Why do the Social Sciences matter?

9 February 2015

All readers are warmly invited to a free book launch event in London on Thursday February 19th 2015 – but spaces are limited and being allocated on a first-come first-served basis, so please book here.

The book, on Why the Social Sciences Matter, analyses some of the greatest challenges facing humanity – from climate change to economic crisis, and from food security to well-being. A key conclusion is that for many of these issues, a proper understanding requires a range of academic disciplines to be brought to bear. The same conclusion applies to the development of evidence-based policy. Invariably the disciplines required will include those from the social sciences, albeit often having to be combined with disciplines from the natural and medical sciences, as well as the humanities. So multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary dialogue and research is vital.

Few institutions do a better job at promoting this vital requirement – of interdisciplinarity – than do the Oxford colleges. And as one of the largest and most international of Oxford’s colleges, with far more postgraduate students than any of the other colleges, and with a large proportion of Oxford’s Centres for Doctoral Studies being led by Kellogg Fellows, our College is particularly well-placed and active in promoting this agenda of interdisciplinary research.

Indeed, the University of Oxford’s current Five-Year Strategic Plan stresses the importance not just of teaching, research and wider engagement, but also of global impact and interdisciplinarity. So there is a University-wide commitment.

The book, on Why the Social Sciences Matter, has been produced by the Academy of Social Sciences. But as indicated above, the authors invariably point to the need to work across disciplines, including beyond the social sciences. And certainly in the chapter on the economy, the point is made that social science disciplines themselves need to learn from other disciplines, and need to be committed to developing and learning lessons not just to inform better policy, but also to improve the theoretical and empirical contributions of these disciplines themselves, including economics.

Again, Kellogg College’s outstanding research students, innovative research centres, and wide variety of seminars, colloquiums, lectures and conferences are doing a tremendous job at precisely this – working across boundaries to advance both knowledge and theory, thus strengthening the academic disciplines themselves as well as informing policy. That’s what research impact is all about.

Jonathan Michie, February 2015

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