For over four days policy makers and shapers comprising scientists, politicians, activists, civil society organizations, activists, labour and business leaders will gather at the Durban International Conference Centre (ICC) for the 2015 World Social Sciences Forum (WSSF), to be held from 13 – 16 September.
The forum is a flagship activity of the International Social Science Council (ISSC) and is hosted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the Dakar-based Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). These host organizations have partnered with a consortium of over 13 interested parties, comprising national government departments, leading South African universities, science academies, research institutes, research foundations, local and international research councils and prominent non-governmental organizations.
The forum, which takes place every three years, will focus on real-life issues that citizens all around the world grapple with - inequality and injustice. Therefore the theme of Transforming Global Relations for a Just World.
Speaking at the launch of the forum in today 22 October 2014, Professor Olive Shisana, chair of the WSSF 2015 and CEO of the HSRC said the theme is informed by “growing inequalities at global, regional, national and local levels and its impact on the quality of life of populations as well as on the sustainability of resources necessary to support quality of life.
“Participants will address trends in inequality and the measurement, nature, manifestations and drivers of this injustice. The forum promises to provide a platform for exciting, informative and insightful discourse”.
The WSS Forum 2015 takes place against the backdrop of major transitions– transitions that affect global governance, the use of resources, and the quality of life of people. It will shine the spotlight on the nature and dimensions of inequality, including:
· The extent and consequences of income and asset inequalities;
· The impact of inequality in terms of patterns of production and consumption on sustainability;
· The impact of gender inequalities, as manifested in unequal access to resources, employment and other social benefits;
· Wage inequalities and labour unrest.
“It is now very clear to all that a world in which power and resources are concentrated in the hands of a small minority while the vast majority are having problems getting their basic needs for food, shelter, security and freedom met is neither just nor sustainable”, said Ebrima Sall, Executive Secretary of CODESRIA.
“What the global social science community will be doing in Durban in 2015 will build on the debates in WSSF I (Bergen 2009) and II (Montreal 2013) and will, in many ways, be similar to what the World Social Forum has been doing for the past two decades or so: highlighting the problems with global relations as they currently are, as well as the various ways in which social movements and many other actors are trying to transform them.
“We are also aware that the sites of the struggles to transform global relations include the knowledge production world itself where the assymetries of the global order tend to be mirrored. For those of us in Africa and in other parts of the Global South, the 2015 WSSF provides an opportunity to showcase the best of our research and publications, and demonstrate that another world is not only possible: it is a necessity,” Sall said.
“The state of the world is worrying”, admits Alberto Martinelli, president of the International Social Science Council.
“Almost half of the world’s wealth is currently owned by the top one percent; vulnerable employment accounts for more than half of all employment in developing regions; about one eighth of the world’s population is suffering from chronic hunger; over 900 million people worldwide lack basic literacy skills, 60 % of which are women.
“Serious environmental changes interact in complex ways with these worrying trends, provoking natural and social disasters, illnesses, conflicts over resources, migrations. We need to look critically and creatively into these challenges drawing on the world’s best social science contributions, from all disciplines and all corners of the world. This is what the WSSF is about.”
These issues make the forum a timely initiative on crucial matters facing the world today. “I can only praise the World Social Science Forum 2015 for bringing together key forces of change towards a just world: innovative social science researchers, dedicated policy shapers and active citizens from around the world. The problems we all face are increasingly complex, entangled, and global. Any news bulletin in any country bears witness to this”, said forum patron, George Monbiot, an English writer known for his work in environmental and political activism.
Going further to champion the cause of the focus of the WSSF 2015, he added that “we need more social science studies to help us understand these challenges and consciously shape our responses to them. We also need more spaces where researchers and society can openly debate the issues, influence each other, work out solutions and decide to act together. I am personally convinced of the transformative power of knowledge shaped in this spirit”.
The International Social Science Council (ISSC) is the primary body representing the social sciences worldwide, with the mission to strengthen social science research to help solve global priority problems.
“Our added value lies in our capacity to mobilise and support the full diversity of social science perspectives and approaches required to generate knowledge that can effectively contribute to solving the many urgent challenges facing societies today”, explains Heide Hackmann, Executive Director of the ISSC. “The ISSC’s World Social Science Forums aim to shape global research agendas, energize the further development of innovative research, and assist with its effective application to society.”
The host country of the WSSF 2015 meeting illustrates the challenges to be discussed at the forum. “This forum will be held in South Africa, one of the most unequal nations of the world - a country marked by financial, spatial, material, and programmatic inequalities”, said Shisana.
“These differences are not academic. They define access to basic services such as water, sanitation, health, education, and housing. They also define relations among peoples. In the end, they define quality of life, determining who lives long and who dies early. The Forum will allow participants to tour geographical areas to experience for themselves the manifestations of inequality”.
It’s now 329 days to go before the start of this very important Forum at the Durban ICC. “We trust that as we meet in Durban in 2015 to deliberate on global transformations for a just world we will have the wisdom to learn from our varied experiences as we examine social science for knowledge co-production, public policies and social intervention”, concluded Shisana.
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