The social sciences, policy research and development in Zimbabwe
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Research and research-related activities have an extremely important role to play in socio-economic development. Indeed, the level of research and the intellectual activities of a society mirror its level of development and, similarly, these reflect its ability and capacity to fashion and mould its own path of development. This statement states the obvious; but the obviousness of this reality does not imply the full and ready acceptance of the usefulness of research by society. The ambiguity with which research is regarded is evidenced by the predicament faced in particular by the social sciences. It is only recently that the social sciences have begun to be seriously accorded due legitimacy, and their direct impact on development recognised by governments in the greater part of Africa. Indeed, in the majority of cases, the social sciences are at best usually regarded as either a luxury and at the worst as useless irritants which have no direct material value. Social science faculties are frequently viewed as either producing "talking shops" or as outfits of armchair theoreticians totally divorced from the real world. In a sense, this criticism is not without justification. The "know-it-all" attitude of a few social scientists has not endeared the discipline to society either, particularly the policymakers hard pressed to solve practical, life-and-death questions confronting society. Many social scientists have projected their role as one of either unsympathetically criticizing policymakers or presenting their views in the most esoteric and highly theoretical fashion. Both these traits have tended to breed hostility towards, or insulation from, scholars by those involved with policy. The end result has been a dismissive attitude towards social scientists. The position of the "hard" (or natural and physical) sciences is slightly different. Their role has generally been accepted, even though sometimes and in a significant number of cases only somewhat vaguely and mythically. Generally, though they have been promoted by governments, in terms of allocation of finance, equipment and supplies, they have fared only somewhat relatively to the social sciences.1 Admittedly, this is partly because the "hard" sciences lend themselves more easily to more obvious, immediate practical utility compared to the social sciences, principally because their results are of immediate practical implications and implementation. "Hard" sciences seem to provide the magic wand for many problems concerning the daily lives and struggles of human society. They have visible utility in medicine, agriculture, industry, defence and a myriad of other fields. The social sciences, on the other hand, may not appear to be of immediate practical utility. And where the social sciences are consistently imbued with the notion of pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake, they are bound to be esoteric. Likewise, the pursuit of knowledge itself, if not closely related to the concerns and problems of society, justifies the criticism levelled against the social sciences. Social sciences must therefore be relevant, responsive to and deeply rooted in society. Being relevant and responsive do not imply supporting the status quo', it means seriously analyzing and shedding light on issues affecting society. This does not imply neutrality either; a social scientist interprets society objectively but from an ideological perspective which is reflective of his orientation and position in the socio-economic system. The ideological perspective is thus the crystallization of normative values on which justice and injustice are based. The real issue, however, is not which of the two branches of sciences is more important. For, in reality, the impact of the social sciences is equally important since, by his very nature, man is a social animal. Social sciences play a complementary role to the natural and physical sciences and vice versa. The social sciences have to do with man's struggle for the control and management of nature and the environment as much as the natural sciences do. Within the realm of the social sciences is included not only the study of man's social, political and economic behaviour, but also his ethos, aspirations, ideas and thoughts in the context of society. In other words, the social sciences are concerned with the very core, and are an embodiment, of the existence of man. And their function is to scientifically attempt to interpret this reality. Stated in another way, the social sciences are the systematic conceptualization and articulation of man's perception of the world as it is, and as it ought to be. Their main objective is not only to explain man and society, but the relationship between man and his environment; and how man has, and can, tame the environment to his best advantage. The sum total of this statement is that social science analysis and practice deal with man's daily struggles with a myriad of forces, and his determination to be in control of his destiny as well as to triumph over nature.
Additional Citation InformationRukobo, A.M. (1990). The social sciences, policy research and development in Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe Institute of Development Studies, 42p.
Zimbabwe Institute of Development Studies