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Social science is a branch of learning that examines society and the relationships among individuals within society. It encompasses various disciplines like sociology, psychology, political science, economics, anthropology, and more. Essays on social science might explore methodologies, theories, or the practical applications of social science findings in policy making and social change. They could also discuss the interrelations between social science and other disciplines like natural sciences or humanities. A substantial compilation of free essay instances related to Social Science you can find in Papersowl database. You can use our samples for inspiration to write your own essay, research paper, or just to explore a new topic for yourself.

Sociology as a Social Science Uses Critical Analysis

Sociology, as a social science, employs critical analysis and empirical investigation methods in its approach to probing questions arising from social concerns. An organization is a social unit explicitly structured to carry out and pursue specific tasks. Therefore as an organizational leader, a sociological perspective has helped me to better understand social relationships, behavior, activities, and changes in an interconnected world (Perspective, 2020). Moreover, it has enabled me to observe and better comprehend both familiar and unfamiliar social occurrences. In […]

My Love for Mathematics Since Childhood

It all started from my childhood, I loved mathematics to the extent that I used to teach pupils like me. At primary 3, I became the best student in mathematics and was given six books as a prize. Many parents usually strongly urge their children to choose medicine, pharmacy, and the like as their preferred courses at the end of secondary school, but my parents realized early on that I will thrive in a mathematics and logical thinking related course. […]

The Benefits of Reading Books

Keeping your mind clear requires brain training. Without a load, any organ is subject to degradation. The best brain trainer is reading. Reading is an intellectual meal for the brain, a vitamin that activates mental activity. Increasing your intellectual level is the key to a successful career and life in general.Useful reading (reading good books) broadens a person's horizons, enriches his inner world, makes him smarter and has a positive effect on memory. Reading books increases a person's vocabulary, contributes […]

The Effect of Poverty on Child Obesity

Examine the effect of poverty on child obesity through the lens of Karl Marx’s Conflict Theory. For this paper, a focus was placed on examining the link between children in lower-income flower-in communities and an increased occurrence of childhood obesity. The paper reviews current literature on this social problem and provides sociological background information, the global perspective, and future implications utilizing sociological theory. Literature Review Background Many factors can affect a child’s eating habits. Their influence through peers, lifestyle habits, […]

Med School Personal Statement

The ability of physicians to examine their patients in intense environments with professionalism and not only nurture patients physically but also emotionally has always intrigued me from an early age itself. However, my love for science and the human body was initially sparked when in 2015 my younger sister slipped from a swing and heavily injured her head. The way doctors treated my sister by remaining calm even in the most profound situations truly intrigued and fascinated me. My continued […]

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Explaining the Relationship between Logic and Critical Thinking

The definition of logic begins as the science that studies rational thought. The author explains that employing logical principles in our everyday lives can help us determine goals and accomplish them in a genuine way. Logic is divided into three sections: induction, which allows us to complete our daily activities (the author provides a perfect example of being in the dark and needing to turn on the light- we've learned from the past that flipping the switch turns the light […]

How Software Engineering and Nanotechnology Can be Related

The technology is evolving every day and humanity is relying on it more than anticipated. Scientists trying to figure out how to preserve the ecosystem with different devices. Today, Software development has been essential throughout research understanding computer language and becoming part of our nature. The next level to really see the future, right in front of us, must be Nano scales or Nanotechnology. With this, we can do so much in every field; Find cure of many diseases, build […]

Sexual Assault and Memory Effects

Introduction Majority of people would agree that sexual assault is bad, but in what ways? We know that it can be very damaging to the individual who has experienced such a traumatic event and in some cases it can be life altering. This literature review explores the different possible ways in which experiencing sexual assault could affect memory. Some research shows that it is more damaging to the self-concept, like self-esteem rather than have an effect on memory. There has […]

Data Mining in Social Media Marketing

Advertising is an effective way to promote a business, product, or service. It is a process that can be used in multiple formats, with online, television, and video being some of the more effective ways in our generation. More than $500 billion is spent on advertising each year; roughly $4 billion is spent on Facebook advertisements alone (Kwiatkowski). Due to our generation’s high usage of technology and media, kids’ exposure to advertisements is at a record high, adding yet another demographic to a company’s potential […]

The Literary Work, Utopias: a Brief History from Ancient Writings to Virtual Communities

Written by Howard Segal explores the past and present ideas of utopias. It features the first ancient Greece utopia all the way through the virtual world which engulfs people today. Segal explains the reasons behind a utopia and what purposes they serve, he also explains how the utopias themselves have changed over time as with the communities that perceive them. The book also informs the readers of the many different types of utopias there are/were such as, physical communities, political […]

The Science of Happiness

50 students from the California State University, Northridge were used for the research study.All participants are a undergrads in the Psychology program at Cal State Northridge and are 18 years of age or older who are looking to earn credit for their Psy 150 class and signed up voluntarily through SOMA, an online human participant pool which allows students to sign up for studies. Materials The materials used in this study included a debriefing form as well as a consent […]

Brave New World: how Society Manipulates Children’s Consciousness

Huxley’s Brave New World portrays humans being controlled by science and their government. A science experiment so to speak. Taking away people’s freedom of choice doesn’t make life less stressful, happy or fulfilling. In chapter 2 pages 19-23 the scene shows the grim reality of Huxley showing how the human mind can be controlled. The director takes the students to a nursery to watch this in action. Nurses present babies with bowls filled to the top with blossoms. Before the […]

The World on the Turtle’s Back

Great A'Tuin is a rare fictional giant tortoise species living in outer space. On the turtle's back are four giant elephants, which, in turn, hold on their backs a huge Disc covered with a blue dome of the atmosphere. The elephants are named Berilia, Tubul, Great T'Fon and Jerakin. According to the theory of the "Fifth Elephant", there were originally five elephants, but one elephant could not stay on the turtle's back and, flying in orbit around it, crashed into […]

The Purposed Next-Generation of Epidemiological Crime Models

After decades of rising crime in the United States, the crime rate has unexpectedly plummeted—a trend that has continued until very recently. Although crime was a topic of interest long before this phenomenon occurred, the drop has provided opportunities for researchers to explore the determinants of crime and the effectiveness of different preventative methods. In recent years, there have been several constructions and analyses of mathematical models of crime utilizing various methods, including agent-based modeling, ordinary and partial differential equations, […]

Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”

Aldous Huxley’s "Brave New World" represents the most perfect social system with maximum madness. The system itself is chaos, the society is based off drugs and sex. All of the science is considered to be the basic powers controlling the system, the progress of the system was illustrated in the beginning of the story, all laid out. However, the most essential scientific goals in the novel that are mostly focused on the implementation of total control over the citizens of […]

My Experience in Helping People with the Help of Psychology

Since I was first introduced to the subject science, I was very passionate about it. I often sit there and observe people wondering, why they are so diverse? Struggling with attention or eating disorders? As well as finding out the answers to these questions, I want to help people and I am confident that Psychology will allow me to do that. At high school, my favourite subject was science and thus I came to the decision of studying BTEC Applied […]

Descartes’ Wax Example: Empiricism Vs. Rationalism Vs. Skepticism

Empiricism: Distinguishing Direct Observations from Layered Beliefs One misunderstanding is the confusion of empiricism with empirical studies. Empiricism doesn't have a monopoly on empirical studies however represents specific views on how studies ought to be done. Empiricism is the philosophical stance that observations and sensory experiences ought to be regarded as the foremost vital or sole methodology to realize information. All controversies ought to ideally be reduced to claims which will be verified by observations. It's obvious that not all […]

Career Exploration

For my first journal, I am writing about the lifespan development. The physical and cognitive moves occur in every part of a person's life. Lifespan development inspect how we adjust and grow from conception to death. It can be achieved based across three developmental areas: physical development, biological development, cognitive development, and socioemotional development. Theories in developmental psychology shape by unconscious processes by early experiences. Cognitive theories by John Piaget development based upon natural desire to solve problems in our […]

Personality Temperaments

There are unique qualities each person brings to their organization through differing personality types and temperaments. Knowing and understanding personal differences and personality diversity can unlock employee potential, increase performance and boost job satisfaction. Understanding one’s personality type can illuminate preferences, strengths, weaknesses and areas for continued improvement. Furthermore, personality differences are connected to distinct biblical truths that illuminate this world’s need for individuals with differing gifts and how to apply them. This paper explores the author’s Myers-Briggs personality test […]

The Scientific Method from Observations to Hypotheses, Predictions

The textbook called "Essentials of Physical Anthropology" is defining about the scientific method as "an empirical research method in which data are gathered from observations of phenomena, hypotheses are formulated and tested, and conclusions are drawn that validate or modify the original hypotheses." More specifically, the scientific method is a research method that can be verified in a systematic and objective way. In order for a study to be scientific, five processes must be fulfilled: observations, hypothesis, predictions, test, and […]

From Mechanical Engineering to Cyber Security

My name is Srikanth Reddy Thummeti, and I was born in August 1991 in India. I come from a family that values education. Both of my sisters obtained a master’s degree in chemistry from Kakatiya University in India. My sisters and the rest of my family have been a constant source of inspiration for me. In my earlier education, I consistently performed well in the subjects focusing on science and mathematics, and this strength largely influenced my decision to pursue […]

Instant Messaging as a Way to Overcome Shyness Barrier

Ding ding! Suddenly you get that dopamine rush to your system from the notification you just received. As I write this, the urge to look over my phone again and waste my time on something useless like instant messaging is strong. But rather, is it such an improvident use of technology? Some may argue it is true that messaging through virtual channels can prevent us from developing interpersonal skills. However, the ability to interconnect with the world at any time, […]

What is your American Dream: Personal Perspectives on Aspirations and Success

Interpreting the American Dream: A Mosaic of Perspectives The concept of the American Dream has multiple interpretations, unique to each individual. John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Lorraine Hansberry's Raisin in the Sun, Walt Whitman's "America," and Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" collectively illustrate the objective of the American Dream. My definition of the topic is evident through these works, the idea that everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve their dream but those who work persistently towards it have […]

Is Affirmative Action Still Necessary in Achieving Equality: the Complex Debate

Every American wants equality in some form or fashion. As a country, we can never achieve equality due to the fact that the citizens are unable to agree on what it looks like. I have been able to improve my critical thinking of what equality should look like through our readings and class discussions on the topics of economics, abortion, gender, and racial discrimination. Economic Systems and the Impediments to Equality Economic equality should not be desirable in the U.S. […]

Philosophy of Education Essay: Advocacy and Transformation in Special Education

Standing Firm: A Life-Saving Decision Guided by Intuition and Advocacy for a Student's Well-Being One day asked to teach something that isn't developmentally appropriate, how will your philosophy guide you? Because, in the end, all that fluff really doesn't matter. I think I've become bolder. I listen but don't react. I give myself time to process the caucus around me. I refused to put the child on the bus. I felt myself getting red in the face, I was never […]

Procrastination Unveiled: Tim Urban’s Insightful Dive into Delayed Decisions

Decoding Urban's Approach: The Relatable Charm of Discussing Procrastination Procrastination is a common practice for humans that involves delaying tasks and responsibilities. All of us have or will, at a certain point, struggle with postponing, avoiding, and ultimately procrastinating on matters that are important to us. It reflects our continuous struggle with self-control and hard work. In his Ted talk 'Inside the Mind of a master procrastinator,' Tim Urban explains what procrastination is and how it works. As a writer-blogger, […]

Exercising Beyond Barriers: Embracing Change

From Marching Band to Daily Movement: Rediscovering the Joy of Exercise Exercising is an important key to feeling good and staying healthy. It goes beyond just trying to look good, but also allowing a person to enjoy a better life. I chose to change my lazy behavior to better my health. I want to start feeling good about myself as well as motivating the people around me. My goal is to get a few minutes of daily exercise. While I […]

Personality: Biological Roots and Adaptive Dimensions

Interplay of Biology and Experience: The Evolution of Personal Identity  Personality is what separates us from one another and makes us distinct and unique. It makes us who we are. Personality can be changed, developed, and nurtured. Personality originates from both nature and nurture. Within this essay, we will delve into the biological influences on personality. Two biological systems impact human personality. Personality development is influenced by biological factors. Biological trends reveal differences between introverts and extroverts. Research indicates that […]

Saving an Endangered Epecies: the Question of Ethics

The amount of gene disorders in American has risen significantly over the past few years. According to Global Genes, “rare diseases affect one in [every] ten Americans.” From this statistic, it is fairly assumed that 30 million people have a rare disease in the United States alone (Global Genes). Food and Drug Administration processes are long and expensive. The waiting time to get a new medication or therapy approved is too long to keep up with the newly emerging health […]

The Horizontal World: Growing up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere

The Horizontal World is a biomythography about a farming youth in the provincial Midwest. It follows the tale of the motivation toward resistance and flight that accompanies being brought into the world to a cruel, excellent, and disconnected spot. An individual record of outmigration, the journal brings the story round trip, showing how one who is from a provincial spot like North Dakota can grapple with its troublesome exercises and hard love. Maybe the facts confirm that, as Thomas Wolfe […]

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essay about social science disciplines

  • Can Social Science Matter?
  • From Our Archives

Social Science and Contemporary Social Problems

Published in March of 1969, this essay by then SSRC president Henry Riecken grapples with many of the same issues raised by Prewitt and his interlocutors in “ Can Social Science Matter? ” The major upheavals of that historical moment are not discussed in any detail in Riecken’s essay, but they clearly influenced the timing and the content, as Riecken discusses how social science can contribute to addressing public problems, the differences between the social sciences and the natural sciences and engineering in this regard, and the limits to the ways in which social science can contribute given how it is organized and incentivized. Riecken concludes with an extremely prescient analysis of the ethical dimensions of certain kinds of social science work, specifically social experimentation and the collection and use of what we now call “big data.”

The social sciences, like the physical or biological sciences, are intellectual subjects, directed primarily toward understanding, rather than action. It would of course be a curious kind of “understanding” that had no implications for action, and this is perhaps especially true for the social sciences. Nevertheless, there is a difference between enlarging one’s understanding of human behavior and society on the one hand and trying to solve a social problem on the other. The social sciences are distinct from social problem solving, but each can contribute to the other.

During the last few years there has been a significant change in popular attitudes and expectations in the United States regarding social change and social problems. A renewed determination to ameliorate certain long-standing, as well as recently developed, ills of the society has arisen along with a sense of power and confidence in its ability to do so.

In looking for ways in which to implement this desire for self-control, for directed rather than accidental improvement, a good many leaders of society have begun to turn, increasingly expectant, to the social sciences. Some have asked what the social sciences can contribute to the venture. Others have assumed that these sciences have a great deal to contribute to a better society and that they need only to be force-fed (the recommended diet varies from prescriber to prescriber) in order to grow faster and to make their contribution larger.

The social sciences do have a contribution to make to social practice, but not so large a contribution as they will make if helped to develop properly. At this point in history, the magnitude of major social problems exceeds the capacity of social scientists to solve them.

