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.
Defining Social Sciences
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. 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 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
The branches of anthropology, psychology and sociology are fundamental in social science theories and methodology.
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.
Ultimately, anthropologists aim to present a holistic interpretation of humans. Despite specializations within this branch of science, scientists will typically consider all aspects of human life from their biology to their language and culture to their history when analyzing a particular problem. This approach makes anthropology a highly interdisciplinary field. Specific areas of study within anthropology include:
- Anthropological linguistics
- Biological anthropology
- Cultural anthropology
- Physical anthropology
- Sociocultural anthropology
Studying the mind requires numerous approaches. As such, psychology encompasses several 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
Each sub-field within the branch of psychology utilizes the general principles associated with behavior and mental health and development. However, some draw more for natural sciences where as other draw from other social sciences.
“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.
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.
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. 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.
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 (i.e., early childhood education to college education to lifelong learning). Other areas within the field consider what to teach and how to teach (i.e., curriculum development) or how to enforce standards (i.e., 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.
Although geographers are included in the realm of earth science, a natural science, the branch has 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.