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Social Sciences (The Definitive Guide For Students and Professionals)

The social sciences aim to understand how human society functions through analysis of various facets from culture to communication to individual psychology to sociological relationships and more. Readings on the social sciences will cover everything from the history of these topics to their modern changes and advancements.

Defining Social Sciences

Two of the things that make humans unique include our brain and our relationships with one another. Our brain gives us incredible capabilities (at least compared to most of the animal kingdom) to communicate and to study the world around us. And one of the things we quite like to study is: ourselves. We study that magnificent brain, the way we use it to communicate, the things we create with it, and how societies function through complex human interactions. This particular area of research encompasses a broad array of fields, including anthropology, economics, education, geography, psychology and sociology. These branches happen to be our primary area of focus within the social sciences articles and books at Direct Knowledge.

Of note, social sciences are broken into two key methodologies: positivist and interpretivist. Social scientists of the positivist persuasion utilize methods and tools to define aspects of societies in order to understand them. Interpretivists, however, use elements of critique and interpretation to better assess social elements. These forms of social research often borrow from other scientific methods and will also combine aspects of quantitative and qualitative tools to enhance and prove theories.

Foundations of Social Science

If you're new to the social sciences, you may want to start with articles that cover the branches of anthropology, psychology and sociology. These are fundamental in social science theories and methodology.

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Anthropology

When we discuss looking at the entirety of human existence, from the origin of the species to its impact on the world, we are looking at the world from an anthropological perspective. Anthropology, thus, is the pinnacle study of man. Interestingly, the field pulls not only from the social sciences but from the humanities and natural sciences to build and prove theories. Thus it might be helpful to look at articles outside of the social sciences in order to supplement your learning.

  • Anthropological linguistics
  • Archaeology
  • Biological anthropology
  • Cultural anthropology
  • Physical anthropology
  • Sociocultural anthropology

Read about the Fields of Anthropology and the History of Anthropology.

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Psychology

Studying the mind requires numerous approaches. As such, the social sciences articles here encompass several psychology fields that intend to understand behavioral and mental processes. These fields draw from different perspectives and methods to not only understand these things but to use analysis to enhance people's lives. Because of this attribution, many perceive psychology as a field to treat mental illness; this field classification is actually only clinical psychology. However, as a branch of the social sciences, psychology contributes to a larger realm of knowledge.

Although psychology generally aims to explain the impact of the brain on the individual and his or her behaviors, it does relate to other fields. When paired with neuroscience and biological studies, psychology becomes neuropsychology. This sub-field considers physical neural activities in relation to their mental effects and subjective behaviors. Other examples of psychology beyond the clinical setting include the following:

  • Behavioral studies and therapy
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Educational psychology
  • Industrial-organizational psychology
  • Mathematical psychology
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Sociology

“Soci” is a derivative of the Latin term socious, which loosely translates to society. When paired with the “ology” suffix, we achieve “the study of society.” Sociology, thus, studies societies, including individual relationships to the larger world, impact of difference within societies, social action and social interaction.

In the articles here, you'll find that studies in this social science branch rely on observation and analysis. Because there are numerous approaches, the field hosts a variety of epistemological perspectives, frames of inquiry and methods for analysis. Moreover, these approaches change and modernize based on current cultural, political and generational persuasions. New thinkers emerge and question “old” theories through new lenses. As such, sociology tends to engage frequently in critical theories and scholarship.

Of note, sociological research pulls from diverse research methods spanning quantitative and qualitative data capturing as well as empirical processes. Elements of observation, survey research, direct interviews, focus group interviews and model construction are relied upon by various scientists depending on their sociological aspect of interest. Thus, the applicability of findings in this field and its sub-divisions is quite large. Politicians, educators, medical professionals and others draw upon sociologists' work to enhance work in their own fields.

Modern Applications of Social Science

The concept of economics and education have been in existence for hundreds of years. However, formalized areas of study are somewhat recent. And globalization has mad economic a hugely complicated matter. Not only can the world be treated as one giant economy, but the interactions between all of the sub-economies leads to many unforeseeable changes.

Economics

Money and economics seemingly go hand and hand. This is because economics is the science used to describe and analyze how wealth circulates. Studies in this branch of social science look out how wealth is produced, distributed and consumed within different social parameters.

Within economics, the concepts of scarcity and alternative use are largely at play. Scarcity means that resources are limited, cause us to need to think carefully about how to use them. This can cause prices to go up for those with higher demand. It can also cause people to divert their choice to an alternative that is cheaper due to more available resources. Because these two dynamics are constantly interacting and dictating patterns and trends, they are fundamental to the field. Moreover, economists are tasked with studying the financial facets of human interactions.

Economics has two major areas of study: micro- and macroeconomics. In microeconomics, the individual delegate (i.e., household, company, person) is the analyzed unit. Macroeconomics, on the other hand, looks at economies as a whole for analysis. To go more in depth on the matter, these fields break into positive and normative distinctions. The first, positive economics, aims to explain and predict phenomena within economic structures. The latter, normative economics, uses somewhat subjective criteria to categorize actions and choices. These are topics that will typically be found in the more advanced social sciences articles and even books and courses.

Education

From teaching to counseling to curriculum development and more, education embodies the art and science of learning. As a social science, education branches across several fields of applied and theoretical research pertaining to how people learn, how people teach and the spread of knowledge and cultural wisdom. Disciplines including anthropology, philosophy, psychology and sociology feed into this area of knowledge.

