Sheffield researchers have recently enjoyed support from the HEFCE Newton Fund, which aims to develop partnerships to promote economic development and welfare in collaborating countries. Our research has been greatly enriched through global collaborations, casting our own understanding in a new light, and providing rich new sources of insight into many aspects of contemporary life.

Global Soundtracks: World-class music from China

Stewart Campbell, Department of Music

The Department of Music has a strong research interest in how individual and groups express themselves in a variety of cultural traditions. Stewart Campbell has recently been able to lead the welcome for five world class musicians from China as part of the University of Sheffield concert series.

Global Soundtracks: World-class music from China

Huo Yonggang (Chinese Fiddle)As part of the Global Soundtracks programme and in collaboration with the Classical Sheffield Festival of Music the city welcomed five world class musicians from China to perform in a series of concerts on Friday 17 and Saturday 18 March 2017. The performances provide an exploration of traditional Chinese music, connecting performer, audiences and surroundings, and include solo and ensemble performances, multiple instruments and styles, and a UK premiere of ‘Time Bends in the Rock’ – a new composition for guzheng and piano trio by University of Sheffield composer Dorothy Ker.

Conceived by University of Sheffield Concerts Director Stewart Campbell and Honorary Research fellow and guzheng player Dr Shu Jiang, these concerts form part of a larger project to widen access to Chinese musical cultures, promote cross-cultural exchange, and develop new audiences for Chinese music in the city.

Stewart Campbell said: "Across the University and city individuals are working to forge new collaborative partnerships and friendships between China and the UK. At University of Sheffield Concerts we recognise music offers a powerful platform in bridging cultures.

"Over the coming concert seasons our Global Soundtracks programme will showcase outstanding quality musicianship and cross-cultural dialogue in the production of new works, new performances and new opportunities for exciting collaborations with musicians from our two countries."

Shu Jiang said: "Chinese traditional music is far older than its Western counterpart but far less recognized beyond its country of origin. As an alumnae of both the University of Sheffield and Shanghai Conservatory of Music (which is the oldest and leading conservatory in China), I am particularly pleased that we could invite wonderful musicians from China to Sheffield.

"We hope to close that knowledge gap, bring dialogue between two traditions, and make Sheffield be a leading voice for Chinese music in the UK."

University of Sheffield Concerts is a Sheffield home for musical discovery, learning, and participation. It combines eclectic programming, internationally renowned performers, and creative learning opportunities in a dynamic music event series aimed at diverse city audiences.

Global Soundtracks: International Season is a Sheffield destination for the best in world, roots, and folk music. Global Soundtracks is a place where cultures collide and adventures in musical discovery begin, with inspirational music from far-flung corners of the globe.

World class music from China

Variation and change in Portuguese and Spanish

Paul O'Neil, School of Languages and Cultures

How we speak is central to our identity, as an individual and as a member of a group. Variations in speech can be a marker of exclusion and the basis for linguistic prejudice and discrimination, which can have an impact on speakers engaging with the establishment and the education system.

Paul O’Neil is exploring this from a linguistic point of view, seeking to understand how linguistic variation works, about perceptions of such variations and what they tell us about linguistic change more broadly.

Variation and change in Portuguese and Spanish: Combatting linguistic prejudice and discrimination through knowledge and understanding and providing valuable data for linguistic research.

Linguistics is the scientific study of human language which aims not only to unveil the complex structures which underpin language and how these are mentally represented but also to understand how language plays a role in shaping how we view others and how other people view us. Language variation and change is interesting in this context since it can provide linguists with essential information on the cognitive representation of language since changes can reveal the implicit patterns and covert principles which govern language structure.

He who thus considers things in their first growth and origin ... will obtain the clearest view of them.


However, in society deviations from the established linguistic norm are often perceived in a negative way. This is particularly the case in the countries of the former Portuguese and Spanish Empires. Moreover, in such countries there can exist a correlation between language variety, social success and wealth, which, for some, is an inherent and deterministic one. The result is linguistic prejudice and discrimination, which can have an impact on speakers engaging with the establishment and the education system.

From a scientific linguistic point of view the standard is only one of many varieties of the language; it is no better, more elegant or linguistically complex than any other variety but merely the variety which, for socio-political and historical reasons, was chosen as the standard. Indeed, the developments in non-standard varieties can increase our understanding of the history of the language and the colonizers in the country and, more importantly, of the rules and principles which govern language and its mental representation.

The project therefore aims to carry out recordings on poorly documented varieties of Portuguese and Spanish in Europe, America and Africa and to use this information to:

(a) inform research on linguistic theory
(b) explain in scientific but accessible terms, exactly why the varieties are different.
(c) provide resources for language teaching.

In this way, linguists are provided with valuable data, students with useful resources and speakers with necessary information and explanations. It is hoped that speakers will realise that the standard is only one of many varieties and one which has changed in similar and different ways to their own variety. Furthermore, an understanding of how and why varieties are different should help to eradicate the perceived causal relationship between physical, mental and social attributes with particular varieties of language.

