Dinner and Waking up in Mont Royal
So I arrived in Montreal, had a late dinner snack If I may and found myself deeply immersed in the exploration of global and regional social sciences futures the next day.
Here, I met a couple of fellow ISSC travel grant recipients and had a snap chat with some of the world’s prominent social scientists. I had fun networking with the best and I was able to connect with some research institutes and funding agencies operating at the regional and global levels.
The Imagining Canada’s Future project by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), one of the many pioneering futures research projects in the world today, involved more than 13,000 experts, members of the academic research community, students, public and private and not for profit sector leaders to imagine Canada’s future. Six future challenge areas for Canada were explored.
These areas are sustainable resilient communities; creativity, innovation and prosperity; values, cultures, inclusion and diversity; and governance and institutions.
I hope to collaborate with them on related interests and projects in the immediate future.
For more about Imagining Canada’s Future site here http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/society-societe/community-communite/Imagining_Canadas_Future-Imaginer_l_avenir_du_Canada-eng.aspx
The kiosks and exhibit room was a marketplace for ideas and glad that as I was able to engaged and connect in short talks with some industry leaders and got exposed to Brain TV concepts, European political dynamics, new global pedagogies in the digital age, text mining analysis and so forth and so on. I enjoyed the vegetarian meals served at the canteen.
Overall, the WFSF was an excellent forum. The hard work and dedication put by the organizing committee and volunteers was outstanding. I really enjoyed my travel, my presentation and my stay in Montreal and I was able to unwind a bit, our hotel was located at the downtown core and Montreal’s historic monuments and treasures were all within a safe walking distance, despite the jet lag and the hectic schedule I had prior to the conference.
Social Transformation and the Digital Age
This year the forum tackled the potentials and impact of digitization and social transformation to transform human societies and the social sciences.
The disciplines relevance in the twenty first century were carefully assessed, evaluated, discussed, debated and re-imagined by participants for over three days.
New questions and insights emerged in the process and I was able to note some of them.
New solutions and new research trajectories were suggested to advance the social sciences and address global priority challenges.
After the registration, I attended the plenary Participatory Dynamics for Change.
Coordinated by Sally Wyatt, the plenary featured some emerging developments in the social sciences particularly on how social science research is done in the corporate sector and impact of online social actions and interactions to concepts of solidarity, anonymity and communalism in the twenty first century. The plenary brought together key thinkers and shared their experiences and insights on digital technologies could intensify and re-frame knowledge, data, design, arts, society, power and authority in a digital era.
For David Rokeby, arts, music and dance was a crucial element to his work in developing new concepts and computer frameworks. He said that computers should work like “very nervous systems” and should respond and be felt like our bodies relate to our emotion and beingness. The language of computers should be intuitive he said as they could become a conduit for us humans to experience and/or to alter higher level and states of consciousness. Rokeby tried to imagine alternative ways, meanings and functions of computers by posing these mind-altering questions. He asked:
“How do you feel like about being seen by computers? How does the computer see us? How do computer make sense of us? What compromises are we making here?”
While Rokeby tried to make sense of computers as a driver shaping the future of the social sciences and humanity in general, we might as well bring in the idea that computers as we know them might disappear sooner than later and that like electricity and water the computer would have become ubiquitous.
As softwares will become more relevant with the emergence of new applications, new digital innovations may likely eat the known world (hardwares, computers) for lunch (Kaku, 2013; Brynne, 2013). More ‘wazing’ and the promise of less ‘computing’ could alter how we relate to our computers and ourselves.
For Sally Wyatt, embedded to our concepts of social science knowledge and technologies are politics and power and that our worldviews define the way we mean, interpret, use and integrate digital technologies. She said that technologies have politics and vice versa and again this brings us to the question do artifacts have politics? The notion that technical things have political qualities and that they are embedded in particular views of power and authority including classifications in digital distribution and digital gaps between the North and the South re-emerges.
