- Social sciences
The social sciences comprise academic disciplines concerned with the study of the social life of human groups and individuals including
anthropology, communication studies, criminology, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, social studies, and sociology. [ [http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/glossary/s.asp Glossary] at nces.ed.gov. Retrieved 25 April 2008]
History of the social sciences
The word "science" is older than its modern use. Under the influence of
positivism, the word has become a short-form for " natural science". It is a recent development that society has become the object of an organized body of knowledge which can be standardized and taught objectively, while following its own rules and methodology.
ancient philosophy, there was no difference between mathematicsand the study of history, poetryor politics.Fact|date=July 2008 Only with the development of mathematical proofdid there gradually arise a perceived difference between "scientific" disciplines and others. Thus, Aristotlestudied planetary motion and poetry with the same methods, and Platomixes geometricalproofs with his demonstration on the state of intrinsic knowledge.
Augustine of Hippowrote the City of Godin the 5th century AD. Bruce Haddock, in 'The Political Classics: Essential Texts from Plato to Rousseau' ( OUP1992), describes the work as " a veritable encyclopedia of late Roman culture... [a] penetrating account of human motivation."
Significant contributions to the social sciences were made by Muslim scientists in the Islamic civilization. Al-Biruni (973–1048) has been called "the first anthropologist".Akbar S. Ahmed (1984). "Al-Biruni: The First Anthropologist", "RAIN" 60, p. 9-10.] He wrote detailed comparative studies on the
anthropologyof peoples, religions and cultures in the Middle East, Mediterranean and South Asia. Al-Biruni's anthropology of religion was only possible for a scholar deeply immersed in the lore of other nations. [J. T. Walbridge (1998). "Explaining Away the Greek Gods in Islam", "Journal of the History of Ideas" 59 (3), p. 389-403.] Biruni has also been praised by several scholars for his Islamic anthropology). ["Islamic Anthropology" and the "Anthropology of Islam", "Anthropological Quarterly" 68 (3), Anthropological Analysis and Islamic Texts, p. 185-193.] Ibn Khaldun(1332–1406) is regarded as the father of demography,H. Mowlana (2001). "Information in the Arab World", "Cooperation South Journal" 1.] historiography, [Salahuddin Ahmed (1999). "A Dictionary of Muslim Names". C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. ISBN 1850653569.] the philosophy of history,Dr. S. W. Akhtar (1997). "The Islamic Concept of Knowledge", "Al-Tawhid: A Quarterly Journal of Islamic Thought & Culture" 12 (3).] sociology, and the social sciences, [Akbar Ahmed (2002). "Ibn Khaldun’s Understanding of Civilizations and the Dilemmas of Islam and the West Today", "Middle East Journal" 56 (1), p. 25.] and is viewed as one of the forerunners of modern economics. He is best known for his " Muqaddimah" ("Prolegomenon" in Greek).
During the European
Age of Enlightenment, this unity of science as descriptive remains, for example, in the time of Thomas Hobbeswho argued that deductive reasoningfrom axioms created a scientific framework, and hence his "Leviathan" was a scientific description of a political commonwealth. What would happen within decades of his work was a revolution in what constituted "science", particularly the work of Isaac Newtonin physics. Newton, by revolutionizing what was then called "natural philosophy", changed the basic framework by which individuals understood what was "scientific".
While he was merely the archetype of an accelerating trend, the important distinction is that for Newton, the mathematical flowed from a presumed
realityindependent of the observer, and working by its own rules. For philosophers of the same period, mathematical expression of philosophical ideals was taken to be symbolic of natural human relationships as well: the same laws moved physical and spiritual realities. For examples see Blaise Pascal, Gottfried Leibnizand Johannes Kepler, each of whom took mathematical examples as models for human behavior directly. In Pascal's case, the famous wager; for Leibniz, the invention of binary computation; and for Kepler, the intervention of angels to guide the planets.
In the realm of other disciplines, this created a pressure to express ideas in the form of mathematical relationships. Such relationships, called "Laws" after the usage of the time (see
philosophy of science) became the model which other disciplines would emulate.
The term "social science" first appeared in the 1824 book "An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness; applied to the Newly Proposed System of Voluntary Equality of Wealth" by William Thompson (1775–1833).
