In July 2020, the ISRF launched its seventh Political Economy Research Fellowship competition. Having received a number of strong proposals, a selection panel met in December 2020 and nominated five projects for funding.
Seventh Independent Scholar Fellowship Competition
Independent scholars from within Europe were eligible to apply for funding, for projects of up to one year. Awards were made to:
Thank you to everyone who participated in our selection process, across long-listing, external assessment, and the final selection panel. We are indebted to the academic community who continued to lend their time and expertise in these challenging times.
The “more-than-human” history of a disappearing lake. Historicizing indigenous responses to socio-environmental change in and around Lake Poopó, Bolivia
In its global strategy to address climate change, the UN deems indigenous knowledges of key importance to develop sustainable responses to environmental change. This fellowship develops an innovative interdisciplinary approach to make sense of the “more-than-human” history of a disappearing highland lake. Lake Poopó made international headlines when its vast body of water dried up late 2015. With the lake, the identity of the Uru-Qotzuñi ethnic minority -“people of the lake”- seemed to evaporate as well. The Lake and Uru-Qotzuñi communities’ dramatic decline has triggered academic interest across disciplines. Existing research recognize that socio-historical factors play a role but thus far, these factors have not been examined in detail.
This project builds on ten years of (post)doctoral historical research in Bolivia and on insights from my collaboration with anthropologists in fragile Andean ecosystems. Starting from notebooks left by Uru-Qotzuñi leaders in the late 20th century, I will be able to examine how daily human-environmental dynamics have shaped a historically changing landscape. Approaching the recent events as part of longer processes of landscape transformation, the proposed project will foster the integration of ethnohistory and environmental humanities research.
Combining untapped historical source material with ethnographic methods, I develop a methodology that centralizes indigenous communities’ lived experiences and accumulated knowledges regarding the multiple rhythms of environmental change. During an intensive research stay in the department of Oruro (Bolivia), I will undertake historical and ethnographic research in local archives and in collaboration with local NGOs and communities, will seek to contribute new local solutions for vulnerable livelihoods and landscapes.
By the end of the fellowship, I will have submitted 2 articles to international journals, completed a major follow-on research grant application, and created social media outputs including blog posts and podcasts
Prison Break: Imagining Alternatives to Prison in the UK
Phil Crockett Thomas
This inventive project invites people variously engaged in prison abolition (activists, academics, ex-prisoners) to ‘time travel’ to a future UK in which prisons no longer exist, and to craft science-fiction about how prisons were abolished and what came after. Building on the political consensus that prison does not diminish social harm, the project uses a novel creative method, ‘fictioning’, to re-imagine prison and the future of justice in the UK.
The project aims to:
– critically engage and explore possibilities of transformative change in the UK prison system.
– employ creative, practice-based methods to stimulate new ways of thinking beyond entrenched, circular debates about prison, and as a model for addressing other intractable social problems.
– offer a distinct account of UK abolition (particularly BAME efforts).
– test the viability of ‘fictioning’ as a robust tool of social science research and inquiry.
– disseminate creative products that can stimulate new dialogues on the future of prison.
– develop a workshop format that can be reproduced independently by others and could form the basis of further research.
The methodology will be advanced via 11 months of creative action-research workshops with abolitionists, aimed at generating new insights into punishment and justice. We will produce fiction, an educational resource, and a website, and publicly share these outputs to revitalise penal reform and abolition debates.
This project argues that arts-based methods can play a vital role in re-imagining the future of prisons and more just solutions to social harm. In its creation and dissemination of an accessible learning resource, the project also contributes to public knowledge of the social harms of prison and arguments for prison abolition.
This project meets the ISRF’s goals by developing an innovative, interdisciplinary and accessible approach to the seemingly intractable social policy problem of prison in the UK.
Work without bosses, housing without landlords, and nothing about us without us: researching disabled people’s involvement in co-operatives in the UK
The proposed research aims to investigate the involvement of disabled people in co-operatives in the UK. Disabled people are among those most severely impacted by the austerity economics and cuts to state social provisions of the past decade, while co-operatives have been proposed as a non-state solution to many of the social impacts of austerity politics and of capitalism more generally (e.g. Restakis 2010). There are also significant similarities between the philosophies and practices of co-operatives and of disabled people’s movement organisations (Beresford 2016). However, disabled people’s involvement in co-operatives has not yet been systematically studied or analysed.
This research will build on directions for further study suggested by the findings of my previous doctoral research on disabled people and personal assistance, which highlighted co-operative models of employment of assistants, already well-established in the Scandinavian countries (Westberg 2010), as having potential to address many difficulties experienced by disabled people as individual employers. However, personal assistance is one among many areas of daily life (housing and employment being other prominent examples), in which co-operatives may be powerful tools for overcoming barriers that disabled people experience to full and equal social participation.