Wyatt’s re-emphasized the view that while digitization “promises to eliminate boring and tedious work…not to mention the quality of social justice and democracy. Yet, despite improvements, inequality in its many form persists?”(WSSF Report, 2010).
While digitization has changed and altered our ways of doing research and creating knowledge, the distributional implications of knowledge and the promise of open data is a wicked, complex issue.
Wyatt would also note that words do matter too and metaphors have the power to create new meanings and realities in a digital age.
Aalam Wassef highlighted the role of arts and images to combat corruption and to illustrate the “surreal Egyptian revolution” and argued “that open access without reputation is worthless.”
Some of Aalam Wassef short video links presented at the conference here:
Plenaries and Sessions
Diverse topics on digitization and social transformation were featured at the WSSF 2013 global conference.
The forum highlighted the widespread diffusion of digital technologies and their implications to people’s organizing frameworks and communication. It brought into sharp relief many of the classical and post-structural contexts of the social sciences.
Questions about what it is to be human and what privacy meant to us in the digital age were explored. The forum was a unique opportunity for social scientists to meet across disciplines to explore and share new ways of collecting, analyzing and representing data and results.
The plenaries and sessions at the forum sparked debates on ideas that in turn gave rise to new knowledge and contexts. The sessions sought to mobilize the international social science community to help draw on knowledge and help societies develop an effective, equitable, sustainable responses and solutions to global challenges (WSSF Programme, 2013).
The plenaries and sessions served as a networking platform for social scientists to build awareness and capacity by connecting and fostering diverse communities of practices.
I attended the following plenaries/sessions:
• Participatory Dynamics for Change chaired by Sally Wyatt, Netherlands Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences, Netherlands
• Digital Worlds: Mapping Local Cultures and Telling Local Stories chaired by Nancy Duxbury, Center for Social Studies, Portugal
• Digital Technologies and Digital Data as Strategic Research Materials for the Social Sciences chaired by Manuel Fernandez Esquinas, Centro de Investigaciones Sociologicas
• From Technostress to Online Intimacy: New Challenges and Opportunities for Personal Relationships in the Digital Age chaired by Cristina Miguel, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
• Methodological Innovation chaired by Christian Petzgold, Alexander von Humboldt Institute for the Internet and Society, Berlin, Germany
• Discourses of Digital Games chaired by Mia Consalvo, Concordia University
• Virtual Knowledge and Worlds chaired by Merel Noorman, E-humanities group, Netherlands
• The Changing Faces, Spaces and Phases of Religion and Spirituality in the Digital Age chaired by Roxanne Marcotte, Universte du Quebec a Montreal, Canada
• The Future of Research Infrastructure: Implications to Digital Scholarship chaired by Ted Hewitt, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
• The Habit of Care: Technologies of Living and Laboring Cyborgs chaired by Radhika Gajjala, Bowling Green State University, United States
• Digital Technologies in the Production and Distribution of Digital Knowledge chaired by Paul Kennedy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation featuring Robert Darntorn, Harvard University and Derrick de Kerchove, University of Naples Federico II, Italy (two of the world’s leading intellectuals according to the World Social Science Forum).
Random “Some” Notes from the WSSF Forum
Below are some of the notes I had at the WSSF 2013:
“Data is re-usable and everyone including users should get credit in adding to data…let’s go ahead and madly create data.”
John Willinsky on Digging into Data, Stanford University
“Academics are more viewed in TED Talks”.
Digging into Data Team Lightning Sessions
“Knowledge is deeply social”
Sally Wyatt, Chair, WSSF 2013
“How do you feel like about being seen by computers? How does the computer see us? What compromises are we making here?
David Rockeby on Computers and Human Beings
“Questions we should be asking are: Are our research context actionable? Is it interesting to me? Is it fundable? Is it publishable?”
Nalini Kotamraju, Social Sciences in the Corporate World, Microsoft
“The browser is our best friend”
Caroline Nevejan, Netherlands
“Does the digital age change the meaning of happiness?”
