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Social Sciences Major

The social sciences apply the methods of science to understand the way people think and act — individually, in groups, and in societies — and the way that biology and the environment interact to make each of us unique.

Research findings from the social sciences inform public policies on a wide range of issues, such as reducing crime, designing effective political campaigns, helping people overcome addictions, crafting economic/labor policies, and convincing people to conserve resources.

Core Courses

In their sophomore year, Social Sciences majors enroll in the three core courses that provide the foundation for the Social Sciences concentrations. They also take three to five electives from core courses offered in other majors. The Social Sciences core courses are: Perception, Cognition and Reality (SS110), Boom, Bust, and Bubbles: The Free Enterprise System (SS111) and Government and Social Change (SS112).

SS110 / Perception, Cognition and Reality

In his award-winning book "All the Light We Cannot See", Anthony Doerr asks, “So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?” The answer to this question is the organizing principle for Perception, Cognition, and Reality. Broad theoretical perspectives are used to trace the sequence of events--at multiple levels of analysis--from sensory perception to high-level cognition and creativity. Methods of inquiry include connectionism, computational modeling, experimental studies of normal and exceptional children and adults, and functional neuroimaging.

SS111 / Boom, Bust, and Bubbles: The Free Enterprise System

Market inefficiencies are critical drivers of global financial instability. Study the utility of specific economic principles by examining systemic market failures such as the Japanese boom and bust of the 1980's and 1990's, the various asset price bubbles (equity, housing, commodities, etc.), and periods of relative market calm and prosperity. What trigger events turn market vulnerabilities into panics or manias? What impact can regulation have on lessening or heightening market volatility? Students predict the next “bubble” in the global economy.

SS112 / Government and Social Change

Governments can help their citizens to flourish--or can make their lives miserable. Governments affect their citizens in part by influencing common practices. For example, taxation (both surcharges and tax breaks) can change social practices, which can further social goals such as reducing energy consumption, helping people save for retirement, and reducing prejudice. Students propose ways that governments can be motivated to effect such changes--and also consider what controls should be in place to ensure that social changes are in fact beneficial. For the final project, students design a campaign to cause a government (local, state, or federal) to effect a specific social change and devise ways to assess its impact.

Concentrations

In their junior year, Social Sciences majors select a concentration, begin taking the three courses within it and begin work on their capstone projects. They also take three electives chosen from other Minerva courses (other concentration courses in Social Sciences, core and concentration courses in other colleges). Social Sciences offers six concentrations shown in the table below.

In the senior year, Social Sciences majors enroll in four additional electives chosen from Minerva’s course offerings within or outside the major. Additionally, they take two senior tutorials in the major, and finish their capstone projects.

  Theory and Analysis in the Social Sciences Empirical Approaches to the Social Sciences Designing Societies
Cognition, Brain, and Behavior SS142 / Theories of Cognition and Emotion SS152 / Cognitive Neuroscience SS162 / Personal and Social Motivation
Economics and Society SS144 / Economic Theory and Tools SS154 / Econometrics and Economic Systems SS164 / Global Development and Applied Economics
Politics, Government, and Society SS146 / Constructing Theories of Good Government SS156 / World Political Systems in Practice SS166 / Designing Constitutions

Each row and each column of the matrix represent a different concentration, as noted above.

Cognition, Brain, and Behavior

Explore theories of cognition, emotion, and their relation. Learn how the brain gives rise to the mind. Study how knowledge about thinking and motivations can be used to influence people’s beliefs and behaviors.

Career Possibilities

  • Neuroscientist
  • Psychotherapist
  • Science writer
  • Congressional staff member
  • School psychologist
  • Designer of tests and measures for the college entrance exams
  • Conflict mediator

Economics and Society

Study a variety of conceptual tools to predict economic behavior and learn the sophisticated statistical tools underlying economic models. Examine important challenges facing both developing and developed economies.

Career Possibilities

  • Economic advisor for industry or government
  • Professor of economics
  • Public policy analyst
  • Staff member, regulatory agency
  • CEO, international trade organization
  • Treasurer, major industry or start-up
  • Corporate attorney

Politics, Government, and Society

Investigate the important effects of differences among governments and the consequences that different political systems have on society. Discover what is necessary to design a constitution that will work effectively.

