Be Careful What You Wish For: On Impact as a Proxy for Value in Arts & Humanities Research

Master Class with Eleonora Belfiore

The context for this masterclass is offered by one of the defining debates in the academic humanities, namely the one around the tension between a desire (and often external pressures) to be useful to those outside academia, and the aspiration to preserve the scholar’s critical distance from the object of analysis, intellectual autonomy and the freedom to critique. Whilst this tension is especially noticeable within a small and emerging interdisciplinary field such as cultural policy research, in which I work, it is not by any means only found there. Taking developments in the UK as the geographical focus of analysis and as an example, it is clear that increasing expectations that research, especially when publicly funded, should have ‘impact’ bring with them similar kind of tensions. Expectation that research ought to deliver ‘impact’, which is often understood as a contribution to policy development, have been hotly contested and resisted, yet an important set of questions still remain open:

  • What is the ultimate purpose of critical scholarly research? Or in other words, what comes after critique?
  • Is critique for critique’s sake a satisfactory goal for cultural policy analysis or can we envisage a constructive engagement between critical research and policy debates that is not subservient to the needs of policy advocacy?
  • Are there ways to articulate the contribution to society of arts and humanities scholarship that avoid turning ‘impact’ into a proxy for ‘value’?

Reflecting on her experience as an eternally engaged scholar and the academic lead for the Warwick Commission for the Future of Cultural Value (2013-5), Prof. Belfiore will invite the participants to explore the possibilities and challenges that publicly engaged research brings, and to develop their skills in articulating the value of scholarship and how to pursue impact and knowledge exchange in ways that preserve the authenticity and integrity of research.


(required to be studied beforehand)

Eleonora Belfiore

I joined Loughborough in May 2016 from the University of Warwick, where I had been working since 2004. My PhD thesis (2006, Warwick) was a comparative study of post-1980s cultural policies in Italy and England and the growing prominence of an economic instrumental rationality in the development of arts and heritage policy in the two countries. Since then, I have developed further my exploration of discursive formations, and I have developed an international profile in policy sensitive research which combines a scholarly and critical drive with a commitment to facilitating public engagement with research and collaborations with non-academic partners, mostly from the cultural and creative sectors and from the third sector.

About the masterclasses

Utrecht University Humanities Conference 2019 programme includes two masterclasses, led by the conference keynote lecturers Eleonora Belfiore and Simon During. The masterclasses will be simultaneous, which allows us to extend the number of the participants by 30 to the overall event (15 for each masterclass).

Participants can gain 1 ECs for the masterclass participation and 1 EC for conference presentation. The masterclass workload is divided into three parts: reading and a preliminary abstract (1); masterclass participation (2) and a conclusive reflection paper (3).

Please register by sending an email to:

Overall workload

1 ECTS for:

  • Preparing the masterclass (3 readings and a 500 word abstract),(22 hours)
  • Participation in the masterclass (2,5 hours)
  • Writing a 1000 word reflection (2,5 hours)

1 ECTS for:

  • Preparing one’s own conference presentation and presenting it (28 hours).

0,5 ECTS for:

  • Joining one panel on impact in the humanities and the Centre for Humanities discussion on Thursday, April 11 (3 hours)
  • Joining two keynotes and two of the student panels on Friday, April 12 (7 hours)
  • Writing a 750 word reflection (2,5 hours)

About Utrecht University Humanities Conference

The Utrecht University Humanities Graduate Conference is organized for and by R(MA) students and PhD candidates; our mission is to deepen and broaden the understanding of the role and position of the humanities field both within and outside of academia. We invite contributions of research master students and PhD candidates from all the disciplines in the humanities, to analyze and reflect on the twinned issues of impact and knowledge utilization, be it within their own field of research or that of humanities research in general.

It is an annual conference for Humanities research-oriented (R)MA students and PhDs both from Utrecht University and other (inter)national institutions. In 2019, the general topic of the conference is “What’s the point? Impact, and the future of Humanities”, and the conference is going to house among other activities three keynote lectures, a day of parallel sessions and two master classes.