Collection: Global Social Challenges


As a taster for our global social challenges collection, we have selected some of our key eBooks and journal articles which are relevant in each area.

We champion evidence-informed, bold thinking, from anywhere in the world that aims to address the global social challenges. All our GSC align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). You can browse all our collections here and find out how we then map.

Global Social Challenges Collection

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Liminality, as originally conceived by anthropologists, is a temporary ‘in-between’ state that acts as a bridge, connecting old roles to new roles, and resulting in a desired new state. The article applies this concept to precarious migrant work. We argue, specifically, that migrants in low-wage and insecure work occupy four main liminal realms following their cross-border mobility: the temporal, the financial, the social and the legal. We explore these four realms using qualitative interview evidence (36 interviews) from comparative research with migrant workers, migrant employers and community stakeholders in Norway and the UK. The article then reflects on the balance between liminality (as a positive, temporary and in-between state) and limbo (as a negative, long-term state). We argue that migrants doing precarious work avoid limbo, but at the same time do not experience liminality as originally conceived. Instead, they experience what we term ‘ambiguous liminality’: where precarious work is encountered as liminal, but where the exact mechanisms and pathways leading to a desired new state are multiple, uncertain and incremental. Liminality, however ambiguous, is a vital expression of migrant agency; but it also serves the interests of capital too: masking the negatives associated with precarious work and helping to underpin precarious migrants’ work ethic.

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This reflective article was drafted in November 2020. Since this time, the authors have worked with the counter-slavery sector to co-develop a refined public health framework to address modern slavery (). Significant knowledge mobilisation has also occurred with a range of stakeholders, and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has encouraged the UK Home Office and the Home Secretary to embed a public health approach within the UK’s response to modern slavery (). Key references and insights from research in 2021 are available as a collection.

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Background:

Post-positivist critics of the linear-rational understanding of the role of knowledge in decision making have long argued the need for the construction of socially robust knowledge to illuminate policy problems from a variety of perspectives, including lived experiences.

Aims and objectives:

This article charts the attempts of researchers to employ a creative method, digital storytelling, alongside more traditional scientific data in stakeholder deliberations to inform local food governance in South Africa.

Methods:

Four storytellers from a marginalised group created and introduced their digital story about a ‘time when they had to make a difficult choice about what food to purchase or get’ to a public governance forum and the reactions of the audience self-reported.

Findings:

The digital stories were emotionally compelling and gave granular detail to the more top-down perspective of the scientific data. There were concerns, however, for the welfare of the storytellers when introducing their stories in the forum.

Discussion and conclusion:

Our findings highlight the multi-functionality of digital storytelling as a method of creativity within the process of co-production, not just as a technique to make visible knowledge from marginalised groups, but also as a mechanism (when used and viewed in a wider governance context) to promote knowledge mobilisation and alternative ways of knowing. The use of digital storytelling in these wider governance contexts, or social learning spaces, however, also surfaces ethical and other risks.

Open access
Author: Stan Houston

Critical realism, as expounded by Bhaskar, is a philosophy of social science that has been applied in social work scholarship addressing such areas as research methodology, practice interventions and programme evaluation. Most of these applications are based on the early rendition of the philosophy, with little attention given to Bhaskar’s later, more mature, development of dialectical critical realism. This article addresses this gap, describing how dialectic critical realism builds on the early iteration of the philosophy to account for emancipatory change in the social world. The contribution of dialectical critical realism to anti-oppressive social work is then considered through the articulation of six, interlinked steps of transformative change. Finally, the preceding meta-theoretical steps are applied to a fictitious case example involving a young person leaving care. The aim here is to show how the steps can be integrated within social work practice to stimulate positive change, human emancipation and well-being.

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This article examines the role of language skills in socially stratified educational attainment. Using essays written at the age of 11 in a large British cohort study, the National Child Development Study (NCDS), two measures of written language skills are derived: lexical diversity and the number of spelling and grammar errors. Results show that participants from the lower social strata misspelt more words and used a smaller variety of words in their essays than more socially privileged cohort members. Those language skills mediate part of the association between social origin and the highest level of educational attainment achieved. An even higher mediation of about half can be observed if standardised test measures for verbal and non-verbal cognitive abilities are included in the model. The models show that language skills mediate the social origin effect on educational attainment by about a quarter.

