History of Social Sciences
Running Head: THE HISTORY OF SOCIAL SCIENCES The History Of Social Sciences: Senior Seminar Project Rebecca Pottle In order to provide a historical view of the social sciences, it is critical to include a definition of just what exactly social science is. Social science is a somewhat complex field, in that it encompasses several sub-fields within, or sub-branches if you will. The simplest definition is the study of human society and of individual relationships in and to society.
It can also be defined as a scientific discipline that deals with such study, generally regarded as including sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, political science and history. (1). My definition of social sciences, although not supported by all in the field, is an interconnectedness of specific aspects of various components in society. For example, if you were seeking answers to the current state of the economic issues going on in the United States, one must first look at all elements that are contributing to the poor economy, instead of just narrowing it down to one area, such as lack of employment options.
There are several layers involved in social sciences, just as there is to the example of the economic situation the United States is dealing with. A social scientist studies all aspects of society, from past events and achievements, to human behavior and relationships among groups. The research is used to provide insight into the different ways individuals, institutions and groups make decisions, respond to change and exercise power. The studies and analyses drawn by social scientists provide possible solutions to social, economic, business, governmental, environmental and even personal problems.
Social scientists have certainly earned the reputation of being problem solvers! Although there is controversy within the sciences as to whether or not social science is a “true” science, history has proven that social scientists are a unique, necessary breed of problem solvers. So why does one seek higher education opportunities in the social science field? For some such as myself, it is an accidental discovery of a strong interest in the subject. A student may be well aware that they have an inner-drive to help others but not entirely clear on how to channel that desire into a specific degree.
For me the journey into a social science degree was ignited by my first course in sociology. Most agree it is much easier to grasp the theories and information about a certain topic if the student holds an interest in the subject matter. Due to my limited knowledge of social sciences upon my entry into college, I was unable to identify this as a degree option. Was my lack of knowledge of a degree available in social sciences related to the controversy around social sciences as being a “true” science?
Unfortunately I cannot say for certain why I was not provided this as a career choice during my pre-entrance career guidance, but I do believe that much more information about this field needs to be disseminated to graduating seniors. Perhaps when social sciences are deemed as important and “scientific” as the other natural sciences, than the information about this field will be better spread. As stated earlier, there is a bit of controversy in regards to the validity of social sciences being labeled as a science.
At the base of the disagreement lies the definition of science itself. Some scientists, who rely on more concrete laws, measurement tools and concrete scientific measuring, doubt the validity of social sciences as a whole. The two sides debate that social science can be termed that of a science because, the physical sciences believe that social scientists draw analyses that can be subjective and can manipulate the research design to sway the outcome, where a physical science such as biology can’t.
Social sciences are often criticized as being less scientific than the natural sciences, as they are believed to be less rigorous or empirical in their methods. Typically the main reason social sciences are criticized is that this science is largely observational and the explanations for cause-effect relationships are largely subjective. Interestingly during the Ancient times, a distinction, or splitting of the sciences didn’t exist between math, history, poetry or politics. The development of the mathematical proof resulted in a gradual raise in perceived differences between “scientific” disciplines and others.
The use of field research is perhaps the strongest similarity between social science and the various other “hard” sciences. Social scientists in an attempt to draw analyses about a certain phenomena do just as the words suggest; study within the field. The field experiment can be done in a laboratory setting but because the subject matter is behaviors and relationships it is extremely important to keep the setting as natural as possible or as the subject would act within it’s regular natural setting. Social science theories did not completely originate in the United States. In fact, Muslims made the first contributions to the social sciences in Islamic civilizations. Often termed the “first anthropologist” Ali-Biruni (973-1048) developed comparative studies on the anthropology of peoples, cultures and religions in the Middle East, South Asia and Mediterranean. His success with the anthropology of religion was made possible by deeply immersing himself in the lore of various nations.
