What are the Social Sciences?

Direct Knowlege Contributor Taylor Bauer
  • By Taylor Bauer, Technical Writer & Digital Marketing Expert
  • Taylor is a writer and SEO manager with a B.S. in Political Communication from Illinois State University. He also received his M.S. in Communications from Illinois State. His background comes from journalism, working at an NPR member station for three years before transitioning to blogging and search engine marketing. He lives in Illinois with his wife and two Toy Australian Sheppards.

The complexities of human relationships and social interactions lead to a field of science, unlike most others. If you study the social sciences, you will notice that societies around the globe have formed in various ways that are sometimes very distinct, yet often share many characteristics. You can benefit greatly from learning the meaning of the social sciences through a simple definition and list of its branches.

The meaning of social sciences consists of anthropology, economics, education, geography, psychology, and sociology. These sciences aim to understand how human society functions through analysis of various facets from culture and communication to individual psychology and the meaning of sociological relationships. It uses tools from the natural sciences, as well as definitions of social critique and symbolic interpretations. This process means the results can vary and lead to some fascinating discussion.

Two of the things that make humans unique include our brain and our relationships with one another. Our minds give us incredible capabilities (at least compared to most of the animal kingdom) to communicate and to study the world around us. And this includes studying ourselves! In the social sciences, the brain primarily considers itself to understand how people work and how societies function through complex human interactions. For that reason, the field of study has a long history, and today it forms a vital part of our culture and progress.

The Meaning of Social Science

Why do I think studying the social sciences is so meaningful to you? In reality, the subject helps to inform so much of our daily lives. It’s hard to think about, but consider the things we don’t question in life. Why do we live in cities or towns? It’s not an easy question, but it is an important one. Likewise, how did we form a method of verbal communication? Why do I develop bonds with certain people but not others? All of these questions help to inform us about what we undergo as social beings. Other animals are social as well, but not to the extent of humans. What makes us so unique? That’s what I think you can learn from studying this subject.

Your brain allows you to accomplish more than any other organism on Earth. With this vital organ, humans develop societies and relationships to fulfill basic needs. Everything we understand about life is rooted in social science. It’s up to you to learn what got us to this point in time and why we keep adapting our behaviors and practices. So, what subjects can we study to inform our understanding of the social sciences? To develop a simple definition of the meaning of social science, this is the list of subjects to pursue.

What Subjects Do Social Sciences Include?

This particular area of study encompasses a broad array of fields, including anthropology, economics, education, geographypsychology, and sociology. They discuss human behavior, financial interactions, learning, spatial distribution, thought, and social interactions, respectively. I will review and suggest additional articles for each of these branches of the social sciences in greater detail below.

Articles that I propose here on the various branches of the social sciences will cover everything from the definitions and history of these topics to their recent changes and advancements. Through them, I aim to help you get a firm foothold in the subject, or climb further up a path you have already started.

Science vs. Social Science

Social science is a branch of scientific study that includes the same methods as other branches. However, pure science is the overarching field that also includes additional (i.e., all) scientific topics not covered in social sciences. Pure science is the method of observing and experimenting with gathering data, which people use to analyze hypotheses and draw conclusions. In addition to the social sciences, people use this method in the applied, natural, and formal sciences.

In the branch of science known as social sciences, there is not as much focus on math, physical phenomena, experimentation, and technical analysis. But I don’t mean to say that they don’t exist at all in the list of social sciences. Instead, you will see a wide range of methods and techniques used, depending on the specific sub-field in question. Fields like economics or archaeology use more scientific methods and statistics. Others use more critical analysis and interpretation of observations, including include both quantitative and qualitative research.

What Does a Degree in the Social Sciences Entail?

A degree in this field can help you gain many transferable skills and engage with new concepts in new situations. You will become very familiar with reading, writing, critical thinking, communication, and professional interaction. And with the developments happening today, you will also likely learn how to apply other sciences to the field.

For instance, experimental psychology and the mathematics of language allow us to understand these topics at a much more profound level than in previous centuries. Once you find your niche, you will probably write a thorough dissertation on it or conduct your final project.

Foundations of Social Science

If you are new to the social sciences, you may want to start with a list of articles that cover the branches of anthropology, psychology, and sociology. These are fundamental in social science theories, simple definitions, and methodology. The next three sections I cover will give you a rundown of each of these fields. I will also include various materials and links for further learning.

