PSI seminar, 3 June: History of social research in DEFRA

Wednesday 3 June 2015, 1pm - 2pm
Location: University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS

For the next PSI seminar, Michael Kattirtzi will present preliminary findings from his PhD thesis, which explores the history of social research in DEFRA.

When DEFRA was first established in 2001, civil servants perceived a need to learn more from the social sciences. Yet with no specialist social researchers employed in the department, it was unclear what social research really meant for DEFRA, what role it should play, and what valuable contribution it could really make. Since then, DEFRA has become more of an ‘intelligent customer’ of social research. The department now employs approximately 20 social researchers, who help to commission research projects, create demand for social science input and engage the academic community.

In this presentation, Michael will explore the gradual changes in conceptions of

i) what social research is,
ii) what role it should play, and
iii) how valuable it is within DEFRA.

He will demonstrate how between 2001-2014, new understandings of social research enabled new roles to emerge, which in turn provided opportunities for social researchers to exemplify the value that they (and their work) bring to the department. Then as a result of attaining new status in the department, social researchers (and colleagues) went on to further expand the meanings, roles and value of social research. All of this took active work and social research capacity is now on firmer ground than ever before.

But while the department formally acknowledges the value of social research, tensions remain within specific policy teams. This has implications for DEFRA’s capacity to engage with the social sciences.

With this analysis, Michael will explore lessons for knowledge utilisation. His ambition is to open a constructive dialogue between academics and policy actors in order to account for the history of social research in DEFRA and to consider its future.


Michael Kattirtzi is an ESRC-funded PhD student in Science and Technology Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He has long-standing interests in climate change, environmental policy and their relationship to the public. He has previously worked for a range of organisations in this area, including the Scottish Government, Green Alliance, Involve and Camco. He has an undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge – where he specialised in the History and Philosophy of Science. 


A sandwich lunch will be provided, and the talk will be followed by an opportunity for informal discussion. Please RSVP to Bridget Elliott (b.elliott@psi.org.uk) by 20 May to indicate your attendance.