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The social sciences are often seen as occupying a position between the natural sciences and the humanities and to overlap with both types of disciplines. While the natural sciences concern processes that occur in nature and they attempt to discover the universal laws that govern these processes, the humanities deal with human activities that they seek to understand and from which they attempt to derive meanings. Are the social sciences more akin to the natural sciences or to the humanities? This is an issue that divides social scientists and is reflected in the diversity of approaches represented in social science courses.
In fact, some of the courses listed within BC’s Social Science Division are offered for natural science credit while others are offered as humanities credit. The best way to understand this overlap is that some of the aspects of the human situation studied by social scientists are more amenable to the methods of the natural scientists, as, for instance, when a psychologist studies the brain or a geographer looks at the physical characteristics of the land that humans inhabit. Other social scientists carry out work more like that done by their colleagues in the humanities, as when an anthropologist interprets peoples’ religious behavior and beliefs or when a historian attempts to make sense of the meanings expressed in ancient writings.
Thus, courses offered in the social sciences vary greatly in how they approach their subject matter; even within the same discipline one may encounter some instructors who encourage the formulation of scientific research designs and others who stress critical interpretations of human meanings. In spite of this, all social scientists are dedicated to the deepening of our knowledge of humanity and perhaps their divergent approaches should be expected given the complexity and richness of the human situation.