The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded a prestigious Consolidator Grant to five researchers from the University of Amsterdam and the Academic Medical Center (AMC-UvA). The recipients are rheumatologist Dominique Baeten, psychologist Denny Borsboom, economist Philipp Koellinger, anthropologist Eileen Moyer and communication scientist Claes de Vreese.
The Grant amounts to a total of 2 million euros for each project and will allow the researchers to position themselves as independent research leaders. The Consolidator Grant is meant for young researchers who obtained their PhDs between 7 and 12 years ago. The European Union created the ERC in 2007 to fund groundbreaking research.
Baeten receives a Consolidator Grant for research into the causes of spondyloarthritis, a group of rheumatic disorders. Bechterew’s disease, in which joints in the back, hips and knees become inflamed, is the most well-known form of spondyloarthritis. Baeten will investigate whether stromal cells (connective tissue cells) – and not immune cells – cause Bechterew’s disease. Stromal cells, which provide form and support to almost all tissue in the human body, are capable of triggering two essential inflammatory mechanisms in spondyloarthritis. In his research, Baeten will pinpoint exactly how this happens so as to develop treatment specifically tailored towards these cells. He expects his findings to also be relevant for related autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease and asthma.
Borsboom recently introduced the Network Approach to Psychopathology (NAP). With this approach, Borsboom interprets mental disorders as causal systems. Such systems have two basic building blocks: symptoms (problems such as insomnia, fatigue and concentration problems) and connections between symptoms. Together, these building blocks constitute a network which can be analysed as a complex system. Borsboom has already successfully used this approach to explain important phenomena in psychopathology research, such as co-morbidity, spontaneous recovery and prevalence differences between disorders. In this project, Borsboom will elaborate his approach further by developing a methodology and application in important research domains within clinical psychology.
In his project, Koellinger will contribute towards a new, interdisciplinary field of research: genomics, which combines methods, resources and expertise from social and behavioural sciences, epidemiology and molecular genetics. In particular, his proposed project will focus on the molecular genetic architecture of educational attainment, and will aim to shed further light on the complex causal pathways connecting genes, environment, socioeconomic and cognitive traits, as well as health-related outcomes. Furthermore, it will make important methodological contributions that will be applicable in genetic epidemiology as well as the social sciences.
Since the mid-1980s, academic and public discourses have depicted African masculinity as both precarious and predatory. Economic insecurity, urbanisation, shifting gender norms and growing gender parity have accompanied claims that African masculinity is ‘in crisis’. More recently, however, new stories of urban men embracing responsible fatherhood, condemning intimate partner violence and demanding homosexual rights have emerged as exemplars of progressive responsibility. Moyer states that the discourses and practices that pathologise and politicise masculinity are simultaneously performing and producing gendered selves in the name of gender equality. By means of a number of initiatives with male involvement, she will look at how masculinities are imagined and reconfigured.
Public opinion towards European integration and the EU is divided, especially in the wake of the economic crisis. From being a consensus issue with a stable and broad elite and public support, it is now a contentious issue with swiftly changing opinions. The future of European integration needs public support and yet little is known about what drives and changes this support. In his research, De Vreese will investigate the causes and consequences of EU opinions. Views may change in response to real world developments, domestic political factors and personal experiences, but – very importantly – also in response to new information such as provided by the (social) media and in interpersonal and network communication. The key question in De Vreese’s research is when, how, for whom and with which consequences communication matters for changes in public opinion about Europe.