• The World View

    A blog from the Center for International Higher Education


Are the Social Sciences Becoming Global? Yes, but with Some Caveats


August 11, 2010


Much of the debate on the globalization of higher education and knowledge production focuses on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Research in the social sciences and humanities (SSH), however, has also been deeply affected by the growth in academic mobility, the revolution in information technology, and changes in the institutional and organizational arrangements of the research and advanced training enterprise. Differences remain important, however, because of the degree to which STEM and SSH knowledge production is embedded in global systems: important segments of the SSH in all countries are deeply rooted in the national and regional societies and cultures, addressing local needs and audiences in vernacular languages –although the social science production of some countries, most notably the US, is at the same time domestic and international.


The World Social Science Report 2010, produced by the International Social Science Council for UNESCO and available online at www.unesco.org/shs/wssr, brings a wealth of data and analysis on the uneven internationalization of the social sciences worldwide during the last decade. I found contributions in Chapter IV, based on indicators developed by international databases of social science journals, publications and articles (Thomson’s SSCI, Ulrich, Elsevier’s Scopus, UNESCO’s International Bibliography of the Social Sciences), particularly helpful to gauge national and regional trends in the size and shape of the segment regularly captured by those sources which, as authors and editors are well aware, cover only the internationally visible production, more often than not rendered in English. European and North American publications make up the bulk of indexed academic journals in the social sciences, between 75% of the total in the less selective Ulrich database and 90% in Reuters’ SSCI.


The social sciences in developing countries might be described as rapidly growing enterprises whose visible tips –their internationalized segments—still represent only a very small part of the whole. China is an extreme example: according to the SSCI, China was by 2007 the largest producer of internationally recognized social science research papers among developing countries –in 1995 it was still behind India and Brazil—but only 1% of all papers in Chinese national journals are indexed by the SSCI, mostly in English. Unfortunately, we know very little about the other 99%. In Brazil, Mexico, or India, the ratio of the internationally visible tip to the total production is about one in three, but still the bulk is domestically oriented, rooted in the academic demands of rapidly expanding higher education systems, the needs of governments and nongovernmental agencies for applied research, and the interests of educated readers. The complex relations between these two segments –the international, oriented to the global social science community, and the domestic, serving students, policymakers, and public opinion—remain largely unexplored in this Report and elsewhere.


An examination of the number of papers produced by authors from different world regions shows very uneven growth rates. Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) had the largest increase between 1998 and 2007 among all world regions, supported perhaps by the growing tendency to publish in indexed journals. The SSCI reported a fourfold increase from the LAC region as a whole, with a six-fold increase in Brazil alone. China’s growth was even faster, but India’s much smaller increase got reflected in a lower average for Asian production. India ranked first among developing countries by the mid-1990s, but dropped to third place behind China and Brazil a decade later.


The rapid increase in the size of the internationalized domestic production in all developing countries brought down the proportion of self-citations and citations to domestic papers. In other words, the visible tip became larger and more internationalized than in the past. Citations to their production by authors in the central countries remain few, but have tended to grow. Collaborative papers authored in different regions are on the increase and show, as expected, the heavy participation of authors from central countries. Yet, as the domestic production increases in large developing countries, the proportion of collaborative papers across regions declines. Smaller countries, however, remain heavily dependent upon co-authorship to participate in the global social science.


North America (the US and Canada) is the largest producer of indexed papers, but in a decade it has declined about ten percentage points to slightly over 50% of the global production. The largest relative increase has taken place in Europe, now dominant in interregional research collaboration. Citations from the rest of the world are almost equally divided to papers produced in these two regions –although Asia and Latin America tend to gravitate to North America and Africa to Europe. The increased European weight in the social science may be in part due to the inclusion of a greater number of European journals in the databases, but I guess it can also be attributed to the wider use of English in academic publication and advanced training and the formidable efforts of the European Community in sponsoring both intraregional and interregional research collaboration.


Last, but not least, the regional analysis of social science production reported by UNESCO shows the relative decline in the production of social science papers within the CIS countries (Commonwealth of Independent States, or former Soviet republics), reflecting the disorganization of the higher education systems following the fall of the Soviet Union and most likely the effects of the massive brain drain during the 1990s and early 2000s. Unlike other dramatic cases of brain drain, such as China or Korea, CIS countries have yet to benefit on a large scale from the academic communities of expatriates currently prospering in Western Europe and North America.





Jorge Balán is a senior researcher with CEDES in Argentina and a Visiting Professor at OISE, University of Toronto.



Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


Back to Top