The future of social sciences

Published: April 23, 2011

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Acouple of days ago, I got the opportunity to listen to a lecture on Jinnah and his impact on the Pakistani state. It was shocking to see the product of our university system, especially after the tall claims made by Attaur Rahman and his Higher Education Commission (HEC) regarding advancements made in all fields of higher education in the past 10 years. The gent who was giving the lecture had elevated Jinnah to heights from where asking even the simplest question would be tantamount to blasphemy. Furthermore, he used his unacademic emotional diatribe to give the founding father a peculiar ideological colour. For instance, Jinnah’s famous September 11 speech was interpreted as a tactical appeasement of the minorities. The lecture did not shed any light at all on understanding our current state of affairs.

Emotional and unacademic speeches may work for political motivation but not for an academic discourse. The study of history, in particular, is a complex science which is certainly not about presenting or listing events. The study of history is based on how different methodologies can be applied to interpret an event by analysing the times when the event happened while also benefiting from hindsight. It was bizarre to see that the lecturer, who has obtained a doctorate in the past four or five years, disregarded all existing academic works on Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Perhaps people should not have been shocked, because this is the way we tend to treat humanities and social sciences in this country. Historically, our fields of humanities were negatively influenced due to the predominance of national security and the subservience of education to the security discourse. Since we had to clearly establish our independence from India, our education, especially higher education, was made subservient to the policy community and the state bureaucracies. It is not the task of a social scientist to find answers for policymakers. The main purpose is to conduct theoretical analysis/research on key issues and find answers to major mysteries or anomalies. This research can then be used by anyone, be it the government or the private sector.

Additionally, there are three factors which have impaired the growth of traditional social science. First, policymakers and the state were never interested in any examination other than what provides tactical solutions for economic policies. Hence, all other fields were ignored except for economics. This was most obvious in the HEC’s recently held “First International Conference on Promotion of Social Science Research in Pakistani Universities”. Not only was there no emphasis on fields other than economics, the great HEC and those who organised the event did not bother to invite some of the big names in traditional fields like historians Dr Mubarak Ali and Dr Tahir Kamran and political scientist Hasan Askari-Rizvi. The HEC, it seems, does not have the academic credibility and standing where such senior people would readily respond to its advertised call for papers to be read at such a conference. Also, there was resistance to give any formal participation to the Council of Social Sciences, which was established by the (late) Dr Inayatullah and has produced some of the best research on the state of social science in Pakistan. The reason for this neglect was perhaps that mediocre people from modern fields like management and economics organised the conference. They were not familiar with some of the great names that Pakistan has produced like historian Aziz Ahmed or sociologists Hamza Alavi and Feroz Ahmed.

Also, in modern times, more fashionable and hip subjects like film studies, cultural studies and others have bypassed traditional fields. Ignoring traditional subjects is dangerous as it incapacitates a society from analysing its own behaviour, which could then be used for preparing for the future. Moreover, social sciences got really sidelined in the past 10 years when Attaur Rahman shifted the focus to natural and applied sciences. Those fields are important but cannot be nurtured at the cost of social sciences.

A society that loses the capacity of introspection (and laughing on itself) eventually weakens from within. In such situations, material gains and popularity of neo-liberal policies may bring some economic development but will only produce a weak society.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (32)

  • John
    Apr 23, 2011 - 11:40PM

    ” If we do not know where we came from, we do not know where we are going”

    This is the PAK problem.

    Judging from the present and past economic disarray of PAK, it seems that PAK is not doing well on the field of economics either.

    Garbage in, garbage out.


  • faraz
    Apr 23, 2011 - 11:56PM

    You should be grateful he didnt talk of some Zionist conspiracy to undermine Jinnah as a leader of the partyRecommend

  • SSS
    Apr 24, 2011 - 12:31AM

    As a student of history… anyone either the writer or any reviewer who can guide me that Jinnah’s speech of september 11 and the creation of this country on the foundation of two nations theory are contradictory to each other. This confusion is not very popular in Pakistan but historian Prof. Ayesha Jalal has articulated it in her work. Any insightful and academic comments are welcomed. Recommend

  • scientist-to-be
    Apr 24, 2011 - 12:46AM

    with all due respect……….. OH PLEASE.. humanities are far from being the most neglected section of our education system…. visit any university and you will see flocks of students studying humanities but the number of students going into science can be counted on our fingers…let alone students the number of science teachers in our country is shameful….i being a student of a an respected university of lahore am aware of the difference in the departments of science and humanities…the difference is so obvious that i am unable to find the right words to describe it…. so it may be my own personal feeling but from where i see universities of pakistan are providing far better services in humanities than in any form of pure sciences…Recommend

  • Egregious
    Apr 24, 2011 - 3:46AM

    we are living in modern darkness.
    @SSS ,,, two nation theory is not contradictory to September 11 1947 speech as you can understand this ideology through the philosophy of Renin a French philosopher then it be clear to you.Recommend

  • Apr 24, 2011 - 5:46AM

    Social sciences? You mean “arts”? The degree that everyone who couldnt do engineering or medicine does? Haww….what will I tell people!

