Ideas Festival 2024: Shining a spotlight on the importance of social science and humanities research on society

How does research in the social science and humanities impact our world? This is a question the inaugural “Ideas Festival 2024 – Insights from the Humanities and Social Sciences” seeks to address as it delves into the intricate challenges confronting Singapore and the region amid a period of disruptive change by drawing on the works of the local Social Science and Humanities (SSH) research community.

Launched on 20 March 2024 with Minister for Education Mr Chan Chun Sing as the Guest of Honour, this festival was organised by five of the Autonomous Universities (AUs) in Singapore and is supported by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). It features 13 events over a month-long period.

At the launch event, SSRC Advisor Professor Wang Gungwu who is also NUS University Professor, highlighted the importance of SSH research in enriching our understanding of social issues, which are inherently complex and dynamic, shaped by historical developments and disrupted by the latest technological advances.

Against this backdrop, he urged more work to be done to understand Singapore’s multicultural society and the complex environment in which it exists. One approach is to encourage researchers to consider having Co-Principal Investigators from a mix of academic disciplines in the humanities, social science as well as the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. “What I envisage is that research proposers are open-minded to different perspectives that could lead them to something fruitful they did not expect to find. A variety of insights coming from scholars with different backgrounds makes that possible.”

Echoing the importance of SSH research, particularly in a STEM-focused world, Professor Elaine Ho, Chair of the Ideas Festival Organising Committee and Vice Dean of Research at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, said at the sidelines, “Social science and humanities research is very much part of our everyday lives,” citing examples such as mental health and children’s health outcomes, which are concerned with the behavioural dynamics within society. “Social science and humanities researchers have these kinds of insights that can help us to improve the way that we try to better society,” she noted. “There has been much more attention given to STEM research subjects in the Singaporean landscape…but where the opportunity lies for both the STEM subjects as well as social science and humanities is by coming together.”

The festival features more than 50 researchers across a spectrum of expertise in SSH sharing key insights on a range of topics. These include the impact of digital acceleration and disruptive technologies like the metaverse and artificial intelligence (AI) on childhood, an inclusive future of work, new forms of social interactions, as well as fake news and misinformation in the media. It will also touch on strengthening support for mental health and well-being through a whole-of-society approach, such as leveraging family and social circles to support the well-being of individuals across various stages of their lives.

Acknowledging how the scholarship of social science and humanities in Singapore has made significant progress, Chairman of the SSRC, Mr Peter Ho, said, “You just need to look at the span of interesting projects in the universities and research institutes to get a sense. Public sector agencies have also taken greater interest, indicating the increasing traction of the social sciences and humanities among policy researchers (and) policymakers. By bringing together researchers across the universities and research institutions, the Ideas Festival clearly signals that the research ecosystem is vibrant and thriving.”

NUS is the host of two events at the festival. The first, “Gazing into the Metaverse”, which was held on 26 March 2024 looked at how the metaverse – a world of avatars, digital twins and digital currencies – will be built, how it will be curated, who will use it, and how it will transform our everyday lives. The roundtable examined the key questions, implications and themes that researchers in the social sciences and humanities are now asking about this next stage in our digital journey, particularly in Asia.

The other, “Foundations of Home-Based Work”, will take place on 12 April 2024 and will explore the spatial, social and technological dimensions of home-based work (HBW) in Singapore. This is done through looking at considerations such as the policy framework surrounding this type of work and exploring the following questions: who is involved in it; what kind of living do they make; in which housing types and neighbourhoods is this work occurring; and the pathways for accommodating HBW in our lives through design and policy recommendations.

On 17 April 2024, the University will also co-organise “Singapura Before Raffles: Early Modern Asia in the Global Renaissance”, which will discuss how early modern Singapore and Asia played important roles in shaping global ideas about maritime trade, global commerce, international law, political governance, and literary and artistic advancement. It will draw on new and exciting interdisciplinary research from teachers and scholars across Singapore’s universities and the wider Asia region.

The Ideas Festival 2024 runs till 19 April 2024. More information can be found here.


By NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences