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Arts Humanities and Social Sciences Research


Welcome to the Humanities and Social Sciences Research Framework


--> Join the School's development of a pilot HSS Interactive Mapping Tool for Networks & Research Collaborations 


About the Research Framework

The School of the Humanities and Social Sciences is establishing a suite of broad thematic groups designed to promote the School’s diverse research activity. This initiative aims to foster closer connections between researchers and across disciplines, offer improved avenues of communication and strengthen the environment for collaborative research.

Resulting from an initial consultation and a series of focus groups, six themes have emerged under the following working titles:

  1. Area studies, global inequality and economic development
  2. Understanding social, culture and economic transformation
  3. Conflict, conservation, environmental policy and climate justice
  4. Technology, knowledge and human development
  5. Legacies of the past/historical transitions
  6. Healthy lives

In addition to these, Public Policy continues to be a priority for the School's research activity in a way that cross-cuts these themes. The Bennett Institute of Public Policy is convening this area, developing and encouraging links with researchers across the School and beyond. 

The Consortium for the Global South (led by the Centre of African Studies, Centre of Development Studies, Centre of Latin American Studies, the Centre for Gender Studies and Centre of South Asian Studies), in promoting the interdisciplinary study of the Global South within and also outside the University, also cross-cuts the Framework themes and is an important strand to the School's increasing international research portfolio.

The Cambridge Heritage Research Centre (CHRC) based at the McDonald Institute of Archaeology brings together researchers from several disciplines and external partners, providing critical intersections with the Framework themes to understand how diverse institutions, political movements and communities recognise their identities, attribute value, contest rights claims and realise their political and economic strategies.

Also emerging strongly across the Framework themes is dialogue concerning the University's Legacies of Enslavement initiative. Humanities and social science researchers can contribute to and enable further productive and essential conversation and action around this. 

While not exhaustive, this list of activities begins to highlight how existing networks in which HSS research features prominently speak to the deliberately capacious working titles of the Framework themes. The Framework  provides another way to frame existing activities, explore connections between research agendas, present future directions and open up conversations.

Getting involved

The School welcomes UTOs, research staff and affiliate or College-based researchers, particularly those at an early-career stage, to become involved in the further development of these themes. Researchers are welcome to join as many thematic groups as they would find useful and there is no expectation that each theme takes just one unified direction; themes may be made of several strands of activity involving the same or different constellations of researchers. Each strand should be led by a researcher or researchers based in HSS, but the Framework is open to those beyond the School too and we welcome creative engagement across disciplines to organically develop the themes in the most productive and distinctive ways possible.

You can view each of the School's six thematic groups via our Microsoft Teams Framework site. Each group has a separate Teams channel where researchers can connect, share materials, and develop the profile of the group and strands of activity within it. To access this please join the Team either by requesting access directly in Teams itself or by emailing the School Research Facilitation Team (

Researchers are also welcome to join in the development of the HSS Research Framework themes via our 'Ideas Bucket'

Funding for the Framework

In December 2022 the Council of the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences approved a three-year funding timeline to support Framework development. Funds are available in two tranches:

Phase 1 (2022-2023)

Running until 31 July 2023, Phase 1 focuses on supporting themes to further develop their networks and define their objectives, with the School providing funding for:

  • Convening workshops/meetings: support for thematic groups to convene workshops/meetings, to build dialogue and collaborations and to define objectives and activities proposed for Phase 2 (max £5k per theme per term)
  • Mapping and visualising research interests: support for a School-led project to develop an interactive mapping tool to visualise research interests and networks, providing a persistent resource to support collaboration and new research directions. About the HSS Interactive Mapping Tool for Networks and Research Collaborations 
  • Research communications: additional resource across the School for communications (3 posts at School-level), working with Departments and Faculties to raise the profile of research in the School, including by supporting the development of the Framework themes by showcasing existing and emerging research.
  • Research assistance and administration support: funding for research assistance to support the development of thematic objectives; the School Office will provide coordination support in organising events etc.