Studies in education are often broken apart by age. In this manner, students may be grouped with peers that are not of the same level as themselves. This could benefit them if they can learn from the many more advanced students surrounding them, but may hinder them if they are significantly ahead of other students. Other areas within the field consider what to teach and how to teach, looking more at curriculum development or how to enforce standards through education policy.

Furthermore, within education research, the impact of various individuals and sociological elements is important. When children begin to learn about the world, and how that view is sculpted, is critical in understanding not only the learning process but other cultural elements. Moreover, the impact of a child's place and time of birth, or where they were born and when in history, will have an impact on their ultimate educational success. Educators strive to develop standards of equity in consideration of these factors to provide all students equal learning environments and opportunities.

Geography as a Social Science

Geography often falls within the realm of earth science, a natural science. However, the branch has many fields with more critical (or social) perspectives. Human geography is the primary form of geography within social science. It looks at how humans impact their environment, including how they build their societies, how they view the world and how they manage their physical environment. Interestingly, human geography draws on its sister science, physical geography, in considering the central tenant of the relationship between physical markers and human understanding of space.

Within this field, there are several elements to consider. Physical environment is perhaps the most primary component impacting humans. Where they live dictates what resources are available, which in turn determines the emergence of cities and culture. The interaction of these features then give rise to political workings, public healthy, military considerations, etc.

Beyond physical geographic elements, geographers consider social elements. This may include looking at how culture dictates the movement of peoples or the spread of languages. Social geography considers societal tendencies and interactions.

Geography also contributes to applied fields. For example, it is a large component within urban planning and design. Moreover, geography borrows from formal sciences like statistics and computer science to enhance data informing theories and analytics within the field.

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Social Sciences Books on Society and Interactions

Anthropology

As humans try to understand themselves, they first look to the past. Anthropology looks at the origin of the species with both physical and cultural perspectives. Professionals in the field study physical remains and written texts from the past to determine why humans turned out the way they did. Topics of study include evolution, language, culture, and similar overlapping areas.

It may sound like a lot to take in. But anthropology books such as The Art of Being Human: A Textbook for Cultural Anthropology start readers off with foundations of anthropology as a whole. This particular book even has an accompanying online course if you want an extra thorough experience. The course is by the same author of the book, but if you want to try exploring the minds of various different anthropologists then An Open Invitation to Cultural Anthropology might be a good place to start. It includes a collection of essays from multiple authors around the globe. This social sciences book makes a great introduction for beginners looking for some variety in anthropology.

Sociology

This category of social sciences books looks at society as a whole. Although this includes individual relationships, a big part is also the differences and interactions between larger groups. The methods in this field count on observation and analysis, of which there are a variety of approaches. The books here will explore these methods and how sociology looks at both new and old theories.

For those wanting a broad overview of the subject, Introduction to Sociology 2e provides just that. It’s a great tool made for introductory sociology students and curious minds that lays everything out in a clear way. You’ll learn about the factors that shape society in the same trajectory that most standard intro sociology classes follow. Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World also gives an introductory look at sociology, but with some added features. It looks more at how learning outcomes apply to current events and theories in the field, making it more relevant to the world around us.

Economics

Social sciences books on economics will typically cover more technical topics. They get into the applications of math and finance in the economic systems of the world. Production of goods, distribution of them, their consumption, and all the transactions that allow those processes to occur are the main focus.

A good book to start with is one that emphasizes the real world applications, such as Economics (Theory Through Applications). It is designed for readers with little to no experience in the field, and made to relate economics to their own lives. Books such as Principles of Economics then help students move up into intermediate studies. The first half of the book reviews important basic concepts, while the second half covers more intricate concepts like income inequality and government policies.

Geography

This category of social sciences books looks at how the distribution of land and societal features affects the planet and people. Books such as World Regional Geography provide introductory material for students. It starts with basics such as human activity and globalization. Then, it moves on to other aspects of different land masses, habitats, and cultures.

Books such as Essentials of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) hone in on specific tools that help the modern-day geographer. In this case, GIS use computer programming to help create maps and manage data in new and useful ways. This technology and others like it are so widespread that being familiar with them is critical for working in the field.

Social Sciences Books on the Human Mind and Behavior

Psychology

This category of books narrows in on the human mind. It aims to understand mental processes and how they influence behavior in order to improve peoples’ lives. This often means treating mental illnesses, but that’s just one small part of the field. Other areas of psychology relate to different fields like neuroscience, biology, education, and development.

A good social science book to get you started in this field would be Introduction to Psychology. It starts with the basic concepts everyone should know, accompanied by real-life examples. Professors, too, will find that this book offers a great resource for putting together a class syllabus. Similarly, Principles of Social Psychology clears a path for instructors wanting to teach this interdisciplinary topic. It covers topics such as religion, race, sexuality, family, and more in ways that aren’t overwhelming for teachers or students.

Education

This field contains many facets that embody the art of learning. Social sciences books in this category can help teachers better educate their students, or help students improve their own learning abilities and experience. For example, Blueprint for Success in College and Career is a great tool for students looking to help themselves in learning and potential career choices. It gives advice on work ethic, efficiency in learning, and time management. Education for a Digital World can also help students as they adapt to modern tools for learning, but especially helps teachers. It provides a solid guide to digital teaching tools such as those used for online courses and resources.

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