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The Spike [or Victoria University College Review 1954]

Social Science

page 51

Social Science

There is always some confusion, not unmixed with suspicion, when the term social science is used to define a particular area of study. Some of the physical scientists feel their cherished methodology is debased if applied to a study of human behaviour, while students of the more philosophical disciplines regard with horror any attempt to reduce the complicated entity Man to a unit capable of experimental examination. It must be admitted that both these points of view contain an element of truth. The social scientist is still largely concerned in adapting scientific methods to meet the needs of his material and formulating new concepts to deal with the variety of problems which emerge in his study of man.

Victoria College has been particularly fortunate in developing a tradition of sympathy and support to the social services. The outstanding champion of scientific method in the field of human relations was undoubtedly Sir Thomas Hunter, who set up a psychological laboratory at the College in 1907 and who, for the following forty-three years, was to play an active part as teacher and administrator in the development of the social sciences. It is perhaps symbolic that our period begins after Sir Thomas relinquished his Chair at the beginning of 1948. His death in 1953 left those who study social relations with the feeling that they had lost a man who, because of his breadth of outlook, represented a synthesis of their various disciplines and what remained was a series of specialised studies.

Indeed the period 1949 to 1953 was marked, at Victoria College, by a tentency towards specialisation in the social sciences. Broadly speaking, one can consider the study of Psychology, Economics, Education and Political Science as being within the framework of our topic.

The years 1949 to 1953 brought staff changes to the departments of Economics and Political Science. Although university departments exist within the framework of an established tradition, staff changes do represent changes in emphasis, in interests, and in teaching methods. Professor R. S. Parker was appointed to the School of Political Science and Public Administration in 1948 and left at the end of 1953 to take up a readership at Canberra. Professor B. E. Murphy, famed for his caustic wit and voluminous text books, retired from the Macarthy Chair of Economics to be replaced, in 1951, by Professor H. Belshaw who brought with him a practical approach to economic problems nurtured by his work for the United Nations Organisation in underdeveloped countries.

The year 1949 was of particular importance in the social sciences at Victoria College because two new departments were established, the Department of Psychology and the School of Social Science.

Psychology had been taught before this time as part of the study of philosophy. Students advancing philosophy could, by a judicious choice of options, obtain a degree which was largely psychological but were unable to follow a continuous course of study in psychology. As the course developed from 1949 there was an increasing emphasis in the field of experimental psychology and psychological testing.

page 52

As with any new venture, there were problems in the developmental stages. In 1952 experiments in animal learning were introduced, with white rats as the subjects. These rats were affectionately named after famous psychologists and one can imagine the confusion when Freud gave birth to a litter!

The Department of Psychology has been particularly fortunate in having Ernest Beaglehole as its first professor. His background, both as a psychologist and as a cultural anthropologist gave the Department a much wider orientation than might otherwise have been the case. The research which developed within his department represents, to a large extent, his influence. Some indication of the nature of the research activities of the Department of Psychology is given by the titles of the occasional publications in psychology produced by the Department: "Intelligence and High Level Achievement", "The Modification of International Attitudes: A New Zealand Study", "Social Class Consciousness in Adolescents", "A Survey of Public Opinion in Relation to the University".

As can be seen, these titles suggest a major interest in social psychology rather than other branches, and it is probably true to say that research conducted by the Department has tended towards the social anthropological or sociological rather than the field of individual psychology.

This tendency is counterbalanced to some extent by the fact that staff members acted as psychological testers at Arohata Borstal in 1952 and two graduates obtained posts as psychologists in the period under consideration. One ex-staff member, now attached to the School of Social Science, acted as psychologist to the Prison Classification Board in 1953. Dr. C. J. Adcock's research into the use of psychological tests in examining Maori personality and intelligence might also be considered as indicating an emphasis towards individual rather than social psychology.

The growing importance of the Department in the eyes of the community is instanced by the fact that a committee of the Progressive Association in Hawera requested the Department to conduct a social survey of the Hawera district in order to obtain the people's opinions concerning a proposed community centre. A consultative committee was set up at Victoria College, composed of representatives from the Departments of Psychology, Education and Social Science. The survey was conducted under the direction of Mr. A. A. Congalton of the Department of Psychology, and with the collaboration of the School of Social Science.

