Protesters dismayed by the EU Referendum
Protesters dismayed by the EU Referendum
Credit: Garon S/Flickr/available under Public License

Social Sciences

Understanding the new political turbulence

In an unpredictable political period, Professor Helen Margetts, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, and her team seek to improve methods of understanding political mobilisation in the social media age. Researchers from Oxford and University College London draw on large-scale internet data to spot patterns of behaviour in digital traces left by acts such as signing a petition, donating money to a political cause, supporting, liking and sharing. They use ‘social data science’ methodologies, including experimentation, to help understand and perhaps even predict the outcomes of this democratic turbulence.

Researching the role of genes in our reproductive behaviour

Sociogenome is a five-year project led by Professor Melinda Mills of the Department of Sociology, which studies the role of genes on the reproductive behaviour of men and women. This research is pioneering; set against a background in which social scientists have recognised the influence of social background and environment, this multidisciplinary team takes a more holistic approach in also examining the genetic influence.

Parents with baby12 DNA areas have been linked with the age at which people have their first child

Credit: Pippa McCosh Photography

Professor Mills and an international team of around 250 researchers drew on recent unprecedented advances in molecular genetics to discover an underlying biological basis for reproductive behaviour. Already they have identified 12 specific areas of the DNA sequence associated with the age at which men and women have their first child and the total number of children they will have.

‘It may soon be possible to give people information on the important question of how late they can wait to have children, based on their DNA variants,’ explains Professor Mills. ‘This discovery may also open up new possibilities for infertility treatments in the future.’

Documenting endangered archaeological sites

View of archeological sitePart of the ancient city of Gerasa (today Jarash) in Jordan; the before and after images show the results of a dedicated restoration programme, but also the impact of tourism at the site

Credit: APAAME

The Middle East and North Africa is one of the most significant regions in the world for its archaeological remains. However, many archaeological sites face increasing threats not only from conflict, but also from the effects of population increase, agricultural development, urban expansion and looting. The EAMENA project (Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa), in collaboration with the University of Leicester, uses aerial photographs and satellite imagery to record new sites and monitor threats to them. With support from the Arcadia Fund, the team has designed a searchable online database and created more than 100,000 records to improve the protection of archaeological sites in the future. The project shares these data and runs workshops to improve skills and raise awareness with the relevant authorities in each country.

Excluded lives

exclusionExcluded teenager

Credit: luxorphoto/Shutterstock

Oxfordshire County Council is working with an interdisciplinary research team, led by the University’s Department of Education, exploring the different council services that children permanently excluded from school come into contact with. The pilot study is focused on why so many permanently excluded pupils experience long-term consequences such as involvement in crime, poor mental and physical health and prolonged periods of unemployment, and examines how these factors interrelate. The team includes researchers from Education, Law, Psychiatry, Social Policy and the Internet Institute, as well as colleagues with a background in the voluntary sector. By addressing this gap in knowledge, the researchers hope to reduce scarring effects of such experiences for excluded children.

Helping refugees help themselves

Tailor in UgandaA tailor working in a market in Rwamwanja refugee settlement, southwestern Uganda

Credit: Naohiko Omata

Work by Oxford researchers is changing the long-held view of refugees as passive victims who rely on handouts. Director of the Refugee Studies Centre Professor Alexander Betts and his Humanitarian Innovation Project team (HIP) studied refugees’ economic lives and contributions in Uganda. Their research shows that refugees actually help boost the local economy if given the chance, but if they are denied the right to work, this limits their economic activities and drains the host country. The findings have been presented to the United Nations, the World Bank, governments, NGOs and other organisations concerned with providing refugee assistance. Professor Betts and HIP won a University of Oxford Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Public Engagement with Research for this work. Foreign Policy magazine has recognised Professor Betts as one of the top 100 Global Thinkers of 2016.