The VUCA world with interdisciplinary sciences and schools of thought in social sciences

Tuesday - 20/02/2024 08:52
Interdisciplinarity and cross-disciplinarity will be the fundamental trend in the context of the university ecosystem being implemented under the principles of connection, innovation and creativity.
Three decades ago, the Board of Rectors of the Hanoi University of Social Sciences and Humanities, now part of VNU, envisioned organizing a course named Schools of Thought in Social Sciences for postgraduate students. As Prof. Pham Hong Tung shared: when I first returned to Vietnam, the Board of Rectors proposed launching this course. But it has only now become a reality after many years of effort. This reflects the tireless work across generations of leaders at VNU University of Social Sciences and Humanities, as Assoc.Prof.Dr. Bui Thanh Nam commented. He added that it affirms the visionary leadership of the university, despite being an extremely difficult task.
Assoc.Prof.Dr. Dang Thi Thu Huong, Vice Rector of the University, assessed that synthesizing schools of thought in social science poses considerable challenges for implementation, but adjustments can be made along the way. The goal is establishing a “core” course in social sciences and humanities, the first of its kind in Vietnam. To address this issue, Professor Nguyen Van Chinh proposed a solution: rather than aiming to provide comprehensive background knowledge, the module should catalyze learners' self-study and research. This approach encourages learners to explore their chosen field more deeply and engage with diverse perspectives through interdisciplinary slices.
The vision of the university leaders was prescient, coming at a time when the VUCA world [1] and education 4.0 are exerting huge impacts on science and human life.
According to Professor Dr. Hoang Anh Tuan, “Interdisciplinarity and cross-disciplinarity will be the fundamental trend in the context of the university ecosystem being operated under the principles of connection, innovation and creativity. For some time, Vietnamese universities have emphasized narrow specializations... While specialized training has advantages, in the era of digital human resources with artificial intelligence and ubiquitous connectivity, inter/cross-disciplinary approaches offer more benefits." It is evident interdisciplinary science today connects social sciences not just with each other, but also with natural science and technology. For instance, artificial intelligence (AI) has disrupted institutions in science and society by raising issues like copyright issues. This compels social scientists to provide consulting policies and solutions to cope with the extensive impacts of science and technology.
Over the past 2000 years, “natural” sciences have progressed from the Five Elements (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth) to discovering almost all chemical elements (Mendeleev’s periodic table). They have pushed into the micro world of molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, Higgs bosons, and outwards into the macro world of galaxies, the Milky Way and the universe. Meanwhile, social sciences have focused on one task: exploring human life and society. This has also been humanity's most difficult task, which we have labored and suffered through to answer enduring questions like: Who are we? What is our purpose? The complexity of humans and society explains the emergence of schools of thought in social science. And these schools aim to understand and propose solutions to address this complexity.
From a chronological perspective, ancient sages like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle in the West and Confucius, Lao Tzu, Zarathustra in the East, along with Enlightenment philosophers like Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, all focused on humans and society. Schools of thought from the past to the present have combined insights across disciplines, whether building institutions, policies, laws or understanding differences in religion and beliefs. Some views have survived millennia. Others are obsolete. But social science scholars share one goal: to find schools of thought suitable for their era and the society in which they live. Therefore, learners need appropriate interdisciplinary “lenses”, and the purpose of the Schools of Thought in Social Sciences course will be to provide them with these lenses, since they can only come from interdisciplinary thinking.
From a diachronic perspective, schools of thought in social science seem to share one common principle: building a better society and bringing humans to a higher level of civilization. To achieve this, humans need not only intelligence, but character, tolerance, love, compassion, and a spirit of freedom, humanism and liberation. These general principles have been set by religions and institutions over many eras. In fact, harmonizing relationships between nature, humans and society were principles mentioned by sages such as Lao Tzu and Siddhartha Gautama over two thousand years ago.
Nowadays, social scientists have more tools to explore humans and society with countless approaches, theories and research methods from diverse disciplines. However, they also face new challenges, like determining whether Elon Musk’s brain chip implants are compatible with nature and ethics. Answering such emerging questions is not the role of natural scientists or technology corporations, but the duty of social scientists.
With the strategic vision and astute leadership of VNU University of Social Sciences and Humanities, the leading training center for social science in Vietnam, we hope to uncover solutions to these complex issues. At the very least, the appropriate interdisciplinary “lenses” provided through the Schools of Thought in Social Sciences course will equip learners to analyze them.
[1] Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. See: “Higher Education 4.0: Inter/Cross-disciplinarity and Innovation - Creativity for Development” on the website:

Author: Dung Bùi Thị, Dinh Hong Hai; Translator: Thuy Dzung


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