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Global Research Network on Parliaments and People

Emma Crewe
Professor Emma Crewe, Director of the GRNPP

The arts and humanities have a vital role to play in strengthening democracy around the world, according to Professor Emma Crewe, Director of the new Global Research Network on Parliaments and People (GRNPP), based at School of Oriental and African Studies, (SOAS) University of London.

The network is funded by the AHRC and will be one of five major new international academic networks being set up by universities in the UK and the ‘global south’ to conduct collaborative research into some of the world’s most pressing development challenges over the next four years.

Through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) these networks will together access more than £9 million from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), a £1.5 billion Government fund that supports the UK’s role in global development research.

Professor Emma Crewe says: “I am a firm believer in the value of scholarship about politics as a really important part of democracy.”

“We all know that we rely on journalists and opposition parties within Parliament to scrutinize power. But scholars also have a role to play in providing a more in-depth analysis from a position of detachment.”

Campaigning from the car
Democracy supporter. Copyright: SOAS

In the UK we have a long tradition of this kind of scholarship. But it is far less well-developed in other parts of the world, especially in volatile countries with younger democracies.

Could there be a safe way of rectifying this? Emma Crewe argues that there is, and it lies in empowering local academics.

“When I saw that the AHRC were encouraging the idea of setting up research networks with colleagues in the global south I jumped on the opportunity to get involved with this funding call,” she says.

“So often with international projects, those who are geographically close to the funding end up designing the bulk of the project, and the rest of the team almost feel like they are simply contracted to do other people's work.”

“This is the first time we have been able to come together as a genuinely international team, have a really good idea and then open it up to other scholars in the global south after the programme gets going. I cannot emphasise how wonderful this is.”

The Global Research Network on Parliaments and People has decided to focus on two countries that Emma Crewe describes as “politically intense” - Ethiopia and Myanmar -  which it would easy to assume would damped down the appetite to get involved. But in fact the reverse has proved true.

This project is about creating opportunities for people in Myanmar and Ethiopia to do amazing research and develop their capacity.”

“The response we have had to our proposals from the academic community has been quite incredible,” says Emma Crewe. “There is so much enthusiasm. People can immediately see the potential of both the topic and the way it is designed, which combines giving local researchers autonomy with a supportive network.

Campaigning from the car
Kalimpong campaigning. Copyright: Lewis Beardmore

“This is incredibly important. Often in countries with difficult political situations the university sector can struggle: many academics leave to work elsewhere, there is chronic underfunding. In this project we are deliberately giving priority to those who don't normally get grants; young women, those outside the capital, those who identify as an ethnic minority. So, to provide proper support is crucial. Not everyone will need it. But it needs to be available and tailored to what they feel is required.”

Underpinning this decision-making is the moral certainty that international development money should be made available to researchers in the global south. “And I think it is wonderful that the AHRC and the GCRF are taking this approach,” says Emma Crewe. “At SOAS we call it 'decolonising research' and it is so important.”

“We want to get really robust evidence and show that if you give opportunities and support to scholars in places where universities are underfunded, then they can do incredible things.”

“Secondly, we want to demonstrate the value of the arts and humanities by giving a lot of thought to multi disciplinary research in a way that doesn't just bolt things together; that incorporates co-design right from the beginning.”

“One of the reasons why I think it is going well so far is that we are constantly thinking about the pressures and incentives that our colleagues are experiencing, asking ourselves how can we use these resources to enable our colleagues to work really effectively in the long term?”

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Header image copyright: Parliaments4People.

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