Such expectations have been entertained before. In the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first decade or so of the twentieth, social scientists of the day offered advice to the progressive political and social movements of the times. As David Truman has pointed out, these political scientists and sociologists operated not only from a weak position in the political structure, but also with an almost total lack of theoretical sophistication, quite nonrigorous methods, and few facts about the systems on which they were advising. 1 David B. Truman, “The Social Sciences and Public Policy: Maturity Brings Problems of Relevance and Training,” Science , 160: 508-512, May 8, 1968. They were intellectually premature and too ready to claim relevance. Their efforts fell far short of expectations, both their own and expectations of those who, from outside the disciplines, had called upon them.

Social scientists had another try during the early years of the New Deal when economists especially, but sociologists and political scientists too, were invited into government and other institutions to develop programs, plans, and social devices for dealing with the Great Depression. The novel thinking of agricultural economists and the resultant development of institutions for what was then known as “farm relief” were considerably more successful than the efforts of the social reformers of the early 1900s had been.

One reason for the relatively greater success of the applied economics of the New Deal was that there had been developing in the United States a considerable sophistication in economics as a discipline, together with a good empirical base of data that had been accumulated over the prior decades. In comparison with today’s data base, that of the 1930s was poor and small; but it was a vast improvement over the virtual data vacuum of 1900. Another reason for the relative success was probably the degree of desperation that gripped the country and led to a willingness to try the somewhat radical measures that were proposed by economists; partly because people were willing to try the measures, they were successful. Still another opportunity for the social sciences came during World War II when psychologists and anthropologists especially made significant contributions to the prosecution of the war and the government of occupied territories.

Social scientists are currently being offered a fourth opportunity to display what they have to offer toward the solution of what is now a fairly well-standardized, if incomplete, list of problems: poverty, racial segregation and discrimination, urban decay and the strangulation of transportation, human and mechanical pollution of the environment, and a perceived increase in the incidence of crimes of violence. Will social scientists succeed better this time in living up to the expectations that face them? What can and should be done to make possible greater success?

There are several purely scientific difficulties in applying social science successfully to the solution of social problems. Limitations of space prevent their adequate discussion here. 2 These issues are taken up in the longer article in Social Science Information cited below. Their importance is such that they must at least be mentioned, however, and they require persistent scientific effort in order to improve the capacity of the social science disciplines to cope with social problems. There are three major scientific issues: so-called “Hawthorne effects” or changes in behavior which result from the fact that individuals are subjects in an experimental study; the inadequacies of existing data about social problems and individual behavior and the defects of indirect data; and finally the manipulability of social factors that are variables in social scientific analyses of problems. These are difficult scientific problems, but not impossible of solution. Furthermore, much headway can be made in applying social science without fully solving them.

Over the decades in the social sciences, the tendency has been to develop internal concerns, to define their own problems and not to accept, as their subject matter, the social problems of the contemporary and surrounding society. This tendency is attributable to forces intrinsic to the disciplines themselves, especially to conceptual redefinition of problems and to methodological or technical developments. A social scientist who undertakes to work on a practical problem, not as a wise man or a clever consultant, but as a scientist, quickly finds that the popular, or commonsense, statement of the problem is either incomplete or misleading; that “the” problem is really many problems, only some of which fall within the disciplinary or scientific scope; and that there are severe inadequacies in the methodological or technical equipment that he has for dealing with “the” practical problem. Sometimes the scientist examines the “real world” because some part of it has solved a problem and the scientist wants to know how the solution works. After he understands how it works he can sometimes improve upon the solution, but the basic movement of his thought is always away from the practical and toward abstract knowledge.

The social scientist gets driven back to more fundamental questions that bear less and less resemblance to the practical problem until they appear to be irrelevant; furthermore, some of the more fundamental questions raised in this way take on a life of their own and become genuinely dissociated from practical problems. They form, instead, the central conceptual or methodological core of the science as such. Thus, over a period of time, a social science can grow more abstract and become increasingly concerned with questions that confront it as an intellectual enterprise per se and that require solutions whether or not they bear upon the social problems of the day.

If these intrinsic intellectual forces were the only ones at work, a discipline would gradually lose all relevance. However, exogenous factors also have some influence. For example, some people become social scientists who have a genuine interest in solving social problems and retain it despite the professionalizing experiences of graduate study. Market forces are also effective, especially grants from both private foundations and government agencies to support applied social research.

The opportunity for a career in an applied field of social science is a market factor of importance. The very existence of professional economic consulting firms as private, nonacademic enterprises holds out the possibility of a career outside the academic world, and may tempt a young man who finds practical affairs more challenging than the intellectual world. The development of clinical psychology was greatly aided by the demands of the Veterans Administration directly after World War II for diagnostic and therapeutic help at its hospitals and clinics.

Another factor of importance is prestige. The social sciences are primarily academic enterprises, more so than either the biological or physical sciences, and the academic portion of the discipline is not only overwhelmingly larger than other sectors but also overpoweringly more prestigious. The physical and the biological sciences, on the other hand, have substantial nonacademic sectors that are intellectually and scientifically influential, as well as of great and evident practical importance.

The prestige which most social scientists attach to academic social science may or may not be justified but it is a fact. The low status of applied work is probably undeserved, but it too is a fact, and one that may discourage some first-rate scholars who are status conscious from entering early upon a career in applied social science. The origins of this low status lie partly in the earlier relative failures of social scientists to deal adequately and successfully with social problems. Even where applied social research has developed and has attracted competent people, it still has been applied research rather than what is called “development” (in the Research and Development sense) or “engineering.”

Most applied social research has been concentrated on the analysis of situations explaining or accounting for a given state of affairs; or the measurement of outcomes—and the degree of success of some action in reaching a stated objective. There has been less attention to preparing new means for taking action or recommending how a user should proceed in order to achieve success.

The production of recommendations for action goes beyond research and indeed beyond science, into what is properly termed “development” rather than “research,” or “engineering” rather than “science.” The distinction is more than verbal—it is a whole complex: a state of mind, institutional auspices, cross-disciplinary relations, communication with nonscientists, and employment of nonscientific resources and nonscientific skills.

“Development” or “engineering” calls primarily for an inventive and constructive attitude, more than an analytic and differentiating one. The scientist is usually trying to unscramble a given complex situation to see how its components work. An engineer is usually trying to put together a device or a process to achieve a given purpose. The scientific process is analytic; the engineering process is synthetic. The scientist’s creativity is conceptual, in producing imaginative new principles or connections between concepts. An engineer’s creativity is in tangible inventions of things or processes that have a causative or productive relationship to a desired end.

Except in very limited and spotty areas, social development or social engineering does not exist. Examples of social engineering can be found in economics in the development of fiscal and monetary policies, and in psychology in new forms of psychotherapy (especially behavior therapy), programmed instruction, human relations training, the training of managers, and the social organization of production units in firms.

Organizational influences

The development of an applied social science or a social engineering may proceed faster through professional schools (especially business and medicine) than through disciplinary departments in universities. The academically based research and teaching unit in the social sciences is affected by forces that hinder this sort of development. Some are organizational, some scientific; some derive from the institutional arrangements for the conduct of research in the social sciences. Most research is done in academic settings by part-time or short-term workers, i.e., by professors and graduate students.

The former have teaching and administrative responsibilities that take up part of their time, the latter have a primary short-term interest in completing a dissertation and getting on in the world. The former work part time on a research problem, the latter leave it for other places or other problems after a relatively short time. Thus, many social science research problems are “thesis-sized” because they are selected for that reason.

This tendency is abetted by the current system of project grants which tends to emphasize short-term investigation of discrete problems rather than long-term, exploratory and persistent pursuit of a problem, a phenomenon, or a method. The absence of a tradition of long-term research careers on a full-time basis, the inflexibility of space that makes it hard to expand and contract the size of a long-term project as such changes become necessary, the varying requirements for skilled labor in interviewing and data processing (currently eased by computer applications), all contribute to sporadic interest, easy discouragement, and lack of persistence.

On the other hand, the real basic advances in social science seem more likely to occur in settings—such as disciplinary departments—that are relatively free of the pressures to devise immediate solutions, to work with client systems, and to attend to the range of extra-scientific considerations that are involved in solving social problems. A convincing argument can be made that the most pressing needs of social science are methodological and that the greatest opportunities for strengthening the social sciences lie in improving methods of research and developing more powerful theories. Indeed, a considerable amount of the advance in social science that has taken place in the last few decades has come about through basic research of this sort, conducted in disciplinary departments.

Thus conventional disciplinary departments and institutes that are genuinely embedded in universities can be counted on to provide the social scientific underpinning for solving social problems, but should not be counted on for the actual problem-oriented work itself.

The latter task should be the responsibility of institutions that have less formidable intellectual responsibilities, and are free of the primary educational obligation. Furthermore, applied social research institutions ought to have some closer firsthand contact with social problems and the agencies that can take effective action on the problems.

Requirements for social science contributions to social problems

Where then should the responsibility for social science contributions to the solution of social problems be located? The phrasing of the question suggests part of the answer for, in the first place, a social problem rarely bears a one-to-one correspondence to social science, and almost never bears such a correspondence to any single social science discipline. All social problems are interdisciplinary in the sense that they require, for adequate solution, the efforts of more than one kind of scientist and usually of more than just scientists or engineers. Hence, the first requirement of an applied social research agency is that its professional personnel be drawn from a variety of disciplines (both within and outside the social sciences).

A second requirement, much harder to achieve, is that the assembled members of these disciplines be able to work together productively and effectively. This requirement demands first-rate scholars, not only curious about the problem at hand but also inquisitive about each other’s fields and capable of learning from each other. Willingness to listen and curiosity are more important than anything else, since transfer of training among social scientists is entirely possible, and it may even help in the solution of, say, a psychological problem if an anthropologist without any particular training in psychology gets to thinking about it.

A third requirement is that the team has full opportunity to perform its functions of engineering and development. This requires certain kinds of facilities: buildings and computers—especially adequate “software” to go with the computing machinery and all the programming and other technical help that can be provided. One of the most useful techniques in social engineering is the simulation of the social processes that are believed to underlie the social problem. In many cases these simulations will have to substitute for experimentation because of the size or other intractable features of the problem.

A fourth requirement is long-term funding commensurate with the size of the social problem. It is a commonplace of American politics that social problems must be solved quickly. We are abjured to waste no more time in eliminating segregation, discrimination, poverty, crime, and unemployment. But while sense of crisis may impel movement, a lot of it is waste motion. We are too impetuous and not persistent enough in trying to solve social problems. Problems need sustained study, trials of many different kinds of solution rather than one-shot panaceas arranged overnight by agencies that are funded on an annual basis and publicly criticized for lack of instant success.

Problems in utilization of social science

One of the most interesting points about social science contributions to the solution of social problems is that the process of introducing the changes necessary to solve the problem is in itself a problem in social science.

Before introducing changes into a quasi-stationary situation, the decision maker must consider a number of factors that affect the chances of success. First, he must consider the acceptability of his proposals to all the people involved in the situation; and the harm, damage, or deprivation that some of them may experience. Next, he must assess the effectiveness of the methods he expects to use to attract the attention and arouse willingness to explore, and the capacity he has to teach people new ways of behaving. Finally, he must try to adjust the incentive and inhibitory factors in the situation so as to stabilize the new equilibrium and maintain the change he aims to bring about. Almost all of these problems exist in one form or another in utilization of the products of biological and physical sciences, too. But these sciences have not only an engineering or developmental branch that puts their ideas into usable form, but also a marketing mechanism—a set of activities and relationships that handles these problems or is so constituted that it can afford to ignore some of them.

On the whole, the marketing mechanisms for social inventions and devices do not parallel those for physical and biological technology. There are at least three reasons for this. In the first place, until recently, there have been few social inventions or devices that could not be marketed or disseminated either through existing political mechanisms in the public sector, or through publication, or through the establishment of a professional group such as clinical psychologists. It may be that marketing mechanisms will spring up in response to the appearance of new items to be marketed.

For example, there are profit-making companies which now seem to be interested in developing and selling, as well as installing, new curricular materials and instructional procedures in the schools; and industrial firms have contracted to operate schemes for the alleviation of poverty—usually through retraining of the unskilled or underskilled. This trend has yet to be evaluated, but it could alter profoundly the nature of the process of social change. Secondly, there is difficulty in protecting property rights in intangible social technology. If the product is an idea, an attitude, a routine, it is hard to copyright and generally impossible to patent. The absence of protection of exclusive rights makes the prospect of investing in a marketing organization less attractive to an entrepreneur. Thirdly, much of the technological product of the social sciences has to do with the public rather than with the private sector of the economy, and is valuable for its distributive effect on the total society rather than for its enhancement of the quality of life of one individual at a time. Add to this the fact that a good many social inventions cannot be assigned a unit value, and one can see that the marketing mechanism must be the state in some form, rather than private enterprise.

Public policy issues in the application of social science

Some questions of public policy are raised by research and development activities in the social sciences. For example, what should be the public policy toward deliberate social experimentation, especially toward concealed experiments, in which the subjects are not aware that they are involved in an experiment? There are scientific reasons for concealment but the public policy problem is whether the probable gains from conducting such an experiment outweigh the ethical undesirability of acting in a less than open fashion. There is something repugnant about concealment of purpose, even when the motives for it are disinterested and no one is harmed. There is something upsetting about discovering that what one thought was a real and natural flow of events was instead a carefully contrived sequence of moves deliberately planned to accomplish a preconceived purpose.

The benefits to the general public welfare have to be balanced against these possible disadvantages. If experimental purpose must be concealed in order to obtain valid knowledge that will lead to improved social policies at a relatively low cost, not only in money but in mistakes and discomforts visited upon citizens, then the undesirable features of a concealed experiment may be outweighed by its advantages. The judgment cannot be made a priori for all cases; it must depend in each instance on the estimated costs and the anticipated benefits. Perhaps the more significant public policy question is: Who shall make the judgment?

On a more general level, one may raise questions in terms of a conflict between two values: the advancement of knowledge, and the personal integrity and convenience of the individual citizen. Nowhere does this conflict become more explicit than in questions concerning invasion of individual privacy, especially in regard to the collection of detailed data about individuals and their maintenance in files that are presumably to be used for research purposes.

The issues here turn around safeguards as to how the data will be used, and in how much detail the data will be kept. Briefly summarized, what has been proposed is that certain kinds of data which are now regularly collected by various agencies (central and local authorities and perhaps private agencies, too), but kept in separate files and published only in aggregated forms be made available for research purposes on a disaggregated basis.

More specifically it is proposed that data about individuals such as employment, income, savings, or expenditures be collected and stored in such a way that it would be possible to match the information from these separate series, by individuals. The anonymity of the individual and the confidentiality of the information would presumably be maintained as they are now. The data system would be used for research purposes, not for administrative ones.

