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SCOPE AND ORIGINS OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES

Essay Test 1:
The Scope and Origins of the Social Sciences
Rebecca Sproul
University of Maine at Augusta
October 2, 2016

SCOPE AND ORIGINS OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES

Essay Test 1: The Scope and Origins of the Social Sciences


Many of us seek all of the answers, the truth. We particularly seek the true understanding
of human nature, of who we are and why. We seek the knowledge of reasoning behind social
order, structure, policy, and behavior. Though such truth may not exist, one place to look might
be within the social sciences. The Encyclopdia Britannica describes the social sciences as being
any discipline or branch of science that deals with human behaviour in its social and cultural
aspects . . . [including] cultural (or social) anthropology, sociology, social psychology, political
science, and economics (Nisbet, 2016). The scope of the human sciences is vast, and the origins
no less so. In fact, it was gradual worldview shifting from the seventeenth century on which led to
the ultimate acceptance and development of the social sciences, which now includes multiple
divisions and subdivisions, related to, yet independent from, the data and natural sciences.
As we look back upon our history in the social sciences, it is endlessly fascinating to
remember only a couple hundred years ago, the social sciences were the purview of a select few
if anyone at alland the public had very little interest in or time to devote to the advanced study
of ourselves and our past (Sailus, 2016). Yet, now, we find ourselves in the midst of dozens of
potential specializations and fields in which to work. Although, strictly speaking, the social
sciences do not precede the 19th centurythat is, as distinct and recognized disciplines of
thought. . . in the largest sense, the origins go all the way back to the ancient Greeks and their
rationalist inquiries into the nature of humans, state, and morality (Nisbet, 2016). From the
beginning of time, people have been filled with wonder and curiosity about the nature of man, and
the world which surrounds him. While Karl Marx remains the father of the social sciences based
on his contributions in the nineteenth century, a drastic worldview change was needed for his ideas

SCOPE AND ORIGINS OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES

to first be formed, and, ultimately, to be accepted. This worldview change was a gradual one, but
necessary.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a few factors contributed to the idea of
the social sciences which would later be solidified in the nineteenth century. In essence, people
were becoming more aware of there being a unique human experience. As slave trade increased,
and as we began to explore the earth, finding other peoples of other colors, ethnocentrism became
a powerful way of thought, influencing educated people to see non-Western peoples as different
(Nisbet, 2016). Thus, if they were different, their human experience must, too, be different.
Similarly, society was developing cultures based on expectations for human behavior (Nisbet,
2016). Those expectations would help in the development of the social sciences, because people
already believed in the concept of the need for humans to maintain those expectations, and,
ultimately, that there were forces that might hinder, or conflict with, such maintenance. Also in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were more developed social structures in terms of
government and economics (Nisbet, 2016). The organization required knowledge about traits
necessary for ranking. For example, if a man is known as a good leader, he may fall higher on the
pyramid than a man known for his weakness.
It was not, however, until the nineteenth century that the social sciences were considered
to be truly derived.
The Enlightenment of the 18th century and early 19th century fostered the growth
of philosophical objectivity among scholars and the study of the natural world.
Humans were increasingly considered part of [the] natural world, and as Darwin's
theories concerning the evolution of man began to be accepted, the history and

SCOPE AND ORIGINS OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES

characteristics of the natural world became just as acceptable subjects of study as


the more concrete sciences. (Sailus, 2016)
Likewise, the French and Industrial Revolutions led to ways of thought which promoted the ideas
necessary to successfully develop the social sciences. Politics, economics, technology, social
structure, and cultural expectations quickly shifted during this time (Nisbet, 2016). All of these
changes allowed for altered worldviews, consequently. With a quickly growing population, and
intense labor systems in place, people became more aware of the human condition. Society gained
a positivist, humanitarian perspective. It was this perspective which allowed Marx and his theories
about social structure, economics, and the functions of people within a society to be well-received.
Though the social sciences fall into one broad category, accompanied by the broad
definition of being the study of social human behavior, there are many distinct specializations, and
within those, many sub-divisions. History, while oftentimes regarded as a social science, is instead
regarded by most historians as part of the humanities (Nisbet, 2016). Instead, economics, political
science, cultural anthropology, sociology, social psychology, and social geography compose the
main specializations, but in no way exemplify all of the areas they cover. Social scientists can
have job titles from social worker to financial manager, researcher to criminologist. While many
factors relate them to the natural and data sciences, many differentiate them. For example, biology
can, much like the social sciences, include the study of human life. Though, the biologist might
study the way the body works, while the social scientist studies the way the humans work together.
Similarly, the mathematician may look at data and draw conclusions, which the social scientist
also does, however, the latter looks at both quantitative and qualitative data to draw conclusions.
Conclusions, of course, do not always mean concrete answers. In fact, most often, research
in the social sciences will not lead to such (Luker, 2008, p. 16-17). Rather, research leads to

SCOPE AND ORIGINS OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES

knowledge, and deeper understanding. Such knowledge could, eventually, of course, lead to
answers, but there will always be another question waiting. What remains important, is that the
social sciences, with their breadth and infinite origins, allow us to do something so innately human:
to seek, to discover, and to learn. Based upon what we know about history, we can see that we
have a yearning to know about ourselves, and our relation to others, for no field would exist
without the desire to uncover more about it.

SCOPE AND ORIGINS OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES


References
Luker, K. (2008). Salsa dancing into the social sciences: Research in an age of info-glut.
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Nisbet, R. A. (2016). Social science. Retrieved September 28, 2016, from
https://www.britannica.com/topic/social-science
Sailus, C. (2016). Social science is born: History, anthropology, sociology, and archaeology.
Retrieved September 28, 2016 from http://study.com/academy/lesson/social-science-isborn-history-anthropology-sociology-and-archaeology.html

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