Mixed qualitative and quantitative methods will be used to investigate the extent of disabled people’s involvement in cooperatives within the UK and their experiences, including the impact of co-operatives on disabled people’s lived experiences and social positions, as well as barriers that disabled people may face within co-operatives and the co-operative movement. Outputs from this research will include written publications and a conference intended to bring together scholars from disability studies and co-operative studies and actors from disabled people’s and co-operative movements. A longer-term aim, beyond the funded research period, will be the establishment of new co-operative organisations involving disabled people to directly address the issues highlighted by the research.
Reggae/dancehall: a dynamic continuity of resistance and survival for disenfranchised and marginalised young people
My research focuses on the migration and genealogical history of reggae/dancehall contemporary urban dance in Britain. The culture of young Black British people exists at the intersection of race, gender, racism and social (in)justice. Engaging these crucial discourses, reggae/dancehall’s presentation as a vibrant cultural expression, is often misunderstood and dismissed as vulgarity and violence (Cooper, 2004). This obscures reggae/dancehall’s subversive connection to the Decolonial School of thought wherein resistance and re-existence facilitates change and transformation of circumstances (Albán-Achinte in Tlostanova, 2017). This research presents an alternative narrative, positioning reggae/dancehall as a continuity of resistance and survival amongst disenfranchised and marginalised young people.
I contend that reggae/dancehall dance provides young Black people with a vehicle that serves to undermine the dominant narrative, which perceives Black bodies as threatening, placing them under attack. As an alternative to the frustration some young people channel through gang warfare, gun and knife crime, reggae/dancehall will be used to demonstrate how the murders of George Floyd (USA), Stephen Lawrence (UK) and historically oppressed Black bodies connect to cultures of resistance and re-existence. This facilitates the re-imagination of Black reggae/dancehall bodies as dynamic, vulnerable, powerful, playful and creative.
This research seeks to provide the first mapping of British reggae/dancehall through the lens of the dance vocabulary, dancing bodies, and British socio-political movements and events they historically intersect. Jamaican popular culture has significantly contributed to British culture, migrating to Britain amidst the Windrush generation’s Caribbean culture from 1948 onwards, influencing: Punk, Two Tone, Drum and Bass, Hip Hop, Jungle, UK Garage, and Grime.
This project extends my ethnographic and auto/ethnographic research on reggae/dancehall in Jamaica (2010-2018), investigating its genealogical spiritual links, by attempting to present reggae/dancehall’s direct contribution to the artistic, socio-politico-economic and technical impact of Britain’s creative industries globally, opposing the pathological narratives that currently exist.
Behind the scenes at the nail salon: an ethnographic exploration into the everyday politics of undocumented Vietnamese migrants in the UK
On 23rd October 2019, 39 Vietnamese migrants were found dead in a refrigerated lorry trailer in Essex, bringing the plight of undocumented Vietnamese immigration to the UK to the news headlines for a few days. While this tragic episode has been largely forgotten in the tumultuous 2020, the migration networks and journeys have not disappeared. Estimates of the number of undocumented Vietnamese immigrants in the UK vary massively from 20,000 to 70,000; they almost all end up working in nail salons, Vietnamese restaurants or illegal cannabis farms. Apart from this, we currently know very little about this dynamic and expanding community.
This project will be the first ethnographic study of the everyday political economy of undocumented Vietnamese migrants in the UK. Foregrounding the agency, perspectives and lived experiences of research participants, I will use the ISRF to conduct pioneering research into how Vietnamese migrants navigate and respond to home office threats and state bureaucracy, informal labour and exploitation, changing gender divisions of labour and conflicts within the UK Vietnamese community. Specifically, I will investigate the following questions as well as addressing new themes which may emerge from fieldwork:
1. How do undocumented Vietnamese migrants understand and navigate communal/kinship-based/close relationships of exploitation?
2. What alliances or animosities exist between various subsectors of the UK Vietnamese population?
3. How are gender relations affected by new divisions of labour entailing migration and undocumented life?
4. How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the above dynamics and survival strategies of those without access to welfare benefits?
Building on my experience conducting ethnographic fieldwork among marginalised groups and fluency in Vietnamese, this ground-breaking research will be of practical benefit to one of the most difficult-to-reach communities in the UK, as well as being highly relevant to important real world debates on labour, immigration and citizenship policy.
If you would like to contact any of our Grantees to discuss their ISRF-funded work, please contact Dr Lars Cornelissen (Academic Editor) in the first instance, at firstname.lastname@example.org.