Each year, LISS DTP welcomes up to 58 new funded students, supported by the ESRC and LISS DTP’s partner institutions. These students have their fees covered, receive a stipend and are also eligible for funding to cover additional, beneficial, professional experiences such as overseas fieldwork, research training, overseas institutional visits and internships. Some work on collaborative (CASE) projects with non-academic partners; many are successful recipients of 1+3 (Masters + PhD) or +3 (PhD only) funding from our Open studentship competition, where research proposals must be student-generated. If you’re interested in applying for a LISS DTP studentship, you can find out more about them and whether you’re eligible on our Studentships webpage.
All students join one of our 13 Thematic Pathways.
Please expand the pathways below to see details of current student projects.
Freebirthing in the UK: A Narrative Study
Freebirthing is a clandestine, yet legal practice, where women intentionally give birth without health care professionals present. Problematically, freebirthing women are often faced with stigma and condemnation from the maternity services and wider society. By capturing the narratives of freebirthing women, Gemma’s study aims to understand their motivations, experiences and pregnancy journeys. The methodology that will be employed – the voice-centred relational method – will enable the narratives to be analysed within their bioethical and sociological context. The outcome will enable health care professionals to better support women who make atypical birthing decisions such as freebirth, whilst also contributing to the growing academic literature on subjects such as the rights and interests of pregnant women versus those of their babies, and the medicalization of childbirth.
What counts as a premenstrual symptom? Patient and expert health professional perspectives on PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)
PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) diagnostic guidelines prioritise psychological symptoms, but the clinical reason for doing so remains unclear. Studies show that they are not necessarily the most commonly experienced, nor uniquely determining, nor most disruptive of the (100+) known premenstrual symptoms. Does such medical knowledge/ practice simply reflect and perpetuate the myth of the irrational female?
The main aim of Sally’s research is to explore how and why certain premenstrual symptoms achieve relative prominence over others, by examining ‘expert’ clinical constructions of PMS, alongside the experiences and perspectives of ‘PMS sufferers’. By seeking to explore ‘what counts’ as a premenstrual symptom, and by asking this question of both expert medical professionals and ‘PMS sufferers’, her study hopes to examine this tension around what differentiates a menstrual cycle-related change from a symptom of ill health.
Towards a critical understanding of the emergence, development and implementation of integrated care pathways for frail older people (CASE project with Age UK Lambeth, Age UK Lewisham & Southwark and the Health Innovation Network South London)
Integrated care pathways (ICPs) are ‘locally developed, multidisciplinary infrastructural technologies that map core interventions in a clinical trajectory and are simultaneously a workflow system and a record of care’ (Allen 2014: 808). ICPs have been widely used to improve quality and equity of care for patients with a range of health conditions. They have been proposed as a vehicle for clinical governance (Degeling et al 2005), embedding evidence-based guidelines into clinical practice (Allen 2014), and health care policy.
Farida’s study will explore these issues in the context of ICPs for frail older people in Lambeth and Southwark, South London. Although a number of ICPs for frail older people are being developed, evaluated and commissioned locally in the UK, little is known about different stakeholders’ perspectives of the benefits, limitations and unintended consequences of ICPs, and the contexts shaping their development and implementation in practice.
Emanuela Estera Boncea
Visualising infection transmission routes in order to identify, monitor and prevent antimicrobial resistant infection
Healthcare-associated infection (HCAI), and specifically antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the most pressing threats to global public health. The rapid worldwide emergence of AMR may render antibiotics, one of the greatest advances in medicine, obsolete. Approximately 700,000 people die annually as a result of multi-drug resistant bacterial infections; a figure which is estimated to rise to 10 million by 2050. Concurrently HCAIs are the most frequently encountered adverse event to threaten patient safety, affecting 4 million patients in the EU annually and causing an estimated 16 million additional bed-days. A reduction in HCAIs would aid in conserving the use of antibiotics, and therefore curb the spread of AMR in healthcare settings.
Estera’s proposed research aims to to develop a tool for tracking and visualising infections throughout a healthcare system. Acquiring and analysing timely data which allows the mapping of infection sources and visualisation of transmission routes is a key component of effective responses against AMR. This information can be used to dissect disease spread at an individual-to-individual level, and develop a quantitative evidence base for decision making. A specific area where this can be readily applied is the patient journey through a hospital network. During hospitalisation, patients visit many procedural and diagnostic common areas, presenting opportunities for transmission of infection. However, these potential exposures are not typically captured in analyses evaluating disease transmission. The proposed study will aim to use electronic health record data and in-silico simulations in order to study infectious disease outbreaks and hospital performance on key healthcare quality metrics.
Visualisation of these pathways will inform quantitative modelling of HCAI transmission, which will facilitate intervention development and targeting of infection control measures. Ultimately this will enable monitoring, feedback and decision making within hospitals.
The role of mathematical modelling for knowledge production in infectious disease outbreak responses: An evaluation of the extent of its application and the interaction between model producers and consumers (a CASE project with the GAVI Alliance and The Vaccine Impact Modelling Consortium)
Decisions about how to best respond to global health issues are increasingly being informed by results from mathematical modelling and economic analysis. The methods are complex and often viewed as a ‘black box’ by policy-makers who need to consider the findings from modelling against other types of evidence and data, as well as wider health system contraints and political and economic realities when making policy decisions. Evaluating how well producers of models articulate their findings, the limitations of their analyses, and how policy-makers understand these is important. Here, Paula will assess this in collaboration with the Vaccine Impact Modelling Consortium (VIMC). Established in 2016, the VIMC bring together over 20 epidemiological modelling groups from all over the world, all with a focus on vaccine impact modelling. The Consortium was established in response to an identified need by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This project aims to work in close collaboration with VIMC, governments, donors and other stakeholders to assess how the global vaccine model outputs are translated at the national level.
Social capital and mental health in homeless people
Whilst the European Parliament have recently increased efforts to promote access to good quality care and to reduce health inequalities, homelessness across Europe is on the rise. In England, estimates suggest that 4,000 people in 2016 were sleeping rough on any given night, up 21% from 2015. In London, rates of rooflessness have shown an estimated 3% – 7% increase over the last year. Homelessness has been well documented to have detrimental effects on mental health. Homeless people display elevated rates comparatively to the general public, of problems such as, depression, alcohol/drug dependence and psychoses. Despite their need for care, homeless people experience many barriers when trying to access services. Homelessness not only contributes to great distress amongst those affected, but places great strain on NHS services. Hospital admissions per homeless individual are four times that of the general public and on average homeless patients cost NHS services 4-8 times that of the general population.
As rates of homelessness are rising, it is increasingly important to develop an effective strategy to alleviate mental distress in those affected and to reduce homelessness. One innovative and unexplored avenue is to explore homelessness through the lens of social capital theory. Social capital refers to the social relationships within groups and communities. It comprises: bridging (ties amongst individuals within a homogenous group), bonding (ties amongst individuals of heterogeneous groups) and linking (ties with institutions of authority and power e.g. the government). Bonding helps people to get by and provides essential social cohesion and support, bridging helps people to get ahead and promotes societal respect and solidarity and linking helps to mobilise political resources and power.
Nadia’s research will focus on those who are roofless (those without shelter of any kind). It aims to answer the following questions: 1) to what extent do homeless people have social capital? 2) what are the advantages/disadvantages of bridging, bonding and linking for homeless people? 3) what is the role of social capital in mental health amongst homeless people?
Freebirthing in the UK: A Narrative Study
This project aims to understand the experiences of people who freebirth their babies in the UK. Freebirth occurs when someone intentionally gives birth without health care professionals present in societies where maternity services are available to assist them. People who freebirth will have all, some or no antenatal care.
Women who make this birthing decision are frequently stigmatised, yet existing research on the phenomenon suggests that women’s motivations are often complex. The response women receive from midwives and doctors when they voice their intentions to freebirth are often mixed and range from compassionate support to social services and police involvement.
Using in depth narrative interviews, the study explores four stages of the freebirth journey: relevant pre-pregnancy experiences (e.g. previous births), the freebirth pregnancy, the freebirth, and the post-natal experience. Data will be analysed using the Voice Centred Relational Method and explored within feminist and Foucauldian frameworks.
This project has benefited greatly from public and patient involvement. Most notably this has included input from the human rights charity AIMS (Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services) which supports women to navigate the maternity system.
Capturing and understanding the complexities of the treatment and recovery processes in adults with severe anorexia nervosa using a novel qualitative smartphone diary app
Anorexia nervosa is a severe condition with high psychiatric comorbidity rates, high mortality rates, and, in those who do recover, high relapse rates. Lack of long-term effective treatment suggests there is a need to clearly understand the underlying processes and maintaining factors in anorexia nervosa. My study aims to improve understanding of the experience of anorexia nervosa and treatment, and underlying processes that might affect response to therapy. The experiences of adults of going through treatment for severe anorexia nervosa will be sought using audio and text diaries, collected using a diary app. Using qualitative analysis methods and natural language processing methods, I will explore what it is like to actually go through treatment for anorexia nervosa, how people respond to and interpret treatment, and to ultimately identify how thoughts and feelings change over time through treatment, and what underlying processes are acting in severe anorexia nervosa.
The role of parents in reducing the transmission of infectious diseases in schools
When it comes to infectious diseases, children represent some of society’s most dangerous ‘super-spreaders,’ thanks to their close contact in school and sub-optimal hygiene behaviours. Because of this, vaccination of children and school closures are considered during major disease outbreaks, in order to prevent the spread of disease. Less drastically, public health advice to parents includes strict instructions to keep ill children at home until they are no longer infectious.
These rules are often flouted. One survey of 3,040 secondary school pupils in Norway found that 58% reported having attended school in the past year “despite feeling so ill that you should have taken sick leave”. In a survey of 1,042 British parents, 1 in 6 admitted that they would send their child to school even if she were currently experiencing diarrhoea or vomiting.
In this PhD we aim to reduce school presenteeism through a better understanding of its underlying causes. We have three objectives:
- To assess why parents send children to school with an infectious disease and hence identify interventions that may reduce rates of presenteeism.
- To trial our interventions.
- To work with parents and policy stakeholders to implement our interventions.
Child mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders in Sierra Leone: a mixed methods study
Sierra Leone has been burdened by a twelve year civil war and recent Ebola-virus outbreak. Such ‘population shocks’ with their attendant mortality, morbidity and societal disruption exacerbate chronic effects of poverty, limited resources, and poor governance. Half of Sierra Leone’s population are children; whilst mental health research has focused on increased internalised and externalised psychological distress in child soldiers, little attention has been given to mental health and neurodevelopmental problems in the child population overall.
Tope’s proposed project aims to produce both qualitative and quantitative evidence on country and culture-specific mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders. This will increase the depth of understanding and management of these disorders in Sierra Leone. The following research questions will be addressed: What is the prevalence of mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders amongst children living in Sierra Leone? What are the major risk and protective factors for these disorders? How do children’s caregivers and local stakeholders (e.g. policymakers, health professionals, educators, religious leaders and traditional healers) perceive these disorders? For caregivers, what are the help seeking behaviours and barriers to support seeking? What is the current service provision and what are the most prominent unmet needs?
Investigating Biological, Psychological and Social factors of early symptom emergence in ASD and ADHD: A longitudinal ‘high-risk’ study
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a moderate-to-highly heritable disorder (Messinger et al., 2015; Szatmari et al., 2016). ASD and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have also been found to have high rates of co-occurrence (Russell, Rodgers, Ukoumunne & Ford, 2014). There is research which highlights shared risk factors concerning genetic (Smoller, 2013) and environmental (Ronald, Pennell & Whitehouse, 2011) risks for the disorders, and possible mechanisms of resilience common to those at ‘high-risk’ for ASD and ADHD (Johnson, 2012).
Mary’s project proposes to utilise the high-risk longitudinal design within the British Autism Study of Infant Siblings, Studying Autism and ADHD Risks (BASIS STAARS) to investigate the emergence of early symptoms and development of ASD and ADHD. By adopting a multi-disciplinary approach, her research will aim to investigate the biological, psychological and social factors underlying causal mechanisms of ASD and ADHD.
Mortality and health service use in dementia and MCI- a mixed methods study
There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK. Dementia is the leading cause of extra deaths in older adults over the age of 70, with the highest mortality estimates found in the first year following diagnosis. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) describes cognitive impairment above normal levels, but does not meet the diagnostic criteria for dementia. MCI has been identified as a risk factor for dementia, and is estimated to affect between 6-12% of older adults over the age of 60. People with MCI also have an increased risk of mortality, compared with cognitively normal adults.
The prime minister’s challenge on dementia 2020 has identified dementia as a public health priority and highlighted the need for early diagnosis and intervention in dementia. Elyse’s research has the overall aim of investigating which services are used by people with dementia and people with MCI in the first year of diagnosis and the impact these have on mortality estimates.
Paula De Vries Albertin
Youth gangs and mental health: trajectories, risks, and resilience
Youth violence is a leading worldwide public health problem and a major cause of mental illness both in developing and developed countries. In Brazil, between 1980 and 2010, the rate of youth homicide (deaths by aggression among people under 20 years old) increased by 346%. The World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health suggests that, in Brazil, 39.7 % of deaths among young people between the ages of 15 and 24 in Brazil resulted from homicides, whereas, among adults, homicides accounted only for 1.8 % of deaths.
Young people who are exposed to violence often face multiple disadvantages (e.g. urban poverty, deprivation, overcrowding), all of which increase risk of mental health problems. Exposure to violence has been linked to increased rates mental health problems (e.g. depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation) and estimates suggest as many as one in three young people who offend have an unmet mental health need. However, the patterns of association between mental health and exposure to violence remain unclear, especially the relative effects of distal and proximal events and the cumulative effects of multiple exposure, and this limits our ability to intervene effectively.
The overall aim of my mixed-methods study is to investigate the interrelationships between exposure to violence, mental health outcomes, and service use in a sample of adolescents from highly deprived urban area in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Psychosocial development in gender nonconforming children
Gender expression refers to the way that children experience and express themselves in a masculine or feminine way, through their interests, friendships and clothing choices (Collaer & Hines, 1995). Those who do not follow the social norms expected for their biological sex are referred to as ‘gender nonconforming’. Recalled experience of childhood gender nonconformity (CGN) has been associated with a number of negative outcomes, including poorer mental health (Alanko et al., 2009; Roberts, Rosario, Corliss, Koenen & Austin, 2012; Roberts, Rosario, Slopen, Calzo & Austin, 2013), poorer relationships with parents (Alanko et al., 2009), and poorer relationships with peers (Roberts et al., 2013).
There are currently no prospective studies investigating the role of childhood reported CGN on mental health and wellbeing in adolescence and adulthood. Data from a birth cohort study, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), will be used in the proposed research to assess the prospective relationship between CGN as reported in childhood with a number of these outcomes. In addition to the quantitative analysis of the ALSPAC data, qualitative data will be collected to investigate in more depth the associations between CGN and distress. This will not only add further information, but will help to highlight whether there are discrepancies between how the children and their parents feel about the gender nonconformity. These findings, together with the quantitative analysis, will help to develop an understanding of how and when CGN leads to negative outcomes in mental health and relationships. This will have important implications for those who work with children, such as teachers, social workers and healthcare providers.
Psychological treatment access and outcomes for black and minority ethnic (BME) sexual minority adults with depression or anxiety (a CASE project with Talking Therapies Southwark & the South London & Maudsley NHS Trust)
Sexual minority adults (e.g. those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual) have higher rates of depression and anxiety than heterosexuals. Minority stress theory proposes that this is because of sexual minorities experiencing increased stigma and discrimination. Furthermore, sexual minority adults can fear or experience stigma from health professionals, which could affect treatment access or outcomes. Those who also have minority ethnicity may be even more likely to anticipate or experience stigma. This project will investigate treatment access and outcomes in primary care psychological therapies services by black and minority ethnic (BME) sexual minority adults with depression or anxiety. Participants will be interviewed about their treatment experiences and these interviews will be analysed for themes. Existing NHS data from psychological therapies services will be used to investigate treatment access and outcomes. The results of these studies will inform the development of an outreach programme aimed at improving access to primary care psychological therapies services for BME sexual minority adults. This project will be a collaboration with Talking Therapies Southwark, an Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service at South London and Maudsley NHS Trust. The NHS partners will provide access to a large clinical dataset and training in community outreach methods.
A Mixed Method Exploration of the Association between Autism and Central Sensitivity Syndromes
It is widely held in the autistic community, and amongst professionals in the field, that ‘Central Sensitivity Syndromes’ (CSS) such as Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) seem to be more prevalent in people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). To date, this link has not been formally investigated.
Sarah’s PhD project has several research goals; firstly, to establish whether there is an association between these illnesses and ASD; secondly, to explore whether any association is mediated by gender effects; thirdly, to look at common diagnostic experiences of people with CSS, and investigate how autism might affect the diagnostic journey; and finally, to explore how autistic traits might affect illness beliefs and management for those people with symptoms of both conditions.
The project takes a mixed method approach, with a quantitative study using structural equation modelling to explore the links between conditions, and a qualitative study of participants with symptoms of both ASD and CSS. Collaborators include Professor Simon Baron-Cohen (Cambridge Autism Research Centre) and Dr. Sander Begeer (Netherlands Autism Register).
Perinatal mental health and well-being among UK military spouses/partners (a CASE project with the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force Families Federations)
Clare’s PhD aims to understand perinatal mental health among the spouses and partners of military personnel using a mixed methods approach. The four objectives of the study are to:
- summarise the findings from the previous international literature on the perinatal mental health of military spouses/partners;
- examine the prevalence of perinatal mental health among military spouses/partners compared with women in the general population;
- explore the influence of having a partner in the UK military on the mental health and well-being of military spouses/partners during pregnancy and after childbirth; and
- conduct interviews with healthcare professionals and those in the military community with a remit for military family health, (e.g. charity representatives, military welfare), to understand service provider perceptions of military spouses/partners experiences during the perinatal period
There is currently a lack of UK research on perinatal health among military spouses/partners and how military life may influence their well-being during this time. While US research has been conducted in this field, cultural and military differences mean that factors identified as influential in previous studies may not apply in the UK. This project will be the first UK study of its kind. Its collaborative nature will provide an evidence-base regarding perinatal health among UK military spouses/partners and recommendations for supporting women and families during this time. The research will draw on the expertise of its academic supervisors and department at KCMHR and the support and guidance of the partner organisations from the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force Family Federations. Findings will also be shared with the Ministry of Defence to help inform the Armed Forces Families Strategy.
Perfectionism and student mental health: a pilot intervention based on compassion-focussed therapy
Over a quarter (27%) of UK students experience poor mental health (YouGov, 2016), and it is important that research is conducted to understand this so that universities can better ameliorate this distress. Research suggests student distress can be caused by unhealthy perfectionism (e.g. Shafran et al, 2002). This unhealthy ‘clinical’ perfectionism is defined as the strict measurement of self-worth against demanding standards, despite negative consequences (Shafran et al, 2002).
In response to gaps in existing literature, Robyn’s project will look at developing and testing a new intervention based on the principles of compassion-focused therapy to tackle self-criticism and perfectionism. This would aim to improve psychological well-being and academic performance in students. First, a quantitative and qualitative study would inform intervention development. This project would pave the way for an intervention that could influence both student well-being and university academic attainment. Drawing on a CBT model of perfectionism (Shafran et al, 2016), the essentials of compassion-focused therapy (Gilbert, 2009), and recommendations from qualitative investigation, the project aims to develop a group psycho-education intervention for academic perfectionism, for university students. This intervention will broaden an intervention that is known to be effective in helping with self-criticism (Rose et al, in press) to perfectionism.
Exploring social and genetic factors in the psychological treatment of anxiety and mood disorders (a CASE project with MindWave)
Anxiety and depression are highly prevalent and debilitating disorders, with huge economic and social costs. To address the large number of untreated individuals struggling with these disorders, the UK Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) initiative was started in 2008. IAPT provides evidence-based psychological therapies for patients with anxiety and depression in a primary care setting. However, substantial variation in responses to these treatments is evident, with roughly 50% of patients not showing significant improvements in symptom levels following treatment.
