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Special Commission on Social Science Research in the Middle East and North Africa

Joined in October 2020

About Us

The Special Commission on Social Science Research in the Middle East and North Africa is dedicated to developing guidelines for the conduct of responsible, ethical and constructive social inquiry. This initiative is organized by the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, in collaboration with the Columbia Global Centers, the American University of Cairo, the Rabat Social Studies Institute, and the Arab Council for the Social Sciences.

The two-year project will animate an interdisciplinary network of scholars to assess the landscape of social science research conducted in the Arab world, particularly some of the ethical, political and economic challenges to conducting such research responsibly. The aim is twofold. First, the Commission will raise awareness of the structural context of social science research in the Middle East and North Africa. Then, working with academics, researchers and practitioners, the commission will develop responses and remedies for the deficiencies identified to improve the quality of social science research on, and in, the Middle East and North Africa.

This initiative is intended to address a variety of challenges facing the increasing globalized field of social science research. In particular, it will look into the questions of how, when and where social scientists do and should collaborate, how they should interact with research subjects, what standards of candor and transparency should be observed where the research enterprise. Foreign (and too often paternalistic) dominance of the disciplines, regional government skepticism about the research enterprise and, most recently, the rise of consultants who provide bespoke research for governments, international organizations and private enterprises all represent challenges to the scholarly research enterprise in the region. 

This project will therefore undertake the following:

(a) Identify impediments—institutional, economic, political, sociological—to the conduct of social science research in the region today;

(b) Propose long-term strategies for addressing such impediments and promoting and sustaining social science research there;

(c) Recommend mechanisms for greater co-operation among social science communities within and beyond the Arab Middle East and North Africa to strengthen research designed and conducted by local scholars;

(d) Develop guidelines for the ethical conduct of research in and on communities under duress and in circumstances of disparate power relations;

(e) Foster shared perceptions of the value of social science research and of the circumstances that advance it, within the region and beyond, so as to nurture regional and international audiences for such research in the future.

The project is generously funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and a number of partners at Columbia University, including the President's Global Innovation Fund, the Middle East Institute, and the School of International and Public Affairs.

The Special Commission on Social Science Research in the Middle East and North Africa is dedicated to developing guidelines for the conduct of responsible, ethical and constructive social inquiry. This initiative is organized by the…

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  • Research & Social Science

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