    With such social standing its not surprising that at every level of our society the social sciences are discouraged and considered unworthy to be considered important or a priority. I guess ignorance is indeed bliss. Recommend

  • Akhtar
    Apr 24, 2011 - 6:33AM

    True analysis and lessen for those are opposing HEC devolution.
    HEC always believed/believe to organize fun fair to the old academicians.
    should.nt it go once for all.Recommend

  • Noor Nabi
    Apr 24, 2011 - 7:52AM

    You raise a good question. However, as we all know, the two-nation theory died with the creation of Bangladesh. Similarly history will address the other contradictions that continue to exist in the psyche of the people.Recommend

  • Umer
    Apr 24, 2011 - 10:40AM

    Scientist-to-be: this is not about numbers but quality. What the author means by neglect is not that students are not studying social sciences but that its quality is poor. Higher education is not about quantity but quality.She has not even said that applied or pure sciences shouldn’t be encouraged but that social sciences is in disarray due to its poor quality.Recommend

  • Apr 24, 2011 - 11:19AM

    hm as a student of sociology i by my self couldn’t see any hype towards social science and esp my subject sociology ppl were talk abt natural sc and ignored the which play a vital role to build a strong agenda to live and deal with equality and avoid the problems at micro and macro level Recommend

  • SaudiRules
    Apr 24, 2011 - 11:21AM

    As always a good analysis Dr. Siddiqa,you will have triple Phd if you had studied under the HEC :). People who have commented here, so far, seems to be more mature than the usual posters.
    Please take a look at the following survey to get idea about the “true” picture of today’s pakistani youth. or

  • Ahsan
    Apr 24, 2011 - 11:24AM

    Historically, our fields of humanities were negatively influenced due to the predominance of national security and the subservience of education to the security discourse. Ayesha SiddiqaRecommend

  • ArifQ
    Apr 24, 2011 - 11:48AM

    Ayesha, what you have suggested is the perfect remedy for a country obsessed with religious indoctrination. Other than the weapons of mass destruction scientists, this country needs to honor its poets, philosophers and free thinkers for they are the ones equipped with the knowledge and skills to guide the nation. Recommend

  • Ismail Khan
    Apr 24, 2011 - 1:28PM

    Ayesha Siddiqa Agha has serious problem when pakistan Quaid azam and Pak Army names come inRecommend

  • Tarun
    Apr 24, 2011 - 1:47PM

    the speaker should concern himself/herself with the objectivity first, and then only he/she should make a judgemental decision.Recommend

  • Asim Saeed
    Apr 24, 2011 - 2:06PM

    True analysis. Love the last paragraph :-)Recommend

  • ba ha
    Apr 24, 2011 - 2:10PM

    The gent who was giving the lecture had elevated Jinnah to heights from where asking even the simplest question would be tantamount to blasphemy So glad your noticed. Mr ZAB family is heading the same road. Recommend

  • SSS
    Apr 24, 2011 - 3:51PM

    @Egregious… I took this direct quote from the Wikipedia (not a very reliable academic source but good for general discussion. This is totally in contrary to the views of pseudo-intellectuals who try to project the creation of this country as any modern day revolution. Jinnah himself said that me, my secretary and my typewriter has created Pakistan and that’s why this country is being run most of the times by a dictator (me); army (secretary) and bureaucratic machinery (typewriter). Please see below for the Renan’s theory and how it contradicts with German philosophy.

    Renan’s definition of a nation has been influential. This was given in his 1882 discourse Qu’est-ce qu’une nation? (“What is a Nation?”). Whereas German writers like Fichte had defined the nation by objective criteria such as a race or an ethnic group “sharing common characteristics” (language, etc.), Renan defined it by the desire of a people to live together, which he summarized by a famous phrase, “avoir fait de grandes choses ensemble, vouloir en faire encore” (having done great things together and wishing to do more). Writing in the midst of the dispute concerning the Alsace-Lorraine region, he declared that the existence of a nation was based on a “daily plebiscite.”