This type of field practice laid the basic guidelines for future successful anthropological studying of various cultures in that to best study and report back findings it is critical to immerse oneself into a particular culture or field research. There are many historians that can be credited for the development of the social sciences. Probably the most influential historians often termed “the father of social sciences or sociology” was the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857). He first introduced the term sociology in 1838 in which he defined sociology as a scientific study of a society.
Comte introduced the theory of positivism. Comte’s development of positivism was a belief that a society historically undergoes three phases in its quest for the truth, or also termed “The Law of Three Stages”. The three phases include in this particular order: theological, metaphysical and scientific/positive are attempts at understanding the nature of life using various reasoning that all societies developmentally progress through. The theological phase is the phase passed through, which includes a whole-hearted belief in all areas and things as they relate to God, or God’s will.
This phase deals with humankind’s acceptance of the doctrines of the church rather than searching for alternative explanations about humankind’s existence. The restrictions put on the society by the various religious organizations were accepted as facts. The theological phase according to Compte, was predominantly prior to the Enlightenment era. Man believed nature to be mythically conceived and sought the explanation of natural phenomena from supernatural beings. The metaphysical phase is derived from the Greek meta ta physika (“after the things of nature”).
It is within this phase that explanations to explain inherent or universal elements of reality are sought that are not easily discovered or experienced in everyday life. This phase instills a belief of the importance of universal human rights. Human beings are born with certain rights that must first and foremost be protected. Comte recognizes the development of this stage during the rise and fall of democracies and dictators in attempts to protect the innate rights of humanity. Much of the philosophy of this stage is present in modern time.
Mankind still places a strong value on the rights of individuals. Comte places the beginning of this phase at around the time of the Enlightenment in which logical rationalism was at its peek and continued until after the French Revolution. This stage has also been considered the stage of investigation in which people started reasoning and questioning which was quite different than the previous theological phase in which such questioning would not be considered. The final stage as mentioned earlier, is the positive stage sometimes referred to as the scientific stage.
It is this stage in which the foundation of social sciences was laid. Comte argued that a society needs scientific knowledge based on facts and evidence to solve various social problems instead of speculation and superstition, which reigned in the previous two stages of social development. The overall central idea of this is phase is that individual rights are more important than the rule of a person. Comte believed that humanity is able to govern itself, which makes this stage so different from the rest.
Comte believed that appreciation of the past and progression thorough the phases are necessary steps to transitioning through the theological, metaphysical to positivism. Positivism holds firmly a belief that only authentic knowledge can be received by the actual sense experience and that affirmation of these theories must come through strict scientific methods. The progression through the phases is due to the development of the human mind, increased application of thoughts and applying reason and logic to the understanding of the world.
Much of Comte’s philosophy provided extreme value to the social sciences as it has come to be known today. Perhaps the most thought-provoking theory in my opinion was his belief in valuing historical discoveries and knowledge when seeking answers to current issues. He believed that sociology would “lead to the historical consideration of every science” and in his opinion “the history of one science, including pure political history, would make no sense unless it were attached to the study of the general progress of all humanity.
Much of this type of thinking can be likened to the later developed functionalism theory. He believed in an interconnectedness of different social elements, which is where I position my beliefs. Although Comte had much to offer the future of social sciences, he didn’t win the minds and opinions of all he tried to influence. To some, his theory on positivism in itself was contradictory by his behaviors. Again, this stage is described as an evolution from the theological stage, yet Comte in his later work attempted to elevate Positivism into a type of a religion and in fact named himself the “Pope of Positivsm”.
This type of behavior contradicted his total theory of the progression through the phases. Throughout history and present in today’s time, there has been consistent rejection of science and religion of any type. It was Comte’s hope that the role of sociologists would involve developing a base of scientific social knowledge and that this knowledge would guide society into a positive direction. Comte consistently tried to demonstrate that each science is necessarily dependent on the previous science.
He believed that each science developed by a logic that was applicable to that particular science and subsequent knowledge could only be revealed by the historical study of that science. The sciences themselves are classified on the basis of increasing complexity and decreasing generality of application in the ascending order: mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology. Each science depends at least in part on the science preceding it; hence all contribute to sociology (a term that Comte himself published).
