The Conversation

Since April 2017, Josephine Lethbridge is The Conversation’s Interdisciplinary Editor, funded by the ISRF. Josephine’s role includes working with scholars at The Conversation’s member universities, as well as past and present Fellows of the ISRF, to bring interdisciplinary social research to millions of readers worldwide.

Any ISRF Fellows wishing to pitch an idea for an article to Josephine, or simply interested in knowing more, should contact her directly at

Interdisciplinary Articles by ISRF Fellows at The Conversation

Why the world is due a revolution in economics education
Joris Tieleman | ISRF Flexible Grants for Small Groups Recipient

Economic thinking governs much of our world. But the discipline’s teaching is stuck in the past. Centred around antiquated 19th-century models built on Newtonian physics, economics treats humans as atomic particles, rather than as social beings.

While academic research often manages to transcend this simplicity, undergraduate education does not – and the influence of these simplified ideas is carried by graduates as they go on to work in politics, media, business and the civil service.

Economists such as myself tend to speak in tightly coded jargon and mathematical models. We speak of “economic laws”, tacitly positioning these as analogous to the laws of physics. We wrap a thick layer of technical jargon around our study material and ban all moral or ethical discussions from the classroom. We attempt to take cover under the protective white lab coat of “real science”, a phenomenon described by Nobel Prize winner Friedrich Hayek as scientism.

In short, economics has become a rather quaint and highly guarded discipline. We urgently need to update economics education to change this – because economics, as taught in universities, does not reflect or speak to many of the issues of the real world, be they political, environmental or social.

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British Empire is still being whitewashed by the school curriculum – historian on why this must change
Deana Heath | ISRF Mid-Career Fellow 2017-18

Jeremy Corbyn has recently proposed that British school children should be taught about the history of the realities of British imperialism and colonialism. This would include the history of people of colour as components of, and contributors to, the British nation-state – rather than simply as enslaved victims of it. As Corbyn rightly noted: “Black history is British history” – and hence its study should be part of the national curriculum, not segregated in a single month each year.

This is a welcome proposal because, as an academic who teaches modules on South Asian, imperial, colonial and global history, I face an uphill struggle at the start of each new academic year. Many of the undergraduates who greet me know virtually nothing about any of the subjects I teach.

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A history of Bitcoin – told through the five different groups who bought it
Dave Elder-Vass | ISRF Political Economy Research Fellow 2017-18

The recent fluctuations in Bitcoin’s value are just the latest in a series of spectacular peaks and troughs since it was created in 2009. (Though its price has been falling recently, it remains five times higher than last April, before the latest major peak began.)

Commentators are often dismissive of Bitcoin buyers, writing them off as naive victims of a fraudulent bubble. But if we look more carefully, we can trace the history of Bitcoin through five key narratives. Each has drawn in a different group of buyers and in doing so contributed to its long-term growth in value.

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Making music videos is not a criminal activity – no matter what genre
Joy White | Independent Scholar Research Fellow 2015-16

West London music group 1011 has recently been banned from recording or performing music without police permission. On June 15, the Metropolitan police issued the group, which has been the subject of a two-year police investigation, with a Criminal Behaviour Order.

For the next three years, five members of the group – which creates and performs a UK version of drill, a genre of hip-hop that emerged from Chicago – must give 24 hours notice of the release of any music video, and 48 hours notice of any live performance. They are also banned from attending Notting Hill Carnival and wearing balaclavas.

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I go undercover into arms fairs – and secretly draw caricatures of the ‘hell’ I find there
Jill Gibbon | ISRF Early Career Research Fellow 2017-18

The arms multinational BAE Systems is in the final stages of a deal to sell 48 Typhoon fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, despite mounting evidence of war crimes in Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen. International humanitarian law prohibits attacks against civilians but the Saudi-led coalition has bombed Yemeni schools, markets and hospitals, killing more than 10,000 people including children, while survivors face disease and starvation with the collapse of infrastructure.

Fragments of bombs made in Britain and the US have been found in the debris of some of these attacks, yet both countries continue to sell arms to the Saudi regime.

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We know how food production needs to change if crisis is to be avoided – so why isn’t this happening?
Nina Moeller | ISRF Independent Scholar Fellow 2016-17
Michel Pimbert | Coventry University

As the world races toward a projected 9 billion inhabitants, the failings of dominant food systems are impossible to deny. Current food production methods are severely polluting. They are the cause of malnutrition. They are also inequitable, and unjustifiably wasteful. And they are concentrated in the hands of few corporations. Entangled in the multiple crises humanity is facing, establishing global food security is considered a key challenge of our time.

Against the backdrop of climate change, resource shortages and urbanisation, the question of how to ensure adequate food supply for everyone looms rather large. The usual response emphasises intensifying the output of agriculture through the common model of petrochemical, large-scale, one-crop, intensive farming.

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India’s torture record is dire – but Britain has little to crow about
Deana Heath | ISRF Mid-Career Research Fellow 2017-18

On this 70th anniversary of its independence from British rule, India is being subjected to the sort of assessment that all post-colonial nation-states are forced to undergo on such occasions. How “far” have they come since the end of what their European colonisers liked to view not as a lengthy period of forced occupation, exploitation and violence, but rather of “tutelage” in the values and virtues of European civilisation? Invariably, they are found wanting.

Nowhere is such a perceived lack greater, perhaps, than in the realm of human rights. Post-colonial states are routinely critiqued by Western governments and human rights NGOs for their failure to uphold what are declared to be universal values. Such critiques are often spurred by, and help to reinforce, underlying assumptions about the incivility of racial “others”.

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Josephine Lethbridge
Interdisciplinary Editor

About Josephine

Josephine Lethbridge joined The Conversation as Arts + Culture Editor in 2014, before becoming Interdisciplinary Editor in 2017. She has an MA in English Literature from the University in Glasgow and an MSc in Science, Technology and Society from UCL. As well as commissioning standard-length articles from interdisciplinary academics, Josephine is also part of The Conversation’s Insights Team, formed in late 2018, which commissions long-form, media rich articles covering the most pressing questions of today.

In her spare time, Josephine enjoys going to the cinema and exploring London’s industrial history. She is also a trustee of the Queille Trust, which organises a biennial arts festival in the south of France and aims to support the careers of emerging performers. She lives in south east London.