UN urges countries to tap into potential of social sciences

Quality social science is needed to face development challenges

25 June 2010 – Disparities in research capacity among social scientists across the world have reduced the capacity of the field to contribute to human welfare, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in a report launched today.

Social science from Western countries continues to have the greatest global influence, although the field is expanding rapidly in Asia and Latin America, particularly in China and Brazil, UNESCO says in this year’s World Social Science Report: Knowledge divides, launched at the agency’s headquarters in Paris.

In sub-Saharan Africa, social scientists from South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya produce 75 per cent of the academic publications. In South Asia, barring some centres of excellence in India, social sciences as a whole have low priority, according to the report.

The report stresses that the world needs social science to effectively deal with the major challenges such as poverty, diseases and climate change.

“Social scientists produce work of outstanding quality and tremendous practical value, but as this report illustrates, social scientific knowledge is often the least developed in those parts of the world where it is most keenly needed,” said Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, in her foreword to the report.

“Social scientific endeavour is also poorer for its bias towards English and English-speaking, developed countries. This is a missed opportunity to explore perspectives and paradigms that are embedded in other cultural and linguistic traditions,” she added.

Published by UNESCO and the International Social Science Council (ISSC), the report is the first comprehensive overview of the field in more than a decade. Hundreds of social scientists from around the world contributed their expertise to the publication.

The report is in part descriptive, giving facts and figures on the production and transmission of the social sciences throughout the world; in part problem-oriented, examining their application to social problems of the world today; and in part reflective, with essays discussing general perspectives and regional concerns.

It covers such topics as social sciences and global challenges; the social science landscape in different regions; research capacities and brain drain; internationalization; competing in the knowledge society; and policymaking.

The final chapter suggests ways of reinforcing the social sciences, including more funding, targeted research, better dissemination, and the promotion of multilingualism and multidisciplinary approaches.

“The report reaffirms UNESCO’s commitment to the social sciences, and our desire to set a new global agenda to promote them as an invaluable tool for the advancement of the internationally agreed development goals,” said Ms. Bokova.

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