Career Possibilities

  • Legislative analyst
  • Lobbyist for environmental protection
  • Executive director of an NGO
  • Advisor to financial think tank
  • Staff member, United Nations
  • Political campaign manager

Theory and Analysis in the Social Sciences

Understand the variety and types of theories in social science, spanning the range from mind and emotion to economies and governments around the world. Learn how such theories are developed and tested.

Career Possibilities

  • Policy analyst
  • Strategic planner
  • Corporate manager
  • Government strategist
  • Political campaign analyst
  • Journalist or news commentator

Empirical Approaches to the Social Sciences

Learn fundamental facts across a range of topics in social science, spanning the mind and brain, economics, and world political systems. Compare and contrast the tools of discovery in these various domains and how to interpret the findings produced by these tools.

Career Possibilities

  • Clinical psychologist
  • Neuroscientist
  • Economist
  • High school teacher
  • Consultant, organizational design
  • Staff in government office
  • Social science researcher

Designing Societies

Devise ways to improve society, based on facts about the science of influence and motivation, the economic challenges facing societies, and the key ingredients of constitutions. Imagine the ideal social order and see whether you can create guidelines that would shape such a society.

Career Possibilities

  • Urban planner
  • Lawyer
  • Professor of sociology
  • Public relations director for a corporation
  • Member of Congress
  • Employment specialist
  • Market researcher

Concentration Courses

SS142 / Theories of Cognition and Emotion

We explore broad theories of cognition and emotion through the lens of psychology, also drawing on philosophy and artificial intelligence. The goal is to examine theories of different aspects of cognition, particularly thinking, and also relate them within common conceptual frameworks. For example, how can we integrate theories of different types of thinking (e.g., inductive reasoning and problem solving)? How can we combine theories of thinking with theories of other cognitive processes such as attention and memory, so instead of many seemingly separate cognitive processes, we have a cognitive being who can perform a wide variety of cognitive tasks? We also examine theories of affective states, including emotions and moods. How do these affective states influence a wide variety of cognitive processes, and how might this help our understanding of cognition and emotion? Finally, we explore theories of creativity from both cognitive and affective perspectives.

Prerequisite: SS110: Perception, Cognition and Reality

SS152 / Cognitive Neuroscience

Explore how the brain gives rise to the mind. Learn about the anatomy, physiology, and chemistry of the brain and consider the role of this physical substrate in neural computation. The focus is on higher cognitive functions. Topics include the evolution of the brain, consciousness, decision making, language acquisition and use, and disorders of the brain such as depression, schizophrenia, and autistic spectrum disorders.

Prerequisite: SS110: Perception, Cognition and Reality

SS162 / Personal and Social Motivation

What is the best way to motivate others? How can we effectively change our own habits and behaviors? As these ideas have become better understood, they are being used to help people adopt more beneficial practices across many domains such as healthy eating, exercising, and saving for retirement. Is it ethical to consciously persuade those around us? Drawing on personality psychology, cognitive psychology, and social psychology, gain a better understanding of what motivates us, and learn why specific ways to influence people's beliefs and behavior are most effective in certain contexts.

Prerequisite: SS110: Perception, Cognition and Reality

SS144 / Economic Theory and Tools

Learn to apply conceptual tools from economics to explain human behavior and predict economic phenomena. We explore the economist’s fundamental toolkit by analyzing individual choice, market equilibrium, strategic interactions, and collective decisions. We also learn to measure macroeconomic indicators and predict the impact of fiscal and monetary policy decisions on economic fluctuations. We embed these tools in diverse applications to answer questions such as: Why do “almost new” used cars sell for so much less than brand new ones? How can strategic analysis explain candidate behavior in divided elections? Does food aid increase civil conflict in recipient countries? This course provides students with a broad range of tools to apply to understanding and solving economic problems.

