The Social Sciences: What Are Their Branches and Functions?
Wikipedia uses the following to define the social sciences:
The social sciences are the fields of academic scholarship that explore aspects of human society. "Social science" is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a plurality of fields outside of the natural sciences. These include: anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history, linguistics, political science, international studies and, in some contexts, psychology.
Wisegeek.com provides the following definition:
The social sciences are one of three divisions of science, along with natural science and formal science. Social science concerns itself with human aspects of the world, like the arts and humanities, although social science places more effort on experimentation and the scientific method. Because the methods used the social sciences are often qualitative and based more on personal interpretation, they are often referred to as the “soft sciences” in contrast to the “hard” natural and formal sciences. The social sciences include anthropology, economics, education, geography, history, law, linguistics, political science, psychology, sociology, communication studies, development studies, information science, and sociobiology.
A major course of study for a four-year degree in one of the social sciences can be titled any of the above. In my case, my major was titled "Social Science" and was a broad spectrum major which took a sampling of all (it was intended for teaching degrees). Before I graduated, the program was slated to be cancelled, and I was one of the final two to graduate from North Georgia College & State University with the degree.
Both definitions above do a wonderful job of describing exactly what the social sciences entail. Though it is easy to understand the confusion, "Social Science" is not the same as the "Social Studies" many of us are familiar with from elementary school (which integrates elements of the social sciences to help promote civic competence, according to the National Council for the Social Studies).
The social sciences are very broad. My experience of the social sciences, which consisted mainly of Political Science and History classes, is very different from the one experienced by a Psychology major (granted, only the humanities aspect of this major is technically within the social sciences) or an Anthropology major. Some in the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, and botany for a few examples) consider the social sciences outside of true science, despite the fact that they explore knowledge in the same way (with the scientific method). The easiest explanation is that the social sciences (try to) reconcile the void between the arts and humanities and the natural sciences.