Oxford researchers named among BBC New Generation Thinkers
Oxford researchers named among BBC New Generation Thinkers

Oxford researchers named among BBC New Generation Thinkers

Dr Jacob Downs, Departmental Lecturer in Music and Chair of Faculty, and Dr Shona Minson, who has been British Academy Research Fellow at the Centre for Criminology, Faculty of Law, have been named among the UK’s most promising arts and humanities early career researchers in this year’s BBC New Generation Thinkers.

Every year a nationwide search is held for the best new arts and humanities academics with ideas that will resonate with a wider audience on BBC radio. From hundreds of applications, these ten New Generation Thinkers represent some of the best early career researchers in the country. They will be given the opportunity to share their pioneering research with BBC Radio 4 listeners, as well as being provided with unique access to training and support from AHRC and the BBC.

The 2024 New Generation Thinkers will bring new insights into diverse topics, with research including the possible existence of the multiverse, the future of black literature, the surprisingly dark history of Technicolor film, and the search for the greatest philosopher who never existed.

About Dr Jacob Downs – Sound, listening and intimacy in everyday life

Everywhere you look, people are using intimate sound technologies to reshape and enrich their experiences of the world, surrounding themselves in the ‘bubbles’ of noise-cancelling headphones to listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and whispered pop vocals. Why are we seeking out intimate sound-worlds so much in the 21st century?

In his research, Dr Jacob Downs places contemporary listening under the microscope to investigate the effects of new sound media on our everyday lives.

Dr Jacob Downs is departmental lecturer in music at the University of Oxford, where he researches and lectures on topics in 20th- and 21st-century music and sound. He is currently writing two books (one on headphone listening, the other on environmentalist music) and articles on subjects ranging from AI-generated music to Beyoncé’s latest album.

Dr Jacob DownsDr Jacob Downs
Dr Downs said: 'My research is born out of a fascination with quizzing people about their listening experiences. In my work, I use a range of approaches, from the scientific to the philosophical, to study perceptions of music and sound in both public and private spaces. I explore how people use headphones to cushion themselves against the onslaught of contemporary life, what individuals are looking for when they listen to hours of whispered, ASMR-inducing videos on YouTube, and why lots of us seem more and more to be choosing to play sound from our phones out loud on buses. It’s fantastic to know the BBC and the AHRC appreciate the weirder end of humanities research and have made me a New Generation Thinker for 2024.'

About Dr Shona Minson – Peeling off motherhood

Originally from Belfast, Dr Shona Minson is an award-winning criminologist at the University of Oxford, whose first career as a family and criminal barrister led her to explore families and punishment. Shona is a unique voice and a leading authority on how to do justice better for women and their children. She contributes regularly to public conversations about the wider consequences of punishment, and women's justice issues.

Her innovative short films based on interviews with children, mothers and grandmothers affected by maternal imprisonment, changed legal professional practice in the UK and overseas. Her first book highlighted the lack of concern given to children whose mothers are imprisoned and the next examines the impact on society when the motherhood of criminalised women is disregarded.

Dr Minson said: 'As a former family barrister I was shocked to find the criminal justice system didn’t consider children when a mother was sentenced. In the family courts, the best interests of children are the paramount consideration in all decision-making. My research has had a role in changing that, and sentencing courts should now consider the impact of a sentence on any dependent children. I think we need to have more conversations about the purpose and outcomes of punishment, so that we understand how individuals, families, communities and society are affected by imprisonment. I hope that being part of this scheme will give me the opportunity to make programmes which will stimulate public interest in these issues.'

Dr Shona MinsonDr Shona Minson

Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair says: 'The New Generation Thinkers programme brings interesting, important ideas into the public consciousness, shaping thought and discussion. From fundamental questions about the nature of reality to how political propagandists harnessed the seductive power of Technicolor, and the impact of imprisonment on mothers and children, and the most challenging problems of our day, these are ideas of thrilling originality and importance.

'These ten brilliant, original thinkers demonstrate the ability of the arts and humanities to help us to better understand both ourselves and the world around us.'