1 Introducing the social sciences
The social sciences are comprised of a wide range of academic disciplines that are concerned with the study of society, or the relationships between, and attitudes and behaviours of, individuals within a society. The emergence of these disciplines is relatively recent. Prior to the eighteenthth century, you would not have come across explicit references to distinct academic disciplines in the way that is commonplace in universities today.
Why then, have separate social science disciplines come into existence? The main reason is that these disciplines help people to study and make sense of the social world around them. The breadth of human knowledge is now so wide that it helps to have this knowledge indexed and systematised, just as we might organise books in a library. Indeed, ‘disciplines’ is a term with medieval origins, which used to refer to the specific rules and processes that had to be followed in order to become an expert in a particular subject.
In the following sections, you will gain an insight into some of the main disciplines in the social sciences, focusing in particular on psychology, law and sociology. The reason you will focus on these three disciplines is that they are often studied alongside criminology, forming part of joint-honours degrees at many universities.