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Social geographer Manuel Aalbers, anthropologist Alexander Edmonds and psychologist Birte Forstmann have all received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). This will enable them to establish themselves as independent research leaders.


Aalbers’ research focuses on the relationships between the real estate sector, financial markets and the state, and the relationships between processes and structures at local, national and global levels. Edmonds is conducting an anthropological study of combat trauma in three countries: Israel, the United States and the Netherlands. Forstmann’s research focuses on an integrative model-based approach to speeded decision making.

The ERC was established by the European Union in 2007 in order to fund groundbreaking research. The Starting Grant is intended for researchers who obtained their doctorate two to nine years ago and who wish to establish themselves as independent research leaders. This year 530 researchers, of whom 51 were Dutch, received a Starting Grant. A total of 4,741 applications were submitted in the latest round. The maximum grant awarded is €1.5 million per research project.

The approved research projects

Dr Manuel Aalbers (Geography, Planning and International Development): The Real Estate/ Financial Complex

The real estate and financial markets are the primary cause of the global economic crisis that started in 2007. The state is also held responsible for the crisis, but there is little research into the relationship between the real estate sector, financial markets and the state. The formulation of theories for this relationship is still in its infancy. Research using various political-economic approaches has shed light on the connections between financial markets and the government. However, the real estate sector is often ignored. Research on the relationship between the real estate sector and the state focuses on the role of urban and municipal authorities in real estate projects, but the financial-economic aspect is neglected. Manuel Aalbers wants to change this. In his research project, he uses a metaphor to describe the relationship between real estate sector, the finance sector and government: the real estate/financial complex is compared to the military/industrial complex. Through research in six countries and six cities, he will focus on the relationships between processes and structures at local, national and global levels.

Dr Alexander Edmonds (Sociology and Anthropology): From warfare to welfare: a comparative study of how combat trauma is internalized and Institutionalized

The research project of Alexander Edmonds anthropological study of combat trauma in three nations: Israel, the United States, and the Netherlands.  Trauma means different things to different actors, and acquires a different value (both economic and social) in different contexts.   Unusual within trauma studies, research aims to shed light on potentially conflicting values and meanings surrounding violence and suffering in military and therapeutic cultures.  Methodologically, it combines ethnographic fieldwork with veterans, research on clinical practices, and analysis of the policies and discourses that institutionalize combat trauma.  It includes as research subjects both war veterans from different ethnic groups as well as psychologists and psychiatrists.  A major aim is a comparative framework for understanding how war related suffering is internalized and institutionalized as clinical illness.

Dr Birte U. Forstmann (Psychology): speeded decision-making in the basal ganglia: An integrative model-based approach

Speeded decision-making is essential for adaptive behaviour in an impatient world. Fight or flight, stop or go, left or right, shoot or pass, peanut butter or jam, our environment constantly demands that we make decisions. Choosing prematurely can result in death, accidents, collisions, lost matches or an unsavoury sandwich - a similar fate awaits those who ponder over their decisions too long. Because of its pivotal role in the way we interact with the world, the topic of speeded decision-making has been studied by many disciplines, including mathematical psychology, experimental psychology and the cognitive neurosciences. These disciplines often work in isolation. The main purpose and defining feature of Birte Forstmann’s research is to study speeded decision-making using an integrative, model-based approach.

Further information