Professor David Bewley-Taylor was conferred to the Fellowship of the Academy in autumn 2023. He is Professor of International Relations and Public Policy and founding Director of the Global Drug Policy Observatory (2013), an impact oriented interdisciplinary research unit, based within the School of Social Sciences at Swansea University. David’s research engages with a wide range of drug policy issues, but he is best known for his interdisciplinary research on the United Nations and international drug control policy, including his key role in developing the Global Drug Policy Index.
David was the founding Secretary of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy (2006-7); is co-editor of the Research Handbook on International Drug Control Policy (Edward Elgar 2020); and is currently on the Editorial Board of The International Journal of Drug Policy. As well as numerous book chapters and journal articles, he has written two major research monographs, The United States and International Drug Control, 1909-1997 (Continuum, 2001) and International Drug Control: Consensus Fractured (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
In addition, David is a member of the International Advisory Committee of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy, (University of Essex), a member of the International Advisory Board of the International Centre for Drug Policy Studies (Shanghai University), and a technical advisor to the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation. He has played an advisory role to governments and international organisations and collaborated with and produced policy reports for a range of international non-governmental organisations. At present he is a Senior Associate of the International Drug Policy Consortium (which he co-founded in 2006) and a Research Fellow of the Transnational Institute’s Drugs and Democracy Programme.
His work has been funded through grants from a range of bodies including the Leverhulme Trust, Open Society Foundations, Robert Carr Fund, Global Challenges Research Fund, and Natural Environment Research Council.
Why do the social sciences matter?
The social sciences are vital to generating a better understanding of the increasingly complex and interconnected world in which we live and the associated challenges that we face. This relates to a vast range of issue areas, as well as, crucially, the structures of governance developed, and policy approaches deployed to address them. As a result, social scientists are exceptionally well placed to assist policy and decision makers in dealing effectively with ‘real-world’ dilemmas and – rather than pursue quixotic and simplistic solutions – work towards the realistic management of what are often innately wicked problems.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I am lucky enough to conduct research and, through my relationship with a number of Governments, International Non-Governmental Organisations and international agencies, engage in policy-making discussions at several high level, principally United Nations, fora. With access to these environments, I very much enjoy trying to inductively develop and modify theoretical frameworks to help, hopefully, make better sense of what I am both observing and experiencing. I also enjoy engaging in activities that assist in bridging the gap between research and policy making, especially where this has a direct and beneficial impact upon affected groups. It’s a privilege during fieldwork in different parts of the world to meet and work with a fascinating variety of individuals and communities; people who often live a long way from the sites of the policy-making process.
What is the most urgent issue social scientists need to tackle today and within the next three years?
There are clearly a host of issues in need of urgent attention. Among these, I would stress inter-related issues around social justice, human rights and – while there is certainly need for reform of many facets of International Organisations – the rules based international order. That said, it’s difficult to overstate the centrality of the ever-deepening environmental crisis. In a variety of ways, this casts a long shadow over all social science research and requires many of us to shift the focus of our attention. In recent years my own work has started to engage more with environmental issues, including investigation into the impact of drug control policies on biodiversity in Colombia.
What does being a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences mean to you?
I feel honoured to become a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and to join such a distinguished community of scholars, policy-makers and practitioners and, through the opportunity to be involved with the Campaign for Social Science, help ensure that the social science disciplines continue to shape public policy. I also see my Fellowship as a recognition of drug policy analysis as a valuable and impactful interdisciplinary endeavour in its own right, rather than a marginal subfield of a subfield within a range of discrete disciplines.