give structured feedback to student presentations, drafts of the final paper and to the final paper. Moreover, students get informal feedback to their ideas and arguments during class discussions.

Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free written take-home essays are assignments for which students define and formulate a problem within the parameters of the course and based on an individual exam syllabus. The free written take-home essay must be no longer than 20 pages.
For group assignments, an extra 10 pages is added per additional student. Further details for this exam form can be found in the Curriculum and in the General Guide to Examinations at KUnet.
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

Please see the learning outcome.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 56
  • Course Preparation
  • 188
  • Preparation
  • 24
  • Exam Preparation
  • 120
  • Exercises
  • 24
  • English
  • 412