Social Sciences

Ten Problems for Social Sciences in the 2020s

Social Sciences Problems for the 2020s

In policymaking, we hear the word “system” all the time. The economic system. The education system. The financial system. The political system. The social system… However, we rarely hear the word system attached to the word “approach”. But unless we adopt a systems approach, unless we employ systems thinking, we will fail to understand the world we are living in [1]. Our world is made up of complex systems, systems of systems interacting with each other, and changing each other by that interaction and the links between them. Complexity science helps us to understand the main features of the most important systems we have to deal with.

Reasons for the Recent Decline in Number of Think Tanks Established Worldwide [2]: Political and regulatory environment growing hostile to think tanks and NGOs in many countries; Decreasing funding for policy research by public and private donors; Public and private donor tendency toward short-term, project-specific funding instead of investing in ideas and institutions; Underdeveloped institutional capacity and the inability to adapt to change; Increased competition from advocacy organizations, for-profit consulting firms, law firms and 24/7 electronic media; Institutions having served their purpose and discontinued their operations.

The discursive ethos is a notion that is primarily related to communication including verbal interactions. Indeed, language is not only a simple means of individual expression but it reflects the linguistic and extralinguistic side of the talking subject [3]. This social conception of language has developed over the years to show that language activity is closely linked to the social and societal activity of individuals. In an interactive process, as in the case of political communication, interlocutors are led to persuade their audience through a positive self-image.

What keeps societies together, how do ideas influence human action and social change, how are social inequalities produced and reproduced? How do we live with difference? This module will address questions and more, introducing students to the classical foundations and contemporary developments of social theory [4]. The module draws on a broad survey of some of the main schools of thought from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and will account for how social theory is historically, socially, and culturally situated in the wider political economy of knowledge production.

Welcome to Victoria University of Wellington, a globally ranked capital city university with a strong commitment to the humanities and social sciences [5]. These disciplines are crucial to the University’s vision of preparing critically informed, globally confident, and civic-minded graduates. The humanities and social sciences explore the many facets of the human experience and how we interact as individuals and communities. The Wellington Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (FHSS) is ranked among the top 1 percent in world university rankings and is first in many fields in the New Zealand university research rankings.

Starting from such general references, this booklet identifies ten relevant areas from very recent contributions put forward at academic level in the form journal articles, conference proceedings and students’ theses. Ten freely accessible internet references have been selected for each area and direct links are provided at the end of each chapter for own consultation. Our selected references do not intend to mirror ranking indexes nor establish novel classifications. On the contrary, they are meant to represent peer-reviewed, diverse and scientifically-sound case studies for vertical dissemination aimed at non-specialist readers. They will also be able to scoop even more references through the bibliography that is reported at the end of each selected reference.

Without further ado, these are the “Ten Problems for Social Sciences in the 2020s” that we are going to introduce in this booklet:

  1. interculturalism,
  2. introspection,
  3. truth,
  4. authenticity,
  5. human enhancement,
  6. critical thinking,
  7. technocracy,
  8. privilege,
  9. ethics,
  10. higher education.

Each problem has its own dedicated chapter made of an introductory section, a short presentation of the ten selected references and a conclusions section.

The final chapter of this booklet will report the conclusions from each chapter again in order to provide a complete executive summary.


[1] W. Hynes et al. (eds.), “Systemic Thinking for Policy Making: The Potential of Systems Analysis for Addressing Global Policy Challenges in the 21st Century”, 2020, New Approaches to Economic Challenges, OECD Publishing, Paris, doi: , online at

[2] J.G. McGann, “2019 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report”, 2020, Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania, United States, online at

[3] K. Laamiri, “The Discursive Ethos: From The Social Conception of Language to The Social Conception of the Subject”, 2019, 7th Mediterranean Interdisciplinary Forum on Social Sciences and Humanities, MIFS 2019, 16-17 May, Barcelona, Spain, Proceedings, online at

[4] UCL Department of Social Science, “Module Catalogue (Undergraduate) 2019-2020 Version 1 14/02”, 2019, University College London, United Kingdom, online at

[5] Wellington Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences | Te Wāhanga Aronui “Humanities and Social Sciences 2021”, 2020, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, online at

Social Sciences
“Ten Problems for Social Sciences in the 2020s” booklet for Amazon Kindle, 2020; click on the cover to go to the dedicated Amazon listing page