Pratchett Scholarship underpins research into our online “small gods”

Fascinated by Sir Terry Pratchett’s own concept of ‘small gods’, Bachelor of Arts (English and Psychology) graduate, Freyja Stokes has been awarded one of the $100,000 scholarships established at UniSA in his name.

Begun in 2015, the perpetual scholarship is awarded by the University of South Australia every two years and supports a student to undertake a Masters by research at UniSA’s Hawke’s Research Institute, covering stipend, travel and accommodation expenses as well as research costs. Stokes is the second recipient.

Using her Graduate Diploma in Education, Stokes has worked as a teacher in non-English speaking classrooms in both Japan and Vietnam with a great passion for expanding her own knowledge, and where possible, passing that excitement on to her students.

Stokes says Pratchett was a massive part of her childhood and conducting research informed by Sir Terry’s works is a great thrill.

“I used to raid my dad’s bookshelves and many of Pratchett’s books would migrate to my room,” Stokes says.

“I grew up surrounded by his Discworld stories and it’s amazing that other people think my idea, flowing from Sir Terry’s small gods, is interesting enough to offer me this research scholarship opportunity,”

Stokes will use Sir Terry’s concept of small gods as a “tool or lens” to unpack and examine certain kinds of online group identities and behaviour.

“Small gods basically feed on human belief and shape themselves around the wants, assumptions and personalities of the people who believe in them,” Stokes says.

“They create a sort of reflection of their followers, but are also separate entities of their own, and are focused on maintaining their own power and visibility.”

At their most powerful, the small gods in Pratchett’s works can warp or shape a person’s language, perception of events or others, and, if their power base is challenged, elicit extremely strong reactions.

“These dynamics are really apparent in today’s online environment,” Stokes says.

“All of this is very human behaviour and these kinds of group identities are increasingly powerful. They make news headlines, inspire people to act or react in the real world and often feed into serious social conflict.

“I am hoping that using this perspective to try to improve our understanding of these kinds of small gods, we might be able to offer more constructive methods to engage with these groups and better understand the effects they can have on people.”

The Sir Terry Pratchett Perpetual Scholarship fund, from which a scholarship is awarded every two years, was bequeathed to the University of South Australia in accordance with the author’s wishes.

Media contact: Georgia Aish mobile: +61 413 314 726 email: Georgia.Aish@unisa.edu.au

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