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World Social Science Report: Whither India and South Asia?

The World Social Science Report 2010 reveals the marginal presence of south Asia and India in the domain of international social science research, and the dominance of the west in the creation of knowledge in the social sciences. Using evidence from the report, this article locates India's poor position vis-à-vis other countries in both global and local factors - historical and political developments in the west, the internationalisation of English, shifts in the global labour market, and a lack of funding and institutional autonomy in India.


World Social Science Report: Whither India and South Asia?

Shyam Singh

Enlightenment, when new ideas about religion, reason, humanity and society were merged into a fairly coherent world view that stressed human rights, individualism and constitutionalism.

The authors of this report believe that social sciences emerged in Europe and the decisive factors in its emergence were the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution. But this assumption ignores the very existence of the indigenous knowledge and ancient academic traditions in countries like India. If industrial revolution becomes the criteria for the emergence of social sciences, no developing or underdeveloped country can qualify as a place where the knowledge of social sciences has emerged and flourished.

South Asia: Marginalised?

South Asia holds an inferior position in the production of social science research vis-à-vis the western world. An article by Frenken et al in the WSSR discusses the global scenario of collaborative research among nine geographical regions in the world. They have used research articles published in different social science journals that are listed in two international databases – Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) and the Arts and Humanities Citation Index (A&HCI). According to the authors,

Social science dominated by a few regions runs the risk of diminishing intellectual novelty and excluding less favoured researchers from agenda setting discourses on issues of global relevance (Frenken et al 2010: 144).

The World Social Science Report 2010 reveals the marginal presence of south Asia and India in the domain of international social science research, and the dominance of the west in the creation of knowledge in the social sciences. Using evidence from the report, this article locates India’s poor position vis-à-vis other countries in both global and local factors

– historical and political developments in the west, the internationalisation of English, shifts in the global labour market, and a lack of funding and institutional autonomy in India.

Shyam Singh ( is at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore.

he conclusion of the second world war marked the end of the imperial domination of the powerful nations over the poor and weak countries. Soon after that, the world witnessed a growing aspiration for a democratic system in the newly independent countries, which was expected to enable them to overcome the colonial brutalities. But far from having ended, domination emerged in two distinct ways. The first is “domination through development” which is described by the “centre-periphery” theory as the domination of the developed over the underdeveloped countries through the means and outputs of development. The second is “domination through knowledge” which creates a knowledge hierarchy with the ascendancy of the “top” on the “down”. Dominance in the social sciences has its own political implications combined with the political needs of the territory where the knowledge of social science is being created. Long-term political goals are targeted through the creation of social science knowledge where social scientists, wittingly or unwittingly, have played a political role in pursuing their “academic” work (Saberwal 1970).

The World Social Science

Table 1: Number of Collaborative Publications and Ranks of Regions (2004-08)

Report (WSSR) 2010 is a Region Total Share in Total Rank Publications Publications* (%)

document that mirrors the

North America 11,359 34.89 1

hegemony of the developed

Western Europe 10,168 31.23 2

western countries over

East Asia and Pacific Asia 3,206 9.85 3

the creation of knowledge. Southern, central and eastern Europe and
North America and Europe Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) 2,337 7.17 4
are well ahead of Asia Oceania 2,270 6.97 5

Latin America and the Caribbean 1,348 4.14 6

and Africa in shaping the

Sub-Saharan African 1,051 3.23 7

avenues for the social

sciences that dominate South Asia 570 1.75 8
today’s academic dis- Arab states * Calculated by the author. 245 0.75 9
courses. This hegemonic Source: Frenken et al (2010: 145).

dominance becomes clear from the pre-Table 1 reflects the number of collaboraface of the WSSR1 (p vii): tive publications brought out by different To a great extent, the social sciences grew regions and their rank during 2004-08. out of the seventeenth-century European Findings show that most collaborative

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research has taken place in the western regions of the world. North America and western Europe claim more than twothirds of the total collaborative publications, while the east Asia and Pacific Asia regions claim around 10%. South Asia ranks eighth out of nine regions with a share of 1.75% in the total publications.

The globalisation of social science research has not trickled down to all countries and regions evenly. The fall of the Soviet Union, the European Union’s research policy and other political changes have played an important role in making the pace of internationalisation of social sciences sluggish.2 Diplomatic failures and successes from the second world war to the fall of the Soviet Union had a widespread impact on the growth of social sciences in the world. After the second world war, Europe witnessed a gradual but steady process of political unification and economic stability which provided enormous opportunities of fundraising for social science research. Similarly, the collapse of the Soviet Union helped the United States (US) to establish a unipolar world and to occupy the top position in the diplomatic and economic hierarchy of the world. The Scientific Revolution in Europe and North America created a sense of ownership of the knowledge generated in a closed region (the west) and which was disseminated to the other regions as a means of domination.