Investigating the social impacts of music-making in Colombia

Nicola Dibben, Department of Music

Music, because it is such a powerful means of expression, both individual and collective, can enhance social bonding, empathy and pro-social behaviour; that it can help regulate self and others; and that it enables collective creativity. Nicola Dibben is collaborating with partners in Columbia to explore the social impacts of music-making, in a society that has been marked by profound challenges to social cohesion: inequalities of wealth, high murder rates, illicit drugs production, displacement, and the difficulties of reintegrating ex-combatants.

Investigating the social impacts of music-making in Colombia

What does music contribute to human flourishing? The ministry of culture in Colombia views the arts as a fundamental aspect of social and economic development.

Hence, music is part of a national plan that aims to help people live together in the face of inequalities of wealth, high murder rates, illicit drugs production, displacement, and the reintegration of ex-combatants. We know from laboratory studies, and qualitative studies of music participation, that music can enhance social bonding, empathy and pro-social behaviour; that it can help regulate self and others; and that it enables collective creativity. However, we don't yet fully understand the processes by which music-making enables these experiences, as opposed to other forms of cultural activity, nor the extent to which any benefits have impact beyond the immediate music-making moment and social group.

Professor Nicola Dibben (University of Sheffield) and Dr Julian Cespedes Guevara (Icesi University) are carrying out a scoping study in Bogota and Cali in August 2017, supported by a Newton Fund allocation which will enable them to work with partners (HEIs, NGOs, individual practitioners) to develop a larger research project and funding application that can help answer these questions.

This will enable researchers, practitioners and policy makers to learn from the musical and cultural interventions already in place, to provide systematic evidence regarding music’s social impacts using a combination of basic and applied research methodologies, and to inform the design of future music interventions to maximise benefits to society.

Global perspectives on intoxicants and their regulation

Phil Withington, Department of History

The use of intoxicants has been very wide spread in human societies over time, and around the world. Intoxicants are often thought to reinforce social solidarities and enhance life; but also to be the source of profound problems for individuals and societies. In most societies there are sharp distinctions about which intoxicants are acceptable, and close regulation of their use, but these things have varied very sharply over time and between societies.

Phil Withington is exploring that history, and of social attitudes towards intoxicants in collaboration with colleagues in Asia and South Africa, to try to understand what (if anything) is common to differing cultures.

Global perspectives on intoxicants and their regulation

Phil Withington is working with Dr Kawal Deep Kour at Gauhati University and Prof Thembisa Waetjen at the University of Johannesburg to assemble an interdisciplinary network of scholars and stakeholders to think about intoxicants and their regulation in global and comparative perspective.

So far the specific regional foci are south Asia and South Africa: we are aiming to place contemporary practices and ideas about intoxication in historical and cultural perspective and encourage regulators, police and other government agencies, plus scientific and medical experts, to engage in constructive dialogue with the humanities and social sciences.

The central idea is that a comparative and multi-regional approach that considers intoxication over time is the only way to develop an understanding of some of the common issues and problems surrounding intoxication while also identifying local particularities. Central to the project is the belief that scholars and stakeholders in different locales can and should learn from the insights, methodologies, and applied learning in other places and disciplines, including Europe.

The Newton Fund is providing support for an initial meeting with Dr Kawal Deep Kour in Sheffield which is intended to be the springboard for funding applications to support and major international conference to share ideas and develop an agenda of research in this area.

Tackling inequalities: Women and sport in Latin America

David Wood, School of Languages and Cultures

Sport, as a spectacle and a social activity, promotes social bonds and individual well-being. In Brazil sports are key markers of national identity and participation is therefore a touchstone for equal and unequal treatment of citizens along lines of race and gender. David is exploring the history of women’s participation and how that has been regarded, exploring the impact of these patterns women’s health and well-being.

Tackling inequalities: Women and sport in Latin America

The project focuses on the participation of women and girls in sport in Latin America and the ways in which that participation is represented. It relates directly to the Global Challenge Research Fund challenge (and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals) around reducing inequality, and in particular gender equality; it also engages with issues sustainable health and wellbeing.

In a country such as Brazil, in which nationhood is experienced in important ways through sports, notably football, participation through practice or spectatorship is among the most visible means of national citizenship. As a highly symbolic marker of brasilidade (Brazilianness), sports are a touchstone for equal and unequal treatment of citizens along lines of race and – crucially – gender. At the same time, obstacles to participation in sport impact directly on challenges and goals around health and wellbeing.

The award of HEFCE-Newton funds enabled David to visit São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for a week to discuss the state of research and resources there. During this time, he met several leading researchers in this rapidly growing field, and delivered a public lecture on the representation of women’s football in Brazilian literature and participate in a workshop on women’s football organised by the Brazilian Football Federation.

While learning of the institutional frameworks and national cultures that simultaneously support and challenge efforts to develop this research area, David found it extremely enriching to share perspectives grounded in literary and cultural studies with scholars from fields such as history, anthropology and physical education. The recent increase in the visibility of women’s sport (e.g. cricket, football and rugby) in the UK informed discussions of a similar phenomenon in Brazil during the 2016 Olympic Games, although there were just as many points of contrast.

Since returning from Brazil, David has applied for further funding in collaboration with one of his partners.


The Guerreiras Project

São Paulo’s Museu do Futebol – see the section on women's football