Though some academics may call for neutrality or objectivity in their work, they cannot deny the fact that the world will still respond subjectively to their work. Such is the case for social sciences, which has been a key discipline in politics and policy making.
This is evident in SciDev.Net's recent article Asian countries should boost social science research, which highlighted the importance of Asian countries investing in social science research, a call backed by Asian academics and policy makers. SciDev.Net reports that
“Governments in Asia should strengthen social science research, and create synergies between institutes, universities and think tanks engaged in social science research to address the continent's common problems of poverty, skewed development, and lack of access to social and economic opportunities, the experts told an international conference early this month.”
SciDev.Net points out that the lack of funding from Asian governments is then picked up by outside consultants and private companies such as McKinsey and PricewaterhouseCoopers; they are more interested in market research.
Furthermore, “The lack of funds translates into a lack of autonomy for social science research institutions to choose their research topics [and] ‘What policy should be suggested for further research should be left to scientists.’”
This article reiterated the significance of social sciences and raises several important questions. First, who invests in social science? Second, how is the research being used? Third, what are the effects of such usage? In regards to the complex intersections among governments, politics, and economics, these three questions are exceptionally vital to consider. For example, market-oriented research may not align with national interests, or private research may be mis-directed and result in policies that have skewed benefits or are incompatible with social realities.
Let's see this in a concrete example: South Korea is experiencing a burst of multiculturalism as its immigrant population has increased through the years. The social impact is multi-layered and considering the above 3 questions in social science research can influence how policy is shaped: Will the government support strict visa regulations to slow the influx of immigrants or loosen it to encourage transnational economic relations? Will private companies revise their hiring practices to account for migrant workers or become stricter to exclude them? Will community organizations rally for multicultural education or enforce no change? These questions demonstrate that depending on which actor invests in what kind of research about immigration and multiculturalism, the resulting research can shape policy with drastically different social realities as well as different national and international relations.
That's why the role of social science is important to consider for governments and non-governmental actors alike. Even more, as Asia and other regions tackle their issues, that role should be critically analyzed before being used to influence and make policies to ensure that problems are resolved rather than created.
Written by Merry Pham