Social Sciences

Social SciencesThe Social Sciences comprise those disciplines that are concerned with the study of human behaviour and the societies we form. Oxford Reference provides over 175,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries on all of the diverse disciplines that fall under the umbrella of the social sciences.

Our coverage consists of authoritative, highly accessible information that covers the very latest terminology, concepts, theories, techniques, people, and organizations relating to the social sciences—from archaeology, economics, and geography, to sociology, history, politics, and psychology. Written by trusted experts for researchers at every level, entries are complemented by illustrative line drawings and images wherever useful.

Jump to:

Sample resources | Featured author | Featured blogs | More from OUP | How to subscribe

                               A Dictionary of Marketing    Encyclopedia of Social Work   A Dictionary of Business and Management   The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History

See all the Social Science books available on Oxford Reference >

Sample resources

Discover Social Sciences on Oxford Reference with the below sample content:

A timeline of politics: from upper and lower Egypt unifying into a single kingdom to the Arab Spring

Quotations about society and economics from Oxford Essential Quotations

An overview of rights developments from the Encyclopedia of Human Rights

A selection of definitions from A Dictionary of Psychology: depression, depersonalization, dissociation, mania, and anxiety

A biography of Talcott Parsons from A Dictionary of Sociology

Back to top >

Featured Author

Vicky White

Vicky White


Vicky White is a freelance consultant. Previously she was the Principal Social Worker, Children and Families, Coventry City Council, and an Associate Professor at the University of Warwick. In addition to substantial experience of teaching in qualifying and post-qualifying social work education, she has worked as a social worker in field and residential settings in the statutory sector. She is the co-author of A Dictionary of Social Work and Social Care.


Author Q&A

In your opinion, which is the most fascinating entry in your dictionary and why?

The most interesting entry is ‘habitus’, a concept set out by Pierre Bourdieu (1930–2002) in Outline of Theory and Practice (1977). It describes a person’s knowledge and understanding of the world, which are acquired from her/his class position and are expressed in thoughts, behaviours, and tastes that are manifested in patterned social and cultural practices. Bourdieu sees the habitus as, at least to some extent, malleable, leading some to argue that it has the capacity to encompass individual freedom. Others see it as an explanation for how ruling class domination is reproduced day-by-day at the micro level. Although Bourdieu used habitus in relation to a person’s overall knowledge and understanding of the world, its use has been adapted to include what might be termed smaller-scale habiti and this has been explored in social work scholarship. For example, the process of becoming a social worker—engaging in a course, undertaking placements etc.—eventually produces a social work habitus, as forms of knowledge and understanding about the world of social work (and the wider world within which it is located) are acquired and expressed in ideas and behaviours that are seen as constituting what it means to be a social worker. Bourdieu recognised that, whilst habitus is long-lasting, there are opportunities for movement and change through the process of critical awareness and pedagogic effort, which is crucial for social work education and practice.

What would you say is the most unusual/obscure term in your subject area?

The most obscure entry is ‘chaining’. Chaining involves breaking down an activity into a series of small cumulative steps and learning each step, one at a time, until it is thoroughly mastered, before moving on to the next, until the entire activity (or chain) can be carried out. It is an approach often used with people with learning disabilities as a way of their learning daily life skills. A variant is ‘backward chaining’, a technique in which the steps are mastered in reverse order, so that, for example, if someone were learning to tie shoe laces through backward chaining, the initial stage would be to complete the final step of tightening the completed knot to secure the shoe.

What is the one term or concept that everyone—from students to everyday web users—should be familiar with? Why?

The concept that everyone should be familiar with is ‘values’. Professional values underpin all aspects of social work practice. However, statements of professional values often do not reflect the complex and contested nature of social work. For example, there can be an awkward fit between values exhorting social workers to empower people, while they are required to implement policies that maintain forms of social injustice and restrict the use of resources to improve people’s lives. Value conflicts also arise from the requirement on social workers to be person-centred, focusing on the interests of the child or adult, when, at the same time, they have to take account of the potentially competing interests and conflicting needs of other family members, the goals of other professionals and agencies, and the interests of their employing organizations.

Social workers constantly have to negotiate and manage such value conflicts. Despite the conflicts and constraints that are an inevitable and intrinsic part of social work, there is much that social workers can do to seek to ensure that their practice upholds social work values. Often this will be achieved in day-to-day encounters with service users but social work’s role is also to question and challenge policies and practices that compromise social work values.

Back to top >

Featured blogs

How well do you know your world leaders? [quiz]
October 2016
Do you know who said what? Test your knowledge of world leaders and their retorts with our quiz.

Why is the world changing so fast?
October 2016
Christopher Riches takes a look at the current staggering rates of global change.

National marketing in a global market
July 2016
Marketing has infiltrated all aspects of our lives. Charles Doyle explores the key marketing practices in the world’s largest economies.

For more social science blog posts delve in to the OUPblog archives >

Back to top >

More From OUP

Stay up-to-date with Oxford University Press by opting in to receive information in several different ways:

To receive information about our latest publishing, including social science news and special offers join our mailing list

Connect via our Social Media channels by following @OUPEconomics and @OUPPolitics on Twitter

For the latest news related to Oxford Reference, including updates and blog posts, subscribe to the RSS feed

Get facts delivered straight to your desktop with the ‘Did you know?’ RSS feed

Back to top >