Strategic Priorities Fund Projects

From 2020-2021 we ran three research projects, supported by IICE and funded by the Strategic Priorities Fund, working at the intersection of humanities and policy formation

  1. In Joseph Emidy’s footsteps: BAME Cultural Contributions in the South West
  2. “Rural culture”:  Social Discourse and the Framing of Policy
  3. Public Policy and Climate Change: the Contribution of Humanities and Culture

These projects, undertaken in direct partnership with policymakers, were designed to activate dialogue, promote the exchange and emergence of knowledge and equip academics to initiate evidence-based research; particularly with a view to better understanding local, regional or national challenges and informing policy.

The projects culminated in the publication of policy reports tackling some of the most significant topics in policymaking: climate change, racial justice and rural policy. What these reports highlight is that these pressing social issues require urgent, focused engagement from the Humanities and Social Sciences in order to find credible solutions. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided us with a startling reminder of how impactful good research can be whilst revealing a strain in the relationship between research, intervention and direct policy impact. As a community, we must work through ways of overcoming the policy gap and springing research into action for meaningful change.

The reports, launched at our first in-person event of the academic year “Tackling Policy Challenges: IICE Report Launch and Research Springboard”, are designed to serve as a catalyst for further action in these key policy areas, generating a dialogue on the ways in which we can tackle pressing local, regional or national policy challenges. The reports in full will be provided on request- register your interest at

In Joseph Emidy’s footsteps: BAME Cultural Contributions in the South West

Project Overview

“This project aims to help artists and cultural producers of Colour in the west country to get better access, improved conditions and greater understanding from councils, from the private sector and from this university. Alongside that we aim to help people in the university understand the sector better, and create links that will last. We’ll do that through desk-based research, an online seminar, and a position paper.”

– Dr Ghee Bowman, Project Coordinator and Postdoctoral Fellow

Report Summary*

The final report from the Joseph Emidy project contains six proposals and three principles. The proposals emerged over the duration of the project, and represent ideas that have energy behind them and are practical.

They are:

  1. Establish a Joseph Emidy network;
  2. Training by and for Funding organisations;
  3. Mentoring for young artists of colour;
  4. Developing opportunities at the university for People of Colour from the community; 
  5. Further research;
  6. Bridging the gap between gown and town.

The three principles which should underlie all developments in this field are:

  1. Build on what already exists;
  2. Put People of Colour at the centre of everything we do;
  3. Invest in long-term initiatives.

The intention is that the ideas and information contained in this report, previously scattered but now collated, will be available for action and implementation by the university and by outside organisations and individuals.

This report is the product of a project entitled “In Joseph Emidy’s footsteps: Cultural Contributions by People of Colour in the West Country”, which ran from February to March 2021 at Exeter University’s International Institute of Cultural Enquiry (IICE). The aims of the project were:

  • to empower People of Colour in the West Country;
  • to find opportunities for Exeter Humanities researchers to work in partnership with people of colour;
  • to start to build a network of practitioners, academics and partners.

This report comes at a time of considerable societal upheaval, when we are still in a COVID lockdown. Summer 2020 saw a massive international mobilisation of energy around race equality, sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the end of May. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement manifested in South West England as much as anywhere else, and there is a strong feeling that, as one respondent put it,

the climate has really changed since last summer 

This report was completed on the same day as the Government Commission’s report on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which controversially concluded that there is no longer a system rigged against people from ethnic minorities. This continues to be a hot topic, a topic that Exeter University should not shy away from.

– Dr Ghee Bowman et al.  In Joseph Emidy’s footsteps: BAME Cultural Contributions in the West Country

“Rural culture”, social discourse and the framing of policy

Image of rural countryside. To the left is a green field, to the right is a harvested field and down the centre is a dirt road.

Project Overview

“Research towards the end of the last century, particularly by humanities scholars (cultural geographers, historians and those involved in heritage studies) largely debunked the notion that there is a dominant ‘culture’ across rural parts of England. Despite this research, and the acknowledgment of it by policy actors, the notion of a dominant rural culture remains strong in public discourse and can be witnessed in debates as diverse as the BREXIT referendum and the ban on foxhunting.  This project refocuses this issue and explores how this discourse  – with its history and its current prevalence – influences policy, searching for meaningful areas of future research that will help improve understanding and dispel any ‘myths’ attached to rural culture. Through reinvigorating this debate we hope to help drive rural policy that is more aligned to the diversity of rural issues.”

