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Ping! Email: You get 30 million. The research team of the professor from Groningen was very happy with the huge support

Professor Rafael Witek and his team received a huge grant worth thirty million euros. Scientists want to conduct research on enhancing social cohesion over the next ten years.

He read it in the email. Groningen professor of theoretical sociology Raphael Wittek was talking to a doctoral student when his eye briefly wandered to his computer screen. There was an unread email, received about an hour ago.

content? The proposal he and his team submitted for the summit grant received support of at least €30 million. This is very high support. Especially for the social sciences and humanities.

“I thought: Am I reading this correctly? I called my colleagues immediately. We knew we would hear something in May. But it was only May 8th. We didn’t expect it yet.”

From history to philosophy

Wittek sits in his office in the Puma building in Groningen. There are some plants on his desk and a painting hanging on the wall. A typical office with a large meeting table overlooking Grote Rozenstraat. He will lead the collaborative project called Socion.

In collaboration with researchers from various disciplines such as philosophers, historians, psychologists, sociologists and demographers, the professor wants to find an answer to the question: How can you promote cohesion in certain areas of society, without undermining cohesion in other areas?

Completely mouth. Briefly, Wittek explains it this way: “Sociologists distinguish between three levels: the individual, the group, and institutions. We know a lot about these three levels. We know a lot about what happens in groups, about trust in institutions and government, and things like that. “But we don’t really know how these three levels interact. We want to research that. We want to uncover that dynamic.”

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Suppose a project is set up to increase cohesion, which is another word for cohesion, in a village. This may inadvertently affect the cohesion between that village and another village or even affect trust towards The Hague. Or to Europe. Socion wants to know how and why.

There’s a lot going on right now

The focus at the moment is on the Netherlands. Ultimately, research should produce some kind of tool with which to address social imbalance. This makes it instantly topical. Because there are quite a few ongoing issues that are causing polarization and turmoil: climate change, migration, and aging populations.

“There are a lot of forces at play right now that threaten the fabric of society,” Wittek says. “From major international conflicts seeping into our society to the erosion of power, with aid workers being attacked or ticket conductors being beaten up, there are clearly developments and forces happening that make people go a little crazy. Wittek and his colleagues want to determine why this is happening.”

Socion brings together scientists from the University of Groningen, Utrecht University, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Radboud University Nijmegen, all of whom specialize in other disciplines. NIDI (National Institute for Demographic Research) is also involved. An amount of €30 million is needed to recruit additional doctoral students (about 50), postdoctoral researchers (16), project managers, carry out data collection and organize events such as workshops and conferences.

The official start date is May 1, 2025. Wittek wants to meet the social parties as much as possible to get to the bottom of the problems. The project will finish sometime in 2035. “That will take some time,” Wittek says. “But anyway, we’ll start as soon as possible.”

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Another link to Groningen

The Summit Scholarship is a big deal in the Netherlands. Outgoing Minister of Education, Culture and Science Robert Dijkgraaf took the initiative for these scholarships. The funds, which total €174 million this year divided across five projects, are intended for collaborative researchers who need long-term funding.

According to the website of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), the summit grant goes to scientists who belong to the absolute world summit or are very close to it.

In addition to Socion, another Groningen-related project received millions of awards. The EVOLF consortium, led by Professor Cees Dekker from the Technical University of Delft, will receive support of €40 million. Scientists will grapple with one of the greatest fundamental questions of all: What is life?

Researchers are trying to build a living artificial cell with the essential properties of life from lifeless biomolecules.

Siwiert Jan Marinck, The professor of molecular dynamics at the University of Groningen contributes to this. Just like scientists from Radboud University, among others.