The ISRF Annual Workshop

Beginning with the inaugural May 2013 event, the ISRF Annual Workshop provides a platform for ISRF Fellows to report on their research projects, and also to contribute to conversations and discussions around a theme. Each Annual Workshop is themed around a topic, methodology or debate of interest within (and across) the social sciences.

Queries regarding the Annual Workshop should be directed to Dr Rachael Kiddey.

Relating Pasts and Presents: History of Science and Social Science

26-28 September 2018, Harnack-Haus, Berlin

The 2018 ISRF Workshop pursues the line of thought emerging from last year’s ‘Today’s Futures’, that to plan intelligently for the future we need to pay attention to the past. But what happens when social scientists and historians meet and talk? Particularly, when the ISRF’s fellows meet historians of knowledge at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

The ISRF’s commitment is to support research which is interdisciplinary and reflexively critical, and seeks new theories and methods for understanding the conditions of life as it is lived by human beings now. In the 2018 Workshop we plan a wide-ranging exploration of how a sensibility to the history of knowledge might inspire thinking in social science. With a format of short research presentations, thematic discussions, dialogues across disciplines, and participants’ creative responses, the ISRF will engage with scholars at the Max Planck Institute over what history of science and social science might make of one another.

Today’s Future: Challenges and Opportunities Across the Social Sciences

21-22 June 2017, Het Scheepvaartmuseum, Amsterdam

At the ISRF Annual Workshop the ISRF’s Fellows reported on their work, to each other and to a wider audience drawn from the University of Amsterdam and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, who co-hosted the event at Het Scheepvaartmuseum. The Workshop focused on the ISRF’s requirement that the research should be interdisciplinary, innovative and critical. The topic for this year’s Workshop was ‘Today’s Future’.

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ISRF Workshop: Today’s Future © Matthew Smith 2017

To our historic peers, the Future was a progressive place, a period to which everyone looked forward in anticipation of, for example, better medicine, improved social and economic prosperity, enhanced human rights – a fairer, more predictable world. But the Future does not look so bright from the first part of the twenty-first century. Trapped between narratives of the past in which Western hegemonies triumph and experiences of upheaval caused by heightened political instability, a global refugee crisis, increased poverty, war and extinction – Today’s Future collapses back upon us, threatening to be worse. So what is social science doing to prepare?

Social science is often considered to be too slow, too unwieldy and not robust enough to compete with ‘hard’ sciences, maths and economics. But the fact that social science is many things is precisely what makes it so adaptable, flexible and creative. Through cross-disciplinary critique – anthropology, psychology, sociology, political science, geography, archaeology – social science helps us to understand contemporary issues from the perspective of multiple temporalities. How does globalisation look from the hyper-temporality of climate change? How successful has the project of decolonisation been when we see imperialism re-emerging in Russia, China and the Middle East? What is there to celebrate about neo-liberal capitalism from the perspective of those who must compete for basic resources such as food, water and clean air? What are we doing to tackle issues associated with unrest and over-crowding in our towns and cities? Through better understanding the ways in which people find meaning and value in the world, social science perspectives improve our chances of surviving the coming storms to live peacefully and sustainably on the small planet that we all call home.

At this, the fifth, annual ISRF workshop our theme asks: what are the practical ways in which the work we variously do as social scientists may be considered to take on the major challenges facing us in the twenty-first century? We invite participants to present their work whilst considering the ways in which it functions as a catalyst for or advocate of change. How does social science expose the fissures of power relations manifest in the world today? How do we assess different paradigms of value when there is increased competition for resources? How can we better apply the work we do to hold governments, politicians, corporations and other powerful elite, to account? What can we look forward to? How can may Today’s Future be characterised?

Discovery & Recognition


At the ISRF Annual Workshop the ISRF’s Fellows reported on their work, to each other and to a wider audience drawn from University College London (UCL), who co-hosted the event at the Museum of London. The Workshop focused on the ISRF’s requirement that the research should be interdisciplinary, innovative and critical. The topic for this year’s Workshop was ‘Discovery and Recognition’.

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ISRF Workshop: Discovery & Recognition © Matthew Smith 2016

The title, ‘Discovery and Recognition’ prompts the researcher to question how their work disrupts the world. As social scientists, our work sets out to produce new knowledge but do we really seek something previously unknown or is it rather that we rediscover things which were intentionally or unofficially forgotten? ‘Good’ social science should be conscious of itself and its practices. But what surprises do we then face? Which methodologies are most useful? There was a Panel of cross-disciplinary guest speakers to consider these and other questions, and the Fellows were asked to bear the Workshop theme in mind when presenting their own work.