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This article provides a quantitative examination of the link between political institutions and deaths during the first 100 days of the COVID-19 pandemic. We demonstrate that countries with more democratic political institutions experienced deaths on a larger per capita scale than less democratic countries. The result is robust to the inclusion of many relevant controls, a battery of estimation techniques and estimation with instrumental variables for the institutional measures. Additionally, we examine the extent to which COVID-19 deaths were impacted heterogeneously by policy responses across types of political institutions. Policy responses in democracies were less effective in reducing deaths in the early stages of the crisis. The results imply that democratic political institutions may have a disadvantage in responding quickly to pandemics.

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Climate change is perhaps the biggest challenge of our times. In order to cope with it, we have to organise action collectively. The most important way to cooperate globally is through United Nations negotiations, known as ‘conferences of the parties’. However, progress has been very slow, and disillusionment with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process has set in. From a scientific point of view, several obstacles surfacing in these negotiations have been well researched. Institutional analysis may provide suggestions or even solutions to some of these problems. Hence, we think that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations could profit from scientific support. We provide scientific background for three prominent problems: how to reconcile different interests in a global public goods situation; how to ameliorate the consensus decision-making process; and how to design institutions to implement resolutions. Enhancing communication, trust and fairness, and enforcing sanctions, are suggested as key elements for that. Finally, we point to similar processes that have been brought to a successful end.

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This article contributes to the discussion of what feminist peace entails and how women peace activists in different contexts understand it. By analysing the work of three women’s organisations in Myanmar and Georgia, I highlight diversity in the conceptualisation of feminist peace. I argue that the idea of gender equality as an intrinsic aspect of peace constitutes a common feature of these organisations’ peace work. However, this goal can be pursued through different political strategies and arenas. In particular, visions of feminist peace are shaped by the context of conflict and the position of women’s organisations in relation to the conflict parties. The findings reveal substantial differences in how feminist peace is envisioned, from a militant approach focused on conflict settlement, to an alternative means of conflict transformation that seeks to reimagine key conflict issues.

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Numerous published efforts have compared and contrasted policy process theories. Few assessments, however, have examined the extent to which they are inclusive or diverse. Here we summarise lessons from previous assessments, paying attention to how Paul Sabatier’s science-based criteria have shaped the contours of the field. In looking at these contours, we explore evidence of diversity and inclusivity of policy process approaches in terms of methods, concepts, topics, geography and authors. We conclude with strategies to address challenges revealed by our examination: creating space for conversations among scholars of differing perspectives and approaches; building sustained and meaningful efforts to recruit and train researchers with diverse backgrounds; establishing research coordination networks that focus on policy problems; and creating better metrics to assess our diversity and inclusivity.

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Comparative research is always a challenge. However, it is also necessary if we are to develop robust interpretations and encompassing theories (Hyman, 2001), with a view of displaying both similarities and differences, as well as identifying ‘best practice’ (Ledwith and Hansen, 2013). The two studies presented in this book approach international comparison in different ways. The first, on women’s underrepresentation in trade unions, uses a ‘career’ methodology to analyse the variation in ‘inequality regimes’ (Ackers, 2006) across two countries. The second proposes a socio-historical analysis of legal mobilizations (Lehoucq and Taylor, 2020) in favour of equal pay in the UK as an example to draw useful lessons for other national contexts (notably France) on the effectiveness of mobilizing the courts as a union repertoire of action. In doing so, both studies offer different contributions to (comparative) research in industrial relations.

The first contribution of this research is methodological. Our aim in this comparative endeavour was to overcome some of the difficulties encountered in comparative research on industrial relations (Hyman, 2001), and to avoid a deterministic and overarching perspective investigating institutions and structures (for example, industrial relations systems, gender equality regimes) at the expense of social processes (for example, social construction of gender inequalities). At the same time, while previous research has shown that there is a universalism in the way women are treated in the workplace and a strong resilience of the gendered order over time (Kirton and Healy, 2013a), scholars have argued for contextually and/or historically grounded analysis as a means of understanding the structure and dynamics of ‘inequality regimes’ (Acker, 2006).

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