Friday, 23 October 2020

The social sciences

It is not often that we really step back and think about our own fields, and where those fields fit in relation to everything else. I was idly thinking about the social sciences, and why business in a part of that field (Sodertorn University, 2020).

Scientia is from Latin meaning ‘knowledge’, and referring “to a systematic and organized body of knowledge in any area of inquiry” (Bhattacherjee, 2012, p. 1). Science falls into two halves: natural science; and social science. The natural sciences focus on objects or phenomena occurring naturally (e.g. light, matter, our planet and beyond, or living things). Science - natural science - tends to take a more objective approach (Frey, 2013).

The social sciences are the study of people or groups (e.g. organisations, societies, economies, or behaviours), and include “psychology (the science of human behaviors), sociology (the science of social groups), and economics (the science of firms, markets, and economies)” (Bhattacherjee, 2012, p. 1). The social sciences tend to take more of a subjective approach (Frey, 2013).

OK: so what then separates the humanities and the social sciences? Professor Iain McLean pinpoints a wonderfully cogent difference: “humanities are (mostly) interested in the unique; social sciences are (mostly) interested in the general”, continuing on to provide an example, that “Social statistics cannot predict how I will vote in the next election, but they can help to predict what most people like me will do” (McLean, 20 November 2018).

These delineations are somewhat arbitrary though. Without going into the Arts, where things get even more murky, let's stay on the simple side of the divide, and consider the areas where business has a clear involvement. Depending on what is studied, and the methods used, business can easily fall into a number of different disciplines. For example, research into stock market returns can explore the connection between a range of mathematically measured factors (science); the reasons why stockbrokers invest in certain stocks (social sciences); or the narrative of a particular stockbroker (humanities).

It all comes back to where we stand (ontology), what we want to learn, and how we come to knowing (epistemology). And we could fling a bit of axiology in there as well for spice :-)



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