“It was of especial interest to the Council, finally, for the extent to which it had assisted in the formulation of the US delegation’s position concerning the social science program of UNESCO.”

The Ninth Session of the General Conference of UNESCO met in New Delhi, India, November 5–December 5, 1956. This meeting, coming at the end of the first decade of United Nations history, was remarkable in several respects. It was the first major United Nations gathering to be held in Asia; and the Indian Government had constructed for the occasion a spacious modern conference hall, a six-story office building, and two hotels, and had arranged an elaborate schedule of cultural and social events. The meeting was distinguished by the difficulties of conducting calm discussions of education, science, and culture during a period of world crisis involving the military intervention in Egypt and the revolt in Hungary. It was of especial interest to the Council, finally, for the extent to which it had assisted in the formulation of the US delegation’s position concerning the social science program of UNESCO.

The General Conference, now held every two years, is the governing body of UNESCO. It determines membership, legislates on basic organizational and administrative matters, formulates general policy guidance for the program, and decides on budget allocations. The New Delhi Conference was made up of 359 official delegates and alternates from 77 of UNESCO’S 80 member states, 157 advisers, and 32 representatives of nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations. The US delegation was one of the largest, consisting of five delegates, two alternates, and 15 advisers named by the President on nomination by the Department of State. Stanley Allyn, president of the National Cash Register Company, was chairman of the delegation.

Council cooperation

The participation of the Council in the preparation for the UNESCO Conference was not inconsiderable. At the request of the UNESCO Relations Staff of the Department of State, four meetings were held in 1955 and 1956, to which were invited representatives of the National Commission, the Department of State, the Council, and other social scientists. Malcolm M. Willey, its representative on the National Commission, served as chairman, and Bryce Wood acted as staff for the groups.

In the course of these meetings the social scientists became more informed about the organization and program of UNESCO and were able to clarify and formulate some suggestions as to the most appropriate and effective role of the social sciences. These analyses and recommendations were reviewed by the US National Commission and contributed to the materials prepared for the guidance of the US delegation to the UNESCO Conference. While it is obviously impossible to summarize briefly the views worked out in these meetings, a few of the general points deserve mention:

1. In view of the limitations of its resources and organization, UNESCO can probably be most effective not by conducting research or even by planning research to be carried out by others, but rather by promoting international discussion and dissemination of the results of research which is completed or in process.

2. The members of UNESCO, many of which are quite unfamiliar with the nature of the social sciences as they have developed in western countries, should not be encouraged to believe that the social sciences can provide “solutions” to major social problems such as international tensions; or that the social sciences may be “a means of promoting human rights,” as set forth in a recent UNESCO publication; or that the Director-General, through the Department of Social Sciences, can “take the necessary measures to eliminate race prejudice,” as stated in the proposed program (with a budget of $28,100!).

3. Accepting the goal of supporting international cooperation among social scientists, UNESCO should give major effort to the development, in as many countries as possible, of social scientists who can join in cooperative activities. Such development would be furthered by strengthening existing programs for exchange of students and teachers and for support of member states in their plans for improving training and research in social science.

4. The most promising subject for UNESCO effort was believed to be the social implications of technological change. This topic is of major concern to the many member states that are undertaking development programs and is also of substantial interest to research scientists in the United States and Western Europe.

The general program of UNESCO

Several months before the meeting of the General Conference, the Director-General of UNESCO assembled program plans from the secretariat and prepared for distribution a Proposed Program and Budget for 1957–58. This document is organized in terms of the five departments of UNESCO: Education, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Cultural Activities, and Mass Communication, and the more general activities involved in Exchange of Persons and General Administration.

“The contribution of the United States is approximately one third of the total expenditure.”

The proposed budget for the two-year period was $21.6 million, an increase of more than a million dollars over the previous biennium. The funds are derived from contributions by the member states in proportion to their total national income. The contribution of the United States is approximately one third of the total expenditure. It is customary for the Conference to decide on a total budget figure early in the session. A proposal to increase the budget by one million dollars was presented by Brazil and enthusiastically voted by a large majority, over the protests of the countries making the major contributions. Since no program plans for this extra money had been developed in advance of the Conference, the vote opened floodgates for numerous proposals by interested parties in support of favorite projects. However, most of the additional money was finally allocated to major projects for which work plans had been previously formulated to some degree.

