The Rise of Economics and the Fall of Social Psychology

Inevitably, over time, there are peaks and troughs within the fortunes of different social science disciplines depending on how closely they find themselves aligned with the public mood and political objectives of the time. Problems may start to occur, however, when one discipline too clearly dominates social science – hindering the ability of social science to deal effectively with the problems that society faces. It is important therefore that we understand the range of factors that impact the rise and fall of a discipline’s fortunes.

At the end of the 20th century the social sciences have increasingly become dominated by Economics, whilst Social Psychology has increasingly become marginalised, both as a sub-discipline of sociology and psychology, and as an area of interdisciplinary collaboration. In his recent article, Social Psychology, Social Science, and Economics: Twentieth Century Progress and Problems, Twenty-first Century Prospects, James House discusses some of the factors affecting the fall of social psychology and the rise of economics, the implications, and the hopes for a reversal in the fortunes of social psychology.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the demise of social psychology, many of which have aided the development of economics at the same time. To a certain extent social psychology may be seen as a victim of its own success, as social psychologists have engaged with other subfields of sociology, social psychology has dissipated; at the same time economics has become increasingly paradigmatic, increasingly narrow and isolated from other areas of social sciences. There have also been a number of extradisciplinary changes in the social sciences and academia. The massive growth in the number of people working in the social sciences has tended to encourage intradiscipliniary research rather than interdisciplinary research areas such as social psychology. At the same time the split between basic and applied research, and the establishing of professional schools was unfavourable to more basic interdisciplinary research, where they had previously been stimulated by the need to solve more applied problems, whilst economics often assumed a dominant role in these professional schools. An increased focus on disciplinary research, as opposed to interdisciplinary research, was also a consequence of the funding cuts in the 1970s and 1980s, as foundations and universities were forced to focus on their core mission; economics was one of the disciplines least affected by the budget cuts. Finally, the liberal zenith of the sixties was followed by a rightward turn, with an increased disillusionment in the ability of social psychology driven social science to successfully address the problems of the American society.

There are increasing signs, however, of a return to a more progressive and liberal dominance, as conservative policies are seen as seemingly incapable of dealing with the problems of an increasingly global world. Such a change will potentially see an increase in funding in the social sciences generally, especially those of an interdisciplinary nature applied to societal problems in recognition of a need to balance the emphasis on individual choice with the recognition of the constraints of society; and a need to recognise a wider range of motivations than pleasure seeking or information.

Read the original article: House, J.S. (2008). Social Psychology, Social Science, and Economics: Twentieth Century Progress and Problems, Twenty-first Century Prospects. Social Psychology Quarterly, 71(3), 232-256.

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I have written lately two books . One deals with multiple victims murder and the other on intimate partner homicide in Israel. In both books I didn’t look at social psychology as a uniqe field, but instead, I shaw that phenomena that occur in our society can not be explain by paychology or psychopathology alone, but shouls be connected with social and cultural issues. This concept was offered by Durkheim in 1857. I found it true even today. In other words social psychology should be an interdisiplinary model and not a discipline for it self.

Markus: Child Psych.

It’s interesting to observe how the relatively young field of psychology deepens, widens, assimilates and sometimes contracts as it quickly evolves into a legitimate science.

Speaking of economics and social psychology, I recently watched Freakonomics, whose title suggests the relative popularity of the former over the latter, despite discussing topics that are clearly shared by both fields of study.

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