Whether the very existence of a national data system would tempt those with legitimate access to make illegitimate use of the data is a much more serious question, going well beyond the data system per se. The question really turns around one’s estimate of the likelihood of “big brotherism”—of a controlling government and a controlled society, and of the role the social sciences might play in bringing about such a situation or maintaining it. As our society grows in density of population, in interdependence, in complexity and technological sophistication, the need for rational planning and for the thoughtful and foresighted management of our affairs grows apace. And so does the need for vigilance in the defense of individual liberty, since there is always, as there always has been, the tempting possibility for those in power to “simplify” their problems by wielding their power in ways that constrict freedom and constrain the less powerful.

There is no reason, however, to see the social sciences as more culpable or more threatening than other kinds of science and technological development. The power of the state is increased by the development of sophisticated weapons for its police, more efficient communication among them, and by devices that enable eavesdropping at a distance and through a wall. There are dangers in pharmacological control of behavior. Individual freedom can be abridged by the architecture of our dwellings and the design of our transportation, as well as by the laws which govern minimum wages, welfare payments, and income tax exemptions.

In fact, the social sciences can help to make us aware of threats to our freedom while giving us greater power to control our own behavior in constructive ways, helping us to be more tolerant of diversity, to learn to live together in greater harmony, less violently and more satisfyingly. If we are to reap these benefits, however, we must work at understanding ourselves and our society, at perfecting a social science that is capable of meeting the challenges of our future.

Henry W. Riecken (1917–2012) was an eminent social scientist who served as president of the Social Science Research Council between 1966 and 1971. He was also the first director of the National Science Foundation’s social science division. He also served on the faculties of Harvard University, University of Minnesota, and University of Pennsylvania.

This essay originally appeared in Items Vol. 23, Issue 1 in the spring of 1969. Visit our archives to view the original as it first appeared in the print editions of Items .

essay about social science disciplines

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101 Social Science Essay Topics

🏆 best essay topics on social science, ✍️ social science essay topics for college, 🎓 most interesting social science research titles, 💡 simple social science essay ideas, ❓ social science research questions.

  • Humanities, Social Science, and Natural Sciences
  • Interdisciplinary Approach in Social Science
  • Social Sciences: A World Without Leadership
  • What Is Meant By Social Science Paradigms?
  • Social Sciences: Current Realities, and Future Trends
  • Social Sciences and Organizational Behavior
  • Action Research and Its Types in Social Sciences
  • Philosophy of Social Science and Education Research This paper will be aimed at examining various issues such as the concept of falsifiability and the use of various research paradigms.
  • Advertisements in Terms of the Social Science The way male and female relationships are portrayed in some advertisements made me think and analyze how I see this interaction in real life.
  • Art Therapy in Social Sciences Mood and emotional reactions to various art during therapy are crucial pointers to the psychological aspects of a person.
  • Application of Research in Social Sciences Reflection Paper The purpose of this reflective paper is to explore the roles of research and its relevant applications in the disciplines of social science.
  • Plastic Pollution Through the Lens of Social Sciences When analyzing the problem through the lens of social sciences, it becomes clear that the problem of plastic pollution is complicated.
  • Social Sciences: Postdevelopment Literature and Theories The paper is on Post-development literature where the fundamentals of development are evaluated from the perspective of Rostow’s development theory and Wolfgang Sachs’ approach.
  • Rational Choice Theories in Social Sciences Rational choice theories (RCT) are examined in terms of the economic, political, criminal, and religious aspects, as well as the everyday application of RCT.
  • The Problems and the Future of Social Sciences it is difficult to predict the future of social sciences, but I believe that the efficiency of political and economic scientists will depend on the mindset of elected leaders.
  • The Definition of Social Sciences This paper explains the definition of social sciences. It is the study of human beings in a society that explains the choices they make and their consequences.
  • Sexual Health Through Natural and Social Sciences Lens The paper aims to analyze the issue from a scientific perspective and recognize the way it can help to address and resolve the sexual health and identity problem.
  • Cultural Artifacts Through History and Social Science Lenses Cultural artifacts tell different stories based on the lens being viewed. This paper aims to explore the interaction between history and social science perspectives.
  • Development of Meaning: Social Science Value The paper argues that social science is an instrumental lens through which the development of meaning occurs, and new ideas are created to address social ills and injustices.
  • Social Science and Sexuality: Aspects of Feminism The life of human beings on this Earth has always been a very complicated matter. This has been so due to some factors – natural, physical, psychological, and others.
  • Research Methods for Business and Social Science Students When conducting rigorous research into a topical issue, it is natural to expect serious challenges at each stage.
  • Predicting the Replicability of Social Science Lab Experiments The quality of work is the most significant factor for any academic organization. A research process for any scientific project requires careful evaluation of information sources.
  • Saputo Inc. Cage Analysis: Humanities and Social Sciences The company may consider an additional expansion into Asia if there is a nation that can accommodate it and demand is sufficient.
  • Course Social Sciences of Sport Soccer is a popular sport known to promote the sustainable existence of community members. Plays have a special place in human culture.
  • Theories of Aging in Social Sciences By studying sociological theories of aging, one can discover many important aspects of personality and society, taking into account each person’s many years of experience.
  • Ethics as a Social Science Field The paper aims to highlight some of the primary conceptualizations integrated into the study of morality, including natural law, human rights, ethics of care, and virtue ethics.
  • Social Sciences: Religious Individualization Seneca does not object to slavery in and of itself, and there are several reasons for it. The author sees the reality as slavery.
  • Philosophy and Social Sciences The paper describes the theory of knowledge skepticism and considers the skeptic’s charge that we can never be confident about the reliability of our usual sources of knowledge.
  • Analyzing Tests and Scales in Social Science The paper at hand provides a brief review of the tests and scales applied to data measurement in social science.
  • The Meaning and the Purpose of Social Science Social sciences are essential for exploring the relationships and interconnections of human beings, including the conditions that limit their lives.
  • Social Sciences: African American Stereotypes Dating back to the colonial years of settlement, stereotypes have been part of America, especially after inheriting slavery.
  • Theory and Methodology in Social Science Research It is vital to provide research on the methodology applied to work out mass media influence on perceptions of gender.
  • Natural & Social Science Grade 3 Classroom Library One of the professional tasks of a teacher is to compile a methodologically adequate list of literature-references, which can be organically incorporated into the learning process.
  • Sampling Strategies for Social Sciences Study In simple random sampling techniques, each component of the population is given an equal opportunity or probability of being selected into the sample.
  • Sociologists as Heroes of Social Sciences The paper presents short biographies of outstanding sociologists. The historical significance of their activities is rather difficult to overestimate.
  • Social Science Perspectives on the Autism Spectrum This report will discuss autism, its characteristics, causes, diagnosis, and management. Autism refers to developmental disorder that impedes a person’s ability to communicate and relate to people.
  • Social Science Loosely Defined Critique Commonsense Commonsense Word Refers
  • Evolutionary Social Science and Universal Darwinism
  • Bibliometric and Altmetric Analysis of Three Social Science Disciplines
  • American Social Science Fraternity and Gover
  • Sociology and the Disciplines of Social Science
  • Analytical Sociology and Computational Social Science
  • Social Science and Neuroscience: How Can They Inform Each Other
  • Way of Social Science and History Teaching in Hitler’s Germany
  • Human Behavior Paradox and a Social Science Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics
  • Conversion and Departure Between Science and Social Science
  • Biblical Religion and Social Science in the Modern World
  • Naturalist and Interpretations Social Science
  • Cumulative Inequality Theory and Social Science
  • Social Science and the Philosophy of Science
  • Correlation Between Sociology and Other Social Science Streams
  • Can Social Science Help Us to Understand Society
  • Geographically Referenced Data for Social Science
  • The Difference Between Natural Science and Social Science
  • Best Practices for Social Science Writing
  • Social Science and Its Impact on the Development of a Child
  • Darwinism and the Standard Social Science Model
  • Elementary Quantum Mechanical Principles and Social Science: Is There a Connection
  • Social Science Research: Principles, Methods, and Practices
  • The European Corporation: Strategy, Structure, and Social Science
  • Indigenous Social Science and Economic Development in Kenya
  • Global and Sociology and Social Science to Students
  • Anti-semitism and Progressive Era Social Science: The Case of John R. Commons
  • The Contributions of Social Science to Family Policy
  • How Important Are Prison Officer’s Social Science, Penology
  • Nursing — A Discipline between Social and Medical Sciences
  • Gendered Citation Patterns Across Political Science and Social Science Methodology Fields
  • Family Structure, Children’s Well-Being, and Social Science
  • Social Science and Remedies for Social Engineering
  • The Financial Crisis and the Failure of Modern Social Science
  • Epistemology of Social Science: The Scientific Status, Values and Institutionalization
  • Social Science and the Middle of the Two Inside Social Order
  • Social Science Knowledge and Economic Development: An Institutional Design Perspective
  • Christopher Freeman: Social Science Entrepreneur
  • Reflexivity, Complexity, and the Nature of Social Science
  • Social Science Theory and Methodology Overview
  • What Is the Importance of Social Science in Real Life?
  • How Can Social Science Perspectives Be Used to Process Information?
  • What Are the Distinctive Emphases and Approaches of a Multicultural Philosophy of Social Science?
  • Why Is Social Science Important in Society?
  • How Can Social Science Theory Help Reduce Crime?
  • What Is Social Science and How Can It Be Used to Study and Understand Society?
  • How Do Applied Social Sciences Help Understanding Individual or Group and Organizational Issues and Concerns?
  • What Are the Benefits of Social Science Research?
  • How Does Social Science Focus on and Interpret Sociology?
  • What Are the Fields of Study in the Social Sciences and What Does Each Field Study About?
  • How Can Studying Social Sciences Help Us to Understanding Ourselves More?
  • What Is Interpretation in Social Science?
  • How Does Social Science Help to Understand the Past and Present Problems?
  • What Is the Branch of Social Science That Deals With the Study of the Past?
  • How Can We Apply Social Science in Our Daily Life?
  • What Is Global Social Science?
  • How Can the Social Sciences Help Understand and Solve Social Problems?
  • In What Way Do Social Science Disciplines Play an Important Role in Our Society?
  • How Can the Disciplines of Applied Social Sciences Be Used in the Development of the Students?
  • What Is the Main Purpose of the Social Science Approach?
  • How Does Social Science Help in Improving Our Educational System?
  • What Is the Role of Social Science in the ‘Urban Age’?
  • Does Social Science Study Human Behavior?
  • How Can the Social Sciences Help in Addressing and Resolving Present-Day Social Problems?
  • What Is the Best Way to Study Social Science?
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The essay topic collection was published on June 5, 2022 . Last updated on December 28, 2023 .

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Communication

What is a Social Science Essay?

What is a Social Science Essay?

Woman writing while seated on floor

[Ed. – We present this article, adapted from a chapter of Good Essay Writing: A Social Sciences Guide , as a resource for Academic Writing Month.]

There are different types of social science essay, and essays of different lengths require slightly different approaches (these will be addressed later). However, all social science essays share a basic structure which is common to many academic subject areas. At its simplest, a social science essay looks something like this:

Title | Every essay should begin with the title written out in full. In some cases this will simply be the set question or statement for discussion.

Introduction | The introduction tells the reader what the essay is about.

Main section | The main section, or ‘body’, of the essay develops the key points of the argument in a ‘logical progression’. It uses evidence from research studies (empirical evidence) and theoretical arguments to support these points.

Conclusion | The conclusion reassesses the arguments presented in the main section in order to make a final statement in answer to the question.

List of references | This lists full details of the publications referred to in the text.

essay about social science disciplines

What is distinctive about a social science essay?

As you are no doubt aware, essay writing is a common feature of undergraduate study in many different subjects. What, then, is distinctive about essay writing in the social sciences? There are particular features that characterize social science essays and that relate to what is called the epistemological underpinning of work in this area (that is, to ideas about what constitutes valid social scientific knowledge and where this comes from). Among the most important of these characteristics are:

• the requirement that you support arguments with evidence, particularly evidence that is the product of systematic and rigorous research;

• the use of theory to build explanations about how the social world works.

Evidence is important in social scientific writing because it is used to support or query beliefs, propositions or hypotheses about the social world. Let’s take an example. A social scientist may ask: ‘Does prison work?’ This forms an initial question, but one that is too vague to explore as it stands. (This question might be about whether prison ‘works’ for offenders, in terms of providing rehabilitation, or re-education; or it might be about whether it ‘works’ for victims of crime who may wish to see retribution – or any number of other issues.) To answer the question in mind, the social scientist will need to formulate a more specific claim, one that can be systematically and rigorously explored. Such a claim could be formulated in the following terms:

essay about social science disciplines

‘Imprisonment reduces the likelihood of subsequent reoffending’. This claim can now be subjected to systematic research. In other words, the social scientist will gather evidence for and against this claim, evidence that she or he will seek to interpret or evaluate. This process of evaluation will tend to support or refute the original claim, but it may be inconclusive, and/or it may generate further questions. Together, these processes of enquiry can be described as forming a ‘circuit of social scientific knowledge’. This circuit can be represented as in this figure.

Undergraduates may sometimes be asked to conduct their own small-scale research, for instance a small number of interviews, or some content analysis. However, the focus of social science study at undergraduate level, and particularly in the first two years of study, will be largely on the research of others. Generally, in preparing for writing your essays, the expectation will be that you will identify and evaluate evidence from existing research findings. However, the principle holds good: in writing social science essays you will need to find evidence for and against any claim, and you will need to evaluate that evidence.

Theory is important in social scientific writing because the theoretical orientation of the social scientist will tend to inform the types of question she or he asks, the specific claims tested, the ways in which evidence is identified and gathered, and the manner in which this evidence is interpreted and evaluated. In other words, the theoretical orientation of the social scientist is liable to impact upon the forms of knowledge she or he will produce.

Take, for example, the research question we asked above: ‘Does prison work?’ A pragmatic, policy-oriented social scientist may seek to answer this question by formulating a specific claim of the sort we identified, ‘Imprisonment reduces the likelihood of reoffending’. She or he may then gather evidence of reoffending rates among matched groups of convicted criminals, comparing those who were imprisoned with those who were given an alternative punishment such as forms of community service. Evidence that imprisonment did not produce significantly lower rates of reoffending than punishment in the community may then be interpreted as suggesting that prison does not work, or that it works only up to a point. However, another social scientist might look at the same research findings and come to a different conclusion, perhaps that the apparent failure of prison to reduce reoffending demonstrates that its primary purpose lies elsewhere. Indeed, more ‘critically’ oriented social scientists (for example, those informed by Marxism or the work of Michel Foucault) have sought to argue that the growth of prisons in the nineteenth century was part of wider social attempts to ‘discipline’, in particular, the working class.

essay about social science disciplines

The issue here is not whether these more ‘critical’ arguments are right or wrong but that a social scientist’s theoretical orientation will inform how she or he evaluates the available evidence. In fact, it is likely that a ‘critical’ social scientist of this sort would even have formulated a different research ‘claim’. For example, rather than seeking to test the claim, ‘Imprisonment reduces the likelihood of reoffending’, the critical social scientist might have sought to test the proposition, ‘Prisons are part of wider social strategies that aim to produce “disciplined” subjects’. The point for you to take away from this discussion is, then, that the theories we use shape the forms of social scientific knowledge we produce (see Figure 2).