Modern Applications of Social Science

The concept of economics and education has been in existence for hundreds of years. They form part of social science that applies various lists of the field to real-world events and metrics. However, formalized areas of study are somewhat recent. And globalization has made economics a hugely complicated matter.

People can’t treat the world as one giant economy as the interactions between all of the sub-economies lead to many unforeseeable changes. But this is precisely why research in the area continues. Below I will detail some of the recent topics of study that may interest you.

Primary Branches of the Social Sciences

Under the branches of social science lie many essential subjects to life and academia. You and I know these subjects and what they study, even if we don’t formally know their names. All topics in the list of social science subjects look to the social progress of humans in a variety of places. The primary source of our understanding of the world is how our species evolves and changes. This reflective process of learning from our social progress helps illuminate what we are capable of as a species. Likewise, the process helps show us new truths about the planet and the universe.

While each specific sub-sect of this topic involves its methods and theories, they all work together as a whole. Each area of expertise someone who studies these topics holds helps increase our understanding of humans. I think we all question from time to time why we do something or how we ended up structuring our lives. These are all products of the meaning of social science and what it attempts to uncover. A simple definition of social science is the process of investigating human behaviors. This inquiry includes how we form groups, utilize communication, and work together.

The Best Way to Approach Studying the Social Sciences

I think it’s tempting to want to learn everything about each topic of this subject. In reality, that’s not going to yield you a proper education in the matter. So, my recommendation is to review each branch of the social sciences and find which one or few appeal most to you. You can always go back and study each subject. This approach helps you to get a good grasp of the overall themes of social science; then follow up on your studies in an effective way.

A man looks at a skull on an old wooden table

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 like you, and I turned out the way we did. Topics of study include evolution, language, culture, and similar overlapping areas.

Anthropology, thus, is the pinnacle study of man. I will highlight how the field pulls not only from the social sciences but also from the humanities and natural sciences to build and prove theories. Thus, I think it might be helpful for you to look at a list of articles outside of the social sciences to supplement your learning. Below are some sub-fields of anthropology that you may be interested in:

Mature economist showing paper with report to young colleagues and listening to their opinions

Economics

You will find that money and economics go hand and hand because the latter is the science used to describe and analyze how wealth circulates. Studies in this branch of social science look at how wealth is produced, distributed, and consumed within different lists of social parameters.

Within economics, the concepts of scarcity and alternatives are primarily at play. Shortages mean that resources are limited, which causes us to need to think carefully about how to use them. This scarcity 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 continually interacting and dictating patterns and trends, they are fundamental to the field. You will see these concepts come up in many of the materials I provide here.

Economics has two main 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.

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 people typically find in the more advanced social sciences materials.

Social sciences lecturer in university.

Education

From teaching to counseling to curriculum development and more, this field embodies the art and science of learning. As a social science, education branches across several lists of applied and theoretical research concerning how people learn, how people teach, and the spread of knowledge and cultural wisdom. You will find that disciplines, including anthropology, philosophy, psychology, and sociology, feed into this area of expertise.

Studies in education are often broken apart by age. In this manner, as a student, you may be grouped with peers that are not of the same level as you. This grouping could benefit you if you can learn from the many more advanced students surrounding you but may hinder you if you are significantly ahead of other students. Other areas within the field consider what to teach and how to prepare, 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 essential. When children begin to learn about the world and how that view is sculpted, it is critical to understand 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 effect 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.

Miniature group of students walking to the big world

Geography as a Social Science

Geography often falls within the realm of Earth science, a natural science. However, you will find that the branch has many fields with more critical (or social) perspectives. Human geography is the primary form of geography within the pure definition of 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 our understanding of space.

Within this field, there are several elements I want you to consider. The physical environment is perhaps the most primary component impacting humans. For example, where they live dictates what resources are available, which in turn determines the emergence of cities and culture. The interaction of these features then gives rise to political workings, public health, military considerations, etc.

Social Implications of Geography

Beyond physical geographic elements, geographers consider social aspects. This consideration 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 significant component of 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. For this reason, I also suggest looking into materials on these areas outside of the simple definition of social sciences.

