Sunday, November 04, 2007

What is Social Science?

Is Social Science a science? That question has been sat in my head for many years now. Its claim lies with use of qualitative and quantitative analysis. In broader terms, it seeks an objective body of knowledge that can be taught systematically. It is a soft science. Yet the more I study it, the more I understand that good vs bad social science is not just a matter of opinion, the mood of a University tutor on the day they mark an assignment. Good social science is well-structured, comprehensive and measurable. It builds on only the best, peer-reviewed theories that have gone before, leaving eccentric ideas that don't map to reality by the wayside. That and its brave attempt to illuminate our world provide it much in common with hard science.

A related question is what disciplines Social Sciences includes. Is Economics a Social Science? The London School of Economics seems to think so, being self-titled the UK's leading school of Social Science. What about History? hmm surely it helps in understanding today's society to be aware of patterns evident from the past? Philosophy? I'd vote that in too. Which makes it all the sadder that typical 3-year degree courses, Social Sciences in name, neglect to grasp not just topics but whole genres such as these, relegating them to 'Humanities' - which isn't the same at all.


Martin Garthwaite said...

Pharkie being a graduate of the Open University (absolutely fabulous University) and the London School of Economics I would offer the LSE's moto, Rerum cognoscere causas, "to understand the causes of things" as a way to view what economics means to LSE.

Pharkie said...

From what I've seen of Economics, it is strong on correlation, yet causation remains more an art than a science..?

Martin Garthwaite said...

interpreting the causes of things is certainly art and a science. LSE certainly changes the way you view the world, at least this is what all my particular cohort believed.