Auguste Comte(1797–1857) argued that ideas pass through three rising stages, theological, philosophicaland scientific. He defined the difference as the first being rooted in assumption, the second in critical thinking, and the third in positive observation. This framework, still rejected by many, encapsulates the thinking which was to push economicstudy from being a descriptive to a mathematically based discipline. Karl Marxwas one of the first writers to claim that his methods of research represented a scientific view of history in this model.
With the late 19th century, attempts to apply equations to statements about
human behaviorbecame increasingly common. Among the first were the "Laws" of philology, which attempted to map the change over time of sounds in a language.
It was with the work of
Charles Darwinthat the descriptive version of social theoryreceived another shock. Biologyhad, seemingly, resisted mathematical study, and yet the theory of natural selection and the implied idea of genetic inheritance- later found to have been enunciated by Gregor Mendel, seemed to point in the direction of a scientific biology based, like physicsand chemistry, on mathematical relationships.
In the first half of the 20th century,
statisticsbecame a free-standing discipline of applied mathematics. Statistical methods were used confidently, for example in an increasingly statistical view of biology.
The first thinkers to attempt to combine inquiry of the type they saw in Darwin with exploration of human relationships, which,
evolutionary theory implied, would be based on selective forces, were Freudin Austria and William Jamesin the United States. Freud's theory of the functioning of the mind, and James' work on experimental psychologywould have enormous impact on those that followed. Freud, in particular, created a framework which would appeal not only to those studying psychology, but artists and writers as well.
One of the most persuasive advocates for the view of scientific treatment of philosophy would be
John Dewey(1859–1952). He began, as Marx did, in an attempt to weld Hegelian idealismand logicto experimental science, for example in his "Psychology" of 1887. However, he abandoned Hegelian constructs. Influenced by both Charles Sanders Peirceand William James, he joined the movement in America called pragmatism. He then formulated his basic doctrine, enunciated in essays such as "The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy" (1910).
This idea, based on his theory of how
organisms respond, states that there are three phases to the process of inquiry:
# Problematic Situation, where the typical response is inadequate.
# Isolation of Data or subject matter.
# Reflective, which is tested empirically.
With the rise of the idea of quantitative measurement in the physical sciences, for example
Lord Rutherford's famous maxim that any knowledge that one cannot measure numerically "is a poor sort of knowledge", the stage was set for the conception of the humanities as being precursors to "social science."
This change was not, and is not, without its detractors, both inside of academia and outside. The range of critiques begin from those who believe that the
physical sciencesare qualitatively different from social sciences Fact|date=February 2007, through those who do not believe in statistical science of any kind Fact|date=February 2007, through those who disagree with the methodologyand kinds of conclusion of social science Fact|date=February 2007, to those who believe the entire framework of scientificizing these disciplines is mostly from a desire for prestige.
Some social science subfields have become very quantitative in methodology. Conversely, the interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary nature of scientific inquiry into human behavior and social and environmental factors affecting it have made many of the natural sciences interested on some aspects of social science methodology. [Vessuri, Hebe. (2000). "Ethical Challenges for the Social Sciences on the Threshold of the 21st Century." Current Sociology 50, no. 1 (January): 135-150. [http://www.web-miner.com/socsciethics.htm] , Social Science Ethics: A Bibliography, Sharon Stoerger MLS, MBA ] Examples of boundary blurring include emerging disciplines like social studies of
medicine, sociobiology, neuropsychology, bioeconomicsand the history and sociology of science. Increasingly, quantitative and qualitative methods are being integrated in the study of human action and its implications and consequences.
In 1924, prominent social scientists established the
Pi Gamma Muhonor society for the social sciences. Among its key objectives were to promote interdisciplinary cooperation and develop an integrated theory of human personality and organization. Toward these ends, a journal for interdisciplinary scholarship in the various social sciences and lectureship grants were established.
Theodore Porterargued in "The Rise of Statistical Thinking" that the effort to provide a synthetic social scienceis a matter of both administration and discovery combined, and that the rise of social science was, therefore, marked by both pragmatic needs as much as by theoretical purity. An example of this is the rise of the concept of Intelligence Quotient, or IQ. It is unclear precisely what is being measured, but the measurement is useful in that it predicts success in various endeavors.
