Social Sciences: An Overview

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CONTENTS

 

1.    WHAT IS SOCIAL SCIENCES

2.    ORIGIN OF SOCIAL SCIENCES

3.    SOCIAL SCIENCES: SECOND HALF OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

4.    SOCIAL SCIENCES IN INDIA: PRE-INDEPENDENCE ERA

5.    SOCIAL SCIENCES IN INDIA: POST-INDEPENDENCE ERA

6.    SOCIAL SCIENCES IN INDIA: INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK

7.      SOCIAL SCIENCES IN INDIA: INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH

8.    SOCIAL SCIENCES: INDENTIFYING DISCIPLINES

9.    CONCLUDING REMARKS

10. REFERENCE

 

1. WHAT IS SOCIAL SCIENCES

 

Social Sciences are a loosely assembled cluster of disciplines. The subjects coming under this group, study human behavior and inter-society as well as inter-personal relationships. According to International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, 1968, the subjects like political science, economics, sociology, social and cultural anthropology, economic geography come under this cluster. These are known as core social science disciplines. In addition to these, Indian Council of Social Science Research recognize certain other subjects as Social Sciences. They are psychology, management, international relations, social work, criminology, education, commerce, demography, law geography and linguistics. There is a debate whether it is possible to call these subjects as ‘science’ where the fundamental base is universal applicability of cause effect relationship. The debate has not been resolved completely. However, there is a tacit understanding among scholars that in some cases, social developments like the natural sciences also follow certain patterns which can be studied applying scientific method to make policies that can be pursued to mitigate or solve human problems. In general, research in natural sciences is described as a ‘brick laying’ method where each new development is built upon earlier accepted findings or results. In social sciences, the scholars communicate with each other. In this process, they examine, evaluate, accept or reject the ideas, beliefs, and findings of their peer groups.

 

Published scientific literature is meant for learning what is already known. Thus, it serves as a medium for disseminating research findings. Also, it plays the role of maintaining continuity in the development of science. On the contrary, social scientists normally use current as well as old literature for the purpose of exploration of facts and also for evaluation of ideas, beliefs, and findings of others.

 

2. ORIGIN OF SOCIAL SCIENCES

 

The concept ‘Social Science’ perhaps originated during the last quarter of 18th century in Europe when there was a ‘meaningful conceptualization’ of the idea of a ‘society’. In the beginning social science meant new forms of knowledge that emanated as a result of the efforts made to understand the world of modernity; i.e. process of industrialization, urbanization and also political upheaval that started in the Western Europe. This political change was characterized by shattering of absolutist regimes in many parts of the world. However, social science emerged as an institutionalized scholarly activity with a number of identified disciplines much later only in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The reason was wide-ranging effects of the new industrial and urban civilization which brought changes in working and living condition of the people in many parts of Europe. These changes were often referred to as ‘Social Questions’ and found place in the discussions or agendas of legislative bodies, committees and commissions appointed by the Government and scholarly societies. These political and social groupings started believing that ‘political action’ or state’s intervention in resolving ‘social questions’ should be based on empirical analysis of the underlying social problems. During this period the political agenda of the states was determined with two broad objectives in mind; i.e. i) the search for a solution to the ‘social question’ and the ii) question of national identity within new or reformed nation states.

 

However, this new approach to social and political knowledge did not help much in institutionalizing the social science subjects in the European academic institutions. For example the term sociology was conceived during the early nineteenth century. The eminent sociologists of the late nineteenth century i.e. Max Weber, Emile Durkheim and Pareto were social science generalists and their contributions were not confined to a particular discipline. Their academic work encompassed a wide range of fields that included politics, economics, education, history and religion. And during this period, the subject sociology was referred to as a broad historical comparative study of society.