Reinforcing Knowledge Hierarchies

The profound successes of the western countries in the domain of development also placed a requirement before them to generate managerial techniques and knowledge to get more material outputs of the development, and this created favourable conditions for the production of social science research. In contrast, the underdeveloped and developing nations became the consumers of cooked knowledge from other parts of the world rather than the producers of knowledge. The extent of domination by the west is evident from the fact that only four countries – the US, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Germany

– produce two-thirds of the social science journals registered in the most comprehensive of databases. In the last decade,

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January 1, 2011

North America alone has produced more than half of the social science articles registered in the SSCI database. Similarly, Europe is the second biggest producer and has published about 40% of the world’s social science articles in the last decade.3

Table 2 provides a region-wise account of the research cited in 200 of the most cited journals in each region during 2003-05. Data clearly show that the western part of the world does not recognise research done in the rest of the world. Researches in Europe, Oceania and North America have taken most of the references either from their own region or from other regions of the western world. For example, 78.1% of the citations in the research articles produced by North America belong to their own region, and 20.4% belong to Europe.

of English in social science research. In 1951, social science publications in English constituted half of the total publications. English started expanding its span from 1980 onwards, which was also the period marking the onset of globalisation. In 1990, the share of English increased to 70%. The 1990s also saw several countries (including India) give a thrust to globalisation as a means of international collaboration. Consequently, the share of languages like French and German declined and English established a stronghold during this period. Four other major languages – Russian, Spanish, Italian and Japanese – remained marginalised especially after 1960. All other languages claim less than 1% share in the total social science publications.

Similarly, Europe and Oceania Table 2: Origins of Citation by Regions for the 200 Most Cited Journals have cited either their own

(2003-05, in %)

Citing RegionsÆ Africa Latin Asia CIS Europe Oceania North

region or North America con-

Cited RegionsÈ America America

siderably, avoiding other re-Africa 11.7 0.4 0.2 0 0 0 0

gions (Asia, Africa and Latin Asia 0.8 0.3 1.6 1 0.2 0.2 0

America) substanti ally. Only CIS 0 0 0 15.3 0 0 0 0.2% of the total citations in

Europe 53.4 33.9 41.8 31.9 50.3 42.7 20.4

Latin America 0 6.9 0 0 0 0 0.2

Europe belong to the Asian

Oceania 0.2 0 0 0 0.3 7.2 0

region, while North America

North America 30.9 56.2 54.1 51.5 47.9 48.1 78.1

has not cited even a single

Source: Gingras and Mosbah-Natanson (2010: 152).

study from the Asian region.

Table 3: Percentage Shares of Major Languages in Social Science

In contrast, Asia, Africa,

Publications Worldwide

Latin America and other English French German Russian Spanish Italian Japanese

non-western regions depend 1951 48.0 17.9 5.9 2.1 5.3 * 8.4

heavily on European and 1960 37.8 20.1 7.4 7.7 4.4 6.0 4.1 1970 48.9 17.0 10.1 6.8 5.1 3.6 *

North American studies. Two

1980 57.1 13.7 8.5 5.8 5.2 3.1 *

sets of possible explanations

1990 70.2 8.8 5.9 3.5 3.3 2.6 *

follow this trend. One, west

2000 77.2 6.9 6.2 2.0 2.1 1.4 *

ern regions doubt the sound

2005 76.0 6.9 7.2 1.9 2.0 1.2 *

ness and authenticity of the

* Less than 1%. Source: Data extracted from Ammon (2010: 154).

studies carried out in devel

oping regions; and two, western regions are establishing their supremacy while citing their own studies only, which involves intentional ignorance of other regions.

English Rules Supreme

The other factor which has contributed to the domination of the western world in social science research is the internationalisation of English. While this does not mean that non-western regions do not publish in English, the dominance of English diminishes the production and visibility of research in regional and vernacular languages in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Table 3 reveals the mounting dominance

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Apart from the dominance of English, there are other lacunae in the system of social science research in Asia, parti cularly south Asia. An article by Krishna and Krishna (2010: 81) on the growth of social sciences in south Asia appro priately concludes:

…with a few exceptions, the quality of both teaching and research in social sciences is declining in South Asia. The accountability factor is virtually absent and peer evaluation systems are weak in publicly funded research institutions and universities.

The authors also point out that the distribution of knowledge produced in social sciences is very uneven in south Asia. India dominates other south Asian


countries in terms of institutional capacity and funding for social science research.

Social Sciences in India

India has a massive infrastructure in higher education. In 2008, there were 431 universities and 20,677 colleges in the country, which include around half a million teachers and 11.61 million students (Thorat 2008). Table 4 gives a comparative picture of India vis-à-vis other countries for the period 1995-2007, in terms of their ranks in total annual production of research papers authored within the country and those produced through international collaboration.

