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Fruit flies and lab mice make the case for re-thinking social science case studies suggests award-winning professor

Just as biologists study fruit flies and laboratory mice so social scientists have good reasons for putting case studies at the heart of their research, argues an LSE academic who has won a British Academy award to develop her analysis.

Professor Mary MorganProfessor Mary S Morgan, who is Professor of History and Philosophy of Economics at LSE, has been appointed to one of the Academy’s Wolfson Professorships, funded with £150,000 over three years. Hers is just one of four major research studies to win the award, designed to recognise the most outstanding scholars in the UK and allow them to concentrate on their research.

Her project, entitled Re-Thinking Case Studies Across the Social Sciences, aims to transform these disciplines’ understanding of the value and function of case studies. She suggests that the significance of these in-depth studies of specific events or single communities has been under-rated by social scientists as much as by philosophers of science; and that it can be just as valuable to reason about the nature of society from these specific studies as it is for life scientists to make inferences about the general biological processes of life from their detailed analysis of specific animals such as mice or fruit flies.

She said: ‘This research begins from the somewhat provocative starting point that we regard the case studies of social scientists as research objects equivalent to biologists’ model organisms: this gives us a way to re-think the nature and function of case studies across the social sciences.’

There were 176 applications for the awards. The four winners, who also include scholars from Aberdeen, Oxford and St Andrews universities, will speak about their work at a special introductory event this evening.

Robin Jackson, Chief Executive, the British Academy said: ‘These are major awards reflecting the very best research in the UK. They encompass a wide range of intriguing topics. We look forward to the outcomes of their work.’

Paul Ramsbottom, Executive Secretary, the Wolfson Foundation, said: ‘We are pleased to be associated with these four outstanding researchers who were chosen following an exceptionally competitive application process.’


For more information contact the British Academy press office on 020 7969 5263 or LSE press office on 020 7955 7060

Editor’s notes

  • The four research professorships are to be taken up in the autumn of 2009.
  • The purpose of these awards is to give an opportunity for extended research leave to a small number of the most outstanding established scholars to enable them to concentrate on a significant research programme, while freed from normal teaching and administrative commitments. Emphasis is also placed by the British Academy and the Wolfson Foundation on the importance of award-holders communicating their plans and results to a broad audience.
  • The Wolfson Foundation is a charitable foundation set up in 1955 that awards grants to back excellence in the fields of science and medicine, health, education, the arts and humanities. For more information, please visit www.wolfson.org.uk
  • The British Academy, established by Royal Charter in 1902, is the national body that champions and supports the humanities and social sciences. It aims to inspire, recognise and support excellence and high achievement across the UK and internationally. For more information, please visit www.britac.ac.uk