 

Likewise in Europe, United States also recognized social sciences as activities oriented towards improving social and political conditions. For instance, American Social Science Association (1865) believed that a social scientist is basically a model citizen helping to improve the life of the community, not a professional disinterested disciplinary researcher. In later years, this conviction changed to a certain extent with the founding of discipline based associations like American Economic Association (1885), the American Political Science Association (1903), and the American Sociological Society (1905). In fact, by the end of the nineteenth century, a particular type of differentiation and professionalization was visible in U S A. Social Scientists attached to a particular stream started getting government service. Economists and Psychologists were early recruits during the First World War, followed by the demographers who were closely associated with the Bureau of the Census. American Universities also started recognizing social science disciplines and professions of social scientists in their research endeavors.

 

During the second decade of the twentieth century, particularly the end of First World War had an impact on social sciences. The result of the war was a triumph for liberal democracy. There was a reorganization of political order and weakening of Europe’s hegemony over the world. Such changes prompted the social scientists to formulate research programmes on the basis of ‘self critical reflection on the history of their own disciplines’. In the middle of 1930’s a number of path breaking programmes were formulated under the leadership of certain contemporary social scientists. They included a) John Meyward Keynes b) Gunnar Myrdal c)   Talcott Parsons d) Paul Lazar field e) Tingster and Wood f) Alfred Jules Ayer etc. The period was also marked by the release of the first edition of International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Many of these efforts proved to be of great importance. However, the catastrophic effects of the European political landscape during these years and the damages done during the Second World War were warning signals for those who believed that clear ‘institutional continuities’ could be affirmed in the continental Europe. As a matter of fact, many developments that took place during the inter-war period and the deep raptures created by the war had an impact on the social sciences in the post war period. They appeared as a new phenomenon.

 

3. SOCIAL SCIENCES: SECOND HALF OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

 

The large scale institutionalization of the Social Science disciplines all over the world was noticed after the Second World War. An important development, under the aegis of UNESCO, was the establishment of International Political science Association (IPSA) and the International Sociological Association (ISA) in the year 1949. Later in 1960’s and 1970’s the expansion of higher education system in the Western Europe, USA and other parts of the world was a factor for the growth of various social science disciplines.

 

Administrative reforms coupled with coming to power of new political majorities prompted the launching of various public policy programmes. As a result, disciplines like political science, sociology secured permanent places in the universities. Also there was an expansion of research methods and emphasis on study and management of clearly quantifiable processes. In the new scenario, historical, judicial and philosophical reasoning alone or in combination was not considered sufficient for the analysis of social and political issues. Methods and techniques that were earlier explained in statistics, sociology, psychology and economics were becoming popular and indispensible among social scientists. In older days, people normally derived their understanding of society from history, literature and personal experience. Later they started to rely on numerical evidences provided by agencies like statistical bureaus or survey organizations. As a result, economists gradually became more econometric, political scientists more numerate and sociologists more systematic. This shift in research methodology also led to the expansion of number of sub disciplines in the field.

 

In the contemporary world, three major trends in the developments of social sciences can be noticed. Firstly, now there is a permanent or secured position of disciplines in the higher education system. There are organized groups of social scientists, well trained in their work with knowledge of modern research methods, internationally linked with the help of journals, networks and research conferences. Availability of full text, peer reviewed journals through computer networks has also improved research capability in many developing countries. Secondly, many innovative research projects are now conducted on subjects that are inter-disciplinary in nature. They are normally done outside the regular discipline based university departments. Research institutes have been created both outside and inside of the structure of regular universities. These institutes are multidisciplinary in nature. Thirdly, the demand for research in various fields made by policy and planning bodies and administrators has resulted in creation of certain associated new disciplines like social work, criminology, gender studies, migration etc. In fact, the social scientists of late nineteenth century had to demonstrate their intellectual and institutional legitimacy in a competitive environment where law, economic and philosophy had a better recognition as scholarly disciplines. The competition still exits but it has been complemented by management consultant, computer experts and representatives of multidisciplinary fields such as environment studies.

 

Now a question may arise i.e. how do we perceive the future of social sciences. We may safely say that social sciences will defend their present position in the future. Possibly there would be more demand for research on subjects that produce immediate results. Intellectual integrity need to be maintained while pursuing research of this variety. Also, search for a solution to most of the essential problems has to be proceeding with considerable degree of openness so that contributions from other relate disciplines become possible.