    Karl Deutsch (in “Nationalism and its alternatives”) suggested that a nation is “a group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbours.” This phrase is frequently, but mistakenly, attributed to Renan himself. He did indeed write that if “the essential element of a nation is that all its individuals must have many things in common”,

    Many things in common and two nations theory highlight religion as a common factor and contradicts the rights of others who follow other religions. I hope you may guide me in this regard. Recommend

  • Rashed Khan
    Apr 24, 2011 - 4:03PM

    Dr. Saiba. Does religion or theology falls under social sciences?

  • Apr 24, 2011 - 5:03PM

    Look this a great dilemma of our society. I have studied science till FSc than business studies and ultimately completed a Phd in economics from London school of Economics and political science. But if would be given an option I would have studied either political science, sociology or history. Humanities are so neglected in our education system, we can say to the extent of criminal negligence and that is why our society in spite of having so many educated people cannot even change for its own good. Fabian society started LSE in England for the advancement of social sciences and look what they have achieved one of the greatest institution of social sciences in the whole world. But the pressure on our youth here in Pakistan is so extreme to study a subject for success and money that no body wants to study Humanities and the people who read Humanities are the dullest minds of the nation so how can we expect world class research from them.

    We have to promote, glamorize and monetize humanities in oder to make the state of Humanities better in Pakistan. Why not start Pakistan Institute of Social Science and involve all the great social scientist to prepare future generation?

    On the other topic, I got irritated from Jinnah just because of this very prophetic war of his presentation in books, by our teachers and speakers till I read the book “Jinnah” by Stanley Wolpret. Please read this book and you will get to know the great Jinnah who is a human like you and me.Recommend

  • observer
    Apr 24, 2011 - 10:11PM

    @Rashed Khan

    Dr. Saiba. Does religion or theology falls under social sciences?

    Khan Saab, Theology ,Yes, Theocracy, No.
    When you study Theology you also study a particular Theology in comparison with others without assigning any of them ‘superior’ ‘complete’ ‘true’ or ‘divine’ or any such other qualities.
    Are Pakistani Universities and faculty and students ready for that?Recommend

  • Egregious
    Apr 25, 2011 - 1:05AM

    Many things in common and two nations theory highlight religion as a common factor and contradicts the rights of others who follow other religions. I hope you may guide me in this regard.
    i am very thankful to you that you have given me some terse view about that theories. Here i am going to make one point that Islam is not only a religion of some virtues instead it is a complete way of life having all the basic aspects to each field of human life but it does not deny the rights of others who do not follow it as it is religion of pace so there are clear cut verses in Holy Book QURAN about their rights. There are many teachings of Holy Prophet PBUH that if any Muslim done any harm to any minority(at that time Jews) individual the Prophet PBUH will help the minority individual against that barbarity . To believe ( but not to practice) in the previous Holy religions and prophets is the basic to enter in Islam and with out this belief one is not a muslim. so there is no doubt in the separate nation as Muslims and as regards to many things in common with others Islam has always welcomed the others in participation and welfare of the society on equal footings if they want too as there is no coercion in religion of Islam. Otherwise they can enjoy thier freedom given to them by virtue of Islam.Recommend

  • Sualeha
    Apr 25, 2011 - 11:12AM

    Agreed. I am also doing Social Sciences, and just the other day my friend advised me to rather do major in economics instead of in International Relations, because economics is a more profitable field. NOT agreeed. We can make international relations, History better fields too! Recommend

  • shafi afridi
    Apr 25, 2011 - 1:26PM

    Aisha is one of the budding non conformist intellectual and scholar. Honourable schoalrs to tell you the truth, this nation is addicted to lies, to diget truth needs stomachs. Social sceinces challenges the truth or falcity of pre-concieved notions. We are not ready for it, even if it bring us to the brink of disaster. The forlone voice of Asiha for upholding truth against the falcity is encouraging. We need more such scholars, possible only in an education based on objecticity and not on emotions only. Recommend

  • SSS
    Apr 25, 2011 - 2:07PM

    @ Egregious…

    You have answered my question by referring to Misaqa Madina. If that is the parameter set by Islam and practised by Holy Prophet (PBUH) then why Muslims cannot follow it? Can you justify the reasons of dividing the Hindustan on the basis of religion? I reckon it completely went against the teachings of Islam and led to extremism in this new homeland of Muslims. If religion would have been the strong binding force then Bangladesh would have not been created. Jinnah’s bargaining chip went wrong and his myopic vision resulted into a chaotic state or buffer zone for future cold war. Does this state serve any purpose of Islam? . Recommend

  • SJS
    Apr 25, 2011 - 2:56PM

    I have graduate in a SS subject. I can honestly say, no matter how good a student is, the job market will him or her in the worst way. Recommend

  • Apr 25, 2011 - 4:38PM

    @Egregious: Renin? It seems you got the spelling wrong if you are referring to Ernest Renan. If we take Renan’s definition of a nation, as you are claiming Jinnah took, then Pakistan is certainly NOT a nation. Please read his essay before quoting again.

