Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities

Vilnius, 22-24 September 2013

Sally Wyatt was invited to attend the conference about the role of social sciences and humanities (SSH) in the EU Horizon 2020 research programme. The conference was attended by about 400 people, including researchers, research policy makers from the European Commission and national research councils as well as deans and other university administrators. She was the rapporteur for the session about challenge 6, ‘Europe in a changing world – inclusive, innovative and reflective societies’, which attracted about 200 participants. There was a lively discussion about the role of SSH in the EU research agenda. In her report, Sally emphasized the need for SSH to have more confidence in their own contributions to all of the societal challenges identified in Horizon 2020. SSH contributes substantially to the development of the human spirit, and to critical reflection and debate. It also makes more practical contributions to culture, media, education, tourism, etc. through university-level education and training. SSH should not marginalize themselves from the debates and challenges facing Europe in a changing world. The role of SSH is not simply to help science and business to reduce public resistance or increase acceptance of scientific and technological innovations. For their part, SSH need to develop a common language in order to communicate better amongst themselves, and with other disciplines and other societal actors. This will increase their effectiveness in addressing the challenges posed by Horizon 2020.


There was much talk about ‘embedding’ SSH, but Sally pointed out this is not an appropriate term, as it suggests at best an asymmetric relationship with what is already defined by others, whether that is the STEM disciplines or policy makers. ‘Engagement’ captures the desired relationship much better, and the SSH need to engage at three levels:
1. With the STEM disciplines in all of the societal challenges (about energy and food supply, health & well-being, sustainability). For example, questions of the distribution of resources and of changes in human behavior are pertinent to all other societal challenges. Similarly, developments in science, technology and medicine have implications for inclusion and solidarity.
2. With the Commission, to define research questions and instruments.
3. With society and a range of publics to strengthen democratic participation in addressing the challenges.

At the end of the conference, Helga Nowotny, president of the European Research Council, presented a declaration to the President of the Republic of Lithuania. Please find the declaration and full programme and photos of the conference.  Further comments and reflections can be found here.