Love and anger – seven humanities projects put everyday life into perspective

The topography of love, the norms of anger, Buddhism and consumption. With grants from VELUX FONDEN’s core group programme, seven humanities research projects provide new perspectives on, among other things, our feelings, politics and religion.

Since 2008, through its core group programme, VELUX FONDEN has focused on supporting basic humanities research at the highest level in close cooperation with university humanities departments. This year, seven projects will receive grants totalling DKK 40 million.

“Support for free basic research is under pressure in the humanities field. The seven projects demonstrate the impressive originality of methods and new perspectives on well-known phenomena that humanities researchers can deliver when given the opportunity to pursue their own ideas across disciplines. They create philanthropic value for our democracy and culture and strengthen the research-based teaching of future graduates, which is ultimately the greatest societal value of research,” stresses Henrik Tronier, Head of Humanities Programme at VELUX FONDEN.

The rules of anger and professional synergies

The seven projects cover a wide range of subjects dealing with everything from neural networks to organizational theory. One of the projects, for example, examines the possibilities and rules of anger:

“We’re investigating whether anger can be a positive force that can mobilize criticism and how anger is legitimized, depending on the social positions from which it originates. We want to clarify what emotional demands lie in our society and how they affect the opportunities for different groups to raise criticism through anger,” says Associate Professor Merete Monrad from Aalborg University, coordinator of the project ‘Norms governing expressions of rage’.

The grant gives Merete Monrad the opportunity to strengthen both the research environment and cooperation across disciplines:

“With the grant, we can strengthen the research environment in the field of emotional sociology. It also allows us to bring together research traditions that have otherwise been separate. In this way, we can create synergies across professional traditions such as criminology, social work, and sociology.”

This year, all universities that have participated in the application process are represented among the grants.

The seven projects:
Fabula-NET: A Deep Neural Network for Automated Multidimensional Assessment of Literary Fiction and Narratives. Professor Mads Rosendahl Thomsen and assistant professor Kristoffer Laigaard Nielbo. Århus university

Fabula-NET is an interdisciplinary collaboration between literary research, linguistics and informatics with the aim of expanding the scope of machine learning with domain knowledge from the humanities. Literature’s multidimensional and complex texts constitute a particularly challenging material with a potential to develop new models for automated text classification. The project combines fractal analysis, sentiment classification and advanced language models with deep neural networks to describe the internal coherence of texts based on the hypothesis that a successful literary work exhibits a particular variation between predictability and unpredictability. This variation is particularly reflected in the dynamic properties of the narrative. The overall model can be used to classify texts as high/low quality and successful/unsuccessful, which is supported by preliminary studies of, for example, H. C. Andersen’s fairy tales and J. K. Rowling’s novels. The project is multilingual and works with a very large corpus in English, Danish and Chinese in collaboration with a number of experts who help to validate the automated analysis results. The application possibilities for this technology are wide-ranging and it will be relevant for both libraries and publishers for searching through and evaluating texts, and in research to understand and compare large collections of texts from world literature at a level higher than compiled single analyzes. The application can also be developed for other types of texts and contribute to increase the quality of e.g. automated text generation.

Turning Theory into Action (TITAN): Undesirable Consequences of Implementing Organization and Management Theory. Professor Eva Boxenbaum and professor Renate E. Meyer. Copenhagen Business School

Organization and Management Theory aims at developing academic knowledge that is useful for organizational actors in pursuit of organizational and societal goals. Current debates focus on the presence or absence of such relevance, not on its nature. Prior research shows, however, that academic knowledge, even when relevant to practice, sometimes produce outcomes that are not anticipated and that on some occasions turn out to be undesirable for society. This situation occurred, for instance, when SKAT implemented tools inspired by New Public Management, which contributed to the dividend crisis. The current project aims at developing knowledge about how, and under which conditions, undesirable outcomes arise from academic knowledge when implemented in organizational practice. The purpose is to contribute to preventing, identifying and alleviating unanticipated consequences of academic knowledge that are undesirable for society. 

