Communication and Media Studies, Cultural Studies, e-Research, Humanities

eResearch Infrastructure for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

29.04.11 | Comment?

"My aim in innovation is not to flood the country with shiny gadgets, but to change the culture. Of course we will need new technologies to answer the challenges and grasp the opportunities that lie before us. But we will also need new institutions, new forms of community – new ways of understanding ourselves and our world. In all of this, the humanities, arts and social sciences are critical." – Senator the Hon. Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, 3 September 2008

Australian researchers are recognised internationally for delivering solutions to the most complex and challenging questions facing cultures and communities. Their contributions are vital to the nation’s social wellbeing. Encompassing the study of society, identity, economy, business, governance, history, culture and creativity, this broad field links universities, government agencies, collecting institutions and creative industries with policy development and with communities. However, complex issues of national and global significance cannot be solved in isolation.

They demand collaborative approaches which in turn require the infrastructure to support them. Across all sectors, research practices are being fundamentally influenced by leading-edge ICT, and social and cultural data of immense significance is being generated in many different forms. With considerable investment worldwide in eResearch infrastructure, innovation in the humanities, arts and social sciences is increasingly dependent on enabling technology to support research excellence.

This chapter discusses a possible distributed national eResearch facility to underpin transformational Australian research that will advance our understanding of cultures and communities. This connected online knowledge network would be accessible directly via researchers’ desktops. It would revolutionise research in this fundamentally important field by providing integrated services and tools to create, capture, store, share, manage, manipulate and analyse diverse data collections and resources, and it would link individuals with virtual research communities. Such a facility would significantly scale up the capacity of Australia’s social and cultural research sector, dramatically increasing its ability to offer solutions to complex global challenges.

Section A: Future research directions

Australia faces critical challenges in the coming decade. Issues of social, economic and cultural sustainability are interrelated with the issues of environmental sustainability that confront our communities daily. In tackling these large-scale concerns, social and cultural researchers are drawing upon deep disciplinary expertise. They are also increasingly working across and beyond traditional boundaries, both national and disciplinary, collaborating with technical experts and scientists to address problems from multiple perspectives.

Research policy in developed economies emphasises the flow-on benefits of investment in the humanities, arts and social sciences and the key role this sector plays in identifying and formulating solutions to pressing national and global matters[1]. Complex problems in health, the environment or social cohesion can only be addressed through a holistic approach, requiring researchers from the natural sciences and from the humanities, arts and social sciences to work together, drawing on a very wide variety of data types from a diverse range of sources. This in turn drives the need for systems to underpin this approach.

As the trend towards multidisciplinary and multinational collaboration increases as a means to solve complex problems of global significance, an important step in planning future research directions is the identification of priority areas to be supported by investment in research infrastructure under the Understanding Cultures and Communities Capability. Suggested areas with a level of significance and complexity that demands large-scale infrastructure support include:

  • Social cohesion, diversity and equity;
  • Population change;
  • Health and wellbeing;
  • Identity and community;
  • Indigenous knowledge and opportunity;
  • Sustaining culture and creativity;
  • Adapting to a changing environment;
  • Regional connection and transformation; and
  • Strengthening global engagement.


Arthur, Paul Longley (as coordinating author for the Understanding Cultures and Communities Expert Working Group). 2011 Strategic Roadmap for Australian Research Infrastructure Discussion Paper, 45–53. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, 2011. http://www.innovation.gov.au/Science/ResearchInfrastructure/Documents/

[1] As Canadian research has demonstrated, whereas the economic benefits of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) research are clearly evident within a goods-based economy, a knowledge-based economy derives greater benefit and fosters innovation more effectively, when research in the humanities, arts and social sciences is supported appropriately (see http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/about-au_sujet/publications/impacts_e.pdf).


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Paul Arthur is Vice-Chancellor’s Professorial Research Fellow and Chair in Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. He speaks and publishes widely on major challenges and changes facing 21st-century society, from the global impacts of technology on communication, culture and identity