ISRF Fellow Bridget Vincent delves into the arrival of AI-narrated audiobooks, shedding light on the profound ethical dilemmas they bring to the forefront.
Carolina Alves, Phil Faulkner, Clive Lawson, Tony Lawson, Helen Mussell, Stephen Pratten, Yannick Slade-Caffarel
For over twenty years the Cambridge Social Ontology Group – a highly interdisciplinary research project – has sought to elaborate the nature of social reality and bring insights derived to bear on the conduct of economics and the social sciences more widely. With interest in the project continually growing, especially amongst students, and with social ontology taught in few places outside of Cambridge, this Summer School aims to bring interested parties together to enable them to study systematically some of the main themes and topics covered in Cambridge Social Ontology.
The Summer School will involve 30 attendees and be primarily aimed at postgraduate students in economics and cognate disciplines, although applications from all students as well as early career academics in any discipline will be considered.
Teaching on the summer school will be provided by members and associates of the Cambridge Social Ontology project, academics from a number of social science disciplines including economics, sociology, law and management. Organisational and teaching support will also be provided by members of the Social Ontology Research Unit at King’s College London.
The Interdisciplinary Psychoanalytic Thought (IPT) research network was set up in 2020 in 2020 to enable ongoing dialogue between psychoanalysis and the social sciences and humanities. The project is a collaborative one between all members of the network; in our work we aim to identify and understand disciplines’ often doctrinaire mutual resistances, while remaining attentive to others’ discrete critical metalanguages and methodologies.
Working under the broad rubric, ‘Transmission and Trauma’, we explore conceptions of the nature of social meaning and of its mechanisms of transmission, as these engage with the individual both as agent and as experiencing subject. We bring different disciplines together by applying both analytic and critical methodologies to interdisciplinary understandings of concepts and their connections.
This academic year (2023-24) we enter a new phase in the investigation of mechanisms of transmission. So far, and with the volume on Raymond Williams’s ‘structures of feeling’ we have mapped out one theorist’s approach to understanding the relation of individual and social affectivity, seen through the lens of social and cultural analysis in the arts. Our programme continues as an intercalated series of online seminars and research conversations, and in-room workshop and in the next two years we shall develop two projects.
One, closely related to the idea of structure of feeling, is a collaboration with the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF)’s programme on ‘Political Affect’. The other engages with the work of Richard Wollheim, a contemporary but very different thinker to Raymond Williams whose centenary in 2021 was the occasion for undertaking the volume on structures of feeling. Despite their close proximity in time and indeed in place (the one working in Oxford and then at Cambridge, the other in Oxford and then London), the two thinkers’ apparently incompatible routes to much the same end point make for an intriguing comparison of both thought and method. Wollheim, whose centenary falls in 2023, was a philosopher whose philosophy of mind, psychoanalysis and art speak together to the question of transmission’s psychological and cultural mechanisms. The IPT’s 2023-24 Richard Wollheim Centenary Project will take this forward, in partnership with the Royal Institute of Philosophy, and supported by St John’s College via the Interdisciplinary Psychoanalysis Seminar, and by the ISRF.
The IPT network’s first three years: 2020-23
After an initial exploratory phase we began an in-depth analytic interrogation of Raymond Williams’s well-known but loosely defined methodological concept of a ‘structure of feeling’, which tries to account for the emergence, reification and dissolution of dominant cultural forms and values over time. Williams’s model, however, lacks any kind of psychological component, and part of our first year’s work was to set his thinking in a dialogue with forms of psychoanalysis which his peremptory rejection of Freud may have led him to overlook. In a second, critical phase, we look at re-framing the idea of a structure of feeling as an ‘unthought known’ of Williams’s work seen as self-exploration, to which he persistently returns, repeating but not working through the conundrum it presents him with.
In these first three years we have held workshops on Raymond Williams’s ‘structures of feeling’, on Interdisciplinary Psychoanalytic Thought, on intersubjectivity (‘The Social Subject: Intersubjectivity, Psychoanalysis, and Hegel’), and two winter seminar/workshops on Richard Wollheim’s philosophical work on psychoanalysis and its relation to art, and on Kleinian moral psychology. We have also continued with discussions and seminar papers on a range of topics related to psychoanalysis: affect, the ego, phantasy, the transitional object.
