Social scientists are not only concerned with the communication of existing knowledge. Like other scholars, they are forever exploring new cultures and civilizations, digging up new information about past civilizations, experimenting with novel techniques for measuring human responses, or gathering up-to-the minute data on human opinions, attitudes, and motivations. Although the social sciences as a scientific discipline are relatively new, their origins can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and their nationalistic investigations into the nature of human interactions and the principles of government.
Under the influence of philosophers such as Rene Descartes in the seventeenth century, society at large began to accept the notion that the world could be understood through several fundamental principles of reality. These principles, be they economic, social, or political, could be applied to develop theories that would explain human behavior.
The development of the social sciences and their increasingly important role in society resulted from the industrial, urban, and scientific revolutions. Industrialization, urbanization, and rapid technological innovations heightened the rates of social change, transformed the nature of human communities, and accelerated the number and kinds of adjustments of the individuals had to make to the world about them.
Social scientists are dedicated to a better understanding of the nature of individuals and society. But they also want to put that knowledge and understanding to work for the benefit of humanity. Thus, they not only acquire and transmit knowledge but they also attempt to put it to practical use. They seek to solve complex personal and social problems by applying social science knowledge to concrete situations.
Perhaps the largest numbers of social scientists teach in colleges and universities. However, government organizations, museums, and other cultural organizations, international organizations, hospitals, clinics and other health units, and research and statistical institutes also employ considerable numbers of social scientists. A small but increasingly significant group of social scientists are self-employed, for example, clinical psychologists and sociologists.
Furthermore, the interdisciplinary sciences, or the borderline sciences that are considered integral parts of biological and physical sciences, but have significant social science orientations, include demography, the science of population, physical anthropology, the science of the races of humans and their physical characteristics and social geography, the science of humankind’s relation to the environment.
Many subdivisions and specialties exist within the main branches of the social sciences. As part of their research career, a sociologist may be a criminologist or a family specialist, for example, and an economist may be an expert in banking and finance or a specialist in consumer behavior. There is also considerable overlapping among the social sciences disciplines, as, for example, in the field of economic history or economic geography, as well as important overlapping between the social sciences and natural sciences.
The activities of social scientists can be classified under four main headings: teaching and training, research and investigation, social service and assistance, and administration and management. The social sciences, as scientific disciplines, are concerned with the transmission and communication of knowledge and information about human behavior involving jobs in research activities. Therefore, a very large number, if not a majority, of social scientists are engaged in teaching, and training occupations. They teach in all levels of educational institutions and in governmental and business organizations. Some become social studies teachers in elementary schools, teaching the basic facts about the social world in which we live. Others teach more specialized disciplines at the high school level, such as economics, history, anthropology, psychology, government, and sociology. A third group become teaching specialists in institutions of higher learning and assume positions as professors and instructors in community and junior colleges, and colleges and universities.
Likewise, others also teach in governmental organizations as part of their research employment such as the various schools and institutes of the military establishment and the foreign of the military establishment and foreign training institutes of the state department. Many work as consultants for state and local governments. Others work in museums and other cultural institutions. Anthropologist, for example, train foreign service officers in the culture and language of the areas to which they may be assigned. Management specialists give in-service training to young administrators in public, private, and non-profit sectors.
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