One gains the impression that, although the Department of Psychology began its independent existence in 1949, it has developed along certain well defined lines, has grown rapidly in stature and has spread its activities beyond the College walls and established a place for itself in the community.

The School of Social Science is a special school of the University of New Zealand, attached to Victoria College. Not only is it a new department of Victoria, but is the first of its kind in New Zealand. The main function of the School is to train social workers, while one of its secondary functions is to examine some of the social problems in our society. One might say that the School aims to clarify social difficulties and supply people better equipped to deal with them.

The training of social workers is a responsibility which has been accepted by universities in many countries of the world, and New Zealand has lagged far behind in this respect. The modern social worker requires a good background in all the social sciences with a special emphasis on psychology. In addition to page 53 this, he requires a special knowledge of the social services in the community, an ability to conduct research, and special training in those skills which he uses in his personal interviews with clients. An essential part of his training is in practical work with the social work agencies in the community. The course at Victoria College is a full time one for two years, the successful students being awarded a diploma.

The organisation of such a course requires not only academic skills but the ability to work with the community and obtain co-operation from bodies as varied as the Society for the Protection of Women and Children and the Department of Justice. In 1949 the organisational task fell to Professor D. C. Marsh, an ebullient Welshman, who with good humour, a little bullying, a lot of energy, and an extensive knowledge of rugby football, obtained the necessary co-operation planned a course of lectures, persuaded colleagues in other university departments to assist him, and accepted his first students in 1950. In 1954 Professor Marsh was appointed to the Chair of Social Science at Nottingham University.

Apart from training social workers, the School has extended its research activities into a number of fields.. Special requests have led to various investigations: hostel accommodation for young women in Wellington; a study of alcoholics who have undergone treatment; a follow-up of special class leavers who have entered industry; an examination of foster home placements; to mention only a few. The major research at the School has been into the problems of old people. Surveys of those over 65 have now been conducted in Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, and one is planned for Dunedin in 1954. These surveys are conducted at the request of the Departments of Health and Social Security, and the sample covered is probably the most extensive one of its kind in the world. In addition to their teaching duties, staff members have acted in an advisory capacity on a number of boards and committees and conducted refresher courses for social workers already in the field.

In the short space of five years the School of Social Science has become established as yet another unit of our university system, has co-operated with other College departments in research, and established a place for itself in the community.

Of necessity this treatment of two particular aspects of the social sciences at Victoria College has been brief and sketchy. The other departments have been virtually ignored, chiefly because they already have an established tradition while the Department of Psychology and the School of Social Science are new ventures. One can well ask, however, what of the future?

The examination of any social problem quickly reveals the fact that no single discipline answers the questions posed by the problem. In most social phenomena there are economic, psychological, political and educational aspects. Where there are problems there is a need to devise methods of dealing with them in which the various theories can be combined. Does the present state of the social sciences at Victoria College allow for such combination?

Some important considerations limit the extent to which the relationships between the social sciences can be examined: it is now virtually impossible for a single man to combine the various disciplines in his own field of knowledge; departments must continue teaching and research; the social sciences have, to page 54 a large extent, lost their common bond in philosophy; a synthesising approach is lacking. To some extent an attempt is made in the School of Social Science to give the students a nodding acquaintance with the social sciences, but of necessity this must be superficial. In 1951 and 1952 staff members from the social science departments met to consider their common contributions to the problem of social change. Limitations in available time brought their meetings to a close, but the feeling remained that their viewpoints were more divergent than they had at first considered possible. This same divergence is apparent in meetings of the Social Science Section of the Royal Society, which are also attended by staff members.

At the ideal level, the answer probably lies in suspending all teaching and research for a year to allow social scientists on university staffs to work out a common basis, a more practical approach may be to develop team methods of research where the different disciplines are combined.

The social sciences in New Zealand are on the move, during the next few years a Carnegie grant made available to the University of New Zealand for research in the social sciences will be devoted to a number of valuable projects, groups in the community are requesting more research into social problems by the College than ever before. Yet perhaps this is the time to pause and evaluate the directions the social sciences are taking. In this country Victoria College has contributed largely to the development of a scientific approach to human affairs. It might well, therefore, be the responsibility of members of this College to call for a close examination of the future of the social sciences in New Zealand.

J. R. McCreary