 

4. SOCIAL SCIENCES IN INDIA: PRE-INDEPENDENCE ERA

 

Modern university education system in India was introduced by the British government during the closing decades of the 20th century. Social Science was an important component of the college education based on British liberal education and European theories and concepts. Later relevance and validity of such propositions and concepts were questioned in a limited but significant way. This trend became an integral part of the ideology of the national movement for the independence.

 

However, the mainstream social science teaching and research continued to be ‘Eurocentric’ under intellectual/ideological hegemony of the British Empire. In spite of this, a corpus of social science knowledge developed which combined factual information collected through individual and official efforts with increasing strength and maturity of national movement. British officials, travellers and missionaries collected a considerable quantity of basic information on the cultural diversity and resources of India, its people, ecology, agriculture, land revenue and regional problems. More organized and regular data collection began with Population Census in 1871 which became elaborate and regular in the following decades. The Ethnographic Survey of India led to the compilation of Imperial Gazetteer of India and many volumes on Indian castes and tribes living in different regions. During this period, Linguistic Survey of India also provided data on languages and dialects of the country. There was a tendency to question all things that came from Europe. Under this social milieu, an independent body of literature and thought developed in India during 1930’s and 1940’s.

 

Historically, social science started developing in India during the first half of the 19th century. Bengal renaissance was the first sigh of modernity in India. This was followed by other social movements like Arya Samaj in Punjab, social reforms in Maharashtra, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s effort to modernize the Muslim community through English education, the backward class movement in South India and demands for woman’s rights. Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, many of these social questions in a combined way took the shape of nationalist movement. Two other important aspects of this movement were i) removal of untouchability in the Hindu society and ii) the maintenance of Hindu Muslim social harmony. The later could not be achieved by the nationalist leaders of the age and it led to the partition of the country. After the independence in 1947, the social component of the Indian national movement greatly influenced the Constituent Assembly deliberations and adoption of the Indian Constitution on 26th January 1950. As a matter of fact, the Constitution of India was largely framed as a social document with its emphasis on i) religious tolerance ii) democratic equality and iii) removal of injustice done to the socially backward classes. Thus, it was expected to achieve more than just to provide an administrative framework for the country.

 

5. SOCIAL SCIENCES IN INDIA: POST-INDEPENDENCE ERA

 

The promotion of Social Sciences as a public funded and state supported programme is a post- independence phenomenon. After the Second World War, the U N charter for the first time set a directive for the signatories to ‘promote social progress and better standards of life’. Similarly, the Indian Constitution sought to secure economic and social justice for all its citizens. Article 38 of the Constitution says “The State shall strive to protect as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic, and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life”. The social purpose of the State as enunciated in the Constitution posed a challenge to the Government of India. The challenge was how to convert these specific goals to policy formulation and implementation.

 

The Government of India set up Planning Commission to achieve these objectives. The Planning Commission needed information and knowledge about the specific social problems. Research Programme Committee was subsequently established. The purpose was to sponsor studies which could investigate various social, economic and administrative problems relating to national development. Four specific areas were chosen for undertaking research. They were a) saving, investment, employment and small scale industries b) regional development and urbanization c) land reforms, cooperation and farm management and d) social welfare problems and public administration. Thus, Planning Commission and its Research Programme Committee made the first attempt to incorporate social research into policy formulation. A number of socio-economic research institutes were established during this period. They were i) Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. Ii) Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. Iii) National Council of Applied Economic Research, Delhi. Iv) Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. Apart from these, Agro-Economic Research Centers were also set up various locations under the aegis of Directorate of Economic and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India.

 

Later in the year 1965, the Planning Commission set up a Committee for Social science Research as the infrastructure or institutional framework available in the country was not adequate to undertake research. The Committee observed “understanding of the social phenomena and human behavior, knowledge about social processes and its determinants, are essential for designing policies to promote social change and to produce dynamic society capable of absorbing and utilizing the scientific and technological developments for the welfare of human beings”. They also felt that the existing system of funding through UGC or the project based research supported by the government would not be adequate to create a national knowledge base or social sciences. The committee recommended the creation of an independent autonomous body for the promotion of social science research.

