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Published: Jul 21, 2016 5:51:00 PM

UCL Grand Challenge of Intercultural Interaction (GCII): About Our Work

The UCL Research Strategy defines Grand Challenges: those areas in which we are facilitating cross-disciplinary interaction – within and beyond UCL – and applying our collective strengths, insights and creativity to overcome problems of global significance.

The UCL Grand Challenge of Intercultural Interaction (GCII) aims to examine the causes and features of social and cultural diversity, assess their implications and devise new ways to think about them. 

Find out more below, or explore Getting Involved.

UCL Grand Challenges and the UCL Research Strategy

UCL Grand Challenges – which also include Global Health, Sustainable Cities and Human Wellbeing – is the mechanism through which concentrations of specialist expertise across UCL and beyond can be brought together to address aspects of the world's key problems. They also provide an environment in which researchers are encouraged to think about how their work can intersect with and impact upon global issues. 

UCL Grand Challenges is a central feature of the UCL Research Strategy, which aims to:

  • cultivate leadership founded in excellence
  • foster cross-disciplinarity grounded in expertise
  • realise the impact of a global university.

Culture in a Globalising World

Diversity is a defining feature of our societies. It is not a new phenomenon: centuries of political and religious schisms, colonialism and trade provided its historical seedbeds. By the 21st century, however, pluralism has begun to impact deeply on all aspects of cultural, social and political life. Labour migration, mobility, media and ICT advances, as well as international trade, law and governance, have increased not only the ethnic, linguistic and religious heterogeneity of contemporary societies, but also the scale and complexity of relations between individuals, communities, and states.

If living with and interacting across difference has thus become a fact of contemporary life, it also provides political and intellectual challenges. The interdependence between states may grow, but where existing hierarchies are superseded, new forms of inequity are emerging in their place. The global circulation of goods, media and information has fostered innovation and widened access, but also risks homogenising cultural products and discourses. The reaffirmation of religious or ethnic identities and practices, in turn, while fundamental to equality and social justice, can also downplay differences within groups and give rise to competing claims and conflict.

Culture is a key term in this context. Whether understood as an integral dimension of social life that defines and sustains collectivity; as symbols, values, meanings and modes of life; or as intellectual and creative expressions – culture is now a major factor and cause of controversy in our globalising world. What role it plays for inclusion or exclusion in diverse societies, how it may legitimise or disrupt attitudes and representations, how its educational, diplomatic or emancipatory capital is used, or how it influences economic development, have become pressing questions for our times.

Our Approach

UCL GCII draws on the expertise of researchers from many disciplines to consider the complexity of relations between individuals and groups from different ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds, between states, regions and civil societies, and between intellectual and artistic traditions and developments.  It will hereby pay attention to inter- and transnational processes, examine national concerns such as they are faced for instance by the UK, and analyse the city as a key locus for diversity and societal responses to it.
The programme has three key objectives. Firstly, it aims to further exploit the dynamic research culture within and across disciplines at UCL in order to produce empirical data, explore normative standards, and interpret discourses and practices that will be key to understanding and addressing diversity today.

Secondly, working on a number of strategic research projects and activities each year, the programme also seeks to create new modes of collaboration within and across disciplines at UCL, and to extend our partnerships with external institutions and organisations from the public, private and third sector.

By building on these cross-disciplinary approaches, thirdly, UCL GCII thus aims to enhance the impact of UCL’s research activity to influence intellectual debate, shape policy development and engage the wider public.

Our Activities

UCL GCII draws on the breadth of our university's research activity on intercultural issues across the arts and humanities, social, political and historical sciences, laws, economics and area studies, as well as in the built environment, engineering, and the life sciences. Building on, linking and enhancing this expertise, the programme will:

  • facilitate new research projects and collaborations within and beyond the university
  • support the creation of specialised centres and networks at UCL
  • design and host guest lectures, conferences, debate series and other events
  • develop research partnerships with other universities, government, think-tanks, business, media and arts organisations
  • feed expertise into policy processes, creating consultancy and advocacy opportunities
  • devise public-engagement activities and new forms of research output and impact.

(Some of) Our Questions

  • To what extent do ethnicity, class, gender or faith determine people’s access to education and associated economic returns in the labour market?
  • Should the media’s handling of potentially offensive content be regulated or would this mean curtailing freedom of speech?
  • What are the implications of transferring policy and development practice between the Global North and South?
  • What effects do the destruction and reconstruction of cultural heritage in and after conflict have upon people’s identity formation?
  • What are the societal and ethical aspects involved in designing security and identity verification schemes?
  • How have past demographic expansions and population movements contributed to producing linguistic diversity?
  • What effects does the multi-level governance system of the European Union have on national sovereignty, citizenship and democratic accountability?
  • How do social factors and discourses influence attitudes towards migration on part of the receiving population?
  • How are the consumption and the preservation of cultural objects, as well as the remit of public arts institutions, affected by digital technologies?
  • What assumptions about gender relations underlie public policy and organisational practice?
  • To what extent can transnational approaches to history help problematise concepts of ‘East’ and ‘West’ as geopolitical and cultural constructs?
  • What is the role of faith communities and interfaith relations in provoking and in resolving social conflict?
  • How could cultural strategies inform policies that aim to tackle questions of poverty, health or environmental change?
  • How do literature, film and experimental media re-negotiate and shape both urban and (post-)national identities?

GCII Executive Group

Minutes from Executive Group Meetings





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