The CEO Notes

HSRC CEO Dr Olive Shisana was elected president of the International Social Science Council (ISSC) in December 2010. This is an abstract from her acceptance speech.


Over the last 25 years, the social sciences have experienced an increased marginalisation and generalised treatment as a non-scientific body of knowledge that is incapable of contributing new insights and which does not merit enhanced funding.

A resurgent International Social Science Council (ISSC) has begun to respond in strategic ways to this challenge. Today the organisation is leading the charge to take the social sciences to a level where they rightly belong: addressing global issues and challenges; helping humanity to make sense of the world, despite the complexities of the changes constantly taking place all around us.

The ISSC is making it possible for us to continue to be actors and agents of change in our relationship with nature and in the relationships within and between communities and countries.

Two of the most notable achievements of the ISSC are the convening of the first World Social Science Forum held in Bergen in 2010, and the production of the second World Social Science Report in the same year.

Our work in the years ahead will be shaped by the successes over the last few years and the basic reality that there is also plenty of unfinished business and new, emergent challenges to which we must respond.

The world is evolving at an extremely rapid pace; much faster than the dominant and existing social science concepts, theories and paradigms are capable of responding to.

The global social science community itself is still riddled with a multiplicity of fault lines and hierarchies. The global epistemological order continues to be predominantly Euro-American. And the potential for the social sciences to inform policy and social practice in ways that enhance human freedom is still to be fully realised.

The roles of the ISSC would necessarily include that of contributing towards making knowledge truly global, effectively countering the tendency to elevate only certain kinds of knowledge, produced in some parts of the world (the global North), to the status of global or universal knowledge.

I want to pledge that during my presidency we will build on the success of the past while we grow the organisation by increasing membership from the South. To achieve this, we should aim at encouraging the establishment of social science councils or similar institutions in many countries in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia.

We will continue to increase the visibility of the ISSC by asking for, and taking, opportunities to advocate for the social sciences at global meetings such as those designed to follow-up on the International Forum on Social Science Policy Nexus February 2006 held in Buenos Aires, on bridging the gap between research and policy.

We will take bold and innovative steps to help enhance the visibility of social science knowledge produced by researchers in the global South. Close attention will also need to be paid to the social science disciplines that tend to be marginalised under the current global dispensation, and the participation of younger and female scholars in our programmes and activities.

We will strengthen the relations with international bodies, such as UNESCO, relevant UN systems, and with regional bodies such as the African and EU organisations. We will strive to make these organisations acknowledge and work more closely with our member organisations, associations and institutions, particularly those in the regions where they are based.

We plan to find ways to ensure global knowledge production and dissemination by encouraging social scientists to work with natural scientists and scholars in the humanities. We will also encourage publishing articles in open access journals in all regions of the world, including journals published in the global South.

It is a new day at the ISSC. The ISSC has taken a historic turn, to which I look forward, in contributing to hoisting the social science flag high – doing so with an invigorated secretariat, led by an energetic executive director, a highly dedicated staff, and an executive committee of able scholars accomplished in their different fields.