There is considerable debate within the social sciences about the exact relationship between theory and evidence. To simplify somewhat, some social scientists tend to argue that evidence can be used to support or invalidate the claims investigated by research and thereby produce theoretical accounts of the social world that are more or less accurate. Other social scientists will tend to argue that our theoretical orientations (and the value judgements and taken-for-granted assumptions that they contain) shape the processes of social scientific enquiry itself, such that we can never claim to produce a straightforwardly ‘accurate’ account of the social world. Instead, they suggest that social scientific knowledge is always produced from a particular standpoint and will inevitably reflect its assumptions.

What you need to grasp is that essay writing in the social sciences is distinguished by its emphasis on: the use of researched evidence to support arguments and on theory as central to the process by which we build accounts of social worlds. Your own writing will need to engage with both elements.

Common errors in essays

Having identified what distinguishes a social science essay we can return to the more practical task of how to write one. This process is elaborated in the chapters that follow, but before getting into the details of this, we should think about what commonly goes wrong in essay writing.

Perhaps the most common mistakes in essay writing, all of which can have an impact on your marks, are:

• failure to answer the question;

• failure to write using your own words;

• poor use of social scientific skills (such as handling theory and evidence);

• poor structure;

• poor grammar, punctuation and spelling; and

• failure to observe the word limit (where this is specified).

Failing to answer the question sounds easy enough to avoid, but you might be surprised how easy it is to write a good answer to the wrong question. Most obviously, there is always the risk of misreading the question. However, it is frequently the case that questions will ‘index’ a wider debate and will want you to review and engage with this. Thus, you need to avoid the danger of understanding the question but failing to connect it to the debate and the body of literature to which the question refers. Equally, particularly on more advanced undergraduate courses, you are likely to be asked to work from an increasing range of sources. The dangers here include failing to select the most relevant material and failing to organize the material you have selected in a way that best fits the question. Therefore, make sure that you take time to read the question properly to ensure that you understand what is being asked. Next, think carefully about whether there is a debate that ‘lies behind’ the question. Then be sure to identify the material that addresses the question most fully.

Writing in your own words is crucial because this is the best way in which you can come to understand a topic, and the only way of demonstrating this understanding to your tutor. The important point to remember is that if you do plagiarize, your essay risks receiving a fail grade, and if you plagiarize repeatedly you risk further sanctions. You must therefore always put arguments in your own words except when you are quoting someone directly (in which case you must use the appropriate referencing conventions). The positive side of what might seem like a draconian rule is that you will remember better what you have put in your own words. This ensures that you will have the fullest possible understanding of your course. If there is an end-of-course exam, such an understanding will be a real asset.

Social science essays also need to demonstrate an effective use of social scientific skills. Perhaps the most obvious of these skills is the ability to deploy theory and evidence in an appropriate manner (as you saw in the previous section, this is what distinguishes social scientific essay writing). However, particularly as you move on to more advanced undergraduate courses, you should also keep in mind the need to demonstrate such things as confidence in handling social scientific concepts and vocabulary; an awareness of major debates, approaches and figures in your field; the ability to evaluate competing arguments; and an awareness of potential uncertainty, ambiguity and the limits of knowledge in your subject. These are important because they indicate your ability to work creatively with the tools of the social scientist’s trade.

An effective structure is important and pragmatic because it helps the person who marks your essay to understand what is going on. By contrast, a list of unconnected ideas and examples is likely to confuse, and will certainly fail to impress. The simplest way to avoid this is to follow the kind of essay writing conventions briefly outlined above and discussed in later chapters of this guide. Chapter 8, on the main body of the essay, is particularly relevant here, but you will also need to keep in mind the importance of a well-written introduction and conclusion to an effectively structured argument.

The ability to spell, punctuate and use grammar correctly is, generally speaking, something you are expected to have mastered prior to embarking on a degree-level course. This is really a matter of effective communication. While it is the content of your essay that will win you the most marks, you need to be able spell, punctuate and use grammar effectively in order to communicate what you have to say. Major problems in this area will inevitably hold down your marks, so if this is an issue in your work, it will be a good idea to seek further help.

Finally, observing the word limit is important – and, as you probably realize, more difficult than it sounds. The simplest advice is always to check whether there is a word limit and what this is, and then to be ruthless with yourself, focusing only on the material that is most pertinent to the question. If you find that you have written more words than is allowed, you will need to check for irrelevant discussions, examples, or even wordy sentence construction. Too few words may indicate that you haven’t provided the depth of discussion required, or that you have omitted essential points or evidence.

In the light of the above, we can identify four golden rules for effective social scientific essay writing.

Rule 1: Answer the question that is asked.

Rule 2: Write your answer in your own words.

Rule 3: Think about the content of your essay, being sure to demonstrate good social scientific skills.

Rule 4: Think about the structure of your essay, being sure to demonstrate good writing skills, and observing any word limit.

Why an essay is not a report, newspaper article or an exam answer

This section has mainly focused on what is distinctive about a social science essay, but there is something distinctive about essays in general that is worth keeping in mind. Many students come from professional backgrounds where report writing is a common form of communication. For other students a main source of information is newspapers or online websites. These are all legitimate forms of writing that serve useful purposes – but, apart from some of the content on academic websites, they just aren’t essays. There are exam conventions that make exam writing – even ‘essay style’ exams – different from essay writing.

In part, this is to do with ‘academic register’ or ‘voice’. Part of what you will develop as you become a stronger essay writer is a ‘voice’ that is your own, but that conforms to the conventions of academic practice. For social scientists, as we have noted above, this practice includes the use of evidence to support an argument and providing references that show where your ideas and evidence have come from. It also includes the ability to write with some confidence, using the vernacular – or language – of your subject area. Different forms of writing serve different purposes. The main purpose of academic writing is to develop and share knowledge and understanding. In some academic journals this can take the form of boisterous debate, with different academics fully and carefully defending, or arguing for, one position or another. For students of social science, however, there may be less at stake, but essays should nevertheless demonstrate knowledge and understanding of a particular issue or area. Conforming to some basic conventions around how to present ideas and arguments, helps us more easily to compare those ideas, just as conforming to the rules of a game makes it easier for one sports team to play against another: if one team is playing cricket and the other baseball, we will find there are similarities (both use bats, have innings, make runs), but there will also be lots of awkward differences. In the end, neither the players nor the spectators are likely to find it a very edifying experience. The following looks at other forms of serious writing that you may be familiar with, but that just aren’t cricket.

Report writing

Reports take a variety of forms, but typically involve: an up-front ‘executive summary’, a series of discussions, usually with numbered headings and subheadings. They are also likely to include ‘bullet points’ that capture an idea or argument in a succinct way. Professional reports may include evidence, arguments, recommendations and references. You may already have spotted some of the similarities with essays – and the crucial differences. Let’s begin with the similarities. Reports and essays both involve discussion, the use of evidence to support (or refute) a claim or argument, and a list of references. Both will have an introductory section, a main body and a conclusion. However, the differences are important. With the exception of very long essays (dissertations and the like), essays do not generally have numbered headings and subheadings. Nor do they have bullet points. They also don’t have executive summaries. And, with some notable exceptions (such as essays around areas of social policy perhaps), social science essays don’t usually require you to produce policy recommendations. The differences are significant, and are as much about style as they are about substance.

Journalistic writing

For many students, journalistic styles of writing are most familiar. Catchy headlines (or ‘titles’) are appealing, and newspapers’ to-the-point presentation may make for easier reading. News stories, however, follow a different set of requirements to essays – a different set of ‘golden rules’. In general, newspaper and website news articles foreground the ‘who, what, where, when and why’ of a story in the first paragraph. The most important information is despatched immediately, with the assumption that all readers will read the headline, most readers will read the first paragraph, and dwindling numbers will read the remainder of the article. Everyday newspaper articles often finish with a ‘whimper’ for this reason, and there may be no attempt to summarize findings or provide a conclusion at the end – that’s not the role of news journalists. (Though there is quite a different set of rules for ‘Op Ed’ or opinion pieces.) Student essays, by contrast, should be structured to be read from beginning to end. The introduction should serve to ‘outline’ or ‘signpost’ the main body of the essay, rather than cover everything in one fell swoop; the main body should proceed with a clear, coherent and logical argument that builds throughout; and the essay should end with a conclusion that ties the essay together.

Exam writing

Again, exam writing has similarities and differences with essay writing. Perhaps the main differences are these: under exam conditions, it is understood that you are writing at speed and that you may not communicate as effectively as in a planned essay; you will generally not be expected to provide references (though you may be expected to link clearly authors and ideas). Longer exam answers will need to include a short introduction and a conclusion, while short answers may omit these. Indeed, very short answers may not resemble essays at all as they may focus on factual knowledge or very brief points of comparison.

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Peter Redman and Wendy Maples

Peter Redman is a senior lecturer in sociology at The Open University. With Stephen Frosh and Wendy Hollway, he edit the Palgrave book series, Studies in the Psychosocial and is a former editor of the journal, Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society . Academic consultant Wendy Maples is a research assistant in anthropology at the University of Sussex. Together they co-authored Good Essay Writing: A Social Sciences Guide (Sage, 2017) now in its fifth edition.

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essay about social science disciplines

What is social science?

Social science disciplines.

The Economic and Social Science Research Council (ESRC) funds research across a broad range of disciplines. These include the following disciplines.

Demography is the study of populations and population changes and trends, using resources such as statistics of births, deaths, and disease.

Area and development studies

Area and development studies is a multidisciplinary branch of the social sciences which addresses a range of social and economic issues associated with low and middle-income countries in different geographical regions.

Economics seeks to understand how individuals interact within the social structure, to address key questions about the production and exchange of goods and services.

Economic and social history

Economic and social history looks at past events to learn from history and better understand the processes of contemporary or near contemporary society.

Education is one of the most important social sciences, exploring how people learn and develop.

Environmental planning

Environmental planning explores the decision-making processes for managing relationships within and between human systems and natural systems, in order to manage these processes in an effective, transparent, and equitable manner.

Human geography

Human geography studies the world, its people, communities, and cultures, and differs from physical geography mainly in that it focuses on human activities and their impact, for instance on environmental change.

Linguistics

Linguistics focuses on how people communicate and create meaning through language. ESRC covers applied linguistics research in the areas of computational and corpus linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, language acquisition and interdisciplinary social science research involving linguistics.

Management and business studies

Management and business studies explores a wide range of aspects relating to the activities and management of business, such as strategic and operational management, organisational psychology, employment relations, marketing, accounting, finance, logistics and productivity.

Politics and international studies

Politics focuses on democracy and the relationship between people and policy, at all levels up from the individual to a national and international level.

International studies is the study of relationships between countries, including the roles of other organisations.

Psychology studies the human mind and behaviour to try to understand how people and groups experience the world through various emotions, ideas, cognitive processes, and conscious states. ESRC also covers elements of mental and public health.

Science and technology studies

Science and technology studies is concerned with what scientists do, what their role is in our society, the history and culture of science, and the policies and debates that shape our modern scientific and technological world.

Social anthropology

Social anthropology is the study of how human societies and social structures are organised and understood.

Social policy

Social policy is an interdisciplinary and applied subject concerned with the analysis of societies’ responses to social need, focusing on aspects of society, economy, public and global health, and policy that are necessary to human existence, and how these can be provided.

Social work

Social work focuses on social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance social justice. ESRC also covers broader social care for adults and children.

Social statistics, methods, and computing

Social statistics, methods and computing involves the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative social science data.

Socio legal studies

Socio legal studies focuses on the social, political, and economic influences and its impact on the law and the legal system.

Sociology involves groups of people, rather than individuals, and attempts to understand the way people relate to each other and function as a society or social subgroups.

Last updated: 31 May 2023

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25 Social Sciences Examples

social sciences examples and definition, explained below

The social sciences are academic disciplines concerned with the study of human society and social relationships (Stone, 2018).

Social sciences disciplines span sociology, psychology, political science, anthropology , geography, and economics, among others.

Throughout history, the social sciences have given us significant understandings of various aspects of human existence, stretching from individual behavior to societal structures (Architecture et al., 2012).

The products of social sciences research provide an extensive understanding of societal dynamics. Here is where the relevance of social sciences grows evident.

For instance, the insights derived from the social sciences disciplines can help policymakers to make well-calibrated policy decisions (King & Pardo-Cuellar, 2016).

Social Sciences Examples

1. sociology.

Sociology is the systematic study of societies, social interactions, and patterns of social behavior .

It attempts to understand how personal human interaction impacts and is affected by collective group behaviors , societal institutions, and broad social trends (Berger & Weisner, 2014).

Topics in sociology can range from family structures to global poverty, reflecting a wide scope.

By analyzing both the micro- and macro-level components of societies, sociology provides a multifaceted lens into the complex societies in which we live (Davis & Halpern, 2012).

Potential Career Paths 1. Social worker 2. Policy Analyst 3. Market Research Analyst 4. Public Relations Specialist 5. College Professor

2. Anthropology

Anthropology focuses on understanding humans and their cultures across time and space (Henrich & Gil-White, 2001).

Anthropology tries to understand humanity throughout the ages by investigating human life from various perspectives: biological, historical, cultural, and archaeological (Reyes-García et al., 2016).

Potential Career Paths 1. Cultural Resource Manager 2. Market Researcher 3. User Experience Researcher 4. Human Rights Advocate 5. Museum Curator

3. Psychology

Psychology centers on understanding the complexities of mind and behavior (Owen et al., 2016).

The field aims to investigate everything related to human experience: mental processes, emotions, behaviors, cognition, etc. – both normal and ‘abnormal’ (Cabrera et al., 2018).

Psychology is a multifaceted discipline that encompasses various sub-disciplines like clinical psychology , cognitive psychology , developmental psychology, and more.

Potential Career Paths 1. Clinical Psychologist 2. Counselor 3. Human Resources Personality Assessor 4. Forensic Psychologist 5. Neuropsychologist

4. Political Science

Political science involves detailed examination of political systems, theories of government organization, and the conduct of public policy (Reitsma et al., 2016).

It investigates the roles of individuals and groups within political systems, exploring how they operate in various context. Political scientists also explore issues like political power dynamics, international relations, geopolitics, and political-legal frameworks (Kellner & Hepp, 2019).

Overall, political science seeks to decipher how political systems and their subsequent policies impact everyday life on both micro and macro levels.

Potential Career Paths 1. Political Consultant 2. Public Policy Analyst 3. Diplomat 4. Politician 5. Journalist

5. Economics

Economics is a social science that examines how people, organizations, and societies produce, distribute, and consume resources (Mankiw, 2014).

It spans over two main streams – macroeconomics, which analyzes entire economies and their various segments; and microeconomics, which seeks to understand individual decisions within an economic framework (Gruber et al., 2016).

The discipline applies scientific methodologies to study economic phenomena, yielding objective insights into complex economic systems.

