Addressing the global social challenges of our time

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  • 1 China Agricultural University, , China
  • | 2 Wayne State University, , USA and Transdisciplinarity Lab ETH-Zurich, Switzerland
  • | 3 Shiv Nadar University, , India
  • | 4 UNSW Sydney, , Australia
  • | 5 Newcastle University, , UK
  • | 6 Royal Holloway, University of London, , UK
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It gives us great pleasure to introduce the Global Social Challenges Journal (GSCJ). This launch is the culmination of a process begun over two years ago, when Bristol University Press approached individuals who had worked with them previously, to sound us out about preliminary ideas for an open-access journal on a new platform. The intervening time has been filled with building a diverse team of editors-in-chief (EiCs), associate editors (AEs) and reviewers, and with discussions and decisions about the journal’s name, scope, terms of reference, categories of contents, editorial and paper-handling procedures and the like; and, importantly, on the framing of this launch collection, commissioning and reviewing submissions to ensure high quality and a suitable range of coverage. All these activities have taken place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, ironically perhaps, despite the disruption to normal working lives and practices, has indirectly facilitated our work as a global group working virtually, despite time differences, because of the vast improvements to video conferencing platforms.

Editorial policy

As befits a journal with the ambition to become a leading outlet for critical social scientific work addressing the main global social challenges of our time, we have taken great care to build a suitably diverse editorial team. As such, we come from and work in most world regions; are diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, age and other elements of positionalities, and have complementary expertise in pertinent disciplinary, inter- and transdisciplinary fields, and methodologies covered by the GSCJ. During the initial stages of commissioning and editing submissions for this inaugural collection, and to ensure that it provides an appropriate opening statement of our aims, the EiCs worked together closely in order to share ideas and ensure that we agree on decisions and processes as the basis for efficient, effective and consistent future operation.

First, as explained in the journal’s Aims and Scope, we adopt a broad and flexible approach to global social challenges, framed by the ambition to reimagine and innovate, to push and transgress boundaries. This periodical’s title was deliberately chosen to emphasise ‘global’ rather than ‘grand’ challenges, the latter having been widely instrumentalised by official research funders and many universities as part of their branding as ‘world leading’ and ‘solution oriented’. While we have tried to be as comprehensive as possible, the list of themes is not rigid or exhaustive. Our framing allows for diverse perspectives and approaches, theoretical, conceptual, empirical and methodological. We are especially interested in holistic, systemic approaches that cut across the challenges and push back against the inevitable academic tendency to create specialised knowledge silos. Indeed, beyond the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals–inspired themes that underpin our understanding of ‘global’, we are agreed that it is worthwhile probing this further to explore what the term ‘global’ conveys to each of us in the 21st century. In the spirit of our desire to encourage intellectual provocation, we propose these cross-cutting questions aimed at anyone inclined to contribute to the journal:

  • In what ways can scholarship fundamentally challenge us to revisit the residues of the past in the contemporary moment?

  • What does it mean to decolonise knowledge while sifting through a multiplicity of claims around the axes of race, caste, gender, class and nation?

  • How do we intend to confront creatively the question of global wealth and income inequalities? How do we make sense of the whittling down of multilateralism at a time when we need it the most?

  • What do the democratic deficits of our contemporary international institutions tell us about our collective crisis of legitimacy?

  • What do war and peace claims tell us about who we are?

  • Can we face up to the ongoing global humanitarian crises, painfully tethered as they are to a predatory neoliberal capitalism and accompanying ecological dystopias?

  • Is imperialism alive and kicking? Is there light at the end of these long tunnels of darkness?

As these questions convey, while our core emphasis is primarily across the social sciences, we are open to contributions which interact with the humanities and/or with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and other fields in order to further inter- or transdisciplinary knowledge. We welcome comparative contributions and both single and multi-authored submissions, including by inter- or transdisciplinary teams of co-authors from academia and other communities of practice.

As well as standard research articles, we encourage a range of non-traditional interventions, including ones regarding policy and practice, as well as provocations and debates. We view all these as lively and timely interjections into a dynamic field that will help to give the journal’s readers a more textured sense of the events, impacts and debates that inspire, shape and sometimes challenge the core research contributions of the journal. Intending contributors should consider which of the four categories of content as listed in our Call for Submissions best suits their material and frame it accordingly. We do, however, reserve the right to suggest adaptation to a different category from that indicated at the time of submission if this would be more appropriate. We also welcome submissions for special collections that bring together a set of original articles to reframe or develop knowledge on a relevant topic. While case studies are welcome, they need to illustrate broader arguments, and to explain clearly how they address one or more global social challenges, otherwise reframing and resubmission will be requested.

