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CIFAR and the British Academy are issuing this call inviting applications for early career researchers in the humanities and social sciences to participate in virtual research activities on the broad theme of ‘What is a good city?’.


CIFAR and the British Academy aim to bring together around thirty early career researchers based in the UK and Canada from across the humanities and social sciences to discuss key questions around the theme of ‘What is a good city?’. The virtual activities will be designed to encourage collaboration and exchange between early career researchers.  

These activities will aim to draw on the insights of the humanities and social sciences to explore varied understandings and experiences of what is a good city. CIFAR and the British Academy are particularly interested in encouraging broad and innovative interpretations of what makes a good city, whether past or present, physical or imaginary from researchers in both the humanities and the social sciences.  

In order to stimulate collaboration and networking, small-scale seed funding will be made available for which participants can apply. These collaborations must be international in their composition and can be either partnerships or groups. Time will be set aside for participants to share and discuss their ideas for collaboration over the course of the virtual sessions. The application form for seed funding will be circulated in advance of the symposium to ensure participants are fully aware of the opportunity and requirements. 

CIFAR and the British Academy are particularly interested in the following framing questions:

  • Values: What have been and are the criteria by which a ‘good city’ is judged? What social, political, economic, and cultural values are embedded in urban policy making? What value is placed on the non-human environment in a ‘good city’? When different values and modes of valuation are mobilised, how are such conflicts, frictions and complementarities negotiated? Can an integrated planning be imagined or actualised?
  • Preparation: How have cities prepared for the unexpected, and how can they do so in the future? How can cities steer themselves out of disasters and emergencies, including in the context of the climate crisis, and how have they previously done so? What governance, resilience, adaptation, anticipatory intelligence, social inclusion, political processes and health provision should a ‘good city’ have? Can contingency or serendipity be factored into planning? How might cities respond creatively to the opportunities and possibilities of an open future?
  • Space: What positive measures can a city undertake to make it easier for different groups of people to live together? What infrastructural – understood well beyond the physical – decisions can be taken to better the wellbeing of citizens? How will or can the transformation of urban spaces in a decarbonised society of the future transform collective action and democratic processes?
  • Experience: How is the city experienced? How can we engage across the divide of otherness in a city? The ‘good city’ evokes the good life, yet urban citizens often live with ill health, pollution, poor living conditions, fear, anxiety, isolation, crime and helplessness. How can urban life maintain and repair human wellbeing and mental health rather than harm them?
  • Representation: How does a ‘good city’ represent itself? How does the ‘good city’ create a sense of the urban experience? How does it image its past, present and future? How can a ‘good city’ tackle and mediate difficult histories and legacies? How is the imaginary of the ‘good city’ constituted? How does the image of the city inform the experience of the dweller of the city? How can political representation and the institutional organisation of politics come together and be experimented with in the city?

Eligibility requirements

For the purpose of this symposium, early career is defined as being within a ten-year period of the award of the applicant’s doctorate (or equivalent research experience). This eligibility will be viewed flexibly in order to take into account instances such as career breaks. Applicants are encouraged to contact the British Academy with any questions they may have related to eligibility.  

Participants must be based at institutions in Canada or the United Kingdom, or be part of the CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars programme. 

Participants must have fluency in spoken and written English.  

Participants must be able to participate in at least 75% of the virtual sessions. If this is not met it will result in a participant not being eligible for the seed funding available. Given the time difference between the UK and Canada the sessions are expected to take place in the late afternoon and early evening UK time, and early morning Canada time.  

UK-based attendees may only participate in two British Academy Knowledge Frontiers Symposia in any 24-month period.  

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