Leading Social Science research anticipates the future

Posted by pt91 at May 13, 2014 04:52 PM |
Head of the College of Social Science Professor Steve King argues that research should not just be about the here and now

Leicester has a long and proud history of Social Science research, from the ground-breaking work of Norbert Elias, through to the last few decades when Leicester has built on that tradition to introduce new departments, disciplines, research and teaching in Criminology, Sociology, Politics and International Relations.

We have been forward-thinking from our early days - establishing  the Centre for Mass Communications Research when mass communications was hardly considered a subject for academic study, for example - and it is this eye on the future, together with Social Science’s increasing relevance to a range of disciplines, that is driving the work here at Leicester.

There is very exciting work taking place within our College at the moment – the Leicester Centre for Hate Studies, the Migration Network, Health and Public Policy Evaluation Network (HaPPEN), the Centre for Medical Humanities. They each break down disciplinary boundaries to answer the big questions facing society in a constructive way.

The Migration Network, for example, brings together Sociologists, Political Scientists, Economists, Geographers, Psychologists, Historians and indeed Art Historians, since representation is important in this debate. Leah Bassel and Marc Scully’s work is leading the way in breaking down boundaries and bringing diverse people together to make a new agenda. And it’s what we need to do more of in the future.

Ming Lim in the School of Management has set up the Chinese Studies Research Alliance (ChiSRA), bringing together scholars and students across many disciplines, both within and outside of the University. Still in its infancy, the network is already organising its first international conference on China’s new vision ‘China Dream’, and will explore how the new leadership is planning to meet its citizens’ growing needs – not just economically, but physically, environmentally and culturally.

Hate Crime project
From 'The Harms of Hate', a short film from the Centre for Hate Studies.
And Neil Chakraborti’s work on Hate Studies is innovative because he anticipated the importance of something before it became a current news issue. Now the Centre is in a good position to have a fundamental impact on policy, public engagement and government planning, working across disciplines to engage with modern questions.

This is what the best Social Science can do – anticipate how to answer future questions, rather than only deal with the now.

Our sociologists work on subjects as diverse as migration and public health to fashion and consumption. But all our College departments have a sociological approach. And looking outside of our college, you could argue that there are sociologists in History, Art History and Film Studies, Museum Studies, Health Sciences, Geography – even Psychology. The basic approach and methods mean that everyone is a sociologist! The challenge is to bring those who share the same methods and questions together in a way that can add value – it’s all about potential and definitely not a problem.

The College now aims for all our disciplines to be at the forefront, leaders in methodology as well as cross-disciplinary research. We’d like our departments to be in top 10 league table positions, and to show that Social Science can offer hypothesis-driven, data and theory-rich research and teaching, with long lasting policy implications. That’s the ambition.

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