From fringe to basic research: Seven humanities projects make us wiser

VELUX FONDEN’s core group programme supports free, original basic research in the humanities and related social sciences. This year, DKK 42 million will be awarded to seven research projects at Aarhus University, Copenhagen Business School (CBS), University of Copenhagen and Roskilde University.

“The human sciences help to develop the democratic society in Denmark on an enlightened, inclusive and sustainable basis. With the core group programme, we give researchers the freedom to pursue their own original ideas. This contributes to the development of the broad level of knowledge which is crucial for a rapidly changing democratic society and for the study programmes. As evident from the seven projects that have been selected this year, there is no reason why free, excellent, curiosity-driven research and strong societal relevance cannot go hand in hand,” says Henrik Tronier, Head of Programme for VELUX FONDEN’s humanities funding area.

What is a core group?

A core group is a closely collaborating research team typically consisting of one or two tenured senior investigators as project managers, eg. a number of senior researchers and 2-3 postdoctoral scholars and/or PhD students.

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

Read more about VELUX FONDEN’s core group programme

Past, present and shared future

The seven projects will develop new insights, theories and approaches and make us wiser about our history, daily lives and common future. From specific topics such as teaching Danish as a second language and companies’ strategic networking to abstract topics such as (dis)honesty. The projects spring from the following questions:

  • How are war memories passed down between generations in conflict-affected societies?
  • How did science and fiction shape each other during the scientific revolution in eighteenth-century Denmark?
  • How do large organisations and senior managements use well-established networks to learn from each other and forge strategic alliances?
  • How can we improve the teaching of Danish as a second language?
  • How does art portray human existence in a climate-challenged world?
  • What is dis(honesty)? From the phenomenon of brutal honesty to (dis)honesty in close and intimate relationships.
  • What is it like to feel (un)worthy? What causes citizens to feel included or excluded, worthy or unworthy?
(Un)worthiness in the welfare state

Project INDIGMA – Experiences of (in)dignity from the margins, which is being led by Associate Professor Magnus Paulsen Hansen and Associate Professor Sabina Pultz, will contribute to current debates about unworthiness dynamics, and how they can be mitigated:

“Today, many people point out that the growing scepticism towards democratic institutions and the ‘elite’ is rooted in the experience of inferiority and of being feeling left behind and treated in an undignified way. One example of this is the rise of right-wing populist movements in peripheral areas which are decoupled from the growth being enjoyed in large cities, such as what is happening in, for example, France and the USA. At the same time, we know that the welfare state can help to ensure that people feel worthy, but that it also contributes to strong feelings of indignity,” says Associate Professor Magnus Paulsen Hansen from the Department of Social Sciences and Business, Roskilde University.

In the project, ethnographic researchers will follow unemployed citizens over time and compare their experiences to examine the role played by their encounters with the labour market, job centres etc. for their feelings of dignity and indignity:

“By following unemployed citizens in peripheral areas in Denmark, the USA and France, we will examine the dynamics between the psychology and politics of (in)dignity . In this way, we will address some of the very important and topical issues about how we as a society should protect the dignity of as many people as possible, and especially of those who feel overlooked,” says Associate Professor Sabina Pultz from the Department of People and Technology, Roskilde University.

The seven projects: 
Experiences of (in)dignity from the margins (INDIGMA)

By Associate Professor Magnus Paulsen Hansen, Department of Social Sciences and Business, Roskilde University & Associate Professor Sabina Pultz, Department of People and Technology, Roskilde University

Grant: DKK 6 million.

Since WW2, the concept of human dignity is one of the clearest points of ‘overlapping consensus’ in the Western world. But with the widespread rise of autocratic and xenophobic sentiments the foundation for upholding the consensus is trembling. Many point to the experience of indignity of the ‘left-behinds’ to be at the center of this trend. However, we know very little about how this plays out at an individual level. What makes citizens feel included or excluded, worthy or unworthy in society? How may encounters with the labor market and welfare state institutions give rise to the experience of dignity or indignity?

INDIGMA will explore these questions through ethnographic studies and shadowing of unemployed people. The project compares experiences of (in)dignity across three small communities in the peripheral areas in Denmark, France and the US. Hereby, the project will contribute to current debates on the dynamics of indignity and how they may be mitigated.

Postwar memory generations...

 - contested memory, historical narratives and history education in Bosnia and Serbia

By Associate Professor Tea Sindbæk Andersen, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional StudiesUniversity of Copenhagen & Professor Thomas Morton, Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen 

Grant: DKK 6 million.

