Asunción López-Varela Azcárate
Pages 11-27


What is the role of the Social Sciences and Humanities (known collectively as SSH) in the journey to the Fourth Industrial Revolution? What is the impact of these disciplines for the challenges the world faces, supposedly defined by a highly dynamic phase of industrial and social restructuring, where the adaptive capacity of societies needs to be enhanced by specific skills and techno-social dependencies? What is the role of SSH in building cognitive competences, and new professional paths? This paper, part of the special focus of the Annual Review of New Directions in the Humanities, seeks to unveil the importance of SSH disciplines to the major STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Although disciplines and research in Social Sciences and Humanities play a fundamental role in the production of knowledge relevant to society, the last decade of the 20th century has seen a continuous trend towards their devaluation. After a relatively glorious period during the first half of the century, when SSH disciplines still held a relative social influence, the arrival of digital technologies in 1990s, accelerated their decline. This article traces a brief overview of this decline and explores some of the causes as well as the challenges in valuing SSH. Focusing mainly on Europe, the paper presents the attempts, on behalf of the European Commission, to correct this decline. It also outlines some new ideas that could help a true integration and transfer of knowledge across STEM AND STEAM disciplines, such as the creation of specific ‘missions’. Precisely, one of the diagnoses of the Horizon 2020 experience in Europe has been that investment in research is not effectively linked to the solution of specific problems. Thus, it is necessary to put in motion co-creation mechanisms among research disciplines and advance in the establishment of intersectoral bridges, bringing SSH research closer to the industry and other social sectors in order to solve the pressing challenges we face (climate change, mass migration, economic crisis, etc.)