Hot and emerging fields in academic research – part 1: humanities and social sciences

Hot and emerging fields in academic research – part 1: humanities and social sciences

Every year, Clarivate produces a reports on new, progressive and engaging research fields in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Science. Hot and emerging research trends are ranked by citation analysis.

In part 1, based on Research Fronts 2020, we consider humanities and social sciences. A companion report, Active Fields and Leading Countries, provides information on regional and institutional performance, identifying the USA as the most active geographic area overall, followed by China, the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Japan.

The year 2020 has been challenging for researchers and academic institutions as the pandemic disrupted normal economic activity and life around the world. In previous articles, we analysed its impact on institutions, researchers and research projects. However, there is no doubt that it has been an extraordinary year for research, especially in the medical field, with scientists racing to find treatments and to develop vaccines.

Humanities and social sciences experienced major disruptions in their field studies due to travel, social and funding restrictions imposed in response to Covid-19. Graduate students and early-career researchers faced great uncertainty with projects halted, conferences cancelled or postponed for several months. Even longitudinal research projects had to be altered or paused while grants and new funding streams increasingly focused on tackling the challenges imposed by the pandemic.

Psychology, economics and other social sciences

The Top 10 Research Fronts of 2020 included fields in economics, psychology and other social sciences. While in 2019 psychology was a hot research field, the 2020 themes focused on economic and social transformation through advancements in digital technology and artificial intelligence (AI). These included bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, the impact of autonomous vehicles on policies and society, Airbnb’s impact on the hotel industry, mobile banking, topics that are all underpinned by the digitisation of practices.

The environment is another strong trend, including use of resources, the circular economy, sustainability and other topics relating to climate change. Interestingly, the UK and the Netherlands produce more core papers on the circular economy and sustainability, while the USA tops the chart for research on land use and climate change.

The cognitive field, in particular “Language and memory reinforcement learning” is the only theme pertaining to psychology in the report. Food and health proves to be a strong emerging trend among the social sciences.

A key emerging theme is the “application of artificial intelligence to blockchain smart contracts in supply chain management and smart cities”, as governments and industry collaborate with academic institutions to digitise the built environment and infrastructure to ensure a better use of natural resources and a more sustainable urbanisation process.

Interestingly, the Active Fields and Leading Countries report finds that the USA shows the highest level of activity in economics, psychology and other social sciences, followed by China, the UK, Germany and Spain.

Next month we will be covering STEM disciplines in the second and final instalment of this series.

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