The rise of
industrialismhad created a series of social, economic, and politicalproblems, particularly in managing supply and demand in their political economy, the management of resources for militaryand developmental use, the creation of mass education systems to train individuals in symbolic reasoning and problems in managing the effects of industrializationitself. The perceived senselessness of the "Great War" as it was then called, of 1914–18, now called World War I, based in what were perceived to be "emotional" and "irrational" decisions, provided an immediate impetus for a form of decision making that was more "scientific" and easier to manage. Simply put, to manage the new multi-national enterprises, private and governmental, required more data. More data required a means of reducing it to information upon which to make decisions. Numbers and charts could be interpreted more quickly and moved more efficiently than long texts. Conversely, the interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary nature of scientific inquiry into human behavior and social and environmental factors affecting it have made many of the so-called hard sciences dependent on social science methodology. Examples of boundary blurring include emerging disciplines like social studies of medicine, neuropsychology, bioeconomicsand the history and sociology of science. Increasingly, quantitative and qualitative methods are being integrated in the study of human action and its implications and consequences.
In the 1930s this new model of managing decision making became cemented with the
New Dealin the US, and in Europe with the increasing need to manage industrial production and governmental affairs. Institutions such as The New School for Social Research, International Institute of Social History, and departments of "social research" at prestigious universities were meant to fill the growing demand for individuals who could quantify human interactions and produce models for decision making on this basis.
Coupled with this pragmatic need was the belief that the clarity and simplicity of mathematical expression avoided systematic errors of holistic thinking and logic rooted in traditional argument. This trend, part of the larger movement known as
modernismprovided the rhetorical edge for the expansion of social sciences.
There continues to be little movement toward consensus on what methodology might have the power and refinement to connect a proposed "grand theory" with the various midrange theories which, with considerable success, continue to provide usable frameworks for massive, growing data banks. See
tudying Social Science
Universities throughout the world consider the study of the social sciences as vital for the future of society, and most cater for many degrees in the multiplicity of social science fields.
Bachelor of Social Science, BSocScor B.Soc.Sc is a degree targeted at the social sciences in particular, it is often more flexible and in-depth than other degrees which also include social science subjects. The Bachelor of Social Sciencecan be studied at The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China, The University of Manchester, Manchester, England, Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealandand The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.
ocial science Sub-branches
Anthropologyis the holistic discipline that deals with the integration of different aspects of the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Human Biology. It includes Archaeology, Prehistory, Physical or Biological Anthropology, Anthropological Linguistics, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Ethnologyand Ethnography. It is an area that is offered at most undergraduate institutions. The word anthropos (άνθρωπος) is from the Greek for "human being" or "person." Eric Wolfdescribed sociocultural anthropology as "the most scientific of the humanities, and the most humanistic of the sciences."
Economicsis a social science that seeks to analyze and describe the production, distribution, and consumption of wealth. [ [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9109547?query=Economics&ct= economics - Britannica Online Encyclopedia ] ] The word "economics" is from the Greek polytonic|οἶκος ["oikos"] , "family, household, estate," and νόμος ["nomos"] , "custom, law," and hence means "household management" or "management of the state." An economistis a person using economic concepts and data in the course of employment, or someone who has earned a university degree in the subject. The classic brief definition of economics, set out by Lionel Robbinsin 1932, is "the science which studies human behavior as a relation between scarce means having alternative uses." Without scarcity and alternative uses, there is no economic problem. Briefer yet is "the study of how people seek to satisfy needs and wants" and "the study of the financial aspects of human behaviour."
Economics has two broad branches:
microeconomics, where the unit of analysis is the individual agent, such as a household, firm and macroeconomics, where the unit of analysis is an economy as a whole. Another division of the subject distinguishes positive economics, which seeks to predict and explain economic phenomena, from normative economics, which orders choices and actions by some criterion; such orderings necessarily involve subjective value judgments. Since the early part of the 20th century, economics has focused largely on measurable quantities, employing both theoretical models and empirical analysis. Quantitative models, however, can be traced as far back as the physiocratic school. Economic reasoning has been increasingly applied in recent decades to social situations where there is no monetary consideration, such as politics, law, psychology, history, religion, marriageand family life, and other social interactions.
