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Social science and participation
Social science and participation

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This course has introduced the topic of participation in order to develop your appreciation of how social science helps to enact social worlds.

You have seen how social science investigation of participation ranges from work that focuses quite narrowly on forms of political participation, such as voting, to broader understandings of participation, such as belonging to clubs or churches, or just engaging in ordinary routines of family life. You have also seen how social science depends on people being involved in the generation of evidence and data.

The course began by defining enactment as having two aspects: informing public debates and shaping social worlds. You looked at how social science has helped to enact social worlds using the example of social science research on poverty. Poverty is, of course, an issue that is highly contested and controversial, not least in terms of its definition, and so this example of social science research also underscores the degree to which social science descriptions and understandings are always caught up with issues of evaluation.

You have seen that social scientists have played an important part in transforming the meaning of poverty, how it is measured, how it is judged, and what is done about it. By developing understandings of poverty that emphasise participation in social life, social scientists have influenced how poverty is described – how data are collected and interpreted. Fundamentally, in changing how poverty is described and understood, social scientists have had considerable influence in informing public debates about the extent and causes of poverty, and also in shaping policies aimed at alleviating poverty. In short, social science has played an important role in enacting debates and policies about poverty.

The emphasis on people participating in social science has been an important part of the process of social science enactments of poverty – by taking part in survey research that helps to define benchmarks of basic necessities.

Throughout this course, you have seen that the ways in which social science describes social processes – through methodologies such as surveys, for example – and the ways in which social science explains social processes – using concepts and theories – are always related to the ways in which social science informs debates and shapes outcomes (how it helps to enact social worlds).

In this course, you have learnt:

  • how and why social scientists investigate participation
  • how participation is described and understood by social science in terms of particular evaluations of the importance of certain activities
  • that participation is crucial to social science definitions of public issues such as poverty, inequality and social exclusion
  • that social science depends on various forms of participation by ordinary people to generate data and evidence and to contribute to the development of explanations and interpretations.