The aim of this research is to explore the social and genetic risk variables relevant to the outcomes of psychological treatments in IAPT. Specifically, it will (i) address whether social risk factors such as childhood trauma predict treatment response; (ii) extend the assessment of treatment response to include measures of social functioning; (iii) investigate psychosocial factors associated with the relationship between a history of childhood trauma and psychological treatment response; and (iv) incorporate genetic and social risk factors in the overall prediction of treatment response in IAPT.
This project will involve large-scale prospective recruitment of IAPT service users using an online recruitment platform. This will enable greater communication with participants as well as online data collection at pre-treatment, post-treatment and follow-up, including demographic and social information. Collaborating with the NIHR-funded BioResource at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience will enable the exploration of genome-wide polygenetic risk scores for anxiety, depression and risk of poor response to psychological treatment. Through this research, the potential to use social and genetic risk factors as predictors of the treatments that will be most beneficial to patients’ outcomes in IAPT will be explored.
Understanding the pregnancy and parenting experiences and maternity care needs of survivors of sexual violence in adulthood
Sexual violence (SV) is a form of gender-based violence and a global public health concern. Globally it is estimated that 35% of women have experienced domestic or sexual violence and in the UK approximately 14% of women have been sexually abused in adulthood. Survivors of SV are at a greater risk of developing perinatal mental and physical health problems. Thus, the perinatal period is a vulnerable time for survivors and maternity services play a key role in identifying and responding to needs.
A small body pf existing research has largely focused on experiences and needs of survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), highlighting how aspects pregnancy and maternity care can re-create past abuse. However, research with survivors of CSA may not be generalizable to survivors of adult sexual abuse (ASA). Siofra’s research will address these evidence gaps by conducting a systematic review of available qualitative studies examining experiences and needs of survivors of SV, interviewing survivors of ASA about their experiences of pregnancy, parenting and maternity care, and conducting focus groups with maternity care providers to explore how they can better support survivors.
Ageing well: Investigating the health and well-being benefits of participatory arts interventions for older adults (a CASE project with Entelechy Arts)
Ageing is a growing concern in many countries. In the UK, the number of older adults (age 65+) is set to rise to almost 25% of the population over the next 20 years (Age UK, 2013; ONS, 2015). Although people are living longer, they are not necessarily living well. Getting older has been associated with social isolation (i.e., loss of partner, friends, family members; exclusion from society), which can have a negative impact on health and well-being (e.g., feelings of loneliness, poor quality of life, development of illness; Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008; Perissinotto et al., 2012). Given these shifting demographics, novel, cost-effective solutions that help older adults to stay connected and age well are paramount. This PhD project will consider one such solution, participatory arts interventions (e.g., music, drawing, theatre, writing). Drawing from the social identity approach to health and well-being and knowledge about arts practice, this project will investigate how and why involvement in participatory arts interventions in general, and Entelechy Arts’ Meet Me at The Albany (MMA) programs in particular, reduce isolation and improve health and well-being over time.
Overcoming the Era of #FakeNews: A Contingency Learning Approach
In the age of the Internet, the increased prevalence of fake news is supporting an increase in beliefs that are not founded on evidence. Algorithms used by social media and search engines exacerbate the impact of false beliefs by favouring information that echoes people’s cherished ideas and beliefs. The resulting myths become increasingly difficult to eradicate. Research indicates that showing people facts is not enough to eradicate false beliefs (Yarritu & Matute, 2015). Clearly, a systematic, fundamental understanding of belief in fake news is essential to develop effective counter-measures.
At the root of false beliefs, such as those propagated by fake news, lies the phenomenon of contingency learning: the process by which people learn to associate one variable with another. Sahana’s objective is to understand this process in context of false beliefs. By doing so, she will develop a strategy to prevent false beliefs from forming and, consequently, prevent people from sharing these fake stories with others. Research into false beliefs by examining their roots in contingency learning may provide crucial insight into understanding and preventing the negative impact of fake news. To date, most work has been focused on either scenarios where participants make judgements of their control over events or they passively observed the relationship between two events.
Sahana will test if and how contingency learning shapes belief in fake news, by examining how people evaluate the truthfulness of a ‘news headline’ that claims a statistical relationship between two events (e.g. “cannabis oil cures cancer”) on basis of information presented to them. Similar headlines on different topics will be used to assess the universality of effects. This approach places the contingency learning paradigm in a context directly relevant to understanding belief in fake news. Based on these results a second pair of experiments will test how well and long effect of training to identify fake news will last.
Early detection and prevention of childhood anxiety
On average, in every primary school classroom in the UK about 6 children will experience clinically significant levels of anxiety. Celia’s PhD aims to improve our ability to detect children at risk of developing an anxiety disorder, and to help develop new and better targeted early interventions for them. We focus on arousal (stress) dysregulation, a core component of anxiety. In early infancy, parents are influential in helping their child to regulate arousal states. Parent-infant co-regulation is thought to contribute to the intergenerational transmission of anxiety, and be a tractable target for intervention. The primary research question examines how anxiety can be detected and prevented in early childhood. We hypothesise that (a) infant arousal dysregulation and parent responsivity interact to predict child anxiety in middle childhood, (b) parents with and without mental health difficulties regulate their infant’s arousal states differentially, and (c) a brief parent-mediated intervention improves parent regulation of infant arousal.
The first part of the PhD will involve a reanalysis of longitudinal dataset of clinically at-risk children (N = 150). This is in order to examine the relationship between psychiatric diagnostic assessments at seven years, infant arousal measures at 5, 10, 14, 24 and 36 months, and parent-infant interaction. The second part of the PhD uses naturalistic methods and a home visit battery, comparing mother and infants’ reactivity to ambient audio-visual stimuli and physiological covariation (N = 80). The third part of the PhD involves feasibility case study interviews to investigate patient perspectives on developing a stress regulation intervention for infants at-risk of clinical diagnosis.
Ageing, Social Cognition and Autism Spectrum Disorders (a CASE project with Autistica & Meet Me at the Albany)
This study will explore how social understanding skills change with age, whether these changes precede age-related decline of memory and other aspects of cognition, and what impact they have on mental and physical health and wellbeing. To do this we will be working with older autistic adults, and with the PROTECT study, an online study of >5,000 older adults (aged 50+) collecting longitudinal information on ageing and cognitive change.
Social isolation and loneliness in old age are associated with lower well-being, and higher levels of depression/anxiety. It has also been linked to greater age-related decline of various cognitive (e.g. memory) abilities, and increased risk of dementia. If social abilities decrease with old age, this may contribute to isolation – or vice versa – leading to worse mental and physical health.
Autistic adults, who have clinical-level social difficulties, often report feeling lonely, which is associated with depression and anxiety. This may put them at greater risk of age-related cognitive decline, and dementia. Very little is known about old age in autism.
By creating new tests of social understanding to use online and in person, this study aims to explore whether poor social skills are linked to cognitive decline and quality of life in old age.
Longitudinal associations between caregiving, sleep disturbance and health outcomes, among people aged fifty years and older
Unpaid caregiving by family and friends is crucial for many people needing care and support, in the context of increasing demand, but limited availability, of formal social care services (Brimblecombe et al., 2018). The Care Act 2014 places importance on maintaining caregiver health and well-being, however, little formal support for caregivers is available (Pickard, King & Knapp, 2015); and there is mixed evidence on the most important factors associated with caregiver health (Capistrant, 2016). One factor that may partially explain caregiver health, is sleep disturbance. Disturbed sleep has been linked to negative health outcomes such as obesity and cardiovascular disease (Ferrie et al., 2011); and separately, studies have indicated certain groups of caregivers are more likely to report poor sleep, particularly co-residential caregivers, working caregivers, and carers providing over 20 hours of care per week (for instance, Sacco, Leineweber & Platts, 2018). Yet, longitudinal caregiver health studies have yet to include sleep disturbance as a covariate.
Emma’s study aims to investigate the longitudinal relationships between characteristics of caregiving, sleep disturbance and health outcomes; assessing whether sleep disturbance may be a partial mediator of the relationship between caregiving and three markers of health: self-rated health, depressive symptoms and quality of life. The research focuses on caregiving among individuals aged 50 years and over, using three waves of data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, ELSA.
A recent publication can be found on Emma’s research profile- https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/emma-maun(ddf42e66-0162-4428-a489-194eb9443682).html
An intersectional approach to understanding common mental disorders and suicidality in minority university students
Research in young adults estimate that common mental disorders (CMD; depression and anxiety) and suicidality (i.e. suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, tiredness of life, death wishes) in early adulthood can adversely impact current and future key life domains including academic performance, employment, drug use, relationships; all of which exacerbate mental health problems.
First onset of CMD usually occurs before the age of 25, which is the typical university age in the UK and there are currently approximately 2.3 million students studying in UK universities. Therefore, universities are in the best position to promote positive mental health to a large number of young adults at an important transitional period, to potentially reduce the risk of the above mentioned adverse outcomes.
A lack of strong data in student mental health presents a barrier to implementing an evidence-based strategic response to concerns. Therefore, this mixed-methods study will collect much needed data into the experiences and mental health of university students, especially those from marginalised and minority backgrounds who are often unrepresented.
This study will ask students about their experiences studying at UK universities and what and how their experiences at university affects their mental health. This study will purposely approach minority and marginalised student populations who are often under-represented in research studies. A national survey will be launched to collect information about the prevalence of CMD and suicidality in the student population using validated questionnaires and more in-depth information about their experiences at university. Finally, culturally-sensitive resources for students struggling with their mental health at university will be co-developed from students studying at King’s College London and the feedback collected throughout the study.
The findings will be used to inform UK student mental health policies and procedures for universities and the development of appropriate health promotion initiatives, resources and interventions.
Evaluating effectiveness of open prison services within the OPD pathway. What drives success and failure in open prison services for high risk offenders?
Estimates suggest between 4.4 and 13 percent of the general population could meet the criteria for any personality disorder diagnosis (Coid, 2003). Within the criminal justice system, personality disorder is overrepresented with estimates suggesting 65% of male prisoners meet the criteria (Fazel & Danesh, 2002). Research has shown that treatment and intervention with this population is possible but research in the area is generally methodologically poor (Warren et al., 2003).
The Offender Personality Disorder Pathway (OPD Pathway) is a joint initiative between the UK Ministry of Justice and NHS England to provide psychologically informed services across the criminal justice system for high risk offenders who are likely to have a diagnosis of personality disorder (Joseph & Benefield, 2012). There is currently only one OPD service in an open prison (male). The service, known as Pathways Enhanced Resettlement Service (PERS), has a focus on high risk offenders who have a high likelihood of either reoffending or being returned to a secure prison environment. The OPD Pathway has now been successful in obtaining funding for PERS in an additional three open prison sites.
The aim of the PhD project is to undertake a mixed-method evaluation across all four OPD pathway open prison services. The research will aim to answer the overarching question; how effective are open prison (male) OPD services and for which offenders?
There is a general lack of research into open prison settings, especially related to how offenders with personality disorder face this adjustment. This research will have a significant impact on the understanding of OPD services in open (male) prisons and the causal factors involved with successful transitions to the community. This knowledge will subsequently impact the psychological wellbeing of offenders with personality disorder being released back into the community, as well as increased protection to the public.
Co-producing a cultural adaptation of The Body Project with Bangladeshi adolescent girls
Body dissatisfaction is a major public health concern, with serious mental health implications such as body dysmorphia and eating pathologies. To address this issue, Stice and colleagues have developed an evidence-base for dissonance-based interventions (DBI) for the alleviation of body dissatisfaction. The Body Project has evolved over the last 16 years, and has produced a small number of adaptations of the initial intervention scripts, resources and lessons plans. One of the features of the project has been the use of ‘peer leaders’ to deliver the intervention, as well as an adaptation of the traditional Body Project to be suitable for orthodox Jewish adolescent girls.
This study aims to build on these successful adaptations, by co-producing a new adaptation that is suitable for Bangladeshi adolescent girls in Britain, to be co-designed and co-delivered by experts-by-experience or ‘peer leaders’.
This study will then evaluate both the product and the process, by measuring the impact of the actual school-based intervention on local 13-18 year olds as well as assessing the impact of coproduction methodology on the peer leaders, with a hypothesis that being involved in the co-delivery of a DBI will in fact maintain recovery and prevent relapse of body dissatisfaction related disorders such as eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder.
Development and pilot evaluation of a teacher training to support children with developmental disorders in mainstream school settings in Ethiopia
Unmet educational needs have been identified as one of the largest service gaps for children with developmental disorders (DD) in Ethiopia. The main aim of my PhD is the co-development, piloting and evaluation of an inclusive education task-sharing intervention based on a cost-effective and easily-delivered manualised training of mainstream primary-school teachers aimed to promote effective support to children with DD. The development of this training will be informed by
– a systematic review of the existing literature on inclusive education interventions and teacher trainings to support to children with DD in high, low and middle income countries;
– a qualitative exploratory study, involving interviews to key stakeholders, to assess the main challenges faced by teachers and the educational system in meeting the needs of children with DD in school settings in Ethiopia and the possible ways to overcome them
The role of socio-economic adversity in the aetiology of depression: A multi-method investigation across international population-based cohorts.
Depression is a global public health problem, ranked as the leading cause of disability worldwide. Individual differences in depression are a product of complex processes that involve genetic and environmental influences. Research also suggests a role for gene-by-environment interactions, whereby genetic effects on depression are moderated by the environment. Environmental variation created by differences in socioeconomic factors experienced within and across populations may influence the contribution of genetic effects to depression. International and interdisciplinary research looking at the impact of socio-economic inequality on risk for depression is needed. Currently, the effect of socio-economic disadvantage on the heritability of depression within and across populations remains unexplored. The aim of my proposed project is to increase our understanding of the relationship between depression and measures of SES and income inequality using genetically informative, cross-national, population-based twin samples from Norway, Sweden, Sri Lanka and South Korea.
The research proposed in my studentship directly addresses the Life Course, Psychology and Health thematic pathway as it aims to examine the effects of socioeconomic disparity on the heritability of depression within and across populations that differ in prosperity. This research will help inform social and health policies which seek to provide more effective social provisions and interventions for mental health.
Understanding social, genetic and environmental risk factors across eating disorders
Eating disorders are severe psychiatric illnesses associated with greatly reduced quality of life (Ágh et al., 2016) and increased mortality, rendering them the most lethal psychiatric disorders (Chesney, Goodwin, & Fazel, 2014). The overarching aim of this joint KCL and Beat charity project is to explore the social and environmental risk factors for eating disorder using a re¬contactable resource of individuals with a lifetime diagnosis of eating disorders. Specifically, this is the UK Eating Disorders Genetics Initiative (EDGI) which launches in Feb 2020 (www.edrr.org.uk) and Charlotte’s Helix, which, together will allow Helena to contact >5000 individuals with lived experience of eating disorders. This is modelled on the Genetic Links to Anxiety and Depression project (www.gladstudy.org.uk), which is also led by Professor Gerome Breen.
Specifically, this ESRC funded studentship will examine (i) the different associations between social risk factors and eating disorders diagnosis and severity; (ii) the influence of health seeking behaviour on eating disorder risk; (iii) the influence of social support networks on outcomes; and (iv) does the integration of genetic risk factors add to the prediction of outcomes?
Shaping bulimia: an ethnographic analysis
Leonie’s study seeks to investigate the shaping and conceptualisation of the contemporary bulimic subject. It aims to answer the question: Who and what do we designate in the depiction, treatment, and portrayal of bulimia nervosa? Who is the bulimic, and how is her behaviour conceptualised, framed, and explained? The importance of these questions lies in the changing ways in which patient responsibility is taking shape today; new forms of treatment such as “shared decision-making” presuppose a responsible, “active” patient. Meanwhile, novel theoretical models are being developed in the field of bulimia specifically. New therapies, aetiologies and clinical explanations have a tremendous influence on the role the patient is expected to play, but also the experience of the illness.
To analyse these questions, Leonie proposes an analysis of two leading UK research centres that are both involved in the design and development of novel treatment models. Both these research units have developed contrasting models with regard to what it means to be bulimic, and what treatment is required. Analysing these models is vital, not only because it will provide us with insight into how bulimia is conceptualised, treated and depicted in the UK today, but because these models differ tremendously with regard to how the illness itself is defined, the patient’s role in their recovery, and the responsibility they have in their treatment. A part of this study consists of a discourse analysis of recovery blogs, which are written by women who practiced bulimia. In doing so, Leonie aims to include the voices of those who had been living under the description of bulimia, and how they conceptualise the experience and treatment of the disease. This will also help her to gain insight into how (ex)patients relate to their illness, and how they picture and portray recovery, or the lack thereof.
The effects of Fiscal Decentralisation on access to care and healthcare disparities: International evidence and the Italian experience
Fiscal decentralisation consists in the transfer of pooling and spending responsibilities from the central government to lower levels of governance within a country. Health sector fiscal decentralisation (FDH) has been central in the health policy debate as an option to achieve national cost-efficiency. However, its effects on access to care and healthcare disparities remain largely unexplored.
This research employs a mixed methods approach consisting of a systematic literature review, a thematic policy analysis, and a panel data analysis. The aim is to evaluate the effect of FDH in diverse country contexts; to explore FDH policy process in Italy and to estimate its impact on multiple dimensions of access to care – i.e. availability, accessibility, and utilisation of care – and on healthcare inequities in Italian regions.
Results and discussion
Overall, the implementation of FDH has a detrimental effect on the quality and provision of care, as well as on pre-existing disparities in health and access. In Italy, FDH policies gradually replaced central pooling of revenues with local earmarked taxes to fund regional healthcare services. The shift is correlated to cuts on the supply side and to reduced utilisation of care at local levels. Additionally, FDH decreased accessibility to local healthcare services and expanded regional medical tourism, the effect being stronger for patients residing in poorer areas. Results suggest that in Italy FDH has facilitated national cost control strategies at the expenses of reduced access to care at local levels. The effect perpetuates existing inequities between northern and southern regions of the country.
Social institutions of local markets to drive dietary changes in at-risk communities
Markets are community health assets where traders sell a variety of cheap, fresh produce. Ethnic minorities and economically disadvantaged groups often purchase food from local markets offering affordable and culturally familiar foods. There is untapped potential to promote public health in a novel and unique way by working with local markets.
The aim of Blessing’s research is to explore the potential for local markets to promote sustainable healthy eating among communities at risk of nutrition related disease with a particular emphasis on exploring how best to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables and reduce the consumption of sugar, salt and fats. Project methods will include: a review of the literature on market-based nutrition related public heath interventions to refine the research questions. A mapping exercise to identify local markets within proximity of deprived neighbourhoods. Concept mapping workshops will be conducted in each market to develop a conceptual (logic) model of implementation. A stakeholder panel will be recruited by purposive sampling to take part in semi-structured interviews, the concept mapping exercise and to advise throughout on the process of intervention development. Multidimensional scaling and hierarchical cluster analysis will then be used to visually summarise the relationships among the strategies. Intervention development & evaluation will use the findings from the concept mapping.
Blessing will collaborate with KCL Science Gallery to develop the digitalised materials. Small scale testing of delivery will be explored with 2 traders (e.g. fruit and vegetable trader, barber) over a 10-week period. Qualitative interviews and digital questionnaires will provide in-depth information on the effectiveness of the intervention. Process and outcome measures will use the RE-AIM framework (reach, effectiveness, adoption, implementation and maintenance). It will be important to evaluate the potential support of partners for sustainability.
