The term Natural Sciences traditionally refers to those areas of study that deal with the physical world: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geology, Archaeology etc., and the Social Sciences refers to those areas that deal with the complexities of human interactions and society. Whereas the former (Natural Sciences) is guided by adherence to the Scientific Method in the pursuit of objective truths about the world, the latter must be more malleable in the approaches used to understand the unpredictability of people. With that said, the Scientific Method should still be the bedrock of any of the Social Sciences: Economics, History, Linguistics, Psychology, Pedagogy, Anthropology, Law etc. All of these areas are enhanced when they adhere to the Scientific Method to produce useful and reliable evidence, or objective truths. For example, when the Anthropologist considers early human copper production he will employ an interdisciplinary approach. He can ensure that he receives reliable data by employing a Geologist to report on the type and density of the rock as well as the depth of underlying metal deposits at the point of origin of his metal artefacts. He will consult with a Chemist or Archaeologist with expertise in metallurgy to compare chemical patterning in his archaeological finds with similar metal artefacts from other excavations in the hopes of triangulating a provenance for the artefacts in his possession. He will further consult, as needed, experts who can help him to understand the mining, extraction, refining and moulding processes involved in producing his metal artefacts. Up to this point in his studies the Anthropologist need not stray too far from the Natural Sciences and with this he can develop or reject his general hypotheses as necessary, as his work will have a high degree of reliability. However, if the Anthropologist wishes to know more about the people who produced his artefacts and why, he must begin to make assumptions. At this point he will develop general theories that make use of his evidence and, depending upon the theoretical model he has chosen at the outset of this project, his final findings can be radically different. For example if the Anthropologist employs a Feminist epistemology, it will most likely result in very different findings than had he employed a Positivist epistemology. The former will have more explicit assumptions while the latter will attempt to stick as closely as is possible to the data. He may also choose to apply a Cognitive theory approach (focus on linguistics) or a Materialist approach (focus on observable behaviour patterns). Whatever model (or combination of models) the Anthropologist chooses at this point will define his outcomes and will produce the narrative that the public, media, educators etc. take in good faith as being academically reliable.
I have laboured this process since in order for the Social Sciences to earn its title it needs to maintain the balance between objective truths and interpretation. Those who employ models informed more by the former (facts) will inevitably produce results that are more trustworthy and useful for society while those who are more concerned with the latter (theory) are more likely to fall victim to confirmation bias, be overly-subjective and produce misleading results that are at best not useful for society, and at worst harmful.
Until the mid-point of the 20th Century Social Scientists in most fields were concerned with attaining a degree of credibility as a Science for their disciplines. Sociology at this time was focused on defining and creating workable models for the notion of “Community”. At the forefront of this was the renowned “Chicago School” which included Robert Park (The City) and Ernest Burgess (The Urban Community) and also Amos Hawley (Human Ecology), all of whom pioneered and developed the Ecological model which relied heavily upon theories imported from Biology. While these sociologists can now be accused of being reductive, their findings were among Sociology’s first and most scientifically rigorous attempts to present useful findings for the public.
As Postmodernism began to win favour in the Social Sciences from the mid-20th Century, it coincided with a shift from a focus on objectivity to explain human interactions to subjective experience. This led to a creative explosion in interpretation across the Social Sciences and important advances in the concept of multiple realities. However, it also led to an over-reliance on interpretation without due regard for objective reality – a concept rejected by Postmodernism. This led to a schism between the Natural and Social Sciences. The shift was slow but constant. Until recently Postmodernism in, say, Literature, was confined to maybe one module a semester, perhaps Feminist critiques of classic Western literature or more generalised deconstructions of such texts. The key is that these modules complemented broader studies. One would have to learn the basic skills of analysis and interpretation with reference to reason and context before deconstructing the system. Similarly, Cultural Studies ensured that minority voices within and outside of the West were heard, but before one would consider the plight of the Colonials in History or Literature, students would first have an understanding of global events, cause and effect etc. Dedicated courses on Magical Realism were reserved for postgraduates, by which time they could understand the context and potential value of the genre. All of this provided well-rounded graduates with useable and transferrable skills that gave them value (holistically speaking) for their investment in their education.
Now, however, Postmodernists are attempting to detach themselves completely from that which they could legitimately critique. They are creating postmodernist bubbles that are not designed to deconstruct dominant truths; rather they are designed simply to critique endlessly and without understanding of or reference to modernist intellectual thought – because they stand in opposition to modernism and all of its achievements. A practical example of this untethering from reality is modern teacher training programmes. Where once future teachers were given a balanced grounding in general sociological concepts in modules entitled “History of Education”, “Education and Society” or something similar, it is now increasingly common to see modules dedicated to Social Justice. Presenting Social Justice as an independent field of study given as much credit as the History of Education, Educational Technology, Evidence-Based Teaching etc. presents it as a set of established truths. But it is not. The majority of what today constitutes Social Justice modules is simply Postmodernist speculation built around the currently fashionable hub of “Intersectionality”. In other words, Postmodernism originally was a useful criticism of the Scientific Method or dominant narratives and a reminder of the importance of accounting for the subjective experiences of different people and groups. Now it has spread across the Social Sciences, being presented by universities as a set of universally-held truths that can account for the totality of human experience.
