Dr Jacob Downs named as BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker

Departmental Lecturer and Faculty Chair Dr Jacob Downs has been recognized as one of the UK’s ten most promising early-career researchers in the arts and humanities.


The BBC New Generation Thinkers scheme identifies talented academics whose ideas will interest a wide audience. Whittled down from hundreds of applications, the ten selected thinkers will share their research through BBC Radio 4 programmes and will also receive training and support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as well as the BBC. This year's selection of academics covers a diverse range of research topics, including the possible existence of the multiverse, the future of black literature, the surprisingly dark history of Technicolor film, and the search for the greatest philosopher who never existed.

Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair, praised the selection, stating

These ten brilliant, original thinkers demonstrate the ability of the arts and humanities to help us to better understand both ourselves and the world around us.

Dr Downs was chosen for his research on the impact of new sound media on daily life. He places contemporary listening under the microscope and asks why we seeking out intimate sound-worlds so much in the 21st century. Dr Downs adds, 

My research is born out of a fascination with quizzing people about their listening experiences. In my work, I use a range of approaches, from the scientific to the philosophical, to study perceptions of music and sound in both public and private spaces. I explore how people use headphones to cushion themselves against the onslaught of contemporary life, what individuals are looking for when they listen to hours of whispered, ASMR-inducing videos on YouTube, and why lots of us seem more and more to be choosing to play sound from our phones out loud on buses. It’s fantastic to know the BBC and the AHRC appreciate the weirder end of humanities research and have made me a New Generation Thinker for 2024.

Keep an ear out for Dr Downs' contributions on BBC Radio 4 over the next year.