This paradigm crucially assumes (1) that resources are scarce because they are not sufficient to satisfy all wants, and (2) that "economic value" is willingness to pay as revealed for instance by market (arms' length) transactions. Rival schools of thought, such as
heterodox economics, institutional economics, Marxist economics, socialism, green economics, and economic sociology, make other grounding assumptions, such as that economics primarily deals with the exchange of value, and that labor (human effort) is the source of all value.
teachingand learningspecific skills, and also something less tangible but more profound: the imparting of knowledge, positive judgementand well-developed wisdom. Education has as one of its fundamental aspects the imparting of culturefrom generation to generation (see socialization). To educate means 'to draw out', from the Latin "educare", or to facilitate the realization of an individual's potential and talents. It is an application of pedagogy, a body of theoretical and applied research relating to teaching and learning and draws on many disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, computer science, linguistics, neuroscience, sociologyand anthropology. [ [http://www.teachersmind.com/education.htm An overview of education] ]
The education of an individual human begins at birth and continues throughout life. (Some believe that education begins even before birth, as evidenced by some parents' playing music or reading to the baby in the womb in the hope it will influence the child's development.) For some, the struggles and triumphs of daily life provide far more instruction than does formal
schooling (thus Mark Twain's admonition to "never let school interfere with your education"). Familymembers may have a profound educational effect — often more profound than they realize — though family teaching may function very informally.
Geography as a discipline can be split broadly into two main sub fields:
human geographyand physical geography. The former focuses largely on the built environment and how space is created, viewed and managed by humans as well as the influence humans have on the space they occupy. The latter examines the natural environment and how the climate, vegetation& life, soil, waterand landformsare produced and interact. [cite web |title=What is geography? |work=AAG Career Guide: Jobs in Geography and related Geographical Sciences |publisher=Association of American Geographers |url=http://www.aag.org/Careers/What_is_geog.html |accessmonthday=October 9|accessyear=2006 ] As a result of the two subfields using different approaches a third field has emerged, which is environmental geography. Environmental geography combines physical and human geography and looks at the interactions between the environment and humans.cite web |last=Hayes-Bohanan |first=James |title=What is Environmental Geography, Anyway? |url=http://webhost.bridgew.edu/jhayesboh/environmentalgeography.htm |accessmonthday=October 9|accessyear=2006 ]
Geographers attempt to understand the
earthin terms of physical and spatial relationships. The first geographers focused on the science of mapmakingand finding ways to precisely project the surface of the earth. In this sense, geography bridges some gaps between the natural sciences and social sciences. Historical geographyis often taught in a college in a unified Department of Geography.
Modern geography is an all-encompassing discipline that seeks to understand how the world has changed in terms of human settlement and natural patterns. The fields of
Urban Planning, Regional Science, and Planetologyare closely related to geography. Practicioners of geography use many technologies and methods to collect data such as remote sensing, aerial photography, statistics, and global positioning systems(GPS).
The field of geography is generally split into two distinct branches: physical and human. "
Physical geography" examines phenomena related to climate, oceans, soils, and the measurement of earth. " Human geography" focuses on fields as diverse as Cultural geography, transportation, health, military operations, and cities. Other branches of geography include Social geography, regional geography, geomatics, and environmental geography.
History is the continuous, systematic
narrativeand researchof past events as relating to the human species; as well as the study of all events in time, in relation to humanity. There is much debate over history's classification of academe, for instance in the United Statesthe National Endowment for the Humanitiesincludes history in its definition of a Humanities (as it does for applied Linguistics) [ [http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/overview.html Overview ] ] . However the National Research Council classifies History as a Social science. [ [http://books.nap.edu/readingroom/books/researchdoc/summary.html Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States: Continuity and Change ] ] History can be seen as the sum total of many things taken together and the spectrum of events occurring in action following in order leading from the past to the present and into the future. The " historical method" comprises the techniques and guidelines by which historians use primary sources and other evidence to research and then to write history.
