January 21, 2013, by Rosamund Aubrey

New Generation Thinkers

What a good idea! But why only AHRC?

AHRC and BBC Radio 3 announced New Generation Thinkers in 2010 – a competition to introduce exciting early career academics to national and international audiences – the iPlayer makes the BBC international. In the 2012 competition up to sixty young academics will have a chance to develop their programme-making ideas with experienced BBC producers and up to ten will become Radio 3’s resident New Generation Thinkers. They will benefit from a unique opportunity to develop their own programmes for BBC Radio 3 and a chance to regularly appear on air in 2013. And The New Generation Thinkers scheme also works with BBC TV Arts which will be looking to develop New Generation Thinkers and their ideas into arts television.

Radio 3 isn’t just a music station although it has an eclectic mix of classical, jazz and world music, although it could feature more contemporary music. With Classic FM breathing down its neck, Radio 3 seems to be playing too safe musically. But in the evenings there are discussions, debates, not just on the arts, and almost always stimulating and interesting and sometimes funny.

So The New generation Thinkers will appear on Night Waves which the BBC describes as ‘Radio 3’s flagship arts and ideas programme, featuring discussions, debates, interviews and reviews with leading academics and artists.’

The Verb with the inimitable Ian McMillan. ‘Words and performance with poet Ian McMillan : language at its most creative interviews, discussions, performance, new writing, audio-cartoons, music and poetry. Every Friday at 22.00. The Verb is a home for new writers and new writing, commissioning a new work every week. Poetry , novels, short stories, plays, screen-plays, memoirs, essays, history, song, story-telling .Exploring different worlds of language, dialects, rarities and curiosities and how spoken and written language interact.

The Essay is not easy to pin down – it is a weekly series debating and exploring diverse arts and cultural topics. Recent series have included Strange Justice. South African lawyer Albie Sachs discusses the work of his country’s Constitutional Court, and Tagore and the Bengali Sensibility, Amit Chaudhuri explores the work and influence of Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore

And then the annual Free Thinking Festival from the Sage, Gateshead, described by Jane Graham in the Big Issue as ‘a dizzy weekend celebrating ideas and flights of fancy from beautiful minds like Amos Oz, Michael Ignatieff and radio sweetheart Lee Hall.’

Couldn’t ESRC offering a similar scheme? Are social scientists boring? Is nobody interested in what social scientists have to say about the contemporary world? Surely the turmoil since 2008, climate change, the Arab Spring, the apparent disengagement of people from politics, the rise of the far right – need I go on …. Means there are many challenges for social science. Maybe there aren’t the same opportunities on Radio 4, is doesn’t seem to have the same depth as Radio 3, but perhaps ESRC and Radio 3 could dip a toe in the water with a few young social scientists on these flag ship programmes.

The Essay and the Free Thinking Festival are broader than the arts and Night Waves recently interviewed Kofi Annan, which definitely wasn’t an arts programme. Perhaps ESRC doesn’t want to tread on AHRC toes.

Or could the University take a lead – I’m sure CAS is up to the challenge.

New Generation Thinkers 2012 and their specialist subjects.

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