From AI to boredom and sex hormones: Eight human science projects put life under the microscope

This year, VELUX FONDEN’s core group programme is awarding grants totalling DKK 41 million to eight very different research projects at the University of Copenhagen, the University of Southern Denmark, Roskilde University and Aarhus University.

About core groups

A core group is a closely collaborating research group, usually with one or two permanent senior researchers as project manager(s), other senior researchers and two or three postdocs and/or PhD students. 

A core group can consist of researchers from the same department or researchers across departments and universities.

Read more about VELUX FONDEN’s core group programme

How does boredom affect people’s well-being in day-to-day life? How does artificial intelligence (AI) influence communicators’ professional assessments and ethical decisions? And how do our definitions of sex hormones change how we see gender, age, health and sexuality? These questions are explored in three of the research projects that will receive grants from VELUX FONDEN’s core group programme.

“The eight very different projects we’ve selected this year reflect the programme’s key aim: to support independent, original and curiosity-driven research in the human and social sciences at the highest academic level, which generates new insights, theories and approaches. Independent research is crucial to allowing us to develop our democratic society on an informed, inclusive and sustainable basis,” says Henrik Tronier, Head of programme for VELUX FONDEN’s humanities research programme

Shedding light on disaffected state of mind

Every year, VELUX FONDEN invites humanities and social science departments to submit project proposals for the foundation’s core group programme. The research projects are to serve as ‘stepping stones’ for career development and the establishment of research environments, and strengthen the departments’ research strategy development and teaching. All projects receiving grants have been through two independent, international peer assessments in competition with many other applications from a wide range of humanities subject areas.

This year, eight projects made it through the eye of the needle and will receive grants of between DKK 2.5 million and DKK 5.9 million over a four-year period.

One of the projects sheds light on boredom, but is anything but boring. It aims to create a more nuanced understanding of the challenges boredom brings with it, and to develop strategies that individuals can use to tackle boredom. The project will also highlight the destructive potential of boredom by examining its effect on behaviours such as cheating, online trolling and deliberate sharing of fake news.

“It’s generally believed that boredom can be healthy, but it can have serious consequences. A persistent feeling of boredom can be related to depression and anxiety, and the boredom of day-to-day life can change our behaviour – for example when we take our phones out of our pockets the second we’re unsure what to do with ourselves. But in reality we know surprisingly little about boredom. Over the next four years, with the help of the core group grant, we’ll examine how boredom affects people’s well-being and whether it leads to undesirable behaviour. For example, can boredom make us more hostile on the internet?” says Stefan Pfattheicher, Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus University.

The eight projects: 
The experience and consequences of boredom

By Associate Professor Stefan Pfattheicher, Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, Aarhus University

Grant: DKK 5.6 million

This project will make a unique and significant contribution to our understanding of what characterizes boredom and how the individual handles the experience of the emotion.

In a series of studies, we will investigate how boredom impacts wellbeing in everyday life, examining who is most severely affected and why. Thus, this project will nuance our understanding of the personal challenges that arise with boredom and additionally serve to illuminate individual coping strategies. Finally, the project will highlight the destructive potential of boredom by exploring behavior that may occur in the wake of it: cheating, online “trolling”, and the deliberate sharing of fake news. Hereby, this project uncovers both the negative consequences of boredom and the potential solutions to the associated challenges faced by both the individual and society at large.  

Strategizing Communication and Artificial Intelligence (SCAI)

By Associate Professor Ib T. Gulbrandsen, Department of Communication and Arts, Roskilde University

Grant: DKK 5.8 million

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming integral to organizations’ communication practices. But to date, there is sparse knowledge available on how AI affects the strategy-practices of professional communicators.

Through ethnographic studies of the development and operationalization of artificially intelligent communication technology, the research project Strategizing Communication and Artificial Intelligence (SCAI) contributes with knowledge on how AI affects human agency in relation to professional discretion and ethical judgement. With particular attention to professional communicators’ strategy-practices – practices that are fast becoming organizational routines with significant social, economic, and political impact – the project provides novel research-based knowledge on the impact of intelligent computing on strategic communication, and advances societal know-how related to the governance of AI technology. 

Godly Power and Witchcraft in the Danish Realms (1559-1660)

By Associate Professor Louise Nyholm Kallestrup, Department of History, Roskilde University

Grant: DKK 2.5 million

The ideal of the godly state developed during the 16th century. A part of being a godly Christian ruler included eradicating sin and all false Christians. Witches were the epitome of false Christians.

This project will explore to what extent witch prosecutions were included in the efforts of establishing a godly Danish monarchy during 1559-1660. The Danish State with its realms were ruled by the Oldenburg monarchs. It encompassed the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway (including territories in present day Sweden), present day Iceland, and the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. These realms had separate jurisdictions and varying degrees of self-determination, but state authorities could issue strict laws against witchcraft. Common to these realms, lay rulers oversaw witch prosecutions.

