Skip to main content

Story: Social sciences

People have always been fascinated by other people. In the 20th century this fascination manifested in many new academic disciplines.

Story by Peter Clayworth
Main image: Members of the Society for Research on Women present a report on urban women to Robert Muldoon, 1972

Story Summary

All images & media in this story

Introduction

The social sciences are the disciplines that deal with human society and behaviour. They include:

  • sociology
  • psychology
  • social anthropology
  • human geography
  • demography (the study of human population statistics)
  • political science
  • education.

Some aspects of economics can also be considered social science.

In 1840 the New Zealand colonial government began collecting population statistics, but New Zealand’s social sciences were not formally established until the 20th century.

Early 20th century

In the first two decades of the 20th century universities began to teach psychology and anthropology.

In 1937 the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research’s Social Science Research Bureau was set up, but lasted only briefly. Its Industrial Psychology Division, set up in 1942, lasted somewhat longer. It researched a range of worker issues in munitions factories including absenteeism, the role of female workers and worker response to lighting, heating and ventilation.

After 1945 there was some acceptance that government intervention could solve social problems. This brought about increased government social research, in order to develop policy.

Late 20th century

Teaching began at Victoria University College’s School of Social Sciences in 1950.

The 1960s and 1970s were a time of massive social change, and student interest in the social sciences – especially sociology – boomed. By 1971 most universities had sociology courses. In the late 1980s the independent Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand was formed.

During the 1980s and 1990s the amount of social research carried out by government agencies varied depending on the government’s priorities at the time.

Recent disciplines

Māori activism grew in the 1970s and 1980s, as did Māori participation in tertiary education. Universities created independent Māori studies departments. Some also had departments of Pacific Island studies.

In 1974 Rosemary Seymour pioneered the teaching of women’s studies at the Sociology Department of Waikato University. Waikato established a women’s studies degree, and other universities followed. The Women’s Studies Association was set up in 1984.

The 21st century

Digital technology made it easier to collect and analyse social statistics.

In the 2000s aspects of social science were taught in all New Zealand universities, with many individual disciplines incorporated into wider schools of social science. Psychology generally remained in its own department.

In 2003 a government funding initiative – the BRCSS (Building Research Capability in the Social Sciences) began enhancing social science research capability across the universities.

How to cite this page:

Peter Clayworth, 'Social sciences', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/social-sciences (accessed 24 April 2018)

Story by Peter Clayworth, published 22 Oct 2014, updated 30 Jun 2015