The Arab Council for the Social Sciences Launches Inaugural Report

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Panelists Hillary Wiesner, Seteney Shami, Mohammed Bamyeh, and Lisa Anderson discuss the findings of a report on social sciences in the Arab world.

Last month, Carnegie Corporation of New York hosted an event marking the launch of the inaugural Arab Social Sciences Report, “Social Sciences in the Arab World: Forms of Presence.”  According to lead author, Mohammed Bamyeh, the report uncovers a “silent revolution of knowledge production” in the Arab region. Social transformation has enlivened the region’s campuses, think tanks, and social media networks, and recent years have seen a sharp rise in the number of universities and research centers engaged in matters of political science, economics, sociology, and history. Bamyeh stressed the vital role the report has played in highlighting growth and development that may have gone otherwise unnoticed, stating that without this effort, the “silent revolution” would remain an undocumented phenomenon.

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The difficulties encountered in developing and publishing the report illustrate the inherent obstacles facing the social sciences in the Arab region. Director General of the Arab Council for the Social Sciences (ACSS)Seteney Shami, cited the dearth of resources, lack of access to data, and the fragmented nature of research in the Arab world as some of the major challenges currently facing the disciplines. Furthermore, the majority of universities across the region are still in the process of evolving into established research centers, and according to Lisa Anderson, former president of the American University in Cairo (AUC), “75 percent of universities in the Arab region are less than 25 years old.”

A panel discussion, moderated by Hillary Wiesner, Program Director for Carnegie Corporation’s Transnational Movements and the Arab Region program, highlighted the report as a framing document for the social sciences in both scientific and public spheres. Wiesner emphasized the report’s value in illuminating priorities and challenges when it comes to issues facing the region’s social sciences. Among the highlights from an analysis of peer-reviewed Arab periodicals was an illuminating table demonstrating the frequency of topics discussed among scholars. Somewhat unsurprisingly, terms like the “Arab Spring” and “revolution” were high on the list.  

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Rather than focus exclusively on traditional academic landscapes, the report considers social science issues appearing in cultural magazines, literature, and other mainstream media platforms, like cable television channels in the region. Shami explained the decision to include both academic and non-academic media in the review by stressing the historical significance of literature and the humanities in the Arab world. Though somewhat neglected in recent years, they’ve played an important role throughout wider Arab history in acting as a lens through which the region might contend with and tackle social issues.

The inaugural report is the first of many to be published by the ACSS’s Arab Social Science Monitor. The next report, “Who are the social scientists of the Arab region?” will focus on the demographics, backgrounds, and research interests of Arab social scientists currently working in the region.