Social sciences and humanities at the forefront: leading high-risk, high-reward interdisciplinary research

New Frontiers in Research Fund | Published:

Social sciences and humanities researchers bring valuable contributions to interdisciplinary research projects. During the 2022 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, four social sciences and humanities researchers spoke about their experiences leading interdisciplinary projects funded through the New Frontiers in Research Fund’s Exploration stream, and about the contributions of social sciences and humanities research approaches to their projects. The following are summaries of their projects and highlights from their comments during the panel discussion.

Safe and Sustainable Development of Space

Satellites are already threatened by their own increasing numbers and an accumulation of debris, including from in-orbit collisions. There are currently no international rules governing access to low Earth orbit. This research project is addressing the space debris crisis, the risks associated with space mining (which include the accidental redirection of an asteroid onto an Earth-impact trajectory), and how to avoid an arms race in space. The project will produce clear guidelines and provide decision-makers with time-sensitive information and recommendations.

“Just in the last six years, SpaceX and hundreds of other companies have made space a highly dynamic, fast-moving field…. This [project] was an opportunity to be at the cutting edge and transform some of my previous work on areas beyond national jurisdiction, like the oceans, to outer space…. [It] has grown into the most valuable collaboration of my academic career.”

Michael Byers, nominated principal investigator, The University of British Columbia

Ecological Devastation in Extractive Zones: Resistance, Recuperation, and Regeneration

This research team is working on codesigning recuperative practices at giant mines in Canada and Ecuador in an urgent effort to address the damage of extractive capitalism and exploitative investments. They are looking into the ecological devastation of these sites and how women and children who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) are staging unconventional relations with the land to regenerate “blasted landscapes.”

“What we are trying to do is codevelop interdisciplinary research methods to serve Indigenous and other racialized women and children as a commitment to social and political change. We want to collaborate with these women and children to engage in regenerative practices within blasted landscapes… Interdisciplinary work pushes us to cross these bridges and really redefine our work but also intensify our commitment…so that we can imagine other futures.”

Cristina Delgado Vintimilla, nominated principal investigator, York University

“Cristina[’s] and my research area is education. We are thinking about education in a devastated planet, and how we might educate for the creation of more livable worlds for future generations.”

Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, co-principal investigator, Western University

Indigenous Approaches to the Western Literary and Visual Canon

The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action, and scholarly and public discourse since, have aroused in settler scholars a consciousness about the importance of acting upon the Commission’s recommendations. This research team is exploring Indigenous approaches to the western literary and visual canons and asking new questions to help make room for Indigenous authors and artists in the canon.

“The upcoming volume Bridging Indigenous and Hispanic Studies (Amherst College Press) addresses the challenges and benefits in studying and engaging with Indigeneity comparatively, across languages, and across the North and South despite the coloniality informing the foundation of disciplines as well as colonial differences. The cutting-edge contributions in this volume—co-edited by Gloria Chacón, Lauren Beck and Juan Sánchez Martínez—underline recent work and approaches that influence research and teaching of both disciplines. The volume recognizes that historically Spanish and Portuguese departments or Hispanic Studies exist within Eurocentrically-established American and Canadian universities in ways that were never meant to include Indigenous perspectives.”

Juan Sánchez Martinez, co-applicant, University of North Carolina Asheville 

Social sciences and humanities researchers are encouraged to apply to the New Frontiers in Research Fund Exploration competition with their interdisciplinary project idea. The Exploration stream seeks to inspire projects that bring together disciplines beyond traditional approaches, led by research teams exploring something new that might fail, but that has the potential for significant impact.

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