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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.

Cornerstone Courses

In their first year, Social Sciences majors complete their Cornerstone Courses.

Core Courses

In their second year, Social Sciences majors enroll in core courses that provide the foundation for the Social Sciences concentrations. They also take electives from core courses offered in other majors.

SS110 / Psychology: From Neurons to Society

In this course we learn about the mind by looking at (1) multiple levels of analysis, from neurons to social systems, (2) multiple methodologies used in research, and (3) how multiple types of explanation (mechanism, function, ontogeny, phylogeny) shed light on each other. Using these three course objectives, we will build up a framework for understanding the full range of topics in cognitive science, and how they relate to other disciplines both within the social sciences (e.g., political science and economics) and beyond them (e.g., biology and computer science).

Prerequisite: SS51

SS111 / Modern Economic Thought

How do economists address the challenge of allocating scarce resources to best serve the unlimited needs and wants of those in society? The first half of this course introduces the idea that markets can work efficiently to coordinate economic activity thereby addressing the problem of scarcity. However, when markets fail to work efficiently, an argument for government intervention in the market arises as a potential solution to better serve the needs of those in society. These concepts of scarcity, efficiency, and ultimately, trade-offs are then applied to the analysis of international financial markets in the second half of the semester where the drivers of manias, bubbles, and crises are explored.

Prerequisite: SS51

SS112 / Political Science and Social Change

Governments greatly affect their citizens and, in turn, citizens may greatly affect government and their society. The course has four units to examine these influences. The first unit is a brief introduction to the discipline of political science. The second unit covers the rise of the modern state, seeking to understand the ideas, structural factors, and rational decisions that led to different political orders. The third unit examines how society can change the state through revolutionary and reformist social movements. We end by exploring ongoing struggles in the contemporary world to remake states and societies by critically examining case studies of both positive and negative social change. For the final project, students design a campaign to enact a specific social change (at the local, state, or federal level) and devise ways to assess its impact. Note: This course qualifies as part of the Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability because it provides causal frameworks for understanding the political context of sustainable design, technology, and environmental policy. These causal frameworks include structuralism, constructivism, institutionalism, and rational choice.

Prerequisite: SS51


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

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

  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 / Intermediate Economic Theory and Tools SS154 / Econometrics and Economic Systems SS164 / Global Development and Applied Economics
Politics, Government, and Society SS146 / Practice of Governance SS156 / Comparative Politics in Practice SS166 / Comparative Constitutional Law: Designing Societies

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

Cognition, Brain, and Behavior

Learn how to use cognitive science to illuminate questions about the mind, including the nature of thinking and emotion and how the two interact in human beings. Investigate the anatomy, physiology, and chemistry of the brain, how they relate to the mind, and what implications brain science more generally has for society as a whole. Explore how to use the science of psychology to become a more effective member of society: to be more persuasive, set better goals, lead effectively, and promote positive behavior changes in yourself and others.

Career Possibilities

  • Conflict Mediator
  • Congressional Staff Member
  • Designer of Tests and Measures for the College Entrance Exams
  • Neuroscientist
  • Psychotherapist
  • School Psychologist
  • Science Writer

Designing Societies

Devise ways to improve society, based on the science of influence and motivation, the challenges facing developing and developed economies, and the central components of government constitutions. Envision an ideal social order at the local, national, and global level and learn how to be a leader who develops guidelines — from ethical frameworks to legal policies — that would shape and support such a society.

Career Possibilities

  • Employment Specialist
  • Lawyer
  • Market Researcher
  • Member of Congress
  • Professor of Sociology
  • Public Relations Director for a Corporation
  • Urban Planner

Economics and Society

Study the nature of capital, trade, taxation, economic growth, and the scientific analysis of economies. Learn the various tools and theories used for analyzing economic behavior. Understand the powerful ways in which local, national, and global economic activities impact the lives of world citizens, at every socioeconomic level.

Career Possibilities

  • CEO of International Trade Organization
  • Corporate Attorney
  • Economic Advisor for Industry or Government
  • Professor of Economics
  • Public Policy Analyst
  • Staff Member for Regulatory Agency
  • Treasurer for Major Industry or Start-Up

Empirical Approaches to the Social Sciences

Learn fundamental concepts and methods across a range of topics in social science, including human cognition, group behavior, economics, and global political systems. Compare and contrast the scientific tools in these various domains and learn to interpret the findings produced by these tools.

Career Possibilities

  • Clinical Psychologist
  • Consultant, Organizational Design
  • Economist
  • High School Teacher
  • Neuroscientist
  • Social Science Researcher
  • Staff in Government Office

Politics, Government, and Society

Investigate the factors that influence and define successful governments. Understand the ways in which distinct political systems influence outcomes in different places and times. Learn the elements of effective constitutional design and implementation.

Career Possibilities

  • Advisor to Financial Think Tank
  • Executive Director of an NGO
  • Legislative Analyst
  • Lobbyist for Environmental Protection
  • Political Campaign Manager
  • Staff Member, United Nations

Theory and Analysis in the Social Sciences

Understand the various theoretical approaches in social science and learn how to use these approaches to analyze the individual mind and emotions, the community, and interconnected global economies and governments. Learn how to develop and test such theoretical frameworks in order to apply them to a spectrum of social issues.

