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Sciences with the Science

Jacques Commaille
Françoise Thibault



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1The regime of knowledge for Social Sciences and Humanities have gone through several major transformations. The previous regime was mainly characterized by a tendency to create exclusively critical theories and on an alignment on a few major paradigms. Of course the various human sciences were present, but they were also very fragmented into disciplines and sub-disciplines contained in the traditions of knowledge and knowledge fields used as instruments of legitimization of impassable boundaries. While they did not exclude reflective work, they were mainly mobilized against the risk of instrumentalization, as the often quoted distinction made by Max Weber on the vocation of scholars and the vocation of politicians can attest.

2The regime of knowledge now in force in education and research is marked by a will for inter-disciplinarity based on acquired experience and clear theoretical positions. The de-fragmentation inside the social sciences brings to light all the intellectual benefit resulting from the ability of scientific training and scientific approaches, to liberate themselves from disciplinarian pillars coming more from the effects of traditions than from methodological imperatives. The opening of certain Social Sciences and Humanities beyond their natural perimeters in higher education and research brings them to entirely different standards. It requires the appropriation and the crossing of scientific reasoning related to studies on matter and life. That is why this second type of opening generates the most important movements, but can only do so on the basis of localized and mastered protocols. Neither approaches, internal or external, could proceed from merely lifting a barrier, without any other goal than the ideological commitment to the principle of opening.

3The conditions for innovation (cultural, historical, social, organizational, economic) thus always need to be put forward in transformational research. The complex dynamics of social and economic changes cannot be separated from the study of societies (social practices, knowledge sharing, information and participation schemes, new actors mobilization). Thus, one has to work on the real obstacles to change : inequalities based on nationality, gender, social stratification or social origin, asymmetric access to information and knowledge. The human sciences do not rely on limiting the humans. They rather refer to their ability to create, this capacity being at the centre of production of economic wealth. Such a creation ability implies the possibility of detours, allowing for improbable encounters, including surprises (invention, creation), free of any directives.

4An innovating society must have put together an educational, scientific, cultural and political system which fosters innovative approaches : one cannot expect to find a island of technical and scientific innovation in the middle of an ocean of traditional and routine behaviours. There is no a priori reason why a society should refuse new ideas, unless they do not correspond to the aspirations of an important part of its population. The role of the civil societies, and no longer that of the sole experts, must be studied and taken into account in the production of data and reflections influencing research orientations. The data analysis methods, the efforts for extracting pertinent information, the interventions of the various stakeholders in decision making, have rendered obsolete ‘evidence based’ decision approaches, based on individualist deductive models, which in their time represented a progress as opposed to intuitive techniques.In many social organizations, it is the multitude that is productive, promoting innovation and collective dynamics and questioning the researcher, who no longer can shut himself in his ivory tower. To confront the societal challenges through the defence of unprecedented collaborations and interactions between scientists, businesses, associations, communities and all stakeholders, will promote the dynamic evolution of a science, all the more open because of the respect of its fundamentals, principles and practices.

5The magnitude of the current social, economic and institutional crisis leads us to open the perspectives, avoiding non-historical reductionism, authoritative normativism and all national or European-focussed approach. The abundance of scientific production and the organization of educational systems favour the very well defined specialties. Confronted with the crumbling of knowledge, education has more of a structuring mission than ever. It is fit to encourage all measures aiming at providing the students with a culture indispensable to develop a critical mind. Research on education must be re-launched. It must deal with the increasing inequalities and must examine the failures of the educational system, and explore new resources for education. Double degrees and inter-disciplinary degrees in the SSH and other sciences should be created to correspond with society’s major challenges.

6As any other science, the SSH are carried by the dialectic of the capitalisation of the huge masses of experience and the renewal of their paradigms and methods. The dialectic is all the more subtle today, as it constantly obliges one to avoid the weight of tradition (reassessing tried and tested theoretical frameworks which are no longer relevant to today’s realities) and circumstantial writings (essays, editorials, which can be objects for science but not for scientific productions). The new evaluation practices of today’s scientific work can discourage in depth studies and incite the use of ‘disciplinary fields’ where the distinction between opinion-based texts and scientific literature is weak. The disciplinary downturn is supported by these practices as much as those encouraging geographic fragmentation. It is up to the scientific community to regain the upper hand in this matter and to suggest, in a renewed dialogue with the institutions, some better suited approaches with regard to the scientific exercise.

7The efficiency of the whole system depends on a harmonious cooperation between three types of performance, always keeping in mind that care should be taken not to invest any of the three with a superior legitimacy : patrimonial performances, which guarantee the quality and the efficiency of a reasoned work on conservation, classification, reconstitution, translation of the cultural heritage of humanity ; incremental innovations, which demonstrate the cumulative nature of the results they produce, and are able to distinguish simple repetitions, from the threshold effects produced by the broadening of knowledge on the one hand, while on the other hand relying on this distinction to change the approaches and methods ; innovative performances encouraging unexpected experiments and questions that teach us positively to manage risks involved in exploring the unknown.

8Beyond Social Sciences and Humanities, the evolution of societies invites us to restore the concepts formulated by the first social science theorists, who designed the figure of the ‘engineer’ largely influenced by an education open to humanities. The time has come to put an end to the hyper-specialization of the researcher and teacher. Other paths are to be promoted so that male and female scientists avoid the pitfalls of intolerance, dogmatism and scientism.

© Alliance Athena, 2015

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