Perhaps its most important aim is to inform fiscal policies that enhance society’s overall well-being. To this end, economics offers tools and frameworks that individuals, companies, and governments can use to sustain a healthy and productive economy.

Potential Career Paths 1. Economist 2. Financial Analyst 3. Management Consultant 4. Market Research Analyst 5. Policy Analyst

6. Human Geography

Human Geography focuses on the study of people’s relationships with their environments (Hubbard et al., 2010).

The discipline seeks to understand spatial aspects of human existence – how cultures and societies adapt to their environments and transform them.

It may explore concepts such as the dynamics of population migration, urbanization, regional development, and global integration (Trudeau & McMorran, 2011).

By bridging the natural world with human society, human geography offers unique insights into sustainable practices for societal development.

Potential Career Paths 1. Urban Planner 2. Environmental Consultant 3. Geospatial Analyst 4. Transportation Management 5. Economic Developer

7. Archaeology

Archaeology is a subdiscipline of anthropology concerned with the systematic recovery and scientific investigation of material remains of past human life and culture (Scarre & Scarre, 2016).

The branch explores human history starting from prehistoric times up to contemporary periods through excavation and analysis of artifacts like tools, pottery, architecture – all evidence of past human civilizations (Wynn & Coolidge, 2011).

Archaeology can offer a comprehensive picture of important historical developments in human cultures.

Potential Career Paths 1. Archaeologist 2. Historic Preservation Officer 3. Museum Curator or Archivist 4. Cultural Resource Manager 5. Post-secondary Teacher   

8. Social Work

Social work is a branch of the social sciences dedicated to promoting the well-being of individuals, families, groups, and societies (Johnson et al., 2014).

It often involves addressing social issues like poverty, discrimination, and abuse through therapeutic interventions or policy advocacy (Dominelli & Campling, 2012).

Social workers often focus on engaging with diverse and marginalized individuals in distress, helping to provide them with suitable interventions or support in order to empower them and help them achieve upward mobility.

By directly aiding vulnerable individuals or groups in society and influencing social policies for their benefits, social work plays an instrumental role in fostering equity in societies.

Potential Career Paths 1. School Social Worker 2. Clinical Social Worker 3. Child Welfare Social Worker 4. Mental Health Therapist 5. Substance Abuse Counselor

9. Criminology

Criminology is a branch of sociology that studies the nature, causes, control, and prevention of criminal behavior both in the individual and in society (Siegel & Welsh, 2015).

It emphasizes the social and psychological impacts of crimes, including the effects of crime on its victims, and causes of criminal behavior.

Criminology uses scientific methodologies to observe criminal behavior and how it influences societal patterns (Durrant & Ward, 2012). It also plays a crucial role in informing crime legislation and correctional practices.

Potential Career Paths 1. Criminologist 2. Forensic Psychologist 3. Corrections Officer 4. Police Officer 5. Probation Officer

10. International Relations

International relations (IR) is a field emphasizing the relationships between countries, the roles of sovereign nations, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and multi-national corporations (Mingst & Arreguin-Toft, 2013).

It explores the complexities of international politics, international law, and international economics, to understand global problems such as human rights concerns, international conflict, financial crises, trade disputes, etc.

International relations also has an important role in interpreting processes of globalization and their implications for international power dynamics (Sayers & Tomlinson, 2018).

Fusing historical understanding with geopolitical analysis, IR aids decision-makers in formulating informed international policies.

Potential Career Paths 1. Diplomat 2. International Consultant 3. Political Analyst 4. Non-profit/NGO Organizer 5. Intelligence Specialist 

11. Education Studies

Education studies investigate processes of teaching and learning within various settings like schools, universities or informal education institutions (Petrina et al., 2014).

Research in this discipline spans domains such as pedagogical theories, instructional design, curriculum development, educational psychology, and learning assessment techniques (Cobanoglu et al., 2018).

Education studies aim to refine educational practices by integrating scientific evidence into teaching methodologies to improve student’s learning experiences and outcomes. In essence, its focus is fostering effective educational environments that uphold equal opportunities for all learners.

Potential Career Paths 1. Teacher or Professor 2. Instructional Designer 3. Education Policy Analyst 4. School Principal or Administrator 5. Special Education Specialist 

12. Communication Studies

Communication studies deal with the processes of human communication and its effective use across various contexts – from interpersonal communication to mass media outlets (Miller et al., 2014).

The discipline explores various facets of communication – verbal/non-verbal communication, group dynamics in communication processes or influences of culture/media on communication (Carey & Hannan 2014).

Critical research in this domain assists in developing strategies for effective communications that enhance decisions making processes or conflict resolution techniques across fields like business or politics.

Potential Career Paths 1. Public Relations Specialist 2. Corporate Communications Manager 3. Media Analyst 4. Political Campaign Coordinator  5. Health Communication Specialist

13. Linguistics

Linguistics is the study of language, exploring its structure, sound systems, meaning, and the social and cultural contexts in which it exists (Chomsky, 2012).

It explores aspects of language such as phonetics and phonology (sound systems), morphology (words), syntax (sentence formation), semantics and pragmatics (meaning). Through this work, it attempts to understand patterns of speech and text in various languages.

Linguistics also involves sociolinguistics – the relationships between language and society, and psycholinguistics – the processes happening in brain during communication (Friederici, 2012).

By providing fundamental insights into the human capacity for language acquisition and use, linguistics allows for effective study of and improvement in communication both within and across cultural boundaries.

Potential Career Paths 1. Linguist 2. Language Educator 3. Speech-Language Pathologist 4. Interpreter or Translator 5. Computational Linguist

14. Gender Studies

Gender Studies is an interdisciplinary field that examines how sex and gender influence our lives (Butler, 2011).

It explores gender identities , roles, biases, interactions, and gendered institutions from sociological, feminist, marxist, psychological, historical, economic, and literary vantage points.

Gender Studies seeks to understand how our social structures are influenced by gender constructs and how these constructs impact individual attitudes and experiences (Lorber & Farrell, 2010).

This discipline fosters equality by exposing biases in societal norms related to gender that often go unnoticed or unchallenged.

Potential Career Paths 1. Human Rights Advocate 2. Gender Equality Officer 3. Social Worker 4. Journalist 5. Public Policy Analyst

15. Cultural Studies

Cultural studies focuses on understanding and interpreting the ways in which individuals make sense of societal norms, beliefs, artifacts, and institutions and how they form their identities accordingly (Hall et al., 2013).

It analyzes multiple aspects shaping social life – such as media, technology, and ideologies, using theoretical perspectives from sociology, anthropology, and literary theory.

Cultural studies serves as a critical tool for interrogating socio-cultural phenomena – including social inequalities or cultural transformations – thereby fostering a comprehensive understanding of contemporary culture (Grossberg et al., 2017).

Potential Career Paths 1. Communication Strategist 2. Diversity Coordinator 3. Arts Administrator 4. Media Analyst 5. University Professor

16. Ethnology

Ethnology is a branch under anthropology concerned with comparative studies of different cultures (Franz & Boas, 2018).

It involves analyzing cultural phenomena based on field study data gathered from living cultures or historical records, with a focus on uncovering intersocietal similarities or differences.

Ethnologists study topics like religion, economic practices or political structures across various cultures in order to offer cross-cultural insights into the human experience (Erikson & Murphy 2017).

As such, ethnology plays a pivotal role in fostering cross-cultural understanding in an increasingly globalized world.

17. Social Psychology

Social Psychology is a discipline that investigates how individuals’ thoughts, feelings, behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others (Fiske, 2014).

It explores how social influences shape individual’s attitudes, beliefs, decision-making processes, and behaviors.

Central themes include social perception, social influence, interpersonal attraction, and group behavior.

Furthermore, it seeks to understand the impact of social disparities on an individual’s mental health and behavior (Card, 2020). 

Overall, social psychology provides practical solutions for improving social relationships and managing conflicts within societal settings.

Potential Career Paths 1. Social Psychologist 2. Human Resources Manager 3. Behavioral Analyst 4. Crisis Intervention Counselor 5. Market Research Analyst 

18. Public Health Studies

Public Health focuses on protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention (Marmot, 2020).

It analyses the impact of genetic, environmental and social factors on human health and aims to prevent health issues from occurring or re-occurring through implementing educational programs and advocating policies (Novignon & Nonvignon, 2020).

Public health also plays a crucial role in disease surveillance and response during health emergencies. A core objective is to reduce health disparities among different segments of the population.

Potential Career Paths 1. Public Health Officer 2. Disease Investigator 3. Environmental Health Specialist 4. Health Educator 5. Biostatistician 

19. Urban Studies

Urban Studies is an interdisciplinary field centered around cities and urban areas, their formation, function, and their impact on society and nature (Knox & Pinch, 2014).

It explores issues of city planning, urbanization, and urban sustainability from a socio-economic, environmental and political perspective (Glaeser, 2011).

Urban Studies seeks to understand how urban environments shape and are shaped by various factors, including social, economic, and cultural practices, thus making city living more sustainable, equitable, and vibrant. 

Potential Career Paths 1. Urban Planner 2. Urban Policy Analyst 3. Transportation Planner 4. Urban Sociologist 5. Community Development Coordinator 

20. Demography

Demography studies statistical patterns of human populations including size, composition, density and distribution (Poston & Bouvier, 2017).

It explores phenomena such as fertility, mortality, migration and how these dynamics affect the size and structure of a population over time (Riley, 2011).

Demography provides insights into societal problems like overpopulation, aging, and social mobility , influencing social policies related to health, education, and economic development.

In essence, demography plays a pivotal role in planning and policymaking processes.

Potential Career Paths 1. Demographer 2. Population Analyst 3. Market Research Analyst 4. Public Policy Analyst 5. Health Demographer

21. Human Rights Studies

Human Rights Studies is an interdisciplinary field examining the historical, philosophical, legal, and social underpinnings of human rights movements and concepts (Morsink, 2017).

It focuses on understanding, analyzing, and addressing human rights issues globally, ranging from civil liberties to economic and social rights.

Human Rights Studies also explore the mechanisms in place to protect human rights and the reasons these rights are violated in various societal contexts (Donnelly, 2013).

Moreover, it emphasizes the application of human rights principles to address societal inequities, shaping policy and advocacy efforts to promote human rights in diverse settings.

Potential Career Paths 1. Human Rights Lawyer 2. Policy Advisor 3. International Development Worker 4. Human Rights Educator 5. Activist and Non-Profit Organizer 

22. Development Studies

Development Studies is an interdisciplinary branch zooming into the economic, social, and political dynamics shaping the developing world (Hettne, 2016).

It focuses on issues including poverty reduction, gender equity, sustainable development , and governance.

Development studies investigates the strategies, policies, and practices involved in national and international development efforts (Sumner & Tribe, 2014).

By integrating theory and practice, this discipline aims to promote social justice and economic advancement in less developed regions.

Potential Career Paths 1. Development Worker 2. Policy Analyst 3. International Consultant 4. Foreign Service Officer 5. Sustainable Development Advisor 

23. Environmental Sociology

Environmental Sociology studies the reciprocal relationship between societies and their natural environments (Dunlap & Brulle, 2015).

It assesses the environmental implication of societal practices and the effect of environmental changes on societies.

Central themes include how social structures and activities contribute to or can help mitigate environmental problems, and how these environmental changes affect societal dynamics (Bell, 2018).

Ultimately, environmental sociology informs policy that needs to reconcile the tensions between sustaining ecological systems and fulfilling societal needs.

Potential Career Paths 1. Environmental Consultant 2. Conservation Strategist 3. Urban Planner 4. Policy Developer 5. Environmental Advocate 

24. Peace and Conflict Studies

Peace and Conflict Studies delves into the causes of conflict and the processes through which peace can be achieved (Galtung & Fischer, 2013).

It probes into dynamics of peace, conflict, violence, and resolution using interdisciplinary approaches.

The exploration of social conflicts, intergroup relations, and peace strategies provides valuable insights to conflict-resolution strategies and peacebuilding efforts (Lederach, 2015).

With an aim to promote harmony, this discipline offers pathways toward conflict resolution and peaceful social structures.

Potential Career Paths 1. Diplomat 2. Mediator/ Conflict Resolution Specialist 3. Humanitarian Worker 4. Non-profit Organization Director 5. International Relations Consultant 

25. Behavioral Economics

Behavioral Economics integrates psychological and sociological insights into economic analysis to better predict human decision-making behaviors (Dhami, 2016).

It examines how cognitive biases, emotions, and social factors can deviate individuals away from the rational choices predicted by traditional economics.

Behavioral economics provides critical insights into understanding and predicting human behavior in both negative (harmful biases or inconsistencies) and positive (pro-social behavior, altruism) contexts (Ariely, 2010).

This discipline’s approach can assist in designing effective policies and interventions for a broad range of societal issues.

Potential Career Paths 1. Behavioral Economist 2. Policy Advisor 3. Market Research Analyst 4. Financial Planner 5. User Experience Researcher 

The study of social sciences can help students to develop deep and nuanced understandings of social phenomena and learn to approach social issues with intellectual rigor, critical insights, and academic skepticism (Brownstein-Evans et al., 2015). Overall, the social sciences can be considerably transformative both for individuals and society.

Architecture, A., Oliveira, M.J., Correia, P., & Ribeiro, C. (2012). An overview of the literature on architectural theories. Journal of Architecture and Urbanism, 36 (2), 167-178.

Ariely D. (2008). Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. Harper Collins.

Bell, M. (2022). An Invitation To Environmental Sociology . Sage Publications.

Berger, P.L., & Weisner Thomas S. (2014). Sociology Reinterpreted: An Essay on Method and Vocation. Parity Democracy Publications.

Brownstein-Evans, C., Shenk, D., & Erisman, S. K. C. (2015). The Individual and Social Impact of Gender Inequality. Race, Gender & Class, 22 (3-4), 91–110.

Butler, J. (2011). Gender Trouble: Feminism And The Subversion Of Identity . Routledge.

Cabrera D., Colosi L., & Lobdell, D. (2018). Environmental Science Basis: Contribution Of Working Group To The Fifth Assessment Report Of The Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change .Thomas Press.

Card N.A. (2017) Methodological Issues In Social Psychology.Sage Publication Ltd.

Carey C., Hannan M. (2014). Historical Network Analysis Of The Web Of Correspondence Surrounding Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail”. Taylor & Francis.

Chomsky N. (2020) Syntactic Structures . Pearson Education.

Cobanoglu E., Bahali K. (2018). The Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence And Social Skill: An Investigation On The Students Of Sport Sciences.Nova Science Publishers.

Davis M., & Halpern C.T. (2012). Social Sciences And The Evolving Concept Of Race. Momentum Press.

Dhami S.(2016). The Foundations Of Behavioral Economic Analysis. Oxford University Press.

Dominelli L., & Campling J. (2012). Green Social Work From Environmental Crises To Environmental Justice.Polity Press.

Donnelly J.(2013). Universal Human Rights In Theory And Practice. Cornell University Press.

Dumner A.,& Tribe M.(2014). International Development Studies.Taylor & Francis.