Career Possibilities

  • Corporate Manager
  • Government Strategist
  • Journalist or News Commentator
  • Policy Analyst
  • Political Campaign Analyst
  • Strategic Planner

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. Within cognition, we examine different kinds of thinking, including induction, deduction, problem solving, and decision making, and we learn how to integrate theories of different types of thinking (such as inductive reasoning and problem solving). We also combine theories of thinking with theories of other cognitive processes such as attention and memory—so that instead of many seemingly separate cognitive processes, we have a cognitive being who can perform many different types of cognitive tasks. In addition, we examine and evaluate theories of emotions, both traditional and contemporary. How do emotions influence a wide variety of cognitive processes such as problem solving and decision making, and how might this help us to understand cognition and emotion? Finally, we explore theories of creativity from both cognitive and emotion-based perspectives.

Prerequisite: SS110

SS144 / Intermediate Economic Theory and Tools

SS144 equips students with a broad set of analytical tools that economists use to study behavior from the macro to micro level. We begin with a broad overview of why some economies grow faster than others, and use mathematical tools to illustrate growth dynamics. We then transition to macroeconomic and microeconomic theory by first analyzing macroeconomic models and then decisions made at the firm and individual level by exploring tools such as utility and profit maximization. From there we explore the field of game theory and apply tools such as Nash equilibrium and analyze games in strategic forms. We next progress to the field of international trade and assess trade agreements while applying tools such as graphical analysis and regression outcomes. The next unit focuses on understanding empirical tests of predictions from the models we studied thus far. We end the class with an introduction to behavioral economics and learn to analyze various factors that impact behavior in real-world economic decision making.

Prerequisite: SS111

SS146 / Practice of Governance

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 those 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. As we critically examine these practices and models, we will develop our own thinking and approaches to governance. Note: This course qualifies as part of the Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability because sustainability is increasingly a concern in a wide array of governance matters. Using case studies, the course explores sustainability as a governance issue in a variety of contexts, from local environmental regulation to transnational cooperation on climate change.

Prerequisite: SS112

SS152 / Cognitive Neuroscience

Explore how the brain gives rise to the mind through the lens of cognitive neuroscience. Learn about the anatomy, physiology, and chemistry of the brain and consider the role of this physical substrate in neural computation. This course introduces the methodological foundations of cognitive neuroscience and their application to analyzing specific mental processes and events, with links to related fields such as genetics and computational neuroscience. In addition, it provides a framework for understanding cognitive disorders, mental thriving and human development, which supports student engagement in public policy or social ventures.Topics include the evolution of the brain, consciousness, vision, motor control, speech, memory, executive function, developmental psychology, and disorders of the brain such as depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease and autism spectrum disorder.

Prerequisite: SS110

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 as well as other social sciences. We apply these techniques to answer causal questions such as: What environmental policy in Europe has been most effective in reducing pollution? Are celebrities involved in international development actually helping alleviate poverty? Do cigarette taxes reduce smoking? Do drunk driving laws actually reduce traffic deaths? Are international sanctions effective in correcting rulers’ behavior? Quantitative approaches used to answer such questions include multiple regression, matching, differences in differences, regression discontinuity, and instrumental variables. The aim of this course is to make you better critique causal studies and more comfortable when performing your own causal study.

Prerequisite: SS111

SS156 / Comparative Politics in Practice

This course examines and compares how political systems operate in practice and why they have different outcomes, such as corruption/transparency, racism, political stability/instability, low/high inequality, security/insecurity, and low/high socio-economic standards. Students will learn the ways in which institutions and structures shape the way people act individually and collectively across different countries with diverse political systems to achieve their goals. Note: This course qualifies as part of the Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability because it takes an in-depth look at the complex interactions that take place between political, social, cultural, and economic factors that are relevant to sustainability. In general, students also learn how to use complexity thinking to analyze and compare the interactions between institutions, structures, and human actions that affect sustainable development issues across different political systems.

Prerequisite: SS112

SS162 / Personal and Social Motivation

How can we effectively change our own habits and behaviors? What is the best way to motivate and persuade others? Is it ethical to consciously motivate or persuade those around us? As the answers to these questions have become better understood, they are being used to help people adopt more beneficial practices across many fields such as medicine, business, and environmental activism. Drawing on personality psychology, health psychology, cognitive psychology, and social psychology, we 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

SS164 / Global Development and Applied Economics

Examine important challenges facing both developing and developed economies. Explore the development of societies through the analysis of 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 income inequality throughout the world. Generate and critique policies designed to address specific economic issues within an effective institutional and political framework. Note: This course qualifies as part of the Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability.

Prerequisite: SS111

SS166 / Comparative Constitutional Law: Designing Societies

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 should one recognize the positive legacies of the past and the constraints of the present, all the while leaving room for legal development and adaptation to an uncertain future? Students will combine these lessons with their foundational knowledge early in the course to articulate their own framework for approaching constitutional design. Using this framework, they then participate in a multi-class final group project to write a constitution. By the end, the students should be able to think broadly and deeply about how institutions, rules, and structure can order complex social systems and maintain stability, efficiency and justice. (not an ABA or CBA approved law course)

Prerequisite: SS112

Capstone Courses

In their fourth year, Social Sciences majors finish their Capstone Courses.