The social studies has remained an enigma for most of its existence. In rhetoric it is highly regarded; in the lived reality of schools it is perceived as a "soft option." This article traces its origins and development in different contexts, and the epistemological debates and conumdrums that still obscure what a study of the social is. The politics of knowledge illuminates its low status in organizational settings such as schools. A case is made for a return to the foundational principles espoused by social theorists, who see a study of the social as essentially that of being human. This knowledge is vitally important in a postmodern age where contradiction and fragmentation are increasingly the norm. Finally, it is shown that the Human Development Paradigm rests squarely on a deeper appreciation of the social, which can come from a reformulated social study.