Dunlap R.P., Brulle R.J.(2017)Climate Change And Society:Sociological Perspectives.Oxford University Press.  

Durrant R., & Ward T.(2011).Rehabilitation.Outdoor Power Equipment.Dekker.

Erikson P., & Murphy L.D.(2022) A History Of Anthropological Theory.University Of Toronto Press.

Fiske S.T.(2014)Social Beings:Core Motives In Social Psychology.Wiley. 

Franz B.,& Boas A.(2020) Race: Science And Politics.Routledge.

Friederici A.D.(2020).Language In Our Brain: The Origins Of A Uniquely Human Capacity.The Mit Press.

Galtung J.,& Fischer D.(2013).Johan Galtung:Pioneer Of Peace Research.Springer.

Glaeser E. (2011). Triumph Of The City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier.Penguin Press.

Grossberg L., Nelson C.,Treichler P. (2020) Cultural Studies. Routledge.

Gruber J., Hoe C., Alley R.B.(2016). Human Choice And Climate Change.Volu.Ii Resources And Technology.The Batelle Press.

Hall S., Evans J.,& Nixon S.(2020) Representation.Cultural Representations And Signifying Practices.Sage Publications Inc.

Henrich J., & Gil-White F.J.(2001). The Evolution Of Prestige : Freely Conferred Deference As A Mechanism For Enhancing The Benefits Of Cultural Transmission.Taylor & Francis .

Hettne B.(2016). Development Theories. Routledge.

Hubbard P., Kitchin R. (2010). Key Thinkers On Space And Place.Sage.

Johnson P.V., James A. (2014). Introductory Medical Surgical Nursing.Wolters Kluwer Health.

Kellner D., Hepp A. (2019). Transnationalizing The Public Sphere: A Critique.Linköping University Electronic Press.

King, R., & Pardo-Cuellar, R. (2016). The policy relevance of the social sciences. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3(2), 228-235.

Knox P.L, Pinch S. (2020) Urban Social Geography: An Introduction.Pearson Education Limited.

Lederach J. (2015).Building Peace:Sustainable Reconciliation In Divided Societies.US Institute Of Peace Press.

Lorber J., Farrell S. (2011). The Social Construction Of Gender . Sage Publications.

Mankiw G.N., Reis R.(2018) Principles Of Economics.Cengage Learning.

Marmot M.(2020) Health Equity In England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On. British Medical Journal.

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Novignon J., Nonvignon J.(2020) Health And Economic Growth: Evidence From Dynamic Panel Data.Palgrave Macmillan.

Owen DRJ., Villar M.G.(2020).The Absorption And Metabolism Of A Therapeutic Agent.Taylor & Francis.

Petrina S., Feng F. (2010) Advanced Teaching Methods For The Technology Classroom.Information Science Reference.

Poston D.L., Bouvier L.F. (2017). Population And Society: An Introduction To Demography.Cambridge University Press.

Reitsma H.P., Jesse,Fahlenbrach Katrin (2016). Low Risk And High Return.American Psychological Association.

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Riley M. (2011). Demography Of Ageing. Oxford University Press. 

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Siegel L.J., Welsh B.C. (2020). Criminology. Theories, Patterns, and Typologies. Cengage Learning.

Stone, A. (2018). The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science. Journal of Social Philosophy, 49 (4), 687-691.

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Wynn T., Coolidge F.L. (2017). How To Think Like A Neandertal . Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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essay about social science disciplines

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Mobilities of Knowledge pp 123–137 Cite as

Knowledges in Disciplines and Cities: An Essay on Relations Between Archaeology and Social Sciences

  • Peter J. Taylor 5  
  • Open Access
  • First Online: 17 January 2017

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Part of the Knowledge and Space book series (KNAS,volume 10)

In this chapter the author explores the relations between academic and practical knowledges. Using the knowledge generated in and through cities as the example of the latter, it is shown how the social science and archaeology academic disciplines have undervalued the importance of this urban knowledge due to their intellectual origins in the nineteenth century. In the social sciences this has produced a knowledge framework that is very state-centric; in archaeology the knowledge framework is progress/evolution based. The result is that these conventional academic positions create knowledges that neglect the practical knowledge of cities. This is illustrated substantively through new interpretations of the origins of, and relations between, cities, states, and agriculture.

  • Agglomeration
  • Academic knowledge
  • Agriculture
  • Archaeology
  • Communication
  • Disciplines
  • Practical knowledge
  • Social sciences

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Preamble: Knowledges

In this paper I argue that the path dependency of disciplinary knowledges in the social sciences and archaeology that emerged in the late nineteenth century have led to a long-standing focus on states for framing knowledge production, thus overlooking the important role of cities for understanding social change. By outlining the neglect of cities in the social sciences and archaeology, I develop the radical position that cities as hubs of practical knowledge production preceded both the emergence of states and agriculture. It is contended that this argument has to be made outside of established disciplinary frameworks because researchers working within conventional disciplinary tenets have been too “disciplined” by seemingly established truths set about a century ago. The perspective of a geographer seems to be ideal in this regard because geography never quite fitted into the nineteenth century disciplinary canon . A geographical perspective is thus well suited for bringing cities back into disciplinary discourses as well as into debates about the development of societies.

In the modern world, knowledge comes in two different forms. First, there is the academic knowledge created in universities and associated institutions. It is here that research work is done that cumulatively adds to stocks of knowledge called disciplines. In addition there is a teaching function in this academic knowledge production that reproduces the disciplines through socializing young adults to become future cohorts of knowledge creators. This knowledge has essentially an oligarchic structure of disciplining by peer review (i.e., certifying the created knowledge). Second, there is practical knowledge that is required to make a living outside universities . In this case the disciplining is by the market. Practical knowledge has to be useful so that it can be deployed to make money. I realize these two knowledges overlap in many instances (e.g., in corporate research and development departments, in the professions, in defense department laboratories), but I will keep them separate for the purposes of this essay. Here I will tell a story about an intersection of these two knowledges, with particular emphasis on their contrasting spatialities .

The spatial mobility of academic knowledge is facilitated by academic networks . This is concretely represented by researchers bringing new knowledge to seminars, workshops, and conferences, but the crucial network is the one that records the cumulative knowledge production. Disciplinary journal articles, research monographs, and academic books are the nodes where the spatial mobility o f knowledge is represented by the citations. In contrast, practical knowledge has many more loci, but one stands out as the exceptional place for knowledge production: cities. It is the hustle and bustle of cities—their inherent busy-ness —that is the major testing ground for practical knowledge, which is why commercial knowledge constitutes business. If the knowledge works—you can make money from it—then the knowledge will be reproduced, modified, and extended as necessary. Vibrant cities are the best places for doing business. The spatial mobility of this practical knowledge flows within and between cities. This essay is about a specific case study of how the academic knowledge of disciplines makes sense of practical knowledge practice s.

To explore this intersection I will focus on origins, on how cities came about in association with the beginnings of both agriculture and states . These social changes are the practical knowledge productions I consider. The academic knowledges then follow. Archaeology is the discipline that specializes in the study of such origins; social science is about social change, and since these three origins constitute epochal changes they are of direct relevance to social science understanding. The hypothesis is that by shining the spotlight on these critical origins some basic contradictions of knowledge production in cities and disciplines will be revealed.

The argument proceeds in a rather distinctive way. There will be two introductions, one for each type of knowledge. And then there will be two indictments , for social science and for archaeology. In all of this I will be taking a very city-centric position and this comes to the fore in the substantive section where I bring cities back in to understand both the creation of states and the development of agriculture .

Introductions

The times and spaces of academic social knowledges.

The academic knowledge of today is ultimately derived from the nineteenth century reorganization of German-speaking universities to emphasis the research function and thereby privilege specialization. It is from the university chairs established to organize the new intensive research work that modern disciplines have evolved. Of the four original faculties—theology, law, medicine , and philosophy—it was in the latter two that research specialization occurred, and especially in philosophy (the highest research degree is still a PhD) (Ben-David & Zloczower, 1962 ). One key feature of this process was a bifurcation into sciences and arts that commonly resulted in division into two separate faculties housing very different disciplines (lower research degrees are still called MSc or MA). The differences existed in both research subject matter (non-human –human) and research practice s (nomothetic –idiographic ). It was the immense dominance of Germany in academic science knowledge in the second half of the nineteenth century (Taylor, Hoyler, & Evans, 2008 ) that stimulated emulation in many other countries to create the modern universit y.

The social sciences began to emerge in the late nineteenth century as a sort of in-between research category combining the research subject matter of the arts with the research methods of the sciences. This process was largely consolidated in U.S. universities in the first half of the twentieth century to create a tripartite division for studying social change, the new disciplines of economics, political science, and sociology (Wallerstein et al., 1996 ). By about 1950, it was commonplace for this disciplinary trinity to be established as departments in most universities. This three-way division of knowledge broadly followed the reform movements that dominated late nineteenth century politics. The goals of these movements were articulated as demands for economic reforms, political reforms, and social reforms. Thus there came about a general view of human behavior being divided into economic, political, and social activities taking place in the economy, the state, and (civil) society as separate institutional worlds. The new social science disciplines reflected this view and set about devising separate research agendas along these lines.

There are three key points that arise from this construction of social science (Wallerstein et al., 1996 ).

The basic units of analysis were defined by state territories—empirically the abstract concepts of economy, state, and society were all nationalized, as in British economy, French state, and American society, to produce a one-scale mosaic social science of multiple countries.

The knowledge produced by the three disciplines covered all modern human behaviors—this was a knowledge monopoly position. The power of this monopoly can be seen in other surviving disciplines eventually having to create trilogy subdisciplines as they adjusted to demands of being modern: for instance, economic anthropology, political geography, and social history.

This was nomothetic knowledge of modern, rational behavior and therefore it initially only applied to modern, rational economies, states , and societies in advanced regions of the world where the modern universities were located. It was a social knowledge of modern us , with the un-modern them initially excluded. The exclusions were in both time and space and, being un-modern, they could only be studied idiographically (i.e., outside social science ). In time a new discipline of history studied the un-modern past of modern nations. In space there were two un-moderns, for old civilizations Orientalism emerged to understand why they stagnated, and for smaller societies, anthropology was constructed to understand why they never progressed in the first place.

Note that geography does not feature in this academic knowledge framework; straddling the science–arts boundary and initially eschewing specialization (favoring synthesis over analysis), it is an odd-ball survivor only adapting to social science as human geography in the second half of the twentieth century with the victory of systematic geographies (specialist trinity subdisciplines) over regional geography (the art of synthesis). I make this point to reveal my personal intellectual positionality as a geographer: I am a social scientist outsider.

This neat academic knowledge arrangement began to change in the second half of the twentieth century (Wallerstein et al., 1996 ). Most importantly the world changed with decolonization so that development (a property of states) replaced progress (a property of modern civilization only). This meant that the whole world was opened up to social science study with new research agendas on economic development (toward affluence), political development (toward democracy), and social development (toward modernization). In addition disciplinary boundaries became increasingly porous, resulting in new research areas, such as cultural studies, area studies, and feminist studies, refusing to be contained by the old disciplines. Even more important these areas of study have undermined, or really sidestepped, the simple nomothetic –ideographic distinction so that, especially through cultural studies, the methodological wall between the trinity and the humanities (arts) has crumbled. Thus in the early twenty-first century the academic knowledge organization in the social sciences and humanities is quite complex. Old disciplines remain institutionally power ful within universities as departments (awarding PhDs) and with their traditional prestigious research journals; while at the same time there is a plethora of new interdisciplinary (or multidisciplinary or transdisciplinary) journals with their own networks of researchers and conferences.

Practical Knowledges in, Through, and Out of Cities

Practical knowledge is constituted by the everyday constructs and information people use to live their lives. I focus on the practical knowledge that is necessary for making a living. Such knowledge depends on quality and quantity of contacts and intensity of communications with those contacts. In this situation one particular class of settlements, cities, has been found to be exceptionally important. One can go as far as to say that there is a qualitative difference between city life and life elsewhere in terms of the nature and salience of knowledge for work. This idea of cities as special knowledge-rich milieus is to be found in a wide range of scientific studies (Batty, 2013 ; Brenner, 2014 ; Glaeser, 2011 ; LeGates & Stout, 2015 ; Neal, 2013 ; Scott, 2012 ; Storper, 2013 ; Taylor, 2013 ).

Recent resurgences in urban economics and economic geography have focused on the advantages of cities for economic development. Two main processes have been postulated. First, localization refers to the knowledge-related benefits of firms from the same industry clustered together. This relates to industry-specific opportunities thus stimulating creativity and innovation . In particular tacit knowledge within an industry is said to require immersion in localized industrial culture. This is important in both product development and skilled labor availability. Classic historical examples are the New York advertising cluster on Madison Avenue and the London newspaper cluster on Fleet Street. In these cases cost-cutting opportunities elsewhere eventually made the two clusters uneconomic but they had by then provided untraded advantages to their cluster of firms for several generations. And after the cluster breakup proximity remained important as clustering re-emerged in new locations (Faulconbridge, Beaverstock, Nativel, & Taylor, 2010 ).

Second, there are agglomeration effects of multiple firms from a wide range of industries co-locating in a city or region. There are collective advantages in terms of infrastructure and other common services. But a key advantage is to be near to clients. For instance, in Sassen’s ( 2001 ) classic work, the global city is simultaneously the main producer of advanced business services and the main market for such services. And in such work, close and regular contact with clients is found to be necessary, especially face-to-face meetings. Agglomeration also constitutes an ecology of skills that facilitates project work involving producers from different specialties combining to create unique products for particular clients. This is specifically important for user-led innovation where observation and interaction in cities are indispensable. In an empirical test for the efficacy of clusters and agglomeration Glaeser, Kalial, Scheinkman, and Schleifer ( 1992 ) found the latter to be more associated with economic growth .

The above advantages are place or territorial (internal) assets and it is now widely recognized that they are complemented by network (external) assets. As Sassen ( 2001 ) recognizes, cities are strategic places within myriad flows of materials, people, and information. Contemporary cities in globalization have been modeled as a world city network generated through knowledge-based work: professional, financial, and creative servicing of global capital (Taylor, 2004 ). Intensity of integration into this network (city connectivity) is a measure of a city’s global external assets through globalization . This has been conceptualized in several ways, such as global pipelines (Bathelt, Malmberg, & Maskell, 2004 ) and global communities of practice (Amin & Thrift, 1992 ).

Outside this specifically economic consideration of contemporary cities and their networks, there are other studies that emphasize the generic importance of cities across history. For example, the world city network model has been interpreted generically as central flow theory, a general description of cities in networks . The key substantive examples are Hall ( 1998 ) with his description of leading cities as centers of creativity , Soja’s ( 2000 , 2010 ) concepts of synekism and regionality of cityspace in urban revolutions, McNeill and McNeill ( 2003 ) with their references to cities in the human web of world history, Algaze’s ( 2005a , 2005b ) work on internal and external relations in Sumerian cities, and LaBianca and Scham’s ( 2006 ) applications of Castells’s ( 1996 ) space of flows to antiquity. These are all discursive harnessings of evidence to support the critical importance of practical knowledge production in and through cities for historical social change.