Yoshiaki Takahashi on Happiness Studies, Waseda University
“Being a jerk is cool in digital games”
Christopher Paul, Seattle University, US
“Open access without reputation is dangerous”
Aalam Wassef, Egypt
“Robots would not completely replace the maids”
Ju Yeon Oh, Singapore
“We live in a subversive resistant time, being subversive does not make us morally superior or on the high ground.”
Radhika Gajjala on Laboring Cyborgs, Care and Techs, United States
The World Social Science Forum experience was transformative in the sense that it expanded my knowledge base on emerging issues and social science research on robotics, strategic foresight, digital games, aging, big data, design, university futures, sustainability, happiness studies, ‘metadata’ and ‘curative data’ research in the social sciences.
The event also multiplied my network in the world social science community.
I would like to note here some of my game-changing ‘takeaways’.
They have broadened and re-affirmed my views about what I called an exciting, fundable and publishable idea or research:
• Ask only the ‘unasked’ questions or ask only the ‘right’ questions. Asking the same question or the questions that has been asked are a waste of time, money and effort.
• Microsoft based researchers recommend these – “the questions we should be asking are: “Are our research context actionable? Is it interesting to me? Is it fundable? Is it publishable?”
• Research are created for and curated in different contexts. A singular or homogenous definition of research does not exist but research as ‘plural, heterogeneous and heterarchic’ does exist.
• Research is understood in a variety of contexts, in fact research are continually decontextualize to: context of discovery (creating new knowledge, knowing the unknown, uncovering new patterns, etc.); context of justification (claims of knowledge, public policy, policy analysis, etc.) and context of application (product design, technology apps, job creation, law, creation of new superstructures, etc.);
• Physical manuscripts are dead, electronic or digital research is the future of research;
• There are a lot of funding grants, scholarship research grants and fellows available. You have to have the reputation, the wit, the creativity and the ‘guts’ to network with the best and access global funding research grants;
• Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Youtube, etc. are being used and developed as research tools to generate global and community wide data. The university should explore ‘digital research’;
• The trajectory of research, research methods, research approach is digitization;
• Research is fun and it gives you the opportunity to travel the world and meet the best in creating alternative forms and types of knowledge, research methodologies and frameworks.
The ISSC Travel Grant Award
The grant for early career social scientist for scholars from the Global South was funded by the ISSC and supported by the International Center for Research and Development (ICRD), the Kingdom of Sweden, Universitas Bergensis and the DFG or the German Research Foundation. We were told that our applications were subjected to three rounds of competitive review by the Scientific Programme Committee. Fortunately I was one of those that were confirmed by the ISSC.
Professor Olive Shisana, the President of the International Social Science Council, that the ISSC was able secure a scholarship fund of over $100,000USD to enable scholars from the Global South to participate in the WSSF. The support of the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) and the Indian Council of Social Science Research also funded the participation of another dozen of participants from the Global South.
With the grant, I was able to present my paper entitled What lies over the horizon? Scenarios to the Futures of the Social Sciences and coordinate the panel Changing Research Practices and Emerging Ways of the Perceiving the Social Sciences.
I am currently revising the paper and submit it for a blind peer review and publish it in 2014.
The ISSC travel grant award aims to build capacity to ensure international collaboration between and among future generations of social science leaders.
Here is the link of my presentation at the WSSF forum –
2015 World Social Science Forum Africa!
The ISSC committee announced that the next World Social Science Forum will take place in Durban Africa on July 2015. The theme of the third WSSF will be “Transforming Global Relations for a Just World”.
For further information on the 2015 World Social Science Forum, please contact:
Tel: +221 33 8259822/23
Tel: +27 12 302 2000
Shermon Cruz is the Director of the Center for Engaged Foresight and a lecturer and researcher at the University Center for Research and Development at Northwestern University, Philippines.