Department of Social & Policy Sciences 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.
Livelihoods, resource governance and artisanal cobalt mining
This project seeks to deepen understanding of the main governance challenges in the artisanal cobalt mining sector, focusing specifically on the role that transnational governance initiatives, such as voluntary codes and certification, can play in addressing key challenges in the supply chain. Using a global value chain perspective to study power relationships in the global cobalt supply chain from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to China, it will analyse how transnational governance has been interpreted, adopted and/or contested by local, national and international actors, and to explore the extent to which these interactions determine the livelihoods of artisanal miners. In doing so, the project brings together an experienced interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Bath, who will work closely with researchers and stakeholders in the DRC and China to facilitate the co-production of knowledge, and ensure that the work achieves maximum impact. We eventually plan to expand the project to cover supply chains of other minerals that are critical to transitions to the low carbon economy, and to assess the impact of governance initiatives in the relevant developing countries.
We welcome proposals from PhD applicants interested in sustainable development, global value chains and transnational governance. If successful, you would be expected to conduct independent, in-depth field research in Africa and China after undertaking rigorous methodological training.
Dr Yixian Sun, Lecturer
For an informal discussion about this area of research contact firstname.lastname@example.org
China's overseas energy finance and low-carbon transition
The proposed research will explore the conditions under which China’s overseas energy finance can be directed to promoting low-carbon transitions in the Global South. In the last 15 years, Chinese banks and corporations have become major financiers of energy infrastructures in developing countries. However, the majority of such financing has been used to construct fossil fuel power plants (especially coal), despite China’s rising wind and solar industries. To date, the decision-making processes around China’s financing and its impact on energy transitions and climate governance in recipient countries remain largely under researched, mainly due to the difficulties that scholars face in accessing relevant stakeholders. Moreover, the absence of reliable and robust data at the project level has hampered the evaluation of the on-the-ground environmental and social impacts of Chinese finance.
The proposed project seeks to bridge these gaps, in the process identifying policies that can effectively support clean energy, and ultimately the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in the Global South. The research will focus on three main questions:
- What are the economic, socio-political and technological factors that determine the type of energy sources in Chinese-funded power plants?
- What are the impacts of Chinese-funded power plants on climate change, the local environment and people?
- What are the policy tools that can diversify Chinese energy finance into cleaner sources (such as wind and solar)?
You are expected to have good qualitative and quantitative skills and be willing to conduct fieldwork in Africa and South Asia.
Dr Yixian Sun, Lecturer
For an informal discussion about this area of research contact email@example.com
Wealth inequalities and ethnic minority groups
This project will focus on intergenerational mobility, specifically in relation to wealth. Recent evidence has shown there is significant inequality in wealth across populations in many countries, which has a large effect on individual’s living standards throughout their life. This project seeks to unpick how and why this varies among particular ethnic minority groups in the UK using a range of secondary data sources such as the Wealth and Assets Survey, combined with advanced quantitative methods.
The analysis will focus on the role of parents and their offspring and the importance of early life conditions and transfers, in particular the age at which such investments and transfers are made and their subsequent use. It is important to recognise that offspring’s living standards are affected by their environment when young (including endowments) and their own characteristics. This research will pay specific attention to this distinction and its importance in assessing living standards and wealth trajectories.
The research has a range of policy implications given the strong interested in understanding the drivers of inequality and the effect early life investments have on life chances. The work will allow you to develop different avenues of research in the area of inequality and social mobility using both UK, European and International survey data. You will utilise the supervisor’s network to engage with and discuss the relevance of findings. This will involve dialogue with various stakeholders including civil servants, leading national charities and international organisations.
Dr Ricky Kanabar, Lecturer
For an informal discussion about this area of research contact firstname.lastname@example.org
New medical technologies and rare disease patient group advocacy
There is an extensive body of research demonstrating that patient organisations increasingly shape healthcare delivery, health policy, and medical research. Against this background, the status of organisations representing patients suffering from rare diseases is less clear. On the one hand, the collective voice of the rare disease community seems powerful, having brought in major changes in how rare diseases are understood and regulated. On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that patient organisations speaking for specific rare diseases often see themselves as powerless and unable to attract attention and public or private funding for medical research in their conditions. This opposition is particularly relevant in the UK given the imminent changes in medicine regulation resulting from Brexit.
This PhD project will explore these issues in the context of key ongoing research and policy developments, including the emergence of new health technologies as well as new forms of data and data analysis. Using a mixed-methods approach, including knowledge co-production with research users, it will explore how and with what effect rare disease patient organisations contribute to the development and utilisation of new health technologies and forms of data analysis. It will also evaluate whether new advances in medicine and data analysis have a positive impact on addressing the issue of social and therapeutic unmet needs of rare disease patients based in the UK. Importantly, this project will develop practical recommendations for rare disease patient organisations and other stakeholders seeking to facilitate their engagement in research, policy and healthcare delivery.
Dr Piotr Ozieranski, Senior Lecturer
For an informal discussion about this area of research contact email@example.com
Access to advocacy for people living with dementia
This proposed project aims to increase understanding of and improve the way independent advocacy services are instructed to support and represent people with dementia to make and communicate decisions affecting their care and/or treatment. It focuses on a service regarded as key to empowering and maximising the autonomy of those who may otherwise suffer exclusion. Within recent law and policy, advocacy is intended to provide a crucial legal safeguard for people with dementia, an illness involving fluctuating capacity that progressively deteriorates.
The research will investigate how advocacy referrals are made on behalf of older people with dementia. Using an eclectic methodology, including systematic review of the legal literature, qualitative interviews and focus groups with advocates and health and social care practitioners, the project will investigate the legal and practical context, and advocacy and practitioner perspectives.
You should have good interpersonal skills. Experience of working with people living with dementia would be an advantage.
- Dr Jeremy Dixon, Senior Lecturer in Social Work
- Professor Judy Laing, Professor of Mental Health Law, Rights and Policy
For an informal discussion about this area of research contact firstname.lastname@example.org