Indictments

All institutions are created at some point in time to satisfy a need . Subsequently needs change and relevance of an institution is naturally eroded. As noted previously, today’s disciplines are about a century old and they still retain many vestiges of their creation. In fact by the twenty-first century they appear not to have worn particularly well (Wallerstein, 1991 ). Here I indict social science (in general) and archaeology.

Of Mainstream Social Science

As previously shown, contemporary social science consists of a mixture of old disciplines and various new areas of study. The latter can seem to be opportunist, perhaps transient, compared to the deep knowledge of the disciplines. Thus researchers in the studies sector are commonly certified by their PhD in one of the disciplines, and there is always a tendency to revert to trinity thinking as in politico-cultural studies, economic area studies, and feminist sociology. In other words, social science is currently strewn with ambiguities. These are reflected in Wallerstein’s ( 2004 ) prognosis. On the one hand he argues that “the social construction of the disciplines as intellectual arenas that was made in the nineteenth century has outlived its usefulness and is today a major obstacle to serious intellectual work” (pp. 169–170). But at the same time he suggests that “there is richness in each of the disciplinary cultures that should be harvested, stripped off its chaff, and combined (or at least used) in a reconstruction of the social sciences” (pp. 169–170).

Of course, the debate will be about identifying the “chaff” (Wallerstein, 2004 )! In his contribution to this reconstruction, world-systems analysis, he transcends states and I agree this to be an essential stripping.

Cities have not been well served by the trinity and not just because the nationalization of social knowledge downgraded them to, literally, a bit part in the overall scheme of things. With the focus on the scale of the state , the exceptional nature of cities in relation to enhanced knowledge potentials has been severely neglected. In Wallerstein’s stripping off the state-centric chaff he moves focus from national economies to world-economy; I will follow Jacobs ( 1969 , 1984 ) and move from national economies to city economies. I highlighted profound economic contributions being made at this scale above, but it is still the case that urban economics (or regional economics or spatial economics) remains a Cinderella area of study in the discipline of economics, where status remains wedded to national econometric models. Geography has been the other discipline contributing to the rediscovery of the importance of cities described previously. But the main legacy of research here has been in studying cities in hierarchies within countries modeled as national urban systems. In this approach the world consists of circa 200 (the number of countries varies with world political processes) national urban systems (i.e., one per country). This is mosaic social science at its very worse. Cities abhor boundaries. Their raison d’être is being strategically connected within complex spaces of flows, which is antithetical to being neatly ordered within state territories.

The ridiculousness of this academic knowledge can be easily illustrated using the examples of London and New York , both interpreted as being top of the hierarchy in their respective national urban systems . At first glance this seems obvious but in fact it grossly underestimates the importance of both cities. Both of these great cities have long been leading ports in the world-economy but this very tangible property could be kept from social science academic knowledge because the study of trade through trade theory was nationalized, it was deemed a property of state s not cities. Thus this major city function was largely ignored in national urban systems analyses, seemingly unmindful that New York cannot be understood as just part of the United States , and London cannot be understood as just part of the United Kingdom . Perhaps because of such limitations, national urban systems research largely disappeared in the 1980s and was replaced by research on studies of cities in globalization , originally conceived hierarchically, following the mosaic habit, but latterly seen as world city network (Taylor, 2004 , 2009 ). It might have been thought that the coming of globalization would have advanced the importance of cities in social science. Certainly an impressive world and global city literature has emerged (Brenner & Keil, 2006 ) that locates cities as critical to globalization processes. However, the study of cities sits uncomfortably in reader compilations from the globalization literature where cities are largely neglected (Lechner & Boli, 2000 ). This is because the trinity has survived the huge social changes wrought by globalization, as reflected by the labels economic globalization, political globalization, and social (or cultural) globalization. This is not surprising when the key text , Held, McGrew, Goldblatt, and Perraton’s ( 1999 ) Global Transformation , is actually about transformation of the state in economic, political, and social realms of activity (Taylor, 2000 ).

Research on cities in social science has come to be labeled urban studies (which aspires to combine urban economics, urban political science, urban sociology plus urban geography and urban history); that is to say, it is one of the many areas of study that have grown to facilitate subject matter that transcends trinity divisions as indicated earlier. There is an excellent reader representing this literature (LeGates & Stout, 2015 ) but one part of its composition reveals the extant shallowness of this example of an area of study. When it comes to including chapters on the origins of cities there is actually just one paper, a classic written in 1950 by Gordon Childe, who appears in archaeological textbooks as a founding father, one of Renfrew and Bahn’s ( 2008 ) early “searchers” (p. 36). Presumably this means that the compilers of the urban studies reader cannot find a later, social science, contribution on the question of city origins. What an indictment of social science for neglecting the study of city origins. But using such an old archaeology paper is also strange; does it suggest cities have been similarly neglected in this discipline?

Of Mainstream Archaeology

Archaeology is the discipline that we might be expected to go to for research on the origins of cities. Childe’s ( 1950 ; Smith, 2009 ) classic paper located the first cities in late fourth millennium BC Mesopotamia and this remains the consensus within the discipline. There have been other suggestions, as I will relate later in this essay, but these have been largely dismissed as not providing credible evidence for the existence of earlier cities. But, more importantly, this question has been of peripheral concern in archaeological research. This can be shown by reference to the latest edition of the best-selling introductory textbook on archaeology (Renfrew & Bahn, 2008 ). Textbooks are the basic means of socializing new generations into a discipline; thus they provide the current understanding of the key questions, methods, and theories that constitute that discipline (Taylor, 2015 ). Renfrew and Bahn ( 2008 ) include no discussion at all about city origins. Why might this be?

In my introductory discussion of social science above there was no mention of archaeology. The discipline’s obvious locale would be as a time discipline alongside history with ancient history. However its formal location in universities is mostly with anthropology. This makes some sense to the degree that anthropology treats hunter-gatherer and early agricultural societies, and such societies dominate the prehistory that archaeology investigates. This is to locate archaeology in the outer reaches of comparative anthropology with an inevitable neglect of concern for cities. Thus in their text of over six hundred pages, Renfrew and Bahn’s ( 2008 ) index includes no reference for city or cities.

Whereas national spatiality has dominated social science scholarship , in archaeology it is evolutionary temporality that features strongly in this scholarship. Evolution theory, related to nineteenth century obsession with progress , survives more in archaeology than elsewhere in social science. Darwin has his own box feature in Renfrew and Bahn ( 2008 , p. 27) entitled “Evolution: Darwin’s Great Idea.” Basically, evolution has been used to understand increasing complexity of society but without any recognition of the exceptional complexity of cities.

Recently, some archaeologists have provided very strong critiques of traditional evolutionary models of social change (Gamble, 2007 , pp. 10–32; Yoffee, 2005 , pp. 8–15). Yoffee ( 2005 , p. 34), in particular, is a trenchant critic of what he calls the current “neo-evolutionary” approach in archaeology.

What neo-evolutionalism never was, was a theory of social change. Rather, it was a theory of classification, of identification of ideal types in the material record. … In a vague sort of way, mainly by talking about different adaptations as if they were somehow like genetic differences, neo-evolutionists drew on the prestige of Darwin’s theory and often proclaimed they had created a new science of social evolution. However, neo-evolutionists could not explain change other than in holistic terms and were content to identify as evolutionary mechanisms. . . climatic change or/and population growth. (pp. 31–32)

For Gamble ( 2007 ) “change takes the form of future-creep” so that “differences are expected to happen eventually and can be explained simply by the passage of enough time, a commodity with which human prehistory is abundantly blessed” (p. 23).

For both scholars there is not enough emphasis on process: Who are the agents and why do their activities generate social change? Such questions lead to social science .

It is very relevant that the archaeologists I have drawn on to critique city-state and evolution —Gamble, Smith and Yoffee—are familiar with social science literature (including rediscovery of cities) and bring these disciplines into their own work. But they are not necessarily very typical. Renfrew and Bahn ( 2008 , pp. 12–13) introduce archaeology by relating it to other disciplines: they identify only three: anthropology, history, and science (for techniques). There is no specified relation to social science and this is reflected in subsequent substantive chapters. Chapter 5 “How Were Societies Organized: Social Archaeology” (pp. 177–230) makes no reference to sociology literature, and chapter 9 “What Contact Did They Have: Trade and Exchange” makes no reference to economics literature (pp. 357–390). Despite this distain for social science, archaeology has shared the latter’s propensity to neglect cities. Unfortunately the archaeologists I have identified above as knowing recent cities literature do not contribute to the question of city origins. Strangely, Renfrew and Bahn ( 2008 , pp. 46–47) do have a two-page box feature on Çatalhöyük , the key settlement in the city origins debate (Jacobs, 1969 ; Soja, 2000 ; Taylor, 2012 , 2013 ), but they use it to illustrate changing approaches to the practice s of archaeology, with no mention of the controversies over interpreting the urban nature of the settlement. There can be no clearer example of denial of the city origins question in contemporary archaeology.

Debates Generated by Bringing Cities Back In

Although both social science and archaeology have early classic studies of cities, my two indictments show that both have developed traditional structures of knowledge that have underestimated the importance of cities for understanding social change. But I have also shown that cities will win out; there is development of a city -centric social science and this is being introduced into archaeology and interpretation of ancient history. The most explicit example is the work of Algaze ( 2005a , 2005b ). In this substantive section I deploy the city-centric social science to challenge existing ideas on first, the relation between cities and states and second, the relation between cities and agriculture . In both cases I will argue that cities came first.

Unlike studies of contemporary cities, for historical cities it is not possible, of course, to directly study the processes that make cities so exceptional. With very early cities, agency in particular is a problem. Researchers do not know the agents—merchants , priests, soldiers, textile producers, scribes—researchers only know of their presence from the artifacts they have left to be discovered. Thus researchers have to investigate the potency of a city through its knowledge-rich internal and external assets in an indirect way. Fortunately there is a relevant variable, population size, for which there are general estimates that will serve as a surrogate for cities as potential creative centers. I call this the communication model of city-ness because population size is a measure of potential communication capacity (Taylor, 2012 , 2013 , pp. 98–102). This is a network measure derived for internal links first and then doubled to account for equally important external links. From such analyses we find that Çatalhöyük , a possible early city, has a potential communication capacity much more than a thousand times that of a hunter-gatherer band, whereas First Dynasty Uruk, the first great city , had a capacity of more than half a million times said band. These quantitative results indicate the huge qualitative social difference that cities create and constitute the prime reason for city-centric study in archaeology. This generates two related debates.

Cities and the Creation of States

The first debate is about two processes being conflated into one. I reported above to there being no index references for cities in Renfrew and Bahn’s ( 2008 ) textbook ; however, there are nine references to city-states . It would seem understanding early cities is subsumed into the study of early states (Charlton & Nichols, 1997 ). But city-making and state -making are two very different processes, each requiring their own process analysis. This position is held by some social scientists (e.g., Soja, 2010 , p. 364) and by a few archaeologists familiar with social science writings on cities. Monica Smith ( 2003 ) is a good example of the latter group. She is explicit on the importance of recognizing that “cities do not require a state level of authority to exist and thrive” (p. 12). Therefore:

it is … time for the understanding of cities to be uncoupled from the necessary presence of states. By breaking this pairing of cities and states, we allow cities to be understood on their own terms as centers of political, economic, and social organization that may be considerably more complex than the territories and regions in which they are located. (p. 13)

She traces the conflation of cities with states back to Childe ( 1950 , p. 12), who created a framework in which “theorizing about urbanism has often really been about states rather than cities.” This key point had been made much earlier by Price ( 1978 ):

The relation between urbanism and the state, however, has been the cause of profound confusion for a variety of reasons, both scholarly and ideological. Childe’s Mesopotamian data combined urbanism and the state in a single sequence and permitted the uncritical evaluation of this particular association. (p. 175)

Monica Smith ( 2003 ) indicts Robert Adams, the great chronicler of Mesopotamian urbanism; she points out that, paradoxically, in his 1966 classic The Evolution of Urban Society , despite the book’s title, his “central concern is the growth of the state ” (quoted in Smith, 2003 , p. 12). But Smith (p. 15) argues that “cities in the premodern world did not require a state level of organization”. This important point seems not to have (yet?) percolated into the archaeological mainstream as represented by Renfrew and Bahn ( 2008 ).

Traditionally, states have been interpreted as the outcome of increasingly complex governance processes, consequent upon class formation and widening material inequali ties. This model is stripped bare to its essentials in Fig. 7.1a as a sequence of governance types representing evolutionary stages as criticized by Yoffee ( 2005 , p. 34). Enhanced complexity is represented spatially by central place hierarchies with three settlement tiers indicating the key complex chiefdoms that generate states in civilizations (in which the number of tiers increases to four). An alternative model is shown in Fig. 7.1b based upon Jacobs ( 1969 ) and Soja ( 2000 ). The starting point is settlements in a trading network that morphs into a city network via the Jacobs process of import replacement. The more successful this network becomes, the more cosmopolitan are the cities. It is this unprecedented social complexity with consequent intergroup conflicts that generates a demand for new stronger governance structures. This is best illustrated in Childe’s ( 1950 ) original case study: his “urban revolution” in early Mesopotamia (Taylor, 2012 , 2013 , pp. 115–118). Here we find two important sequences. First, accountancy—the language of commerce—is invented before writing—the language of state bureaucracy (Nissen, Damerow, & Englund, 1993 ). Second, in the new literature, there are myths—collective stories—that describe times before the era of epics, heroic tales of individuals who become kings (i.e., they centralize governance into states ). This relates to a change from transient governance in the form of a league of cities towards a region of city- states in military competition (Jacobsen, 1970 ). The change is marked by huge labor investments in city walls. Thus are city networks converted into competitive city-states. In Mesopotamia this transition took about 700 years.

Alternative origins of states. Pivotal stages or steps are in bold . ll indicates ending of increase (Design by author)

The vast majority of archaeologists continue to support narratives related to Fig. 7.1a , whereas the alternative narrative based upon Fig. 7.1b is much more pleasing to social scientists (including archaeologists who identify as social scientists ). It all comes down to whether you think chiefdoms can become complex enough to invent states; I think not. Social complexity in and through cities occurs at a whole new level; surely this is what is need ed to generate such an important invention as states.

Cities and the Development of Agriculture

The second debate is about one process being divided into two. These are Childe’s ( 1950 ) ancient historical framework of two revolutions seemingly several millennia apart. First there is the agricultural revolution that ushers in the Neolithic followed, second, by the urban revolution ushering in the Bronze Age civilization. Since this temporal sequencing was created, new evidence for origins of agriculture has pushed back the first revolution by several millennia, while the second revolution has proven to be much more temporally stable in mainstream thinking: hence a widening gap between them. Despite this divergence there is a social science intervention here that subsumes the development of agriculture into the process of initial city development.

