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The humanities and social sciences relate to the entire spectrum of human culture, encompassing mental and spiritual activities, social phenomena, and human culture and civilization as broadly defined. Identifying trends common to this entire category is therefore impossible, and the following discussion focuses on a number of particularly important trends.
In reaction to the growing fragmentation and specialization of scholarship and research themes, there is now a notable tendency toward more comprehensive and interdisciplinary approaches, especially in areas like history and political science. A new field known as "policy studies" or "policy science," which focuses on practical policy formulation and problem-solving, has been created, and fusion is also occurring between economics and other social sciences, and between social sciences and natural sciences, such as information science. In some situations, society is also demanding dialogue between the natural sciences and the humanities and social sciences in fields of research that involve issues relating to ethics and norms, such as cloning (the creation of cells and organisms with identical genetic structures).
Economics, more than any other social science, has adopted many of the methods of natural science and is moving in broadly similar directions, employing the mathematical theory of nonlinear dynamics, large-scale computer simulations, and other techniques to integrate economics with complex systems theory, which elucidates dynamic interrelationships.
The spread of computers and advances in information technology have provided researchers in the humanities and social sciences, including economics, sociology, psychology, geography, and cultural anthropology, with increasingly sophisticated measurement methods that are enhancing their ability to discover and explain reality. Research in fields like linguistics, literature, religion, archaeology, and philology can now be carried out efficiently and systematically thanks to the development of databases of source documents and other materials and the use of CD-ROMS (compact disk read-only memory) to support image and audio processing.
Society's increasing reliance on information technology may lead to the synthesis of the humanities and social sciences into the comprehensive multidisciplinary field of informatics, which will depend on computer science and information science for its infrastructure.
Japan's ability to contribute to the international flow of information in the areas of literature and linguistics is obviously limited due to the importance of language In these fields. In general, however, researchers are increasingly shifting from a focus on introducing or importing foreign information toward disseminating or exporting information of Japanese origin through international comparative studies and other means.
In many areas of the humanities and social sciences, researchers are reacting sensitively to changes in the contemporary situation, including the end of the Cold War, the evolution of an advanced information society, and developments relating to resources, energy, food, environmental problems, and other global issues. These changes are driving a shift toward international, multidisciplinary, comprehensive approaches. In the field of law, this pattern is manifested in the recent formation of academic societies for international economic law, international human rights law, and European Union (EU) law.
The trend toward a comprehensive approach is typified in the field of area studies, where there is a growing tendency toward a multidisciplinary fusion of fields to create more organized or networked structures. Empirical research has also increased, and one characteristic trend in recent times has been research that strives for a more comprehensive approach from the Asian point of view.
Changing trends in Japan and abroad are expected to lead to the development of new fields in the humanities and social sciences, and some observers point to the need for support measures, including the development of infrastructure and centers, to promote trends toward comprehensive and international approaches.
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