Dr Andrew Clappison, Project Coordinator and Research Fellow.

Report Summary*

Research towards the end of the last century, particularly by humanities scholars (geographers, historians and those involved in rural studies) largely debunked the notion that there is a dominant ‘culture’ across rural parts of England. Despite this research and the acknowledgment of it by policy actors, the notion of a dominant rural culture remains strong in public discourse. This can be witnessed in debates as diverse as the BREXIT referendum and the ban on foxhunting. In fact, dominant narratives of ‘the rural’ appear all pervasive within many policy areas, and this has been drawn out extensively within the academic literature.

The original brief for this project posed a series of questions that broadly fall under the wider question of “What is ‘rural’ culture and how does it influence policy?”. Based on my own research interests in rural policy and the countryside, it struck me that this question has been widely addressed by previous research (as outlined above), and I felt that to make this project more relevant and practical for exploring the possible scope and direction of future research it was important to acknowledge that despite the excellence of much of this work, it has not led to a re-framing of policy, and ‘rural’ policy has largely failed to take account of the contested nature of the countryside. This, of course, begs the question “Why?”.

While the answer to this question is no doubt complex and varied from one issue to the next, we might consider some of the following explanations: (1) Research has not actively been communicated to actors at the policy level on the contested nature of rural culture and society; (2) responses to these issues have not been mobilised at the ‘local’ level, possibly due to weak governance mechanisms, and as such actors at the local level, within ‘rural’ places, have not actively presented counter narratives and different policy directions; (4) addressing rural issues is often expensive given the ‘spread out’ nature of these issues across space, and the related logistical problems; (5) academic research appears to have moved on and rural studies has focused largely on farming, food and the environment over the last decade; (6) reluctance of central government to devolve power to regions and localities at the periphery; (7) emergence of the shadow state and private sector contracts may have put ‘rural’ areas at a disadvantage, while the volunteer sector is promising in some localities, it struggles in others. This is not an exhaustive list, but the ongoing space for disjuncture is clear.

This paper considers the following:

  1. How a hegemonic narrative of ‘the rural’ influences policy
  2. The cultural turn and how it changed how we think about ‘the rural’
  3. How rural policy has changed in recent history and what its failings are
  4. A brief overview of the mechanisms that exist which may support more aligned policy making
  5. Fruitful avenues for new interdisciplinary research, with a focus on how local agency and strong local narratives can help reframe policy

– Dr Andrew Clappison

Public Policy and Climate Change: the contribution of Humanities and Culture

Project Overview 

“This project aims to explore and highlight what the humanities can offer to inform policy responses to climate change. The main task is to consider what cultural resources exist for combatting climate change, and the subsequent policy recommendations from these resources. The project shall draw upon the research currently being undertaken at Exeter.”

Dr Joshua Wells, Project Coordinator and Postdoctoral Fellow.

Report Summary*

The IICE (International Institute for Cultural Enquiry) report on Public Policy and Climate Change performs two broad tasks. The first is to showcase work happening within the IICE, which relates to climate change. This document covers two themes of climate-related research in IICE; climate change, which includes the sub-themes of justice, governance and adaptation and public policy, which contains the sub themes of disinformation, framing and discourse.

The second task is to provide a series of observations and recommendations devised to enable and support academics to engage with climate change public policy, in light of the research which is showcased in themes 1 and 2 of this report.

These recommendations are:

  • Overcoming the inertia which prevents academics providing rapid reviews on policy topics for policymakers.
  • Encouraging academics to use policymaker-friendly language when communicating, reducing the use of uncertain language and heavily academic terminology.
  • Implementing the use of innovation within community engagement, such as deliberative approaches.
  • Lengthening time horizons on projects, in order to successfully engage communities and to produce high quality research.
  • Recognising the importance of a well-prepared exit strategy for projects which engage with communities, else you risk undoing the good work developed through those projects.
  • Finding a space where academics can communicate with external actors as equals.
  • Not seeing the humanities only as a means to successful communication; their value is much greater than this.

The above recommendations are explored in detail in this report. They were devised with input from leading academics at Exeter and external partners, to ultimately assist academics in the application of their work to climate policy.

– Dr Joshua Wells

*to access these reports in full, pdf format please drop us a line at