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Professor Deborah Youdell, Director of the College of Social Sciences Public Service Academy (PSA), has been awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship to undertake research which will embrace biological, neurological and social sciences. The scheme, which supports outstanding individual researchers with excellent research proposals to promote public understanding and engagement with humanities and social sciences, attracted 323 applicants of which only 35 were awarded, emphasizing the outstanding achievement this prestigious award represents. Professor Youdell comments: ‘This is an amazing opportunity to tackle a particular research interest of mine, and I am very grateful to the Academy and to the University for making this possible.’

The research, The body social: synthesising Sociology and Biology to re-conceptualise student identity, addresses advances in the biological and neurological sciences which frequently capture the headlines and are creating new knowledge about identity and development – fields shaped historically by the social sciences. In Education, sociological research has made significant contributions to understanding how ‘student’ and ‘learner’ identities are created and how these processes connect to policy and inequality. Yet government is using new biological science, not sociology, to inform policy agendas. Evidence of the long-term significance of childhood brain development, nutrition and exercise is guiding education, health, social care and criminal justice policy, for instance. While expert commentators in education and social care have suggested that policy often misunderstands and even misuses the scientific evidence it presents (Gillborn 2009; Wastell and White 2013), the absence of constructive engagement with the new biological sciences means Sociology of Education is unable to better inform policy.

This research engages with the challenges and possibilities offered by the ascendance of these new biological knowledges. With a focus on the identities and capacities of students, the work explores the interface between sociological, physiological and neurological accounts of the influence of culture, environment and nutrition on children and young people’s subjectivities and the genetic and biological structures of their bodies and minds.

Professor Youdell will take up the Fellowship in September 2015.