Contextual determinants and participant perspectives on the common mental disorders and access to psychological treatments in UK ethnic minorities: Mixed methods study utilising data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys (APMS) (a CASE project with the National Centre for Social Research)
There are longstanding concerns in the UK that Black and Minority Ethnic people experience inequalities in access to mental health treatments. Black people are more likely to experience complex pathways into mental healthcare, with less contact with primary care and more experience of coercive pathways. Recently released data from the 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS), a nationally representative cross-sectional survey of individuals living in private households, indicated that Black respondents were less likely to receive treatments for Common Mental Disorders (CMD) than White British respondents. Black respondents with CMD were less likely to be prescribed antidepressants than White respondents and less likely to have reported seeing their GP for a mental health problem; low levels of psychological service access are noted in Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people, despite high levels of primary care consultation.
Several reasons for low levels of access to treatments by ethnic minority groups in the UK have been proposed. This includes concerns that general practitioners may not recognise CMD in people of an ethnic minority background, and may not make appropriate onward referral, especially if individuals present with somatic presentations for CMD. Psychological approaches which favour an individualistic versus a collectivist approach may be less acceptable for some ethnic minority groups. Anticipated discrimination from services, alongside differing cultural/explanatory models of distress may play a part. The use of alternative therapies, other forms of health-seeking and informal social networks may also play a role, not just restricted to ethnic minorities.
A recent finding is the observation that primary care recognition of depression and prescribing of antidepressants follows strong associations with own ethnic density, that is in areas of higher own ethnic density prescribing of antidepressants are lower than in areas of low own ethnic density for Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black African people, but not for Black Caribbean people. This is consistent with work using national data which has suggested a lower prevalence of CMD in areas of higher own ethnic density for UK Bangladeshi and Irish minorities, with similar trends for other minorities. Irrespective of ethnicity, mental health problems may be stigmatised and this may also impact on a person’s willingness to seek help.
This mixed methods PhD will use nationally representative data to establish reasons behind the treatment gap for CMD in ethnic minority groups in the UK.
Barriers and enablers to food security among people with disabilities
Poverty and vulnerability to food insecurity among disabled people is a growing concern. Research in the UK has shown that between 2004 and 2016 the probability of food insecurity increased for all adults, but the rise was significantly greater among adults with disabilities. People with disabilities appear to be more at risk of food insecurity than other groups, and among people using food banks, people with disabilities are also over-represented.
A lack of informal support or personal support networks is associated with lower social participation among people with disabilities. As a lack of informal support has also been found among people who face food insecurity, this may be a key driver of higher risk of food insecurity among people with disabilities.
This study is interested in understanding to what extent disability and associated disadvantages such as ill-health, multi-morbidity, personal and financial resources impact on food security.
Taking an integrative multi-methods approach, this research will use secondary data to conduct a cross-country comparison of risk and protective factors associated with food insecurity among people with disabilities. Qualitative interviewing will then be used to understand more about the experience of disability in relation to food security by exploring pathways into, or avoiding, food insecurity. Concept mapping workshops will then be used to begin to explore ways forward for interventions to prevent food insecurity among people with disabilities.
Nickolas Surawy Stepney
Morphine in India: An Ethnographic Study
Access to opioid medication such as morphine is a global concern. These are medications known to be effective in easing severe pain, but they are also known to be addictive. The high-level of opiate addiction in the USA is perhaps the most visible example of this issue. Elsewhere however, these medications can be extremely difficult to acquire, even in cases of dire need. India is the only licit exporter of opium, yet within the country itself only a tiny fraction of the population has access to morphine to treat severe pain. Focussing on the state of Himachal Pradesh, this project will interrogate the multiple factors underlying the uneven availability of this drug, and analyse how this uncertainty shapes the lives of those living with and without it.
In order to do this, a multi-sited ethnographic approach will be used. In taking morphine as an ethnographic object, this study will engage with three key research questions: I) What is the contemporary ‘biography’ of morphine in this location – how does it gain or lose status, how is it imagined, regulated and consumed? II) How does the history of opium production in this state influence this contemporary formulation? III) How do individuals interact with and medicate pain when adequate medication is frequently unavailable, and how does this interaction shape lived experience?
This project will therefore contribute to an anthropological understanding of pharmaceuticals, opium production, as well as pain and addiction. Further, it will provide an empirically grounded contribution to the ongoing global debates about the availability and use of opiate medication.
Remaking the Social: Biomedicine, Mental Illness and the New Epigenetics
A burgeoning area of developing research within the life sciences has begun to engage directly with the social. The gene, which was once heralded as the key to understanding human existence, disease and vitality, has recently been demoted by epigenetic research suggesting that the cellular environment in which it exists is highly susceptible to externally influenced modifications (Lock, 2013). Put simply, epigenetic research is the study of alterations in how a gene expresses itself according to a variety of internal chemical reactions as well as external environmental influences (Landecker and Panofsky, 2013). Additionally, breakthroughs in the brain sciences have pointed to similar testimonials: that the ‘neural architecture’ of the brain is not fixed by genetics, but is in a state of continuous reconstruction at a molecular level in response to both the environment and internal functioning (Rose and Abi-Rachet, 2013). These findings suggest that the body and its functions hold a great deal of plasticity – an ability to alter itself in response to changes in its internal and external environment.
Smoking cessation therapy provision in primary and secondary care in the UK
Smoking prevalence has reduced considerably over the past decades in England, with an estimated prevalence of 14.9% amongst adults in 2017. However, smoking remains one of the leading preventable causes of illness and premature death. The Tobacco Control Plan (TCP) for England (2017-22) highlighted smoking as one of the largest causes of health inequalities as smoking prevalence remains significantly higher in disadvantaged groups, including those with mental health conditions.
In the UK, comprehensive tobacco control strategies exist and there are several licensed smoking cessation therapies helping smokers to quit. More recently, unlicensed e-cigarettes have become the most popular cessation aid.
My PhD aims to establish how the provision of smoking cessation therapies has changed in the UK in recent years, and to investigate what effect a licensed e-cigarette (a less harmful alternative to smoking) may have on smoking cessation therapy provision and the rate of quitting.
Developing preventative approaches that address the social determinants of type 2 diabetes in high risk populations
Type 2 diabetes risk and prevalence is highest amongst certain ethnic groups and those of lower socioeconomic status. For diabetes prevention strategies to be effective at population level and in the most high risk groups, it is likely that they will need to address these social determinants in addition to focusing purely on individual-level behavioural approaches. Social Prescribing is an innovations being widely adopted within the NHS policy (including the recent ‘NHS long term plan’) as a way of addressing these social risk factors. It generally involves linking patients in primary care with community services offering employment, housing or financial advice, as well as a range of ‘healthy lifestyle’ activities, such us cooking classes, weight management or exercise programmes. Despite widespread national support, evidence for the effectiveness of social prescribing is currently sparse, its implementation is heterogeneous and complex, and it incorporates little robust evaluation across health domains.
My PhD aims to investigate whether social prescribing can contribute to comprehensive type 2 diabetes prevention by influencing its social determinants in populations at high risk. I will draw on realism to investigate the complex interpersonal, organizational, social and policy context in which social prescribing is implemented, and illuminate key domains and tensions at these different and interconnected levels. I will undertake a realist review to synthesize the current evidence base for social prescribing and its potential impact in diabetes prevention. The findings of the review will guide my empirical research, which will investigate how social prescribing relevant to people at high risk of diabetes ‘works’ in a multi-ethnic, socio-economically diverse community using qualitative, quantitative and realist methods. Building on the previous phases, I will develop a ‘transferable framework’ that will potentially guide implementation and evaluation of social prescribing relevant to type 2 diabetes prevention at scale.
Unconventional Monetary Policies in the UK, estimating their impact using shrinkage and persistent volatility
Two main strands in econometric analysis literature for macro-econometrics and finance are structural change and volatility modelling and high-dimensional regressions. For these two strands, Ilias proposes a framework that has the potential to create a number of contributions. First, empirical work has concluded that variation in volatility is very persistent, a feature illustrated in estimated parameters that lie close to the boundary for stationarity. This implies that volatility can be characterised by persistent and possibly non-stationary processes. In this content Ilias proposes the use of a kernel volatility estimator (KVE) that has the potential to adequately fit the observed behaviour of volatility.
Second, the growing availability of large datasets in the last ten years can potentially assist econometricians under the assumption that they carry rich and relevant information. Their size creates an “ill-posed” problem where even basic methods as ordinary regression cannot work. In this content Ilias proposes a different estimator that generalises the above. Specifically, he will not impose a specific number of norm-penalties but instead envisions an estimator that includes a vast number of norm-penalties, whose performance will be assessed by Cross-Validation and out of sample forecasting. The benefit of this procedures is that while agnostic to the number of norm-penalties to include apriori, a penalisation scheme is produced that can potentially work in a different way for each dataset and can yield better results. Assessing the performance of this estimator requires MC with synthetic datasets.
In terms of the empirical applications, Ilias’s estimators are natural candidates to examine first the volatility that exists in stock indexes and whether parameter estimates obtained from the KVE procedure are better in forecasting. Further both the KVE as well as the shrinkage estimator can help us to potentially examine the effects unconventional monetary policies, as employed by the Bank of England, had in the real economy and whether the effect deteriorated after their initial employment.
Measuring the aggregate effects of Unconventional Monetary Policies
In the summer of 2007, the US economy experienced a financial meltdown in which the burst of real estate bubble in conjunction with vast and growing imbalances played a significant role. At this point, the long-lasting beliefs about the role of Central Banks and existing policy instruments were challenged. Despite the attempts of the Central Banks to mitigate recession by manipulating interest rates, it soon became evident that the conventional monetary policy toolkit was not influential enough to restore the economic welfare.
Eleni’s aim is to evaluate the non-standard policy tools that the Central Banks [the European Central Bank (ECB), Federal Reserve (Fed) and Bank of England ( BOE)] executed in order to boost economic activity from the onset of the financial crisis. In particular, for each currency union, she will assess the measures undertaken and their joint impact on key macroeconomic variables. Furthermore, Eleni will give critical focus on how the transmission channels of those actions performed in the restoration process of the impaired banks.
Challenges of accessing mainstream capital for impact investment
Grace’s project explores the structural and semiotic aspects of investment in the impact investment market, with a particular focus on the challenges and barriers to making such practices mainstream, both culturally and structurally. Impact investing can be broadly defined as investing not just for financial return, but also to achieve a positive social and/or environmental impact. The industry faces a number of hurdles on its path to growth and scale, each one a potential barrier to access mainstream capital. Barriers include: how to define ‘impact’, how this is measured, the legal framework for the market, how investments are structured, how investments are packaged, communicated and perceived. These barriers in turn relate to a much broader societal and cultural understanding of the perception of financial markets, and the potential and limitations capital has to effect positive change in society.
The potential for impact investing to have positive social and environmental effect is considerable, and Grace’s research could contribute towards a greater understanding of how the impact investing model and approach could become more widely dispersed. Grace proposes to develop a research framework that will further demonstrate the utility of ‘new economics’ and contribute to the evolutionary economics discourse – which draws on a broad range of theories, frameworks and methods, and is highly interdisciplinary – involving economist, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and biologists. The concept of “Generalized Darwinism” refers to the sociocultural application of the three Darwinian principles of variation, selection and retention. Generalized Darwinism argues that if this metatheory can be used for complex, evolving biology, it can also be applied to other complex, evolving systems.
Darius Jenner Pullinger
Distributed Ledger Technologies and Smart Contracts: Challenges and Opportunities for the London Insurance Market (CASE project with Lloyd’s of London)
Ledgers are ancient tools for recording assets such as money and property. Modern advances in technology have enabled the existence of a distributed ledger – a database that can be shared and updated simultaneously (and transparently) across all users of a system without each user having to separately amend its own records. The radical nature of this technology (DLT) arises in conjunction with other applications, such as ‘smart’ contracts – in which contract terms can be automatically executed by a computing system. Darius’s proposes to investigate these technologies via themes that have emerged from a preliminary survey of the topic. Understanding how these technologies are being taken up and how the industry adds value enables an analysis of how the market can adapt.
DLT and related technologies rely on two types of code: legal and technical – the right balance needs to be struck. As humans still must define the rules legal code is still of central importance. Who should be subject to those rules? With increased mechanisation control becomes more centralised – what does this mean for a human being’s relationship with rules and the law? Finally, it can be said that DLT and associated technologies are at the radical end of the change spectrum – how could this come about and what effect could it have on society? A sense of the radical emerges through the dramatic effect such technology can have on hierarchies and the increased level of complexity that such technology brings to commercial and human relationships.
An Investigation into the Effect of Organisational Culture on Behaviour & Preferences
Behavioural and experimental economics has been successful in bringing fresh insights to mainstream economic theory. The literature has identified the (non-)existence of preferences that lie outside of the traditional model of economic man, and investigated the impact of immediate context on behaviour (Tversky & Kahneman, 1981; Zizzo, 2010). What is missing from a lot of the literature, however, is a satisfactory explanation of what mechanisms bring about these exotic preferences. Rather than only considering preferences as ex-ante determinants of career choice (the ‘mission-matching’ hypothesis), our research question concerns whether the culture of the organisation (the public sector) changes the preferences of recruits over time. In general terms, Oliver’s hypothesis is that preferences are not exogenous or individualistic but are in part learned in through organisational membership.
The effect of ‘culture’ has been considered in literature on Political Economy and Economic History on a national level. We believe that Nunn’s (2012) notion of culture as “heuristics or ‘rules of thumb’ that have evolved given our need to make decisions in complex and uncertain environments” may be just as important at the level of the workplace as the nation. At the most basic level, individuals in different organisation are required to learn starkly contrasting skills and behaviours and interact with a variety of people in distinct ways (think of investors and teachers). Moreover, organisational characteristics may cause members of separate organisations to experience similar situations in contrasting ways. It is these rules, interacting with the responsibilities of the role, which generate ‘organisational culture’. Indeed, it is these “decision making heuristics or ‘rules of thumb’ that have evolved” (Nunn, 2012) within an organisation, and their effects on individual behaviour within the workplace and beyond, that the project is interested in.
The project will begin by running experiments on students within different University departments. The idea is that students within different departments are like employees of different companies in that they have experiences that are unique to their course and/or department, and are also rewarded or punished for certain preferences in ways that will be peculiar to their own subject choice. Experiments would build on existing methodologies to elicit, for example, pro-social motivation (Banuri & Keefer, 2016) or tastes for risk (Eckel & Grossman, 2008). However, Oliver will run the experiments at intervals throughout the students’ academic progression. The data from treatment and control groups could then be fed into an econometric model which tests for significant changes in behaviour over time.
Deep Learning architectures in macroeconomics and finance
Felix’s research focuses on now-casting and forecasting macroeconomic variables such as GDP, inflation or rate of unemployment in the United Kingdom and other developed economies using deep neural networks (DNN). The thesis will make three key contributions to current research: First, in the context of macroeconomic forecasting, the application of deep neural networks is not fully explored yet. Secondly, a data-driven algorithm is presented to derive an optimal network structure for a multi-layer radial basis function network. Thirdly, to the best of our knowledge, no research has yet been conducted in the field of macroeconomic and financial forecasting using datasets with up to 50,000 variables. The thesis therefore presents an unprecedented empirical study which also includes state-of-the-art innovations in methodology. It aims to not only impact the academic discourse but also to make relevant contributions to the non-academic world. The research combines large amounts of data including (macro-) economic and financial variables as well as “Big Data” such as Twitter sentiment or Google Trends data. To the best of our knowledge, such extensive datasets have not yet been applied in the macroeconomic forecasting literature partly due to the problem of overfitting.
Assessing the Performance of an Inter-market Trading Strategy in the Low and High Frequency Domain Based on Historic Data Using a Machine Learning Approach
An interesting application and expansion of deep learning concepts will be pioneered in Benjamin’s research by applying them to high frequency order book data, namely using machine learning tools to derive a high frequency trading mechanism. NVWAP (Notional Volume Weighted Average Price) curves are governed by four statistics: steepening/flattening and contraction/expansion. Contraction/expansion of NVWAP curves is quantified by computing the change in total volume on both, the bid and ask-side of the limit order book. This concept should be taken and further developed by machine learning tools to derive whether an automated trading system could operate profitably in practice. For this, the data should be separated in various chunks serving as input for the deep neural net. Its findings should then be applied on trading real time markets to evaluate whether a profitable operation is achievable. To appreciate inter-market relations, two or more correlated assets can be investigated simultaneously to derive trading decisions.
The science of machine learning is quite new compared to the concepts of finance and investments. Given recent developments in terms of the amount of data recorded and accessible, and modern computing technology, it is worthwhile to search for synergy between the two subjects and scan the data for patterns that have not been obvious for market participants before. Recent major advances in combining advanced computational tools and finance further motivate to do so. One of the most recent tools in machine learning are deep neural nets (DNN). A deep neural network (DNN) is an artificial neural network with multiple hidden layers of units between the input and output layers. For example, one can build deep neural networks for modelling mortgage delinquency and prepayment risk using a dataset of over 120 million prime and subprime mortgages and simulate mortgage portfolios for risk analysis purposes. It was even found that some of the classical theory in finance such as the efficient market hypothesis might be challenged by deep learning. Yet another motivation is to apply deep learning to discover trading strategies not yet executed in the markets. A neural net could be trained on entering and exiting futures markets and optimize its decisions based on past experience.
Laura Pérez Cervera
Research project title: Internet and the Allocation of U.S. Federal Expenditures
Politicians channel more public resources to voters informed about politics so as to increase their chances of re-election. The dramatic change in the news media market poses the need to study whether this evidence is also present in areas with high Internet access, since it has increased the bulk of information available to citizens. In this project I study whether U.S. counties with high Internet access receive more funds from the federal government in the period of fastest Internet adoption (1999-2008). The preliminary results show that it is indeed the regions where access to this technology is lower the ones that receive more federal funds. This agrees with previous evidence on entertainment media. Further work will focus on the composition of voter turnout, being one of the potential mechanisms driving these results.
The Political Economy of Fiscal Rules and Financial Markets: Why, When, and How does the Market Enforce Rules
My research focuses on the interplay between fiscal rules and financial markets and specifically seeks to answer questions about when and how countries decide to adopt fiscal rules, if non-democracies can credibly uphold such rules through financial market pressure, and under what conditions financial markets hold sovereigns accountable for breaking the rules. The research intends to feed the broader debate about institutional responses by the IMF and the EU to the great recession and test the assumptions upon which existing market stabilizing institutions rest. Results will contribute to the development of international best practice for FRs and be relevant for markets, policymakers, and the broader public. Understanding FRs under different political regimes is also important to ensure the legitimacy and integrity of transparency based fiscal governance in a turbulent age.
Profiling UK regulated professions by ethnicity and sex, and ways to improve their representativeness
Mursheda’s project examines the distribution by sex and by national origin or ethnicity [subsequently called just ethnicity for short] of members of UK regulated professional bodies, such as accountants, doctors, engineers and solicitors. The intention would be to see if some groups, such as Bangladeshi women, are significantly under-represented, whether the situation has changed over recent decades, and what steps are being or could be taken to improve the representativeness of the chartered professions and other professional groups. The project will also examine any barriers to the advancement of minorities within their professions.
The methodology proposed is to compare the surnames and the given names of the professionals with two large proprietary databases of names that have been classified by ethnicity and by sex. This analysis of the composition of the professions will be complemented by surveys of their members, especially those of ethnic minorities and women, in order to learn about the difficulties (if any) that they faced on gaining entry and in seeking to advance their careers. It would also ask about external help that they received, including financial assistance and advice from mentors or family members. Work with the administrative staff of the professional groups would then explore ways in which they could improve the inclusiveness of their professions. This would not only promote social and ethnic cohesion, but also provide a source of additional professional talent.
