Social Sciences And Humanities In Afghanistan: What Really Is At Stake? – OpEd


The problem of social sciences and humanities in Afghanistan is complicated by one simple fact: in the age of the so-called “war on terror,” Afghanistan is not only a topic for social scientists, but also a concern for government officials.

As a result, Afghanistan Studies are not merely scientific, but political and strategic, since they secure and serve the national security of (Western) countries. Therefore, the initial task of think tanks, consultants, and researchers is to, first and foremost, approach Afghanistan in terms of Policy, Plan and Program (PPP).

As the security and strategic objectives in Afghanistan increase, the mentioned model of PPP also becomes increasingly popular by providing practical advice in areas as diverse as financial forecasting, social surveying, and counterinsurgency analysis.

In a sense, the PPP model seeks a notion of social sciences in Afghanistan that has the potential to become an organization of counseling services and thus could be involved in an advisory role with authorities. A number of examples of such a function can be found in the vast archive of the research-based organizations: their assessment reports, survey forms, datasets, statistical tables, frequency graphs, policy evaluations, opinion polls and so forth. To a large extent, the PPP model, from the inception of war on terror until the present day, has been oriented towards practical social sciences and humanities in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, for reasons that will be discussed, the PPP model is one of the major obstacles in the way of a successful formation of social sciences as an independent, localized and mature discipline.

Understanding Afghanistan as Policy, Plan and Program reveals a tendency for collaboration between academia and the private sector. The private sector and its demand for policy-relevant knowledge gained a fresh momentum in the post 9/11 era. As a result, dozens of organizations emerged trying to provide policy-relevant information on state building, peace building, and development. Accordingly, the dense growth of such organizations strengthened the private sector in the field of knowledge and contributed to influence the research priorities, research funding, and researcher’s motivation. Under such circumstances, academia and private sector were bound together as an organic whole, which is a condition that has prevented social sciences from being independently motivated, well organized, and well disciplined.

With shifts in social sciences to counseling services and ultimately to more dependency on funding agencies, Afghan scholars are no longer involved with the permanent institution of science, (such as the university) but rather with (private) organizations of science. These organizations, which are often dedicated to strategic studies, evaluation/monitoring, conflict resolutions, and human rights development, set competitive market in which social scientists must compete for more funding and better opportunities. Private organizations in Afghanistan are, thereby, accorded to the leading role in producing knowledge; however, as they rely on the short-term policy goals, their production turns out to be short-sighted, fragmented, and less comprehensive than it should be.

This unsustainable knowledge system forces social scientists to confront a series of dilemmas and pitfalls, most of which relate to the fragile intra-university coherence. Here, the university is a unity in which social scientists share their standards, accords, ideals, moral conventions, protocols, meanings and scientific jargon. These characteristics stand to the progression of the school of thoughts, academic journals, and production of knowledge and theory. From this perspective, the lack of epistemic consensus among Afghan social scientists, their poor contribution to theoretical literature, and the low number of university journals must be considered signs of an unsustainable university system. In this system, social scientists would be more occupied with doing commissioned research, rather than with academic life, with individual vocation rather than with the scientific participation, with organizations rather than the university.

The massive shift of social sciences we are witnessing in Afghanistan from academic-self-governance to corporate enterprise gives a perspective as to how social sciences and humanities are directed according to the PPP model. Taking the above arguments into consideration, the dominant model of Afghanistan as Policy, Plan, and Program is detrimental on three accounts. First, it strengthens the private sector at the cost of university autonomy. Second, it disturbs the independent research community. Finally, as part of our conclusion, it inhibits the social science from being rich, productive, and a comprehensive discipline.

The social sciences and humanities in Afghanistan need to be confronted with an alternative model, but the question is how. This is a point at which the PPP model ceases to be of any particular significance to us. Rather, we should go beyond the bounds of such a model to support the Personalized, Participatory, and Pioneer inquiry.

*Nima Zahedi Nameghi, ​Researcher for Centre Interdisciplinaire de Recherche sur l’Afrique et le Moyen – Orient (Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Africa and the Middle East.

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