Posted on 23 November 2023 in awards, fellowships, news

Independent Scholar Fellowship Competition – Awards Announcement

In January 2023, the ISRF launched its tenth Independent Scholar Fellowship competition. Having received a number of strong proposals, the Selection Panel met in September 2023, and voted to make four awards.

Tenth Early Career 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 continue to lend their time and expertise in these challenging times.


Project Abstracts

Powering the Public: Rewiring the post-conflict city

Dr Emma Lochery

Electricity is not only critical infrastructure for contemporary human life. Power systems are among the first casualties of conflict. Turning the lights off is a weapon of war.

This project aims to document experiences of rebuilding energy systems after war. What materials, knowledge, and capital are used—by whom? 

The project analyses post-conflict reconstruction of electricity infrastructure in Hargeysa, the capital city of Somaliland, a self-declared independent state in north-west Somalia. Now home to over a million people, Hargeysa was destroyed by bombardments in 1988 and became the capital of a state-building project in the 1990s. Local businesses powered the post-conflict city, establishing micro-grids as a state-led electricity project floundered. My research foregrounds how, as nascent power suppliers, companies navigated the politics of providing for the public amid an encompassing state-building project, merging over time to create a city-wide utility company with investments in renewable energy.

Drawing on extensive interviews and documentary research in Hargeysa and beyond, the project asks how the future of infrastructure is shaped by post-conflict realities and investigates the politics of reconnecting and re-energising a shared space in a changing world.

The Fellowship will allow me to consolidate already collected data, carry out new research and write the book ‘Rewiring the Post-Conflict City: Powering the public in Somaliland’, analysing the politics of electricity provision in Somaliland. Through presentations in Somaliland and to international organisations working on post-conflict reconstruction, I will launch conversations on how societies coming out of conflict reconstruct, repurpose or reimagine infrastructure for providing power. Through my innovative analysis of repowering from the neighbourhood to city level, I will make a critical contribution to real world debates on processes of peacebuilding, economic reconstruction, and energy systems design in regions facing the dual threat of armed conflict and climate change.

Stemming the Flow: The Role of Rivers in EU Migration Governance and Strategies of Resistance

Dr Hope Barker

Geographical landscapes of deserts, seas, rivers, and mountain passes have been harnessed by states and (intra) state authorities to both prevent and deter the arrivals of people on the move and to obfuscate accountability and responsibility for their deaths (Reineke and Anderson, 2016; Lynn Doty, 2011). In the context of the US/Mexico border, the Sonoran Desert was explicitly built into US border enforcement policy, termed ‘prevention through deterrence’. The use of geographical landscapes in the EU’s external borders acts insidiously. Hidden from view, this makes it harder to resist and renounce the situation at the EU’s borders which requires its own unique study. Situated in the field of critical border studies, using militant research practices, this research will investigate how three rivers at the EU’s external border form a salient part of border control and enforcement policies and have become, in and of themselves, political actants.
The research will investigate three river borders which have become sites that mobilise water flows at the EU’s exterior in the interest of border control policies: the Evros/Meric between Greece and Turkey, the Una (Sana tributary) between Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina, and the Swislocz between Poland and Belarus. These three rivers have been selected for their positioning in varying but interconnected entry points into the EU bloc, the high number of fatalities recorded at each in recent years, and the existence of local resistance networks in each region.

The main component of the field research will explore how local communities and people on the move are both affected by the politicisation and militarisation of border rivers, recentring the practices of resistance taking place in the form of documentation and memorialisation. One output of the project will be a conference allowing for discursive exchange and co-writing recommendations to policy makers and key stakeholders.

The Emerging Politics of Energy Workers. A Study of Forms of Work and Political Agency in the Green Transition

Dr Margot Verdier

In recent years, the energy transition has become a focal point of social controversies and struggles. Indeed, means developed to reach a carbon-neutral society often conflict with issues of class and territorial inequalities. In Europe, a particular subject of attention is the conversion of highly fossil fuel dependent regions which often appear to be the poorest of the continent. Scholars discuss constraints faced by citizens to participate in decision-making and the conditions for the ecological transition to strengthen democracy. However, political issues raised by the changing process of production itself remain undocumented. 

My research will overcome this blind-spot through a case-study. The region of Western Macedonia produces 40 % of the lignite-fired electricity of Greece, the 2nd producer of the EU (4th worldwide). The coal phase-out launched in 2019 affects (directly or indirectly) 10 % of the active population which already reaches the highest rate of unemployment in the EU (27%, World Bank, 2020). This ISRF Fellowship will allow a fieldwork of 8 months based on semi-structured interviews, observations and discourse analysis. Going beyond the main discussion that focuses on job-losses and opposes economic and ecological interests (Newell, 2021, Bécot, 2023), I will address energy workers’ sense of disempowerment : how do the multi-scale governance of the transition, the transformation of forms of work and the emergence of consumers’ “energy communities” affect their political agency? How do they navigate these new political constraints to participate building a better future for their communities?

By placing energy workers at the centre of the analysis, this project will thus provide a unique insight on the democratic issues raised by the transformation of the energy complex of social relationships. Through a critical discussion on green capitalism and current policies, it will contribute to the search for a more emancipatory transition process.

State Histories: Schooling and Official Narrative Change in Iran since the Revolution of 1979

Dr Yasamin Alkhansa

The proposed research comes at a time when historical revisionism is on the rise. With recognition of the ‘uses and abuses’ of history, especially (but not only) in authoritarian contexts, the project offers a unique and nuanced understanding of the complexities of historical revisionism through the case study of the Islamic Republic of Iran since its inception in 1979.

The research focuses on school history textbooks, an integral element in the machinery of hegemonic production of official narratives of the past. Theorised as an archive of the state and its inner world, it will be the first longitudinal analysis of changes in official history, as codified in textbooks, situated in and through the socio-political transformations of Iran. It will thereby develop new research methodologies to study authoritarianism, schooling and official memory. Recent political developments globally have cast the subject of official history in a new light. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been framed in the context of historical revisionism, specifically, a view of Russia’s territorial remit and cultural reach, while the Islamic Republic of Iran’s brutal suppression of protests for Women, Life, Freedom has exposed the ruptures between Iranian women, and in particular students, and the State.

The governments of both nations are now part of a new ‘memory alliance’, a Russo-Iranian narrative bloc that could contribute to renewed international rivalries between East and West, as evidenced by Russian media propagandists’ adoption of Ayatollah Khomeini’s branding of the US as the ‘Great Satan’. China’s educational reforms under Xi Jinping, including the othering of competing accounts as ‘historical nihilism’, further demonstrates the growing desires of authoritarian governments to modify and revise official history, as codified in textbooks, as part of their attempt to imprint on a new generation a state-sanctioned story of its past that is itself, unstable.

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].