The humanities and social sciences are academic disciplines dedicated to the study of society, the economy, business, governance, history and culture. Their mission is to help people and organizations in British society reflect upon themselves, so as to better understand their established behaviours and their responses to what is new. Accounting for two fifths of students in the UK’s university sector, and a similar proportion of academic staff, these HSS disciplines have never been more critical than now for economic advances, government policy-making and the development of civil society. Some £75 billion of UK exports are from ‘knowledge industries’, many of which depend critically on the analysis of social and cultural behaviour (Work Foundation, 2006). Contemporary modes of ‘knowing capitalism’ and ‘intelligent government’ also make insatiable demands for information about society’s operations and for systematic analysis. So for many reasons one might have expected HSS disciplines to be seen as increasingly salient for economic transformation and public policy-making.
This study was commissioned by the British Academy from LSE Public Policy Group in 2007-08. It constituted a major input into the Academy's report Punching Our Weight: The Role of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Policy-making (London: British Academy, 17 September 2008), produced by a group chaired by Sir Alan Wilson, FBA.