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Research Guides

Integrated Social Sciences Program: Keywords in Social Science

Guide for the online Integrated Social Sciences program

Keyword Development

Social science keywords are authoritative terminology that provide integrated analysis across disciplines, expertise and learning. Keywords can simply be terms found throughout a scholarly discourse, they may also be specific ideas, concepts and topics. Think of keywords as just what the term implies-- "keys" essential to opening the social sciences. When studies carefully for their complexity as well as their disciplinary authority, keywords allow for at least three kinds of analysis that are essential for ISS

  • Interdisciplinary integration across all the different disciplines comprising the degree - because learning keywords helps you better navigate between the particular perspectives and frameworks that distinguish and divide the social sciences as disciplines
  • Expertise integration of your own social knowledge and experience into your social science education - because social science keywords connect us socially to everyday life and language outside the university too
  • Meta-learning integration of your learning (and your ongoing portfolio reflection about your learning) across all the courses you take and all the discussions with advisers that you have on the pathway towards degree completion

For a historical and social introduction to a specific keyword, try searching a scholarly encyclopedia. As part of your ISS construction of keywords, you will want to move beyond historical understandings and contextualize the importance and significance of the keyword.

What are Keywords?

A keyword has significant cultural or social meaning. Keywords help us group or categorize information and resources together, and because of that, they can also be used to help us find information. However, in ISS we apply the Oxford definition of keywords in a specific way to explore social and cultural issues. In your ISS 350, ISS 355, and ISS 401 portfolio courses, you will be asked to identify five Keywords that connect your own intellectual interests with broader social and cultural debates that are significant to contemporary society, and which are studied in the social sciences.

Keywords are often:

  1. Currently Used - both in the popular cultural realm, and within a technical or academic realm
  2. Polysemous - The Keyword the word may have different meanings depending on its usage by different groups
  3. Categorical - Keywords are often broad and are used to describe or identify social and cultural concepts and practices--they don’t necessarily get to specific or detailed
  4. Actively contested - The keyword is used in social debates or disputes, in both popular and academic realms
  5. Part of a cluster of interrelated words which typically co-occur - The keyword is part of a group of words that are commonly used around a particular debate.

After successfully completing The Keyword Project in ISS, you will be able to:

  • Identify and define a “Keyword” that represents your intellectual interests, relates to a social issue,  and incorporates social science theory;
  • Describe the similarities and differences in the ways different social science disciplines use your keywords;
  • Refine your keyword definitions as you gain new knowledge from your courses, readings, and research, ultimately updating your understanding of the keywords;
  • Summarize the knowledge that you gained and its relationship to your interests so that you are able to describe what you learned in ISS.

Introductory Reading on Keywords


Scholarly encyclopedias offer a thorough and basic understanding of a topic with key terminology. Encyclopedia articles can be used to understand keywords, topics and ideas through time. 

Keyword Examples