Posted on 14 July 2023 in awards, fellowships, news

Early Career Fellowship Competition – Awards Announcement

In January 2023, the ISRF launched its seventh Early Career Fellowship competition. Having received a number of strong proposals, a selection panel met in July 2023 and nominated five projects for funding.

Seventh Early Career Fellowship Competition

Scholars from within Europe – up to 10 years post-PhD – 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 continue to lend their time and expertise in these challenging times.

Project Abstracts

Antinomies of the environmental state: The state as market actor in the green transition

Dr Milan Babić

This project aims to develop an analytical framework for understanding the ambiguous roles states play as market actors in the green energy transition. States are not only regulators of energy markets – as standard economic theory would tell us – but they also rank among the largest global fossil owners and investors. At the same time, many nation-states are also at the forefront of sustainable asset ownership and provide important investment for expanding renewable energy sources. In their role as market participants, states are hence both, a transformative force in the green transition but also a direct fossil profiteer. Political Economy scholarship has established the former, while recent work on the green or environmental state highlighted the latter (Lamperti et al. 2019; Babić and Dixon 2022). We however lack an analytical framework that integrates these insights and enables us to empirically identify under which circumstances states as market actors de facto curb or accelerate green transitions. This project develops such a framework by deriving and integrating three core dimensions – state fossil ownership, state renewable investment, and the political and economic factors reducing the former and increasing the latter.

Theoretically, this project combines insights from International Political Economy, Environmental Politics, and Critical Political Economy to support the proposed framework. As a first step, I develop the analytical framework, drawing on interdisciplinary insights on state ownership and investment in green transitions. In a second step, I then test this framework empirically in a comparative case study of two states that are both large fossil owners and renewable energy investors (Saudi Arabia and Norway). The envisaged framework will be interdisciplinary and applicable beyond the studied cases. It speaks to the urgent task of providing critical, problem-oriented tools for analyzing the prospects of state-led green transitions in the ongoing climate crisis.

Sounding cities: reconfiguring urban politics through music production

Dr Kristina Kolbe

While diversity policies have seemingly made Europe’s creative sector more inclusive, this only holds true on surface level. Indeed, inequalities of race, class, and gender persist ‘behind the scenes’ of cultural production and profoundly shape the experiences of cultural workers on the ground. What is therefore needed is a bottom-up perspective, and this project approaches this challenge through a politics of care that can offer a new, genuinely more inclusive model for cultural work. Care discourses have recently picked up pace across the sector, emphasizing the need for creative collaboration, solidarity, and resilient working relationships in contrast to the otherwise precarious, (self)entrepreneurial logics of creative work. 

This project is the first to study how a politics of care actually becomes enacted in concrete processes of cultural production and whether it can indeed unsettle inequality and precariousness in cultural work. I will conduct a multi-sited ethnography of three music collectives in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom – ranging from grassroots to highly established organizations – which foreground care in their work. Building on sociology, Feminist, and postcolonial studies, I will critically trace how these collectives construct care in their creative, organisational, and social practices of music production and analyse under which institutional conditions care either challenges or reinstates inequality. 

The project thus pursues three key interventions. First, it advances sociological scholarship by being the first that empirically explores care politics as an alternative organising principle for cultural work. Second, bringing together leading debates in sociology on labour and inequality with Feminist and postcolonial theorizations of care, it breaks new theoretical grounds and lays the basis for interdisciplinary research into culture and care. Third, it develops and shares bottom-up, ‘best-practice’ approaches to cultural work to help tackle precariousness and inequality in the creative sector more holistically to bring about real change.

Transnational social security law in the digital age: towards a grassroots politics of redistribution

Dr Serena Natile

This project argues for and provides a framework for transnational social security law, paying particular attention to recent processes of digitalisation. Transnational social security, not as yet an established disciplinary field, is intended here as the global responsibility to guarantee decent living standards and access to essential services for All. The entry point for the analysis is the urgency to address the increasing global inequality and maldistribution of wealth and power enabled by the international legal order and enhanced by the apparent inclusivity of digitalisation. This has moved attention away from international law’s responsibility for redistributive interventions while creating new avenues for value extraction via fees and data. 

