How Are the Social Sciences Related?

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

What does archaeology have to do with economics? How about psychology with linguistics? Let's have a look at what the social sciences have in common and how they relate to one another.

Interdisciplinary Connections

''The foot bone's connected to the leg bone. The leg bone's connected to the knee bone…'' You may have heard this little ditty that teaches children the parts of the body. In a similar way that parts of the body connect, the social sciences do too. '' The anthropology department's connected to the sociology department. The sociology department's connected to the economics department.'' (Somehow it doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?)

Perhaps an even better comparison is not just how one connects to another, but how they are all related, a bit like how the organs of the body work together to keep the body alive. In the case of the social sciences, each academic discipline plays a role in explaining the human condition.

Like the natural sciences (think chemistry, biology, and physics, for instance), the social sciences use tools and methods in a systematic way to explain the phenomenon they see in human culture and relationships. However, because of the nature of their subject - human beings - the social sciences often need to rely on different types of measures and descriptions than are used in the rest of the scientific community.

A bit like the children's song about the bones or how the body functions as a whole, let's consider how one discipline relates to the others.

Politics and the Economy

Let's start with observations about what system of government is best for a particular country. Every time we vote or listen to a presidential debate, we're engaged to some degree in the discipline of political science, the study of governmental systems, political activity, and policies.

You can't get too far in discussing government without considering what role government should play in the economy. Economics is the study of how resources and wealth are created and distributed.

Meanwhile, almost any discussion of political science or economics must discuss historical trends and how the distribution of resources has changed over time. History is the study of the events that have shaped the political and economic systems we have today and much more. With examples of just these three disciplines, you can start to see how one ties into the others.

One example of how you might incorporate all three of these social sciences into one research project would be if you were to study the topic of ''U.S. Government Spending during the 1950s.''

Society, Culture, and the Mind

Guess what? That essay you were going to write could also be made relevant to at least one other social science discipline: sociology, the study of society - how it is organized and how it has developed.

Perhaps you find out that while many people in the U.S. were increasing their wealth during the 1950's, many others were still quite poor. You start to consider how the experience of the middle class differed from that of the poor, and why society was divided (''stratified'') in this way.

If you had been alive in the 1950's, you could have considered studying this stratification in more depth, even deciding to observe a poor section of a nearby city, living there for several months to really understand what people's day-to-day lives are like and what they think about their economic situation. This research relates most to anthropology, the study of cultures, including their origins, characteristics, beliefs, and customs.

Now, let's say you discovered that those living in poverty still spent money on certain luxuries, and this surprises you. Perhaps you want to investigate the psychology of spending by those who would buy a rock-n-roll album even when they were low on food. Psychology is the study of human behavior and the function of the human mind. You could use this discipline to examine why a person might behave in unexpected ways.

If you were studying the 1950's today, you could reflect back on certain cultural artifacts of that era - such as an Elvis Presley album - and consider what significance these elements of material culture had on those who lived during the time. You'd be utilizing archaeology, the discipline that focuses on these objects from the past and analyzes their meaning.

These social sciences overlap in such significant ways that elements of different disciplines are combined into new sub-disciplines. ''Social psychology,'' for instance, is the study of how people behave in connection with others and is very close to the study of anthropology and sociology in many ways. Some disciplines can even straddle the social sciences and natural sciences, such as ''evolutionary anthropology,'' which includes the study of genetics.

Location and Language

The social science ''body'' sure has a lot of ''organs,'' doesn't it? We won't even cover them all in this lesson. However, let's wrap up with two more and see how they fit into the picture.

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