In this current academic year we have been working towards an edited collection on Williams’s structures of feeling (under contract for publication in 2024), and are continuing to map out the ways that psychoanalytic thought engages and is engaged with cultural and social enquiry across the disciplines, with particular reference to the psychoanalytic school of Object Relations. This has led to work, in collaboration with the ISRF, towards a psychoanalytic exploration of political affect.
Alongside such focused work, the ‘Transmission and Trauma’ theme remains the basis on which the network defines its enquiry into forms of transmission which are not available to consciousness in any straightforward sense, but nevertheless mediate the onward progression of social meaning as well as its distortion and interruption.
The IPT Network’s members come from a range of disciplines including anthropology, classics, economics, history of ideas, history of medicine, literary studies, philosophy, political theory, psychoanalysis, and psychology; several are also psychodynamic or psychoanalytic clinicians. Our meetings mainly take place over Zoom, which enables us to include members from Europe and other continents. In term-time we hold plenary video-discussions, and also small themed ‘research conversations’, in which members of the network share and discuss their ongoing work. Occasional workshops with both in-person and online attendance are held in the UK. The most publicly accessible activity is the series Interdisciplinary Seminars in Psychoanalysis (currently based at St John’s College, Oxford); these are conducted online and may be viewed by clinicians and academic staff and students.
The proposed research project aims to transform our understanding of neoliberalism by developing a new analysis of how it generates its own distinctive structures of racism, expressed in mass incarceration, border violence, and Wars on Drugs and Terror. It suggests that neoliberalism was as much a response to mass Black and Third World struggles against racism and colonialism as it was a response to the growing power of organized labor in Europe and the US in the twentieth century. The project involves new readings of key neoliberal thinkers, such as Friedrich Hayek, historical studies of neoliberal think-tanks, such as the Manhattan Institute, and of political activists, such as Alfred Sherman and Enoch Powell. It also examines various movements arrayed against neoliberalism and its policing, carceral, border, and military manifestations, such as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in its Black Power period from 1966 to 1969. Individual figures, such as H. Rap Brown, Gloria Richardson, and Kwame Nkrumah, are focused upon as symptomatic of the larger process being described. The project’s theoretical framework is shaped by the works of Angela Davis, Stuart Hall, Cedric Robinson, and A. Sivanandan, and combines political economy and critical discourse analysis methods. Most scholarship on neoliberalism fails to fully engage with its racial and colonial dimensions, a problem exacerbated by academic disciplinary separations. Likewise there is a tendency to make sense of social movements in terms of a division between those focused upon neoliberalism (for example, the movements around Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK) and those focused upon racism (for example, Black Lives Matter). It is hoped the research will contribute to bridging these academic and movement divides and produce a better understanding of some of the key social challenges of our time.
Why has liberalism been ineffective at combating racism? And what would a more radical anti-racism look like?
In his important new book, What Is Antiracism? And Why It Means Anticapitalism, Arun Kundnani traces two traditions of anti-racist activism. Against liberal anti-racism, which views racism as an individual problem of extremist beliefs, he advocates a radical anti-racist tradition, which argues that fighting racism means striking at its capitalist roots.
Arun will be joined by noted prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore.
The Centre for Social Ontology was based in the College of Humanities at EPFL, its central focus being the Morphogenetic Project. The project’s main theoretical aim was to conceptualize a nascent but unique transformation of the social order towards ‘Morphogenesis Unbound’.
The Centre for Social Ontology (CSO) was established in 2011 at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), where Professor Margaret Archer was ISRF Chair in Social Theory 2011-2013. Following a move to the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick, its main focus was the Morphogenetic Project.
Danielle van den Heuvel, Gamze Saygi (UvA, History, ACUH)
Luca Bertolini (UvA, Urban Planning, CUS)
James Symonds (UvA, Archaeology, AHM)
The conference stems from the desire of four UvA scholars who work on issues of public urban space, to cross the departmental and disciplinary boundaries and connect to stakeholders in the city. The year 2022 is the year that the NWO-funded research project ‘The Freedom of the Streets. Gender and Urban Space in Eurasia 1600-1850’ led by Dr Danielle van den Heuvel comes to an end. It was one of the aims of this project to hold a transdisciplinary conference in which the project’s results are shared with scientists and policymakers. The conference builds on this aim, and expands it to integrate other, related avenues of enquiry and intervention.
