The social sciences cover diverse aspects of society and have a wide range of content studied under the different disciplines such as Anthropology, Economics, Education, History, International Relations, Gender Studies, Law, Media, Political Science, Psychology, Social Work and Sociology, to name just a few. The major disciplines under the umbrella of social sciences have distinct methodologies that often justify the preservation of academic boundaries. However, at the same time the demarcations between the disciplines need to be opened up and a plurality of approaches may be applied to understand this overlapping phenomenon. Such opening up should also blur the categorical boundaries between various faculties such as humanities, arts, natural, physical and social sciences. It is important to reinstate the significance of the social sciences by not only highlighting their increasing relevance in today’s context, but also by pointing to their indispensability in laying the foundations of an analytical and creative mindset.
Unfortunately, research in social sciences in Pakistan is still far behind other disciplines. Lack of financial resources, social and cultural constraints, transportation, and sometimes faculty’s own handicaps hold back the students from undertaking even small research projects. However, in general, lack of interest and less encouraging environment for research in social sciences, as evident from a meagre output of research papers published in professional journals in the country or abroad, discourage the academicians from aggressively pursuing even those research projects that can bring external resources to the universities. Career of a researcher is less attractive for many reasons for example lack of incentives and alternatives coupled with the low value attached to the social sciences. Another explanation given by social scientists for the current state of research in social sciences in the country is the absence of a culture that promotes sharing and discussing the themes of common interest through frequent academic and research interactions through substantive seminars and conferences. This lack of research culture has been associated with the intolerance prevailing in society, as well as lack of exchange of ideas, freedom of expression and indigenous research.
By and large the state and society of Pakistan have paid dearly for their neglect of the social sciences. The cumulative impact of this neglect is felt in terms of the declining quality of the state apparatus and depleting social values. Without a vibrant rational tradition in the social sciences, the theoretical perspectives and empirical research upon which sound national and regional level policymaking ought to rest is inadequate. A regular and meaningful discourse among scholars of various disciplines of the social sciences is essential to forge an intellectually coherent and action-oriented research agenda.
To address these issues, Higher Education Commission (HEC) formed the Committee for Development of Social Sciences and Humanities in Pakistan (CDSSHP) in 2003. The Committee has put forward many plans, as well as held meetings and organized conferences, to discuss the state of social sciences in Pakistan. One of the major issues commonly referred to is the lack of such empirical data that truly analyze the Pakistani state and society. Currently, the Committee led by the Chairpersonship of Dr. Nilofer Shaikh, Vice Chancellor, Preston University, Karachi/Patron of the 3rd Social Sciences Conference is striving to develop social sciences in Pakistan under the overall leadership, guidance and supervision of Prof. Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad, Chairman, HEC, Islamabad.
To achieve this objective, HEC’s Committee for Development of Social Sciences and Humanities in Pakistan (CDSSHP) – in collaboration with University of Peshawar – plans to organize an International Conference on ‘Promotion of Social Science Research in Pakistani Universities’involving social scientists from within and outside the country in May 2015.
The theme of this year’s conference is ‘State and Society of Pakistan: Challenges and Opportunities’. This theme is influenced by an understanding that the socio-economic and political conditions of Pakistan are precarious. Despite enormous international attention (since 9/11), this unfortunate state is distraught by weak democratic institutions, praetorian state apparatuses, conservative socio-cultural ethos, exclusive and contending religious ideologies, increasing social stratification, infiltrating globalization, identity related contestations, exploitative economic structures and agencies, vulnerable security structures and competing global power interests. However, despite all these challenges Pakistan has shown resilience through its fight against one of the toughest conflicts of the modern time. Moreover, continuous economic growth, active civil society, expanding popular activism, rising of subversive voices and encountering hegemonic discourses through virtual spaces (i.e. social media), are few instances that demonstrate vibrancy and flux in Pakistani society. This understanding of the situation in Pakistan reflects the challenges as well as opportunities that require academic attention. There is a need to look deeper into this phenomenon and generate a debate that will not only help developing a more nuanced understanding of the complexity of Pakistan but also help finding appropriate ways and means to confront these challenges.
Within the broader theme a set of sub-themes are identified below. These sub-themes are representative of diverse and wider scope of the social sciences. They also demonstrate the need to see various social problems through inter-disciplinary approaches.
Ø Theories and methods: emerging trends in social science.
Ø Arts, Humanities and Sciences: Blurring boundaries.
Ø Developing Institutional Capacity: Young Social Sciences Faculty
Ø Socioeconomic development and Education in Pakistan
Ø Social transformation and conflict in the region.
Ø Civil Society and Neo-liberal State.
Ø National integration and ethno-linguistic contestations.
Ø Democratic Governance and Development.
Ø Security paradoxes, regional and global power politics.
The objectives of the Conference are:
- Developing and promoting an interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary/trans-disciplinary approach to study the society in Pakistan;
- Forging a common research agenda to meet the contemporary social, economic, political, cultural and environmental challenges faced by the Pakistani society and identify solutions
- Examining latest methodological tools, conceptual paradigms and techniques to address the challenging research issues facing Pakistan;
- Building the capacity of young faculty members and PhD/MPhil students to conduct qualitative and quantitative social science research
- Providing an opportunity for academicians and professionals from different field of the social sciences to come together and generate an academic discourse; and
- To facilitate networking among the scholars working in various institutions of Pakistan and abroad.
- To suggest policy measures to the government for a sound research based policy foundation.
Significance of the Conference:
The Conference will provide an academic platform to participants so that they do rigorous brainstorming and explore possibilities of collaboration in interdisciplinary research initiatives that could address the contemporary issues of the Pakistani society. The conference will facilitate the organizers in develop a framework on how to revitalize social science research in Pakistan; and to ensure that university students are graduated with adequate competence in social sciences research. This can also be an opportunity for researchers using existing support mechanisms to provide a feedback to sponsors. It will also examine HEC’s efforts to promote social sciences research in universities in the country under the umbrella of the CDSSHP, which has identified different priority areas for conducting research. Moreover, the Conference can provide an opportunity to institutions engaged in research in Pakistan (such as Planning Commission, Population Council, Federal Bureau of Statistics, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, etc.) to highlight their accomplishments, constraints and plans for the future.
In the spirit of interdisciplinary exchange, the Conference will involve prominent Pakistani scholars, policymakers, diplomats, university faculty and researchers working in a broad range of social science disciplines. Importantly, a number of prominent international social scientists will be invited to the event, mainly as keynote speakers and discussants of different thematic sessions. Selected young faculty members and PhD/MPhil students of the Pakistani institutions (governmental and non-governmental) will also be encouraged to attend the Conference.
Detailed report of the conference in form of conference proceedings with specific recommendations to the stakeholders after the conference will be published. Such a publication will be disseminated widely.