This research asks whether a grassroots-inspired framework for transnational social security law can disrupt the unjust mode of wealth and power distribution legitimised by international economic law and contribute to global socioeconomic justice. To answer this question the project develops an innovative methodology that brings together a political economy critique of international economic law (IEL) and a prefigurative law reform methodology. The former interrogates the assumption that trade relations (economic production) should be regulated internationally while social security (the distribution of the wealth created) is the responsibility of states alone or should be provided via aid, charity or philanthropy. This regulatory mismatch results in an unequal distribution of benefits and responsibilities that affect more vulnerable communities and countries. Prefigurative law reform methodology draws on prefigurative politics in the form of grassroots activists’ calls for global redistribution and an imaginative law approach that gives them the power to act as if they can remake international law. This methodology will be applied to four cases of digitalisation of social security programmes to examine the different distributive impact that these programmes would have if a transnational framework for social security law was in place.

Working theories from the cashless frontier

Dr Nicki Kindersley

Everyone is worried about the future of (precarious, casual, informal, unequal, insecure) work. But the current wave of research focuses on work for cash, reflecting the International Labour Organisation’s redefinition of work as for pay or profit (Gaddis et al. 2023). For the global majority on the capital frontier, though, money is still only one part of work: in South Sudan, cash passes through most people’s hands less than once a week (Thomas 2019). These people are, according to the ILO, not working but surviving in ‘subsistence’ economies of self-production within an increasing climate crisis.

What are these workers’ theories of the future of labour, on the edge of collapsing market chains in a deglobalising world but at the front of a climate crisis? This project explores models and ideas of good, safe and useful work defined by people working in South Sudan, one of the last frontiers of capitalism and enclosure, where farmers balance mutuality and markets, artisan miners barter gold for fuel, and pastoralist collectives sing songs against the cash economy. These workers are organising their lives within one of the most rapid climate change environments in the world (Tiitmamer 2021) and have a close understanding of the limits of technocratic ‘skill’-based and market-focused ’entrepreneurial’ development programmes.

This project is a sustained conversation about the working future in this terrain of ‘living alternatives’ (Monteith 2020, Fanon 1963). It builds on a personal 13-year archive of colonial and post-colonial paperwork, songs, poems and conversations from across South Sudan’s working terrain. It will work with over-worked colleagues in South Sudan’s University of Juba Schools of Education, Agriculture and Economics. Sharing the epistemology of the supposed ‘global surplus’ addresses ISRF goals for radical new ideas of how to work for a safe self and society, beyond bare life within climate collapse.

Young Muslim Minds: A Participatory Investigation into the Impact of Islamophobia on Young Muslims’ Mental Health

Dr Fatima Khan

This project examines the impacts of Islamophobia on the mental health of young Muslims living in Greater Manchester. Islamophobia is ordinary in white-majority global north states (Khan, 2022) and has been linked to increased stress and anxiety amongst young Muslims (Bunglawala, 2022), with those born into the post-9/11 context showing the highest rate of self-directed harm of all religious groups (Awaad et al., 2021). While my preliminary work (Khan and Ahmed 2022:12) has highlighted that young Muslims have nowhere to turn to for help due to the lack of culturally sensitive mental health support and a “culture of silence within families and communities” around mental ill-health. 

Previous research in the field has primarily adopted a quantitative approach. This, however, has resulted in the in-depth personal experiences of young Muslims born into post-9/11 Islamophobia being neglected (Farooqui and Kaushik, 2022). Further, the use of the BAME designation in quantitative studies masks the disparities between ethnic groups, leading to inaccurate representations of the mental health of different ethnic groups (Adebiyi et al., 2021). To address these shortcomings, this project will adopt a pioneering participatory approach that focuses exclusively on young Muslims’ counter-stories of Islamophobia and the impact of this on their mental health and well-being. In doing so, it will co-produce new forms of knowledge that are situated, in-depth, youth-informed, and youth-led. These novel ways of understanding will accelerate scholarship in multiple disciplines that is concerned with racial justice, the intersecting structural constraints for young people’s mental health, the promises and limitations of innovative methodologies and with fundamental sociological concerns about social (re)creation and untangling the relationship between individual agents and social structures. Further, the co-produced outputs will identify young people’s ideas and recommendations for developing policies, practices and services to increase young Muslim’s access to and engagement with mental health support.

Contacting Grantees

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 [email protected].