A definite social reformer, Comte felt that a sociology developed by the methods of positivism could achieve harmony and well being for mankind. His theory was ignited with a passionate hope that society may develop in which individuals and nations could live in harmony and comfort. He theorized that with the continued development of the science of sociology, a superior stage of civilization could exist. Perhaps Comte states it best with the following statements: “Here, then, is the great, but evidently the only, gap that has to be filled in order to finish the construction of positive philosophy.
Now that the human mind has founded celestial physics, terrestrial physics (mechanical and chemical), and organic physics (vegetable and animal), it only remains to complete the system of observational sciences by the foundation of social physics [sociology]. We need a new class of properly-trained scientists, who, instead of devoting themselves to the special study of any particular branch of natural philosophy, shall employ themselves solely in the consideration of the different positive sciences in their present state. So very much of Comte’s thinking can be considered contributions to the social sciences of today. His research methods and emphasis on a quantitative mathematical basis for decision-making is present with us today. His cyclical method between theory and practice is utilized regularly in not only social sciences, but within certain business practices such as total quality management. I would argue that Comte’s viewpoints provided an opportunity for mankind to view the world they live in much differently than they would have prior to his contributions.
His different views opened up the minds of many and paved the way for future advancement of mankind to say the least. His thoughts opened up the imaginations and possibilities of many future scientists. Another famous social science historian or “father of sociology” as he too has been coined, was Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). Durkheim’s work followed much of Comte’s goals in establishing a science of society. His theory argued that in order to make a scientific study of a society, one must think about society and it’s parts as real, and social facts as things.
To Durkheim society is really real and not something that emerges from individuals interacting. This type of philosophy received much criticism as for those who challenged his thinking like Max Weber; see individuals as real, and society an abstraction that explains the relations of those individuals. Durkheim termed individuals in a society as social actors and when they interacted, social systems came into being that had properties that could not be reduced to the characteristics of those individuals. His focus was not on what motivated the actions of individuals but rather studying the social facts.
He argued that the independent existence of social facts were greater and more objective than actions of individuals and thus could only be explained with use of social facts instead of focusing on what motivates the actions of individuals. Durkheim founded the first European department of sociology at the University of Bourdeaux. Durkheim founded the L’Annee Sociologique in 1896 as a communication method of his research and that of his students. It was the work of this journal that helped establish sociology within the academias and became an accepted social science.
This method of sharing research findings became common practice and an expectation within the social sciences and remains a critical component to the social sciences. Throughout his lifetime, Durkheim gave numerous lectures as well as publishing multiple studies on subjects like crime, religion, suicide and education. It is not an easy feat to narrow it down to one area in which Durkheim’s influence complimented the social sciences. His theory on the purpose of education in society was certainly an interesting perspective worthy of consideration.
He utilized his profession as a teacher of teachers to integrate his sociological beliefs into curricula. Durkheim believed that education in a society served multiple functions. The first function of education is to reinforce social solidarity. History sharing or sharing the accomplishments of individuals who have done good things for many leads to feelings of insignificance by individuals. The practice of pledging allegiance makes individuals feel part of a group and less likely to break social rules.
The second function of education is to maintain and foster specific social roles. Durkheim viewed school as a miniature replica of society as it had similar hierarchy, rules and expectations and the main goals are to train young people to fulfill certain roles in the society. The third function of education is to maintain the division of labour. Schools sort students into various skill set groups and encourage those students to take up employment in the fields in which their abilities best suit them for.
This type of philosophy is certainly deserving of consideration. When one views the current schooling system it would be hard to debate that education does not in part fill some of the functions that Durkheim pointed out. In his 1893 publication The Division of Labour in Society Emile Durkheim attempted to describe the transition from primitive societies to advanced industrial societies. Durkheim argued that social order was maintained in society and that people act and think collectively alike with a common conscience to maintain that social order.
