In its efforts to promote the social sciences in Asia, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) made several attempts. In 1954 it organized a round-table conference on Teaching of the social sciences in South Asia. This was attended by social scientists from Burma (now Myanmar), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India, Indonesia, Malaya (now Malaysia), Singapore, Pakistan, and Thailand.
Following the round table, the Eighth General Conference of UNESCO, it was decided to establish a research centre on the Social implications of industrialization in Southern Asia. The centre was set up in 1956 in Calcutta, and was later moved, in 1961, to Delhi with a new name: UNESCO Research Centre on Social and Economic Development in Southern Asia.
In 1967, when it completed ten years of its functioning, it was merged with the Indian Institute of Economic Growth. As UNESCO Centre, it carried out research, convened seminars and conferences, organized training seminars on developmental issues, and provided library and documentation services. Evaluating the work of the Centre, the Evaluation Commission felt that while the Centre did useful work by way of research, it "made little contribution" to increase the size of the social science community. The Commission was of the view that the major need of the Asian region was for an increase in the desperately small number of active social scientists.
It was in this scenario that the Indian Council of Social Science Research approached UNESCO for a grant to convene the first asian conference on teaching and research in social sciences. With a grant of US $10,000 from UNESCO, and adding its own contribution, ICSSR convened the conference in May 1973 that was attended by fourteen countries, namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia (Khmer), India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Laos, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Each delegation presented a country paper on the social science situation.
For the first time at the Shimla-India Conference detailed accounts of the growth of social sciences in major countries of the region were presented. Of the several recommendations made by the conference participants to improve the situation, and create an Asian identity for the social sciences, there was one for the setting up of an association that would help promote the social sciences in the region.
All the participating countries at this conference endorsed this proposal, and immediately set up an interim office in Delhi to publish the proceedings of the conference, draft the constitution of the association, and seek formal membership from the national bodies. It is necessary to mention that the conference recommended this association to be the body of national level councils, or its equivalents, and not of individual scholars.
It was at the first Asian conference on teaching and research in social sciences, held in India in May 1973; AASSREC was born. With four core members, and a draft constitution, AASSREC secretariat planned its first conference in Iran, though it had no national level council in the hope of getting membership from other countries as well, the conference invited scholars from several non-member countries.
This conference was held in early 1975, since then AASSREC is regularly holding its biennial conferences at different places over the years. AASSREC has also been able to enlist membership of several national level bodies. In fact, AASSREC has provided stimulus to several countries for the setting up of national level bodies, separately for the social sciences, or for heightening the visibility of the social sciences in those bodies where they were part of broader scope councils.
AASSREC's organizational structure has evolved over time and important changes were incorporated in its Constitution and By-laws in 1994 and more recently in 1999.
As a regional organization of the Social Sciences, AASSREC is an accredited non-government organization maintaining consultative and official relations with UNESCO.
Excerpts from 15th Biennial Conference of AASSREC - Reminiscing on the eve of AASSREC's 30th anniversary by the first General Secretary of AASSREC, Mr. Yogesh Atal