Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies research project ideas
View a summary of proposed areas of research for prospective PhD students. You may be able to apply for funding to support your studies.
Fear and loathing in the age of Covid
Covid-19 has served to concentrate and accelerate a number of existing social trends (particularly prevalent in the West), among which are those that some sociologists have come to characterise as 'a culture of fear' (Furedi, 1997), and others as a growing gulf between 'the intellectuals and the masses' (Carey, 1992).
The purpose of this project will be to explore the extent to which these two extant tendencies have come to shape the narrative surrounding the pandemic. There is no need for expertise in virology (aside from a general interest in, and an ability to engage with, scientific literature). Rather the student would come versed with an understanding of cultural drivers, such as the politics of fear, the sociology of health, and risk analysis, as well as authors as diverse as Bourdieu (1984) and Lasch (1979).
Subsequent to a detailed literature review and scoping process, the intention is to explore the extent to which these two tendencies - fear and loathing - have served to drive responses within the parameters of ongoing ambiguity and uncertainty.
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Ethnic minority representations in contemporary culture
The Black Lives Matter movement has recently drawn attention to systemic inequalities concerning afro-descendent populations worldwide, perceptible through negative stereotyping and bias in policing, education, healthcare, or housing. Debates about whose statues should be preserved or removed highlighted the importance of memory and oblivion and underscored the discrepancies between State-promoted and alternative narratives to be remembered and celebrated.
In this context, it more vital than ever to develop in-depth understand of how representations of minority groups are produced, how they evolve throughout history and how they can be challenged through counter-representations taking the forms of memorial sites, films, texts, images for example.
I would welcome PhD applications that would want to engage with any aspects of contemporary narratives involving afro-descendent or other minority groups, in particular in Britain, Europe or Latin-America, focusing on:
- Media representations
- Artistic representations that challenge the mainstream
- Political protests
- Memorial practices or enslavement and abolition
- Bath’s and Bristol’s involvement in the slave economy and the recovering of the silenced memory in contemporary practices (including the topping of the Colson statue in Bristol)
Dr Christina Horvath, Reader
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Conflict, peace-building and social protection in fragile states
98% of global conflict fatalities of the past 25 years have taken place in fragile states, while almost all countries of extreme poverty and hunger are fragile conflict states. Understanding the causal linkages and the mutual constitution of poverty, conflict and state fragility is therefore essential regardless of whether we study poverty, state fragility or conflict. Research on the interaction of these three elements is the core focus of a number of staff members of the Department of Politics, Languages & International Relations and the Department of Social & Policy Sciences. Consequently, focusing PhD research on a theme that looks at one or several of these themes in the context of the interaction between poverty, conflict and state fragility implies that the project will be supported by an existing research community eager to interact and exchange ideas.
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The role of public opinion in the mainstreaming of the far right
Since the turn of the century, coverage and hype of the irresistible rise of the far right has become common place in many Western democracies. While these parties have performed unevenly and their electoral fortune has fluctuated, their impact in shaping the agenda and placing some of their core issues at the heart of public discourse and policy-making is hard to deny.
While mainstream elite actors, be they politicians, academics or the media, tend to oppose the far right and their politics, they justify their widespread coverage on the basis that the far right touches on democratic grievances, whether cultural or economic: ‘this is what the people wants’.
Through a critical appraisal of the use and misuse of the concept of public opinion as the voice of the people, this project will study whether rather than following what 'the people want', elite actors shape and construct public opinion, and hype and promote reactionary agendas and ideas, whether consciously or not.
This project would require an interest in critical approaches to politics and sociology, and a willingness and aptitude to engage with quantitative research methods.