Law in common parlance, means a rule which (unlike a rule of ethics) is capable of enforcement through institutions. [cite book|title=Crimes Against Humanity|first=Geoffrey| last=Robertson| authorlink=Geoffrey Robertson|year=2006| publisher=Penguin|pages=90| isbn=9780141024639] The study of law crosses the boundaries between the social sciences and humanities, depending on one's view of research into its objectives and effects. Law is not always enforceable, especially in the international relations context. It has been defined as a "system of rules",cite book |last=Hart |first=H.L.A. |authorlink=H.L.A. Hart |title=
The Concept of Law|year=1961 |publisher=Oxford University Press |isbn=ISBN 0-19-876122-8] as an "interpretive concept"cite book |last=Dworkin |first=Ronald |authorlink=Ronald Dworkin |title=Law's Empire |year=1986 |publisher=Harvard University Press |isbn=ISBN-10: 0674518365] to achieve justice, as an "authority"cite book |last=Raz |first=Joseph |authorlink=Joseph Raz |title=The Authority of Law |year=1979 |publisher=Oxford University Press ] to mediate people's interests, and even as "the command of a sovereign, backed by the threat of a sanction". cite book |last=Austin |first=John |authorlink=John Austin (legal philosopher) |title=The Providence of Jurisprudence Determined |year=1831 |publisher= |location= |isbn= ] However one likes to think of law, it is a completely central social institution. Legal policy incorporates the practical manifestation of thinking from almost every social sciences and humanity. Laws are politics, because politicians create them. Law is philosophy, because moral and ethical persuasions shape their ideas. Law tells many of history's stories, because statutes, case law and codifications build up over time. And law is economics, because any rule about contract, tort, property law, labour law, company lawand many more can have long lasting effects on the distribution of wealth. The noun "law" derives from the late Old English "lagu", meaning something laid down or fixed [see [http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=law&searchmode=none Etymonline Dictionary] ] and the adjective "legal" comes from the Latin word "lex". [see [http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/legal Mirriam-Webster's Dictionary] ]
Linguistics is a discipline that investigates the cognitive and social aspects of human language. The field is traditionally divided into areas that focus on particular aspects of the linguistic signal, such as
syntax(the study of the rules that govern the structure of sentences), semantics(the study of meaning), phonetics(the study of speech sounds) and phonology(the study of the abstract sound system of a particular language); however, work in areas like evolutionary linguistics(the study of the origins and evolution of language) and psycholinguistics(the study of psychological factors in human language) cut across these divisions.
The overwhelming majority of modern research in linguistics takes a predominantly perspective (focusing on language at a particular point in time), and a great deal of it—partly owing to the influence of
Noam Chomsky—aims at formulating theories of the cognitive processing of language. However, language does not exist in a vacuum, or only in the brain, and approaches like contact linguistics, creole studies, discourse analysis, social interactional linguistics, and sociolinguisticsexplore language in its social context. Sociolinguistics often makes use of traditional quantitative analysis and statisticsin investigating the frequency of features, while some disciplines, like contact linguistics, focus on qualitative analysis. While certain areas of linguistics can thus be understood as clearly falling within the social sciences, other areas, like acoustic phoneticsand neurolinguistics, draw on the natural sciences. Linguistics draws only secondarily on the humanities, which played a rather greater role in linguistic inquiry in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ferdinand Saussureis considered the father of modern linguistics.
Political scienceis an academic and researchdiscipline that deals with the theory and practice of politicsand the description and analysis of political systems and political behavior. Fields and subfields of political science include political economy,political theory and philosophy, civicsand comparative politics, theory of direct democracy, apolitical governance, participatory direct democracy, national systems, cross-national political analysis, political development, international relations, foreign policy, international law, politics, public administration, administrative behavior, public law, judicial behavior, and public policy. Political science also studies power in international relationsand the theory of Great powersand Superpowers.
Political science is methodologically diverse. Approaches to the discipline include classical political philosophy, interpretivism,
structuralism, and behavioralism, realism, pluralism, and institutionalism. Political science, as one of the social sciences, uses methods and techniques that relate to the kinds of inquiries sought: primary sources such as historical documents and official records, secondary sources such as scholarly journal articles, survey research, statistical analysis, case studies, and model building. Herbert Baxter Adamsis credited with coining the phrase "political science" while teaching history at Johns Hopkins University.
Psychologyis an academicand applied field involving the study of behavior and mental processes. Psychology also refers to the application of such knowledgeto various spheres of human activity, including problems of individuals' daily lives and the treatment of mental illness.
Psychology differs from
anthropology, economics, political science, and sociologyin seeking to capture explanatory generalizations about the mental functionand overt behaviourof individuals, while the other disciplines rely more heavily on field studies and historical methods for extracting descriptive generalizations. In practice, however, there is quite a lot of cross-fertilization that takes place among the various fields. Psychology differs from biologyand neurosciencein that it is primarily concerned with the interaction of mental processes and behavior, and of the overall processes of a system, and not simply the biological or neural processes themselves, though the subfield of neuropsychologycombines the study of the actual neural processes with the study of the mental effects they have subjectively produced. Many people associate Psychology with Clinical Psychology which focuses on assessment and treatment of problems in living and psychopathology. In reality, Psychology has myriad specialties including: Social Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Mathematical psychology, Neuropsychology, and Quantitative Analysis of Behaviour to name only a few. The word "psychology" comes from the ancient Greek ψυχή, "psyche" ("soul", "mind") and "logy", study).
