Disciplines or Branches in the Social Sciences

Social science studies the historical, cultural, sociological. psychological, and the political forces that shape the actions of individuals and their impact on society. The different disciplines under the social sciences all help in providing a better understanding and appreciation of the complex issues that face society. These disciplines are Anthropology. Demography, Economics, Geography, Linguistics, History, Political Science. Psychology and Sociology.


Anthropology is the study of ancient societies and their cultural traditions. Anthropology came from the Greek word anthropos meaning “humankind” and logos meaning the “study” (Bonstingl, 1996, p. 206). In Studying culture, anthropologists investigate the people’s language, their values, technologies, and even how they group themselves. Anthropologists also study the way the cultural traditions of different groups of people have changed over the years.

Anthropology is also related to the other disciplines of the social sciences. An examination of the cultural practices of different groups and communities require knowledge of the history of the area where the people lived. There is also a need for familiarity with the physical environment, the group’s Settlement patterns, the organization of their family life, their system of government, and so on and so forth. This means that for an anthropological study to be comprehensive. it should take into account the contributions of other social science disciplines.

Anthropology has two broad fields, physical and cultural. According to Ember and Ember (2002, pp. 3-4), physical anthropology, which is also called biological anthropology, studies the biological evolution of man. {t also provides explanations on the reason behind the biological variations among contemporary human population. Cultural anthropology, on the other hand, investigates and seeks to understand the cultural features of societies. Cultural anthropology is further divided into three subbranches: archaeology, anthropological linguistics, and ethnology. Archaeology seeks to reconstruct the past life of ancient societies, trace the cultural changes that took place and the reason behind the changes. While it may appear that archaeology is similar with history, it is different in the sense that history can only study societies that have left written records. Archaeologists reconstruct the past using the fossil remains of human culture. Anthropological linguistics involves the study of language in societies or communities where language may or may not be written. It is also concerned with the emergence of languages, the divergence of languages, and the changes in the languages across time. While archaeology and anthropological linguistics mostly use fragmentary remains of the past culture, ethnology uses data gathered through observations and interviews with living people. Ethnologists Study marriage customs, kinship patterns, economic systems, and religious rites of Cultural groups, and compare it with the way of life of contemporary societies. (Ember, 2002, pp. 5-7)

Anthropology’s emergence as an area of inquiry can go as far back as the time of Herodotus of Halicarnassus. Although more known for his work on the Persian Wars, Herodotus has traveled a great deal and was able to write detailed narratives about West Asia and Egypt. He also had second-hand information to describe the Scythians, the Ethiopians, and the people from the Indus Valley. (Eriksen and Nielsen, 2001, p. 2) These narratives reveal an important area of inquiry in anthropology, which is ‘how are we to relate to the other?’ In answering this question, we can lean toward finding commonality or highlight the difference. Anthropology needs to strike a balance between these two positions. Herodotus himself has shown both tendencies. There are instances where prejudice and ethnocentrism gets the better of him. Anything foreign is immediately rejected. But, there are also times that he acknowledges that the difference among people is accounted for by the difference in the environment and life circumstances.

A major step in the evolution of anthropology as a discipline is the period of European conquest during the sixteenth century. It has once again introduced the strange ‘other’ to the sphere of European social thinkers. It elicited the formulation of rudimentary theories on what distinguishes humans from animals and inspired descriptive narratives on the way of life of these exotic people. This still does not constitute anthropology since the works that have been completed only belong to either travel accounts or social philosophy. It is only when there is a fusion of theories and data that anthropology appears.

It is during the period of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century that anthropology came of age. The period saw the flourishing of philosophy and sciences and people sought greater freedom from the Church. This liberal environment which produced the French Revolution and the Napolenonic Wars also became a fertile ground for academic anthropological studies. Some noteworthy works are La scienza nuova (The New Science, 1725) by Giambattista Vico and De I’esprit de loix (The Spirit of Laws, 1748) by Baron de Montesquieu.