The Political Economy of AI-driven Automation and Technological Change: Effects on Income Inequality and Policy Responses
In recent years, leaps in the field of artificial intelligence (Silver et al., 2016) fuelled by fierce competition between powerful players such as Google, Apple and Amazon (Pratt, 2015), have produced intelligent machines and algorithms capable of completing non-routine tasks. Coupled with the falling cost of robotics (Graetz and Michaels, 2015), these developments are creating profound potential for human labour to be automated (Benzell et al., 2015; Brynjolfsson and McAfee, 2014; Citi GPS, 2016; Ford, 2015; Pratt, 2015; Sachs et al., 2015). Indeed, one influential study has forecast that such AI-driven automation could displace as much as 47% of workers in the USA in the next two decades (Frey and Osborne, 2013).
Commentators from academia, the business world and wider civil society have suggested a range of policies to mitigate any potential negative effects of AI-driven automation; however, it is not immediately clear which policy responses will most effectively share the benefits associated with AI-driven automation throughout society, or which are capable of winning popular support. Karen proposes a five-stage programme of research to explain the factors most likely to affect the level of adoption of AI-driven automation, and to compare the economic and political viability of a range of possible progressive policy responses: Stage 1: Investigating the influence of political factors during periods of technological change Stage 2: Identifying potential progressive policy responses to the increasing automation of work Stage 3: Explaining variation in the economic effects of the different policy responses in the context of AI-driven automation Stage 4: Explaining variation in the popularity of the different policy responses Stage 5: Development of policy recommendations.
Women’s experiences of entrepreneurship in the context of East London
Sarah’s research project will investigate the factors that determine women’s ability to become entrepreneurs and maintain entrepreneurial activity in a sustainable and meaningful way in East London. Using a broadly interpretivist approach, her research will collect and analyse new empirical evidence drawn from in-depth interviews to demonstrate how the privileges and disadvantages related to intersecting social positions of gender, race and ethnicity, class and motherhood are experienced by female entrepreneurs in East London. It will use this evidence to explore the idea, often discussed in the context of developing economics, that entrepreneurship can lift women out of poverty.
Sarah’s project will also link women entrepreneurs’ experiences and the creation of entrepreneurial identities to the space they inhabit and work in. A further premise to be explored is that when female entrepreneurship is located close to the home, or within the home it can act as a powerful agent of social and urban change.
eHRM and (Post)Human Perfectibility
A dominant discourse in the present era is the assertion and promotion of an individual’s capacity for constant (and limitless) development and improvement. This is especially prominent within the managerial context, particularly in regard to Human Resource Management (HRM), a discipline founded upon a theorisation of the employee as a human resource — an asset — which needs to be made to grow, adapt, and supply a continual return on investment. Moreover, the increased application of information technology to the HRM field — giving rise to a new subfield of ‘electronic’ HRM (eHRM) — assures an expansion of HRM’s capacities to collect, monitor, and measure employee ‘human capital’ metrics. An overarching research aim is thus a problematisation of this notion of human perfectibility, exploring its role in the production of power and subjectivity, at the site of HR e-Learning software. Adopting a critical posthuman perspective (e.g. Braidotti, 2013), alongside the philosophy and techniques of software studies (e.g. Fuller, 2003, 2008; Kitchin & Dodge, 2011; Manovich, 2013), the focus is aimed at the organisational software infrastructure, in which the ‘human’ subject is immersed, fragmented, and re/constructed within the datafied organisation.
Social entrepreneurship: Organisational change to increase social impacts
Social entrepreneurship can be seen as a mode of business that prioritises the solution of social and environmental problems over the maximisation of financial profits. This mode may occur in various organisational settings, including in organisations that are dedicated to it, known as social enterprises; in conventional businesses that embrace elements of the field of charity; and in conventional charities that embrace elements of the field of business. The majority of social enterprises are small and have limited resources, and while conventional businesses and charities may be relatively large and resource-rich, their engagement in social entrepreneurship is often resisted by forces associated with prevailing institutional logics. John is interested in how the three kinds of organisation change in order to overcome the resource limitations or resistive forces and thereby increase the extents to which they create social value.
If blockchain is the answer, what is the question? The legal and economic implications of using blockchain technology in container shipping
The project will examine the legal implications across the global supply chain of replacing paper transport documents with blockchain records in container transportation.
The use of blockchain can result in many advantages: as a secure technology, it has the potential to reduce fraud, as an electronic platform granting simultaneous access to real-time data to multiple participants in the supply chain, it has the potential to reduce delays and because it does away with the need for manual processing of information recorded on paper, it would inevitably reduce administrative costs and errors. However, the legal framework to enable and regulate potential blockchain alternatives to paper is as yet very undeveloped and there is a risk that there will be a formal legal void surrounding their use and the associated risks.
This research will therefore focus on the following key questions:
1. How may blockchain be used to replace paper bills of lading? How might blockchain alternatives interact with insurance and international payment systems? Could they give rise to new and innovative trade finance solutions?
2. What are the key legal issues raised by the development and use of Blockchain transferable records operating on global trade platforms?
3. How would the legislative environment need to change in order to accommodate the emerging global trade blockchain platforms?
How does the use of narrative nonfiction in the Key Stage 2 history classroom affect learning, specifically in comparison to the use of nonfiction?
Narrative is thought to be the ‘fundamental instrument of human thought’ (Turner, 1996:4), yet within the Key Stage 2 classroom, narrative is usually confined to the teaching of specific English skills (Duke, 2000; Kiris et al., 2011). If narrative is so fundamental to human cognition and thought, perhaps it should be utilised more widely across the primary curriculum to teach a range of subjects such as history. However, there are concerns that using narratives in the history classroom might reduce history to myth (Barthes, 1993), as narratives are not always factual. To counteract these concerns, narrative nonfiction is proposed as a potential solution. Emma’s research aims to compare the impact of nonfiction and narrative nonfiction on history learning in the Key Stage 2 classroom. Two phases of research will be conducted to do so. Firstly, a survey will be emailed to Year 5 and 6 teachers in approximately 16,500 schools across England, exploring teachers’ understandings of narrative nonfiction as a genre and how teachers categorise text extracts. The second phase of research will involve a comparative experiment with an intervention, bringing narrative nonfiction into a classroom environment. It will involve a participant sample of four Year 5 history classes, with two classes from two different primary schools, producing a sample of approximately 100 children.
The Making of Teachers: A study into the differing experiences of PGCE students in university and school based initial teacher training environments.
Sarah’s research focuses on the experiences of secondary English beginning teachers and how the choice of PGCE environment impacts on their development as practitioners. The research project title alludes to Pam Grossman’s seminal book ‘The Making of a Teacher’ (1990) where she suggests that, ‘Teacher education can provide a framework that shapes what beginning teachers subsequently learn from experience.’ p111. Inherent within this premise is the tension between learning ‘from experience’ and the relevance of theoretical study, an idea developed further by Grossman in later works that advocate practical methods in teacher training.
An ‘on the job’ (Cochran-Smith 2005) approach to the development of teachers prioritises school-led systems over the traditional home of teacher education in universities. It is intended that the research will illuminate the differing approaches to learning and teaching practices in university and school-based initial teacher training. The development of in-depth understanding of the cultures of both university and school-based PGCE settings could help to inform future policy decisions around the nature and location of initial teacher education and the relationship between universities and schools.
Uncovering the link between mindfulness and sustainability – an experiment
Mindfulness is defined as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally to the unfolding experience, moment by moment”. The positive effect of mindfulness on people’s well-being, cognitive abilities and behaviour has been proven by medical, psychological and organisational research. Consequently, mindfulness has evolved to a business worth over one billion USD with an increasing number of companies investing in in-house mindfulness activities to boost productivity of their employees. Newer research is exploring how mindfulness affects “sustainable behaviour”, which we understand as a more ethical, pro-social and pro-environmental, behaviour. Publications advocate the potential of mindfulness for supporting the transition to a sustainable society.
Ute’s study seeks to explore whether there is a causal relationship between mindfulness and sustainability in business settings, reflected in the following research question: to what extent does a regular mindfulness practice increase the sustainability awareness of employees? This mixed-methods research is constructed around an experiment with 50 to 100 employees from diverse companies, who have never practiced mindfulness before.
Democratic schools: critically exploring their significance for education policy
Democratic schools’, though diverse, share the foundational belief that schools should be places in which young people (and teachers) are democratically empowered to determine a wide range of factors affecting school life, and in which there is largely equal decision-making power between pupils and staff. There are over 250 democratic schools around the world; the oldest and perhaps most famous example being A.S. Neill’s Summerhill (est. 1921). Yet, despite their long history, democratic schools are subject to surprisingly little contemporary public or academic debate.
Yet democratic schools are of great relevance to contemporary policy challenges. Modern democracy is in troubled waters: far-Right movements across Europe and north America threaten fundamental democratic ideals, while the so-called ‘democratic state’ faces critical appraisal, as growing numbers question whether the neoliberal economic structures underpinning most modern democracies are compatible with the principles of freedom and social justice that democracy supposedly upholds. In such a contested sociopolitical context, the exploration of any educational philosophy claiming to better equip the next generation of citizens to protect and/or re-imagine democratic governance takes on critical significance. Meanwhile, it is widely believed that the UK’s mainstream school system is in urgent need of review: a multitude of studies suggests that the system is failing not only to promote democratic engagement but also to fulfil other fundamental educational outcomes such as basic skill acquisition, ‘life-worthy’ knowledge, mental well-being and creativity. It is possible that democratic schools – because democratic participation is at the heart of both their structure and pedagogy – may offer a more effective means of embedding student voice and choice in school life.
Given the potential contribution of democratic school practice to the policy challenges above, Freya’s study aims to contribute to reintroducing democratic schools into the mainstream education debate. The study will draw on fieldwork in 8 – 10 democratic schools around the world, involving both observation and direct interviews with children and staff.
Exploring the political engagement, learning and development of young Muslims in West London
Peter’s research will explore the social, political and ethical ideas and political engagement of socially progressive young Muslims and their use of Islam as a means of thinking through personal, political and social issues while simultaneously embracing democratic and pluralist values. His study will focus on young people with an existing interest in social justice and, in some cases, an active political engagement. It will explore why they became interested in politics, their understandings of the contemporary social and political world and the meanings they attach to their actions within a wider conceptual framework that combines a focus on Islamic values, ethics and imagery and a variety of socio-political factors.
Independent state school partnerships (ISSPs): a critical exploration of partnership enactment
In 1997 the Labour government charged independent schools with sharing their facilities and their teachers with local state maintained schools (DFEE, 1997). The first ‘independent state school partnerships’ (ISSPs) were centrally funded the following year, and by 2017 the Independent Schools Council reported that 88% of its schools were involved in some form of partnership with schools in the maintained sector (ISC, 2017ii). Although ISSPs have existed for over twenty years, published accounts are mainly progress reports or evaluations (Sharp et al, 2001; Ofsted, 2005; Armstrong, 2015). In one more analytical exploration, Lucas et al (2017), conducted a ‘rapid review of the extent of current [ISSP] activity and the existence of any evidence of impact’ (p4) in 2017, which revealed that partnerships can bring significant benefits for pupils, teachers and schools; such as opportunities for ‘academic learning’, sharing ‘best practice’ and access to facilities (p16).
This study explores these partnerships; what they are; how they are understood by the different participants; how power relations shape them; what is claimed for them and what costs and gains, both tangible and intangible, are involved in enacting them across different types of schools. It investigates the nature of ISSPs and their enactment in practice, considering their impact on state and independent school leaders, teachers, pupils and their schools. It explores the ways in which collaborative work and partnership is actually ‘done’ in ISSPs and seeks to uncover the ‘jumbled, messy, contested, creative and mundane social interactions… (and) negotiations and coalition building’ (Ball, et al. 2012: 2) that make up the process of doing policy in schools.
With increasing government interest in, and commitment to, cross-sector collaboration, and given the regular concerns about their charitable status, governments have looked to independent schools to do more to broker partnerships with the state maintained sector (DfE, 2016; ISC, 2016ii). These ISSPs are in the vanguard of policy and it is both timely and important to question their significance, their role and their effectiveness.
Normative Regulations of Discourses About Misunderstood Sexual Obsessions: a Netnographic-Supported Corpus Linguistic Study
Although Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is stereotypically associated with cleanliness, order, symmetry, and perfectionism, it is unknown to the wider (clinical) population that intrusive sexual thoughts are commonly experienced by up to 25% of OCD sufferers (Grant et al. 2006). Since sexual obsessions are under-studied, they are often dramatically misunderstood and misdiagnosed (Glazier et al. 2013). Ignoring that they are – unlike sexual fantasies – unpleasant (Gordon 2002), therapists might wrongly identify them as symptomatic of e.g. pedophilia, or internalized homophobia. Researchers argue that genetics and sociocultural factors may shape the content of obsessions (e.g. Fontenelle et al. 2004; NICE 2006), and that moral judgments surrounding gender/sexuality create sexual obsessions (Gordon 2002). While discourses of gender and sexuality generally reflect normative regulatory forces (Cameron & Kulick 2003), no studies have explored how normativity shapes sexual obsessions precisely.
By mixing quanti-qualitative corpus linguistic (CL) approaches with critical discourse analysis (CDA), Elvis’s netnographic-supported interdisciplinary study aims to further knowledge of the under-researched and misunderstood manifestations of sexual obsessions in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Rooting the current project in Health Communication and Queer Linguistics, the study will contribute to theoretical discussions of normativity in sociolinguistics and promote the use of CL in humanities research more broadly that could inform clinical understandings of mental health. The results may improve the clinical assessment of these often-misdiagnosed obsessions. Moreover, the project carries an action-oriented goal in the creation of an online forum to support and guide sufferers to appropriate treatment.
A sociolinguistic approach to the identity construction of and medical discourses about women with a late diagnosis of autism.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by unusually
restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests, and impairments in social communication abilities (Hiller et al. 2016; Lauritsen, 2015). There is some ambiguity over the precise male-female ratio, but in general, more male than female individuals are diagnosed with autism (Lai et al., 2014a), and women receive their diagnosis at a later age than men (Begeer et al., 2013). It has been argued that women are often diagnosed later because the clinical symptoms of autism are expressed differently in females or because of an inherent gender bias in the screening and assessment tools (Baldwin et al., 2016; Kirkovski et al., 2013; Lai et al., 2014b).
To date, the vast majority of research on autistic women has been situated within the biomedical fields (Sweileh et al. 2016) and very few linguistic studies on autistic women have researched diagnosis and identity construction. Therefore, there is a need for empirical linguistic approaches to women’s first-hand accounts of the process of receiving a diagnosis of autism. In this PhD, Annelies will primarily draw upon the sociolinguistic framework of small stories (Georgakopoulou, 2007), which advocates the potential of non-canonical stories as information sources on collaborative identity construction and offers an alternative to the common clinical approaches to researching autism.
An experimental and qualitative study on the perception of offensive language
‘Swear words’ are included in a subset of language known as ‘offensive language’. They are words which break a historic societal taboo, such as religious defamation, scatology or sexuality, to express the speaker’s emotional state (Jay and Janschewitz 2008: 268). Matthew’s proposed research will examine the correlation between the level of offense that is physiologically measurable in a person exposed to swear words and their ability to accurately report their perception of that offense. A number of studies have analysed the reporting of emotional responses to swear words, e.g., rating swear words in offensiveness from 1-10 (Beers Fägersten 2007). Others have used an experimental methodology to measure a person’s emotional response to swear words e.g. by measuring skin conductance responses (Harris et al, 2003). However, no research has been done on whether the two approaches can be combined to improve our understanding of how a word can be considered offensive when physiological evidence suggests that it is not. Matthew’s research will compare the validity of each approach and the extent to which sociolinguistic factors (cultural norms, social expectations and discourse context) create a gap between reported and unconscious responses. The research will also report on how aware the participants are of what might affect their reactions, given that offensive language is typically emotionally laden.
Beirut Looks – Racial Capital, National Aesthetics, and the Female Body
Leoni’s study investigates fashion and commercial models’ embodiment of racial and linguistic capital within Beirut’s fashion modelling industry. Taking the example of Beirut as the fashion metropolis of the Middle East, this study explores the impact of conflicting hegemonic neocolonial narratives of racialized and nationalized aesthetics on female Lebanese models as aesthetic labourers. Rooted in Lebanon’s colonial history and ethno-religious diversity, Beirut’s fashion industry is strongly marked by conflicting racial and national aesthetic ideals, mirrored by the diverse bodily appearances of Lebanese models. This research asks how models, as active labourers and in charge of their bodily transformations, possess agency to either reproduce, but moreover resist and disrupt hegemonic aesthetic ideals, and thus challenge overarching racial and national hierarchies within the Lebanese fashion industry. It will shed light on the techniques with which models volitionally consume, manage, and employ bodily and linguistic symbols imbued with racial meaning as essential parts of their self-commodification and self-presentation.
Embedded in a Bourdieusian approach to fashion as a field of cultural production, this study builds on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s works on embodiment to dissect the discursive nature and transformative power of bodily practices. Further it draws on literature on the female body as a representative medium of racial and national identity. The project will contribute to knowledge about the underexplored domain of aesthetic labour in the Middle East and its racial and linguistic implications.
Orientations towards Gender, National Identity and Abortion in the Eighth Amendment Referendum Campaign’s Linguistic Landscape
Louis’ research, situated within the field of linguistic landscapes (LL), focuses on the
recent (and ongoing) debates surrounding the legalisation of abortion in Ireland. Specifically, he is interested in how issues of gender and national identity surface in signage commenting on or advocating for or against the liberalisation of abortion laws. While Ireland has been a notable site of LL research, the focus has been on language ideologies and the representation of Irish in the LL (e.g. Thistlethwaite & Sebba, 2015). While LL research may have overlooked gender and sexuality in the past (Milani, 2014), these areas are beginning to receive more attention in recent years. This study addresses issues of politics, ideology, (national) identity and gender in the Irish LL, adopting a geosemiotic approach (Scollon & Scollon, 2003) to ask how both linguistic (e.g. language choice) and multimodal resources (sign placement, material, etc.) were used to discursively construct the relationship between gender and Irish national identity. I draw on images of signage collected first-hand and by informants during the weeks preceding the vote, as well as a set of images sourced online. Interviews were also carried out with activists to uncover meaningful categories of analysis for those involved in campaigning on the ground.
Language Ideologies and Urban Welsh
Welsh language planners want to incorporate Welsh as an official, economically relevant language used in the public sphere in day-to-day life (Welsh Government 2016:9-11,13-15,17), but the language is widely idealised as a rural phenomenon. Tension between policy goals for Welsh and its idealisation as a rural language is not properly addressed in government documents, which are filled with terms such as ‘inheritance’ and ‘national identity’ and speak as if the population was socio-economically and ethnically homogenous, overlooking the increasing diversity of urban environments.
Catrin’s study will draw on linguistic ethnography, working with a “layered and multi-scalar conceptualisation of context” (Blommaert et al 2011: 11), and it will investigate how the new urban social domain affects conventionalised language usage and disrupts ‘semiotic regularity’ (Agha 2007: 205). It will examine micro-level phonological and lexical variables and focus on reflexive stylisation to understand language ideologies and the indexical associations conveyed by speakers.
100 Years of Continuity and Change in Spoken British English (CASE project with the British Library)
Sarah’s collaborative doctoral project will compile a diachronic corpus of sound recordings from the historic holdings of the British Library Sound Archive, an unparalleled collection of natural British speech spanning over a century. The corpus design will aim for a balanced selection across region, register and demographic factors while maximising time depth. Using this unique corpus, the project will investigate a fundamental theoretical challenge in the study of language change: What is the relative importance of linguistic factors, frequency and social factors in changes observed in British English over time?
This question has been difficult to address fully so far due to the lack of audio archives with sufficient time depth. Recent historical corpora have begun to remedy this, leading to some unexpected findings regarding the role of frequency in phonetic change (Hay et al. 2015) and intensifying the debate over the relative role of frequency in large-scale dialect change (Labov 2010; Kiparsky 2016). A substantial diachronic corpus will also permit deeper investigation of related themes such as vernacular stability, social factors in change (age, demographics, gender, class) and co-variation in change.
