SOAS University of London

SOAS celebrated for contributing to the UK’s creative excellence

13 January 2022
ZS- Swing Time

Research by Marloes Janson, Professor of West African Anthropology, at SOAS University of London, which helped to inform Zadie Smith’s novel Swing Time, been recognised as one of the UK’s greatest creative hits, alongside BAFTA-winning film writers, award-winning children’s authors, and global rockstars.

Whilst writing Swing Time, Zadie Smith studied Professor Janson’s work Islam, Youth, and Modernity in the Gambia: The Tablighi Jama'at for research. Smith also writes that the monograph provided much of the cultural underpinnings of the story, which helped her create the feel and texture of certain scenes in the novel.

MJ - Islam, Youth, Modernity

This work has been nominated as one of more than 100 “Creative Sparks” from UK universities who are being honoured to showcase the importance of the creative industries and to celebrate the immense contribution of UK universities to the sector.

The nomination comes as new research conducted by Savanta ComRes for Universities UK shows that UK parents are strongly in favour of university creative courses, with more than two thirds (69 per cent) saying that creative courses are vital for powering the UK’s creative industries and nearly two thirds (65 per cent) saying that they benefit the UK economy.

But there are fears that this contribution could now be under threat, with two thirds (67 per cent) of UK parents acknowledging that creative industries have suffered greatly as a result of the pandemic.

In response, Universities UK has launched the Creative Sparks #MadeAtUni campaign to showcase the creativity found at UK universities like SOAS and to encourage the government to promote and support the importance of creativity and creative courses.

Alistair Jarvis CBE, Chief Executive, Universities UK said: “Universities are places where creative ideas flourish, where innovation happens, and where businesses employing thousands of people are started. They’re where the nation’s creative sparks are ignited.”

In reaction to her research being included in the Creative Sparks campaign, Professor Marloes Janson said:

"When Zadie Smith contacted me to ask whether she could endorse my monograph, I fell off my chair. I’m a great admirer of her work and I felt very honoured. The fact that my book has been nominated as one of the ‘Creative Sparks’ from Universities UK brings a big spark to my life as an anthropologist. The nomination reminds me of the duty we have as social scientists and arts and humanities scholars to bring our scholarship to the public, thereby making it relevant to present-day social problems. I strongly believe that as academics we have greater responsibilities to the world than just our own intellectual parochialisms. Multiplying the voices in public debates – not only the voices of our research participants, but also the voices of novelists, film makers, photographers, activists, etc. – by creating synergies between scholarship and the creative industries is, in my opinion, part of SOAS’ decolonising research approach."

Find out more about the UK’s Creative Sparks and read the full list of Creative Sparks online. 

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