How to access funding for Phase 1: please contact Dr Andrea Salter to discuss suggestions for workshops/meetings, projects to develop themes which would benefit from research assistance, areas where additional research communications resource could be focused to support theme development.

In April 2023 each thematic group will be required to submit a report on Phase 1 activity and a detailed workplan and outline costing for continued activity in Phase 2, to include:

  • indication of scale of the group 
  • activities and expenditure to date, benefits accrued 
  • programme of work 2023-24 and targets
  • indicative programme of work 2024-25 and targets
  • potential for future leverage beyond 2025 

Targets are anticipated to include consideration of the following: grant applications, external partnerships, non-academic engagement, impact, and philanthropic opportunities.

A template workplan with further guidance will be available in early Lent 2023. Please direct all queries to Dr Andrea Salter

Phase 2 (2023-2025)

In order to continue activity into Phase 2, thematic groups (or sub-groups) will devise a workplan or a set of objectives for ongoing work in 2023-4 and 2024-5. Via completion of an online form, the workplan should be submitted to the School by FRIDAY 12 MAY 2023 (PLEASE NOTE THE EXTENDED DATE) and will be reviewed by the Framework's Steering Group (the School's Social Sciences Research Strategy Group), and then onto the Council of the School for final approval. It is strongly advised to contact Dr Andrea Salter to discuss development of proposed workplans and initial ideas, as well as regarding leveraging funding for activities. Guidance on the process of proposing a workplan for Phase 2 and applying for funding is available here: Research Framework ( (please contact the School Office to request access to the Research Framework Sharepoint site if required).

Investment in the Research Framework will benefit Faculties and Departments through developing areas of research activity and through increased connectivity in shared research priorities. In due course, it is anticipated that grant capture or other income associated with Research Framework activity will provide a financial benefit to participating Departments.

Theme 1: Area studies, global inequality and economic development

Summary of plan

Operationalising the term ‘area studies’ to form networks stemming from HSS. Links to decolonisation and co-creation agenda. Mapping of research interests to support network building, raise visibility of the research by further comms support and to underpin research collaborations, supporting existing and new partnerships; convening preliminary meetings to develop thematic area.


Keywords:  area studies, inequalities, cross-cutting, social justice, ‘development’, decolonisation, co-creation, historical


Suggested focus and ambitions of theme

Sub-themes to develop research networks


  1. Mapping clusters of research/researchers in terms of geographical areas to facilitate network-building
  2. Working across these areas to:
  • Operationalise the term ‘areas studies’ to work within/across/between areas of study (different ways/scales - from global to neighbourhood, for instance)
  • Explore inequalities and social justice within and across different countries and/or groups.
  • Explore inequalities in income, access to technology and economic development within and across different countries and/or groups.
  • Explore inequalities in gender and race or ethnicities within and across different countries and or groups.
  • Consider cross-cutting issues around movements between/across areas: migration, refugees, artefacts, travelling ideologies, inequalities
  • Consider cross-cutting historical dimensions to these strands
  • Consider cross-cutting theoretical/conceptual/philosophical dimensions to these strands (and across all themes (The proposed themes are very much issue-based or applied. This is fine but an important central concern for all these is the conceptualisation and theoretical grounding. It might be argued that theory might emerge or be developed from contextual, issue-based, problem-oriented or even applied research. We recently focus our work on social justice in education, as understood from diverse theoretical perspectives, so this theme can be more broadly defined as: Social Justice, Inequalities and Development (theme name change proposed). A common ground under this theme will be the focus on decolonised approaches and the aim of achieving social justice defined by diverse perspectives. Inequalities and development have been researched under dominant perspectives and enabling diverse approaches to flourish can be important for future research.


Mixed views on usefulness of term ‘area studies’:

  • Helpful term because it is not coordinated, generally. Having a broader vision would help create links between individual researchers and cut across existing structures in innovative ways.
  • Area Studies seems to be a crucial area because there is a lot going on around this topic, but it’s not well integrated across. What are the sub themes of Global Studies/Area Studies that might also bring in different ways of connecting researchers.  
  • Areas Studies is not a term necessarily used across disciplines, yet researchers do work around these topics. How can we make the vocabulary more accessible for researchers? These 
  • researchers don’t identify with areas studies, yet working on different parts of the world. How can we better signal the relevance of the topic to other researchers and enhance inclusivity?


