By Juliana Adelman
In late March the Observer ran an article claiming that the major humanities funding body in the UK (AHRC) had agreed under duress to put a large proportion of its funding resources towards research into the ‘Big Society‘. The newspaper asserted that the new Tory-led government had forced this concession in order to direct humanities research to underpin the party’s own values and plans. The AHRC disagreed with this interpretation of events and issued a statement on the subject that you can read here and a slightly more recent one here. While the debate has continued to attract attention from scholars and has often been in the papers, it seems to have heated up again recently with the publication of a letter by the director of the AHRC in the Times Higher Education supplement. There is a petition on the go and I have received a notice on the subject from a couple of email lists that I belong to. In short, a lot of academics are really angry and concerned that this marks the end of freedom in research in the UK. Reference is often made to the Haldane Principle which established that research funding decisions should be made by other researchers rather than politicians. I find the idea of funneling research money into political ideologies to be both laughable and worrisome in a democracy. Nevertheless, I also find it slightly disingenuous that researchers are claiming that having the decision in their own hands is a complete guarantee of academic freedom. Surely academics also live in the political and social world and are thereby vulnerable to other influences aside from those of their discipline? And of course academia has its own set of politics which are admittedly different from government politics but have a significant impact nonetheless. What do you think?