    The definition that fits Pakistan well is that of Karl Deutsch, who said that a nation is a group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbours. Recommend

  • Wajih
    Apr 26, 2011 - 12:18PM

    September 11 speech of Quaid e Azam is quoted by Dr. Ayesha as well as some of the people in comments. Frankly I do not know which speech they are talking about. There is August 11 speech by Quaid to the Constituent Assembly in which he disassociated religion from the state affairs. That was his idea about Pakistan. I would appreciate if somebody sends a link about this September 11 speech or tell where it was delivered.
    It is my considered opinion that the reason behind creation of Pakistan and division of India was the failure of Muslim League and Congress leadership to agree on post independence India. Till as late as May 28, 1947, Jinnah was ready to live in a united India. Till the end he was ready to accept Cabinet mission plan. He would not have done that had he been so hard on the issue of ‘two nations’. His idea of the division was that it was like division of family estate between brothers, the dispute will end when the division was complete. It is another issue the the dispuate has infact exerbated after the ‘division’. Recommend

  • Manzoor Cheema
    Apr 26, 2011 - 10:59PM

    This is a brilliant critique, and we definitely need to improve the state of social sciences in Pakistan. Being a medical scientist myself, I feel many of my “physical science” colleagues and the few economists I have spoken to reject social sciences as contributing ambiguous or useless research. But does physical and economic sciences really lead to advancement and prosperity of the society, as we are told? Here in the U.S. we have some of brightest minds in medical research, economic field (especially the neoliberal model), business management, as can be gauged by their research publications, patents, inventions and nobel prizes. Then why does U.S.A. also has one of the highest child poverties and infant mortalities in the industrialized world, with vast number of people lacking healthcare, and are increasingly disenfranchised in their political system.

    It is very evident that issues of inequality, racism, flawed policies and other social problems are often not addressed by physical sciences or economists, but by social scientists, who are under-funded at our own peril.Recommend

  • Muammad Saeed Akhter
    Apr 28, 2011 - 7:43AM

    @scientist-to-be: unfortunately you could not get what she wanted to make. Recommend

  • urooj
    Apr 28, 2011 - 8:55PM

    It is true that in Pakistan Social Sciences is in decline and no serious efforts have been made to uplift the discpline.
    However after reading Ayesha Siddiqa’s article, it is quite obvious that she has confused the personal thoughts of a speaker of the conference with the HEC. Can Ms.Siqqida quote single instance in which HEC has bragged about the uplift of Social Sciences in Pakistan as the policies of HEC are primarily focused on Science and Technology rather than Social Sciences?
    Ms.Sidiqqa fails to understand the key point that education is never a priority of our political culture which is dominated by feudal class. In this wilderness, HEC is a blessing in a disguise as it struggles to highlight higher education in PAkistan. Recommend

  • May 13, 2011 - 9:36AM

    This is in response to Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa’s article on the subject of the future of Social Sciences.

    The ‘First National Conference on Promotion of Social Sciences Research in Pakistan’ was organized by the Committee for the Development of Social Sciences in Pakistan.The HEC partially funded and hosted the event. The Organisers are grateful for thier support. Most of the funding came from Universities and other local and international donors. More than seventy scholars from pakistan and abroad were invited by a sub committee constituted for this purpose. Some of the scholars mentioned inher article were invited but due to prior engagements they could not attend. There were six panels only one was for economists. I personally invited members of the Council of Social Sciences. We are glad they could come and participate. The conference recognized the work of Dr. Inayatullah and set a new tradition in Social Sciences byawarding him a life time achievement award. which was presented to his widow by the Chairman HEC.The Conference will now be organized annually and similar activities will be promoted at the regional/university level as well. There is no doubt that many more areas need to be covered and more scholars invited. I am afraid one conference alone could not handle every subject. Her comments about the organisers and the former Chairman of the HEC, however, are in bad taste. I wish she had her facts right before writing her article.
    Nasser Ali Khan PhD
    Committee for the Development of Social Sciences in PakistanRecommend

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