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The Transformative Role of Social Science


Broadly defined as the study of society and the way in which people behave and influence the world around us, social science has been demonstrated to have the ability to explain how our society works. It provides critical information to individual members of society, governments, policy makers, non-governmental organizations and local authorities- information which, if used adequately, enables them create better and effective systems and institutions that will positively impact on people’s everyday lives (Searle, 2010). Social science, and the various approaches it employs, provides evidence-based grounding through which the social world can be evaluated, thereby providing a more functional and accurate understanding of the social world (Goldman, 2002). Moreover, it facilitates people’s understanding of how they should engage with the social institutions and systems and others in the society for their own and society’s benefit (Searle, 2010). This essay will, therefore, provide arguments that support social science as a medium that facilitates and contributes our understanding of the social world.

Social Science as a Way of Knowing the Social World

It is also widely acknowledged that social science is critical in addressing the various (physical) challenges facing the (social) world, most of which are political problems requiring an enhanced understanding of public management, political institutions and policy creation and implementation. Social science therefore enables individuals understand how to relate to and interact with the social world, including how to develop networks, influence policy and regulations, promote democracy and enhance public accountability (Mooney, Knox and Schacht, 2016). This essay will briefly discuss how religion and education contribute to our understanding of the social world.



Giddens and Sutton (2021) define religions as:

“…a belief in God or gods and perhaps an afterlife, but they also involve worship in religious buildings like chapels, mosques or synagogues and doing ‘religious things’ such as praying and eating or not eating certain foods.”

Yinger (1970, p.709), on the other hand, provides a functionalism definition of religion as:

“a system of beliefs and practices by means of which a group of people struggles with the ultimate problems of human life.”

Religion is a social phenomenon/construct whose impacts in society and the social world social scientists have taken great interest and widely investigated. Various religious theories and concepts have been used to demonstrate the impact of religion on the social world, including functionalism, Marxism and Neo-Marxism, and feminism.

Durheim (1965), in his study of totemism in Australian Aboriginal societies, found that people tended to distinguish things as profane (mundane, ordinary) or sacred (to be treated with veneration/respect). In Durkheim’s (1965) argument, people treated totems as sacred due to the totems’ representation of their social group as well as group values, rather than due to the totems’ possession of divine power. This reverence towards a totem illustrates respect towards the group’s (society’s) core values, with the society serving as the real object of worship with regard to religion. As such, each religion has some form of ceremony or ritual that brings people together, which in turn strengthens the group’s/society’s social solidarity and cohesion, as well as cohesive effervescence and consciousness (Durkheim and Swain, 2008).

The Marxism theory of religion depicts it as having been created by man in a bid to understand the world which they couldn’t fully make sense of (Raines, 2011). As such religion projected onto religious individuals social values and norms, which with time (as religions became more organized), resulted in alienation as religion was viewed as holding power over individuals (Marx and Engels, 2012). This resulted in religion becoming another form or source of power in the society. For example, while those in power used it along with other ideologies to preserve their power, the Bourgeoisie used religion to create a false class consciousness and exploit the proletariat, by convincing them to take up low-paying jobs as well as to alienate them from their produce, fellow workers and human nature (Goldstein, 2005). Religion has also been portrayed as furthering social inequality perpetrated by capitalism. Whereas capitalism is the problem, religion tends to offer solace and comfort to the exploited proletariat (Marx and Engels, 2012). For instance, Christianity and Judaism promise the poor heavenly rewards for the inequality and injustices they suffer on earth, while Hinduism and Buddhism comfort the poor/exploited by promising them an improved life through reincarnation.

Feminism theory depicts religion as a bad thing given that it promotes patriarchy thereby continuing the inequality between men and women (Gunew, 2013). For example, in some/most religions, men hold all or majority of the positions, others such as the Catholic church and Judaism do not allow women to be priests, while Islam and Judaism also exclude women from places of worship (Frankenberry, 2005).


Education is another key social construct that has been used to explain and enhance our understanding of the social world. Among the social world aspects that have been explained through education include life achievement, social mobility and class differences, skill development, higher education participation and achievement, and so on (Levin, 2018). Education has been demonstrated as a key contributor to the class differences witnessed in the society. For instance, it is estimated that while only about 7% of British children attend private schools, over 90% of them go to university and make up nearly half of the student population in the best universities. Pollard and Adonis (1998), therefore posit that private education provides a means through which individuals transmit their class privileges from one generation to the next. This is further elaborated by the Marxism theory which suggests that education purposes to reproduce the social relations and inequalities of production, which is serves to legitimize under the guise of meritocracy, as promoted by capitalism.