Mixed views on usefulness of term ‘economic development’:

  • To position development exclusively on economic development is likely to push most of the research on global inequalities around global economic inequalities. In writing on behalf of several colleagues who provided feedback to me at the Faculty of Education, we suggest that this thematic area is repositioned in terms of Inequalities and Development. This is particularly important as colleagues working in education may find it difficult to assert their work in terms of global inequalities (of course we look at inequalities in learning, but this is just part of the work on inequalities more broadly). We can also refer to development to include other aspects beyond economic.
Benefits for collaboration under umbrella of theme

Developing collaborations:  To benefit the co-creation of research, knowing who is working on which area/region and developing existing and new relationships is important. Much is based on personal connections and understanding who and where research is taking place across HSS (and beyond) would:

  • Enable opportunities for networking and to build new research partnerships and help support/ develop existing collaborations
  • Enhance agility in responding to research questions and wider opportunities for collaboration/funding.
  • Provide a visible presence for external philanthropic opportunities


Support co-creation and decolonialising research: Knowledge exchange needs to be embedded in research project because where we are educated really frames issues, approaches, methods differently. E.g. partnerships on refugees.


Multiple theoretical perspectives, methodological lenses thus deeper understanding of inequalities in terms of institutions/policies/practices/power structures:

  • research under this theme can be shaped by deeper understanding of the development of institutions, systems, policies, and practices that lead to a more socially just society. In doing so, there are key areas of collaboration between different strands of social science and humanities. In the case of education, deeper understanding of policies and power structures can be enhanced by sociological and political science research, as well as history. The work of the REAL Centre has been shared with colleagues at Global Challenges and there has been mutual learning.
  • If we are serious about our decolonised work, we must also allow for diverse knowledges to emerge, particularly the knowledge that is being explored by early career scholars.  We must reflect whether we are replicating dominant knowledge rather than enabling new perspectives.  Making this field too narrow, i.e. Economic development, is likely to exclude many scholars.   
  • Potential for real-world political action to support social justice


Theme 2: Understanding social, culture and economic transformation

Summary of plan

The group found the broad title a useful entry point to develop more specific sub-themes.  The idea of building on existing research activities through enhanced communications in conjunction with a mapping exercise of research interests, was considered essential for developing a collaborative network and move away from siloed working patterns.


Keywords: Policy, Impact, Activism, Exploratory, Diversity, Qualitative, Quantitative, Historical, Contemporary


Suggested focus and ambitions of theme

Broad theme with more specific sub-themes:

  • The group likes that the title is broad.
  • The word “transformation” is about the tensions between certainty and uncertainty / what we know and don’t know, how these things are disrupted during transformation, and what happens in moments of uncertainty as a result. 
  • The word “Understanding” opens up different methods for thinking about issues, whether qualitative, quantitative, historical, contemporary. This makes “Understanding” an interesting and useful descriptor in the title. 
  • “Transformation” implies something positive. We sometimes work on topics where things happen which we wish didn’t, so the word “transformation” allows for an activism that opens up positive changes in difficult/challenging research topics. Thinks that “Understanding” is possibility too passive.
  • What constitutes ‘transformation’. This will differ between fields. How do we understand, theorized, historical, etc the idea or action of transformation? When and where is transformation? Also, continuities and for whom? Is the transformation over time and for individuals, institutions and societies? Sometimes transformations do not happen equally. 
  • It will be important to understand how this theme is different to Theme 1: Area Studies, Global Inequality and Economic Development.
  • Consider framing the theme as “Understanding Diversity: Racial, Ethnic, Social Cultural” with respecting diversity as the entry point for research in this area.

