Pressing challenges such as Brexit, the political intensification of (and contrasts between) local, national and supranational interests, and a realignment of the priorities of global leaders have underscored an urgent question: what kind of Britain do we want?
Successive governments have expressed an ambition to make society fairer, more prosperous, ‘big’, or ‘shared’. Yet there persist serious problems of inequality, deprivation, prejudice and discrimination, and various forms of social and spatial division. How then, in the UK, can we best sustain a society that is plural and cosmopolitan, prosperous, and at the same time contented and cohesive? What social systems and arrays of institutions and relationships are needed to support and include the whole population, and at what scale of organisation given strides towards regional and city devolution, at the same time as changes to the way local government is funded?
People everywhere are facing an array of changing influences, including globalisation, uncertainty over the global political, economic, demographic and climatological future. These may change the meaning of cohesion, for example by changing the importance people attach to nationality and other bases of identity, and by pitting different ties, allegiances and commitments against one another. How can societies remain cohesive in the face of quite rapid political, social, economic and technological change?
The British Academy will draw on its expertise and knowledge to enlighten these issues through debate, publication and research. To this end, we have identified five general themes:
- Cultural memory and tradition: The descriptions of past events, whether ‘mythical’ or objectively ‘historical’, may become ‘traditions’ and play a key role in determining a society’s perception of its own history and identity and its relationship with other groups.
- Social economy: The concept of the social economy invites discussion and analysis of the ways in which people and places, not elites and detached technologies, can be more firmly at its heart.
- Meaning and mechanisms of social responsibility: What are the conditions of active and distributed responsibility? What are the resonances and amplifications of law, parliament and bureaucracy that might work for the general interest?
- Identity and belonging: Consensus or dissensus about the status of different identities frame claims about individual and group-based justice, equality and human rights. How can shared and differentiated identities be embedded in a cohesive society?
- Care for the future: What is the nature of the platform for a future in which history, beliefs, religion, and cultures matter, providing a clear basis from which to develop a long-term vision?
The first phase of the project covering 2018 will capture the relevant work that the Academy has already produced, identifying gaps in existing knowledge across the five themes; with a view to undertaking further analysis and developing a programme of events, workshops, briefings and research in phase two.
Professor Dominic Abrams, Vice-President, (Social Sciences) (Chair)
Professor Ash Amin, Foreign Secretary & Vice-President
Professor Alan Bowman, Vice-President (Humanities)
Professor Mary Morgan, Vice-President (Publications)
Professor Genevra Richardson, Vice-President (Public Policy)
For more information