The winners of this year’s research competition share the inspiration behind their successful entries.
For 2019, there were nine competition categories: photograph, poster, written pitch, short film, LSE Life prize, PhD Academy prize, staff prize, festival prize and the popular prize.
The photograph prize was won by PhD student Joel Suss from the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science. Joel’s entry, Hong Kong urbanscape, shows a typical Hong Kong scene with towering buildings and tiny apartments.
Joel wanted to capture what it can feel like to live in a big city full of vibrancy and crowds and yet feel loneliness, anxiety and social dislocation – issues which many people in places like Hong Kong and London can experience. “I wanted to depict the dark side of living in a city. The scene in the picture shows a very desolate urban landscape and highlights how cities can be really hard places to live,” he says.
The written pitch category was won by PhD Government student Katharina Lawall. Her entry, Angry white women? How immigration has become a “women’s Issue” and why it matters explores the gender divide in support for radical right wing groups.
There is a common assumption that men are more likely to vote this way. However, Katharina’s research shows women are an important source of electoral support for these parties and, in some cases, such as the most recent elections in Italy, are more likely than men to vote for the far right.
Katharina was inspired to research this topic after she spent a year studying in France at a time when support for the National Front was on the rise.
Katharina's work explores one reason why women might start voting for the radical right in higher numbers. She argues these parties have reframed immigration as a women’s rights issue to make themselves look and feel more acceptable. “There’s a strong link between women’s rights and immigration now. For example, parties like the National Front push out messages that the migration crisis is the beginning of the end for women’s rights,” she says.
Undergraduate Anthropology student Maria Cerdio won the short film category with her entry, US drug war hegemony which details the history of the drug war in Mexico and explores the different actors involved in shaping Mexican drug policy over the past two decades.
Maria grew up in Mexico and has always been interested in the issues surrounding drug policy. When she heard about a scheme at the US Centre at LSE inviting undergraduates to get involved in research on the US drug war, she was keen to get involved. “I’m interested in understanding more about the local dynamics, actors and interests involved in drug policy in Mexico and getting a more nuanced picture of how the policy has come about and how it has been implemented,” she says.
Maria chose to enter a film as she feels people are drawn to images. “A film is a quick way to convey a very complex topic in a way that’s engaging for a broader audience,” she adds.
The poster prize was awarded to PhD student Alka Raman from the Department of Economic History. Alka’s entry, From muse to machines: how Indian cottons steered the technological trajectory of the British cotton industry explores how Indian cotton textiles influenced British industrialisation.
In her research, Alka uses textiles from the 18th and 19th centuries to look at the evolution of the industry in Britain. “I’ve always been interested in textiles and, when reading about the textiles and industrialisation debate, I realised the material evidence was missing. I wanted to look at what the actual textiles surviving from that period could tell us about the how the evolution of the textile industry took place,” she explains.
PhD Academy Prize
PhD student Yufei Zhou from the Anthropology Department was awarded the PhD Academy prize. Her photograph, Suck it out or let it die, shows a dog breeder in Tibet sucking amniotic fluid out the mouth of a just-born puppy to stop it from suffocating.
Yufei was working as an apprentice breeder in a Tibetan Mastiff farm when she took the picture. “I had never seen a dog give birth before, let alone midwifing a giant Tibetan Mastiff. I was too nervous to help, so I filmed everything the senior breeder did on my phone. It was only on playback I discovered the power within this image,” she says.
Yufei was drawn to researching the Tibetan Mastiff craze for her PhD as she felt there were so many angles to explore it from including questions of ethnicity, inter-species relations, culture, ethics and consumerism.
The staff prize was awarded to Alison Powell, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media and Communications. Alison’s poster Understanding automated decisions explores whether visual explanations can be used to explain how algorithms and other automated decisions work.
Alison worked with other researchers at LSE and a team of designers at the IF technology studio to create an interactive exhibition, which was hosted in the Atrium Gallery last year. The exhibition asked visitors to question if they trusted automated decisions and in what circumstances they wouldn’t.
Alison’s poster is a condensed version of this exhibition and she hopes the project will increase discussion around automated decision making. “There’s good evidence there are different kinds of biases that arise using algorithms or automated systems. We thought explaining these and helping people understand them may be a way to increase transparency and accountability,” she explains.
LSE Life Prize
The LSE Life prize was awarded to Harshita Sinha from the Department of International Development for her written pitch, The indispensable work and the invisible workers: undocumented Bangladeshi women immigrants in the Indian informal economy.
Harshita’s work looks at the liberating and constraining impact of undocumented migration on Bangladeshi women. Having grown up in Delhi, Harshita was motivated to research this topic as she found that, although undocumented female migrants in India earned comparatively less than other groups, they would largely recount the experience of migration as liberating.
“This research was inspired by the unheard and unrecognised stories of thousands of migrant women who, though invisible to the public eye, are the backbone to millions of households in the sub-continent and whose engagement in migration is both active and dynamic,” she explains.
Winner of the 2019 Festival prize was MSc student Carlo Alessandro Borella from the Department of Methodology. His poster, Fake news, immigration and opinion polarisation explores the impact of fake news on people’s beliefs and how it can exacerbate initial prejudices.
Carlo chose this topic as he felt it was very timely. “The structure of social media platforms dramatically differs from previous media technologies. Content can be relayed amongst users with no significant third party filtering, fact checking or editorial judgment,” he says, adding that his research aims to explore the implications of fake news on opinion formation.
Carlo chose the medium of a poster because he felt it would strike the right balance between the immediacy of an image and the clarity of a written pitch. He would like to thank Diego Rossinelli and Andrea Corvi who helped with the poster’s research and design.
Francesco Giacomini, from the Department of Economic History won the popular prize for his written pitch, Bitcoin: new order or libertarian utopia? An answer from the past: Scotland 1727-1845.
Francesco’s entry debunks the myth of Bitcoin as a new financial order by using an historical example of free-banking in Scotland. His research compares bitcoin and free-banking and concludes that, although promoters of both advocate for a free market system, both systems are actually controlled by unwritten rules and regulations.
In the case of free-banking, two banks in Scotland essentially teamed up to act as a central bank. In the case of the cryptocurrency market, a number of bitcoin users, who own a significant percentage of its supply, can act to control the rest of the market.
Francesco was delighted to win the popular prize. “It feels great to win this category as it was very tough competition against all the other entries. It means I have a lot of contacts!” he jokes.