Code-Switching in the French Caribbean Media: Negotiation and Accommodation in a Linguistic ‘Continuum’
Chiara’s PhD project will investigate how code choice (CC) and code-switching (CS) between French and French-lexicon Creole serve to frame and alter the relationship between Martinican speakers and their interlocutors/audiences, paying particular attention to interview-like situations broadcast on Martinican TV. French and Creole have been traditionally treated as an unequal pair of nevertheless distinct languages, yet their relationship appears much tougher to classify when we consider the lexical continuity between the two and the tendency of Caribbean speakers to blur the lines between them. In this context, the practice of CS, whereby speakers alternate between features of French and Creole within the same interaction, takes on particular importance. Studying when, where and how it is practised and what speakers think it accomplishes can help us better understand the relationship between French and Creole and the meanings that speakers attach to each.
Given its power to shape and reflect attitudes, the mass media offers an ideal gateway for examining the linguistic practices of a given society – and in this case one that is still understudied. Generally more conservative in their language and yet eager to appeal to the linguistic identities and expectations of their audiences, broadcasters can be expected to use CS both in rather conventional ways, giving an insight into language norms, and strategically, giving an insight into CS’ potential to express stance-taking and linguistic accommodation. Of course, the partial artificiality of media interactions means these cannot be studied in isolation and will have to be set alongside CS/CC in other social contexts. Thus, this PhD will cast a light on how media language differs from, imitates and influences CS occurrences in more spontaneous settings.
The project also aims to contribute towards a better understanding of wider regional and non-regional sociolinguistic issues. The co-presence of French and Creole in the Caribbean media has been a bone of contention in recent years, as scholars like Jean Bernabé have claimed that presenters’ CS could accelerate the ongoing process of decreolization (the assimilation of Creole to French), and, thus, the erosion of an important component of Creole identity. My project would likely shed light on how non-linguists perceive this process and its identity-related implications and, possibly, take a stance with regards to the controversial concept of decreolization itself in Martinique.
Homelessness in discourse, narrative and interaction
In England there are currently 78,000 families living in temporary housing and 9,000 rough sleepers. The growing homelessness problem has been recognised by charities and organisations, with a recent appeal by The Guardian and The Observer raising over £1.25 million to help those who are homeless. For her PhD study, Ceri will research how homeless people construct personal identities through their interactions and the narratives they tell. Ceri intends to combine the frameworks of interactional sociolinguistics and the small stories approach to narrative to explore how identities are forged by homeless people who use a day centre in Cambridge where she volunteers.
Interactional sociolinguistics maintains that a finite set of identities is afforded to speakers in given contexts, limited by their sociolinguistic resources and social power relative to those around them. Thus, the discursive practices of those who interact with homeless people and are in positions of greater power, such as day centre employees, will influence the identities that the homeless people construct. Therefore, analysing interactions not only between homeless people, but also between homeless people and day centre staff, is vital for examining how identities are situated within wider institutional discourses. Ceri will combine this approach with narrative analysis. As the stories we tell help us to make sense of our social world, narratives are a way of constructing our identities. Despite extensive research into narrative and identity in fields such as illness, there has been limited work on identity, interaction and narrative in homelessness. While identities can be portrayed through other semiotic means, such as material possessions, the range of identities constructible via these means is restricted for those who are homeless. When poverty limits identity-building resources, narratives about the self may take on a more significant role in the construction of identities.
Ceri’s research questions are as follows:
(a) How do homeless people negotiate different identities through their interactions and the narratives they tell?
(b) How are the identities of homeless people situated within the wider public discourses of homelessness, as evidenced by discourses within and outside the day centre?
Dance in Museums: An investigation into the cross-sector creative strategy of the 21st century (a joint funded ESRC/AHRC studentship)
Elena’s project investigates collaborative practices by examining the inclusion of performing arts into cultural institutions and studying their impact on audience engagement. Specifically, the research seeks to examine the potential of using dance in a cultural environment, investigating both its production through collaborative approaches and its reception by audiences. In challenging times for the cultural sector, many museums are seeking to face the obstacles expanding their offerings through innovative and sometimes non-traditional approaches and formulas. As a result, the museum’s creative curatorial and interpretative processes have been opened up to collaborations with communities and other cultural or arts organisations; an approach closely connected to the recent trend in cultural policy which promotes cultural democracy. Transforming cultural institutions through collaborative practice is becoming an established strategy for diversifying visitors and increasing audience engagement. In this context, a cross-sectoral collaboration between museums and the dance network is growing at a fast pace. This strategy encourages to move away from the sole verbal and written transmission of knowledge traditionally employed in cultural spaces, whilst creating more experiential, sensorial and even “visceral” visitors’ experiences. Acknowledged the existence of a bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence, the bodily-kinaesthetic art of dance is regarded as a powerful language and communicative form and, therefore, an effective method to deeply engage visitors, and to connect museums with “kinaesthetic learners”, younger and disengaged audiences. Through a case study research and multiple methods of data generation, the project will seek to understand in which ways dance can foster audience engagement in museums; how dance-museum collaborative practices can facilitate changes in museums; and the role that financial and cultural policy considerations play in the development of these collaborations.
Maev Conneely – @_Maev_C
Social Identity & Psychosis
Mebh’s research how experiencing psychosis and receiving a diagnosis may affect patients’ identity and sense of belonging to different groups, and identify if and how identity negotiation processes are linked to clinical outcomes and mediators. Her research aims to translate insights from social psychology into methodological tools to study identity negotiation processes in people with psychosis and link them to outcomes and to good clinical practices. Research questions will include: How are identity changes and patients’ experiences of the impact of symptoms of schizophrenia on identity described in the mental health literature? How do people describe the process of identity negotiation following a diagnosis of a psychotic disorder? How can processes of identity negotiation be measured quantitatively in a way that is understandable and meaningful to patients? Are identity negotiation processes linked to health outcomes (quality of life and social situation)? Which practices are likely to support positive identity negotiation processes?
Regional variation and the commodification of language in southwest France
Célia’s research focuses on Bordeaux and Toulouse and is set within a tradition of work examining the commodification of language in late capitalism (Bourdieu, 1982; Heller, 2003, 2010; Heller & Duchêne, 2016, among others). Heller and Duchêne (2016:144) argue that “as authenticity produced by older forms of romantic nationalism becomes marketable in the growing and lucrative tourism industry, language becomes one key way to add value to a tourism product as a marker of that authenticity, while multilingualism allows that product to be widely consumed”.
In the case of Bordeaux and Toulouse, the “language” forms that constitute a potential cultural and economic asset include both regional languages (Gascon and Languedocien) and local, regional varieties of French. A primary goal of this research is to investigate how these languages/varieties are used to add symbolic value to place-related commodities and experiences. One specific parameter of variation for investigation relates to the specific products to be sold: luxury items vs produits du terroir and the particular strategies that speakers use for these different commodities (cf. Krause & Smith 2017). Another area of investigation involves the effect of inter-city connections and transport links on processes of commodification (Llamas, 2007; Bulot, 2013; Johnstone, 2004; Trimaille & Gasquet-Cyrus, 2013; Blommaert, 2010).
My research therefore aims to address one main question and two sub-questions:
- How and to what extent have regional varieties and languages of southwest France become commodified?
- What contexts incite speakers of these normatively stigmatised languages and varieties to use regionalisms to add value to place-related commodities?
- What are the effects of place (urban, rural) on the different language commodification strategies?
The Conservatoire Crisis: Exploring the lived experiences of underrepresented students in UK music conservatoires.
Access and participation amongst state schooled students in UK music conservatoires throughout the past years have remained at an all-time low despite major efforts to widen participation. Over the years, conservatoires have been the uneven playing field for the musical elite to seamlessly move through these spaces and extend their privilege in ways which are blocking the participation rates for students from underrepresented backgrounds. My PhD project will seek to explore and understand the lived experiences of underrepresented students who are/ have studied in a UK music conservatoire. Exploring experiences through an intersectional lens of race, class and gender, I shall use a Bourdieusian framework to make sense of the experiences from the students whilst also exploring the institutional cultures of conservatoires. In doing so, my research will contribute to problematising the access issues these institutions face and will use policy borrowing as a tool to increase participation for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Doing identity with desire: Japanese men’s masculinities on a men-only dating app.
Liam’s project examines how Japanese men construct their identities in the text of their profiles on a popular dating app for men. This online data, combined with linguistic interviews conducted with app users, allows an exploration of how broader sociocultural discourses influence the construction of online identities.
In digital spaces, it has been shown that many men wish to appear sexually appealing to other men while also rejecting identity categories typically associated with same-sex attraction (Birnholtz et al. 2014; Blackwell et al. 2015, Ward 2007, 2008; VanderStouwe 2017 ). Liam is interested in how this tension between (often negative) conceptions of non-normative gender and sexual identities on the societal level in Japan are negotiated by individuals, and linking this to previous work in Japanese sociolinguistics (Abe, 2006; Maree, 2008; McGloin 1990 for examples). This is achieved by combining qualitative and quantitative methods to analyse identity construction in discourse, and through the manipulation of specific Japanese linguistics resources such as strategic choice of register, script, and discourse marking among others.
Metaphors in narratives about diabetes: cross-cultural differences and similarities
Type 2 diabetes affects almost 500 million people worldwide and it is among the 10 most common causes of death. The number of people living with diabetes has doubled in the last 20 years and is projected to increase by 25% by 2030 (Saeedi et al., 2019), with type 2 accounting for about 90% of all cases. Research has shown how people with type 2 diabetes “need to gain control over this complex condition in order to successfully self-manage” (Youngson, Cole, Wilby, & Cox, 2015). Nonetheless, only 2 in 5 people in the UK are currently achieving their treatment targets. Personal belief is one of the contributing factors to achieving control over the illness and is often conveyed through metaphors.
Metaphors are a powerful cognitive tool, that can shape people’s attitudes and can influence their ability to cope with illness (Hendricks, Demjén, Semino, & Boroditsky, 2018). Research has shown that the use of different metaphor framings in healthcare can have positive or detrimental effects on patients (Semino, Demjén, & Demmen, 2018). However, not much literature has explored how people with type 2 diabetes metaphorically talk about their experience.
The present study aims to start filling this gap by looking at metaphor use in people’s narratives about living with type 2 diabetes. Data will be collected through qualitative interviews and will focus on experiences of Italian and English patients. By comparing Italian and English data, the research will also investigate whether cultural and/or linguistic differences can motivate and account for different metaphor use. The present project draws on the field of cognitive linguistics and on a rich background of discourse-based studies about illness.
Future tense: How might design futures methods enable place-based systemic change?
The definition of sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations” (Bruntland, 1987) directly translates into the urgent need for modern urban lifestyles to reduce consumption by ten times (Charter and Tischner, 2001). Achieving the quantitative indicators for sustainable development is a process wrapped up in broader behavioural and cultural change (Lockton, 2015) and will require new methods, tools and narratives (Beddington, 2010). Design can “change existing situations into preferred ones” (Simon, 1999). More recently, design expertise has been advocated as a “social resource for enabling local innovation which designers are enablers of collective cycles of generating and exploring alternative futures” (Jégou and Manzini 2008, Manzini 2015). Urban sociology, a field within social theory, provides a fluid understanding of cities as “place-based” sites of social encounter and division, as fields of politics and power, as symbolic and material landscapes (Tonkiss, 2005). Lefebvre’s (1991) treatment of space as a socially constructed product can provide a meaningful way to tackle the complex web of wicked-problems through locally contextualised approaches that focus on the role of actors (both individual and institutional) in the process of creating change.
Corina’s research proposal is situated in the context of her work as senior designer in the System Innovation Lab at Forum for the Future, and builds on previous experience in critical design as architectural designer and urban researcher. The aim of her proposal is to develop a formative assessment of how design futures methodologies can help catalyse place-based systemic change. How might the fields of design methods and futures studies provide approaches to systemic change at a local level? How might design futures methods support actors in developing practices for place-based systems change?
Growing up during neighbourhood change: The impacts of urban regeneration on the psychosocial health of young people in South East London
Hana’s study will examine the effects of urban regeneration understood as a process of neighborhood change on two aspects of psychosocial health -common mental disorders (CMD) and wellbeing- of young people in South East London. Using mixed methods and participatory action research with young people as co-researchers to explore how they experience neighborhood transformation. Mental health in young people is of concern, with half of lifetime mental health problems starting by age 14 (Smith et al, 2015b). CMD such as depression and anxiety have higher prevalence in urban environments (Hatch et al, 2011;). There is evidence on socio-economic determinants of psychosocial health showing that disadvantage over life course is linked to poor health. It is less clear whether aspects of physical and social environments at neighbourhood-level also affect the risk of CMD (Polling, 2014). In the UK, studies investigating the health and wellbeing impacts of regeneration are rare and offer mixed findings (Thomson et al, 2006; Smith et al, 2012; Huxley and Roger, 2006). These commonly exclude young people under the age of 16 (Smith et al, 2015a).
South East London has widespread regeneration programmes underway, higher eviction rates than the national average and 24.2% of the adult population reporting CMD (Lees and White, 2016; Hatch et al, 2011). The study will be supported by the South East London Community Health Study (SELCoH) and involve quantitative analysis using SELCoH data, along with qualitative participatory action research. Participatory Action Research helps to introduce a flexible, collaborative and socially owned process (Kindon, Pain & Kesby, 2007) that will provide a platform for young people to voice their opinions on designing and managing sustainable neighbourhood change.
Reduce Avoid Protect Support – changing air pollution related behaviour through a smart phone app (RAPSapp)
The health implications of air pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide are increasingly clear. Before leading to death, these pollutants increase cancers, asthmas, strokes, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even dementia. In the UK the health costs of air pollution add up to more than £20 billion every year and lead to 40,000 premature deaths.
The aim of Rosie’s project is to develop and evaluate the use of a mobile app to engage citizens in promoting healthier and more sustainable air pollution-related behavior. The outcomes of this research project will be: a fully functioning app to inform individuals on the risk of pollution, their own exposure, and what they can do to change it; a unique panel data set of individuals’ characteristics, lifestyle, and pollution-related behaviour; estimates of the causal impact of pollution related information on individual’s behaviour change, and how it differs among different socio-economic groups.
Home, migration and belonging on a suburban estate (a CASE project with Eastside Community Heritage)
Despite the growing interest in the connections between home, migration and the city, little work has engaged with experiences of home and migration in relation to the suburbs and, in particular, the interplay between historical internal migration from the inner-city and contemporary international migration. This intergenerational research project will examine the layered histories and experiences of home, migration and belonging through an in-depth study of the Harold Hill estate in Havering. In collaboration between Queen Mary University London and Eastside Community Heritage – and also affiliated to The Geffrye Museum of the Home via the Centre for Studies of Home – the research will explore (i) the histories of migration from inner-city London to Harold Hill from the late 1950s; (ii) new migration patterns to Harold Hill over the last 20 years; and (iii) the impact of these overlapping migratory patterns on home and belonging on the housing estate and within the wider suburban landscape.
Collaborative outputs beyond the thesis will include a collection of oral history and visual material for deposit at ECH; the design of intergenerational school sessions focused on home, migration and belonging; and the development of learning resources for use in school sessions and work with adults of different generations and heritages.
An interdisciplinary framework for disaggregate assessment of productivity and well-being impacts of digital technologies on knowledge workers in nontraditional settings (ITINERANT) (a CASE project with Cisco Systems & Transport for Greater Manchester)
The rapid development of new mobile devices and omnipresent connectivity has led to the increasing decoupling of work (and other activities) from specific locations. Cultures of work have emerged, especially strong among knowledge workers, that exploit non-traditional settings, including public spaces and transport modes, with the aim of improving productivity and well-being by the better alignment of tasks to productive times and spaces. The overall aim of Alessandra’s PhD research will be to develop new ways of embedding emerging qualitative and quantitative evidence regarding impacts of digitisation and connectivity into appraisal and evaluation frameworks for investments in infrastructure.
Towards this end, the first objective will be to utilise social science methods and theories to explore case studies enabled through the partnership. Accompanied by training in the mobile collaboration technology, this will permit in-depth understanding of productivity and well-being impacts of digital technologies by knowledge workers in non-traditional settings. The second objective will be to identify and fill key gaps in the existing investment and appraisal methodologies. The final objective will be to develop advanced disaggregate statistical and econometric modelling methodologies to address the aforementioned shortcomings by incorporating interdisciplinary input into appraisal and evaluation methodologies for infrastructure investments.
Spatial Dynamical Networks of Concentration & Dispersion of Crime (a joint ESRC/EPSRC-funded studentship)
Studies in the geography of crime confirm that over 50% of crime incidents occur within 5% of the streets in each city, thus forming micro-crime places known as crime hotspots. For this reason, hotspot policing has generated considerable interest, whereby identifying high-risk places by means of hot spot detection and targeting hot spot locations in the practical policing scenes have come to form a pillar in efforts to reduce crime. A method recently proposed for crime hotspot detection is effective in identifying the exact times and locations of micro-crime places. However, it is retrospective in nature with its main utility being the promotion of long-term policing by reducing opportunities for crime. In other words, they do not necessarily help predict where and when crime will likely happen in the future.
The aim of this project is to establish a new type of geosurveillance method for predicting the likely elevation of crime activities at the disaggregate street address level. The project involves the use of syndromic surveillance, originally designed for epidemiology and subsequently repurposed and refined in the crime analysis context to be taken to the next level by incorporating hidden Markov models. Nicholas will work closely with his supervisors to (1) explore how these two methods can be integrated into one, (2) code the new method as a workable tool, and (3) carry out empirical analysis using real-world crime data so as to confirm the validity and the performance of this method for detecting and predicting crime hotspots. Crime data will be provided by the Metropolitan Police Service.
Spontaneous urban initiatives and collective socio-environmental assemblages: an investigation into non-dualistic conceptions of municipal governance in Almere, Netherlands.
In the midst of debates in urban studies and political ecology around the disciplines’ epistemological directions, urban agricultural studies have a great deal to contribute to alternative socio-environmental futures. Joris proposes a supportive case study that challenges hitherto dominant Anglophone narratives of urbanisation and municipal agency. The city of Almere, 30 miles east from Amsterdam, is seeing the rapid development of various urban-agricultural projects. Most prominently, the re-wilding experiment in the Oostvaardersplassen, the creation of an integrated horticultural neighbourhood ‘Floriade’ before its national exhibition in 2022 and the development of an urban-agricultural fringe, ‘Almere Oosterwold’. The restructuring of Almere’s urban socio-environmental integration presents conceptions of governance beyond a neoliberal approach, supporting opportunities for the creation of spontaneous urban natures. Thus, Joris will be asking the question: How does Almere challenge non-dualistic conceptions of municipal governance that entices the creation of collective socio-environmental assemblages?
The project seeks to contribute to the current debate of diverging governmental stances to ecological assemblages by drawing upon work in both political ecology and urban studies. It analyses the city’s creation of spontaneous urban spaces for an alleged harmonious relation to its ecological knowledge. Local responses to such discourses have already taken place, such as neighbourhood initiatives regarding soil subsidence management. Welcoming such initiatives, Almere’s development before the national horticultural exhibition in 2022 poses as a potential milestone for the recognition of spontaneous and unintentional landscapes. The research will draw from neighbourhood initiatives and interviews with policy makers to critically analyse the municipal interference in the spontaneous urban experiments. Furthermore, I will be initiating a neighbourhood project that aims to exhibit the changing urban environmental relationship of residents to surrounding marginal ecologies. Consisting of exhibition pieces within neighbourhoods the project aims become part of a final exhibition, expected to be presented alongside Almere Floriade for the national horticultural exhibition in 2022.
Playing or being played?
Play and playfulness are increasingly conspicuous in contemporary urban spaces. In work spaces play is used to foster creativity, socialise and retain employees, build emotional intelligence and alleviate boredom, and extend the working day blurring boundaries between work and leisure. In retail spaces it is used to create consumer experiences, build brand awareness and loyalty, and overcome the growing distance between distribution logistics and point-of-sale, itself increasingly virtual. In cultural spaces it is deployed to democratise high culture, create new opportunities for art practice, reach new audiences and drive patronage. And in public spaces it is used to support place-making, provide activity and animation, stimulate conviviality, enliven memorials, reconcile different user groups and manage their differing norms of behaviour.