Economics is the study of the efficient allocation of scarce resources in order to satisfy unlimited human needs and wants. The word Economics came from two Greek words, oikos meaning ‘home’ and nomos meaning ‘management’. A family faces the challenge of managing their limited income to satisfy the needs and wants of its members. The same is true with society as a whole. Even if we combine all of the world’s resources, it will never be enough to cover all humankind’s desires and needs, which by nature, is infinite. This is why a careful study on the subject must be done in order to mitigate the impact of an imbalance and inequity in resource allocation.

Economic resources that can be used to produce goods and services are called factors of production. It is classified into four categories: land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship. Land is anything that comes from nature and which gives life and support to all living creatures. Some examples include clean air, timber resources, and water. It also refers to immovable properties where industries are built. Labor refers to any human effort exerted during the production process which includes physical exertion, application of skills or talent or exercise of intellectual faculties. Capital refers to anything that can be used to create or manufacture goods and services. Examples of capital goods are buildings, infrastructures, machines, and other tools used in the Production process. Entrepreneurship, which is not traditionally considered to be a factor of production, is now thought to be an indispensable aspect since this is the ability to organize all the other factors of production in order to carry out effectively the production process. This skill involves ability to organize, take risks, introduce a new product, and generally create something of value.

Economics is classified into two scopes: Microeconomics and Macroeconomics. Microeconomics is the “study of the choices made by economic actors such as households, companies, and individual markets,” whereas Macroeconomics “examines the behavior of entire economies.” (Pennington, 1999, p.3) Microeconomics studies the choices of individuals as consumers and as workers. It also studies firms that produce the goods and services, and the industries from which the firms operate. Macroeconomics tackles the aggregates or total values that describe the whole economy. One very important aggregate is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP measures the total output or the market value of goods and services that a country produces in one year. Other macroeconomic indicators include employment, economic growth, interest rates, and inflation (Ayers and Collinge, 2004, p. 4).

Just like in anthropology, the period of Enlightenment has inspired the birth of modern economics. It has strengthened institutions, which liberalized economic opportunities and which have been more guarded against despotism, making a faster pace of industrial and technological growth possible. The period has produced insights that go against the traditional mercantilist thinking, which believes that protectionism of domestic producers against foreign competition is necessary to make the domestic economy competitive. The period has shown that it is mechanization and division of labor that gives firms and industries advantage (Mokyr, 2003, pp.8-9). This idea found its way to economic thinkers like Adam Smith. His most famous work An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) contributed to the theory of price formation, the relationship of market outcomes and public interest, the role of state in the economy, and the sources of economic growth. It was also in this book where the concept of ‘invisible hand’ was introduced. This concept proposes that market equilibrium is reached when buyers and sellers are free to move on their own without the intervention of the government. The desire to maximize gains, both by the buyers and the sellers, will lead to a socially optimum result. Other influential economists includes Thomas Malthus, known for his work “An Essay on the Principle of Populatior” (1798), and David Ricardo’s work Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817). Ricardo is also known for his support for the idea of comparative advantage.


Geography studies the interaction between the natural environment and the people living in it. It acts as a bridge between natural science and Social science. Geography comes from two Greek words: geo meaning ‘Earth’ and graphos meaning ‘charting or mapping’. This social Science discipline studies where things are on Earth, explains why they are there, and their relationships to other people, places and things.

Geography is divided into two main branches: physical and human, Physical geography studies the natural features of the earth, like climate. water, vegetation, and soil. One approach in Studying physical geography is to look at the physical environment as the provider of natural resources, like food and water. Another approach is to look at the physical environment as hazard to human life. Human geography studies human Population and the impact of its activities on the planet. Some of these activities include agriculture, urbanization, and land reclamation. This branch of geography examines how people use the resources available to them and how they cultivate their environment to suit their needs.