The conference will bring together international scholars from different disciplines, career phases, and contexts as well as policymakers, artists and other Amsterdam-based stakeholders to tackle questions of in- and exclusivity in the city, by looking at the street as quintessential urban site of contestation and emancipation, where the contrasting dynamics of ‘enclosing’ and ‘commoning’ are made visible and most overtly collide. We aim for the conference to be an encounter between hitherto separate enquiries into the past, present and future of city streets as social spaces, and between academic enquiries and practical experiences.
This 3-day-summit, organised by Rethinking Economics Bologna, had two objectives: firstly, to analyze how the economic discipline can contribute to better address these global challenges, widening its scope and perspective; secondly, to identify the critical knowledge economists need to be equipped with.
The Digital Social Science Forum brought together innovative figures, working at the cutting edge of research in their own fields, in order to develop an interdisciplinary space within which the Digital Social Sciences could thrive.
A project – led by Dr Ivano Cardinale & Dr Constantinos Repapis, with technical support from Dr Ricardo Leizaola – aimed at investigating how one might re-orient economics, featuring interviews with celebrated economists who have articulated a clear view of what is wrong with the subject and how we can change it. The outcome of this project was to provide non-technical and easy access material to students and the wider public that are interested in discourses of the economy which we find to have merit but are marginalised in the current public discussion.
A series of annual workshops with the aim of bringing together economists and other social scientists, to facilitate new conversations and the development of common vocabularies.
This project – led by Dr Julie Parsons – incorporates ideas from the Photographic electronic Narrative (PeN) project hosted at an ‘offender’ resettlement scheme (RS), as well as initiatives explored during an August 2017 research residential, Mapping the Transformative Potential of Participatory Styles of Research with Vulnerable, Marginalised and/or Hard-to-Reach Groups. The success of the PeN project is such that the RS continues to use it as part of its work with ‘offenders’, documenting ‘offender’ journeys through their resettlement scheme. This is currently supported by Plymouth University, and from May 2018 – April 2020, the PeN project will be one of five impact measurement tools used by the RS in their evaluation of the scheme. Moreover, data gathered through the PeN project continues to be shared with stakeholders, delivery partners, funders, supporters and the wider community.
‘Finishing Time’ (FT) follows ‘offenders’ who have been on placement at the RS, beyond their re-entry into the community after punishment. The FT project incorporates ideas developed during an ISRF residential ‘mapping the transformative potential of participatory styles of research with marginalised groups’. Indeed, a collaborative and creative approach is fitting, as all of the participants have experience of the criminal justice system and are likely to be wary of traditional interview situations (Jewkes 2012). In preparation, participants will provide photographs or images from other sources, and/or objects of significance to them. During semi-structured interviews, participants will visually map their resettlement journeys beyond their time at the RS and significantly for some, beyond the end of their licence conditions/supervision orders. This provides participants with a story line to help with organising memories and encouraging a temporal sense of change (Williams and Keady 2012, McLeod 2017). Both the storyline and photographs/ images/ objects are a useful focus for participants as they discuss their resettlement journeys.
HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory is an international peer-reviewed, open-access online journal which aims to situate ethnography as the prime heuristic of anthropology, and return it to the forefront of conceptual developments in the discipline.
From April 2017, the ISRF funded an Interdisciplinary stream at The Conversation. Scholars at The Conversation’s member universities, as well as past and present Fellows of the ISRF, were thus encouraged to bring interdisciplinary social research to millions of readers worldwide. Researchers are encouraged to write short newsworthy articles, working with an Editor to produce pieces with journalistic flair but no loss of academic rigour. The ISRF hopes that, by promoting interdisciplinarity through this partnership with The Conversation, the usefulness of interdisciplinary approaches will reach broader audiences, and that knowledge of such work will spread beyond the confines of academia.
Recent Interdisciplinary Articles by ISRF Fellows & Associates:
ISRF Fellow Bridget Vincent delves into the arrival of AI-narrated audiobooks, shedding light on the profound ethical dilemmas they bring to the forefront.
ISRF Fellow Anna Molas takes a closer look at Spain’s prominent role in the international egg donation economy, shedding light on the realities of this procedure.
ISRF Fellow ‘H’ Patten takes a closer look at Britain’s transformation through The Windrush dance revolution.
Diego Villar explores the reasons for the increase in motorcycle usage by indigenous people in South America.
Former ISRF Fellow Paul Dobraszczyk looks at forms of architecture that are suited for habitation by both human and non-human animals.