 

6. SOCIAL SCIENCES IN INDIA: INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK

 

The Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) was set up by the Government of India in 1968 with a number of objectives. They included a) sponsoring of research programmes and projects b) coordinating research activities in the field of social sciences c) acting as a intermediary between government and the research community and d) to give grants to research institutes in social sciences that do not form a part of U G C supported statutory universities. The ICCSSR’s performance and working has been so far reviewed by four committees. Another committee appointed by the Government of India has also submitted its recommendations in 2011. On the basis of its recommendations, the budgetary allocation for the ICSCSR has been substantially increased by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. This has given a new impetus to social science research in India.

 

The ICSSR has played a very important role in promoting social science research and teaching in India; not only by encouraging individuals’ research scholars but also by promoting the research institutions. The ICSSR provides maintenance grant to more than 27 institutions and also provides support service through its regional centres located at Chandigarh, Delhi, Shillong, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai. It recognizes the following disciplines as social sciences; i) economics ii) education iii) political science iv) public administration v) business administration vi) social work vii) commerce viii) management ix)psychology x) international relations xi)criminology xii) anthropology xii) demography xiii) geography xiv) history xv) law and xvi) social linguistics. The ICSSR also supports research projects in the field of library and information science provided the proposal is slanted towards social science libraries.

 

Perhaps the single most important achievement of the ICSSR has been the creation and provision of grant to 27 national level research institutions that are spread all over the country with State Governments as partner to give matching grant. These institutes are autonomous and they are free to decide their research programmes. However they undergo external reviews for overall performance evaluation. According to the Fourth Review Committee Report of the ICSSR (2007), the ICSSR has funded approximately 3000 research projects by scholars from universities, colleges and research institutes, awarded nearly 400 research fellowship and 860 doctoral fellowships. It also provides a number of support service in the form of documentation and training in research methodology and use of computers and bibliographic database search for young research scholars.

 

On the research side, the ICSSR has been instrumental in organizing and publishing two series of Surveys of Research in Social Sciences in the discipline of Political Science, Sociology, Psychology, Economics, Public Administration and Social Anthropology. These were written by eminent scholars in the field and were recognized as landmark surveys. The ICSSR also sponsored quite a few large scale research projects. Following projects were recognized by the scholars all over the country:-

 

a.The status of women by Vina Mazumdar etc.

b.The Population and social change by Ashok Mitra, Ashish Bose and others.

c.Rural Poverty Project by T.N.Srinivasan, Pranab Bardhan, Ashok Rudra and others.

 

The present scenario suggests that social science in India is now promoted by the Universities and research institutes that are financially supported by the UGC, ICSSR, ICHR and similar bodies. Apart from these, there are bodies like Reserve Bank of India or the State Bank of India or various other public sector organizations and sometimes even private institutions. Ministries/Departments of the Government of India also directly entertain research proposals from scholars/academicians affiliated to Universities/institutions.

 

One can raise a pertinent question is there a demand for social sciences? Privatization of education has led to the opening of large number of engineering and medical colleges as well as Management Institutions. Even mediocre students are now attracted to these new avenues. Moreover, global demand for scientific and technically trained people has an adverse effect on social sciences. The secondary scholars in India and colleges are now closing various social sciences and humanities option for lack of demand. State funding for social sciences is meager compared to natural sciences; and privileging of the natural sciences in terms of funds allocation has made the large scientific community insensitive to the benefits or wisdom of social sciences and liberal arts education.

 

7. SOCIAL SCIENCES IN INDIA: INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH.

 

In recent years, globalization and liberalization have become important themes for research in India. Globalization means increasing degree of economic interaction among countries; whereas liberalization suggests less government invention in market. Researches from non economic disciplines are now trying to measure how these two factors have affected inequality and poverty at the national and regional level. Now, problem oriented research cannot be avoided in the light of the fact that the international and national agencies have become anxious to use social sciences for promoting development efforts.