Durkheim theorized that the type of social solidarity is dependent on the type of society. Often in smaller societies or primitive societies, mechanical solidarity cohesion is derived from the homogeneity of the societies individual’s as people feel connected through similar work, religion, lifestyles, and educational opportunities. In modern industrial societies organic solidarity arises. A type of interdependent labor develops or specialization forms of work that is complimentary to its members.
Although individuals perform different tasks and different values are placed on the various tasks, the solidarity is dependent on societies reliance on each other to perform their specific tasks. Durkheim worried that the transition from primitive to advance industrialized would cause disorder, anomie and crisis. He firmly believed that moral regulation was necessary along with economic regulation to maintain social order. According to Durhkheim crime is a normal part of all societies and is present in all types of societies.
He further argues that it is a societal necessity that allows members of a society, through chastising of those who violate the law, reaffirm their social values and this process develops the collective conscience and strengthens social solidarity. He believed that crime was necessary for a society to evolve and maintain itself. He describes a society that is without crime in a state of anomie or normlessness state. Although Durkheim believes society causes crime, he believes societies should not try to eradicate crime, as he believes crime is as equally important as conformity.
This type of view on crime has historically earned much criticism but is certainly worthy of consideration. One could go on and on providing brief descriptions about the various contributors to social sciences but at at this time I feel it is important to shift the content of this research as it applies to United States. The first course in sociology was insturcted by Frank Blackmar at the Univeristy of Kansas entitled “Elements of Sociology” in 1890. This course is the oldest continuing sociology course in the United States.
The first department of Sociology to form in the United States was at the University of Chicago in 1892. This department was founded by Albion Woodbury Small who was born and raised in Maine. Prior to founding the socilogical department at the University of Chicago he instructed at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. In 1895, Albion Woodbury Small established the American Journal of Sociology which is the oldest socilogical scholoary journal dealing with socilogy in the United States. Another Maine born sociologist was Edward Cary Hayes (1868-1928).
He attended and became president of the American Sociological Association. Hayes originally enrolled in the University of Chicago to study philosophy but his interestes were peeked with the topic of sociology. Hayes received instruction from Albion Small. Hayes is often viewed as one of the original pioneers who promoted the assimilation of sociology into the American educational system. Now that social science has been proven their academic worthiness, what does the future hold for social science?
Comte’s original hope that all sciences would acknowledge an evolution to social sciences has yet to come to complete fruition. Social sciences is divided into sub-branches and thus the term social science is considered very broad to say the least. The use of scientific method inquiries has provided some creditability to the social sciences but the sub-branches such as anthropology, economics, linguistics and political scientists are often more identified as the science instead of the broader term social science itself.
The data provided by various scientific research methods, as they pertain to people have been critical in solving various social problems and inquiries. The battle for valididty that society is an object of an organized body of knowledge, capable of being standardized and taught objectively, using rules and methodology is a continous battle worth social sciences persistence. Social scientists have conformed or rearranged their methods to adjust to each era. Shortly after World War I scientists were pushed to apply statistics and mathematical measurments to validate what was once previously studied by observation alone.
Perhaps one of the greatest assets of the social science field is the diverse openmindness that ecompasses these professionals which seems to be a reoccuring philosphy throughout history and is vital to it’s continuance. For many, the impact social scientists have on our society goes unnoticed. It would be hard for anyone to argue that certain human behaviors do not impact individuals at some level or another. I believe that when people are provided certain news stories or research findings that they perhaps don’t think of who the professionals are that behind the findings.
Some indiviudals when they hear the word science receive a visual image of the stereotypical scientist in the white lab coat. So much of our lives are influenced by the work of social scientist of the past and present, from our educational system, to parenting, to health care issues and our spending habits. Historically the findings of social scientists have transformed our world and will continue to compliment our knowledge base as we tranform into the future. So you may ask where would we be today if such historians like Comte and Durkheim didn’t believe that their was a need for social sciences?
