Social Science

a classroom lecture on the causes of civil war

Social science is the study of society and individuals' relationships to society, with a focus on the organization of human activities and how and why that organization and the individuals who comprise it change over time. Social scientists are especially interested in the manner in which individuals and the groups to which individuals belong adapt or modify their behavior in relationship to ever-changing social, biological, psychological, political, and economic conditions, circumstances and/or pressures.

  • Thus, in a social science class designated to fulfill a social science requirement students will learn and be exposed both to the scope and range of a given social science discipline, while becoming sensitized to their role as an active participant learner.

What differs among and sometimes within the social sciences are the specific questions that social scientists ask, and the particular kinds of evidence that are deemed appropriate for answering those questions. Many diverse aspects of societies and cultures (past and present) are explored and scrutinized using diverse sets of assumptions and methodologies that serve ultimately as the basis for generating, contesting, and ultimately refining knowledge. The disciplines that constitute social science – political science, economics, sociology, anthropology and psychology – all examine aspects and levels of human activity, but differ in emphasis, content and the relevance of certain dimensions. Nevertheless, the disciplines are inter-related, and ultimately, inter-dependent, and understanding the connections among the disciplines allows us to better understand the central issues within each. Indeed, what makes social science fields unique is that they are often holistic and integrative, and use similar, empirically based information collected from diverse lines of evidence to illuminate their subject. This combination of perspectives sharpens and makes more valid any insight that is obtained.

  • Thus, in a social science class designated to fulfill a social science requirement students will learn how the different social science disciplines ultimately are all needed to understand human behavior. The student will learn that it is in the intersection of different but complementary ways of approaching a question or problem that enhances our understanding of human social phenomena.

Social science knowledge changes by progressive refinement of pre-existing ideas, explanations and theories, all informed by the collection and analysis of new data. Indeed, research is a process, beginning with a conceptual plan and a research strategy that must be adopted before data can be collected, categorized, and statistically analyzed. Then, new conclusions can be put forth in the form of models or theories that require further testing. Social science is empirical, meaning that patterns can be described, predicted and explained. The goal is to be able to make explanatory generalizations that are applicable across different social environments, cultures, and time periods, and to make sense out of unfolding contemporary social, economic, and historical events. Social scientists recognize cause and effect in social relations and attempt to identify the factors that produce the varieties of social and behavioral patterns observed in societies. The actual research strategy emerges from a wide range of methods, such as laboratory experiments, surveys, participant observation, in-depth interviews, the construction of mathematical modeling and/or simulations, or comparative library research. Analysis permits inferences from the data which are often supported by statistical techniques or methods.

  • Thus, in a social science class designated to fulfill a social science requirement students will be introduced to these research methods, processes and procedures, either through the works of others, through lectures, student classroom experiences or local field work.

The social sciences cannot be separated from the actual cultures, peoples, and institutions with which they concern themselves. In teaching these subjects, faculty should encourage students to see that they are not merely engaging in dispassionate, analytical exercises. They are engaging topics that will help to make them better people and better citizens of their world.

  • Thus, in a social science class designated to fulfill a social science requirement students should gain an appreciation for the diversity of societies and cultures around the world. Students will become acquainted with the complexity of the choices facing human beings as well as with the potential social and political consequences of the paths they take. Students should become aware of the competing organizations and institutional opportunities for realizing one’s conceptions of justice and the good life.

Approved April 20, 2005, by Academic Council