Drawing on cultural geography, critical urban studies and the cross-disciplinary scholarship of play itself, Conor will examine the motivations, interests, discourses and practices behind this ‘ludic turn’ in cities. This study will explore the unique potential of play as expressive form and social leveller, but will also consider the scope for critical participation through performative, politicised, ritualised and perhaps ‘dark’ forms of play. It will attend to the inclusionary and exclusionary practices of play forms – for example, how the roles of ‘player’ and ‘spoilsport’ interact in contested urban spaces – and the processes through which the wider geographies of play and spoiling concurrently produce ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, leisure and misery, conviviality and conflict, luxury and waste.
Staying Afloat? Making Home and Creating Place on London’s Canals and Rivers (a CASE project with the Canal & Rivers Trust and The Geffrye Museum)
The past 30 years have seen dramatic changes to London’s residential landscapes and neighbourhoods as economic restructuring, programmes of regeneration, and processes of gentrification have transformed once run-down parts of the city into vibrant and desirable places to live in. This coincides with a remarkable transformation of London’s waterways in the last decade, the most visible manifestation of which has been the growth in the number of boats moored along the city’s canals and navigable rivers. According to the Canal & River Trust (CRT), the number of moored boats has doubled since 2010 to over 4,000 vessels and in a recent survey 58% of respondents were using their boats as their primary home (CRT 2016; 2017). It is estimated that as many as 10,000 people live on London’s waterways (London Assembly 2013).
In 2013 the London Assembly commissioned a report into mooring on London’s waterways making several key recommendations including increasing capacity for mooring, and improving access and facilities (London Assembly 2013). This research will assist the CRT in better understanding the needs of those who make their homes on London’s canals and rivers and inform CRT’s work with all users to develop waterway environments as sustainable and high-quality places for living, working and enjoying a range of leisure activities. The findings of this timely study will support realisation of the CRT’s London Waterways Partnership Ten Year Strategic Plan (2014) and its recently launched Draft London Mooring Strategy (2017). The project will develop intellectual and theoretical frameworks for understanding contemporary home and place-making strategies along London’s waterways. It will generate new evidence to inform the Trust’s work and assess ways of measuring its impact.
Uncertainty under the arches: Network Rail’s commercial property sell-off and the crisis of affordable workspace in London
In September 2018, Network Rail agreed to sell over 5000 rental spaces across England and Wales (out of which 70% were railway arches) as a single commercial portfolio to investment groups Telereal Trillium and Blackstone Property Partners for £1.45bn. The sale represents the latest in a long line of public asset sell-offs in the UK through which rents are shifted from the public to the private realm. The potential impacts are particularly acute in East London, where small businesses have revitalised the local rail infrastructure while contending with rent increases of up to 300%. However, the sale also represents a rare opportunity for organisation among businesses that share a common landlord. Local businesses organised through the East End Trades Guild have responded by developing an Affordable Workspace Manifesto, culminating in a campaign for London Working Rent.
This project proposes a collaboration between the East End Trades Guild (EETG), the New Economic Foundation (NEF) and the School of Geography at QMUL in order to generate much-needed evidence on the impacts of the National Rail sell-off in East London and the possibilities for collective organisation and intervention. This research will advance theoretical understandings of socio-economic value and, specifically, inform emerging policy debates on affordable workspaces in the context of the transfer of rents from the public to the private sphere.
Investigating the Cultural Ecosystem Services of Urban Water Bodies and their use in Environmental and Land Use Planning
This is an interdisciplinary PhD exploring the use of Cultural Ecosystem Services (CES) for improving environmental policy understandings.
The value of urban water is increasingly becoming overlooked in favour of urbanisation land use strategies, with various integral ecosystem services subsequently coming under threat. Moreover, contemporary climate change risk highlights a need for this wide range of urban water ecosystem services. However, a failure to acknowledge key socio-political dimensions of urban water tends to run through these discourses, to the detriment of sustainable land use planning.
With an aim to help inform policy, this project focuses on how investigating CES within urban blue space may contribute to developing understandings of social and environmental health and wellbeing, in line with climate change adaptation. Working in close collaboration with the Environment Agency, this research helps to address a key research gap they have identified regarding the value of water quality and management in urban areas. Investigation is warranted to assist with the control and application of urban water resources under sustainable and climate-conscious land use planning.
Island Metabolisms and the Contested Geographies of Energy Transition: A Relational Comparison
Climate change has moved energy-society relations centre stage. Political struggles and class relations are finding new expression in the geographies of carbon lock-in, the geographies of (renewable) energy transition, and the geo-spatialities of alternative energy futures; these struggles are themselves shaped by the materiality of socio-energy systems.
Islands have become emblematic figures in the Anthropocene. The dynamics of energy development and change on islands, embedded within complex multi-relational systems, highlights particularly well the ways in which energy transitions more generally are shaped by their spatial and material context, the need to develop frameworks that account for geographical specificity, and the ways both material location and spatial form capture shifts in the operation and contestation of power.
As the energy transition unfolds under the dictates of fossil capital, and many peripheral places such as islands become both ‘sustainable-development laboratories’ and sites of energy extraction and struggle, how are class relations and conflicts over the appropriation of energy surpluses (re)surfacing and being (re)interpreted and (re)expressed in this moment? How can we trace and position struggles over island time–space, land and resources into broader contexts of historical global capitalist relations?
Steve’s project focuses on renewable energy transitions in the European island-archipelago/peninsula regions of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, the Fosen peninsula in Norway and the Balearic Islands in Spain. Drawing on eco-Marxist theories of metabolism, he uses a ‘relational comparison’ framework, which focuses on spatio-historical specifications, interconnections and mutually constitutive processes, and roots this in a dialectical and historical-geographical materialist understanding of energy systems. Steven is using desk-based exploratory research, interviewing and storytelling, and critical ethnographic techniques.
See Steve’s King’s College London profile here.
Agent-based simulation approach to the provision of ancillary service by demand response and distributed storage and generation assets in the future low carbon system.
This project aims to investigate one of the most pertinent challenges facing electricity markets today. The push for rapid decarbonisation of the electricity sector is leading to increased amounts of intermittent renewable generation such as wind and solar within the power system increasing system integration costs. The need to ensure the instantaneous matching of supply and demand, as well as system security through reserve margins requires grid system operators to contract ancillary services from market participants. The decreasing costs of Battery Energy Storage (BES), developments in smart metering and Demand Side Management (DSM) provide opportunities for distributed, small-scale generation and storage assets to participate in the ancillary services market.
Existing studies have focused on cost-optimal and automated dispatching solutions, using production-cost models which assume market participants typically make rational choices, respond to pricing signals, have perfect foresight, and operate in the absence of market power. Such an approach, however, does not take into account the fact that market participants exhibit heterogeneous behaviour. In particular, distributed DSM and BES assets exhibit diverse attitudes and behavioural intentions that are often ignored or only assessed qualitatively. This project proposes the use of an agent-based approach to account for behavioural difference and to allow for the formulation of appropriate incentive structures and provide insight into what is required to achieve reliable service from distributed assets.
By integrating an interdisciplinary framework, the research attempts to capture the effects of different socio-psychological-economic factors that influence agent behaviours in a distributed network with the ultimate aim of translating these findings into practical and actionable policy recommendations.
Chemical and microbiological characterisation of bioplastics biodegradation within the bioeconomy industrial strategy
Our Blue Planet – or Plastic Planet? The use of plastics is a contentious issue at the heart of our throw-away society. Packaging accounts for the largest application of plastics, with single-use food and drink plastic packaging being one of the most common items found in our oceans. This poses a serious threat to the integrity of our ecosystems while creating an unprecedented waste management problem.
The recent years have placed plastic pollution under growing public scrutiny and both industrial and political landscapes have been called upon to propose innovative approaches, including ‘greener’ plastic materials. The biodegradable properties of some plant-based plastics (bioplastics), have been identified as a promising opportunity to address this societal and environmental challenge. They represent a solution for food packaging applications by preserving food without persisting in the environment, particularly marine. However, such bio-based biodegradable alternatives may not necessarily provide an improvement in overall environmental impact and little is known about their biodegradation efficacy in given waste streams.
Adopting an interdisciplinary perspective, Sarah’s research project will explore bioplastics waste management. It will delve deeper into bioplastics biodegradation and aims to better understand how bioplastics perform in a range of environments. Chemical and microbiological characterisation will provide an insight into the advantages and limitations they may present in the current European industrial strategy context. Ultimately, the focus is on ensuring that their promotion within a bioeconomy framework is based on environmentally-sound evidence.
Challenging dominant radiological and nuclear risk communication narratives in a post-trust and post-truth environment
While climate change has given nuclear power a new lease on life as a carbon neutral source of energy, it is the subject of almost unique public dread. This poses a significant, if geographically uneven, obstacle to any nuclear renaissance. The aim of this research is to understand the determinants of public perceptions of nuclear power and the potential for scientific risk communication interventions to change them in a ‘post-truth’ era of pervasive public distrust. This project will:
- Explore the historical evolution of public risk perceptions around nuclear power and radiation.
- Explain whether, how, and why those perceptions vary and change.
- Develop and test communication interventions to shift public perceptions.
The Social Amplification of Risk Framework (SARF) is a suitable theoretical framework to use for the creation of risk communications strategies as it accounts for the complex socio-cultural, socio-political and historical framing that radiation and nuclear inevitably is subject to (Kasperson, 2012). Additionally, it also provides a framework for how to attenuate perceived risks, something that is central to this project. Fukushima highlighted that risk communication strategies for nuclear power are inadequate and the need for effective strategies to be designed prior to the next nuclear accident. This research will therefore be able to make significant academic contributions, not only in regards to risk communication around nuclear power and radiation, but wider contributions in regards to SARF and post truth/trust research.
International Climate Change Law and Transnational Norms in Global Climate Governance: A Socio-legal Analysis
Laura’s doctoral research explores what the growing recognition of sub-national and non-state actors, both within and outside the UN climate regime, means for our understanding of the nature and role of law in global climate governance. The project is premised on the observation that since the lead-up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, sub-national and non-state actors have joined national governments, in their own right, as key actors who shape the global response to climate change. As a result, cities, businesses, investors and civil society organisations have evolved from facilitators and implementers of state-mandated climate action to co-governors at the global level. Specifically, rather than solely relying on inter-state processes, these actors now form voluntary cross-border alliances with each other to generate normative frameworks that require relevant constituencies to act on climate change.
Applying qualitative methods, the aim of Laura’s research is, first, to investigate how norms which are set by sub-national and non-state actors affect the behaviour and expectations of relevant constituencies, and second, to analyse how these norms relate to international climate change law. In so doing, Laura’s research seeks to add a legal perspective to the debate about how to achieve optimal partnerships between states and sub-national and non-state actors in the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
Laura’s research profile is available here.
Anna Louise Smith
Ecological grief, nonhuman loss and environmental change – exploring human reactions to species decline through African Wild Dogs
As the environment continues to change, so do the ways in which humans relate and react to it. Anthropogenic causes accelerate such changes from deforestation to desertification, pollution of water sources, polar ice melt and so on. Yet whilst academics have endeavoured to record, investigate and analyse these physical changes in detail, often more is known about the environments that are being lost or altered than the people that inhabit or live nearby them. Anna’s project focuses on human reactions to nonhuman-loss in the context of changing environments, looking at species extinction and African Wild Dogs in eastern sub-Saharan Africa.
On investigating the emotional impacts of climate change, some notable scholars have already opened up this field of geographical enquiry, with Albrecht’s (2006) work on solastalgia, Cunsolo-Willox’s (2012) work on ecological grief and mourning and Lorimer’s (2007) work on nonhuman charisma all being notable examples. Still, many of these topics are under-researched and more needs to be done to strengthen cultural and emotional understandings of environmental change, put concerns of wellbeing at the forefront of decision-making surrounding affected populations and understand the reasons why people become attached to certain environments and species in the first place.
The data collected through this PhD aims to involve as many groups of participants as possible from researchers to tourists, those living near the dogs, scientists, rangers and conservationists, investigating how these different roles and identities affect the person’s relationship to the dogs and reaction to their decline. This case study was chosen in particular for its invitation to intersect investigating emotional responses to loss with other questions regarding conservation, development and post-colonialism.
In Search of ‘Climate Change Law’: Public Goods and Private Actors in the Age of Regulatory Governance
While global cooperation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been bolstered by the 2015 Paris Agreement, responsibility for climate change mitigation and adaptation remains vested with the individual state. Nevertheless, and in part due to significant inaction at the international and domestic level prior to the conclusion of the Paris Agreement, a complex system of climate change governance has evolved. The use of hard and soft law, networks of actors, and the emergence of new methods of governance wholly outside of the state, has provided momentum on climate change when little was forthcoming.
Emily’s thesis aims to investigate the legal and regulatory approaches taken by states within the overall governance system to examine its appropriateness for climate change mitigation in line with the Paris Agreement’s target to keep global temperature increases “well-below 2°C”. Specifically, it will investigate the UK’s legal and regulatory approaches to greenhouse gas emissions relating to corporations in the energy sector. This will involve an investigation of direct regulatory intervention to promote mitigation and indirect interventions though the amendment of existing corporate legislation and the use of litigation. The UK is an interesting site of study for several reasons. As a current member of the EU and as such subject to its climate change mitigation and adaptation approaches, it will provide an opportunity to investigate EU law and policy in this area. Due to Brexit, the study will also provide a unique opportunity to investigate an approach to climate change mitigation in the context of overriding political preoccupation and economic uncertainty. This focus on the UK will be supplemented by comparative studies with approaches from other jurisdictions allowing an investigation into the difficulties and opportunities facing corporations when acting across borders.
To what extent does governance play a role in how effectively a marine protected area in the Irish Sea reaches its biological and socioeconomic goals?
Marine life is facing increasingly serious threats due to human activity. A wide array of methods is currently applied to adequately manage and protect marine resources, such as establishing marine protected areas (MPAs). MPAs are designed for the conservation of marine life in the face of exploitation and other threats related to human activity. There is no single definition of an MPA and the role of each one depends on its specific objectives. MPAs should meet both biophysical and socioeconomic needs; in other words, they must ensure long-term conservation of species and habitats while also considering ecological, political, economic, and social outcomes. While most studies consider either the biological or the socioeconomic success of MPAs, an increasing number of studies take a more holistic approach to success, accounting for both biological and socioeconomic outcomes in their assessments. However, there is a clear gap in the literature relating to what types of governance structures lead to better biological and socioeconomic outcomes. This doctoral thesis will focus on the Irish Sea because it is a busy waterway and a strategic geopolitical location. As there is no tunnel linking the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, much of the exchange of goods and people is done via boat across the Irish Sea. There is a lack of research on MPAs in the Irish Sea, despite having almost 200 designations across 95 sites. To explore the state of MPAs in the Irish Sea, this research study will analyse the governance regimes of several case study MPAs and compare their effectiveness in terms of reported biophysical and socioeconomic outcomes. It will also identify any data gaps in assessment reports. The outcome of this study hopes to give MPA managers, policy makers, scientists, and other stakeholders evidence on which to base more effective governance of MPAs.
Sustainability and The Bioeconomy: designing an economic model for the bioeconomy to achieve sustainable development.
The complexity of 21st century socio-economic and environmental challenges is increasing, both in terms of scale and interconnectivity. As a result, the magnitude of issues present is amounting to new levels and making it increasingly more difficult to resolve. The bioeconomy has been proposed as the next economic transition to reconcile these issues present. However, to achieve the aims set out by this concept, sustainability must be at its core.
This project aims to design an economic model for the bioeconomy, with sustainability as its output. In this, novel policies can be designed away from just a single objective, such as GDP growth, towards a more integrative assessment on the intended outputs from policy. In using a systems approach, the project also aims to recognise the interactive relationship between the environment and socio-economic activity. In particular, the consequences of bioeconomic activity in the Global North or Global South.
From Zero to Nutrition for Growth: a comparative study of policy responses to food and nutrition security issues in Brazil and the UK
Jennifer’s study offers a comparative analysis of the UK and Brazil’s policy responses to food and nutrition security (FNS) issues since 2003. The study of FNS policies offers a unique opportunity to bridge different disciplinary approaches to policymaking at domestic/global levels. Much has been done to document the political economy (PE) of Brazil’s considerable progress in tackling hunger and malnutrition through social policy. Recent nutrition governance studies highlight the role of political elites, CS and the private sector in shaping FNS outcomes, principally in the ‘Global South’. However, less research exists on this in the UK, a vital gap given the rising prevalence of domestic FNS issues.
In 2013, Brazil and the UK signed the Global Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Compact, a voluntary agreement signalling commitment to strengthening international cooperation to tackle FNS challenges through private public-sector partnerships, considered vital for meeting the SDGs. The N4G process is a useful convergence point to analyse how the private sector, international organisations and civil society (CS) lobbied Brazil and UK state elites to modify their commitment to FNS policies. Jennifer’s work will also look at how these domestic policy agendas influenced one another through policy transfer and translation. Her research speaks to the broader question of how to translate FNS governance agendas into improved outcomes at domestic and global levels. Research questions will include: What are the similarities and differences in the ways state and non-state actors shape FNS policy agendas in the UK and Brazil? How does the N4G endorsement reflect domestic/global nutrition governance agendas? How do these formal/informal two-level games shape FNS outcomes worldwide?
Sexuality and the Digital City: seeking pleasure in middle-class Mumbaikers’ every-day lives
Building on literature on gender and sexuality in South Asia, and moving beyond hegemonic narratives that have dominated this literature focusing largely on violence, disease and reproduction, this thesis seeks to understand the ways in which digital technologies are mediating middle-class sexualities in Mumbai, for women and gender expansive individuals in three ways. First, it examines how location-based dating applications and visual media platforms and their users mediate middle-class urban imaginaries of sexuality. Second, it examines the ways in which location-based dating applications and visual media platforms facilitate experiences of urban sexuality in Mumbai, asking how these experiences are being transformed from previously mediated urban sexualities. Third, observing the work of local activist groups, it seeks to understand how networked media is leveraged as a part of gender-and-sexuality focused urban activist campaigns.
Gender-sensitive disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR): an evaluation of the ARN programme to reintegrate female ex-combatants from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) into civilian life
Jennifer’s research project focuses on gender-sensitive disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) in Colombia. Following the 2016 landmark peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Colombian Agency for Reincorporation and Normalisation (ARN) has renewed its efforts to implement gender-sensitive policies to facilitate the transition of female ex-combatants into civilian life. Previous research has shown that reintegration is frequently the ‘weakest link’ in the DDR chain, despite being crucial in creating sustainable peace. In addition, female ex-combatants tend to drop out of reintegration programmes in higher numbers compared to males. Given the important economic, security and psychological implications of the failure of reintegration programmes, there is a pressing need to develop deeper understandings of the factors affecting the reintegration of female ex-combatants. Her proposed research approach is a multiple-case study (Yin 2003) designed to evaluate the effectiveness of the ARN reintegration programme in three diverse communities in different geographical areas: rural, urban, and ‘cosmopolitan’ (Bogota). Research participants will include: former female ex-combatants; members of the communities that host ex-combatants; civil society organisations involved in the reintegration process and, if access is possible, policymakers and ARN officials at the national level. In order to gather rich empirical data on the effectiveness of the ARN programme in these diverse locations, this project will utilise semi-structured interviews, observation and documentary review. This project will seek to contribute deeper understandings of gender-sensitive reintegration, particularly in relation to the implementation of the ARN gender strategy in diverse contexts.