To answer this question, it is important to look at what is considered measurable contributions. If you are a female reading this articile, have you ever thought about how women were treated throughout history in comparision to their role in society today? Without the efforts of such social organziations like “NOW” and various other orgnaizations aimed at providing equal opportunites for women, the feasiblilty of a female for president would never exist. Social scientists especially those who fall under the Women’s studies are often considered activists.
Not all social scientists are activists in the complete sense of the word such as feminist social scientists are thought to be, but they all have one common thread and that is to observe a situation and provide insight as to the impact on the individuals and the society as a whole. Much of the current work of social scientists today focuses on analyzing the ripple effect human behavior has on nearly everything from economics, to educational pursuits to the enviroment. Recent technological advances have created signifigant changes for some aspects of the work social scientists undergo. Social scientists developed the processs of peer reviews.
The purpose of peer reviews is for the scientist to share their findings with other professionals and receive feedback. The feedback the scientist receives often helps clarify any confusing content and has often led to future research topics. With the invention of the world wide web, social scientists have more access to knowledge than they would have ever dreamed about a little over fifty years ago. As our society has evolved into an interactive online type of society so too have the social scientists. In fact new types of social sciences have speacilized in the social science of technology.
Interestingly the internet in itself has been termed a type of society or vitual society if you will. The internet has created new forms of social interaction activities and social orgnaization largely because of the widespread usability and access. Much of regular social interaction is now reserved for online social networking. For sure, certain internet domains like Facebook and Myspace have created a new method for regular connecting and interacting with others. Social sciences has maintained and perhaps proven increased importance with the explosion of the internet era.
Social scientists are key players in understanding the impact the internet has on our society. In fact specifc fields have developed as a result of the invention of the internet and it’s impact on our society. A fairly newly developed sub-field, Science and Technology Studies has developed as a response to the need for understanding technology and society. The focus on this particular field study is how political, social and cultural values, affect scientifiic research and technological innovation, and how these in turn affect society, politics and culture.
Scholars in this field often gravitate towards this subject due to firm beliefs that science and technology are socially embedded constructs. Would Comte be surprised with our era’s tehnolgocial breakthrough? One cannot say for certain, but in my opinon I believe he would argue that the invention of the computer and the explosion of the internet like many other sciences could find value in consulting with social science scholoras to understand the human or social impact to this innovation. To conclude, just as so many of the other scientists have had to evolve to meet the current societal needs, so too have the social sciences.
With new found diseases such as AIDS, doctors have had to increase their knowledge of the disease to meet the current large numbers of AIDS infected patients. What would life be like without doctors to help these critically ill patients? One would not want to even begin to think about the poor quality of life we would have without the current medical breakthroughs. One would also not like to dream of what the world would be like without social scientists. Just as doctors are vital to the biological sciences so too are scientist in the social science fields.
Human beings are so much more than a physical composition, and social scientists are a necessary component to understanding the social complexities of human beings. It is nearly impossible to put in a list the contributions social scientists have made to mankind. If you are still doubting the value a social science education can provide to society think about the following questions. Police are educated on how to solve specific crimes but they can thank the social scientist for understanding what might contributing to a higher-level of crimes.
Accountants are educated with methods of acceptable accounting methods but they can thank social scientists for helping understanding what’s driving a certain cost up. Physicians are educated on how to treat sexually transmitted dieseases yet they too can thank the social scientsists for providing insight as to the causes of higher levels of unprotected sex. The point I am trying to make is that in nearly every profession known to man, the social component to that profession has come to rely on the knowledge social scientists have gathered in their field to compliment the other profession.
Each field has their own specific strength that accompanies that particular field, and nearly all aspcets of our life can be benefited with the use of social science research and findings. References Retrieved on January 28, 2009; http://www. wpunj. edu/cohss/philosophy/LOVERS/19th. htm Retrieved on February 13, 2009 http://www. sociosite. net/topics/culture. php#WEBCULTURE Retrieved on February 13, 2009http://www. mdx. ac. uk/WWW/STUDY/lecSHE. htm Retrieved on February 18, 2009 http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Social_sciences Retrieved on February 18, 2009 http://www. answers. com/topic/social-sciences
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