ESRC Centre for Sociodigital Futures

Exploring the interplay between social change and digital technologies

Digital technologies, devices and data are woven into the fabric of contemporary societies: the social and the digital are co-evolving in a sociodigital world. This Centre focuses attention on sociodigital futures and what might be done to drive these towards fair and sustainable ways of life.

How do our sociodigital futures take shape?

Digital technologies are transforming everyday life and bold claims are being made about how intelligent robotsautonomous vehicles and the ‘metaverse’ will shape our futures.   These claims are important because they drive corporate investments, government policies and business strategies, and they inform our hopes and fears for daily life.

Yet we know from the past that futures claimed rarely turn out as predicted. The interplay of digital technologies with the complex realities of everyday life produces multiple and unexpected outcomes, with far reaching implications for the economy, politics and social life.  And, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, and widening inequalities, what lies ahead seems more uncertain than ever.

In order to generate new approaches to fairer and more sustainable societies, this pioneering new centre will unite experts from across the world to investigate:

  • What kinds of sociodigital futures are in the making?
  • Who or what is shaping sociodigital futures?  
  • How are sociodigital futures emerging in everyday practice?
  • And what will this mean for currently widening social and economic inequalities and for the climate change crisis?

ESRC investment

The Centre is a £10m flagship investment from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to establish an international centre of excellence for sociodigital futures research and collaboration (to run for an initial five years from 2022-2027). It brings together world leading expertise in the Social Sciences, Engineering and the Arts, led from the University of Bristol in collaboration with the Universities of Birmingham, Edinburgh, Goldsmiths (University of London), the Institute of the Arts (University of London) and Lancaster.

The Centre will be the hub for an international network of leading global Universities from four continents: the University of Naples Federico II (Italy), The  New School (USA); OsloMet University (Norway), Stellenbosch University (South Africa), and University of New South Wales (Australia).

Our research agenda

The ambitious research agenda will explore how digital devices, services and data are shaping (and being shaped by) everyday practices of consuming, caring, learning, moving (people and goods) and organising. At the same time, the Centre will explore how cutting-edge technologies – artificial intelligence, high performance networks, robotics, and augmented/ virtual and extended reality – are imagined and innovated for a range of futures linked to these areas of practice.

Taking both streams of work together, the Centre will develop prototypes to experiment with diverse futures that reduce sociodigital inequalities and unsustainable ways of life. This programme will be driven by the creation of much needed theoretical and methodological capacity for sociodigital futures research.

Our partners

The Centre will be delivered through collaboration with the Centre’s strategic partners: BT, Defra, Locality, the  National Cyber Security Centre and UNESCO. Together, they will build capacity to identify, experiment with and utilise the potential of sociodigital future-making practices to to drive fair and sustainable societies.

UKRI ESRC graphic logo

We will examine emerging sociodigital futures, looking at who and what is driving these claims, and what this means for major challenges of our time, including widening inequalities and the climate change crisis. Working with our partners, our goal is to make sociodigital futures accessible in ways that will have direct impact on policy-making, organisational practice, community participation, and technology creation.

Co-Director, Professor Susan Halford

The Centre will develop theoretical, methodological and applied capacity for interdisciplinary and collaborative research and experimentation. We will deliver this through our innovative Futures Studio – bringing together a wide range of skills, expertise and experiences to explore and interrogate possible sociodigital futures.

Co-Director, Professor Dale Southerton
Edit this page