This essay introduces a special collection on the state, potential, and tensions of the social sciences in Latin America. It briefly reflects on the historic role that these disciplines have exerted in society, policy, and culture, their troubled trajectory –– which included episodes of rapid expansion and significant retreatment (if not ostracism) ––, and their current situation in terms of institutional development and research agendas. It also elaborates on how Latin American social scientists have dealt with the difficulties (but also potentials) of studying social structures from a peripheral global region and how they have dealt with the classic tension between involvement and detachment. Against this backdrop, this special collection includes a series of papers exploring how certain topics of especial importance in Latin America –– i.e. development and world economy; state capacity, public administration, and political legitimacy; and violence, conflict, and social cohesion –– have been studied. It also features a group of papers examining some of the main recent institutional and intellectual trends within local social sciences: academic professionalization vis-a-vis activism, the expansion of teaching in the under and graduate levels and its effects on disciplinary borders, the “parochialism” (vs. cosmopolitanism) in publishing and research topics, as well as the potentials and risks of the adoption of open science as recently encouraged by UNESCO. While it would be pointless to attempt to provide a detailed portray of a much-diversified reality, the variety of topics addressed by the papers, as much as the different approaches guiding each contribution ––which range from detached descriptions to normative policy-oriented (and well-informed) essays, from “distant reading” based on bigdata to rich sociohistorical reconstruction––, try to convey some of Latin American social sciences’ vitality and diverse interests.

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