More specific sub-themes could focus on:

1. Direct engagement with policy and impact:

  • How do we as academics impact the polarization that is increasing in society?
  • How have people living/existing within traditional modes of power - economic, socially, culturally - cope with the challenges to their power that is erupting in lots of different ways currently?
  • How is the tension, generated by that space, respected and not reduced to moral relativism? How can we move forward where people are coming from very different perspectives and world-views without sinking into those ideologies?
  • What can we do to achieve economic, cultural, social transformation?

2. Engagement between qualitative and quantitative methods: traditional ways of working keep researchers in disciplinary silos. Would like to see more exchange/interdisciplinary engagement where researchers come together who are working on the same topic but use different methods to explore it, both at the research and impact levels. 

3. Exploratory research: While making social change is aspirational, there should also be a room or a gap between research/understanding/not immediate and activism/impact/action to allow for further research. Sometimes the most effective impact comes from research that might appear arcane/historical/may not seem relevant. 


Link up with Historical Legacies of the Past/Historical Transitions theme: Worth thinking about current and future transformation. Topic also invites past transformations as well.

Benefits for collaboration under umbrella of theme

Knowing Who’s Who:  Who is out there to contact? What are other researchers doing? Who is involved in what? A mapping exercise would be useful. Someone did a mapping exercise with all researchers involved with Net Zero which was extremely useful. Not knowing who does what [meaning academics] is an internal barrier to networking. 

Understanding Diversity can only be achieved by enabling disciplinary approaches to discuss topics that affect development and reproduce inequalities. It is an understanding of this diversity, with broad theoretical perspectives that can help us to bring marginalised knowledges at the forefront of research. It is by disrupting current practices that we can generate meaningful change.


Theme 3: Conflict, conservation and climate justice

Summary of plan

The group discussed the benefits of having a Humanities and Social Sciences-led focus group on the proposed theme.  They recommended considerations for the need to foster long-term support for collaboration with international colleagues that will enable co-developed research projects/ that address/redress many of the complex inequalities associated with research funding and policymaking. 


Keywords: Indigenous, Displaced, Social, Political, Aesthetic, Rural, Policy, Resilience, Sustainable, Participatory, Co-develop, Engineering, Design Science,  History, Colonialism, Climate Finance, Ethics, Uncertainty


Suggested focus and ambitions of theme

Sustainability of networks and funding: There is concern that the duration of three years may not enable the collaborative connections required to advance defined objectives under this umbrella, particularly when substantial funding would be needed beyond the seed funding offered through the Research Framework.

Questions to consider when developing theme objectives:

  • How will the funding provided enable the development of a meaningful and sustainable research cluster? 
  • How can Cambridge Zero be a connector while this theme/cluster provides something distinctive?
  • How might this funding be used to directly support collaborators in the Global who may not necessarily have the resources or the level of institutional support to participate in large scale projects?
  • What mechanisms can be put in place to ensure that these objectives are not compromised when external funding expectations don’t match the priorities of the communities they’re working with?

Innovative tools: consider how academics can take a bottom-up approach to identify innovative tools to break down some of the barriers created through the power imbalance related to funding and funding support. 

Influencing Policy as a central objective of the theme’s development.

The group also wondered how this theme overlapped with Theme 1: Area Studies, Global Inequality and Economic Development.  Is there the opportunity to maximise efforts across thematic groups.

Benefits for collaboration under umbrella of theme

Humanities and Social Sciences leading in the study of climate change and conservation: How does the School position itself in relation to a field that has been dominated by natural scientists and technocratic solutions? Climate policy and conservation policy are currently much more open towards taking social factors into consideration, making it a good time for social scientists and others to take part in these sorts of conversations.  


Theme 4: Technology, knowledge and human development

Summary of plan

The group considered in detail the potential benefits of initiating a research group under the proposed theme and there were suggestions of looking at ‘Skills’ and various modes of technology.  In conclusion, it was agreed that at this stage it was not obvious how the theme provide an avenue of engagement that was significantly different from what was already available through existing networks such as CRASSH, CDH, CFI and other university-wide AI initiatives.


