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A Note from IESBS Author James Wright

By: , Posted on: May 4, 2015

International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavior SciencesSystemization of knowledge has been an important intellectual tradition for thousands of years in both the East and the West.  The International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, second edition (IESBS 2/e) continues that tradition.  It is an effort to gather up into one place a great deal of – if not quite all – the collected wisdom of the global social and behavioral science enterprise early in the 21st century.

IESBS was first published in 2001 and is thus well more than a decade out of date.  Without doubt, much of the material in 1/e has enduring value; indeed, roughly half the entries in 2/e are updated and revised items from the first edition.  Still, it is sobering to realize just how quickly the frontiers of knowledge shift and thus how quickly a basic reference source becomes dated.

IESBS 2/e reflects the following dominant trends in the social and behavioral sciences over the past two decades:

Globalization

That the social and behavioral sciences now comprise an integrated international enterprise is obvious to any observer, so a key challenge to IESBS 2/e was to assure that this globalization was reflected in the editorial team, in the topics covered, and in the choice of authors.  This was definitely achieved.  The section editors and editors-in-chief who produced the first edition were drawn from only nine countries:  The United States, Germany, Italy, Canada, Sweden, Australia, France, Switzerland and the UK.  Two-thirds of those editors were from the USA and only 13% were women.  Area and Section Editors for 2/e represent 21 countries, US scholars make up only 38% of the total, and women comprise 36%.  Thus, the proportional representation of women among the editors was nearly tripled in 2/e over 1/e while the predominance of the USA was halved.  Nations represented among the editors of 2/e that were not represented in 1/e include Luxembourg, Greece, Finland, Japan, China, Ireland, Singapore, Spain, Russia, Austria, Israel and the Netherlands.  The presence of several Asian nations on this list is particularly gratifying.

Specialization vs. Integration

Part of the process by which science advances is in the increasing specialization of its practitioners.  There are entire disciplines or branches of disciplines that did not even exist when the first edition was published.  But as knowledge accumulates, fragmentation often increases.  So the challenge to IESBS 2/e editors and authors was not only to assure that each entry was at the cutting edge of the respective disciplines but that proper connections between and among disciplines were also drawn.  Indeed, entire sections of IESBS 2/e were developed entirely around inter-disciplinarity as a central theme:  Environmental and Ecological Sciences; Health; Life Course; Sexuality; GLBT Studies; Public Policy; Evolutionary Sciences; War, Peace, Violence and Conflict; and Genetics, Behavior, History, and Society are a few such sections that come to mind.

Marriage of Social and Biological Sciences

Harry Whitaker once remarked that “we are all witnesses to the marriage of biology and the social sciences.”  Many of the entries found in IESBS 2/e are offspring of that marriage.  And those entries leave little doubt that the future offspring of this marriage will be among the most exciting and insightful social science products of the coming decade.  The social sciences once resisted everything biological as rank reductionism; in addition, the social scientists have always feared that a mature and complete biology would eventually drive them out of business.  Entries included in IESBS 2/e make it clear that “nature” vs. “nurture” was the wrong question from the very beginning, that what we need to understand is how biological inheritance and social and cultural forces interact to produce individual and collective outcomes.  This is where a lot of the interesting action in the social sciences will be in the coming years.

A Focus on Applications

The coverage of the practical or applied sides of the various disciplines has been increased in IESBS 2/e.  New to this edition is the entire Section on Applied Social and Behavioral Sciences; also new is the large Section on Social Work and the separate section on Applied, Industrial and Organizational Psychology.  But as the 2/e entry on the history of applied social research puts it, “The history of ‘applied social science’ is indeed the history of the social sciences themselves” (Strickhouser and Wright, 2015).  All of the social sciences in their modern form were birthed in the post-Enlightenment effort to understand why people, their institutions and society as a whole were as they were – why greed was more visible than generosity, why oppression was more common than freedom, why inequalities of various sorts characterized every social institution.  To the founders of the disciplines, the modern distinction between basic and applied scientific concerns would have seemed meaningless, as indeed it was.

A Curated Resource

The authors and editors deployed in the creation of IESBS 2/e comprise a small army of some 10,000 scholars – the leading experts and rising up-and-coming stars of all the disciplines and fields of research subsumed under the name of social and behavioral science.  Authors were instructed to cover not only the secure knowledge about their subject matter but to focus too on the cutting edge — the new perspectives, methods, findings and issues that will animate social and behavioral science research in the coming decade.  A three-tiered editorial review structure (each entry was reviewed for depth of coverage by the respective section editor; reviewed for breadth of coverage by the respective area editor; and reviewed for general conformance with the aims and goals of the work by the Editor in Chief) assured that these intentions were realized.  The result is a curated and authoritative reference resource that speaks to researchers in all the social and behavioral sciences.

Conclusion

The social and behavioral sciences begin with what artificial intelligence guru Marvin Minsky once described as a “three pound computer made out of meat” – the human brain, which for all we know is the most complicated three-pound hunk of matter in the universe – and end with a thoroughly globalized culture and social structure that encompasses all aspects of our species’ physical, biological, psychological, social, emotional, cultural and spiritual lives.  We have come increasingly to the realization that what is social and human about our species is very intimately connected to our biological, genetic and evolutionary inheritance.  At the same time, the brain specifically and biological evolution more generally “cannot be viewed separately from the material, historical and social circumstances that produce it” (Berntsen and Baker, 2015).  As these authors put it, biology and culture are “mutually constitutive.”  Fifteen years ago, the editors of the first edition remarked on “ferment at the boundaries between the biological and the behavioral and social sciences.”  And while there are still important controversies, much of the ferment has yielded to cooperation as we are just now beginning to explore this endlessly complex web of inter-connectedness between our biological and social selves.  It is an easy and nearly inevitable conclusion, thus, that the third edition of the IESBS will contain a great deal more of the work being done at this intersection than 2/e was able to accommodate.

For a full list of the subject categories, click here

Read more articles about the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences on STC:

Globalizing LGBT Science in IESBS

The “I” in IESBS

Development of Conscientiousness over the Life Span


About the Editor

james wrightJames D. Wright is an author, educator, and the Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Central Florida. Wright also serves as the Director of the UCF Institute for Social and Behavioral Sciences and as honorary Editor-in-Chief of the journal Social Science Research. His previous editing experience also includes a twenty-year stint as editor of the Aldine de Gruyter book series Social Institutions and Social Change, two editions of the Handbook of Survey Research (Academic Press, 1983; Emerald Publishing, 2010), and service on the editorial boards of numerous journals. He is the author of 21 books and scholarly monographs on topics ranging from homelessness to research methods to NASCAR, and he has published more than 300 journal articles, book chapters, reviews, essays and polemics.

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