Social sciences are the fields of study that deal with interactions among people, human relationships, how people act in social settings or societies, and how societies function. The social sciences essentially encompass any scholastic discipline that is concerned with the social or cultural elements of human behavior.
The list of social science disciplines includes sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, political science, religion, management, archaeology, environmental science, and marketing. The fields of history and geography are also sometimes considered as being part of the social sciences.
People study social sciences to better understand how a given society or social environment functions, why people act the way they do in a society, and how social and cultural elements of a society influence people’s behavior. The information obtained from studies conducted within various social sciences can be a valuable aid in decision making for companies and non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, community leaders, and legislative policymakers.
Social science refers to all the various fields of study that are concerned with interactions among people, human relationships, and how societies function.
Social science is a relatively new field of scientific study, only coming into existence on the cusp of the 20th century.
Primary areas of social scientific study include sociology, psychology, economics, and education.
The Development of Social Sciences
The development of social sciences is a relatively recent one in the overall field of scientific inquiry. The term “social science” did not formally exist before the 19th century and did not become a generally recognized category of study, science, or education until the 20th century.
Social sciences rely heavily on both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. Therefore, it was difficult to conduct sound, structured scientific inquiry into human social behavior until statistical analysis became a recognized field within applied mathematics during the early part of the 20th century.
Social sciences are concerned with the things that lie outside the view of natural sciences, such as biology and chemistry. Whereas natural sciences are focused on understanding the properties of the physical world, social sciences are focused on understanding relationships and the ways in which people interact with each other.
The primary foundation of social science is philosophy – the general and theoretical study of the nature of existence, knowledge, reasoning, and moral values. However, the study of philosophy is largely a theoretical endeavor. On the other hand, social science has taken philosophical theories and has attempted – by gathering and analyzing data and conducting experiments – to discern more clearly, and for more practical purposes, how and why people interact with each other and function within social groups.
For example, the disciplines of sociology, psychology, political science, and marketing, in the past, all conducted inquiries and experiments with the goal of determining what motivates people to vote for a specific candidate or to support a specified social or political cause.
Major Social Science Fields
As noted, there is a long list of fields of academic study that generally fall under the umbrella of “social science.” The following disciplines, however, are considered the primary fields for social science inquiry.
If there is a single social science, the field of sociology is it. Sociology is the study of characteristics of different societies, how individuals relate to the society that they live in, and, generally, the nature of social interactions.
Within the overall field, there are various areas of study, such as criminology, social class structure and inequality, and demographics, which analyzes the characteristics of various population groups. Gender studies is one of the fastest-growing areas of study in sociology.
Psychology is the discipline that is first and foremost concerned with gaining an understanding of how people think and why they behave in certain ways. Although psychology is largely focused on individuals, there is a specialization within the field that is known as “social psychology.” Social psychology is more directly aimed at understanding group and social dynamics and how societal norms and influences affect the behavior of people.
Education is inexorably intertwined with the study of society, as one of the main purposes of education has always been the socialization of students – teaching them the norms of the society that they live in and communicating the society’s cultural history.
However, that process has become much more complicated in recent years, as many liberal educators in the West have challenged the very idea of socialization as being “evil” because it – allegedly – perpetuates the existence of a patriarchal society that is fundamentally flawed.
The study of economics might, at first glance, appear to have little to do with social issues and mostly concerned with cold, mathematical calculations of supply and demand and prices. But economic systems are an integral part of social systems, and they tend to reflect the nature of the societies in which they exist. For example, capitalism and Marxism are economic systems that are based on fundamental beliefs about the nature of people and what motivates them.
Criticisms of Social Scientific Studies
In recent years, the lack of rigorous methodology in the social sciences has drawn widespread criticism. Studies of social science papers have found numerous instances where a researcher’s results were affected by the researcher’s personal ideology and political biases. By using things such as how questions are phrased to study participants or how a certain statistic is calculated, researchers can essentially rig studies to show what they want them to show.
The field of psychology has come under particular scrutiny. In many instances, researchers have failed to share with other researchers the data they used in a study, despite the fact that the American Psychological Association (APA) requires them to do so. Another problem – one that often indicates that the original researcher’s bias has crept into and colored a study’s methodology and/or findings – is that very few studies can be replicated by other researchers, which is a critical requirement for scientific validity.
The APA itself is not without fault. In the 1970s, it removed the classification of homosexuality as a psychological disorder from its diagnostic manual without presenting a single study to support the major change. The change in attitude was purely a matter of political correctness rather than the result of any legitimate scientific findings that might reasonably lead to a reconsideration of the diagnostic status of homosexuality.
Rather than any new research findings, what was presented to members of the APA was a panel discussion entitled “Gay is Good,” which was presented by a group of gay activists. A 2015 review of the organization’s 1973 decision concluded that “the most significant catalyst for diagnostic change was gay activism.” (Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information)
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