Social Sciences Career Field Structure
Social scientists study all aspects of past and present society. They help us understand how people interact with each other, respond to events, make decisions, and organize themselves in groups. Their research helps us identify societal problems and find solutions.
Anthropology is a broad social science that studies human origins and our physical, social, and cultural development and behavior. Physical anthropologists study the physical characteristics of people through the ages and across cultures. They search for the earliest human remains and study the evolution of Homo sapiens and how culture and biology influence one another.
Archaeologists study tools, pottery, human remains, and any artifacts from sites around the world in an effort to understand past societies. Cultural anthropologists study past and present cultures and their customs, values, social patterns, family relationships, religions, governments, and languages. Some anthropologists study all the physical and cultural aspects of one particular region of the world. Other anthropologists specialize in a specific aspect of culture. Linguists concentrate on language and its sounds, structure, grammar, vocabulary, idioms, and development through time. Ethnobotanists study how cultures use plants, trees, and bushes for medicines, food, and building materials. Ethnomusicologists study the music, musical instruments, and musical traditions of different cultures. Urban anthropologists focus on the physical and cultural patterns of people who live in large urban centers.
Geographers are social scientists who study the relationship of physical features and cultures and how they are arranged on local, regional, continental, and global levels. Physical geographers study climate, vegetation, soil, and landforms, and how they influence human behavior and development. Economic geographers study natural resources and economic activities. Other geography specialists include political geographers, cultural geographers, urban geographers, and medical geographers.
Historians research, analyze, and interpret the past. They research government records, newspapers and other periodicals, church records, photographs, interviews, films, and personal diaries and letters. Historians usually specialize in a country or region, a particular time period, or a particular cultural aspect, such as social, political, or diplomatic history. Biographers collect detailed information on individuals. Genealogists trace family histories. (Anthropologists also study genealogies to trace family histories and study family relationships.) Some historians preserve archival materials, artifacts, and historic buildings and sites.
Political scientists study political systems and public policy. They examine the relations between countries or the institutions and political organization of nations, small towns, and cities. Research topics include public opinion, political decision-making, ideology, public policy, government operations, and various political entities.
Sociologists study social behavior by analyzing groups and institutions, including social, religious, political, and business organizations. They analyze the effects that groups have on individual behavior and vice versa, and they study how groups interact with each other. They examine how social traits such as sex, age, and race affect a person’s daily life. Sociological research helps educators, lawmakers, administrators, and others identify social problems and design public policy.
The various disciplines in social sciences often overlap since it is impossible to isolate and study one aspect of human life without considering many other aspects. Research is the foundation for all social sciences. For example, archaeologists perform fieldwork at sites, or “digs,” where they excavate artifacts and fossils. Some research takes place in laboratories, where scientists determine the age of artifacts or conduct social and behavioral experiments on human and animal subjects. Research also includes reading historical documents and other printed material, conducting personal interviews, taking surveys, and gleaning information from computer databases.
Most social scientists hold doctoral degrees and most hold academic positions at colleges and universities. Since there is strong competition for academic positions, social scientists are increasingly finding work in government agencies, social service agencies, research and testing services, and management consulting firms. Other employers include international organizations, associations, museums, and historical societies. Jobs are also available in the business sector. For example, advertisers hire social scientists to research the habits of certain groups of consumers; corporations involved in foreign business need translators and cultural advisers; and computer programmers need insight into the nature of human communication in order to create special software.