Prerequisite: SS111: Boom, Bust, and Bubbles: The Free Enterprise System

SS154 / Econometrics and Economic Systems

Learn how to use core econometric and statistical methods to construct and validate economic and social models. Students will learn methods to conduct and critique empirical studies in economics and related fields. We apply these techniques to answer questions such as: What are the effects of class size on test scores in California schools? Do cigarette taxes reduce smoking? Do drunk driving laws actually reduce traffic deaths? Do mosquito nets reduce the incidence of malaria? Quantitative approaches used to answer such questions include multiple regression, nonlinear regression and instrumental variables regression.

Prerequisites: SS111: Boom, Bust, and Bubbles: The Free Enterprise System, CS112: Knowledge: Information Based Decisions

SS164 / Global Development and Applied Economics

Examine important challenges facing both developing and developed economies. Explore the development of societies through the analysis of sufficient access to education and healthcare as well as sustainable mechanisms for economic growth. Identify the socio-economic impacts of rural to urban migration and technological progress while exploring the reasons for the income inequality throughout the world. Generate and critique policies designed to address specific economic issues within an effective institutional and political framework.

Prerequisite: SS111: Boom, Bust, and Bubbles: The Free Enterprise System

SS146 / Constructing Theories of Good Government

What makes good governance? How can governments pursue worthy public policy aims successfully? What are the most innovative ideas and best practices governments can adopt to create positive outcomes for the communities and societies they govern? This course seeks to answer these and related questions by examining governance models at the subnational, national and international levels. We will delve into the current practices of governance at all these levels in various regions around the world in order to learn what does and does not work. And we will develop our own thinking and approaches to governance at the same time.

Prerequisite: SS112: Government and Social Change

SS156 / World Political Systems in Practice

This course compares a wide range of representative countries from both democracies and non-democracies, and examines the ways in which people act individually and collectively within these countries to achieve their goals. Ultimately, students learn how political systems operate in practice and why they have different outcomes, such as corruption/transparency, political stability/instability, low/high inequality, security/insecurity, and low/high socio-economic standards.

Prerequisite: SS112: Government and Social Change

SS166 / Designing Constitutions

This course is an overview of comparative constitution-making and implementation. What distinguishes a constitution from other types of law? What are its purposes? How should it be written, interpreted, and enforced? How do economic, social, political, and cultural context determine the process and substance of a constitution? What have been the most successful constitutional systems and why? These are the guiding questions of this course. In it, students will compare and contrast the constitutions of several different countries and critically examine the nuances of the daunting, political tensions inherent to the founding of a new constitutional regime: how to recognize the positive legacies of the past, the constraints of the present, all while leaving room for legal development and adaptation to an uncertain future? The final project is for students to write a constitution as a group and thus put into practice the theories they have learned.

Prerequisite: SS112: Government and Social Change

Tutorial Courses

SS181 / Fall Senior Tutorial

Discuss a topic you are passionate about with two other students and a professor. Begin by developing your own syllabus, with the professor helping you to drill deeply into your topic. Engage with the other students and professor in ways that are not possible in ordinary class.

SS182 / Spring Senior Tutorial

Discuss a topic you are passionate about with two other students and a professor. Begin by developing your own syllabus, with the professor helping you to drill deeply into your topic. Engage with the other students and professor in ways that are not possible in ordinary class.

Capstone Courses

SS195 / Social Sciences Capstone I

Define a study topic, research it, understand the various competing perspectives, and discover relevant data and information sources. The study topic - presented to the class in the final third of the course - integrates elements from the major as well as the entire curriculum, and in particular from the cornerstone courses.

SS196 / Social Sciences Capstone Independent Study I

Conduct original research or create a project in any field of social sciences under the guidance of a faculty advisor. By the end of the second semester of independent study (in the junior year), students should be ready to present a first draft of their work.

SS198 / Social Sciences Capstone Independent Study II

Building on SS196, continue developing an original piece of research under the guidance of a faculty advisor. Continue to iterate on the research, work, or portfolio until such point that a path to successful completion is evident.

SS199 / Social Sciences Capstone II

Revise and complete a written report of the senior capstone project, which should be at a professional level. Present the report to the class to receive critiques and suggestions from student colleagues. Have the final work be assessed by both a faculty member as well as external reviewer.