Conceptual structures and Studies of Society and Environment: Shifting sands or is the beach bare?

Year: 2004

Author: Marsh, Colin

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Social Studies has been a contested area for over a century. Typically the focus has been on inter-disciplinary or multi-disciplinary approaches at the primary school level and separate subjects including history and the social sciences at secondary school level.

Social studies has had, and is having, an identity crisis (Ross, 2001). There is a need for a subject that addresses the real problems of the 21st Century society, and in particular a social justice perspective with opportunities for students to think and act responsibly. Yet, no clear consensus of how this might be achieved has emerged.

The initiative in Australia in the early 1990's to create a new school subject, "Studies of Society and Environment" (SOSE) was either commendable and worthwhile or shortsighted and pragmatically sterile, depending upon your point of view. What is needed is debate about the conceptual structure. Research studies are needed urgently to examine the impact upon schools, teachers and students. Does SOSE have an integrity of its own? Can it be justified as a worthy reconceptualisation of the field?

These questions and related issues are examined in this paper, in an attempt to discover where the "shifting sands" are heading and to see if there is anything "left on the beach" to develop and refine.