Professor D’Maris Coffman FRHistS FSA FRGS PFHEA FAcSS was conferred to the Fellowship of the Academy in autumn 2023. She is Professor of Economics and Finance of the Built Environment at The Bartlett at University College London and Vice Dean Innovation and Enterprise at The Bartlett. Her research spans infrastructure, construction, and climate change and she works at the interstices of economic geography, economic history and infrastructure economics.
From February 2017 to August 2023, D’Maris was Director of the Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction and its predecessor the Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management. Before moving to UCL in 2014, she spent six years as a Fellow at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, where she established the Centre for Financial History (now at Darwin College) and served ex-officio on the Board of Managers of Cambridge Finance.
D’Maris is an Editor-in-Chief of Structural Change and Economic Dynamics; and she is currently guest editing special issues for the Environmental Impact Assessment Review and the International Journal of Production Research. She further serves on the editorial boards of Economia Politica, the Journal of Cleaner Production, Frontiers in Engineering Management, and the Chinese Journal of Population, Resources and Environment.
In recognition of D’Maris’ outstanding research contributions, she has been elected Visiting Professor at Università degli Studi di Milano Statale (2020-2022), Visiting Professor at Renmin University of China (2017-2022), and Distinguished Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University (2022-present). She has also been elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (UK), Istituto Lombardo Accademia di Scienze e Lettere (Italy), Royal Geographical Society (UK), and the Society of Antiquaries of London, and is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Why do the social sciences matter?
We cannot build better and fairer societies unless we understand how our own institutions, social hierarchies, cultural norms, and political cultures have contributed to the most vexing problems we face, including, for example, climate change and climate justice, biodiversity loss, and the treatment of historically marginalised groups. The social sciences collectively can help us to ask the right questions, and to understand that while the possible answers are rarely simple, but rather nuanced and contingent, they can be made accessible and legible to the wider public.
What inspires you about your work?
I grew up during the Cold War, when most social science as practiced in the West was focussed on a potentially catastrophic global rivalry between capitalist and communist societies. Thirty years later, the collective challenges that we face transcend state boundaries, yet our collective commitment to global solutions is wavering in the face of nationalism and populism. I am inspired to contribute to international dialogues that aim to build the capabilities of states to work together to tackle the challenges we face, with the aim of leaving a better world for my son and the generations to follow. As such, what I enjoy most about my work is meeting people from all over the world who are working on creating policies that support decarbonisation of our energy and transport systems.
What is the most urgent issue social scientists need to tackle today and within the next three years?
The climate emergency is the greatest challenge we face. Rapid decarbonisation is primarily a social and political challenge, one that involves reconfiguring our societies, making them more sustainable, more resilient, and fairer in the process. Over the next three years, that means social scientists have a lot to do to provide evidentiary support for the optimal policy mix to support deep decarbonisation over the next decade and to build state capacities and the social consensus needed to ensure that these efforts are successful.
What does being a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences mean to you?
It is an enormous honour to be elected a Fellow of the Academy because it recognises my commitment to mobilising the multi-disciplinary social sciences to tackle the challenges of how to better equip nation-states to deliver top-down decarbonisation policies in a coordinated fashion. When I was in graduate school in history, I admired the intellectual ambition of The Annales School in France, even as I appreciated that histoire totale (a complete study of a historical problem) was an impossible dream. I feel that Fellowship in the Academy of Social Sciences amounts to recognition of custodianship of such an intellectual project in the Anglophone world.