What are Social Sciences?

Social sciences are a group of academic disciplines dedicated to examining society. This branch of science studies how people interact with each other, behave, develop as a culture, and influence the world.

Understanding Social Sciences

Social sciences help to explain how society works, exploring everything from the triggers of economic growth and causes of unemployment to what makes people happy. This information is vital and can be used for many purposes. Among other things, it helps to shape corporate strategies and government policies.

Social science as a field of study is separate from the natural sciences, which cover topics such as physics, biology, and chemistry. Social science examines the relationships between individuals and societies, as well as the development and operation of societies, rather than studying the physical world. These academic disciplines rely more heavily on interpretation and qualitative research methodologies.

The social sciences include:

  • Anthropology
  • Economics
  • Political science
  • Sociology
  • Social psychology

History is also sometimes regarded as a social science, although many historians often consider the subject to share closer links to the humanities. Both humanities and social sciences study human beings. What separates them is technique: humanities are viewed as more philosophical and less scientific. Law, too, has some ties to social sciences, as does geography.

In the U.S., early education of social sciences begins in elementary school and progresses throughout middle and high school with an emphasis on core social sciences such as economics and political science. At the collegiate level, more specialized disciplines are offered.

History of Social Sciences

The origins of social sciences can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. The lives they led, and their early studies into human nature, the state, and mortality, helped to shape Western civilization.

Social science as an academic field of study developed out of the Age of Enlightenment (or the Age of Reason), which flourished through much of the 18th century in Europe. Adam Smith, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot, Immanuel Kant, and David Hume were among the big intellectuals at the time who laid the foundations for the study of social sciences in the Western World. 

Individuals began to take a more disciplined approach to quantify their observations of society, and over time, similar aspects of society, such as linguistics and psychology, were separated into unique fields of study. 

Examples of Social Sciences

Nowadays, colleges and universities offer numerous social science programs. For example, The University of California, Berkeley has 12 academic departments categorized as social sciences. They are:

  • African American Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Demography
  • Economics
  • Ethnic Studies
  • Gender and Women's Studies
  • Geography
  • History
  • Linguistics
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

Master's degree and Ph.D. programs at colleges and universities offer further opportunity for deeper specialization.