ISRF Fellow Stephen Legg takes a closer look at the historical geographies of the Round Table Conference, which took place in London between 1930 and 1932.
Any ISRF Fellows wishing to pitch an idea for an article, or simply interested in knowing more, should contact the Interdisciplinary Editor directly at [email protected].
A significant shift in the architecture of international development finance is taking place. Under the aegis of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), plans are underway to move away from exclusive public financing of sustainable development to the active engagement of the private sector in the mobilisation and delivery of development finance. This includes a) official partnerships with financial actors not traditionally engaged in development finance, such as hedge funds, pension funds, insurance companies and private equity firms; and b) creating new markets and forms of financial instruments to fund public goods and services, including securities, bonds and insurance.
This evolving landscape poses significant challenges to the regulation and governance of the international development architecture and broader transnational economic governance. As new partnerships and modalities of engagement are formed, existing structures of governance and accountability are reconstituted, reshaping the relationships between different actors to a development finance transaction and reconfiguring the regulatory modalities through which these relationships are governed.
This project – led by Dr Celine Tan and Siobhán Airey – seeks to engage in an interdisciplinary examination of these changes in international development finance policy and practice, drawing from insights from law, politics, economics and finance and geography. The focus here is to map, assess and critique this evolving architecture and what this means for international development cooperation and global economic governance.
It aims to contribute to scholarship and policy in this area in three important ways: 1) publication of a papers that will provide novel insights in the subject area and establish international development finance as a dedicated field of interdisciplinary scholarly enquiry; 2) production of an interdisciplinary resource bank for teaching and research in this area; 3) formation of a specialist node and network of interdisciplinary scholars in the field to feed into the preparation of a larger research project to explore the issues in depth.
The Limits of the Numerical project explored one of the most pressing sets of questions for modern social science and its relation to policy. What are the effects on a system of social policy when numerical quantification and evaluation is introduced into that system? How does the use of numerical evaluation exclude, trivialize or distort other systems of political, moral and social evaluation? What are the political and moral consequences of this shift towards numerical evaluation?
These questions were addressed with respect to three distinct strands of social policy — education, climate change and healthcare — where social science, policy and the gritty world of politics interact with intense urgency.
The ISRF funded the Cambridge-based strand, focusing on healthcare and the role of numerical quantification in the British National Health Service (NHS).
The research project contributes to the ISRF’s programme: ‘Reframing the moral foundations of economics’, which responded to the displacement of a social science discipline of economics (Political Economy) by a ‘scientised’ quantification of economic activity. The project’s overall goal is a generally applicable analysis of the relational structures and the normative controversies existing among contemporary economists, to understand how far these determine both the nature of academic economics and economic policy.
Professor Tony Lawson’s research programme at the University of Cambridge generated a book and papers on a range of topics, as well as supporting participation in workshops and networks.
The purpose of the workshop was to re-visit a tradition of psychodynamically informed consulting developed at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in the 1960s by a group of psychoanalytically trained social scientists. A key figure there was Isabel Menzies, a psychoanalyst and sociologist whose seminal papers on her work with organisations developed the thesis of social systems operating defensively in response to the collective anxieties within them in a way that obstructed the principal task of the institution.
‘H’ Patten (Goldsmiths, University of London)
This two-day symposium and workshop features: keynote speeches (Jamaica High Commission/Goldsmiths), lectures, presentations, lecture/demonstrations, dance and music workshops (Goldsmiths). The symposium and workshops will provide space and opportunities for the intellectual and practical exchange of ideas, concepts, skills and recommendations between academics, artists, students, music, and dance enthusiasts.
Reggae/dancehall’s presentation as a vibrant cultural expression is often misunderstood and dismissed as vulgarity and violence. Despite the increasing popularity and use of contemporary urban reggae/dancehalldance culture globally, both the dance and the sound system culture it emerges from have not gained the recognition they deserve. Marketing campaigns such as the 2019 Marks & Spencer (M&S) Christmas ad, like popular hits such as Justin Beiber’s ‘Sorry’, may feature dancehall movement vocabulary, but often fail to credit the form, rather presenting it as part of hip-hop culture or rebranding it as ‘tropical pop’ respectively.
The current pandemic has significantly impacted the growth and development of the reggae/dancehall genre. The culture of young Black British people exists at the intersection of race, gender, racism and social (in)justice. Hence, the genealogical history, migration and development of contemporary reggae/dancehall culture in Britain demonstrates the strength and resilience of its participants.