Humanities Student talking to a librarian in a library

Library Science

Library scientists invest in many elements of managing not only libraries but knowledge in general. The field of library science is inherently multidisciplinary as a field in the humanities. I will show you how it takes into consideration numerous perspectives, including how and where to disseminate information.

Before getting to modern library science, I would like to start with a brief history. Studies in library science began around the mid-17th century. At that time, it was impressive just to establish a library to collect written works. In the 19th century, scholarship had expanded dramatically with numerous written works circling the western hemisphere in particular. Melvil Dewey designed the famous decimal system, forging a new reason for library management and scholarship on information management. As technology continued to boom through the 20th century into the 21st century, data management became the apparent issue for library scientists.

Modern Library Science

Today, there is an enormous amount of focus on access to information and working toward equity of dissemination. And this is because of a rise in misinformation where people (often purposefully) spread untrue facts. Usually, this is done out of malice and towards an end of misguiding people. Other times, out of ignorance. The articles I present in this category of the humanities will show you current events and trends. These trends in library science are important to know if you are looking to get into the field.

On the topic of modern developments, library science has stood its ground over time. This exciting field is about more than just libraries. Instead, it encompasses the essence of learning and making knowledge accessible to all. Thus, as times change, so do the methods of libraries and librarians.

political science various continents swinging with the tides of politics

Political Science

Although it sometimes goes by the name politology, you have probably heard of it as political science. This definition of this science is that which looks at systems of governance and analyses political activities, thoughts, meaning, organizations, and behavior. It’s the science that searches for the meaning in politics and governance such that people can ensure these areas work towards the benefit of society.

To fully understand this branch of science, you should first know the definition of politics. Politics are the activities within a government where people make decisions that apply to the larger group of members. Of course, this particular definition doesn’t only apply to countries or states. Governance exists in pretty much any organization.

For example, the governance of a company includes managers and CEOs. The management of a sports team includes coaches and team owners. However, in this branch of social science, the simple definition is the governance of countries, states, communities, and economies.

Subfields and Research

The subfields included under political science include comparative politics, international relations, public policy, political theory, and general political methodology. Many of these areas, and political science as a whole, also draw from the topics of law, economics, history, sociology, and more.

The reason it is so interdisciplinary is that the politics of any organization are composed of many people. Even in narrower groups of people in a small community, everyone has their lifestyle and individual actions that differ from the masses.

To account for this variation, research in the field has a range of methods incorporating many fields of study that impact human behavior. These methods come from all the main branches of the sciences and blend into this simple definition of social science.

Some areas of the field look at topics that relate primarily to human behavior. These include psychology and cognitive neuroscience, meaning the methods used can be qualitative and quantitative. Other areas take a look at the money side of things, thus giving math, statistics, and data analysis a spot in the front row. Similarly, studies into areas involving policies and changes over time have a greater focus on history and long-term observation.

Careers and Applications

A degree in political science may guide you to many fulfilling careers that give meaning to professionals around the world. Many of them are directly in politics, but you will find that quite a few of them are actually in entirely different fields. This variety occurs because the skills gained from studying political sciences transcend the main branches of science and contribute in many ways.

For example, some political positions include legislative assistant, policy analyst, political consultant, or attorney. Other spots outside of politics include public relations specialist, marketing researcher, or social media manager. Regardless of the area of expertise, all of these positions require a sharp mind with knowledge of the way people in large groups work.

Social Sciences Psychology classes for a group of women using drawing techniques.

Psychology

Studying the mind requires numerous approaches. As such, the social sciences materials that I cover here encompass several psychology fields. I intend to use them to help you understand behavioral and mental processes.

I will outline how these fields draw from different perspectives and methods to understand these areas and use analysis to enhance people’s lives. Because of this attribution, many perceive psychology as a field to treat mental illness; but people sometimes classify that particular field as clinical psychology. However, as a branch of the social sciences, psychology contributes to a broader, more simple definition of the subject.

Although psychology aims to explain the impact of the brain on individual behaviors, it does relate to other fields. When paired with neuroscience and biological studies, psychology becomes neuropsychology. This sub-field considers physical neural activities concerning their mental effects and individual 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

The Growing Importance of Psychology

A growing list of issues related to mental health makes this subject one of the most topical social sciences. Overall, the study of the brain and its reactions to various stimuli provide room for people to become positively and negatively impacted. With this in mind, researchers work to identify areas in which trauma may occur from infancy through adulthood. The process is highly subjective; one thing might hurt someone and not have any effect on another person. The process requires individual case review, and research can compete in scope and effectiveness. Likewise, many people who suffered greatly over the years now know they can reach assistance through the practice of psychology. 