 

India is a country with many languages, castes, religions as well as many customs, rituals and traditions. Development is judged from different angles using different sets of quantitative and qualitative data. The pluralist nature Indian society has also given rise to interdisciplinary research transcending so called boundaries of social science disciplines. The factors like educational opportunities abroad, the Internet and World Wide Web with easy and real time access to a wide variety of information research funding by international agencies and a system of evaluation that encourages publishing in high impact journals are promoting homogenization of social sciences all over the world .

 

In India, the Government is required to deal with problems of ethnic, religious and other differences that often promote militancy and result in law and order problems. In order to develop a better understanding of these differences and their social and political implications, ideas are drawn from many sources particularly those belonging to hyphenated social sciences subjects such as political sociology, political psychology etc. It is said that networks at cross-disciplinary influences are such that they are obliterating the old classification of the social sciences.

 

8. SOCIAL SCIENCES: INDENTIFYING DISCIPLINES

 

One important aspect of social sciences needs to be explained in detail, i.e what are the disciplines to be covered under this broad group? One of the major source for this sort of discourse is International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences (2010). The Encyclopedia provides a full account of the disciplines, sub-disciplines; methodological issues and other details that are associated with this broad subject head i.e. social sciences. Needless to say, the domain at social science has expanded substantially during the proceeding four or five decades after the publication of the earlier edition i.e. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968). This source made an attempt to cover all facts of social sciences by appointing editors for the following subjects or special areas that were to be brought under its scope.

 

Associate Editors                          Special Editor(s)

 

Political Science                               Biographies

 

Anthropology                                    Applied Psychology

 

Statistics                                          Economic Development

 

Psychology                                      Experimental Psychology

 

Economics                                       Econometrics

 

Sociology

 

Social thought

However, the scholars who were at the helm of affairs in the new project i.e. revised version of the source found that the subject wise identification of the social sciences on the above mentioned lines would be grossly inadequate for a scholarly project for the readers of the twenty fist century. The following reasons were cited by the members of the editorial board.

  1. Emergence of new specialties within disciplines
  2. Hybridization of knowledge
  3. Permeability of disciplinary boundaries and;
  4. Large number of inter-disciplinary work that have come out in the recent years

 

It was difficult for the editorial board to discard disciplinary principles as base for organizing entries in the encyclopedia. There were several reasons. The disciplines are primary concern for making appointments in the universities or institutions of learning as well as for membership in learned societies. Also, discipline based training programmes provide employment or research opportunities to the scholars. The disciplinary approach is adopted for the purpose of organization of professional associations in their learned journals and also in publishers’ academic list. Government organizations and their sponsoring bodies release grant in the name of various disciplines. On the whole, disciplines have a major role in the promotional activities of the social sciences. On the other hand, the editorial board also realized that many important works done in the area of social and behavioral sciences cannot be put intellectually under disciplinary heading because contemporary multidisciplinary projects draw social scientists out of their traditional boundaries. Keeping this in view, a middle path was adopted. The following subjects were initially reckoned as main constituent elements or mainstream of social and behavioral science: Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology

 

However, psychology has been subdivided into three; i.e. a) clinical and Applied psychology b) Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Science; and c) Developmental, Social, Personality and Motivational Psychology. In addition to these the following eight additional disciplines have been considered on the basis of their ‘conceptual affinity’ to the social and behavioral sciences and the amount of social and behavioral science research carried on in them.

 

Archeology: The subject is frequently considered a part of anthropology but it has an independent and coherent status in academic discourses.

 

Demography: or Study of Population; the subject is closely associated with the mainstream social science disciplines like sociology, anthropology and economics, but it has a separate identity and a sort of disciplinary integrity.

 

Education: This is an important component of socio-economic development and it involves a great deal of social and behavioural scientific study

 

Geography: research works on this subject has a substantial social science component.

