ESRC Festival of Social Science

The Economic and Social Reserach Council (ESRC) organises an annual week-long festival which explores the importance of social science and its impact on the lives of people around the world. A wide range of events are organised throughout Britain including exhibitions, film screenings, seminars, online activities and public debates.

The RAI’s Education Outreach Programme has been successful in receiving grants since 2007 in order to run events for the festival. Each year the RAI chooses a topic of public relevance in order to encourage widespread engagement with anthropology as well as the Institute's collaboration with different stakeholders including NGOs, government bodies, educators, artists, film makers, and cultural organizations. Take a look below for our past and present contributions to the Festival.


ESRC Festival 2011


In anticipation of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, the RAI’s Education Department is organising an interdisciplinary event for this year’s ESRC Festival. Sport Cultures aims to raise awareness of exciting research and projects undertaken by anthropologists, and social scientists, that illustrate the ways in which sport connects people globally and affects socioeconomic change. Through presentations, exhibitions and hands-on learning activities the event will explore case studies analysing the meaning of sport within society focusing on the following themes: the body, identity and globalisation.


ESRC Festival 2010


The RAI’s Education Department in association with social scientists, engineers, anthropologists, and NGOs such as Water Aid, hosted an event on the HMS President Boat called the ‘Meaning of Water’. The event aimed to raise public awareness of the problems associated with the global water crisis, as well as factors which affect UK’s external dependency on virtual water, and the ways in which individuals can reduce their ‘water footprint’ through lifestyle changes. By looking at specific case studies of projects and research undertaken by anthropologists, geographers and other social scientists around the world, the event highlighted local solutions to water scarcity, the social meanings of water (ie: its’ symbolic and cultural dimensions) and the repercussions of water being treated as commodity rather than as a communal good. The event had an excellent turnout with over 250 people attending including teachers, students, educators, environmentalists, social scientists, parents and others. The event was organised by Nafisa Fera in collaboration with Susanne Hammacher. For more information about the event please visit our Meaning of Water webpage.



Three evening film screenings resumed important discussions raised at the RAI’s main ESRC event. Water Cultures gave participants an opportunity to explore how traditional ways of life are being threatened due to the loss of water resources, and how in turn, traditional knowledge is contributing towards future water security. A few of the films placed particular emphasis on the effects of dams and looked at issues around displacement, migration and water resource management. Held at the RAI, the screenings were a great success with over 100 people attending. Water Cultures was organised by Susanne Hammacher in collaboration with Nafisa Fera. Find out more about the films and film makers from our event programme.

ESRC Festival 2009


The RAI’s Education Department in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew hosted The Social life of Plants at Kew’s Jodrell Laboratory. This was a daytime event where anthropologists and ethnobotanists demonstrated the (often overlooked) interconnections between the lives of plants and people. The event included hands on activities such as basket weaving, eating wild plants, learning about chamomile, as well as numerous other exhibitions, and films. The aim was to get participants to explore how plants affect the lives of people around the world, in medicine, food, materials and rituals. Six hundred people attended the event including children, parents, gardeners, educators, students, social scientists and more! The event managers included Nafisa Fera and Susanne Hammacher from the RAI, and Professor Monique Simmonds and Dr. Mark Nesbitt from Kew’s Economic Botany Department. For more information about the event visit our Social Life of Plants webpage.


Extending the discussion on topical debates concerning conservation and sustainability raised at the Social Life of Plants, the RAI’s Education Department in collaboration with the British Museum, held an associated event called Exploring Food, Connecting Communities.  The aim of the event was to raise public awareness of local food projects within the UK and abroad, and foster collaboration between associated groups of individuals and organisations. Presentations were given by anthropologists, journalists and organisations such as Sustain, The Soil Association, and Slow Food UK. The talks were accompanied by information stalls, hands-on learning activities and food tasting. There was a fantastic turn out with more than 250 people attending the day, the majority being young participants in their 20s and 30s. The event was organised by Nafisa Fera, in collaboration with Dr. Ben Burt and Susanne Hammacher. Read more about the day, including descriptions of presentations, stall holders and more on our webpage.


The RAI continued its exploration of ethnobotany, conservation and sustainable food production through three film screenings, followed by discussions with film makers and anthropologists held at the Institute. The screenings were a great success with over 100 people including students, teachers, artists and people with diverse backgrounds and previous knowledge of anthropology. The screenings were organised by Susanne Hammacher in collaboration with Nafisa Fera. To find out more about the films and film makers take a look at our event programme.


ESRC Festival 2008 


The RAI’s Education Outreach Programme collaborated with The Foundling Museum to host an evening of documentary short film screenings by visual anthropologists called Street Fictions and Realities. The films explored the experiences of children in India, Ethiopia and Malawi who separated from their parents, sought to find imaginative ways to create homes for themselves. The event was a wonderful success with over 100 people attending engaging in discussions with the film makers, and exploring the museum’s exhibitions. The event was followed by a series of evening film screenings at the RAI, looking at life in boarding schools.


ESRC Festival 2007


The RAI’s Education Outreach Programme in association with The October Gallery, hosted an event called The Art of Remembering: photography, art and anthropology in Ghana. The event combined the gallery’s exhibition of work by leading West African artists called ‘From Courage to Freedom’ with anthropological films about Art in Ghana. The award winning film Future Remembrance: Photography and Image Arts in Ghana, directed by Tobias Wedle and Nancy du Plessis was screened at the event. The evening was followed by documentary film screenings at the RAI.