This project investigates the role of history education and history schoolbooks in shaping cultural memory, understood as shared narratives about the past, in war-torn regions. We will study how youth in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia remember the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. In an innovative collaboration between history, memory studies and social psychology, we will explore how history education transmits war memories, how narratives in history education and schoolbooks relate to other forms of cultural memory, including political discourse, social media family narratives and commemoration practices, and how memory influences young peoples’ perception of their own and other cultural groups in the region.

The project will contribute to developing interdisciplinary methods to study how war memory is transmitted across generations in post-conflict societies and the roles of history education in these processes.

The Rise of Science and Fiction...

... during the Scientific Revolution in Denmark

By Associate Professor Simona Zetterberg-Nielsen, School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University

Grant: DKK 6 million.

This project explores how modern science and fiction emerged in conjunction with each other during the 18th century in Denmark. It does so by analyzing the relationship between fiction and scientific discourses in four significant genres: novels, scientific publications, periodicals, and educational textbooks.

The project ultimately aims to rewrite the history of fiction as well as the history of science by demonstration how fiction and science depended on each other in their historical emergence and still today depend on the same concept of truth.


- Consequences of Long-term Organizational Embeddedness

By Associate Professor Christoph Houman Ellersgaard & Associate Professor Hubert Buch-Hansen, Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School

Grant: DKK 6 million.

As society changes, large corporations have to adapt strategically. In this context, the networks of managers constitute a key resource a source of information and towards building alliances. Our knowledge of how different types of network embeddedness affect the strategic opportunities of firms across different historical periods is however still limited. This includes whether corporate networks can explain why some corporations stagnate, whereas others manage to right the ship. And how networks of corporations affect strategic choices regarding mergers and acquisitions.

The CLONE project explores how embeddedness in historical networks affects the strategic decisions made by large corporations between 1910-2020. This is studied by creating a unique database, combining historical data on accounts and networks. By doing this, the project extends the understanding of how corporations learn from and find alliances through networks.

Danish in the Making...

- Intercultural Pragmatics for learners and teachers of Danish as a second language

Professor Susana Silvia Fernández, School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University & Associate Professor Carsten Levisen, Department of Communication and Arts, Roskilde University 

Grant: DKK 6 million.

The project develops a new vision for the study of Danish as a second language. At the intersection between intercultural pragmatics and language pedagogy, we rethink the acquisition of Danish by adult migrants. We support the development of intercultural communicative competence through (i) the creation of a ‟minimal Danish”, a metalanguage consisting of very basic words, (ii) a ‟cultural dictionary” over complex cultural concepts and communicative norms written in minimal Danish and (iii) learning activities with focus on interaction and reflection.

We identify the central cultural keywords for Danish and articulate tacit norms of communicative behavior through ‟cultural scripts”. We develop and test our products in collaboration with Danish teachers and learners, and we create new research insights into language pedagogy and the connection between language and culture 


- A Cultural Analysis of Care and Crisis in the 21st Century

Professor Isak Winkel Holm & Associate Professor Solveig Gade, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen.

Grant: DKK 6 million.

In the age of climate change, Earth’s status as a stable, customary point of reference for the ways human beings make a home, taking care of each other and of our surroundings, is diminishing. Environmental crisis can, consequently, be understood a crisis of care. Titled for the ancient Greek name for a household, OIKOS investigates the nexus of care and crisis at the level of culture. Through a cultural analysis of selected contemporary works of art in the practices of visual art, sound art, literature, and performance, we seek to explore care work in the light of the environmental crisis, and environmental crisis in the light of care work. The research questions are: How do artworks portray care work in the shadow of the planetary predicament? And how do they perform care work?

In order to address these questions and to conduct the analysis, the research project proposes the concept of care genres. By focusing on the three care genres of parenting, maintaining, and regenerating, OIKOS shifts the perspective from the existence of climate change to human existence inside it, placing care, crisis, and culture at the forefront of ecological thinking.


Professor Ingo Zettler &  Associate Professor  Seamus Power, Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen

Grant: DKK 6 million.

Honest and dishonest behavior comes in various forms and with various motivations, and affects many areas of human life and social relations. With this core group, we will crucially open out research traditions on (dis-)honesty both content-wise and methodologically.

Contentwise, we will provide an ample theoretical framework on a so far understudied phenomenon within (dis-)honesty, namely, brutal honesty; conduct the most detailed investigation of (dis-)honesty in close (intimate) relationships to date; and we will lay the theoretical and empirical groundwork for a cross-cultural comprehensive framework of (dis-)honesty. Methodologically, we will harmoniously combine the strengths of different qualitative and quantitative methods. Overall, this core group offers new insights into (dis-)honesty, and, in turn, a characteristic and behavior whose importance we all experience.


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