Professor Peter Merriman was conferred to the Fellowship of the Academy in autumn 2022. He is Professor of Human Geography and a Director of the Centre for Transport and Mobility (CeTraM) at Aberystwyth University, and his work explores the geographies of mobility, and theoretical approaches to space, place and the nation.
Peter is one of a number of social scientists who has helped to define the field of mobility studies, adopting a multi-disciplinary perspective while outlining the difference that a geographical perspective can make. His studies of automobility in Britain have looked at the transformation of the spaces of the road and the socio-spatial practices of driving throughout the twentieth century, while more recent work has looked at the challenge of governing the behaviour of different kinds of road users. His most recent book Space (2022) explores how theories of space and spatiality have been developed in social science disciplines, including geography, sociology, psychology, anthropology and politics, and how they are entangled with concepts from philosophy, mathematics and the physical sciences.
Peter has authored three books – Driving Spaces (2007), Mobility, Space and Culture (2012) and Space (2022) – and edited or co-edited a further six volumes, including The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities (2014). His work has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Arts and Humanities Research Council, British Academy and European Regional Development Fund.
Why do the social sciences matter?
The social sciences are key to understanding people’s complex relationships with themselves, each other and the natural and physical environments of the world. While many social science disciplines appear relatively young compared with fields such as mathematics and philosophy, they are key to understanding contemporary social, political and environmental challenges. While policy-makers are increasingly recognising these strengths, social science scholars and campaigners still have a lot of work to do to demonstrate the importance of their research to the broader public.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy developing theoretical approaches and arguments alongside conducting in-depth empirical research on why and how people move around, and the impacts past and present mobilities have had upon societies. Probably the most rewarding work has been working closely with port communities in Ireland and Wales on an ERDF-funded project called ‘Ports, Past and Present’.
What is the most urgent issue social scientists need to tackle today and within the next three years?
This is a difficult question to provide a single answer to, because so many social and political issues and problems are interrelated. Writing at the present time, mid-2023, I would suggest that climate change, food and energy security, and inequalities and injustice remain key matters of global and local concern.
What does being a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences mean to you?
It is a great honour to be a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences alongside such a distinguished group of scholars, policy-makers and practitioners. Fellowship also brings an opportunity to take part in the Campaign for Social Science, ensuring that social science disciplines continue to recruit students, shape public policy, and tackle key global challenges.