Keywords: History, Literature, Comic Books, Autism, Living Health, Mental Health, Wellbeing, Virtual Reality, AI, Law, Medicine, Life Sciences, Intellectual Property, Identity, Platform Labour, Digital Societies, Media, Public Health, Population Knowledge, Individual Knowledge, Expertise, Trust, Science Communication, Professional Learning, Augmented Reality Simulations


Suggested focus and ambitions of theme

The group though that the title was broad, multidisciplinary and open to interpretation, which was also reflected in the range of research areas of those attending the session.  his was considered a positive, but that it also had its limitations for pulling together a cohesive focus for the theme.

The group was very clear on not wanting to duplicate existing initiatives. Concern was also raised on the use of the phrase ‘human development’ as in some disciplines this reduces the theme’s ambiguity because it has particular resonances within their field of research (e.g., UNDP human development goals). Further conversation on definitions of learning and development raised similar concerns, but was concluded that the theme did not take an either/or approach, there was scope within to examine both the negative and positive connotations associated with multiple meanings/interpretations.


Possible sub-themes

It was suggested that the theme might be reframed as ‘Technology, Knowledge and Human Experience’ with subsets of different kinds of technology, including digital technology, and Human Development that included environmental knowledge, health and wellbeing.   


Digital Technologies

This was the dominant focus for the technology aspect of the theme, including:

  • How digital technologies can be used as tools for creative learning
  • The use of professional learning intervention tools (Perspective Technologies)
  • Augmented reality simulations
  • low-tech, including Zoom production
  • Digital technologies and ‘deschooling’ – with knowledge always at the fingertips through the world wide web, there is also the question of what to do with it.  


Existing Technologies

The use of technology in the theme title opens up a multitude of meanings, even if digital technology is the dominant focus. 

  • The group highlighted the intellectual risk of only focusing on new technologies, which are often positioned as more interesting or important, and excluding the study of existing technologies. 
  • Possibly a useful function for this group to look at existing technologies within specific research areas – i.e. medical, ethical, legal and social issues.


Critical Analysis of Technology

The group also suggested that critical discussions around technology could be another avenue for the theme to distinguish itself from existing research groups. 

  • Examining the relationship between technology and knowledge – how do they influence each other in a non-linear way? How does this challenge or advance ideas of human development?
  • How can this type of reflective analysis offer something that is different from the University-wide research strategies/priorities and the anticipated outcome of large thematic grant applications?  Specifically in the context of digital technology and AI?
  • How can the group collectively push back on some of those expectations and focus on creating spaces for broader discussions?



The group found that the idea of skills was a very interesting and useful way of approaching the intersection of knowledge, technology and human development/experience. Another possible route to distinguish this theme from existing research groups.

  • Ethnoscience and the study of indigenous knowledge and indigenous knowledge has been valued at least since the 18th century but has always been categorised as skill only and as the knowledge of how to and not proper knowledge/science. Digital technologies are shifting those hierarchical distinctions. 
  • The idea of what counted as reading, which is a skill or literacy or a knowledge depending on whom you're asking, that idea had to be constantly contested as it was deeply embedded within existing social power structures, who controlled the cannon, literature, content, venues for access to pre-reading work.
Benefits for collaboration under umbrella of theme

Setting out a Research Framework for research priorities has been quite broad in order to be inclusive.  The flexibility of funding across the themes would mean roughly £10k a year/per theme.  There are certainly more people in the School doing work that would be under this rubric and their input might help identify useful ways of using this available funding.


Theme 5: Legacies of the past/historical transitions

Summary of plan

The group discussed the value of the theme in relation to breaking away from negative legacies and how collaborating across disciplines would provide a holistic approach to understanding knowledge creation both in a historical and contemporary context. There was also a strong emphasis on engaging Postdoctoral Researchers and Early Career Researchers in the development of the theme.  The group concluded that an initial mapping exercise of expertise/interest across the School, along with initial networking events, would be a good starting point to further develop a collaborative network of scholars working in this thematic area.