Submissions are allocated to the most appropriate EiC and AE in terms of expertise. EiCs work with several AEs covering the range of fields and methodologies. They then select and approach suitably qualified reviewers, send reminders if required, and finally process the reviews and work with authors to request and handle revisions or issue rejections as needed. Thus, the AEs are the principal point of contact for authors after submission. The smooth working of this process, and much else, is enabled by Sarah Bird, our Editorial Manager at Bristol University Press (BUP).

Several additional points about our priorities and working practices are worth clarifying. As a non-profit and open-access only journal, the GSCJ does not grant EiCs and AEs honoraria, and the journal operates on a modest budget to cover essential costs. Hence, while relevant BUP staff will attend as many conferences as feasible and appropriate, the editors will be more selective in relation to our areas of interest and cost.

We are very conscious of the current turbulence in the global publishing environment, which is undergoing a rather messy and inconsistent transition away from ‘closed’ subscription-based publication in which authors do not pay to have their work published, towards an increasingly open-access basis of publication in which authors, rather than subscribers and readers, pay to publish. Although, on the face of it, the aim was to make access more equitable, article processing charges (APCs) have potential to create new barriers for intending authors from poorer countries or who are independent or retired researchers without institutional affiliations and library or research budgets from which to pay APCs. We have therefore taken steps to avoid or minimise such barriers. BUP’s not-for-profit basis means that APCs are being kept to a minimum, to cover costs rather than needing to contribute to a publisher’s profits. Furthermore, BUP offer generous APC concessions and waivers to ensure equitable access, as explained on our website, which we as EiCs strongly support. Our ambition is ultimately to avoid any potential author being excluded on grounds of affordability, so if any individuals fail to meet criteria of the existing concessions and waivers, we encourage them to contact the managing editor to discuss their position.

We have established ethics of good practice to ensure anonymous peer review, prompt turnaround and efficient processing. We will, of course, be considerate and constructive in presenting feedback, regardless of whether the verdict is a rejection or a request for revisions. We have all been recipients of harshly worded or dismissive editorial decisions ourselves and will therefore fully explain reasons for decisions and provide constructive feedback on how submissions can realistically be improved. Reviewers are also instructed to report in this way and handling editors will filter any inappropriate content. We are, when necessary, open to engaging in dialogue with contributors. In addition, the journal operates a continuous publication model, with articles published online as soon as they are ready, to minimise delays and enable early access. Hence, not having a print format avoids physical production bottlenecks and potential delays. Articles will be compiled retrospectively into annual volumes and into special ‘topic’ collections as appropriate.

The launch collection

Turning now to the contents of this inaugural collection, which we hope will set the tone for what is to follow, we present seven full-length research-based articles and one contribution to the Policy and Practice section. Together they offer a strong sense of the diversity we are seeking to encourage, in terms of both the range of themes and how they engage with some of today’s societal challenges.

In the opening paper, Gurminder K. Bhambra (2022) draws on the impacts of the pandemic to offer a fresh perspective on global social inequalities and how they have been constituted historically, arguing that the continued relevance of the social sciences will depend on how they tackle this legacy and the extent to which they can become ‘reparatory’.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2022) then provides a characteristically heterodox perspective on these pandemic times and the contradictions and paradoxes that characterise them. He argues that the profound changes to our daily lives triggered by COVID-19 demonstrate that there are indeed alternatives to our techno-driven existence that is increasingly driven by artificial intelligence.

In the third contribution, Adriana Erthal Abdenur and Siddharth Tripathi (2022) explore the complex impacts of climate change in exacerbating security risks and complicating associated agendas, using experiences of local peacebuilding initiatives in Afghanistan to enrich debates that all too often rely on broad generalities. Some connections exist between that agenda and Alison Mountz and Shiva Mohan’s (2022) focus, in the following paper, on the complex ways in which new mobilities affect human migration challenges, themselves often exacerbated by climate change and its impacts on livelihoods.

The next two contributions explore other key current debates and challenges for critical and engaged social scientific theory and practice. Adrian Flint and co-authors (2022) interrogate current UK research funding models in terms of their impact on equitable relationships within the North–South research partnerships that are now widely encouraged, or even required, to secure funding. This resonates with similar recent processes in other European countries that legitimise often asymmetrical power relationships under the guise of supposedly equal partnerships.

Marcel Bursztyn and Seema Purushothaman (2022) then endorse the growing momentum towards inter- and transdisciplinarity as vital to tackling current global social challenges by integrating different types of knowledge and expertise, since no single discipline or professional community of practice can do so adequately. Drawing on their experience in Brazil and in India as well as a literature review, they also raise the question of whether there is a distinctive discourse of inter/transdisciplinarity in the Global South.