Psychology is a very broad science that is rarely tackled as a whole, major block. Although some subfields encompass a natural science base and a social science application, others can be clearly distinguished as having little to do with the social sciences or having a lot to do with the social sciences. For example, biological psychology is considered a natural science with a social scientific application (as is clinical
medicine), social and occupational psychology are, generally speaking, purely social sciences, whereas neuropsychology is a natural science that lacks application out of the scientific tradition entirely. In British universities, emphasis on what tenet of psychology a student has studied and/or concentrated is communicated through the degree conferred: B.Psy. indicates a balance between natural and social sciences, B.Sc. indicates a strong (or entire) scientific concentration, whereas a B.A. underlines a majority of social science credits.
Social Workis concerned with social problems, their causes, their solutions and their human impacts. Social workers work with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities. Social Work is the profession committed to the pursuit of social justice, to the enhancement of the quality of life, and to the development of the full potential of each individual, group and community in society. Social refers to human society or its organization. stem "soci-" which is from the Latin word socius, meaning member, friend, or ally, thus referring to people in general. It is a social science involving the application of social theory and research methods to the study and improve the lives of people, groups, and societies. Social work is unique in that it seeks to simultaneously navigate across and within micro , mezzo, and macro systems -in order to sufficiently address and resolve social issues at every level. Social work incorporates and utilizes all of the social sciences as a means to improve the human condition.
Social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidence-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognizes the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including bio-psychosocial factors. The social work profession draws on theories of human development and behaviour and social systems to analyse complex situations and to facilitate individual, organizational, social and cultural changes. (International Federation of Social Workers).
In social work research there is a great deal of traditional research, both qualitative and quantitative being carried out, primarily by university-based researchers, but also in different fields, by researchers based in institutes, foundations, or social service agencies. Meanwhile, the majority of social work practitioners continue to look elsewhere for knowledge. This is a state of affairs that has persisted since the outset of the profession in the first decade of the twentieth century. One reason for the practice-research gap is that practitioners deal with situations that are unique and idiosyncratic, while research deals with regularities and aggregates. The translation between the two is often imperfect. A hopeful development for bridging this gap is the compilation in many practice fields of collections of "best practices," largely taken from research findings, but also distilled from the experience of respected practitioners.
One of the most prominent organizations promoting social work research science is The Society for Social Work and Research (http://www.sswr.org/) which is a non-profit professional society incorporated in the State of New York in 1993. The Society is devoted to the involvement of social workers, other social work faculty, and social work students in research and to promotion of human welfare through research and research applications.
Sociologyis the study of society and human social action. It generally concerns itself with the social rules and processes that bind and separate people not only as individuals, but as members of associations, groups, communities and institutions, and includes the examination of the organization and development of human social life. The sociological field of interest ranges from the analysis of short contacts between anonymous individuals on the street to the study of global social processes. Most sociologists work in one or more subfields.
The meaning of the word comes from the suffix "-ology" which means "study of," derived from Greek, and the stem "soci-" which is from the Latin word socius, meaning member, friend, or ally, thus referring to people in general. It is a social science involving the application of social theory and research methods to the study of the
sociallives of people, groups, and societies, sometimes defined as the study of social interactions. It is a relatively new academic disciplinewhich evolved in the early 19th century.
Because sociology is such a broad discipline, it can be difficult to define, even for professional sociologists. One useful way to describe the discipline is as a cluster of sub-fields that examine different dimensions of society. For example,
social stratificationstudies inequality and class structure; demographystudies changes in a population size or type; criminologyexamines criminal behavior and deviance; political sociologystudies government and laws; and the sociology of race and sociology of genderexamine society's racial and gender cleavages.
