The competition for space in academia between the social sciences and the ‘others’ — namely, the pure and physical sciences, technological disciplines, medicine-related knowledge, and business and management studies — has been a permanent feature of the intellectual history of mankind.
Our one and only Nobel laureate, Prof Abdus Salam, would always be lamenting that Pakistan lacks a science culture. That not only meant that we neglect science in our universities and do not allocate enough resources for research. It also implies we do not inculcate the spirit of inquiry in our children and as a nation we do not analyse natural and social phenomena rationally and on the basis of scientifically verified information.
The treatment meted out to Dr Salam in his lifetime and after his death by this country vindicates his lament about our alienation from science.
The social sciences have fared no better. Dr Inayatullah, the founder-president of the Council of Social Sciences, Pakistan, felt equally dismal about the state of social sciences in the country. Adopting a solution-oriented approach, he emphasised the importance of “rigorous evaluation and verification” and proceeded to found COSS to serve as a forum for social scientists.
One may well ask, why this apathy towards the social sciences? As in the case of other branches of education, the fact is that knowledge is implicitly regarded as an enemy by the class that wields power and monopolises privilege.
Its anti-education stance obstructs the thought process in children that creates gullible adults who fall victim to charlatans of all variety.
Since the social sciences study the state, society, culture and people’s relationship with them they have a direct impact on the lives of people. Lack of knowledge of the social sciences can be dangerous. These sciences are indispensable as they can facilitate positive behavioral changes and improve the processes and institutions that are concerned with the development of the human mind.
If the study of the social sciences is pursued vigorously and an open debate is encouraged it creates public awareness and gives rise to diversity of thought and belief that acts as a check on the monopoly of state power. Moreover, the social sciences can be instrumental in promoting equity, freedom, tolerance and social justice which are anathema to the powers-that-be in an authoritarian set-up.
As Pakistan slides towards self-destruction, unsurprisingly the social sciences are going out of fashion. Take the example of the University of Karachi, the largest institution of higher education in the country. Of the over 31,000 students on its rolls, only a few over 9,000 opt for the social sciences which includes the faculty of education.
Keywords: Social sciences , Science and technology , Social issues , Social needs , Social policy , Social justice , Society-Pakistan , Education , Judiciary , Monopoly , Prof Abdus Salam , Dr. Inayatullah , Pakistan , Karachi , COSS