Essex sociology professor recognised for outstanding contribution to research

  • Date

    Tue 5 Sep 23

Profile photo of Professor Lydia Morris from the Dept of Sociology

Professor Lydia Morris is the winner of this year’s prestigious Peter Townsend Prize from the British Academy.

The prize is one of a series of awards issued annually to those who work in Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy (or SHAPE research), in recognition of significant contributions to this area of study.

The awards are given to those whose “accomplishments have made a deep and lasting impact on the humanities and social sciences and helped shaped the understanding of our world”.

Professor Morris, from the Department of Sociology, is a joint winner of the award for her book The Moral Economy of Welfare and Migration: Reconfiguring Rights in Austerity Britain.

The judging panel said her book “makes a major contribution to understanding recent policy developments and provides both a lasting conceptual framework for policy analysis and a political-economic basis on which to contest the neo-liberal paradigm”.

Professor Morris, a Fellow of the British Academy, said: “I am honoured to be the joint recipient of the 2023 Peter Townsend Prize, and grateful for this recognition of my critical commentary on measures that have caused – and continue to cause – misery and distress for so many.

“My book addresses many of the concerns that were central to Peter Townsend’s work, detailing the design flaws of ‘austerity’ policies and their ‘cross-over’ effects on welfare claimants and incoming migrants and asylum seekers. These include increasing conditionality for all groups, destitution by design as a mode of control, and recurrent patterns of discrimination that particularly affect lone parents, children, ethnic minority groups, and the disabled. Crucially, it also shows how these effects are not accidental by-products of policy objectives but are control devices knowingly built into the measures at issue.

“I am pleased to acknowledge the support of my own institution where Peter Townsend was the founding Professor of Sociology, and of the Leverhulme Trust, whose award of a Major Research Fellowship freed me to complete the project.”

The prize was established to honour the memory of Professor Townsend following his death in 2009. He was a distinguished global figure in contemporary social policy and sociology. As an international researcher, he made an immeasurable contribution to analysis and policymaking in the areas of poverty and inequality, health inequalities, disability, and older people. He was a Fellow of the British Academy.

President of the British Academy, Professor Julia Black, said: “Though the Academy is a UK national body, we champion excellence in the humanities and social sciences wherever it is found.

“These prizes are testament to the global impact and relevance of our disciplines as well as the winners’ immense contributions to their respective academic fields and to advancing public understanding of the SHAPE disciplines.”

The 2023 Peter Townsend Prize is jointly awarded to Professor Morris and to Professor Fiona Williams FBA, Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at the University of Leeds. They will receive their award at a ceremony hosted by the British Academy on Wednesday 11 October.