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How does culture shape society?

The submission deadline for grant applications is 18 April 2012.

Parallel with the launching of the SAMKUL programme, the Research Council of Norway is working to incorporate perspectives from the humanities and social sciences in the Council’s large-scale programmes in the areas of biotechnology, aquaculture, petroleum activities, nanotechnology, climate, clean energy and ICT.

Changes in thought and actions

Petter Aaslestad Photo: Agnethe Weisser Petter Aaslestad (Photo: Agnethe Weisser ) Petter Aaslestad is the chair of the SAMKUL programme board and a professor of literature at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He emphasises that the programme’s objective is to generate knowledge about the cultural elements that drive societal development, and not cultural phenomena in themselves.

“We think within the framework of culture. To generate knowledge about the dynamic in people’s relationship with their environment, we need to study changes taking place in thought and actions related to phenomena such as nature, technology, language, gender, religion, media and the economy,” says Dr Aaslestad.

“The concept of time is central to research under the programme. We are seeking studies of the relationship between people and their environment over time.”

Cultural dynamic in societal development

Dr Aaslestad notes that there is a great variation in how development takes places in different areas of society, and points to gender, technology and climate as examples of the range of development seen since the 1960s.

“It is striking how extensive and rapidly our thinking about gender has changed since those days. This dynamic is due in part to the effort of Norwegian humanities and social science research to place gender on the agenda. During the same period, technology and our view of technology have also undergone enormous change,” he states.

Photo: Shutterstock (Photo: Shutterstock)

“The new programme will give us insight into how cultural conditions work in conjunction with society. We are dependent on humanities and social science research to help us understand why changes occur or not, and how these patterns can be changed,” says Dr Aaslestad.

Illustration: Jon Solberg (Illustration: Jon Solberg) Seeking multi- and interdisciplinarity

Dr Aaslestad emphasises that research under the SAMKUL programme will by no means be limited to humanities scholars and social scientists. The interplay between people and their environment must also be explained with input from natural scientists, technology experts, physicians and others across established disciplinary boundaries.

“The Research Council’s mounting awareness of the importance of studying the cultural dimensions of societal challenges represents a real breakthrough. But much work needs to be done to ensure that these perspectives are included as a naturally integral part of the Research Council’s large and often technologically oriented programmes and in upcoming white papers on research,” Dr Aaslestad concludes.

Translation: Connie Stultz/Carol B. Eckmann

 

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