President Post: Why the Social Sciences Matter

26 October 2015

Kellogg is Oxford’s most diverse college by almost any measure – nationality, background, age, and certainly between full-time and part-time study. We also span the whole range of disciplinary subjects, across the University’s four academic divisions.

I think I’m right in saying that going by number of students and fellows, our largest programmes are Software Engineering, Systems Security, and Mathematical Finance (Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences), Evidence-Based Health Care, Surgical Science & Practice, and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (Medical Sciences), Creative Writing, Literature & Arts, and History of Design (Humanities), and Education, Sustainable Urban Development, and Major Programme Management (Social Sciences).

One of the many great things about Kellogg is that as Oxford’s youngest college (at only 25 years of age), we are continually inventing and creating our own traditions – and this is being done not only by the Governing Body, but also by our students, staff, alumni and other members and friends of the College. The latest is this year’s launch of regular linked seminar and guest night dinner evenings for each of the four broad disciplinary ranges covered by the University’s academic divisions. The week before last saw an extremely successful start, with Kellogg’s Professor David Beard talking about evidence-based policy and practice in medicine.

Last week was the turn of the social sciences, with presentations and contributions from students, a Junior Research Fellow, any myself invited to comment on the book recently published by the Academy of Social Sciences (which I co-edited with Professor Sir Cary Cooper) on Why the Social Sciences Matter (Routledge).

Naturally, those present agreed that if one wants to understand and hence change society, the social sciences are essential – and more than that, if one wants to implement successfully ideas and developments from the natural or medical sciences, this will depend crucially on individual motivation, organisational learning, management practices, and corporate behaviour – all of which require the social sciences to properly understand, to analyse, to collect and interpret data, and to develop and implement successful policies and practices.

The emphasis was on inter-disciplinarity and cross-disciplinary working – and that means between social sciences and others, not just within the social sciences (important though the latter is too). Clearly, social sciences cannot tackle all issues, any more than can the humanities, the medical sciences, or the mathematical, physical and life sciences: the point is to collaborate and co-operate as intellectual equals, seeking to learn from each other and create intellectual and policy outcomes that prove to be greater than the sum of their disciplinary parts.

As a postgraduate college, we see Kellogg’s mission as being very much about addressing and progressing this agenda – ensuring that our students enjoy the best possible Oxford experience, central to which is the intellectual endeavour, where the collegiate home provides an interdisciplinary environment second to none across the globe.

The success of these initial linked seminars and dinners guarantees, I think, that they will become quickly embedded as a core part of Kellogg’s traditions, and within the annual calendar of events. And the richer we all will be for it.

Jonathan Michie