Tag Archives: books

Why do the Social Sciences matter?

All readers are warmly invited to a free book launch event in London on Thursday February 19th 2015 – but spaces are limited and being allocated on a first-come first-served basis, so please book here.

The book, on Why the Social Sciences Matter, analyses some of the greatest challenges facing humanity – from climate change to economic crisis, and from food security to well-being. A key conclusion is that for many of these issues, a proper understanding requires a range of academic disciplines to be brought to bear. The same conclusion applies to the development of evidence-based policy. Invariably the disciplines required will include those from the social sciences, albeit often having to be combined with disciplines from the natural and medical sciences, as well as the humanities. So multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary dialogue and research is vital.

Few institutions do a better job at promoting this vital requirement – of interdisciplinarity – than do the Oxford colleges. And as one of the largest and most international of Oxford’s colleges, with far more postgraduate students than any of the other colleges, and with a large proportion of Oxford’s Centres for Doctoral Studies being led by Kellogg Fellows, our College is particularly well-placed and active in promoting this agenda of interdisciplinary research.

Indeed, the University of Oxford’s current Five-Year Strategic Plan stresses the importance not just of teaching, research and wider engagement, but also of global impact and interdisciplinarity. So there is a University-wide commitment.

The book, on Why the Social Sciences Matter, has been produced by the Academy of Social Sciences. But as indicated above, the authors invariably point to the need to work across disciplines, including beyond the social sciences. And certainly in the chapter on the economy, the point is made that social science disciplines themselves need to learn from other disciplines, and need to be committed to developing and learning lessons not just to inform better policy, but also to improve the theoretical and empirical contributions of these disciplines themselves, including economics.

Again, Kellogg College’s outstanding research students, innovative research centres, and wide variety of seminars, colloquiums, lectures and conferences are doing a tremendous job at precisely this – working across boundaries to advance both knowledge and theory, thus strengthening the academic disciplines themselves as well as informing policy. That’s what research impact is all about.

Jonathan Michie, February 2015

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Jonathan_Michie


Prisoners’ books: a ban on reading?

Tara Stubbs, Kellogg Fellow and University Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, writes a comment piece on the recent press coverage about government measures to restrict the access to books for prisoners. Leave a comment and join the debate.

In recent days academics, writers and prominent prison literacy campaigners have reacted with horror to new government measures restricting prisoners’ access to books, underwear and other items we might deem as necessities. An online petition has been launched against the measures and well-known authors, including Mark Haddon and, Patron for the Kellogg College Centre for Creative Writing, Philip Pullman, have voiced their concerns.

Such topics are always fraught with tension. To what extent, we might ask, is the government really restricting prisoners’ access to books? Is it the case that, as Conservative ministers have tried to explain, it is merely that books can’t be sent in to prisoners – partly because banned substances can be smuggled in such packages? And isn’t it true that prisons have their own libraries?

But the evidence, unfortunately, points to the fact that the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, and his colleagues might have gone too far this time. The ban on receiving parcels is not merely imposed on violent prisoners, but on all prisoners, including women and children held in detention centres: Grayling has defended the measures (put into place last November) to ensure that prisoners of any type can receive only letters from outside as an example of treating fairly all those who are interned. Now prisoners can ‘earn’ books, and money for books, through the prisoners’ incentive and earned privileges scheme. But it seems inevitable that literacy rates, and the possibility for prisoners to rehabilitate, will decline as a result of these measures. Books should be a necessity, not a luxury.

The situation is best summed up by Richard Armstrong, a prison literacy researcher from Newcastle Universty (as reported in an article in The Guardian on 25th March): ‘There is no evidence [that] the incentives and earned privileges regime will improve behaviour. But there is lots of evidence that removing the means to increase literacy reduces rehabilitation’. That, surely, is an outcome that no British citizen would support.

Tara Stubbs, 25 March 2014