Lots of whining in the Guardian today about the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council. The AHRC has reportedly stated that ‘the Big Society’ will become an active research priority for the Council’s funding [update: actually, it hasn’t. That claim seems to be journalistic spin. See the comments on this post]. But, even if it’s so, then isn’t this just a simple opportunistic rebranding of an existing 2008-2011 AHRC research priority, which runs…

“Enhancing the role that communities play in underpinning economic regeneration and improving quality of life”

Sounds like the Big Society to me.

Academic studies of voluntary association and mutual aid could similarly fit well with other existing Labour-imposed AHRC research priorities, such as the ageing society, immigration and identity, even the living-with-global-warming strand. I suspect that the time for “academic fury” over steering of the AHRC toward buttressing policy objectives was way back in 2005. That was when Labour moved from the AHRB to the new AHRC, and in doing so was able to impose its own implicitly-political priorities on the Council’s funding. That was the moment when the humanities community implicitly accepted that they had to be seen to be “relevant” to government, or else fade into obscurity. Yet by quietly taking Labour’s shilling they also tied themselves to future governments of a different hue.