8 June 2013

Researcher sets out to better understand social cohesion


Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have received 14 of the 27 Sapere Aude grants awarded by the Danish Council for Independent Research this year. One of the recipients is associate professor of political philosophy Nils Holtug, who was granted 12 million Danish kroner to fund a research project that will investigate which strategies work to improve solidarity, trust and compassion in society. The goal of the project is to influence debate about the topic.

Center for Advanced Migrationsstudier (AMIS) focuses on interdisciplinary research on migration.

Denmark has spent a lot of money since the 1970s trying to address challenges brought about by the increasing level of ethnic and religious diversity. Many initiatives have focussed on building a more cohesive society, but it remains to be seen which initiatives have been successful. This is precisely what Nils Holtug will address with his research project, ‘Politics, diversity and social cohesion’.

“Many of the different political initiatives over the years, such as the strengthening of citizenship through citizenship tests, rest on particular concepts of community about which bonds between people are best used to realise politically desirable goals, like social cohesion. We want to try and better understand these different concepts of community, such as the arguments used to support them and how the different concepts affect trust and solidarity,” explains Holtug, the head of the newly established and interdisciplinary Centre for Advanced Migration Studies (AMIS) at the University of Copenhagen.

Trust and solidarity create cohesion

Holtug and his fellow researchers will investigate how different political views affect social cohesion in order to provide us with a better understanding of how to handle the challenges society faces through ethnic and religious diversity. One of the project’s goals is to strengthen and add more nuance to the Danish debate.

“It is widely understood that a population needs to have something in common in order to function as a stable and democratic welfare society. Different understandings of community offer different ideas of what is important for communities to share. Some use elements of nationalism, while others use liberalism, citizenship or multiculturalism. We will measure the significance of these different understandings of community and the way in which they are expressed through politics, opinion and everyday practice. We want to examine which values the political positions are based upon, and which arguments are used to support them. This is important in order to see if they really do end up promoting the solidarity and trust that is vital for the success of a nation,” Holtug explains, adding:

Nils Holtug is the head of the newly established and interdisciplinary Centre for Advanced Migration Studies (AMIS)

Nils Holtug is the head of the newly established and interdisciplinary Centre for Advanced Migration Studies (AMIS).Click on the picture to view larger image.

“For example, many nationalists argue that trust and solidarity will increase if residents identify with the nation, leading them to recommend that politicians promote a national and cultural community. Liberals, on the other hand, often argue that we don’t need to have very much in common. They focus, instead, on the importance of the political community and argue that as long as a population supports a few basic liberal rights regarding freedom and equality, then cohesion can be accomplished.”

Multi-country comparison

Holtug and the other AMIS researchers plan to compare the situation in Denmark with Canada, France and the United Kingdom.

“These four countries have four different political approaches to the concept of diversity, all of which are based on very different understandings of community. That is why they are interesting comparison subjects, both because they demonstrate the wide variety in the understanding of community, and also for investigating whether the concept of community, expressed in the political dialogue in those countries, matches with those found in the population.”

14 grant recipients from the University of Copenhagen

A total of 14 researchers from the University receive grants of varying sizes from the two Sapere Aude programs DFF-Advanced Grants and DFF-Starting Grants.

The grants are awarded by the Danish Council for Independent Research as a part of their career program which aims to give young researchers the opportunity to lead a research project extending up to four years.

Sapere Aude: DFF-Advanced Grants

Nils Holtug
Associate Professor, Department of Media, Cognition and Communication:
The Politics of Social Cohesion.

William Winston Agace
Professor, Department of International Health, Immunology and Microbiology:
Dendritic cells subsets in the regulation of mucosal immunity.

Michael Kühl
Professor, Department of Biology, Marine Biological Section:
Quantum efficiency and bio-optics of aquatic phototrophs.

Sapere Aude: DFF-Starting Grants

Frida Hastrup
Assistant professor, SAXO-Institute - Archaeology, Ethnology, Greek & Latin, History:
Natural Goods? Processing Raw Materials in Global Times.

Mette Nordahl Svendsen
Associate professor, Department of Public Health:
Life Worth Living: Negotiating Worthiness in Human and Animal.

Matthias Christandl
Assistant professor, The Niels Bohr Institute: 
Multiparty Quantum Information Theory.

Troels Haugbølle
Postdoc, Natural History Museum of Denmark:
Protostars: From Molecular Clouds to Dusty Discs.

Gemma Clare Solomon Larsen
Associate professor, Department of Chemistry:
Simulating Single-Molecule Pulling Experiments.

Kasper Thorup
Associate professor, Natural History Museum of Denmark:
MATCH: Migration in a changing world.

Bo Møllesøe Vinther
Associate professor, The Niels Bohr Institute, Ice and Climate:
The REnland ice CAP project.

Mads Gyrd-Hansen
Associate Professor, The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, Disease Biology:
Control of Inflammatory Signaling and Innate Immunity by novel classes of Ubiquitin modifications.

Hans Heugh Wandall
Associate professor, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Copenhagen Center for Glycomics:
Probing function of O-glycosylation by an organotypic skin model.

Petrine Wellendorph
Associate professor, Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, Medicinal Chemistry Research
Molecular and Functional Analysis of Brain GHB Receptors.

Peter Brodersen
Associate professor, Department of Biology, Bioinformatics
A new framework for understanding antiviral resistance in plants.


Associate Professor Nils Holtug
Tel. + 45 35 32 88 81

Communications officer Pernille Munch Toldam
Mobile: +45 29 92 41 69

News editor Anna Høxbro Bak
Mobile: + 45 22 64 03 55