Table 4: Country-wise Ranking in Annual Production of Research Papers (1995-2007)

Countries Rank (Total Annual Rank (Annual Production of
Production of Research Papers Co-authored
Research Papers) with Researchers from
Other Countries)
1995 2007 1995 2007
China 4 1 1 1
Argentina 5 5 4 3
Mexico 3 4 3 2
Brazil 2 2 2 5
India 1 3 5 3

Ranks are obtained from the graphical representation of each country. Source: Adapted from Russell and Ainsworth (2010: 156-57).

In 1995, the number of research papers published in each of the five countries mentioned in Table 4 was below 500; but in 2007, annual production increased considerably in Brazil and China. While Brazil showed an increase from 274 items in 1995 to 1,690 in 2007, China had an annual production of around 2,300 research papers in 2007, moving from the fourth to the first position. In contrast, India witnessed very slow progress – falling from the first position in 1995 to behind Brazil and China in 2007 – with a small increase from 500 to around 750 research papers.

In terms of co-authored research papers, China has more or less consistently maintained its first rank during 1995-2007. India has shown some improvement in its collaborative research with scholars from other countries, moving up from the last position in 1995 to the third place in 2007. Argentina and Mexico have shown an increasing percentage of collaborative publications, while Brazil slipped from the second to the last position between 1995 and 2007.

One of the reasons that might explain why India is not up to the level in international social science research is the growing propensity of brain drain. India has contributed substantially to the migration of social scientists, more often economists, to the US. There is a visible move away from the social sciences towards commerce, computer science and management related studies, propelled by shifts in the global labour market (Khadria 2010). About 80% of highly qualified migrants from India have continued to choose the US as their ultimate destination, with Canada as a second choice. The post-9/11 restrictions on immigrations to the US have made a few European countries preferred destinations (ibid).

Need for a Systemic Overhaul

It needs to be understood that the west alone is not responsible for outcasting India in the domain of international social science research. Internal problems have also created hurdles for research in the social sciences. The analyses and evidence in the WSSR show that China has moved much ahead of India even though both started their political life nearly at the same time. The Fourth Review Committee Report (2007) of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) has appraised the status of social science research in India. One of the important observations made by the committee is the pervasive contribution of non-resident Indians (NRIs) and foreigners in Indian social science research. For instance, data from eight renowned publication houses reveals that out of a total of 998 published books, 326 books (nearly one-third) have been published either by NRIs or/and by foreigners. Similarly, out of 542 articles published in reputed social science journals in 2004-05, 131 articles (nearly one-fourth) were published by NRIs or/and foreigners (ICSSR 2007: 19). If we excluded the contributions made by foreigners from the total work produced, very little quality work would be attributed to Indian social scientists.

The factors responsible for the poor condition of social science research in the country, according to ICSSR (2007), are lack of funding from the government (University Grants Commission) and a lack of autonomy to institutions involved in social science research. According to the report, our public funding system is reluctant to fund social science research, because it does not produce material outputs like those of technological and scientific researches. As a result, the quantum of funds for social science research is much less, compared to scientific research (ibid).

Thus the issue discussed in this article operates at two levels – globally, western countries have succeeded in creating their hegemony over the system of research as well as the knowledge which research produces, rendering India (and broadly speaking, south Asia) marginalised; and at the local level, where persisting problems demand a substantive overhaul of the system of social science research.


1 The report is available at
2 “Uneven Internationalisation”, WSSR 2010, p 143.
3 Ibid, p 143.


Ammon, Ulrich (2010): “The Hegemony of English” in UNESCO and ISSC (ed.), World Social Science Report 2010 (Paris: UNESCO).

Frenken Koen, Jarno Hoekman and Sjoerd Hardeman (2010): “The Globalisation of Research Collaboration” in UNESCO and ISSC (ed.), World Social Science Report 2010 (Paris: UNESCO).

Gingras, Yves and Sébastien Mosbah-Natanson (2010): “Where Are Social Sciences Produced?” in UNESCO and ISSC (ed.), World Social Science Report 2010 (Paris: UNESCO).

ICSSR (2007): “Restructuring the Indian Council of Social Science Research: Report of the Fourth Review Committee”, March.

Khadria, Binod (2010): “ n D

n D
n an a
d Bd B
n Cn C
lation in South Asia” in UNESCO and ISSC (ed.), World Social Science Report 2010 (Paris: UNESCO).

Krishna, Veni V and Usha Krishna (2010): “Social Science in South Asia” in UNESCO and ISSC (ed.), World Social Science Report 2010 (Paris: UNESCO).

Russell, J M and Shirley Ainsworth (2010): “Social Science Research in Latin America and Caribbean Regions in Comparison with India and China” in UNESCO and ISSC (ed.), World Social Science Report 2010 (Paris: UNESCO).

Saberwal, Satish (1970): “International Social Science: Some Political Aspects”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 5 (27).

Thorat, Sukhadeo (2008): Higher Education in India: Issues Related to Expansion, Inclusiveness, Quality and Finance, November (New Delhi: University Grants Commission).

available at


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