Exploring Social Capital: Notre Dame's Multidisciplinary and Global Seminar in London

Author: Joanna Byrne

Social Capital and the City participants at Notre Dame London

During the summer of 2023, Notre Dame’s London Global Gateway played host to the Social Capital and the City: a Notre Dame Research Seminar. Developed by Notre Dame International and led by University of Notre Dame political scientist, Jaimie Bleck, this interdisciplinary seminar explored the complex interplay of social capital in urban environments. The seminar, which took place from Sunday, July 16, to Saturday, July 29, brought together 15 scholars from Notre Dame and around the world, fostering collaboration across departments and schools, as well as countries and cultures.

Against the backdrop of London's rich cultural tapestry and urban complexities, participants addressed how political landscapes, agriculture, public security and access to water can influence social capital, and the impact of social capital on various aspects of urban life, including public health and religious life. The conversation had a worldwide reach, with participants operating in both rural and urban settings, frequently engaging with communities that lacked adequate government support or were marginalized in political representation. Notably, it was sometimes observed that case studies conducted in specific countries revealed similar trends occurring elsewhere in the world, allowing researchers to learn from different contexts.

The seminar was a platform for scholars to engage in rich cross-disciplinary dialogues, transcending conventional academic boundaries. Participants represented a wide range of academic disciplines, including, biology, humanities, social sciences, politics, engineering, and the arts. Additionally, the seminar involved the integration of creative individuals, including poets, photographers, and writers, into a highly academic setting. Their work together provided an example of the power of multidisciplinary collaboration, uncovering fresh insights and prompting participants to reconsider their research.

The global perspective and diverse backgrounds of the participants highlighted Notre Dame's commitment to a multicultural and international academic environment. Hailing from institutions in the USA, Spain, Ghana, Brazil, the UK, Nigeria, and Ireland, the scholars brought diverse perspectives to the discussion.

“We had a really incredible group of scholars who were willing to fully jump into discussions of academic and artistic work from other fields and contexts,” reflects Bleck. “These were incredibly enriching exchanges and, even better, I think we were really able to develop a sense of community after only two weeks together. London provided the perfect backdrop for our seminar as we were able to explore the city while we reflected on discussion.”

The seminar's emphasis on research with tangible community impact demonstrated the University’s commitment to leveraging knowledge and expertise to address pressing societal issues. By drawing from the experience of this seminar, participants can now introduce innovative concepts to the communities they serve and engage with new professional networks. Collaboration is ongoing among researchers through online seminars, and some have received invitations to speak at each other's universities and are exploring the possibilities of collaborative work, impacting future research endeavors.

“Convening this exciting new seminar in London allowed scholars to immerse themselves in the plethora of unique research opportunities that the historically global city continues to offer”, said Charlotte Parkyn, the Director of Research and Partnerships at the London Global Gateway.

“Each day, as a new community we discover new connections, perspectives, and overlaps in research topics or techniques that certainly will enrich projects going forward. We are really looking forward to seeing where this collaborative work goes next.”

Seminars like Social Capital and the City are an important part of the work that Notre Dame undertakes, and exemplifies the University’s strategy.

"The Notre Dame Seminar, Social Capital and the City, perfectly aligns with our university's strategic framework,” says Vittorio Montemaggi, the Academic Director of the Notre Dame London Global Gateway. “By fostering genuinely multidisciplinary collaboration among scholars from around the world, addressing global issues, and focusing on research with genuine community impact, this seminar exemplifies Notre Dame's commitment to making a meaningful difference in the world through knowledge, engagement, and innovation."

Originally published by Joanna Byrne at london.nd.edu on September 27, 2023.