Social Sciences Sphere made of squares with people`s portraits. Concept for diversity, community, social networking, and teamwork.

Sociology

“Soci” is a derivative of the Latin term social, which loosely translates to society. When paired with the “ology” suffix, we achieve “the study of society.” Sociology, thus, studies individual relationships and interactions in the larger world. The subject also covers the differences within communities, social action, and social interaction.

In the articles I detail here, you will find that studies in this field rely on observation and analysis. Because there are numerous approaches, the subject 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 methods and scholarship.

How experts study sociology

I also want to show how sociological research pulls from diverse methods spanning quantitative and qualitative data capturing as well as empirical processes. Various scientists rely on elements of observation, survey research, direct interviews, focus group interviews, and model construction. Thus, the applicability of findings in this field and its sub-divisions is quite broad. Politicians, educators, medical professionals, and others draw upon sociologists’ work to enhance work in their areas.

I think an essential aspect of reviewing in this subject is the use of the research findings. Findings in one branch help to dictate significance to other branches of study. For example, the results of tests in sociology relate directly to political, social, and environmental changes in society. City planners and educators alike base some of their decisions on the findings in the field of sociology. This crucial branch of focus also has implications for fellow social sciences like psychology and anthropology. To sum up, the role sociology plays goes far beyond the study of social relationships. Findings directly play a role in how we understand other elements of social life.

Frequency Asked Questions About the Social Sciences

With a simple definition of the subject known, you can now explore a list of other inquiries on the meaning of social science here.

What are the subjects included in the social sciences?

The social sciences study how humans interact and form societies. Thus, the main topics covered here are anthropology, psychology, sociology, economics, education, and geography. These topics can focus on the individuals in societies, or the broader relationships and interconnections between many individuals.

What does a degree in the social sciences entail?

Degrees in the social sciences may be narrow or interdisciplinary. All will include core classes on a range of topics, and will later focus more heavily on issues specific to social sciences. You should anticipate working on a significant bit of writing, reading, and interaction with peers.

What is the difference between social science and formal science?

Social science is the study of people and their interactions in society. Its primary methods include observation, social critique, symbolic interpretation, as well as empirical methods. Formal science, on the other hand, involves the application of logic, math, and language to data to organize and communicate information.

What jobs can you get using a degree in social science?

A degree in one of the social sciences can lead to many jobs and careers. A few examples include market analyst, research assistant, therapist, social worker, and event coordinator. The social sciences are useful in any field that requires creativity, critical thinking, empathy, and organization.

Conclusion

The social sciences dig deep into a wide range of meanings of human behavior and interaction. Society is hugely complex, especially when you take into account the thousands of years that it has been forming and changing. If you take the advice and read the material I discussed above, I am sure that you can understand, appreciate, and even contribute to this vibrant field.

If you’re a curious reader or someone trying to figure out a college major, try one of the introductory books or an interactive online course. And if you already have more experience in the field, take a look at one of the items that go into a narrow subject in your area of specialization to help you gain more skills. On the other hand, you could intentionally aim for material outside of your comfort zone to help widen your breadth. However, if you decide to do it, the first step is just to do it!

How to Continue Studying the Branches of Social Science

If there is a topic within the meaning of social science that interests you, then pick a subject from its list. That step can be a great way to learn more about the varying insights into this field of study. There are several ways to approach the meaning of social science. The best tool you have is to take what I shared with you and go further. Overall, subjects that interest you are going to be the easiest to study. With a simple definition of the social sciences in mind, you can follow a path to which subject you think you’d like best.

If you wish to study the meaning of social science and other subjects further, be sure to utilize Direct Knowledge. The site helps assist you in finding excellent resources to continue your studies. College students can use the website to supplement coursework. If you aren’t in college, then you can still use the site too. I think non-traditional students who learn on their own time enjoy the site’s diverse array of resources. Pick a subject you enjoy and learn more all on one website. Get started today with Direct Knowledge and use all the site has to offer for free!

Does the meaning of social science change as humanity progresses? 

What sort of meaning can we pull from social science as technology grows and adapts how we live?