Posted on 22 June 2020 in uncategorised

The ISRF Welcomes Its Incoming Director of Research, Christopher Newfield

Distinguished Professor Christopher Newfield will be joining the ISRF as Director of Research in July 2020.


ISRF Director of Research

Main image:
Photo of the ISRF Annual Workshop

in Oxford, 2019. Photo by Matt Smith.

On behalf of the Foundation, of the Executive Team, and for myself, I’m very pleased to be welcoming Chris Newfield as the next Director of Research. He joins us officially next month and we will be working remotely alongside one another until he arrives from the USA to take over from me fully. His appointment was always going to be an excellent match with the job description. Even more so now given the uncertain new future of academic research, into which he will lead the Foundation with intelligence and ingenuity, and all the critical independence of mind that is the ISRF’s sine qua non.

I asked Chris to introduce himself. Here is his response:

I am extremely pleased to be joining the ISRF as Director of Research. I got to know the foundation in 2016 when it sponsored a group at Cambridge (UK) to study “The Limits of the Numerical” in health care. I was working on the effects of metrics on higher education at the University of California Santa Barbara, and we started to collaborate, along with a third group from the University of Chicago that studied the impact of numbers on the public understanding of climate change. This gave rise to an immensely satisfying, multi-year interdisciplinary conversation focused on addressing large questions by synthesising our diverse expertise. Louise participated, and through this experience I became aware of the remarkable array of original and path-breaking research that the ISRF funds. Foundations tend to converge around each other’s norms. It was clear that the ISRF had norms of its own.

My background is in literary and cultural study; my doctoral education was in U.S. literature and intellectual history before 1865. My first book, The Emerson Effect: Individualism and Submission in America, examined the anti-democratic elements of US public culture that Emerson misleadingly presented as “self-reliance”: I renamed it submissive individualism. To write that book, I had to go quite deeply into political economy, psychology, sociology of race, and organisational theory, and over the course of my career I’ve worked more and more at the intersection of the humanities and the social sciences. I became interested in business culture and how it was changing Western societies and changing the roles of higher education. One outcome of that research was a trilogy of books on the university from 1880 to the present, covering its internally divided missions and the struggles to treat it as a public good. I have always been clear that knowledge creation is not a special undertaking of elites. Foundations have an important role to play in supporting new knowledge that is propelled but not bounded by academic disciplines, and that can interact with both specialists and diverse communities.

I’m looking forward to getting started at the ISRF, to learning from what Louise calls its invisible college of Fellows and supporters, and to helping the Foundation fund research that changes how we all think.