Keywords: History, Literature, Comic Books, Cultural Heritage, Cultural Violence, Biodiversity, Cultural Diversity, Medieval, Identity, Transitions, Mythologising, Ethics, Frugal Archaeology, Decolonising


Suggested focus and ambitions of theme

Knowledge Creation: Who gets to be a part of knowledge creation in terms of the legacies – modes of knowledge creation and breaking away from the authorised discourse.


Breaking away from negative legacies / Decolonising legacies:

  • Understanding, disentangling and breaking away from deeply embedded negative legacies (e.g., chronologies, dating of artifacts) – whether it's through technology or breaking away from notions of history that legitimize nationalism.
  • Decolonising could provide a focus as it is central to many aspects of these wide-reaching negative legacies. It deals with race and ethnicity, but also with the hierarchies and structuring of knowledge that go along with the colonial period and the legacies inherited from that. 

Working on legacies of colonialism overlaps with current research taking place in Archaeology on the Fens.  The work examines the ways in which Fenlanders have been excluded from writing the

  • story of their own landscape.  This is another way of working on legacies, colonialism, of the mind and the  way we think, but also about larger issues of colonialism in terms of collections and Social Justice. 
  • Another area of research that may be of interest to this theme is the work being carried out by Sarah Abel at Murray Edwards and especially an international project she’s involved in called CitiGen.  The project is looking at the way in which modern genetics ancient DNA is being used and abused to serve, to retell narratives.  
  • What does this response to legacies of the past mean?  What comes after the decolonising?  One of the reasons why people don’t want to explore the legacy of the past is the fear of uncertainty of what will be discovered once you start digging.  How do we produce a framework that is situated in the present and the future and to understand what we did to untangle those legacies?


Humanities and Social Sciences leading research on Science and History:

Even research projects that involve Science and History can sometimes be reluctant to take on board questions over traditional historical frameworks, because it’s a common point of reference. The group discussed how businesses and scientists are approaching historians and social scientists to analyse and interpret data on human movement.  In this context, there is scope for Humanities and Social Sciences leadership on projects that are traditionally based in the hard sciences.


Theme 6: Healthy lives

Summary of plan

Mapping the research theme (across Schools) to support collaborations and grant applications, increasing visibility of the research by better communications support, workshop


Keywords: physical and mental health, medicine, ethics, society, death, well-being, longevity, family, aging, pharmaceuticals, child development, wellbeing, inequality


Suggested focus and ambitions of theme

Participants agreed that “Healthy Lives” was a good name for the theme that was broad enough to accommodate the diverse interests in the group:

  • Patenting of pharmaceuticals and emerging medical technologies
  • Medical law medical sciences for law and ethics
  • Health, medicine and society
  • Healthy aging
  • Child development and mental health
  • Mental health and physical health intersections
  • Wellbeing of young people in school settings
  • Medical spending
  • Health and longevity
  • What healthy living looks like it across a population
  • Families, adoption, parental conflict, impact on children’s health
  • Accurate measures of death in the past, demographic models
  • Wellbeing and the collections in University Museums
  • Health and inequalities
  • They also agreed that there is no common measure of what “impact” looks like in this field, be it scientific, societal, cultural, etc. How do you define impact?
Benefits for collaboration under umbrella of theme

Getting to know people in other Departments: “who are interested, you could write up a short bio but would reference to the same sort of highlighting what are the aspects of healthy lives that they are particularly working”, “Take stock at the point at which the online form detail is put together and I totally endorse what I said about you know, the first step, I think, is identifying people of interest plugging up what our interest areas are and then seeking collaborations at a point when we want them.” 

Getting to know researchers in other Schools, particularly with the Medical Sciences, if they are interested in working on social science, ethics, etc.

Grant writing: “I think that  (research map) could be a really valuable resource for any future collaborations and future grant writing”, It's often the case that you don't have a lot of time like putting a bidding and if you think it would be great to be able to cooperate with someone in you know particular department, but who's out there, I think that would be in itself would be really helpful resource for people to have.”

Gaining visibility: “Cambridge is well known for its scientific researchers, a real global leader. Wouldn't it be great if we could increasingly match that with work and reputation and profile in the humanities and social science of healthy lives”.