Based on four intertwined subprojects, the overall aim of this project is to clarify the responsibilities of the king, the Council, the king’s lieutenants, and the parish priests, and how these groups engaged in trials for witchcraft.    

Endocrine Economies: The Cultural Politics of Sex Hormones

By Professor Charlotte Kroløkke and Professor Karen Hvidtfeldt, Department for the Study of Culture, University of Southern Denmark

Grant: DKK 5.9 million

Danish children reach puberty at a still earlier age, and sex hormones come to play a role as a possible cause as well as a treatment. In the public debates, pros and cons of the birth control pill continue to be discussed while the birth control pill for men has never fully materialized. Borders and opportunities for transgenderism are changing, and sex hormones play a role when Danish sports associations decide on new international guidelines for how to sex-segregate sports. Endocrine Economies is a cultural analytical research project that follows and analyzes sex hormones as agents in relation to current issues where concerns, aspirations and expectations become disrupted, while new rules are being formulated.

The project aims to contribute to the humanistic study of sex hormones along with interdisciplinary dialogue of what our notions of sex hormones look like. This includes political regulations, market economies and mediated expressions including how these change our understandings of gender, age, health, and sexuality.

Determinants of Resilience in Organizational Networks (DRONe)

By Associate Professor Davide Secchi og Associate Professor Rasmus Gahrn-Andersen, Department of Language and Communication, University of Southern Denmark

Grant: DKK 3.6 million

DRONe is dedicated to explore the relationship between innovative technologies and the resilience of an organization facing change. The project covers, specifically, the socio-cognitive factors that relate to the adoption of a new technology that makes it possible for organizations to work against gradual and unforeseen changes in, among others, both internal and external operational tasks.

The project is articulated around a case study that focuses on the way in which drones with thermographic scanners have created the basis for the emergence of new practices as Denmark’s largest utility company’s (HOFOR) workers maintain and repair the heating pipes.

Managing Melancholy Dynamics of Theology and Medicine in 18th-century Denmark-Norway

By Associate Professor Tine Reeh, Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen 

Grant: DKK 5.7 million

Is there a connection between the 18th century's religious focus on the 'inner man' and developments of modern people's perceptions of mental health? Did the religious fashions of the day, pietism, and the many self-help books to diagnose the soul have an influence on ordinary people's experience of their own and others' mental health?

New digital tools give us access to a large source material from court cases, where citizens themselves get the floor. Here they report on how they experience acute crises, mentally impaired states and mental illness. This can give us new knowledge about a dynamic between theology and medicine, which gained tangible significance for the development of forensic psychiatry and for the legal position of the individual. This project thus sheds new light on the contested consequence of religion for the widely branched changes of individual, social and institutional mentalities that took place during the Enlightenment century.

Ocean Infrastructures: A study of how the oceans are governed today

By Professor Christian Bueger, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen and Professor Kimberley Peters, University of Oldenburg

Grant: DKK 5.9 million

The oceans are vital for the global transport of goods and data. Yet, increasingly the oceans are in crisis. How can the sea be sustainably used and protected? This is the key question that this Velux Core Group investigates. To do so, we develop an innovative analytical framework that understands the oceans as governed through infrastructures. We investigate three infrastructures in detail: 1) the governance of choke points and routes, vital for shipping, such as the Suez Canal; 2) the governance of subsea data cables through which almost all of our data travels; and 3) the prevention of oil spills caused by accidents that present a major threat to the marine environment.

The project develops important new answers on how the oceans are governed and how they can be better protected. The project is implemented in a collaboration between the Department of Political Science, Copenhagen University, the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity, University of Oldenburg and the SafeSeas network on maritime security and ocean governance.

Digital sovereignty: European visions for self-determination in a digital age

By Professor Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen

Grant: DKK 5.9 million

‘Digital sovereignty’ is a call for action that we – as individuals or collectives – should ‘take (back) control of our data’. Telling a story of being hemmed in by US tech-capitalism and Chinese and Russian tech-authoritarianism, European actors now seek a ‘third way’ into the digital future. Yet ‘digital sovereignty’ remains elusive and contradictory. There is neither a shared sense of what ‘digital sovereignty’ means, nor why and how it might be achieved. Can free flowing data ever be controlled? Is ‘digital sovereignty’ a protectionist agenda, an attempt to bolster democracy, or a proxy for continued surveillance capitalism?

SOVEREIGN will combine discourse analysis with multi-sited political ethnography to uncover the production, negotiation, and appropriation of the emerging ‘digital sovereignty’ doctrine. The core group will interview and observing key players in the EU and big tech on scene in Brussels and other EU national capitals, analyzing how the ‘digital sovereignty’ debate and regulation reconstitute significant facets of global and EU politics. At stake, ultimately, is the relationship between political authority, corporate interests, and citizen rights and the roll-out of the doctrine cut to the very future of democratic governance and international order.



Anna Høxbro Bak
Communications Adviser, THE VELUX FOUNDATIONS
+45 22 64 03 55