Transmitting In/equality Across Borders: Shifting Inheritance Practices and Outcomes among Indian Migrants in London (a CASE project in collaboration with The Runnymede Trust)
Investigations of migrants’ inheritance practices and outcomes are limited in multi-disciplinary migration and inheritance studies. This omission is surprising given that more than a billion people are migrants, 244 million of whom are international migrants. Situated within conceptual and empirical lacunae, this project aims to interrogate the migration-inheritance nexus. At its core is a concern to make visible the extent and patterns of transnational inheritance among migrant men and women, and examine how these are mediated by gender and class; interrogate the formal and informal mechanisms through which migrants’ inheritance rights and entitlements are negotiated, maintained and translated, and assess the extent to which inherited assets shape economic security and productivity. Focusing on skilled and semi-skilled Indian migrants living in London, a mixed method research strategy will be deployed, entailing a questionnaire survey with migrants; qualitative interviews with migrant men and women as well as wealth and asset managers, solicitors and other financial advisors who mediate migrant inheritance, and an analysis of migrants’ wills.
Indigeneity and Pan-Africanism in World Politics: Challenging the Coloniality of Ecological Crises and the New Scramble for Africa
Felix’s project is concerned with the entangled processes of rapidly escalating global ecological crises and the 21st Century Scramble for Africa. While the responses by dominant international organizations and networks have failed to generate sustainable and effective solutions to address the multiple facets of planetary ecological crises and continue to operate within a neoliberal, modern/colonial and anthropocentric framework, the exploitation and enclosure of African natures, ecologies and ecosystems continues unhindered. As multiple historically and structurally intertwined “deep structures” are at the bottom of these alarming processes, one emerging question is how these critiques can be translated into a radical project that continues the decolonization of African peoples and lands based on sustainable modes of living and healthy relationships between the human and the more-than-human.
In this context, Felix takes a closer look at the radical possibilities between African indigeneity and Pan-Africanism as guiding frameworks and employs an interdisciplinary approach that includes decolonial theory, indigenous scholarship, political ecology, feminist theories, critical political economy and global studies theories. This project involves the participation of Ogoni communities from the Niger Delta and Maasai communities from East Africa and uses interviews, life histories and other qualitative research methods. This part of Felix’s research seeks to identify alternative modes of being and living based on non-Western epistemologies and indigenous world-views that disrupt colonial imaginaries of “Nature,” space and territory while simultaneously moving towards Pan-African unity.
Circuits of Global Labour Governance: Public Procurement and Labour Standards in the Global Electronics Industry (a CASE project with Electronics Watch)
The globalisation of supply chains has created a governance deficit concerning working conditions in the world economy. Private-sector initiatives (corporate social responsibility and codes of conduct) face limits to improving labour standards. Yet, little attention has been paid to public sector attempts to regulate working conditions in global supply chains. An EU Directive on Public Procurement, however, allows state organisations to include clauses on labour standards in procurement contracts. In this context, this project will examine socially responsible public procurement of electronics hardware – an industry mired by serious labour violations – and focuses on the state as a regulator and buyer. The research will be carried out with Electronics Watch, a non-profit, non-governmental initiative which organises public sector buyers, provides tools to create effective market demand for decent working conditions (e.g. contract clauses), and monitors working conditions to ensure compliance in factories. The project will examine: how the EU Directive is being implemented by public-sector buyers in the United Kingdom; how the governance framework impacts lead firm and supplier relationships in the sector; and the experience of public procurement regulation as an emergent new relationship between the state, public sector governance and labour conditions in globalised production networks.
Mapping revolutionary ideology onto urban space as a means of strategic communications
The role of communications in conflict, revolutions, and counterinsurgency has over the past years received increased attention with the emergence of a strong focus on ‘strategic communications’ in not only the academic study of war, but also in practice and policy making of national governments and international organisations such as NATO. This ‘strategic communications’ is not confined to the verbal sphere, but also includes communication through physical acts and the way in which these are depicted in pictures and the written word. An essential aspect affecting the way in which audiences interpret these messages is the space in which they are sent and interpreted. Furthermore, as identified by David Kilcullen, conflicts are increasingly fought in urban areas, which has incited a shift in focus from the control of geography to the control of networks of people.
Even though current trends of urbanization and the effects this has on conflict have become an important topic in the field of war studies, a study moving beyond communication in urban space to the communication of urban space in revolutions, derived from the idea that space can play an instrumental role itself, has not yet been performed. Hence, Jente’s research proposes a study of the mapping of revolutionary ideology onto urban space as a means of strategic communications. Focusing on one of the early cases of urban revolution, the anti-Apartheid struggle of the African National Congress (ANC) in South African urban areas, it aims to answer the following research question: How did the African National Congress employ the urban space of Soweto, Johannesburg as a means of communicating ideology and strategy to achieve their revolutionary goals?
Trauma and Truth and Reconciliation Commissions
Trauma, in the contemporary period, has expanded beyond the medical realm and come to feature in political processes; most notably in post-conflict processes such as transitional justice mechanisms. However, despite their significant role in politically fragile environments, there exists very little debate concerning how trauma is conceptualised by these processes. In response to the absence of debate, this thesis seeks to problematise trauma, drawing on the case study of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), by posing the following question: how is trauma conceptualised in contemporary politics, and what role does it play in post-conflict environments? Through a critical analysis of the TRC and in-depth qualitative fieldwork, this thesis explores the meaning and significance of trauma in South Africa, integrating the lived experiences of individuals and communities. In emphasising the lived experience, this thesis challenges the divide between theory and practice which permeates the International Relations trauma scholarship.
Reclaiming Democracy – Political Being in Geopoliticised Contexts
From the so-called European ‘refugee crisis’, to the occupation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia to Transatlantic surveillance practices colonising digital space, Alvina’s project takes issue with the employment of cynical realpolitik to make sense of political events, stressing the causal relationship between geography and politics. Such political practice is considered as “‘truth’ in world politics” which seemingly persists in world history. Despite academic deconstruction and critique of geographical-determinist accounts, practitioners as well as leading think tanks continue to frame international politics as realpolitik and fail to find alternative ways to think about the nexus of territory, bureaucracy of power, and population.
The focal point of the project is the nexus of territory, peoples, and politics, with the aim of assessing how political subjectivities are configured in this co-constitutive relation between the geopolitical imaginary and citizenship practices. This also challenges the separation between the social and the political, which social movement analysis and transnationalism tend to neglect, as this scholarship focuses solely on social aspects of citizenship and migration, rather than explicating the power relations at place. By granting the everyday and the local political significance, new political questions come to the fore. In espousing an International Political Sociology approach, this thesis will take the international not just as a level of analysis, but as an interconnection between processes, practices and relations.
How did containment become the dominant metaphor in Cold War U.S. Strategic Communications?
“Containment” came to be a guiding metaphor for understanding U.S.-Russia relations and consolidated itself as a dominant framework in the early Cold War years (1940s-50s). As it is generally understood, containment gives its name to the U.S. policy aimed at curbing the spread of Communism and limiting Soviet influence around the world. Initially this was to be achieved by economic means, with the aim of establishing a liberal democratic world order. However, soon the policy also included overt and covert psychological (warfare) operations, deterrence through nuclear weapons, and direct military involvement, as well as public diplomacy and strategic communications. It also included an elaborate programme of domestic “emotion management” in the face of threat of nuclear war through the Federal Civil Defense Agency. In the name of containment, President Eisenhower and his “New Look” policy were able to justify the biggest armament in history, that of nuclear weapons during the 1950s.
Leonie’s PhD project explores containment beyond policy making, nuclear strategy, and military doctrine. Extending the traditional scholarship on containment, she approaches containment from a Strategic Communications perspective, considering containment-related policies in parallel with the language used to describe nuclear weapons, and the discursive fields of the media, popular culture, the home, and science. What were the assumptions within containment and, later on, in the connections drawn with other discourses, that would justify, and offer a seemingly logical grounding for, the policies they inspired? How was it that by the mid-1950s, it had become “common sense” even for a primary school child to recognize that a nuclear attack from the Soviets might be imminent and that the correct response would be to “duck and cover”?
While Leonie’s PhD is looking at Cold War history, it is also extremely timely. Over the past decade there has been a rejuvenation of cold war rhetoric, intensifying over the past few years. From Edward Lucas’ The New Cold War (2008), to Michael McFaul’s From Cold War to Hot Peace (2018), from the explosion of nuclear bunker sales in the US to calls for “containment” of North Korea and Iran. Terms such as “containment”, “Cold War 2.0”, “East vs. West”, “deterrence”, have become part of the everyday political vocabulary again. Has the containment metaphor returned or did it never disappear? Is this simply a convenient slippage back into comfortable ways of thinking about international conflict? And why is it so appealing to use the container metaphor to describe international relations? What are the underlying assumptions in the containment metaphor and model that might be constraining political and strategic thinking in today’s political landscape?
Rethinking the vernacular transversally: A methodological reworking of Vernacular Security Studies
This research is a multi-disciplinary project, which brings understandings of the vernacular outside of critically orientated studies of security. Pulling on strands of Sociolinguistics and Anthropology, I will investigate how they articulate and define the vernacular, language formation, communicative practices and the types of language different people speak in different contexts. In doing so I will re-specify and rework established terminology within the subject, critiquing our understanding of Vernacular Security Studies, placing language, and security talk, back at the centre of the discipline.
The project will involve operationalising the ‘ordinary’ person, how the politics of identity ‘fits’ into security, and what this might look like, including the methodological implications. Through ethnographic study, I will look at the Za’tari refugee camp in Jordan and how security repertoires can act as a tool to transversalise security knowledge.
Fear, identity and security in post-9/11 American foreign policy
A poll from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in August 2016 found that 42% of Americans felt that their country is less safe than it was before the 9/11 attacks. Fear and security in US foreign policy is of fundamental contemporary concern, yet the role of fear has not been systematically interrogated. The 9/11 attacks and Trump’s electoral success have given rise to an era of volatility and uncertainty; the political and military consequences of which reach all corners of the globe. Scholars have explored how George W Bush’s post-9/11 discourse created and perpetuated a culture of fear around terrorism. Mobilising fear has also been central to Trump’s exclusionary and inflammatory immigration policy: the collective fear of violence and a decay of American identity are central tenets of “making America great again.” The intersection between terrorism and migration revolves around the inextricable relationship between fear and identity; particularly how ‘others’ (terrorists and migrants) are presented in opposition to an American ‘self.’
The aim of Lucy’s research is to assess how discourses of fear are evoked and invoked by the George W Bush and Trump administrations, and how these are used to justify securitised responses to terrorism and migration. In doing so, she will identify ways in which collective fear plays in to post-9/11 US national identity, and explore how this is predicated upon ‘self/other’ binaries.
Tracing the nexus between trauma and technology in the modern understanding of political violence
The origins and effects of trauma are not only intertwined with technological developments in the 19th century, but trauma is disseminated through technologies, often in a traumatizing fashion itself. From drone strikes, “me too” hashtags, or biometric filters to grant a refugee status, trauma and technology are co-constituting how modern political violence is contemporarily defined. Trauma, often presented as one of the defining features of our times, refers to a psychic state after a disturbing event, inassimilable through memory, which collapses the victim’s violent experience of the past into an ever lasting present. In the International Relations literature, studies on trauma have concentrated on the ways in which mass-scale violence, such as terrorism or war rape, and their consequences, has psychologically affected whole communities, without necessarily concentrating on the politics of trauma, but rather on its psychological dimensions. Technology is then usually seen as only enhancing or increasing psychological trauma rather than a co-constitutive element in forms of modern political violence. Oliwia’s project thus seeks to conceptualize and empirically evidence how this co-constitution operates to define political violence beyond its psychological modalities. Genealogically engaging with the early connections between technology and violence found in the work of Jünger, Heidegger, and Schmitt, the project seeks to evidence how integrating technology is politically co-constitutive, with trauma, of forms of modern political violence – whether sexual violence, visual representation of historically traumatic events, or social media immediacy and ubiquity in representing daily violence – that have come to define our modern Zeitgeist.
Trust in International Relations – a meaningful driver of EU external relations with MENA countries in security policy domains?
The concept of ‘trust’ has recently gained traction among scholars interested in cooperative relations between states, though studies remain in their relative infancy in terms of adequate theorising and conceptualisation (Hoffman, 2006; Brugger, 2015).
It is the premise of Euan’s proposed research – by way of further developing the concept of ‘trust’ within an International Relations (IR) perspective – that such an approach would not only serve to put ‘the IR back into EU studies’ theoretically, but also offer a new avenue for exploring questions of European Union (EU)/Middle East and North Africa (MENA) security cooperation empirically. The proposed research question for this project is thus: in what way and to what extent does ‘trust’ affect security relations between the EU and MENA countries?
Euan plans to utilise a sequential exploratory approach; an initial phase of qualitative research in order to explore the various characteristics of trust in EU/MENA relations and beyond, followed by a second quantitative collection of data to better understand the dynamics trust between the EU and MENA countries. Specifically, he will look at three MENA countries and three security policy domains within each.
Strategic ”castling” on Eurasia’s energy map: Russia’s natural gas strategy enhancement
Kalina’s PhD research argues that in the last two decades the complicated Eurasian energy dynamic has undergone a fundamental structural change, which has led to the ”regrouping” of its main actors’ strategies, policies, and regional approaches. In the rapidly changing regional context, where interests and conflicts are interwoven, the enhancement of the Eurasian actors’ strategies and bargain capacity is what has become relatively more important than maximising their traditional realist power.
The case study looks into one of Eurasia’s fundamental energy pillars, and also key political and security actor, Russia, and its natural gas strategy from the early 2000s onward. It uses an interdisciplinary approach combining International Political Economy (IPE) with negotiations theory. Through a multi-level vertical and horizontal method, the analysis ”dissects” Russia gas strategy into three levels: domestic; regional; and international, and examines the dynamics of each level. Finally, it integrates the three levels into a comprehensive strategic analysis. Although a variety of aspects affecting Russia’s energy sector and its strategy have been analysed already, Russia’s gas strategy has not been examined comprehensively within a theoretical framework that encompasses the dynamics of its domestic, regional, international level. This research investigates the drivers of the aforementioned strategic changes on these three levels, tracks their outcome down and assesses them, asking the questions – why did these changes take place and what kind of outcomes did they lead to?
The EU’s Responses to External Threats: Between Power and Institutions (Working Title)
Luigi’s research analyses the increasingly topical issue of the European Union’s responses to threats in its near abroad, assessing the respective role of Member States and EU Institutions in shaping responses and – by using the process tracing method – inductively theorising the conditions under which each factor exerts a greater impact on responses and the causal mechanisms through which it does so.
An Institution will be defined as ‘a set of rules and norms that stipulate the ways in which states should co-operate and compete with one another’. The rules and norms guiding EU foreign policy are codified in Article 21 of the Treaty on European Union. Drawing on a broad conception of security (Ullman, 1983; Buzan/Wæver/de Wilde, 1998; Mathews, 1989; Buzan, 1991), threat will be defined as ‘an entity or phenomenon that has the potential to damage the European Union’s security’. The thesis is based on three empirical case studies: the EU’s response to the Ukraine crisis (early 2014 -mid 2016), to the migration crisis (early 2015- late 2016) and to civil war in Libya (mid 2014- mid 2016). The dependent variable of Luigi’s analysis is the EU’s response, namely its policy output in the three cases. This is limited to output within the framework of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and does not include the foreign policies of individual Member States. The independent variables are: i) Member States’ security preferences and ii) EU rules and norms.
Listening to the Street? The Response of Post-Soviet Non-Democratic Regimes to Popular Protests
It is hypothesised that, to maintain the stability of contemporary authoritarian regimes, repression alone is insufficient and responsiveness to popular opinion necessary. It is further hypothesised that street protests are a mechanism of government responsiveness. Protests are, all other things equal, less likely to escalate into revolutionary events when met by concessions. The governments of Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan will be used as case studies to assess these hypotheses.
Katherine’s thesis aims to contribute primarily to the literature on the internal dynamics of contemporary authoritarianism, building on the work of Hale (2005) and Levitsky and Way (2002), who analysed the role of protests in such regimes. The approach differs from those dominant in the literature. Firstly, existing studies tend to focus on the relationship between regime and opposition elites, rather than investigating protestors as actors with agency. The potential causal effects of protests as an independent variable are therefore neglected. Secondly, the literature focuses on democratisation. The focus is therefore on regime, rather than policy, change. Results that fall short of systemic change are neglected. Katherine’s thesis analyses the role of street protests in routine politics. Thirdly, there is an assumption that regimes subvert and manipulate public opinion, rather than attempting to respond to it. There has been little investigation into whether this holds in all cases.
For each case, protest incidents will be identified using a keyword search of the LexisNexis and GDELT news aggregators. Protest event analysis (PEA) will be carried out on each incident. Key variables will be identified and coded, allowing for some quantitative analysis. Correlations between the occurrence of street protests and regime decisions that align with popular preferences will be investigated, as well as correlations between particular government responses and broader regime stability. Causal mechanisms will then be suggested. News data will be supplemented with statistical data, Russian language local media outlets that are not included in the LexisNexis database, social media posts, and author conducted interviews, where possible. Triangulation with these data sources, as well as the use of a very wide range of news sources, will mitigate the weaknesses associated with news data. Whilst following a core approach typical of social movement research, this methodology introduces an innovation in the use of news aggregators. PEAs typically use a small number of news outlets, searched manually. News aggregators allow thousands of local, regional, and international to be searched, mitigating selection bias, and reducing the resources required to carry out the study.
Chiara Libiseller- @CLibiseller
Tracing Ideational Change and Continuity in Concepts and Labels of War and Warfare in the North-Atlantic Area Since the End of the Cold War
The end of the Cold War has precipitated a shift in the Anglo-American field of Strategic Studies: it lifted the field from the superpower competition, allowing it to (re)discover wars other than (nuclear) great power wars as an object of inquiry. This has changed the ways practitioners think about war and scholars conduct research on war, and triggered a debate on the changing character and nature of war, which continues until today. Many concepts that had guided the study of war and strategy during the Cold War seem to have become irrelevant, so new concepts had to be created to capture the character of post-Cold War armed conflicts. This has caused a true proliferation of concepts of war and strategy that led some commentators speak of a ‘strategic concepts industry’ and complain about buzzwords, fads and fashions in the field of Strategic Studies. Indeed, the field is characterised by waves of concepts that are intensively used for some time, and then get marginalised by another fashionable concept. ‘Hybrid war’ and ‘cyber war’ are the latest of these fashions; earlier examples include ‘new wars’, ‘asymmetric war/fare’ and ‘counterinsurgency’.
The aim of Chiara’s research is to understand how post-Cold War concepts of war become fashionable and unfashionable. ‘Fashionability’, for her, is not only about the number of people who use a concept, but also about the process through which these concepts are applied to ever-more case studies and thereby stripped of their meaning. Through process tracing periods of rise to fashionability and decline or marginalization, Chiara wants to understand the causes and mechanisms underlying this phenomenon. By tracing the rise and fall of concepts, the degree of change and continuity between them, and the broader (often implicit) assumptions they are based upon, she also aims to identify broader paradigms and patterns within which the field of Strategic Studies generates understandings about war.
Chiara contributes regularly to http://sipol.at/en/
Lilly Pijnenburg Muller
Cybersecurity is a rapidly growing field of study. However, there is little interdisciplinary work conducted that combines technical research with social science. This project aims to bridge the gap between research on the materiality of cyberspace, the technical experts and analyses of incident and response. To recognize, prepare and respond to multi-dimensional cyber threat landscape, the risk of cyber-attacks needs to be discerned and evaluated.
The project will conduct quantitative statistical analyses of incidents and responses (legal, regulatory, business and law) to assess the nature of the cyber risk at large, combined with qualitative analyses of how risk and resilience is understood within the communities that responds to such risk. This is primarily done through (intra)ethnographic work in a Norton Fulbright Rose, and their technical partners, drawing on participant observation of their day to day practices. The thesis aims to engages with the technical experts that socialise malware, with the aim to challenge how cyber(in)security is created and practised. Moving away from traditional imaginaries that see cybersecurity as something to define, or as a threat, the project aims to understand how knowledge about it is created, and how this effects how security there for is constructed.
