Efforts towards Decolonizing the Social Sciences

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UNESCO’s 192 member countries have been presented with a new report entitled Knowledge Divides. The report claims that underlying paradigm of social science knowledge is centered on social sciences as bias toward western ideas.

Gudmund Hernes, President of the International Social Science Council (ISSC), writes, ‘To a great extent, the social sciences grew out of the seventeenth-century European Enlightment, when new ideas about religion, reason, humanity and society were merged into a fairly coherent worldview that stressed human rights, individualism and constitutionalism.’ He continues, ‘Studies of alien societies were used as a contrast when analyzing a country’s institutions and customs.’

Fundamental to all scholarship is the definition of ‘knowledge’. The WSSR takes the predominant Western construction of what is knowledge. We need to value all forms of knowledge, and systems to understand that knowledge. UNESCO is concerned about diversity of knowledge forms and ideas.

In his presentation he critiques the WSSR and uses an example quote from the foreword written by Gudmund Hernes, President of the International Social Science Council in which he refers to the European Enlightenment as the birth of Social Sciences and uses the phrase ‘alien societies’ when comparing European ideals to the rest of the world.

UNESCO’s goal with this WSSR is to develop “philosophical dialogues” between nations in order to promote the development of diverse social science education around the world. Macer’s biggest concern is that as a global society we are stuck on the Western idea of “knowledge,” which prevents us from going through an affective “mundialisation” process or the sharing of cultural knowledges.

Title: Decolonizing social sciences across the world
Author: Darryl RJ Macer
Source: Third World Resurgence January 2013

Student Researcher: Evan Robasciotti, Sonoma State University
Evaluator: Professor Peter Phillips, Ph.D. Sonoma State University