social science is

So, having been drafted into writing the ‘young scientists’ contribution to the ISSC’s new social science blog, it struck me that I didn’t actually know what people would want to read about on a social science blog. Natural science is much easier to jazz up – astrophysics distracts with beautiful pictures of galaxies, marine biology (with the help of Sir David Attenborough) intrigues with the strangeness of life under the oceans – often discovering life-forms more bizarre than our imaginations can conjure up about the outer reaches of the universe… but social science is about people and their often mundane activities. What could possibly be interesting about that? Of course, when things like the financial crisis comes along, social scientists become extremely useful – if only to have economists to point fingers at – and lawyers are always good for a shark joke, but this isn’t necessarily selling social science to the masses.

So, what does make us social scientists so intrigued with the subject of society’s interactions; from the foibles of ordinary individuals to the extraordinary exploits of some of the finest specimens of the species, homo sapiens (sapiens)? This is indeed a good question – and probably worthy of its own sub-discipline, though I know a few anthropologists who would probably jump at the chance to study their fellow social scientists in their natural habitat of … the world? Anyway, I digress (often a useful trait in a social scientist trying to meet a word count after the theoretical section). In order to answer this question, I thought that I would engage the services of the ever-faithful Google search engine.

Having typed in “Why is Social Science…” the following popped up:

…important

…a science

…research important

… an art

A brief foray into google.co.za came back with the same results. Since this didn’t return anything of particular value, I decided to continue my quest and ask Google why social science is awesome. The answer? Well, the first five links were actually about ‘science’ science, but never mind, the sixth led me to a pretty awesome site set up by a group of social scientists in the Philippines – truly taking this internationally. But in all honesty, The Daily Opium was an inspirational find! I particularly enjoyed one of the editor’s dreams ‘to laymanise the social sciences.’ Right on!

After a brief trawl through some of their essays, op-eds and reviews, I started to get an idea of how social science is the combination of everyday life with the extraordinary. Not in the boring sense of why social science is important – Audrey Ostler has given us a list of ten reasons why it’s important on the campaign for social science in the UK – but rather why it’s awesome. Natural scientists cannot tell us ‘What does the fox say?’ or more importantly, why it went viral. Where else can one have a debate on to why we have women’s studies, but not men’s studies (the answer is because men’s studies is called ‘history’) or ask what the ‘Disney Princess Effect’ is. As a geographer (at least according to my PhD certificate), the power of maps to convey ideas in new and interesting ways is not just important from an intellectual point of view, but is just plain awesome. Evidence from the number of ‘shares’ and tweets that the blog on 40 maps that will help you make sense of the world got.

And yet there still remains tremendous scope in strengthening the position of the social sciences in contemporary academia, policy and public life. The ISSC, in its recently released World Social Science Report, ‘Changing Global Environments’ stressed “the essential contributions that the social sciences can and must make to the integrated thinking and responses” required to achieve global sustainability, in terms of helping us consider environmental problems not as “disconnected challenges” but as part of the “complex global dynamics of “socio-ecological” or coupled “human-natural’ nature” that underpinn them.  In recent years, where new technologies and digital media have  begun to shape almost all aspects of research practice across both the social and natural sciences, new spaces for collaboration can be harnessed to enable new forms of knowledge generation, that aspire to imagine a future based upon equitable and sustainable ways of living. Along these lines, as representatives of a growing global network of early career scientists, researchers and aspiring academics whose interests are increasingly positioned at the interface of different disciplines, we see the social sciences as an important and necessary building block towards fostering a culture of interdisciplinary research.

So our conclusion. Social science is not just important or relevant, but it is indeed awesome and we have no doubt that the ISSC’s blog will be full of even more interesting examples to back us up in the months to come. We look forward to sharing more of these interesting tidbits of awesome social science with you.

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