Sociological methods, theories, and concepts may inspire sociologists to explore the origins of commonly accepted conventions. Sociology offers insights about the social world that extend beyond explanations that rely on individual quirks and personalities. Sociologist may find general social patterns in studying the behaviour of particular individuals and groups. This specific approach to social reality is sometimes called the
sociological perspective. Fact|date=February 2007
Sociologists use a diversity of research methods, including
case studies, historical research, interviewing, participant observation, social network analysis, survey research, statistical analysis, and model building, among other approaches. Since the late 1970s, many sociologists have tried to make the discipline useful for non-academic purposes. The results of sociological research aid educators, lawmakers, administrators, developers, and others interested in resolving social problems and formulating public policy, through subdisciplinary areas such as evaluation research, methodological assessment, and public sociology.New sociological sub-fields continue to appear - such as community studies, computational sociology, network analysis, actor-network theoryand a growing list, many of which are cross-disciplinary in nature.
ocial theory and research methods
The social sciences share many social theory perspectives and research methods. Theory perspectives include various types of
critical theory, dialectical materialism, feminist theory, phronetic social science, assorted branches of Marxist theory such as revolutionary theory and class theory, post-colonial theory, postmodernismas well as the related intellectual criticalism and scientific criticalism, rational choice theory, rational criticalism, social constructionism, structuralism, and structural functionalism. Research methods shared include a wide variety of quantitative and qualitative methods.
graphism thesismaintains that social sciences do not use graphs as much as natural sciences.
The social sciences are sometimes criticized as being less scientific than the
natural sciences, in that they are seen as being less rigorous or empirical in their methods. This claim has been made in the so-called Science Warsand is most commonly made when comparing social sciences to fields such as physics, chemistry or biology in which corroboration of the hypothesis is far more incisive with regard to data observed from specifically designed experiments. Social sciences can thus be deemed to be largely observational, in that explanations for cause-effect relationships are largely subjective. A limited degree of freedom is available in designing the factor setting for a particular observational study. Social scientists however, argue against such claims by pointing to the use of a rich variety of scientific processes, mathematical proofs, and other methods in their professional literature. Flyvbjerg (2001) has argued that the discussion of whether natural science is more scientific than social science is futile; social science is best practiced as phronesis, whereas natural science is best practiced as episteme, in the classical Greek meaning of the terms, and both have important if different roles to play in the production of knowledge in society.
It has been argued that the social world is much too complex to be studied as one would study static molecules. The actions or reactions of a molecule or chemical substance are always the same when placed in certain situations. Humans, on the other hand, are much too complex for these traditional scientific methodologies. Humans and society do not have certain rules that always have the same outcome and they cannot guarantee to react the same way to certain situations.
A third criticism is that social sciences tend to be compromised more frequently by politics, since results from social science may threaten certain centers of power in a society, particularly ones which fund the research institutions. Further, complexity exacerbates the problems, since observed social data may be the result of factors which are hard to evaluate in isolation.
Not all institutions recognize some fields listed above as social sciences or as being only social scientific. Some disciplines have characteristics of both the humanities, social and natural sciences: for example some subfields of
anthropology, such as biological anthropology, are closely related to the natural sciences whereas archaeologyand linguisticsare social sciences, while cultural anthropology is very much linked with the humanities. Note that social science methodologies are being incorporated into so-called hard science fields like medicine, where a three-legged stool to the understanding of physical well-being is now emphasized in the medical curriculum: biological, socio-psychological, and environmental.
Notes and references
The beginnings of the social sciences in the 18th century are reflected in the grand
encyclopediaof Diderot, with articles from Rousseauand other pioneers. The growth of the social sciences is also reflected in its specialised encyclopedias. The older editions are therefore of strong historical interest while the newest reflects current discussions and methodologies.
Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences(1934)
International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences(1968), ed., David L. Sillsand Robert K. Merton.
International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences(2001), ed., Neil J. Smelserand Paul B. Baltes, Amsterdam: Elsevier.
* [http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Introduction_to_Sociology Wikibooks: Introduction to sociology]
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* [http://www.holycross.edu/departments/socant/rsinglet/ Singleton, Royce, A.] , Straits, Bruce C., [http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Sociology/TheoryMethods/~~/dmlldz11c2EmY2k9OTc4MDE5NTE0Nzk0MA= "Approaches to Social Research"] ,
Oxford University Press, 1988. ISBN 0195147944
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: "Main list:
List of major social sciences"
List of academic disciplines
Fields of science
*** Social sciences
History of science
History of technology
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* [http://www.waset.org/ijss/ International Journal of Social Sciences]
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* [http://www.isedonline.org/ Institute of Small Enterprises and Development (ISED)]
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