 

History: also treated a part of humanities; the subject has contributed to the consolidation of social science knowledge base.

 

Law: the subject matter overlaps with that of several of the social and behavioural science disciplines. It has a bearing on the overall condition of the society.

 

Linguistics: the scope of this subject encompasses both the humanities and the social and behavioural sciences; but it has a close link with the latter in cognitive science, psycholinguistics socio-linguistics and anthropology.

 

Philosophy: a subfield of this subject is the philosophy of the social sciences and its scope include philosophy of mind, logic, metaphysics, epistemology and ethics pervading the social and behavior sciences.

 

In addition to these twelve major disciplines, a third category also deserves attention. They are called ‘intersecting fields’ because they do some work in social and behavioral science but also do substantial work in natural sciences. They include: a) Evolutionary Sciences b) Genetics Behavior and Society c) Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience d) Psychiatry e) Health (mostly related to public health, health delivery system) f) Gender Studies g) Religious Studies h) Expressive Forms (mostly found in sociology of art, literature and cultural production) i) Environmental/Ecological Science j) Science and Technology Studies k) Area and International Studies.

 

Social science has become social and behavioral sciences primarily due to the fact that psychology and its branches have become integral part of study and research in the field. The encyclopedia has included a number of behavioral fields bordering on the biological sciences.

 

One can see that there is a sort of arbitrariness in calling one area as ‘discipline’ and other as ‘intersecting field’. There could be an argument to call the disciplines like linguistics, education and geography as intersecting fields. Perhaps, the method adopted to divide the subjects into three categories is superficial. The purpose is to end the ambiguity as there is no unequivocally correct solution.

 

9. CONCLUDING REMARKS

 

Social sciences started as a subject intended for study social questions that emerged due to industrialization and urbanization. Gradually it has become multidisciplinary deviating from its core disciplines like political science, sociology, economics, anthropology and psychology.

 

Other disciplines have entered into the area of social sciences. They include archeology, demography, linguistics, history, education, geography, law and philosophy. More subjects particularly the specialties within the disciplines have become a part of social sciences making it social and behavioral sciences. These have been hybridization of knowledge, and permeability of disciplinary boundaries. Also, a large number of inter-disciplinary works have come out in the recent years.

 

Recently, published World Social Sciences Report 2013-Chaning Global Environments by UNESCO has emphasized the importance of environmental issues in social development. The Report has made an appeal to the international social sciences community asking them to collaborate more effectively with colleagues from the natural, human and engineering sciences to deliver relevant credible knowledge that can help to address today’s environmental problems and sustainability challenger. And they need to work in close collaboration with decision makers, practitioners and the other user of their research.

 

The Report says that a new kind of social sciences is needed to i) reframe and re-interpret global environmental change as a fundamentally social process ii) infuse social science insights into real world problem solving iii) to induct more social scientists to address the global environmental change iv) change the way the social sciences think about and adopt science (i.e. its theories, assumptions, methodologies, institutions, norms and incentives) to help meet the complex interdisciplinary and cross-sector challenges society faces. The Report also aims to engage social scientists working in all disciplines and institutes all over the world. The Report has been prepared and edited by International Social Science Council (ISSC) with the support at high level specialists from all over the world.

 

Apparently, there is a clash between material growth and environmental erosion. Perhaps, the economy that adds value through ‘information, ideas and intelligence – The Three I economy offers a way out of this problem as they consume few at the earths’ resources’. The Report has tried to emphasize this theory and asked for a different type of social science.

 

In India, there are basically two types of institutional support available for social sciences. a) Universities and b) autonomous research institutions. The latter has adopted the model of quantitative research based on empirical evidence. ISCCR and other research funding agencies have so far promoted empirical projects and case studies. The abstract theoretical work has not been supported by the agencies. Perhaps, problem oriented research cannot be avoided because the Government and international agencies have become more willing to use social sciences for promoting development efforts.

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REFERENCE

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  • World Social Science Report 2013: Changing Global Environment Ed. by International Social Science Council. Paris, UNESCO.
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