On Day Two, guest Panel members and Fellows came together in small discussion groups to identify key themes from the previous day and further unpack central topics. The groups then reported back to one another before a final plenary session.

Marilyn Strathern - Tricking Oneself: The Cultivation of Surprise

ISRF Academic Advisor Marilyn Strathern – formerly William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology at University of Cambridge, and Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge – was unable to attend in person, but met with ISRF Editorial Assistant Rachael Kiddey to record a keynote presentation, “Tricking Oneself: The Cultivation of Surprise”.

Jayne Raisborough - Women & Ageing

As part of her ISRF Mid Career Fellowship project Learning How to be Old: Frames, Feminism and the Production of a Pro-Ageing Instructional Film, Jayne Raisborough (University of Brighton) – in collaboration with filmmaker and Director of Photography Mark Bader and Bader Rudebeck Films – has produced the film ‘Women And Ageing’, which was screened at the ISRF’s 4th Annual Workshop on 1st July 2016.

Social Science as Communication


At the 2015 ISRF Annual Workshop, the ISRF’s Fellows reported on their work, to each other and to a wider audience drawn from its host, the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh.

The Workshop focused on the ISRF’s requirement that the research should be interdisciplinary, innovative and critical. The topic for this year’s Workshop was ‘Social Science as Communication’.

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ISRF Workshop: Social Science as Communication © Matthew Smith 2015

The title ‘Social Science as Communication’ was intended to provoke uncertainty. Is one communicating when doing social science? Is one doing social science when communicating? Re-thinking social science as (being) communication? Re-thinking communication? What is being communicated? What counts as communication (anyway)? A panel of the ISRF’s Fellows were invited to consider these and other options, and Fellows were be asked to bear the Workshop theme in mind when presenting their own work.

On Day Two, the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science hosted panels on ‘The Media, The Academy and The Referendum’ and ‘Digital Social Science’, and presented a lunchtime communication carnival: ‘a promenade presentation of creative and committed experiments in social science communication’.



At the ISRF Annual Workshop the ISRF’s Fellows report on their work, to each other and to a wider audience drawn here from its host, the Research Centre for Social Sciences (ReCSS) at the University of York. The Workshop focuses on the ISRF’s requirement that the research should be interdisciplinary, innovative and critical. The topic for this year’s Workshop is ‘Critique and Critiques’ and the two-day event will interrogate this theme, in a space where introductory, provocative, exploratory or research-based statements make way for audience participation and discussion by audience members.

What counts as critique varies across the disciplines; critical history, critical anthropology, critical theory and theories, critical philosophy and so on differ in theory and method. All are themselves subject to critique and, of course, the critique of the notion of critique presents a further complication. The Workshop is an opportunity to consider what the truly critical and intellectually innovative research sought by the ISRF, and aimed at by its Fellows, might look like. On Day One there will be short presentations by the ISRF Fellows of projects from across the social sciences, and a Roundtable discussion: ‘What is critique and (how) are we doing it?’

Day Two, bringing together researchers from York and beyond, focuses on contemporary forms of critical theory and its application in empirical research. As a body of thinking, analysis and research, critical theory problematizes superficial and complacent analyses of our contemporary human, social and economic condition. The day discovers the range of engagement in critical understandings of social change, progress, the impact of technology, our imbrication with economic rationalities and discourses, as well as deepening problems of ecocide, inequality and violence, in the work of the University’s social science scholars.



The Independent Social Research Foundation exists to fund social science research that is interdisciplinary and innovative. But what is the value of interdisciplinarity to the social sciences? What is interdisciplinarity? Does it imply a directive towards the ideal of a unitary social science, or a pragmatic attempt to reduce insularity and factionalism? Is its purpose to promote interchange of methods and concepts between existing disciplines, or to break down demarcations between them and allow ‘new’ disciplines to emerge? Distinct ‘logics’ of interdisciplinarity have been canvassed; has interdisciplinarity now become a ‘portmanteau concept’?

The intended result of interdisciplinary work is often said to be ‘innovation’. Interdisciplinarity produces new theories and concepts: innovation results from applying new categories and new technologies – new ways of seeing the world and doing things in it. But is there anything more to this than re-describing what is there ‘anyway’ and putting it to better, more efficient, or just different use, always in pursuit of the same human goals? Are we condemned to re-discovery, of the old in a new guise? And (an old question) would we recognise the truly new if we had never encountered it before? Questions such as these ramify into many disciplines and invite many responses. The Workshop takes an empirical approach by considering the interdisciplinary research the ISRF is currently funding, presented by some of the ISRF’s Fellows.