Seven fascinating interdisciplinary research projects funded by the British Academy

15 Jun 2018

Our Knowledge Frontiers and Tackling the UK's International Challenges programmes support original interdisciplinary research in the humanities and social sciences. The 44 different projects awarded under these programmes so far aim to deliver excellent research with relevance to public and policy debates. With a new application for both programmes now open, here are some of the fascinating and challenging questions that these projects aim to address.

Tales from two cities: ten years in the megaslums of Karachi and Mexico City

Dr David Hickman, University of York

Tales from two cities is a decade-long documentary project, recorded entirely within two of the world’s largest ‘megaslums’: Orangi Town in Karachi and Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl (Neza) in Mexico City. It builds a ground-level portrait of lives inside new urban landscapes – impacted by migration, conflict, corruption, organised crime and climate change – but this is also the story of invisible people shaping unseen changes. How sustainable are these changes? To what extent are Neza and Orangi now post-slum cities? And what does this mean for the people who have built their lives there? Through collaborations with city-based NGOs and others, the project also offers support in developing and disseminating the work of local journalists, writers, archivist-historians and film-makers.

A woman makes a living from recycling on Mexico City’s largest rubbish dump
A woman makes a living from recycling on Mexico City’s largest rubbish dump. Photo by David Hickman.

Outcomes for objecting children under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

Professor Marilyn Freeman, University of Westminster

International child abduction is a global and growing phenomenon. The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction provides for co-operation between its 98 signatory states to ensure that a child wrongly removed or retained from their state of habitual residence in breach of rights of custody is returned, unless one of the very limited Convention exceptions applies. These include when a child objects to being returned and has attained an age and degree of maturity at which it is appropriate to take their views into account. This research project looks at the experiences of, and impact on, such children when they are ordered by the court to either return or not return. Using an interdisciplinary and cross-jurisdictional methodology, the project seeks to understand the perspectives of family justice professionals, children who have objected to their return, and their parents, regarding use of the child’s objection exception, and the welfare outcomes for these abducted children, to better inform international law, policy and practice.

Chinese informal settlements: rethinking urban futures in the global south

Professor Fulong Wu, University College London 

Informal settlements are a striking feature of the global south. But their impact on the poor is debatable: informal settlements are regarded as either a trap within, or a pathway out of, poverty. Chinese rapid urbanisation has resulted in a proliferation of ‘urban villages’ which are now facing large-scale demolition, while new towns are being built in suburbs. This project examines the current practices of urban village redevelopment and rethinks the future of Chinese informal settlements to envision an alternative future of urban regeneration. The project team aims to demonstrate the feasibility of building a more inclusive and participatory city that can contribute to the resilience of urban economies in China, also providing wider suggestions for the re-development of informal settlements in the Global South.

Informal settlements in China
Guangzhou, China. Photo by Shutterstock.

Supporting the investigation of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity

Professor Lorraine Hope, University of Portsmouth

Given the current geo-political context of war, terrorism, human trafficking and organised crime, police-civilian interactions are occurring at cultural crossroads. The pursuit of justice increasingly relies on productive engagement between individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds. To date, however, there have only been limited attempts to evaluate the role of culture in the conduct of effective investigative interviewing with victims, witnesses and suspects. This project aims to systematically examine the issues and obstacles reported by experienced international investigators and produce an evidence-based policy resource, which will provide guidance for cross-cultural interviewing for UK and international investigative practitioners. 

Community resilience in locales of coastal erosion: local knowledge, culture and practice in the Upper Gulf of Thailand

Dr Michael Buser, University of Bristol

This project investigates the impacts and adaptation measures associated with coastal erosion. Drawing on creative and participatory arts practice, it critically examines community-based disaster risk reduction, including how local knowledge can be better integrated with expert and professional contexts. The project centres on understanding the experiences and capacities of individuals and local organisations in the Upper Gulf of Thailand, one of the most threatened coastal areas in the world. It aims to produce evidence for national and international actors, including policy makers, contributing to our understanding of the ways in which lay knowledges can be harnessed towards improving integrated coastal management in areas of extreme vulnerability. 

Bamboo fences for wave dissipation in Ban Khun Samut Chin
Bamboo fences for wave dissipation in Ban Khun Samut Chin. Photo by Michael Buser.

Reconsidering Muslim marriage practices in Europe: the case of Iraqi and Syrian war-widows

Dr Yafa Shanneik, University of Birmingham

This project focuses on Iraqi and Syrian war-widows who have settled in the UK and Germany since the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the outbreak of the Syrian war. It explores how they have adopted new marriage practices, how these have been developed and are perceived, and the status they are given by the countries’ legal systems. It aims to shed light on Europe’s most recent arrivals, the negotiation of their ‘politics of belonging’ and the role Muslim marriage practices play in women shaping social relations, challenging religious boundaries and facilitating community belonging and integration. By providing comparative legal and ethnographic approaches centred on women’s own experiences and needs (also expressed through art), the project seeks to enhance understanding among state authorities, NGOs and religious institutions.

Linguistic profiling on the urban housing market

Dr Nicole Baumgarten, University of Sheffield

This project investigates language-based discrimination on the urban property market in smaller cities in the UK. The research team aims to contribute to urban development debates on residential segregation and the quality and consistency of service provision. The project offers new understanding of discrimination by perception in non-metropolitan urban areas by focusing on the role of linguistic bias, i.e. (non-)preferential treatment based on a person’s ethnic name and regional or foreign language accents in their English during encounters with estate agents in the urban residential housing market. A comparative analysis with Bremen, Germany, provides an additional nuance to our understanding of culture- and country-specific segregation and decision-making patterns in the context of ‘finding a home’.


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