ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Challenges to the Social Sciences in the 21st Century

Some Perspectives from the South

The Eurocentric world view has remained long after European political and economic domination waned by the end of the "Long Nineteenth Century". European ideological hegemony still holds sway over the humanities and social sciences in the developing world. The colonisation of the mind that this entails is a challenge to be overcome politically, academically, as well as ideologically.

This is a revised version of my keynote address at the National Congress on “What Human and Social Sciences for the 21st Century?”, University of Caen, France, 7 December 2012.

While discussing the human and social sciences in the 21st century we need to first remind ourselves that historical periodisation does not necessarily follow 100-year sets. The 19th century, for instance, is often seen to continue till the first world war and the 20th century is perceived to end with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991.1 As I shall argue presently, what this periodisation meant for the part of the world we can loosely call the south, did not necessarily match with what it meant for the developed world, again loosely characterised as the north, or perhaps more appropriately the west. However, by and large I use this periodisation to suggest that many of the new challenges of the 21st century emerged in the last decades of the 20th century itself.

When the various disciplines of the human and social sciences, such as history, economics and political science evolved in the 19th and early 20th centuries, much of the present developing world was under colonial rule and European ideological hegemony held sway in most of the world. The human and social sciences in this period remained largely Eurocentric. Although Europe’s domination, measured on a long-term human civilisational scale, represented a tiny blip covering at best two to three centuries, its intellectual/ideological hegemony or the Eurocentric world view has remained long after European political and economic domination waned by the end of the “long nineteenth century” with the first world war. Though the 20th century is described as the “American Century”, it needs to be noted that the United States (US), as Eric Hobsbawm (1995: 14-15) puts it,

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