'Mass political violence' research shortlisted for Newton Prize

Primary page content

A research project into state-sponsored episodes of "mass political violence" against citizens has been shortlisted for the prestigious Newton Prize.

Professor Vikki Bell, Head of the Department of Sociology, is UK partner for the project being carried out by an interdisciplinary research team led by Dr Oriana Bernasconi, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Alberto Hurtado University in Chile.

The project analyses resistance to the human rights violations carried out under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which saw tens of thousands detained, murdered and tortured for their political views.

The research aims to reflect upon the methods used to document such atrocities and open up the field of "political violence registration" to study, evidencing its social, legal, educational and cultural relevance.

By formalising ways of registering gross human rights violations the researchers hope to help protect human rights and make it easier to hold governments to account over abuses of power.  

The project, entitled "Political violence and human rights violations accountability: circumstances, uses and effects of forced disappearance registration. Lessons from a comparative perspective in the Americas", began in 2014 and has included the creation of a timeline to act as a free educational tool to protect human rights. Professor Leigh Payne (Oxford) was previously the UK named partner, before Professor Bell took on the role.

Winners will be announced in November, and success would see the project will extend to examine situations of response to atrocities in other countries in Latin America, including Colombia and Mexico. 

Professor Bell said: "The research team has shown how an important aspect of the grassroot organisations’ response to the violence of Pinochet’s dictatorship was to organise the careful recording of what victims and witnesses told them, allowing the development of records of the violence as it unfolded.

The archive of this information has been crucial to legal processes and forms an impressive monument to the care of citizens for each other during that time.

"It is wonderful that such interdisciplinary research – which along with sociologists included lawyers, a linguist, an historian and which commissioned a highly affecting artwork - has been recognised by the Newton Fund shortlisting committee."

The Newton Prize recognises excellent research and innovation in support of economic development and social welfare in Newton Fund partner countries.  

The annual £1 million fund – which will be shared across the winning projects – aims to incentivise researchers and innovators to participate in the Newton Fund as partners with the UK, and to work on the most important challenges facing the Newton countries.

The 2018 Newton Prize shortlist features 22 proposals for research between the UK and Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico.

Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, Newton Prize Committee Chair and President of the Royal Society and Nobel Laureate, said: "One of the aims of the Newton Prize is to highlight the lasting partnerships developed between UK researchers and their colleagues in Newton Fund partner countries to solve global challenges.

"Latin America has a wealth of excellent researchers working in collaboration with the UK to tackle issues as diverse as post conflict studies, biodiversity, health and energy through the Newton Fund partnerships in the region.  

"Science and innovation often depends on working in partnership across the globe: sharing knowledge and resources to enhance our understanding and make discoveries with the potential to change lives."

The Newton Prize shortlisting comes after Professor Bell was recently awarded £291,000 of British Academy funding for her work in this area.

Her 27-month project is entitled "Documentality and Display: Archiving and curating the violent past in contemporary Argentina, Chile and Colombia". It received funding as part of a £7.5million call to outstanding academics in the humanities and social sciences working to generate evidence on the challenges and opportunities faced in developing countries. Professor Bell and Dr Bernasconi will be working with colleagues from Colombia and Argentina on this project.

The 27 British Academy awards are part of the Sustainable Development Programme, which has already funded 16 awards under its first phase, which launched in 2016.

It is supported by the UK Government’s £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund, which aims to respond to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.