Humanities and Real-World Needs!

I was reading┬áDan Edelstein’s piece about how humanities can contribute to knowlege economy. He argues that increased innovation and entrepreneurship skills are two main practical results of studying humanities. While he tries to justify how humanities can be beneficial to the real-world economy and development, I believe without humanistic training most of our solutions to problems will be technical and very likely “unsustainable”.

To support my argument, I provide an example from development world. Consider a situation in Afghanistan, where experts (from medical and engineering fields) find out that in a certain village, access to tap water is limited and women have to come out of their houses for washing dishes, clothes and etc. SO the experts say: They do not have access to water, we will give them tap water! With the help of international funds and thanks to their expertise, the NGOs provide every house in the village with clean tap water.

After a week or two, the NGO members observe that women are again frequenting to the wells instead of using the water at home! After investigating and interviewing with the “final users” the experts understand “finally” that going to wells, is the only way for these women to communicate with their outside world. These women do not want to use the tap water by paying the heavy price of missing the opportunity to go out of their houses and to mingle with other women! In this example, if the NGO leaders and experts had integrated people with humanities background, the process would have probably taken another form. One would have probably asked in the first place, what is the “problem” and from whose perspective? Based on the real consumers’ culture, history, religion and even language how we should address such problem.

In conclusion, I believe more than enhancing entrepreneurship and innovation as Edelstein mentions, humanities practical value in real-world projects is in their close and deep understanding of “humans” as the final goal of many projects seeking to bring “positive change”/ increasing quality of “life”!

8 thoughts on “Humanities and Real-World Needs!

  1. I really appreciated your taking Edelstein’s argument further, and I agree that people in the humanities might be more likely to learn about local culture. I also think a humanities background helps people think of different or new solutions. (In other words not just recreating what has worked in other places, like tapped water.) I like your framing humanities as a real world, practical concept. I’m trying to do that more myself.

  2. Neda, your post was great. It reminded me of this TED talk and I encourage you to watch it ( if you haven’t already)
    I can’t agree with you more that running to the different areas of the world where there seem to be problems to solve without taking the time and trying to know the culture and people who live there can create more problems rather than solving any of the existing ones. The example that you talked about was a great example. Thank you for sharing it!

    • Thank you very much Shadi for your reply and for sharing Sirolli’s talk. It was really interesting, however, in development discourse, while listening to target population is a must; there is always the question of “How do they know what they don’t know about?” which is a challenging issue for NGOs.

  3. Great discussion and example, Neda! I enjoyed reading your blog. Humanities are the crucial factor to be taken into account before developing any solution to problems where the people will be its user. Nowadays, we are overwhelemed by technology, and we can see that the actual user of these innovative technologies or solutions have been forgotten.

  4. Understanding human and human condition is such an important point you discussed, I really like your example Neda! Unfortunately in real world not only it might not taken it into account but also might get avoided intentionally.

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