Professor Nick Vaughan-Williams was conferred to the Fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences in spring 2023. He is Professor of International Security and Vice-Provost/Chair of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Warwick. Listed in the Stanford ‘Top 2%’ of world-leading scientists, his research focuses on the international politics of borders, migration, and security.
Author or co-author of six books, Nick’s interdisciplinary research agenda examines the changing nature and location of borders and their lived impacts among migrants and citizens. Supported by grants from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), British Academy, and Leverhulme Trust, he combines innovative theoretical and empirical research to explore how bordering practices – understood as attempts to control human mobility by diverse state and non-state actors – are offshored, outsourced, and diffused throughout societies. A former recipient of the Philip Leverhulme Prize, his work foregrounds everyday experiences and vernacular narratives to assess border security from otherwise hidden perspectives. His findings have been presented to the EU Commission, Frontex, the Maltese Presidency, the UK Cabinet Office, Home Office, and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and fed directly into the 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, and Foreign Policy.
At Warwick, Nick is Discipline Lead for the round 3 £1.25M ESRC Impact Accelerator Account (IAA) and Programme Sponsor for the Social Sciences Grand Challenge – an ambitious transformation programme across research, education, and professional services for 14 departments, and a major £200M capital project. He was formerly Principal Investigator of the round 2 £1.5M ESRC IAA and Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies.
Why do the social sciences matter?
The role of social sciences is to understand human behaviour. This understanding is central to how people live and experience their lives. It is also pivotal for enhancing their wellbeing. There is limited use in vaccines if populations are unwilling to accept them or they cannot be produced and distributed equitably. These issues – of public policy, mass communication, and the management of supply chains – are fundamentally questions of social science.
What inspires you about your work?
Now more than ever social scientists are in demand – by governments, international organisations, and businesses – to produce data-driven, evidence-based, policy recommendations. The intellectual challenge of meeting this demand, through my own work and in supporting that of other social scientists at Warwick and beyond, is both daunting and inspiring.
What is the most urgent issue social scientists need to tackle today and within the next three years?
It is widely accepted that in the twenty-first century humanity faces a series of intersecting global challenges: climate change, poverty, food insecurity, geopolitical conflict, population displacement, threats to democracy, and new pandemics. But before social scientists can tackle these effectively, we urgently need to make the case for the importance of the social sciences; we cannot take it for granted that students, taxpayers, university councils, businesses, and governments accept this starting point as a given.
What does being a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences mean to you?
I am extremely grateful and honoured to be conferred to the Fellowship. I admire the membership of the Academy and it means a lot to be a part of this community. Intellectually and strategically, the Academy’s Campaign for Social Science is of major significance in making the case for social sciences. Through leading the Grand Challenge at Warwick, and my own research more generally, I hope to support this Campaign.