General Assembly of the European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities – EASH

March 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

I’m in Brussels at the moment attending the first General Assembly of the European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities (EASH). This Alliance was formed as a reaction to the 80 billion Euro EU Framework Programme for research and innovation which was announced under the name Horizon 2020 in 2011. As a matter of fact, the Humanities and the Social Sciences were completely ignored in this Framework Programme which will be launched in 644 days and will organise European funding for research and innovation in the period 2012-2020. As a first reaction to the announcement of Horizon 2020 was the Open Letter to the European Commissioner for Research and Innovation, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, which all of us should sign to emphasize the need for a large Social Sciences and Humanities-centered research programme to tackle its “Grand Societal Challenges”. After having been presented with the first results of this action during a ½ day symposium on the role of SSH in Horizon 2020 in London (10 November 2011), The European Commissioner expressed her appreciation for the mobilisation of the community towards strengthening the SSH domain in the new programme and acknowledged the need for such a strong SSH component (her speech is available here). Yet, the proposal submitted for Horizon 2020 by the European Commission does not yet fully reflect this understanding.A second, more coordinated action, was the founding of EASH which aims at bringing together learned societies, subject associations, funders, foundations, university and institute consortia committing to strengthening SSH in Europe.

EASH held its founding meeting in Amsterdam on 20 December 2011 and I was sent over to represent ADHO partly because it’s more convenient for me (and it’s cheaper for ADHO) to hop on a train to Amsterdam from where I live, partly because this matter interests me. However, I realized very early on in the founding meeting that I was the odd one out, not only because of the specific fiels of the digital humanities I was representing, but also because I am not the professional lobbyist or policy maker the room was filled with. But then again, as a practitioner and theorist of DH for over 15 years, I’m used to being looked at in a peculiar way.

At the current meeting in Brussels, which I’m attending at the moment, we’ll hear some invited speakers and panellists from from a variety of top-level European science organisations (EU and others) – among them those who would be among the Alliance’s key target audiences in our quest for stronger support for SSH research in Europe. The agenda includes the following presentations:

  • Update on exchanges with European Commission, European Parliament and Council of Ministers with regard to funding for SSH unde Horizon 2020.
  • Short general paper on the role of SSH in Horizon 2020 for use of interaction with policy makers.
  • Two short policy papers (draft on security research, preview on interdisciplinary research)
  • Examples for succesful lobbying for SSH research in different arenas.
  • Cypriot presidency programma.

Apperently, through all sorts of (inter)actions, we’re already beyond the point that we have to defend that a framework programme without attention to the Humanities and Social Sciences is unacceptable. The work now should go to offering a well-balanced package of what should go in Horizon 2020. A new figure of 5 billion euro has been suggested to go to SSH research in the future research programme. This figure reflects only 5% of the original budget of 100 billion euro asked for by the European Parliament for Horizon 2020. This message has already been picked up by a number of national governments and the European Parliament is also appreciating this proposition.

Another, more complicated challenge is to break with disciplinary allocation of budgets to long-standing disciplines (medicine, computer science, physics, biotechnology …) and overlooking the societal implications and impacts which are being studied by the Humanities and the Social Sciences. A third challenge is to figure out how to represent SSH to the European Commission. The current tendency in EU policy is to represent SSH as a mainstream field. We have to figure out whether we should underscribe this vision or whether to argue agressively for the establishment of nieches, which could easily blow us away.

Whatever happens, the first achievement of ADHO in this organisation is that it appears at the top of the participants’ list because of its clever choice of acronym.

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