When seen in the perspective of time, it is probable that the most important achievement of the Ninth General Conference will be the initiation of “major projects,” representing a concentration and focus of effort in contrast to the hundreds of little projects which have characterized UNESCO activity in the past. The concept of major projects was authorized by the preceding Conference in Montevideo, but the statement was abstract and not precise. During the succeeding two years support for the idea of concentrated effort has been increasing, and at New Delhi approval was given to plans for three major projects with highest priority and substantial funds.

The first such project contributes to the extension of primary education in Latin America, largely through the training of teachers. The project was approved for a ten-year period with a budget of over $600,000 for the first two years, “to the end that within the ten-year period the cooperating states may be near the goal of providing primary school education for all children.” The second major project, unlike the first, is a gradual enlargement of work already under way on the problems of arid zones. The third project is directed to the development of greater mutual understanding of Asian and Western cultural values. While the interest in this project was intense and widespread, there was no common understanding of what it involved or how it might be carried out. The Conference authorized the establishment of an advisory committee to develop a program plan and assist in its execution.

A small item for social science participation in each of the major projects was inserted, but no work plans have yet been announced.

The social science program

The program of the Department of Social Sciences, while not as large as those of the other departments, is substantial and fairly well established. It seems to have solid support in the UNESCO organization and from the member states. During the several days that the Conference devoted to social science, there was no criticism or disapproval of the over-all plans. Instead there were expressions from delegates of several member states to the effect that the total effort in social science should be increased.

“There seemed to be general interest within international organizations in certain fields of social science activity for UNESCO.”

There seemed to be general interest within international organizations in certain fields of social science activity for UNESCO. The senior representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations stated that under priorities laid down by its Economic and Social Council, the United Nations took keen interest in four fields of UNESCO activity: the first two major projects, study of the social aspects of technological change, and development of the teaching of the social sciences. The report of the Executive Board of UNESCO contained the recommendation “that the Director-General give increasing attention to the role of social sciences for countries engaged in plans for economic and social development.” The Board also welcomed “the inclusion of the social sciences as one of the fields in which the Organization will offer technical assistance in 1957–58.”

The UNESCO Committee for the Examination of Reports of Member States noted that the requests for aid under the participation program indicated widespread interest in the development of social science teaching and research, with particular respect to applied problems of assimilation of immigrants, technological change, and international cooperation. The net result of the discussion and votes on the social science program was an increase of $129,000 over the amount recommended in the Director-General’s budget, to make a total for the biennium of $1,581,937.

The program of the Department of Social Sciences is divided into general activities and special activities.1A full and official account of the UNESCO program for 1957–58 is now available in UNESCO Chronicle, 1957, Vol. III, No. 1-2. General activities include subventions to international social science associations, clearinghouse activities including the publication of the International Social Science Bulletin, international bibliographies in the several fields of social science, preparation of social science dictionaries, and collection of statistics relating to education, culture, and mass communication. These activities were approved for continuation at about the present level of support.

The question of UNESCO sponsorship of institutes for social science received extended discussion. Two institutes have been established by UNESCO initiative in the past, and two more were approved by this Conference. Each of them has a different relation to UNESCO, and each presents different problems and potentialities.

The UNESCO Institute for Social Sciences at Cologne was established several years ago with the joint sponsorship of the US High Commissioner for Germany. At present the Institute is almost completely dependent on UNESCO support, having failed to find other sources of funds. Considerable doubt concerning continued UNESCO financing of the Institute was expressed. It was finally decided to approve increased support for the next two years during which a thorough reexamination would be undertaken.

The Research Center on Social Implications of Industrialization in Southern Asia was established in Calcutta in 1956, and a formal opening ceremony was held following the conclusion of the New Delhi Conference. The Center’s staff is an integral part of the UNESCO secretariat, but with necessary autonomy for effective action, and funds are provided for research costs and for five training fellowships.

The Conference voted support for the establishment of two new centers in Latin America, but in these instances the responsibility for the major share of the funds rests with the government of the host country, and UNESCO’S contribution will terminate after four years. A center in Santiago, Chile, will undertake to train social science teachers and research workers from any country of Latin America. UNESCO will supply four visiting professors for the center which will be a part of the University of Chile. The other center will be established in Brazil as a regional research center for social problems in Latin America, and will emphasize studies of social implications of technological change. Specific plans for the organization and staffing were not complete at the time of the Conference.

