ISSJ - N° 180 - Excellence in Social Science

June 2004

The traditional organisation of research systems is currently subjected to a range of pressures as a result of financial constraints, internationalisation, disciplinary trends and the growing concern, not least in the social sciences, to relate research to emerging societal issues. In the quest for research of both high quality and strong social relevance, evaluation plays a key role. In current thinking on evaluation, the idea of excellence is of great significance, but is also far less clear than it appears at first sight. On the face of it, no one could possibly object to excellence. Who, after all, would wish to promote inept, mediocre or even merely adequate research? However, in contemporary usage, “excellence” has a comparative rather than an absolute sense. Researchers, projects or institutions are “excellent” in so far as they count among the best. Can excellence be promoted without preferential support for the best endowing them with durable rents that may paradoxically contribute to sclerosis?

This issue also includes a second thematic section on rethinking poverty. In the official language of the international community, extreme poverty is now said to be a human rights violation. Is this coherent? And what follows if it is taken seriously? If human rights that are already formally recognised entail a fundamental right not to be confined in extreme poverty, would it be acceptable if those who suffer from it had no enforceable positive right? Conversely, however, if extreme poverty is to be actionable, upon whom is responsibility for its eradication incumbent?

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