The ancient people have been dabbling with geography even before the term was invented. The Babylonians were able to draw a map that clearly identifies their location in Mesopotamia. Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey also contain a lot of geographical information even though they are fictional works. However, it is during the Hellenistic period in ancient Greco-Roman empire when groundbreaking works have been done in the field of geography. The interest is partly stimulated by the extensive travels of Alexander the Great.

The pioneer in the field is Eratosthenes of Cyrene, who is the head of the Great Library at Alexandria and royal tutor to the future King Ptolemy IV. He is also considered as the “Father of Geography,” a distinction given for having coined the term. He wrote the first scholarly treatise on the topic, a three-book volume Geographika. The book is a compilation of data accumulated in the previous three centuries about the nature of the surface of the earth, with Special attention to the inhabited portions and the people living in it. The book also includes topics on the depths of the sea, Climate, and the geological history of the earth (Roller, 2010). Other scholars built on the work of Eratosthenes. The most noteworthy to mention is Strabo whose work is entitled The Geography of Strabo. This magnum opus polished, affirmed, critiqued, and Supported with additional data the works of the thinkers before him like Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, Polybius, and Poseidonius.


History is traditionally regarded as the study of the recorded past. It comes from the Greek noun historia, meaning “learning”. “As used by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, history meant a systematic account of a set of natural phenomena, whether or not chronological ordering was a factor in the account (Gottschalk, 1956, p. 41).”

The discipline attempts to reconstruct the past given the available sources. There are two types of historical sources: primary and secondary. A primary source is a testimony of an eyewitness or an account of someone who has firsthand information on the subject. It has to be written or recounted by someone who is contemporary to the event being narrated. A primary source does not have to be an original source. It can be a rewritten, recopied, or translated version of the original. There is an acknowledgment that getting the original and unpolished version of the document is too daunting a task and may even be close to impossible in some cases. Insistence on getting the original documents may prevent some subjects from being written because the sources may be inaccessible. Examples of primary sources include journal entries. transcripts. video interviews. monuments or structures, photographs, statistics, and official government records. A Secondary source is a testimony or an account of someone who is not an eyewitness to the event being narrated. It is also not contemporary to the event being narrated. A secondary source simply uses primary materials as a source of information. Examples of secondary sources include biographies, textbooks, conference proceedings, and book reviews.

Even during the ancient times, people have always had a sense for history. This is evidenced by the need to record events that happen in their lives whether said events are special or ordinary. These can be seen in the hieroglyphs in Egypt or in the cuneiform engraved in mud brick tablets in Mesopotamia. It can even go as far back as the drawings made by the Cro Magnons in their caves. But insofar as employing the historical method, credit goes to Herodotus of Halicarnassus who is a product of Greece’s Hellenic age, which is the golden age of Greece. He wrote about the Greek wars against Persia during the third decade of the fifth century BC. His narrative is entitled, The Histories. This is different from works previously written. Rigorous methods were employed. Information is checked against the eyewitness accounts and participants of the event. Other documents were also consulted like inscriptional records, archives, and official chronicles. The narrative also departed from the writing tradition common at that time, which is to explain human events as the outcome of divine will. Succeeding and improving on the writing techniques of Herodotus is another Greek historian, Thucydides. Thucydides wrote about the history of the Peloponnesian War in the fifth century BC. Aside from scrupulously writing the content, his narrative includes how his materials were gathered and the tests he used to separate fact from fiction. Thucydides intended his writing to have instructional importance as a guide to action in the future.