Private-sector engagement in humanitarian action (HUMAC). Associate professor Jasper Hotho and assistant professor Verena Girschik. Copenhagen Business School

As the world grapples with growing humanitarian needs caused by health emergencies, natural disasters, and armed conflicts, collaboration between the private sector and humanitarian organizations is urgently called for. The aim of HUMAC is to examine if and how business-humanitarian collaboration can be organized in an ethical, effective, and sustainable manner. We conduct in-depth process research on business-humanitarian collaboration in different crisis contexts to analyze how partners organize their collaboration and how they handle the challenges they encounter along the way. In doing so, HUMAC aims to generate urgently needed research-based knowledge and theoretical insights into the organizational dynamics, complications, and solutions of business-humanitarian collaboration in crisis contexts. Ultimately, our hope is that better insight into the challenges of business-humanitarian collaboration will enhance the delivery of aid and assistance to people in distress.

Where Love Happens: Topographies of Emotions in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century European Literature and Culture. Professor Lene Østermark-Johansen. University of Copenhagen

Romantic love is usually thought of as immaterial, personal, and intimate. Our project questions this by examining the materialities of love in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. We wish to demonstrate that romantic love also emerges materially, once print culture makes spaces where it can flourish.  How does reading about love affect us, both emotionally and physically? Where do we seek those love stories, where do they take us? How does the idea of romantic love traverse the 19th and 20th centuries? How can the language of love be both universal and profoundly personal at the same time? What role does the philosophy and literature of romantic love play in the ways in which we express love in real life?  With studies of literary tourism, of topoi in British print culture, of private codes in love letters, and the case study of a 20th-century treatise of love, we will provide elements for such a material history of love, hoping to demonstrate the close link between material places of love and the immateriality of emotion.

WASTE: Consumption and Buddhism in the age of garbage. Assistant professor Trine Brox. University of copenhagen

The project WASTE aims to draw attention to the global waste crisis by investigating the waste output attendant to Buddhism, a religion that is often portrayed as anti-materialist. This project investigates Buddhist waste, that is, waste produced through Buddhist practices to which Buddhists ascribe affective qualities, moral connections, or religious significance. It investigates Buddhist consumption practices, waste imaginaries, and waste trajectories, asking: how do Buddhists define and sort waste from non-waste? What are the effects of increased consumption and waste production on the cultural practices, environment, social relations, rituals and customs in Buddhist contexts? The project argues that the perceptions and practices concerned with consumption and the varied afterlives of consumed items are crucial for understanding contemporary Buddhism. More broadly, the project aims to understand the importance and role of religion in the generation and interpretation of waste.

The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Global Modernities [CESGM]. Global Catholicism in a Danish & and Transnational Context. Professor Bjørn Thomassen (Roskilde University) and assistant professor Andreas Bandak (Copenhagen university))

The project CESGM is the first comparative, in-depth study of the growing Catholic populations in Denmark and their ties to the broader world. Immigration and cultural integration have been at the top of the political agenda for decades, with almost automatic reference to Islam and Muslims. But in today’s Denmark, there are at least as many immigrants with a Christian as a Muslim background. A large proportion of these immigrants are Catholics, but there is virtually no research on Catholicism in Denmark. CESGM will unearth how Catholicism is lived in the movement in and out of Denmark and analyze how Catholic faith and practice are connected to a Catholic-inspired ethic that influences attitudes to morality, work, body and identity. The study will be based on five case studies of Polish, Middle Eastern, Nigerian (West African), Filipino and Spanish/Mexican minority groups and their national and transnational networks. Theoretically, the study will position globalization as a dialogue between ‘multiple modernities’, where cultural and religious notions play a significant role in interpretations of the modern project in a global age.

Norms governing expressions of rage. Assistant profeesor Merete Monrad and assistant professor Morten Kyed. Aalborg university

Contemporary society is concerned with anger. While anger usually is considered a destructive emotion threatening rationality and democratic dialogue for instance by contributing to division and racism, it can also challenge injustice, discrimination and inequality. In order for anger to be recognized as legitimate, however, it has to be justified. Through qualitative case studies across two generations and in different contexts – the court, the job centre, in far right wing political groups and subcultures shaped by music such as punk rock, death and trash metal – we examine what anger does in society. Anger is not only a destructive force of division and exclusion; anger can be mobilized for critique of injustice and can contribute to build communities. This research project examines norms governing anger and the social differentiation of these norms, as we expect the legitimacy of the anger expressions to depend on gender, class, age and ethnicity. The project aims at achieving a better understanding of the emotional demands that are tacitly at work in social life, as well as of how norms regarding the expression of anger may contribute to a marginalization of disadvantaged groups.

Henrik Tronier
Senior Adviser, Head of Programme and Responsible for The Research Policy, VELUX FONDEN
+ 45 29 41 79 07