Increasingly, Postmodernist teaching has proliferated in universities across Western nations (and particularly in the USA). Feminism, once largely allied to Marxism, has become synonymous with Postmodernism. Cultural Studies, which attempt to tie both of these together alongside other minority voices attempting to provide interpretations of modern society, has also fallen victim to a new, dominant set of ideas revolving around “Social Justice”, “Intersectionality” and making sense of “Globalisation”. It is increasingly difficult to separate any of these fields of study and in many cases they have become synonymous. In other words, teaching and learning across the Social Sciences are now more focused on tearing down existing ideas and objective truths about people and society than they are with building on or creating new ones. Because they have moved so far away from the Scientific Method into subjectivity and self-contained intellectual bubbles, students can now literally graduate from university with a degree that has no basis in modernist thought and with ideas that have no grounding in reality and, indeed, which run counter to the concept of objective truth. Their potential positive impact on society is thus drastically reduced. Students, to speak bluntly, are being duped by Postmodernists.
It gets worse. Because the Social Sciences have become so far removed from the Scientific Method and the Physical Sciences in general, students are now completing PhD courses without any sense of the Scientific Method, without any grounding in the Physical Science tradition (read “real world” in the literal sense). As such, they are locked into a relativistic, abstract, conflict-ridden and narcissistic (read postmodernist) world. Should they decide, as is likely upon entering the workplace and broadening their life-experience through contact with diverse thinkers, that they wish to change their chosen career path, they are left without an escape route. Their university studies make them less sure, more doubtful, feel less safe, endlessly sceptical and intellectually ill-prepared to be productive in society – which is not emotionally or mentally healthy.
The fault for all of this lies squarely with university administrators who sanction more and more Postmodernism courses without ensuring that every student leaves every course of study in the Social Sciences with a strong scientific grounding. More insidious, however, are those Postmodernist teaching staff members who are exploiting the innocence of students to promote their own militant agendas. The 2016 HERI College Senior Survey found that 50% of all college seniors aspire to become community leaders at some point after graduation, while 43% of freshmen held the same aspiration. It is clear that students are increasingly becoming more socially conscious and politically active so it is essential that they be equipped to make positive contributions upon graduating. Postmodernism is not useful training for this. Postmodernist educators are intentionally depriving their students of the Scientific Method in their subjects. To take the place of objective truths, students are taught that the subjective experience is truth. Instead of a search for “the” truth in Social Sciences, students are encouraged to pursue “my truth”. Research projects are built around methods (such as “Autoethnography”) that give priority to the subjective experience of the student fieldworker (should any fieldwork actually take place), and qualitative data is valued over more objective and quantitative research methods. In short, Postmodernism has mushroomed from a critical interpretative approach within a thought system to a thought system itself.
The result of this is that Social Studies students follow the extreme postmodern views of their lecturers and are rewarded with good grades and advanced degrees. However, when they graduate and they have to survive outside of academia, they are not equipped to do so. Because they were taught through a theoretical lens in History, Sociology, Psychology etc. that presented ideas such as “Intersectionality” or “White Privilege” as fact, when they are confronted with differing opinions in the real world, they do not have the reasoning, the training or the will to defend their position. Because these students believe that their positions are righteous – they did want to be community leaders and their lecturers did harness that sense of civic responsibility and subvert it to suit their own agendas – and because their educators have left them ill-prepared to defend their positions, it is now frighteningly common to see public discourse, particularly on Social Media, descend into personal attacks on anyone who dares disagree with them. Of course, if you are trained in a postmodern bubble (or echo-chamber) to believe that your opinions are fact and your feelings are truth then anyone who disagrees with your personal code of ethics and view of society as informed by “Intersectionality” is attacking you personally. Naturally, you then feel vindicated in responding with personal insults such as “Nazi” and “Misogynist”, pejoratives such as “straight white male” and demands to “check your privilege”.
It is time that universities were held to account for ensuring a balance in the Social Sciences that guarantees that all graduates are given a rounded education in their chosen field which allows them to succeed in their future careers by providing academic rigour and the potential for changing careers in the future. Universities should ensure that it is not possible for Social Studies students to graduate without a solid understanding of the Scientific Method and Modernist intellectual tradition. This would ensure that all their graduates have a common language of communication for the betterment of society. So-called interdisciplinary courses such as Social Justice studies, which are increasingly common and draw on Postmodern thinking from across the Social Sciences, should be avoided as they allow Postmodernist bubbles to form and faculties to pressure students into accepting opinion as fact by presenting seemingly obvious “truths” from multiple disciplines.
Most importantly, until universities redress these imbalances in their institutions, we should dispense with the name Social Sciences. Instead we should refer to them as “Social Beliefs” or “Social Feelings”.