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Special Collection: Global Social Sciences?


Helmut K. Anheier, Hertie School and Luskin School of Public Affairs

Nominally, the social sciences maintain the ideological aspiration of a unified, global endeavor for a better understanding of human societies, their economies, cultures, and polities. Over 150 years after their founding period, there is significant fragmentation and unevenness in this quest to understand the human condition. Distinct hierarchies and exclusionary structures emerged between the “West” and regions like Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, China and India and many parts of Asia. Some countries, even entire regions, are terra incognita from a Western vantage point and relegated to “area studies.” At the same time, distinct social science traditions have formed in countries and regions outside the West, with a new interest in developing approaches that rely less on Western foundations and conventional academic practices.

The questions become: Are the social sciences drifting further apart, or is there a possibility of greater dialogue, even cohesiveness, to advance our knowledge and understanding globally rather than only in some regions or countries? And if so, why, how, and for what? What are the main foci in research and teaching? What is the degree of institutionalization, and how could the global, regional, and national potentials of the social sciences be better realized?

To approach these questions, Global Perspectives launches systematic assessments of the state and the potential of the social sciences in different parts of the world. They address five key issue clusters: Western hegemony and fragmentation; basic conceptual and epistemological considerations; ideologies and normative foundations; academic freedom; and professionalization and commercialization. Given the significant scale and complex scope of the social sciences with their many specific subfields, methodologies, and curricula as well as varying degrees of professional institutionalization and different political backgrounds, the special collections present reflective essays on the state and the potential of the social sciences rather than comprehensive empirical stock-taking.

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