Here I develop the controversial idea of Jacobs ( 1969 ) on agriculture being invented in cities. I know of no archaeologist who supports her thesis. Her argument involves pushing back the timing of the first cities. She focuses upon Çatalhöyük in southern Anatolia where a settlement of between four thousand and ten thousand people has been excavated to show a complex division of labor. The problem for archaeologists is that it appears about four thousand years before the rise of cities in Mesopotamia, traditionally viewed as the very first cities (i.e., Childe’s urban revolution). Their reaction has been to dismiss it as a city ; their preferred label is large village to emphasize its rurality. But Çatalhöyük is not alone as a relatively large settlement existing before Mesopotamian cities. Soja ( 2000 ) has augmented Jacobs’s interpretation by showing a large network of such settlements at this time within the Fertile Crescent, birthplace of agriculture.

Figure 7.2a shows the traditional interpretation of the rise of cities: a simple sequencing of settlements by size culminating in cities. In this argument the latter first occur in Mesopotamia because improvements in agriculture (irrigation) increased production, thereby generating a food surplus large enough to feed cities. But this is a naive supply model; why should farmers work harder to generate large surpluses and create cities? Surely increased production potential is an opportunity for more leisure time? The alternative model is shown in Fig. 7.2b in which it is existing cities that provide a demand for more food. For Jacobs ( 1969 ) this is a classic case of import r eplacement. Hunter–gatherer–traders were exchanging food products within new trade networks but found it hard to keep up supply as city networks emerged. In this situation people in cities invented agriculture to replace and enhance the hunter–gatherer–trader food supply. Thus hinterlands were created around cities in which to produce food. As cities grew larger, more food technologies were invented, including irrigation in Mesopotamia, which fed new large cities such as Uruk .

Two settlement development sequences. Starting points of developmental phases are in italics; pivotal stages are in bold (Design by author)

This is more like a stand-off than a debate, with the minority position again based upon the qualitative social difference that cities make. The stark differences have been recently exposed in the debate between Smith, Ur, and Feinman ( 2014 ) and Taylor ( 2012 , 2015 ). The former’s only reference to social science is a very early paper from about the same time as Childe’s work (Wirth, 1938 ), the link being made previously by Gates ( 2011 , pp. 2–3).

Conclusion: The Limiting Case of Uncertainty of Knowledge

My conclusion is that understanding origins is a limiting case of Wallerstein’s ( 2004 ) uncertainty of knowledge thesis. Wallerstein ( 2004 ) has argued that there is an inherent uncertainty of knowledge due to the positionality of researchers /practitioners interacting with ever-changing subject matters. Archaeological knowledge, especially on origins lost in the mist of time, is a limiting case of this uncertainty because empirical evidence derives from serendipity, based upon immensely low probabilities of survival and discovery. Strong opinions are therefore due to either entrenched paradigmatic thinking (my take on archaeology’s reluctance to shake off nineteenth century ideas) or plausible process theory that makes sense of what little evidence we have (my view of what social science can be). It is on this basis that I think hunter–gatherer–traders created city networks and thereby released knowledge potentials for the invention of such epoch-making institutions as agriculture and states.

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123 Social Science Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

🏆 best social science topic ideas & essay examples, 👍 good essay topics on social science, 📑 interesting topics to write about social science, 🥇 simple & easy social science essay titles, ❓ essay questions about social science.

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  • Future-Proof Grads: New Study Pinpoints Arts, Humanities, and Social Science Graduates’ Skills
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  • Cumulative Advantage and Disadvantage and the Life Course: Cross-Fertilizing Age and Social Science Theory
  • Beyond BMI: The Value of More Accurate Measures of Fatness and Obesity in Social Science Research
  • Health Policy and Healthy Populations: An Introduction to a Special Issue of the Social Science Quarterly
  • What Are the Distinctive Emphases and Approaches of a Multicultural Philosophy of Social Science?
  • How Are Social Science Fields Studied?
  • What Is the Role of Social Science in the ‘Urban Age’?
  • How Does Social Science Affect Education?
  • Can Social Science Help Us to Understand Society?
  • How Does Social Science Help in Improving Our Educational System?
  • What Is Social Science?
  • How Does Social Science Relate to Society?
  • Is Social Science Scientific?
  • Why Is Social Science Important in Schools?
  • What Are the Points of Conversion and Departure Between Science and Social Science?
  • How Can Social Science Theory Help Reduce Crime?
  • What Are the Benefits of Social Science Research?
  • Why Are Arts, Humanities, and Social Science Students Key to Our Future?
  • From Where Do the Modern Social Sciences in America Come?
  • What Do You Think Is the Most Important Aspect of Social Studies?
  • Why Should Social Science Be Taught in Schools?
  • What Is the Job of Social Science?
  • Why Is Social Science Important in Our Life?
  • How Did Social Science Change the World?
  • What Will Happen if There Is No Social Science?
  • How Do Social Studies Prepare Students for Life?
  • Why Is Social Science Important as a School Subject?
  • How Do the Applied Social Sciences Processes Affect Your Personal Life?
  • What Is the Most Important Discipline of Social Science?
  • Can Social Science Help Us to Better Understand Our Lives and the Lives of Others in Society?
  • What Are the Benefits of Learning Social Studies?
  • How Can Social Sciences Contribute to Solving Problems?
  • What Do the Social Sciences Have in Common?
  • How Does Applied Social Sciences Affect Your Community?
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The Social Science Discipline. Research Paper Example.

The article in this research falls under the psychology discipline with the concentration on sports and exercise. This is because psychology entails science of mind and behavior while embracing all the unconscious and conscious experience and ideas which in this case, the researcher uses behavioral and cognitive factors to predict obesity. Also explored mental and behavior processes extending to the relationships between people. In the article, the scholar used empirical methods to try to measure the relationships between psychosocial variables as well as the usage of clinical and counseling methods which further show that psychological techniques were used. Also, the psychological knowledge was used in the study especially during treatment and assessment of the problems was utilized by the researcher with the aim of trying to solve some of the problems that parents and their children face when combating obesity.

Credibility of the Source

The sources used by the researcher are peer-reviewed scholarly journals which can be accessed online by other researchers. One example is Cook, W. L., & Kenny, D. A. (2005)-The actor-partner interdependence model: A model of bidirectional effects in developmental studies. The journals used in the research are conducted by qualified authors who are affiliated with institutions such as the university and who have taken part in numerous peer-review process that ensures that the research put online are of high quality. In the example above, Cook W.L. is an affiliate of the University of New England in Maine which confirms that the journals used are legitimately qualified. The sources utilized in the study are related and properly cited which then shows that the sources used were credible and thus the intended user can use them for their further researcher. Therefore, the sources used have met the standards required in the study.

Identification of Research Questions/Hypotheses

The research has identified three research questions that it entailed studying. The first research question is to investigate the parental and child awareness of safety and accessibility of exercise facilities for their children. Parents perceptions are important since they will then be able to allow or restrict their children to participate in physical activities. The second research question seeks to answer the parent and child physical activity since PA is a contributor to childhood obesity according to studies. The researcher knows that parents perception of physical activity is important since children will then decide to involve themselves in one. The third research question entailed examining the parental and child body fat percentage since the researcher wants to know if the two factors correlate with each other.

Identification of Important Sample Information

Both child and parent data collection took place either at the schools or in the general practitioners office. It was convenient for the collection of data for parents and children as it was done when the parents came to pick their children in the evening. Self-report items were used to interview children who fell in the age bracket between six and eight. On the other hand, children between the age of nine and eleven were summoned to read and write their answers unless they showed an inclination for taking part in the interview. The sample data was collected between 2011 and 2015 of which 13 study personnel were used in obtaining the information. The total numbers of children were 18 who were aged between 6-11 years old. Each interview lasted 30 minutes after which the height and weight of each of the children and their parents were taken.

Description of the Study Design

The procedure of the data collection was conducted smoothly with the data collection sites happening of from school or general practitioners office. Different data collection techniques depending on the age were used in the analysis with parents having the preference which mode they would want to use. As usual, all those who were not willing to participate were allowed to back down from participating in the study. Descriptive statistics were used to examine the relationship between children and their parents regarding their physical activity. The associations between the factors utilized in the analysis were examined using P-values. The total body fat was measured with the bioimpedance methods which were critical in monitoring the current through body issues (Horodyska et.al., 2017). The sample data were analyzed using the GPower calculator while the path analyses were examined using the IBM Amos 24.

The Main Findings of the Study

The results show implications for the growth of models that aims at explaining the importance of the physical activity and its health outcomes. The study entailed examining the perceptions of individuals and how it affects their behavior and obesity. The study assumptions that the perceptions of physical activity are the direct predictors of body fat and PA and thus the factors were important in examining the linkage between them. Also, the associations between the child and parental perceptions of their physical activity environment were important in understanding the importance of PA facilities.

Horodyska, K., Boberska, M., Knoll, N., Scholz, U., Radtke, T., Liszewska, N., & Luszczynska, A. (2017). What matters, parental or child perceptions of physical activity facilities? A prospective parent-child study explaining physical activity and body fat among children. Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

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  1. Social Science Disciplines Free Essay Example

    " Social Science Disciplines " Get custom paper NEW! smart matching with writer •Environmental Planning explores the decision-making processes for managing relationships within and between human systems and natural systems, in order to manage these processes in an effective, transparent and equitable manner.

  2. Social science

    social science, any branch of academic study or science that deals with human behaviour in its social and cultural aspects. Usually included within the social sciences are cultural (or social) anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and economics.The discipline of historiography is regarded by many as a social science, and certain areas of historical study are almost ...

  3. Social science Free Essay Examples And Topic Ideas

    23 essay samples found. Social science is a branch of learning that examines society and the relationships among individuals within society. It encompasses various disciplines like sociology, psychology, political science, economics, anthropology, and more. Essays on social science might explore methodologies, theories, or the practical ...

  4. Social Science and Contemporary Social Problems

    The social sciences, like the physical or biological sciences, are intellectual subjects, directed primarily toward understanding, rather than action. It would of course be a curious kind of "understanding" that had no implications for action, and this is perhaps especially true for the social sciences.

  5. PDF What is a Social Science Essay?

    6.1 and 8.2); the use of theory to build explanations about how the social world works (see Section 8.2). Evidence is important in social scientific writing because it is used to support or query beliefs, propositions or hypotheses about the social world. Let's take an example. A social scientist may ask: 'Does prison work?'

  6. What I Have Learned from Social Science

    January 1, 2021. I've spent my adult life in and around social science. Academically through studying psychology and linguistics (alongside philosophy), professionally through working at SAGE for over 30 years and personally through an abiding amateur interest in various fields sometimes expressed in my own writing of books or articles.

  7. 101 Social Science Essay Topics

    Learn more 🏆 Best Essay Topics on Social Science Action Research and Its Types in Social Sciences To assess action research, one should describe different types of it and identify the differences between it and more conventional kinds of social science research. What Is Meant By Social Science Paradigms?

  8. Common Assignments: Writing in the Social Sciences

    When writing in the social sciences, however, students must also be familiar with the goals of the discipline as these inform the discipline's writing expectations. According to Ragin (1994), the primary goal of social science research is "identifying order in the complexity of social life" (para. 1). Serving the primary goal are the ...

  9. Writing in the Social Sciences & Humanities

    Learn more about the discipline-specific styles for Creative Writing (including journalism, writing fiction, and creative non-fiction), writing in the Social Sciences (including psychology, gender & sexuality studies, sociology, social work, international relations, and politics), and crafting your essay in the Arts and Humanities (including ...

  10. What is a Social Science Essay?

    At its simplest, a social science essay looks something like this: Title | Every essay should begin with the title written out in full. In some cases this will simply be the set question or statement for discussion. Introduction | The introduction tells the reader what the essay is about.

  11. Social Science

    Social Science Essays: In-depth, Thought-provoking Collection Free database of essays offering insights & solutions Crafted by top students for your research needs. ... It is a discipline that unravels the paradoxical nature of our existence, where the terrible and the magnificent often coexist. In this essay, we will delve into the ...

  12. Social Science

    Seven of those social sciences are: anthropology, archaeology, economics, history, geography, linguistics, and psychology. What is Social Science? Social science is defined as the...

  13. Interdisciplinarity: Its Meaning and Consequences

    He concluded his essay by contending that "disciplines stand for stability and uniformity," whereas "interdisciplinarity is a code word for diversity and adaptability" (pp. 81-82). ... coherent coordination between the different and sometimes contradictory development strategies proposed by the separate social science disciplines ...

  14. Sociology

    sociology, a social science that studies human societies, their interactions, and the processes that preserve and change them. It does this by examining the dynamics of constituent parts of societies such as institutions, communities, populations, and gender, racial, or age groups.

  15. Social science disciplines

    Sociology. Sociology involves groups of people, rather than individuals, and attempts to understand the way people relate to each other and function as a society or social subgroups. This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback.

  16. 25 Social Sciences Examples (2023)

    The social sciences are academic disciplines concerned with the study of human society and social relationships (Stone, 2018). Social sciences disciplines span sociology, psychology, political science, anthropology, geography, and economics, among others.

  17. Importance of Social Science in Our Daily Life

    Social science enhances our critical thinking skills, broadens our perspectives, and enriches our interactions with the world. Whether through economics, psychology, sociology, or other disciplines, social science provides the foundation for a better understanding of ourselves and the societies we inhabit. Keep in mind: This is only a sample.

  18. ESSAYS.docx

    Discipline and Ideas in Social Sciences (DISS) In previous semester, we discussed about Discipline and Ideas in Social Sciences whereas we discuss the branches and its subfields.In Social Science it is more on to the discovering of facts about humans and other social animals.

  19. Knowledges in Disciplines and Cities: An Essay on Relations ...

    Here I indict social science (in general) and archaeology. Of Mainstream Social Science. As previously shown, contemporary social science consists of a mixture of old disciplines and various new areas of study. The latter can seem to be opportunist, perhaps transient, compared to the deep knowledge of the disciplines.

  20. Three Social Science Disciplines Essay

    Three Social Science Disciplines Essay Decent Essays 884 Words 4 Pages Open Document 1. Which of the three social science disciplines (anthropology, psychology, sociology) do you think examines the most interesting aspects of human behaviour? Explain your reasoning.

  21. 123 Social Science Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

    Social Science Theorist: Karl Marx. According to Marx there are two major classes of people in a society; the ruling class and the subjects. Marx also used capitalism to define and study history and he concluded that all social conflicts […] Social Science Theory and How it relates to Social Phenomena. It is therefore in the light of this ...

  22. Different Disciplines of Social Science

    An essay on how different Social Science disciplines can research and evaluate a social issue which in this assignment is unemployment Introduction The Social Sciences consist of a variety of disciplines which include Philosophy, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Economics and Social Policy (NUI Handbook 2011).

  23. The Social Science Discipline. Research Paper Example

    The article in this research falls under the psychology discipline with the concentration on sports and exercise. This is because psychology entails science of mind and behavior while embracing all the unconscious and conscious experience and ideas which in this case, the researcher uses behavioral and cognitive factors to predict obesity.