Althusser (2006) asserts that education, besides conveying the ruling class’ ideology, also socializes children from working class families to accept that they are subordinate to the middle class and to accept their position in the capitalist society by preparing them for the world of work. This assertion is supported by Bowles and Gints (2002) who posit that education’s main function in capitalist societies is the creation of workers, and through the correspondence theory which suggests that inequalities in education are a reflection of the wider societal inequalities.

Class differences within state education have also been explained through various internal and external education system factors. The cultural deprivation theory suggests that working class children are inadequately socialized and culturally deprived, and therefore do not develop the necessary ‘cultural equipment’ that is critical to educational success. The theory illustrates three key aspects: intellectual development (working class homes lack or have insufficient books or educational materials that enhance the children’s intellectual development (Bernstein and Young, 1967); language- working class use restricted codes (simple sentences) compared to the elaborate code (grammatically more complex sentences) used by the middle class (Bernstein, 1975); attitudes and values, whereby the working class parents are more likely to value work and less likely to encourage their children to stay in school, thereby the likelihood of them encouraging their children to leave school and start work (Keddie, 1973). Material deprivation (poverty, inadequate housing, low income and lack of other necessities) has also been associated with educational underachievement and class differences. Inadequate housing results in crowding which limits the space available for educational activities, while poor sanitation could result in illness, and thus absenteeism. Howard et al. (2001) argue that poor diet affects health which results in absenteeism or difficulty concentrating in school, while Tanner et al. (2003) argue that the high cost of education and lack of financial support placed a heavy burden on and negatively impacted the ability of poor families to acquire educational materials and equipment.

Durkheim (1956, 1977), through the functionalist perspective, identifies the two key functions of education as the creation of social solidarity (by transmitting the society’s culture from one generation to the next) and the teaching of specialist skills (which individuals need to undertake their division of labor roles).

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The above arguments illustrate that the various social science phenomena/constructs, namely religion and education which have particularly been tackled, to a greater extent attempt to explain our lives and those of others as well as how the society works. Religion, for instance, contributes tour understanding of issues like totemism (why we regard some things as profane and others as sacred/to be revered) and how it results in social solidarity and cohesive consciousness, how individuals in various positions exercise power/control over others and use religion to maintain it, exploitation and alienation of the poor and inequality between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, and between men and women.

Education, on the other hand, helps us understand the social world in relation to issues like class differences, and the varying levels of social mobility, life achievement, skill development and higher education participation and achievement. Education has also been portrayed as a means through which the ideology of the ruling class is conveyed and capitalism promoted.

Overall, it suffices to conclude that the above discussed social constructs, as well as others, significantly contribute to and enhance our understanding of the social world.


Althusser, L., 2006. Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (notes towards an investigation). The anthropology of the state: A reader, 9(1), pp.86-98.

Bernstein, B. and Young, D., 1967. Social class differences in conceptions of the uses of toys. Sociology, 1(2), pp.131-140.

Bowles, S. and Gintis, H., 2002. Schooling in capitalist America revisited. Sociology of education, pp.1-18.

Durkheim, E., 1956. Education and sociology. Simon and Schuster.

Durkheim, E., 1965. The elementary forms of the religious life [1912] (p. 414). na.

Durkheim, E., 1977. On education and society. Power and ideology in education, pp.92-105.

Durkheim, E. and Swain, J.W., 2008. The elementary forms of the religious life. Courier Corporation.

Frankenberry, N., 2005. Feminist philosophy of religion.

Giddens, A. and Sutton, P.W., 2021. Sociology. John Wiley & Sons.

Goldman, A., 2002. Knowledge in a social world.

Goldstein, W., 2005. Marx, critical theory, and religion: A critique of rational choice. Brill Academic Publishers.

Gunew, S. ed., 2013. Feminist Knowledge (RLE Feminist Theory): Critique and Construct. Routledge.

Howard, M., Garnham, A., Fimister, G., and Veit-Wilson, J., 2001. Poverty the Facts. London: Child Poverty Action Group.

Keddie, N. ed., 1973. Tinker, tailor: The myth of cultural deprivation. Puffin.

Levin, H.M., 2018. Education, life chances, and the courts: The role of social science evidence. In The courts, social science, and school desegregation (pp. 217-240). Routledge.

Marx, K. and Engels, F., 2012. On religion. Courier Corporation.

Mooney, L.A., Knox, D. and Schacht, C., 2016. Understanding social problems. Cengage learning.

Pollard, S.J. and Adonis, A., 1998. A class act: the myth of Britain's classless society. Penguin.

Raines, J., 2011. Marx on religion. Temple University Press.

Searle, J., 2010. Making the social world: The structure of human civilization. Oxford University Press.

Tanner, E., Bennett, F., Churchill, H., Ferres, G., Tanner, S. and Wright, S., 2003. The Costs of Local Education: A Local Study. London: Child Poverty Action Group: London.

Yinger, J.M., 1970. The scientific study of religion.

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