The collection concludes with assessments of both major United Nations global summits held during late 2021, demonstrating our joint commitment to both critique and insider policy accounts. Mark Harvey (2022) offers a firm critique of the COP26 summit of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Glasgow in November 2021. He focuses particularly on its ambitions, highlighting their modesty in comparison to what is needed to tackle the climate crisis by adapting and transforming to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Finally, in our first Policy and Practice contribution, Agnes Kalibata (2022), President of the Association for a Green Revolution in Africa and Special Envoy for the UN Secretary-General for the summit offers an informed insider account of the UN Food System Summit (UNFSS), with a particular focus on Africa. Held online in September 2021 with Kalibata as the Special Envoy for the UN Secretary-General, the summit focused on food supply and security in the face of growing demand and the additional pressures of climate change and political instability, against the stark backdrop of the short-term pandemic disruption, a disruption alarmingly intensified by the subsequent Russian war on Ukraine.

In the face of a dramatic intensification of global social challenges in 2022, we offer, then, a distinctive mix of the global and the local, together with critique and alternative vision, encoded in the rich offerings comprising this inaugural collection. If we concede, even momentarily, that there is light, we cannot help but ask ourselves, our contributors and our readers, with some urgency, what heuristics of hope firmly anchored in the here and now might offer.

References

  • Abdenur, A.E. and Tripathi, S. (2022) Local approaches to climate-sensitive peacebuilding: lessons from Afghanistan, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 4058, DOI: 10.1332/UOQE8930.

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  • Bhambra, G. (2022) For a reparatory social science, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 8 –20, DOI: 10.1332/HIEO9991.

  • Bursztyn, M. and Purushothaman, S. (2022) Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary scholarship for a civilisation in distress: questions for and from the Global South, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 94 –114, DOI: 10.1332/LBEQ6699.

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  • de Sousa Santos, B. (2022) The pandemic and the contradictions of contemporaneity, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 21– 39, DOI: 10.1332/NMEO9015.

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  • Flint, A., Howard, G., Baidya, M., Wondim, T., Poudel, M., Nijhawan, A., Mulugeta, Y. and Sharma, S. (2022) Equity in Global North-South research partnerships: interrogating UK funding models, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 76 –93, DOI: 10.1332/VQIL8302.

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  • Harvey, M. (2022) Climate emergency: how the inequality crisis is dynamically linked to the sociogenesis of climate change, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 115– 137, DOI: 10.1332/MEPZ5639.

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  • Kalibata, A. (2022) Reflections on food systems transformation: an African perspective, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 138– 150, DOI: 10.1332/OYYL3696.

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  • Mountz, A. and Mohan, S. (2022) Human migration in a new era of mobility: intersectional and transnational approaches, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 59– 75, DOI: 10.1332/RFXW5601.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Abdenur, A.E. and Tripathi, S. (2022) Local approaches to climate-sensitive peacebuilding: lessons from Afghanistan, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 4058, DOI: 10.1332/UOQE8930.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bhambra, G. (2022) For a reparatory social science, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 8 –20, DOI: 10.1332/HIEO9991.

  • Bursztyn, M. and Purushothaman, S. (2022) Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary scholarship for a civilisation in distress: questions for and from the Global South, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 94 –114, DOI: 10.1332/LBEQ6699.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • de Sousa Santos, B. (2022) The pandemic and the contradictions of contemporaneity, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 21– 39, DOI: 10.1332/NMEO9015.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Flint, A., Howard, G., Baidya, M., Wondim, T., Poudel, M., Nijhawan, A., Mulugeta, Y. and Sharma, S. (2022) Equity in Global North-South research partnerships: interrogating UK funding models, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 76 –93, DOI: 10.1332/VQIL8302.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harvey, M. (2022) Climate emergency: how the inequality crisis is dynamically linked to the sociogenesis of climate change, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 115– 137, DOI: 10.1332/MEPZ5639.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kalibata, A. (2022) Reflections on food systems transformation: an African perspective, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 138– 150, DOI: 10.1332/OYYL3696.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mountz, A. and Mohan, S. (2022) Human migration in a new era of mobility: intersectional and transnational approaches, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 59– 75, DOI: 10.1332/RFXW5601.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 1 China Agricultural University, , China
  • | 2 Wayne State University, , USA and Transdisciplinarity Lab ETH-Zurich, Switzerland
  • | 3 Shiv Nadar University, , India
  • | 4 UNSW Sydney, , Australia
  • | 5 Newcastle University, , UK
  • | 6 Royal Holloway, University of London, , UK

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