The social sciences are the fields of academic scholarship that study society. "Social science" is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a plurality of fields outside of the natural sciences. These include: anthropology, archaeology, business administration, development studies, economics, geography, history, law, linguistics, political science, international relations, communication, and, in some contexts, psychology.
The term may be used, however, in the specific context of referring to the original science of society established in 19th century sociology. Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber are typically cited as the principal architects of modern social science by this definition. Positivist social scientists use methods resembling those of the natural sciences as tools for understanding society, and so define science in its stricter modern sense. Interpretivist social scientists, by contrast, may use social critique or symbolic interpretation rather than constructing empirically falsifiable theories, and thus treat science in its broader classical sense. In modern academic practice researchers are often eclectic, using multiple methodologies (for instance, by combining quantitative and qualitative techniques). The term "social research" has also acquired a degree of autonomy as practitioners from various disciplines share in its aims and methods.
The history of the social sciences begins in the roots of ancient philosophy. In Ancient history, there was no difference between mathematics and the study of history, poetry or politics. Significant contributions to the social sciences were made by Muslim scientists in the Islamic civilization during the Middle Ages. This unity of science as descriptive remains and deductive reasoning from axioms created a scientific framework.
The Age of Enlightenment saw a revolution within natural philosophy, changing the basic framework by which individuals understood what was "scientific". In some quarters, the accelerating trend of mathematical studies presumed a reality independent of the observer and worked by its own rules. Social sciences came forth from the moral philosophy of the time and was influenced by the Age of Revolutions, such as the Industrial revolution and the French revolution. The social sciences developed from the sciences (experimental and applied), or the systematic knowledge-bases or prescriptive practices, relating to the social improvement of a group of interacting entities.
The beginnings of the social sciences in the 18th century are reflected in various grand encyclopedia of Diderot, with articles from Rousseau and other pioneers. The growth of the social sciences is also reflected in other specialized encyclopedias. The modern period saw "social science" first used as a distinct conceptual field. Social science was influenced by positivism, focusing on knowledge based on actual positive sense experience and avoiding the negative; metaphysical speculation was avoided. Auguste Comte used the term "science social" to describe the field, taken from the ideas of Charles Fourier; Comte also referred to the field as social physics.
Following this period, there were five paths of development that sprang forth in the Social Sciences, influenced by Comte or other fields. One route that was taken was the rise of social research. Large statistical surveys were undertaken in various parts of the United States and Europe. Another route undertaken was initiated by Émile Durkheim, studying "social facts", and Vilfredo Pareto, opening metatheoretical ideas and individual theories. A third means developed, arising from the methodological dichotomy present, in which the social phenomena was identified with and understood; this was championed by figures such as Max Weber. The fourth route taken, based in economics, was developed and furthered economic knowledge as a hard science. The last path was the correlation of knowledge and social values; the antipositivism and verstehen sociology of Max Weber firmly demanded on this distinction. In this route, theory (description) and prescription were non-overlapping formal discussions of a subject.
Around the turn of the 20th century, Enlightenment philosophy was challenged in various quarters. After the use of classical theories since the end of the scientific revolution, various fields substituted mathematics studies for experimental studies and examining equations to build a theoretical structure. The development of social science subfields became very quantitative in methodology. Conversely, the interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary nature of scientific inquiry into human behavior and social and environmental factors affecting it made many of the natural sciences interested in some aspects of social science methodology. Examples of boundary blurring include emerging disciplines like social research of medicine, sociobiology, neuropsychology, bioeconomics and the history and sociology of science. Increasingly, quantitative research and qualitative methods are being integrated in the study of human action and its implications and consequences. In the first half of the 20th century, statistics became a free-standing discipline of applied mathematics. Statistical methods were used confidently.
In the contemporary period, Karl Popper and Talcott Parsons influenced the furtherance of the social sciences. Researchers continues to search for a unified consensus on what methodology might have the power and refinement to connect a proposed "grand theory" with the various midrange theories which, with considerable success, continue to provide usable frameworks for massive, growing data banks; for more, see consilience. At present though, the various realms of social science progress in a myriad of ways, increasing the overall knowledge of society. The social sciences will for the foreseeable future be composed of different zones in the research of, and sometime distinct in approach toward, the field.
The term "social science" may refer either to the specific sciences of society established by thinkers such as Comte, Durkheim, Marx, and Weber, or more generally to all disciplines outside of noble science and arts. By the late 19th century, the academic social sciences were constituted of five fields: jurisprudence and amendment of the law, education, health, economy and trade, and art.
The following are problem areas and discipline branches within the social sciences.
The Social Science disciplines are branches of knowledge which are taught and researched at the college or university level. Social Science disciplines are defined and recognized by the academic journals in which research is published, and the learned Social Science societies and academic departments or faculties to which their practitioners belong. Social Science fields of study usually have several sub-disciplines or branches, and the distinguishing lines between these are often both arbitrary and ambiguous.
Anthropology is the holistic "science of man". The discipline deals with the integration of different aspects of the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Human Biology. In the twentieth century, academic disciplines have often been institutionally divided into three broad domains. The natural sciences seek to derive general laws through reproducible and verifiable experiments. The humanities generally study local traditions, through their history, literature, music, and arts, with an emphasis on understanding particular individuals, events, or eras. The social sciences have generally attempted to develop scientific methods to understand social phenomena in a generalizable way, though usually with methods distinct from those of the natural sciences.
The anthropological social sciences often develop statistical descriptions rather than the general laws derived in physics or chemistry, or they may explain individual cases through more general principles, as in many fields of psychology. Anthropology (like some fields of history) does not easily fit into one of these categories, and different branches of anthropology draw on one or more of these domains. It includes Archaeology, Prehistory, Physical or Biological Anthropology, Anthropological Linguistics, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Ethnology and Ethnography. It is an area that is offered at most undergraduate institutions. The word anthropos (άνθρωπος) is from the Greek for "human being" or "person." Eric Wolf described sociocultural anthropology as "the most scientific of the humanities, and the most humanistic of the sciences."
The goal of anthropology is to provide a holistic account of humans and human nature. Since anthropology arose as a science in Western societies that were complex and industrial, a major trend within anthropology has been a methodological drive to study peoples in societies with more simple social organization, sometimes called "primitive" in anthropological literature, but without any connotation of "inferior." Today, most anthropologists use terms such as "less complex" societies or refer to specific modes of subsistence or production, such as "hunter-gatherer" or "forager" or "simple farmer" to refer to humans living in non-industrial, non-Western cultures, such people or folk (ethnos) remaining of great interest within anthropology.
The quest for holism leads most anthropologists to study a particular folk or people in detail, using biogenetic, archaeological, and linguistic data alongside direct observation of contemporary customs. In the 1990s and 2000s, calls for clarification of what constitutes a culture, of how an observer knows where his or her own culture ends and another begins, and other crucial topics in writing anthropology were heard. It is possible to view all human cultures as part of one large, evolving global culture. These dynamic relationships, between what can be observed on the ground, as opposed to what can be observed by compiling many local observations remain fundamental in any kind of anthropology, whether cultural, biological, linguistic or archaeological.