The Conference, by the serious tone of its extended discussion, stressed the significance that it attached to teaching and the training of workers in the social sciences, and voted increased funds for aid to member states in the development of this field. The general survey of the teaching of social sciences, published in a series of nine booklets, and the specific resolutions adopted at regional conferences in South Asia, the Middle East, and Central America provide a sound foundation for governments desiring to improve social science teaching at the university level in their own countries.

“UNESCO plans to carry out much of the work in this area through the international social science associations.”

Problems of international understanding have always been of high concern to UNESCO, and the difficult task has been to determine how the social sciences can make their most effective contribution. The resolution of the Montevideo Conference calling for studies “of the means of promoting peaceful cooperation” was reaffirmed at New Delhi, although the funds budgeted were not great (about $40,000). UNESCO plans to carry out much of the work in this area through the international social science associations. It will take into account recommendations formulated by a conference of social science representatives from both East European and Western countries, held in Geneva last July. Two general problems were selected for attention: the historical evolution of the concept of peaceful cooperation, and economic relations between countries with different economic and social structures. Some members of the Conference were apprehensive about possible departures from objective social science techniques in projects in this area, and clearly indicated a preference for established scientific methods and avoidance of political and propaganda issues, which are outside the scope of UNESCO.

The great contribution of UNESCO to the understanding of human rights and minorities was recognized, and the continuation of a small program of publication and consultation was authorized.

Perhaps the most striking development emerging from the discussion of the social science program was the keen interest in the study and analysis of social conditions and consequences of rapid economic and industrial change. A considerable part of the effort of the Department of Social Sciences will be devoted to activities in this area, involving cooperation with the International Research Office on Social Implications of Technological Change (Paris), the Research Center on Social Implications of Industrialization in Southern Asia (Calcutta), and the newly established research center in Brazil. A joint seminar with the United Nations and the International Labor Office on the problems of urbanization in Latin America will be held in 1958, following a series of studies in three Latin American countries on the human and social implications of urbanization.

There has been little progress in systematic evaluation of UNESCO’s several programs. A manual on methods of evaluation has been produced but, regrettably, no unit of UNESCO has requested outside evaluation of its projects. Accordingly, no increase was requested in the very modest funds for this activity of the Department of Social Sciences.

Future cooperation of the Council

Preliminary steps are already under way in preparation for the Tenth General Conference, which will be held in the newly built UNESCO House in Paris in the fall of 1958. In March 1957 a fifth meeting of the informal conference group brought together by the Council reviewed the program for 1957–58 and developed suggestions for carrying it out. The first draft of the secretariat’s proposals for the 1959–60 program has been examined by the Program Committee of the National Commission, and will be the subject of preliminary discussion by the Executive Board of UNESCO meeting in Paris in June, and by the US National Commission meeting in San Francisco in November. The repetitive and frequent requirements for consideration of program proposals place a real demand on the Council if it is to respond to present needs. Efforts to strengthen international cooperation and communication among social scientists have been of increasing concern to the Council since the close of World War II. Whether the Council should establish a formal committee on UNESCO and International Social Science Council affairs or, more generally, another committee on international cooperation in social science are questions repeatedly examined by the Council. The flexibility of the present informal method of dealing with requests for counsel and assistance in this general area has seemed to have merit. Whether the Council could contribute more effectively to this country’s participation in the UNESCO program through a committee to plan research on social change or through a committee of broader scope is certain to receive further consideration.

This essay originally appeared in Items Vol. 11, No. 2 in June 1957. Visit our archives to view the original as it first appeared in the print editions of Items.

Donald G. Marquis (1908–1973) was chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan, and a member of the board of directors of the SSRC. He served as president of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1948, as well as on the US National Commission for UNESCO since 1955 as a representative of the APA, and was a member of the Program Committee and of the Executive Committee of the Commission. He was a member of the US delegation to the Ninth General Conference of UNESCO, serving as adviser on social science, and presented this report to the Council informally in March 1957.


A full and official account of the UNESCO program for 1957–58 is now available in UNESCO Chronicle, 1957, Vol. III, No. 1-2.