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what is social science

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 Can Social Science help us to understand society?

 In this assignment I will look at how the social sciences can contribute to

 the understanding of society today. I will concentrate on psychology

 which is one of the disciplines contained within the social sciences.

 I will base this assignment on how psychology is used within

 society and how the discipline can assist in considering society.

 As the social sciences cover a wide range of subjects and address

many issues I will look at one particular area and will concentrate

on underachievement and poor school performance. To begin with I

 will provide general definitions of social science and the discipline of


 Social science in short is the title given to the study of society and

 humans in their social relationships. The various academic disciplines

used to study human beings and society include psychology,

economics, sociology, psychology, political economy, social policy and

 anthropology. However due to the size and diversity of the subject other

 disciplines such as human geography and social history are often

 included within the social sciences. (Billington, 1998: 257)

 Due to the level of change that society encounters and the sheer size of

 the subject, the disciplines can often overlap therefore their boundaries

 can be unclear. As well as the disciplines overlapping, a certain issue,

 group or a particular area will be addressed by more than one

 of the disciplines. An example of this is globalisation, this can be seen in

 the statement below which was written by author Kath Woodward and

 can be found in her book titled ‘Social Sciences : The Big Issues’;

                For example globalization has been of interest to all

                disciplines within the social sciences and, although they

                have taken different approaches, this can be seen as an

                indicator of an interdisciplinary position, where the

                phenomenon under investigation takes priority, rather

                than the traditional concerns of the discipline.

                (Woodward, 2003:163)

        As Woodward states some issues can be of interest to one or

        more of the social sciences although a social scientist will usually be

an expert of a single discipline be it psychology, anthropology or

another of the disciplines previously mentioned. A social scientist

will have in depth knowledge of an academic discipline and may

also have obtained qualifications enabling them to analyse, explain

and evaluate the various issues and needs faced by society.

        Through research and studies, social scientists provide statistics,

information and theories to help society understand the ways

that humans interact,  exercise power, make decisions and respond

to change in an effort to predict how people will behave in the future.

The social sciences offer claims and concepts to help us understand

people and the social world by looking at the issues facing society.

  The discipline I will concentrate on is psychology. Psychology is

  defined as the scientific study of behaviour and experience. It is the

  study of how human beings and other species think, learn, sense,

  communicate and interact. (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopaedia 2004)

          Psychology has different areas within it therefore there are various

  types of  psychologists such as educational, forensic, organisational,

  clinical, cognitive and industrial. (Huffman, 2006: 9)

There are four main goals in psychology these are: Description,

 Explanation, Prediction and Change. Description is the goal that

   specifies what has occurred in an attempt to identify the behaviour.

Explanation is the second goal, it aims to establish why the behaviour    

has occurred, whether it is the effect of nature (genetic factors)

  or nurture (environmental factors). The next goal is prediction,

   this goal associates behaviour with a condition or situation

  that is known to encourage a particular type of behaviour.

The final goal is change, this goal aims to change behaviour by    

applying positive psychology to obtain the desired result.

  (Huffman, 2006: 7)

    The four goals can be used to understand a number of issues society

    faces, for example the goals could be used to assess the reasons for

    underachievement and poor school performance with a view to

    improving the situation by identifying the causes. It is necessary

   to look at the first goal of ‘description’ in order to establish what it is

one is attempting to understand. A description gives an overview and

sets the context. In this case it is the level of underachievement and

        poor school performance. The second goal be used to gain an

‘explanation’ and therefore identify the cause. In this case four

different reasons for poor achievement have been identified by

Fontana (1984) and are shown in the table below;


Ideas about innate ability leading to labelling of children


Specific learning difficulties or impairments


Stress at home, inappropriate discipline


Gender stereotyping

                                                        (Hayes: 2001:107)

         The third goal of ‘prediction’ looks at whether there are conditions

         or situations associated with under achievement and poor school

         performance. For example in the past inner city schools have achieved

lower grades than comparable schools in leafy suburbs. All Hull

schools are inner city schools whereas schools within neighbouring

 East Riding of Yorkshire are not. In 2004 Hull was at  Get figures from

 BBC website. With a pass rate of …. East Riding was at position

….. with a pass rate of …..

         The fourth goal ‘change’ aims to improve the situation through the

application of psychological knowledge. This could be done by

concentrating on individual support for students. To avoid negative

 labelling an alternative secondary education qualification is now

available to students whom are academically unable to obtain a ‘C’

grade or above at General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)

level as stated on the BBC News and Education website.

Attempts to change student attitudes to learning through

encouragement may also help to improve the situation.

The theories and psychological goals stated above imply that school

performance and achievement can improve if the relevant changes

are applied. Is this simply an assumption or can this be proved?

Two years ago Hull was at the bottom of the GCSE league table,

 however results published in the Hull Daily Mail on 20th October 2006

 confirmed that Hull has provisionally moved up thirty two places from

 the bottom. The newspaper article entitled ‘Now Lets Build OnThis

Great Success’ provided details of changes that had been made in an

 attempt to improve Hull’s position on the countries GCSE league

table. Education leaders stated that over the last twenty four months

officials had improved performance by concentrating on individual

support for students and that procedures had been put in place to

highlight areas of weakness that required extra support.

 An alternative secondary education qualification has been introduced

  to give all students an equal opportunity to gain qualifications.

 The article also stated that one of the major factors was changing the

 students attitude to learning through encouragement and believing

 in the future of their city. It could be said that the use of psychology

 has assisted in encouraging students of Hull by promoting

 the good future they could have in the city their education.

In conclusion my findings show that the social sciences can tell us a

great deal about society. In particular I feel I have identified that the

improvement in Hull’s performance has been influenced greatly by the

social sciences. I have found that social scientists through

 research and studies establish a ‘cause and effect’ of an issue

 and therefore greatly contribute to policies valuable to society.

 By assessing the impact of policies social scientists assist us to

 understand and cope with the changes in society. I believe that in this

 assignment I have shown how the social sciences can positively guide

 and assist us thus improving the society for all.


Philip Banyard, 1999. Controversies in Psychology

London (Routledge)

Nigel C Benson, 1998. Introducing Psychology

Cambridge (Icon Books Ltd)

Rosamund Billington, Jenny Hockey and Sheelagh Strawbridge, 1998

Exploring Self and Society.

Basingstoke and London (Macmillan Press)

Nicky Hayes, 2001. Teach Yourself Applied Psychology

London (Hodder Headline Plc)

Thomas M Hefferman, 2000. A Student’s Guide to Studying Psychology (Psychology Press Ltd)

Karen Huffman, 2006. Living Psychology

 (John Wiley & Son)

John Scott and Gordon Marshall, 2005. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology Oxford (Oxford University Press)

Kath Woodward, 2003. Social Sciences – The Big Issues:

London and New York (Routledge)

Hull Daily Mail, 20th October 2006

       Microsoft Encarta Encyclopaedia Standard 2004



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