Linguistics came from the Latin word lingua, meaning “language.” The discipline studies the nature of language through an examination of the formal properties of natural language, grammar, and the process of language acquisition. Language plays an important role in both cognition and culture of society. Among the things that linguists study are phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Phonetics is the study of speech sounds. It examines how the sounds are made and identifies its properties. Language cannot have an unstructured set of sounds. Sounds
should be categorized in an orderly manner. The study of speech sound pattern is called phonology. It identifies what sounds are there and the categories these speech sounds fall under. An orderly combination of speech sounds form words, and words need to be structured in order to convey meaning. The organized collection of words makes up part of a language. The collection of words is structured according to where words of a certain category (ex. adjective, noun, verb, etc.) can appear within a phrase or a sentence and according to what things can be combined to form words. Morphology is the study of how words are categorized or formed while syntax is the study of how words are combined to form a sentence. Syntax also categorizes types of phrases and types of sentences. In order to have meaning, the sentences or phrases have to mirror the conditions it pertains to in the real world. Understanding language means knowing what the world has to look like in order for the sentence to be true. Semantics is the study of meaning-making. The study of the language context, on the other hand, is called pragmatics. It is not enough that the correct meaning of the phrase or sentence is used, you must also know the proper way to convey it. The short phrase, “oh, please,” would have an entirely different meaning if it was done in a felicitous manner or if it was said in a harsh tone.

Throughout most of history, linguistics has been considered a province of philosophy and rhetoric. It is led by the sophists of classical Greece who have given young, wealthy Greek men an education in the art of public speaking, which in turn they can use to vie for public positions. The conventional date of linguistics proper is 1786 when regular sound correspondences were found across the many languages of Europe, India’s Sanskrit, and Persia. This eventually led to the discovery of a parent language called Proto Indo- European. Some scholars who have made relevant contributions to the study are Friedrich von Schlegel, Franz Bopp, and Rasmus Christian Rask. Other scholarly works on linguistics include Researches into the early inhabitants of Spain by the help of the Basque language (1821) by Wilhelm von Humboldt and Ferdinand de Saussure’s Cours de linguistique générale (1916).

Political Science

Political science is the study of politics, power, and government. The word politics comes from the Greek word politea, or a person who participates in the polis. Engagement in the polis means taking part in its decision-making, which normally takes place in the agora, or the market place, where new laws are passed or disseminated under the scrutiny of the entire community. It has to be noted though that the engagement in the political decision-making in the polis is only limited to Greek men. Politics is the process of using power in the government, while power is the means for the government to rule the people. (Bonstingl, 1996, p. 407) Government is the authority or the bureaucracy that provides the system of rule over its territory and for its people.

Aristotle’s book entitled Politics is considered a pioneer in the field of political inquiry. It delves on the topic of government and the leaders behind it, i.e. kings and statesmen. It also talks about the concept of justice and slavery. The book makes the connection between the happiness and virtue of the political community to the people’s participation in politics. His analysis on the causes of revolution and what prevents it have been a source of inspiration to other political thinkers like John Locke and John Stuart Mill. Locke’s known work Two Treatises of Government (1689) discusses the concept of representative government and the people’s right to revolution. John Stuart Mill also wrote on the topic of representative government with his book Considerations on Representative Government (1861). Political science as an academic discipline separate from history was only established after the Second World War in American universities as well as in a number of European universities. Even in Central and Eastern Europe, it was only after the decline of the Socialist regime in the 1990s and only under the newly installed democratic regimes when political science as a discipline was developed.


It is in the interest of society to understand how its people think and why they behave in a certain way. This is where psychology comes in. It is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. This includes the physical state and the mental state and how this all relates to the environment of the individual. It comes from two Greek words, psyche meaning “soul” or “spirit,” and logos meaning “study”. Psychology is divided into three major fields: Clinical, developmental, and experimental. Clinical psychology assesses and finds treatment for people with psychological disorders. Developmental psychology studies the intellectual, social, emotional, and moral development across a lifespan. The focus maybe narrowed down to a specific period in life like early childhood or preadolescent. Experimental psychology studies the most basic concepts of psychology like cognition, perception, memory, and learning but mostly conducted on animals instead of humans. Psychology finds application in addressing issues like suicide and criminal behavior.

