It has never been more easy to get involved and become more informed when it comes to understanding politics and society, all you need to do is join in
From the Arab Spring to Hong Kong to the streets of London, be it seminars, campaigns and rallies, everyone can see how social media is playing an increasingly integral role in political activism today. Sites like Facebook are providing a means for the expansion and sharing of ideas to a level that humans have never had access before. Organisations like The People’s Assembly and Black Lives Matter, along with movements such as Permaculture, are exemplifying how online talk can translate into tangible positive changes being made by the increasingly active hands of this generation.
Another symptom of the desire to expand our political consciousness, as well as actively work towards change, is the funding young people are being given by groups such as the Economic and Social Research Centre (ESRC). The group’s work revolves around social science and this it defines as ‘in its broadest sense, the study of society and the manner in which people behave and influence the world around us’.
Having been active for 50 years, the organisation is ‘the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues’ supporting ‘independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector’. At any one time the ESRC gives support to ‘over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes’.
This is an organisation funding many of the ideas amongst Britain’s youth, however because this financial support goes to postgraduates (a fairly expensive position to get to), the government needs to be getting tuition fees down in order for there to be more opportunity and more funding available to potential students with progressive and practical ideas relating to the social sciences – a field of study underpinning today’s political process.
Funding young people as opposed to cutting money from education schemes is undoubtedly a good thing for society. It is pointed out on the ESRC’s website that: ‘It was an economist who came up with the idea of the National Health Service … The payment of billions of pounds of state benefits for the needy has been influenced by the work of social scientists’.
Events are held across Europe, at locations such as Brussels and Edinburgh University, in an effort to collaborate with social scientists across international borders. At a time when some of us need to realise that unified international responses are more effective than isolated national efforts, this is an important example of how people’s lives can be bettered through efficient, concentrated funding and the development and exchange of pragmatic, beneficial information and technology.
The organisation is sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the vast majority of the ESRC’s funding is divided up into research grants for ventures and centres in the following categories: Understanding Behaviour, Health and Wellbeing, Global Economic Policy and Management, New Technology, Innovation and Skills, Environment, Energy and Resilience, Security, Conflict and Justice, Social Diversity and Population Dynamics. Previous examples include £3.3 million to the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation and a £2.1 million grant to the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity. Such funding can and will affect public policy, and this is something which affects our daily lives wherever we are.
Shout Out UK are working with Sheffield University and the ESRC to promote political discourse amongst young people by bringing them together for a range of events. The ESRC organise student conferences, research seminars and public policy seminars whilst also holding an annual Festival of Social Science (which will be held this year at the University of Aberdeen) and offering courses in media training.
Upcoming events from the ESRC include topics such as ‘European responses to global children’s rights issues: Building capacity and exchanging knowledge’ ( Sept. 14th), ‘Collaborative Housing and Community Resilience’ (Sept. 14th) and ‘Feminizing Politics: Access, Voice and Accountability’ (Sept. 16th).
For certain events, due to demand, one has to apply beforehand. At such events the ESRC looks at things like voting patterns, migration patterns and climate patterns with the view of contributing: ‘to the economic competitiveness of the United Kingdom, the effectiveness of public services and policy, and the quality of life’. In an age of cuts, let us not break the next generation’s chances any more than the agenda of austerity already has. Get behind the idea of public discussion and engage in debate because this is what many events being put on by the ESRC are doing, and it seems to be helping.
So, if you feel like your university seminars are leaving questions unanswered or untouched, or even if you are a graduate and are interested in continuing your learning, the full list of ESRC events can be found here at http://www.esrc.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/all-events.aspx
If you are a postgraduate in the social sciences and currently looking for a research grant, information can be found here: http://www.esrc.ac.uk/funding-and-guidancen