Russia and Foreign Fighters: from import to export
Terrorism in Russia is primarily associated with the separatist and jihadist movements in the North Caucasus, particularly in Chechnya. Despite its home-grown nature, this terrorism also had a substantial international dimension. Attacks, like that on the Dubrovka Theatre in Moscow or the infamous Beslan school siege, have reverberated throughout Europe. At the same time, Russia has also been the target of international criticism for its human rights record related to its counterterrorism responses. More importantly, Russia became a significant destination for foreign fighters, who came to the North Caucasus attracted by the separatist struggle combined with a post-Soviet religious revival in this Muslim majority area of the Russian Federation. Foreign fighters are still a major factor in the international dimension of terrorism in Russia, but nowadays Russia has turned from a destination for foreign fighters, mainly from Arabic countries, to a country of origin of foreign fighters. To be clear, this does not imply that these original incoming foreign fighters are simply moving on to new destinations. Rather, North Caucasians, but also ethnic Russians, are now fighting abroad as foreign fighters.
Annamaria’s PhD project investigates why and how this change occurred. A concurrent development was the intensification of Russia’s counterterrorism (CT) efforts in the NC. This project focusses on the potential role of these CT policies as an explanatory variable based on suggestions in the literature. In this context, ‘the state’ mainly relates to the Russian national security institutions (siloviye strukturi). When compared to FFs coming from other regions but participating in the same conflicts, studying the case of Russian FFs allows us to propose a revision to the broader theory on FFs, conceptualising and contextualising the role of the state, which can then be extended to and tested in other cases.
The Court of Justice of the European Union and policy change: Analysing the influence of the CJEU on Justice and Home Affairs polices
The extent to which supranational courts, such as the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), generate policy change, and can influence European Union (EU) legislation and national legislation has been an issue of long-term debate. Tinahy’s research endeavours to contribute to the policy and law literature by analysing how CJEU jurisprudence has influenced key Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) policy outputs before and after the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon (Trauner and Ripoll Servent, 2014:1142-1143). The central guiding research question is: To what extent, and under what conditions, does the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) influence Justice and Home Affairs policy outputs?
The question of whether supranational courts are able to drive policy change (resulting in changes to the core of the policy and changes of secondary order) addresses the political impact of judicial decisions, and the transfer of decision-making powers to a non-majoritarian institution (Martinsen, 2015: 23). Tinahy’s research will use a constructivist (sociological institutionalism) approach to examine secondary EU legislation, CJEU case law, and findings from semi-structured elite interviews with civil servants involved in decision-making processes in key JHA sub-policy areas. The field of Justice and Home Affairs is a sensitive area of policy-making. JHA policies impinge upon the sovereignty of EU member states and the human rights and mobility rights of nationals and third country nationals (TCNs) (Wolff, 2015: 129-130). The influence of the CJEU on Justice and Home Affairs policies remains under-explored. Much of the existing literature (Ripoll Servent in Ripoll Servent and Trauner, 2018; Martinsen, 2015: 20-23) has focused on one specific area in isolation, such as asylum or social policy, which has limited the ability to draw wider patterns across JHA policy domains. For this reason, this research will focus on four main JHA sub-policy areas: immigration (family reunification), border control (the Schengen regime), asylum (the Dublin system), and data protection from 2005 to 2017.
The Role of Trade Expertise in Shaping National Regulatory Autonomy
Fabian’s PhD thesis examines how the debates between trade experts in Committees of the World Trade Organization (WTO) shape the interpretation of multilateral trade agreements and, therefore, Member States’ national regulatory autonomy. The project investigates empirically and theoretically how the discursive interactions between committee members can lead to the creation (and contestation) of shared ideas and common conceptual frameworks about the objectives and limits of the WTO’s agreements.
The project sheds new light on the roles that WTO administrative bodies play in regime maintenance, norm elaboration and the adaptation of the existing legal framework to new challenges. The thesis advances the argument that the contributions of WTO Committees to these crucial tasks, their internal functioning and the role of expert knowledge in international trade governance remain relatively under-explored. It argues that WTO Committee proceedings are more effective and have more profound implications on the operationalisation of WTO treaties and, by extension, member states’ domestic regulatory affairs, than is currently realised. The project reflects the turn towards social constructivist theorising in International Political Economy and International Economic Law research. It is supervised by Dr Valbona Muzaka at King’s Department of European and International Studies and Dr James Scott at the Department of Political Economy.
What kinds of local institutions and external global levers and can most effectively and sustainably counter the closing of civil society spaces?
Whilst the reasons for threats to democracy are complex, there is increasing recognition that for democracy to flourish, a strong, fully engaged civil society is imperative. Notions of civil society are diffuse and subjective (Edwards, 2014), but there is a general consensus that, in addition to its role in supporting democracies to thrive, a healthy civil society expands the realm of human connection to meet essential needs: well-being, social connections, civic participation, freedom of expression, and belonging.
Although threats to the closing of civil society spaces are continually countered in a variety of ways, there is insufficient evidence about what works, and what works for the longer term. There is too limited understanding about what approaches – whether ‘bottom up’ from local institutions and social movements, or ‘top down’ from the interventions of other countries or global institutions – are most effective and sustainable in preventing the closing of civil society spaces. In addition to the rapid reaction that is so vital to countering threats when they arise – for instance, to freedom of expression, Joe’s work will argue that some broader theoretical underpinning is needed to understand how national and global actors (state and non-state) can develop more proactive, holistic strategies, creating an overall enabling environment where a flourishing civil society is far more likely and attempts to close spaces far more rare.
Sarah Court-Brown (www.twitter.com/sarahcourtbrown)
Mapping Equality in the UK Constitution
Sarah’s thesis aims to map equality within the UK constitution, against the usual view that equality is not a constitutional principle. The hypothesis behind her research is that equality plays multiple, overlapping roles within the UK constitution. Sarah aims to assist scholars and practitioners to understand equality and the UK constitution better. If her research hypothesis is proven, this may also entail the maintenance of certain equality protections as a matter of UK constitutional law going forwards, which could prove significant when the UK equality framework is reconsidered after Brexit.
Onna Malou Van den Broek
Blurring the Lines: A Quantitative Study of the Dynamic Interplay Between Lobbying & Corporate Social Responsibility
Firms are increasingly involved in political activities around social issues (Peterson & Pfitzer 2009). These activities suggest a certain degree of interaction between lobbying, or in other words Corporate Political Activities (CPA), and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), evoking questions of whether there is a trade-off between pursuing CSR and CPA. Explanations have far-reaching consequences for the scope of CSR and CPA practices, and bear political and social implications. Understanding the role of corporations in society is especially important in the new area of governance modes beyond the state. This understanding can lead to an increased level of accountability and transparency (Bernhagen & Patsiurko 2014: 1-2). While a growing number of studies have started to explore the link between CPA and CSR (Bernhagen & Patsiurko 2014; den Hond, Rehbein, Bakker & Lankveld 2014; Mellahi, Frynas, Sun & Siegel 2016), no research has explained their interaction in a comprehensive manner. Onna’s research aims to fill this gap by systematically analysing the dynamic interplay between CPA and CSR. These insights lead to the following research question: “When, how, to what extent, and with what effect is there a dynamic interplay between CSR issues and CPA activities?” Onna will start by using the resource-based theory to explain any trade-offs and look at the antecedents and effects of (mis/non)alignment. Furthermore, she will focus on heterogeneous institutional- and societal pressures as explanatory determinants of the dynamic interplay between CSR and CPA.
Assessing the differential effect of poll exposure on voting behaviour
Political polling has come under increased scrutiny in recent years following notable failures to predict the 2015 and 2017 election outcomes, as well as the result of the Brexit referendum. Inquiries undertaken in light of this culminated in a recent House of Lords Select Committee report calling for the polling industry to ‘get its house in order’, but, notably, rejecting the case for banning poll publication for any time period. This could partly be explained by the recent finding that such failures do not majorly diverge from the norm of historically endemic inaccuracy, but it has also been framed in terms of the influence of polls on public opinion. That is, pollsters welcomed the Select Committee’s conclusions on the grounds that any potential polling blackout, founded on the idea that inaccurate forecasts could unfairly sway the vote, would fail to account for the fact that, in the absence of polls, people could still be influenced by their (even more prone to error) expectations of the outcome. This notion is curious, however, given the large and growing body of research putatively demonstrating the existence of a bandwagon effect, according to which voter exposure to opinion polls gives further advantage to the leading candidate. It would therefore seem, given the evidence presented in this literature, that polls affect electoral outcomes in a way many might deem undemocratic.
Matthew will argue, however, that such an assertion is jeopardised by conceptual inadequacies within this body of work. Not only is the bandwagon effect loosely and differently defined by different researchers, but also very few attempts have been made at identifying the causal mechanisms through which this effect is had. It may be that the bandwagon effect only exists among certain individuals, contingent on certain characteristics or circumstances, related for example to identity, partisanship, knowledge, emotions, political engagement or efficacy. It may even be that the effect does not exist at all when controlling for the correct alternative explanations. Moreover, while observational studies of this effect have struggled to deal with issues of internal validity, in the absence of clear theoretical expressions of the bandwagon effect, the crucial requirement of maximising experimental realism – by providing theoretically sound treatments – has been overlooked in experimental studies. Matthew’s thesis, therefore, takes stock of this situation and aims to reorient the literature by clearly defining the concepts at play, hypothesising several mechanisms through which these may operate based on a comprehensive reading of existing scholarship, and testing these through conjoint analysis. This method allows him to engage closely with theory by offering multi-layered, nuanced and realistic treatments, produces an output to which mediation and moderation analyses can be applied to identify clearly which mechanisms are borne out in the data, and directly controls for alternative explanations. In addition to the conceptual contribution of reestablishing how we can think about bandwagon effects and poll effects more broadly, Matthew will thus offer novel empirical insights into how any such effect might be had, if it exists at all, and further our understanding of how conjoint analysis can be deployed in studies of political behaviour.
External Sources of Instability: How Does Globalisation Affect Electoral Volatility?
The aim of this project is to use quantitative methods to understand how globalisation theory can be applied to electoral politics to explain recent trends of instability and dealignment. By using measures of electoral volatility and instability as dependent variables, Andrew’s research project will test empirically the validity of two competing theories of globalisation’s impact on the autonomy of the state – one which posits that globalisation necessarily entails a loss of political autonomy on behalf of policymakers and another which takes the view that the processes of globalisation do not necessitate the removal of political agency from policymakers. The results of this study should contribute to a greater understanding of the ways in which economic globalisation affects electoral behaviour and the extent to which economic globalisation and quality representative democracy are compatible.
Inevitable outcome of the Populist Left or Economic War: Causes and Character of the Venezuelan Crisis from 2012
Possibly the most enigmatic recent political transformation, Venezuela is a reference point in debates on populism and the viability of left wing political programmes far beyond its shores. Located by scholars as a leading part of the ‘Pink Tide’, the wave of leftist governments challenging the Washington Consensus in the region (see Grugel and Rigirozzi, 2009; Panizza, 2009), the “Bolivarian Revolution” was lauded by sympathisers for its success in improving a number of social indicators, including poverty, literacy and access to healthcare. Now, however, Venezuela is more often mentioned by pundits to denigrate by association, and this is because it is currently in a deep crisis.
The central research question for this project will be “What are the determinants of the Venezuelan crisis?” This crucial question has been insufficiently tackled in the literature. There is little of scholarly quality written, but two main schools of thought exist, which correspond closely to the opposition/government axis. The first draws from the theory of macroeconomic populism (Dornbusch and Edwards, 1989) and claims the crisis is the ineluctable result of the populist nature of Chavismo (e.g. Edwards, 2010; Hausman and Rodríguez, 2014; Nagel, 2014; López Maya, 2014). A key limitation of this literature is that it disregards the context in which Chavismo emerged (see Buxton, 2014), identified determinants are not always adequately proven to be causes rather than effects, and it does not explain the mechanisms through which the “populist features” determine the set of policies. The main rival school draws from dependency theory and argues that the crisis is the result of an “economic war” by domestic elites working in tandem with the US (e.g. Curcio, 2015, 2017; Serrano, 2016). As for the populist school, these writers often make claims inadequately proven by the presented evidence. Answering this is fundamental in lifting debates not just on Venezuela, but also in wider debates on the viability of left-wing economic policies. By comprehensively identifying and discussing the causes and character of the crisis, Joseph’s resulting thesis aims to be a significant addition to the literature on Venezuela and the nature of the “Bolivarian Revolution”. In addition, it aims to raise questions that can be posed to, or provide potential hypotheses to be tested in, similar cases.
Are peoples’ distributive preferences consistent with their choices over allocations in society? – An experimental test
Nina’s study will experimentally test the consistency of individuals’ preferences for distributive justice with their choices over allocations in society. The importance of such a study is twofold: It is a test of revealed social preference theory and addresses issues of constitutional politics.
One of the basic assumptions made by studies in the experimental social sciences is that choices over outcomes reveal preferences. In particular, when subjects in economic experiments act pro-socially it is commonly assumed that these decisions reveal social preferences over principles of morality or justice. A common finding in such experiments is however that individuals’ choices are inconsistent across different decision problems when it is assumed that social preferences revealed in one decision apply to another. Whilst various studies have attempted to explain this inconsistency through combinations of different social preferences which dominate in different decision problems, the basic issue of whether social preferences are in fact revealed by the choices made in experiments persists. This study aims to address this issue by experimentally testing the consistency of individuals’ preferences for distributive justice with their choices over allocations in society.
A study of the consistency of social preferences is however not just important for the assumptions of revealed preference theory but also for debates in constitutional politics. Constitutional politics establishes the rules or principles that should guide action in a society. For the stability of constitutional arrangements, it is important that a consistency between expressed preferences over these principles and actual decisions over outcomes exists. If individuals however regularly agree to allocative principles, the practical implementation of which they oppose, then it may create a build-in source of opposition to the constitution.
MODS: Mapping Knowledge with Data Science (a CASE project with the British Library)
The British Library manages the national database of UK doctoral theses, called EThOS (http://ethos.bl.uk). EThOS
enables users to search for, discover, and access theses for use in their own research; however, the almost complete
aggregation of metadata about some 450,000 dissertations enables researchers to ask very interesting questions about the nature and production of knowledge in an institutional and geographic context. For example, it becomes possible to compare one university’s outputs against another (not just in a quantitative sense, but also in terms of collective contributions, impact on the discipline, etc.), make connections between authors and their supervisors, and to analyse disciplinary trends.
These are quintessentially social science questions about the impact of individuals, work, and mobility on organisations
and cultures, but making sense of this amount of data requires sophisticated computational approaches to digesting text
and analysing relationships. The project therefore offers an exciting opportunity for interdisciplinary working: for those
with an computer science background it is an application of cutting-edge algorithms to real-world challenges with real
world impact, and for those with a social science grounding it is the opportunity to draw upon the full force of the ‘AI
revolution’ to conduct ground-breaking research at scale.
Conservative Party discourse on Europe: do Conservative Parliamentarians represent the party at the grassroots?
Brexit is arguably the greatest political challenge the United Kingdom (UK) has faced since the Second World War. The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) has given the Conservative Government the opportunity to shape politics for years to come, through negotiations with the EU and new legislation in Parliament. With such far-reaching effects, and with democracy in the UK depending on the representation of public preferences by Members of Parliament (MPs), it is imperative that the final Brexit deal is responsive to the voters.
The project will aim to answer the following research questions:
To what extent does the parliamentary Conservative Party represent the views of the party members in their discourse on Europe? If party members are represented by Conservative MPs, are they represented in a symbolic and/or a substantive manner? If party members’ views on Europe are not represented by Conservative MPs, what are the main reasons for this?
To what extent do patterns of representation vary geographically in England?
This study is pertinent at a time when the Conservative Party is deeply divided over Britain’s future relationship with the EU, and a disconnect between the party in public office and at the grassroots has been found. It matters not only for the consequences of these divisions on party unity, but also the implications that the divisions are likely to have on the representation of party members by the elites. If MPs are not representative even of their local party members, this has major implications for the democratic nature of the future EU-UK relationship.
Political, Economic and Well-Being Inequality in the United Kingdom
Jeevun is an Economist who is undertaking PhD research on political, economic and wellbeing inequality in the United Kingdom. In particular, he is interested in the effect that voting patterns have had on taxation, social security and public spending policies, as well as the impact that secular economic forces such as automation and globalisation have had on the incomes and wellbeing of different groups. His research involves the construction of formal theoretical economic models, which he tests using econometric & causal inference methods as well as microsimulation modelling.
‘Always-and-everywhere-embedded’ markets: Explaining the longevity of neo-liberal labour markets
The role of the third sector in the modern economy is a topic of dispute. Research indicates that through generating community-led solutions to long-term social problems the third sector has relieved the UK state of a portion of its welfare responsibilities, but how this fits with broader fiscal and economic changes remains underexplored. This thesis will examine the role of the third sector, and its non-governmental and non-profit-making historical equivalents, in stabilizing of self-regulatory and highly flexible neo-liberal labour markets.
This central research question contains three broad aims. Firstly, to explain the longevity of neo-liberal labour market policies in the UK today and in the past, characterised by lower state welfare to push employer-led flexibility, the drive for lower labour costs and acceptance of job insecurity through increased labour market participation. Secondly, to explore the third sector as quasi-state, extra-market support structure which contains the contradictions of neo-liberal labour markets from outside the market and its explicit policy. Using Polanyian underpinnings, my research will look at market and society not as continually separated and re-introduced to one another through regulation, but as settling into new interactions and creating different complementarities. This leads, finally, to contribute to the conceptual development of international political economy by supplying empirical substantiation for the Polanyian claim that markets and society are never separate but are continually reciprocally constructed.
The Dirty Rules Dilemma: Achieving Justice in Conditions of Corruption
When the rules and norms of a democratic society are considered unjust, how should just actors move forward in such systems when tangible political victories require engagement with those same unjust systems? For example, if an aspiring candidate considers their polity’s existing campaign finance system akin to legalised bribery, that same politician might plausibly face a situation where they need to engage in the system in order to win.
The existing accounts of how to deal with this dilemma within political theory are, I argue, currently insufficient. Some theorists would argue that it is unforgivable for politicians to justifiably engage in these structures – a position I argue is untenable for those who want to enter politics to challenge injustice. Others would argue that the existence of these structures means that their opponents should “suspend” their objections for now, a position I argue ignores the discrete damage engaging with these structures can inflict.
These “dirty rules” dilemmas should be viewed as a subset of the much-discussed dirty hands dilemmas, where achieving desirable outcomes or preventing disasters requires committing real and tangible moral wrongs. In dirty rules dilemmas, these dilemmas emerge not from the individual wrongs of others, as with traditional dirty hands dilemmas, but from the structures and institutions that govern politics.
The structural and remediable character of dirty rules dilemmas draw attention to current shortcomings within the dirty hands debate, namely on how to establish meaningful prescriptive and evaluative guidelines without invoking theories that deny the reality of said dilemmas. To tackle these shortcomings, tools of just war theory such as proportionality, just cause, and discrimination, when rooted in a shared foundation of discussing permissible wrongdoing, will be ported into the dirty rules context. This is promising in helping real-world actors navigate dirty rules dilemmas.
Judged by machines? The impact of AI algorithms on legitimacy in the Justice System
Policing tools, body-worn video, online courts, shadow robot judges, the justice system is undergoing rapid change. The design of tools used can affect functionality, power relations, and the legitimacy of the court system as a whole. The project looks transnationally at how this can occur, building on Bowling et al’s description of ‘automatic justice’. As well as grey literature and secondary data analysis, qualitative empirical data will be collected through semi-structured interviews. Interdisciplinary, it will cross departmental lines bringing in public policy, law and computer science theory.