The German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt is considered as the Father of Modern Psychology, He is credited for being the first in the movement to make psychology a science. He also conducted the first true experimental laboratory in psychology. His major contribution to the field is Grundzuge der physiologischen Psychologie (The Principles of Physiological Psychology, 1873). In his lifetime, he was able to conduct research on a wide array of topics which include spiritualism, ethics, animal physiology, and even poisons. Other important names on the discipline are William James and Sigmund Freud. William James Studied the concept of Functionalism, which analyzes the function or purpose of behavior and not simply a description. Functionalism studies how specific behavior help adapt to environment. One of his major works is Principles of Psychology (1890). Sigmund Freud is known for his psychoanalytic personality theory, which divides the personality into id, ego, and super ego. He also wrote the theory on the psychosexual stages of development.


It is the systematic study of human society. It comes from the Latin word Socius meaning “friend” or “companion” and the Greek word logos meaning “study.” Sociology studies how people relate to each other and how they work as a whole in the larger society. The sociological perspective sees the general in the particular. “We begin to think sociologically [when we realize] how the general categories into which we fall shape our particular life experiences.” (Macionis, 2006, p. 2) Social rules of behavior, societal expectations, and norms guide an individual’s actions, thoughts, and feelings.

Sociology was born as a result of powerful and complex economic and social forces. The Industrial revolution created massive changes not just in the field of technology and in the way goods are manufactured, but also in the work and living pattern of the people. Factory life pulled people away from their homes, changed their work schedules, and weakened their family ties. It has also drawn more People to the cities causing problems associated with urbanization. The new issues that confronted people at that time required a new way of thinking. It was the French social thinker Auguste Comte who coined the word sociology in 1838 to encapsulate the idea of improving society by understanding how it operates. Some of his works include the Course on Positive Philosophy (1830-1842, six volumes translated ties. It has also drawn more People to the cities causing problems associated with urbanization. The new issues that confronted people at that time required a new way of thinking. It was the French social thinker Auguste Comte who coined the word sociology in 1838 to encapsulate the idea of improving society by understanding how . it operates. Some of his works include the Course on Positive Philosophy (1830-1842, six volumes translated and condensed by Harriet Martineau as The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte) and the System of Positive Polity, or Treatise on Sociology, instituting the Religion of Humanity, (1851-1854. four volumes). Other well-known sociologists are Jane Addams and Harriet Martineau. Martineau is regarded as the first woman sociologist.


Demography s the study of human population. It comes from two ancient Greek words. demos meaning “the people” and graphos meaning “charting or mapping.” The discipline also studies how people move from place to place. The main sources of data are census and other vital statistics. Some basic demographic concepts include fertility, mortality, migration, and population growth “The study of human population begins with how many people are born Fertility is the incidence of child bearing in a country’s population” (Macionis. 2006, p. 418). Fertility is measured using crude birth rate or the number of live births for every 1000 people in a population. Population is also affected by mortality, or the incidence of death in a country’s population. Mortality is measured using crude death rate, or the number of deaths for every 1,000 in a population. Another factor that affects population size is migration. This is the movement of people into and out of a particular territory. Population growth rate is simply the difference between the crude birth rate and the crude death rate.

The issue of population has been of interest to scholars even during the ancient period. Kautilya, a contemporary of Plato, commented in his Arthashastra that a large population is a source of military, political and economic strength of a nation. The same idea is espoused by Ibn Khaldin, a fourteenth century Arab historian, who contended that a dense population growth is generally favorable to the maintenance and increase of imperial power. This thinking has been reversed in later times when an increase in population growth is seen as a bane to developing societies. One of the earliest demographers is Edmond Halley. He was the first scientist to study a person’s likelihood of death as he or she passes through different age groups using death statistics from across the different age groups. He also wrote a book entitled An estimate of the degrees of the mortality of mankind, drawn from the curious tables of the births and funerals at the city of Breslaw: with an attempt to ascertain the price of annuities upon lives (1753). Another familiar name in this field and who has already been mentioned in the Subtopic Economics is Thomas Malthus. The discipline economics highlighted in his book An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) its main area of inquiry, which is scarcity of resources. Demography. on the other hand. highlights its main area of inquiry which is population growth rate, and which Malthus believes to be growing in a geometric progression.