Posted on 20 March 2024 in roundup, the conversation

A Year in the Life of the ISRF

From book launches and lecture series to its annual conference on climate change fatalism, the ISRF has had a busy year supporting independently minded research.

Adam Smith

Universal Impact Writer

This article was written by a team member of Universal Impact.

The climate crisis is accelerating at a galloping pace. But while most people support urgent and vigorous action, governments and corporations frequently are stalling for time and failing to implement the radical changes that are required – often prioritising their own neoliberal political or financial interests.

In parallel, there’s a deepening knowledge crisis. Universities – which have played a critical role in producing the evidence needed to understand, mitigate and address the climate emergency and its impacts – arguably are being marginalised and their funding is being cut.

Little wonder, then, that a dangerous sense of climate fatalism is setting in.

So how can researchers address this fatalism and the broader factors driving it? This was the central theme of the ISRF’s latest annual conference, which last November brought together heterodox researchers from around the world to discuss and address one of our planet’s most pressing problems.

The conference, in Bologna, Italy, was one of many events over the last 12 months dedicated to achieving the ISRF’s mission to advance the social sciences through the promotion of new modes of inquiry and the development of interdisciplinary expertise and methods.

The ISRF has also hosted ten book launches over the last year. The new books, written by ISRF Fellows or associates, cover topics as diverse as Jamaican dancehall culture; how human rights are being privatised; what a world without prisons would look like; and how architects think about and accommodate the animals, from spiders to sparrows, that may share the buildings they design.

Just as the climate emergency is arguably a crisis of neoliberalism, so Dr Arun Kundnani maintains that to fight racism we must strike at its capitalist roots. Last July, the ISRF co-hosted the launch of his book, What Is Antiracism? And Why It Means Anticapitalism. Dr Kundnani was joined by noted prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore for a conversation about the true nature of structural oppression, underlining the book’s searing argument that “white liberals can heroically confront their own whiteness all they want, yet these structures remain” – and that beating racism requires “striking at its capitalist roots”.

There are many more events still to come. On 28 March, the ISRF will host an event to launch Dr Larisa Jašarević’s latest book Beekeeping in the End Times. Returning to the theme of climate change, it explores what can be learnt about the crisis from bees and their keepers in Bosnia and Herzegovina – and how it is throwing inter-species relationships out of kilter. Meanwhile, 24 May sees the launch of The End of Empires and a World Remade by Professor Martin Thomas. It asks whether European colonialism’s 20th century collapse really was as definitive as is often assumed.

The ISRF’s new three-part lecture series on migration is also underway.

At the first of these events, organised in partnership with Gresham College, London, Dr Nishat Awan explored the experiences of undocumented migrants leaving Pakistan for Europe, and what technology, such as satellite imagery and social media, can (and can’t) tell us about their motives for seeking refuge.

Meanwhile, in mid-March, Dr Greg Constantine revealed the stark, true cost of immigration detention. He has spent years photographing and interviewing detained immigrants – and his sweeping portrait of them exposes a harsh and alienating bureaucratic system which largely exists out of sight, and mind.

The series concludes on 10 April when Dr Sarah Rosenberg-Jansen will explain why the majority of the world’s refugees lack access to reliable, affordable and sustainable energy – and what can be done to improve the situation in the camps where they are forced to live.

The ISRF also continues to fund and support the work of independently-minded researchers through Flexible Grants for Small GroupsEarly Career Fellowships and Independent Scholar Fellowships. It has funded 21 different projects over the past year, looking at wide-ranging issues including electricity infrastructure in Somaliland, the impact of Islamophobia on the mental health of young Muslims, and the social impact of hybrid warfare on Ukraine.

Applications are currently open for a Mid-Career Fellowship, with funding available of up to €100,000. This is an opportunity for academics to take time away from teaching and administrative duties to explore “original research ideas which take new approaches, and suggest new solutions, to real world social problems”. Scholars from across Europe – including the UK – are welcome to apply before the 28 March deadline.

Additionally, the ISRF Bulletin has been showcasing the work of researchers. Two editions have been published over the past year, bringing together key themes from recent events: one focusing on digital technologies and social research and the other on how artificial intelligence is changing our ideas of what it means to be human.

Finally, planning is underway for this year’s ISRF conference, which takes place in Warsaw, Poland, from 7-9 October. It will explore the climate crisis, migration and democracy – and how the three issues are connected. If you’re interested in submitting a paper or participating in the conference, please indicate your interest by email to Dr Lars Cornelissen by 31 March 2024.