The social sciences, which were dominated by western universities for a long time, are gaining ground in Asia and in Latin America, according to a report by the International Social Sciences Council (ISSC), published jointly with UNESCO. Entitled “Knowledge Divides”, it is a worldwide status report about these disciplines. According to the study, North America and Europe still publish 75% of social science journals worldwide, with 85% of them partially or totally in English. A quarter of them are published in the United States. The disciplines that are the subject of greatest number of publications in the world are economics and psychology.
Two-thirds of social science journals in the world are published in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany. The UNESCO and ISSC report highlights contrasting developments in the different regions of the world. Social sciences are developing in countries such as China, India and Brazil.
Thus, in Brazil, the number of social science researchers has practically tripled in the last ten years. In China, the Social and Human Sciences budget has increased by 15 to 20% a year since 2003. Despite this imbalance, the authors observe that the strongest growth in the number of articles published is in Latin America and Europe.
On the other hand, the Russian Federation and Commonwealth of Independent States have seen a sharp drop since the disappearance of the Soviet Union, due to the falling number of researchers and their ageing, while Russian universities struggle to attract new talent. In Sub-Saharan Africa, three quarters of publications in the field of social sciences are from a few universities that are mainly located in three countries; South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.
This situation can be partly explained by the brain drain, even if Africa is far from being the only region concerned. The authors thus note that one doctor of economics in three working in the United States and nearly one doctor of social sciences in five was born abroad. “As this report illustrates, social scientific knowledge is often least developed in those parts of the world where it is most keenly needed,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, in her foreword to the text. “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.”
The authors observe that the world needs the social sciences more than ever, in order to confront the major challenges facing humanity, such as poverty, epidemics and climate change. Social sciences do not respond to these challenges as much as they should, mainly due to disparities in the research capacities of different countries. Several hundred social science specialists from all over the world have contributed their expertise to this report. Gudmund Hernes, President of the ISSC, François Héran, Director of Research of the French National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED), Adebayo Olukoshi, Director of the United Nations African Institute for Economic Development and Planning (UNIDEP), and Hebe Vessuri, Director of the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC) are among the experts who presented the Report during its launch at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters today. “The social sciences have become truly global: they are taught almost everywhere. Their research results are widely disseminated,” stated Gudmund Hernes, President of the ISSC.
However, he noted that they have been often criticized for their inability to foresee major events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or the 2007 financial crisis. But for him, “to face actual and future challenges and effectively address global and local problems, more and better social science is vital – i.e. understanding how the world works from the ways humans interact.” Looking beyond the progress and deficiencies noted in the report, Irina Bokova stated that “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.”
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