Amanda Goodall and Andrew Oswald’s argument that the social sciences need a shake-up (“Time for a makeover?”, Features, 9 October) seems to have overlooked the fact that social scientists are often employed in a number of fields outside their own disciplines. They are found in medical schools (health economics, sociology of medicine, social policy), energy, ecology, computer science, development studies, agriculture, nutrition and many other places. Indeed, the Medical Sociology conferences are bigger than those of the British Sociological Association and their journals attract a large number of articles – and not just from sociologists.
The methods of social research developed in the social sciences have permeated a great many other disciplines as the main way to study social life. One of us is involved in a sanitation project with engineers and plays a key role in this respect. The research councils as well as European Union funding have endeavoured to focus upon societal challenges, encouraging interdisciplinary work across a range of fields. There has been a proliferation of interdisciplinary journals that reflect these shifts, although there is an argument for shorter and more accessible articles in popular journals that can summarise a whole pyramid of research endeavour, as the authors suggest.
However, it is important to recognise that good interdisciplinary work is done on the basis of having strong disciplines in the first place, so it is important to get the balance right. While interdisciplinary work across the humanities and between social sciences has developed in recent years, it is sometimes difficult for sceptical and questioning social scientists to get recognition from disciplines with more positivistic outlooks. Perhaps it is time the sciences were shaken up?
Former president of the European Sociological Association
Director of the Centre for Equality and Diversity, Glasgow Caledonian University