Dr Aurelien Mondon, Senior Lecturer
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Trade policy and trade agreements in turbulent times
Modern trade agreements cover issues such as regulations on how to produce goods, what qualifications are recognised to exercise a profession, or what foreign investors can and cannot do, which can encroach on domestic public policy space, and have spurred contestation of trade policy in recent years. To counter this, developed states' trade agreements increasingly include labour and environmental sections, but these have been deemed insufficient in practice. The UK, and the EU, in particular, have proclaimed their wish to become global leaders in designing sustainable and responsible trade agreements, but a gap remains between rhetoric and practice.
If you are interested in researching how different models of environmental, social and gender chapters in trade agreements work in practice, and how trade actors attempt to impose their regulations on others, and under what conditions, get in touch. If you would like to research the conflicting influences, and power dynamics affecting the shaping of an independent UK trade policy and trade agreement strategy, please also contact me.
My background is on the geopolitics of trade policy and trade agreements, especially in relation to EU trade policy in the context of great power competition. I also work on the politicisation of trade policy in Europe, and the UK's trade policy in light of Brexit, and have done work on the negotiation of, and implementation of social and environmental clauses in trade agreements, and will gladly supervise projects in these areas.
Dr Maria Garcia, Senior Lecturer
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Cyber-diplomacy in a changing world
Cyber-diplomacy plays an increasingly important role in world politics. States and international organisations have been developing, in the last decade, their international cyberspace strategies and approaches in order to best address the digital world's challenges and opportunities. The emergence of this international practice is the result of an increasing contested cyberspace, itself a product of the US led-international liberal order of the second half of the 20th century.
This project explores the role of cyber-diplomacy in engaging with the impacts of a changing international order. I would be happy to supervise a PhD candidate that is interested in addressing the macro-dynamics of cyber-diplomacy or, alternatively, the cyberspace policy of a particular state or international organisation. I would also consider proposals that explore the role of private actors in this realm.
Dr Andre Barrinha, Senior Lecturer
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Gendering foreign policy
In recent decades, women's rights and gender equality have become central concerns for states and international organisations alike. Initiatives such as the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda and the burgeoning area of 'feminist' foreign policy are increasing awareness of gender in foreign policy.
Focussing on selected case studies, this project would explore the ways in which foreign policy is gendered, and work towards developing new conceptual frameworks through which we can understand the role of gender in foreign policy.
Dr Jennifer Thomson, Lecturer
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Innovation and international security: A cross field comparison
The relationship between the state, the international order and innovation systems are constantly changing. In this project, you will build contemporary case-studies on a number of key areas of innovation- in order to better conceptualise these shifts- which give meaning and impetus to innovation in the name of National Security. This may include but is not limited to the fields of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, information technology.
You will build on existing departmental strengths in the global politics of technology.
Dr Brett Edwards, Senior Lecturer
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Women’s roles in parliaments across the globe
While women’s descriptive representation in politics has increased significantly during the last few decades, women are still underrepresented in most countries around the world. In addition, women tend to have different 'roles' in parliament compared with men once elected. For example, some research has shown that women are less likely to chair parliamentary committees – a key role in parliament - than men. Moreover, women tend to be more likely to be member of (and chair) committees related to inequality and social issues, such as health, education, welfare or the environment. By contrast, women have been found to be under-represented on committees with foreign affairs, employment, business and economics. The latter are also seen as the most prestigious and powerful committees.
The aim of the current project is to investigate women’s and men’s roles in parliament in a cross-national study, including countries with various levels of female representation and various electoral systems. Conducting a quantitative analysis, the project will explore to what extent gender segregation in parliamentary roles occurs and how that can be explained by contextual factors such as women’s representation in parliament. It will also look at party differences and investigate to what extent and how gendered patterns in parliamentary roles differ between parties (in different countries). In addition, a qualitative analysis - focusing on the UK - will investigate why women are less likely to take up certain roles. Thinking, for example, about parliamentary committee membership: are women less likely to be member of certain committees because they are asked to be members of those committees or because they prefer being on those committees? To that end, female Members of Parliament and members of the party leadership will be interviewed.
Professor Hilde Coffé, Senior Lecturer
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