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Information Literacy Research Skill Building: Social Sciences

This guide contains information literacy instructional materials based on the ACRL Information Literacy Standards.

Social Sciences

Social Sciences


Disciplines within the Social Sciences: History, Anthropology, Human Development, Psychology, Communications, Women's Studies, Criminal Justice, Economics, Business, Law, Education, Sociology, Library Science, Public Affairs, Sports Studies (and others)

The "social sciences" refers to a group of disciplines which deal with aspects of human society and the individual. These disciplines include, but are not limited to, economics, sociology, anthropology, political science, and psychology.

One striking aspect of the social sciences is their increasingly multidisciplinary nature. Research in any of these disciplines often touches on aspects of another. For example, one might incorporate the study of societal dynamics into research focusing on the economy. One would classify such a project within the realm of socio-economics, rather than sociology or economics.

"A human being is a naturally political [animal]."
-- Aristotle, Politics, bk. I, ch. 2, l.1253a1

History of the Social Sciences

The study of the social sciences grew out of the tradition of "moral philosophy", in contrast to the natural sciences which emerged from "natural philosophy". Philosophers have long made observations about human relations. Most notably Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Ibn Khaldun made contributions to moral philosophy, although their comments were not based upon systematic, controlled studies.

The history of the social sciences is especially rooted in the major events of the 18th century - the industrial revolution and the French Revolution. Ideas derived from theology and deductive reasoning colored the social sciences until the 19th century, when the struggle to define and research society in scientific, empirical terms developed momentum. The era of Darwin and Marx ushered the application of more positivistic (scientific) approaches to the development of the social sciences.

By all accounts, the social sciences are disparate in their methodological approach. How does one measure changes in society? Attitudes? The economy? Learning behavior? Personality? Intelligence?

Social Sciences Methodology

1. Experiments and tests
2. Surveys,
fieldwork and ethnographic case studies
3. Documents
(journal articles, professional literature)
4. Mixed Methods
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