Current Research

Current Research

This page presents a summary of the many research projects that are currently underway at the Politics and International Relations department. Please contact the investigators directly for more information.

INCLUSIVEPEACE: Citizen inclusion in power-sharing settements

Joanne McEvoy, University of Aberdeen, and many other researchers

Joanne McEvoy is Co-Investigator on the project INCLUSIVEPEACE, exploring citizen inclusion in power-sharing settlements. The ORA7 funded project is led by PIs in the UK (Prof Neo Loizides, University of Kent), Canada (Prof Allison McCulloch, Brandon University), Japan (Prof Yuji Uesugi, Waseda University) and New Caledonia (Prof Mathias Chauchat, University of New Caledonia). With more than 20 researchers worldwide, this international project is funded with £1.6million over three years in seven cases (Bosnia, Cyprus, Lebanon, New Caledonia, Northern Ireland, the Philippines, and South Africa). Mixed methods, it combines public opinion surveys and qualitative research case study research to investigate citizen inclusion in the adoption, operation and evolution of power-sharing settlements in divided and conflict-affected societies.

Feminist Epistemic Resistance beyond the EU? Ecofeminist Struggles for Climate Justice in Turkey

Digdem Soyaltin Colella, University of Aberdeen, and Define Gonenc, Center for Mediterranean Studies, Yaşar University

The literature on climate justice is heavily dominated by the issues related with finance mechanisms, development aid and technology transfer from developed to developing countries while gender is rarely addressed as a key to understanding the climate change crisis. Although the EU as a green normative power seeks to promote mutual recognition and non-domination in the international climate change negotiations, its policies towards Turkey are significantly shaped by top-down implementation of the European Green Deal while intrastate issues of gender, responsibility and vulnerability have been hardly figured in the climate justice agenda of EU-Turkey relations. By bringing insights from ecofeminism, this paper highlights connection between gender and environment and discusses how women gain voice in epistemic resistance and take role in local climate struggles beyond the EU in a least likely case: Turkey. Our findings, derived from interviews we conducted with anti-mining activists in Muğla, a city located in south-west Turkey, illustrate that the participation in environmental struggles against coal mining and collaboration with scientific and legal experts and ecology advocates has contributed to epistemic justice and female empowerment yet failed to derail construction plans. We explore how women in local communities have strengthened the anti-mining movement and then trace structural factors related with patriarchy and capitalism that prevent inclusion of ecofeminist perspectives in the environmental decision-making processes that remain disproportionately male in Turkey.

This project is partly funded by Research Funding from School of Social Sciences at the University of Aberdeen.

Military-Artists Collaboration in the era of the Global War on Terror in the UK and the US

Natasha Danilova, University of Aberdeen

Dr Danilova interviews cultural industry professionals and military organisers of cultural events, conducts auto-ethnography of military-themed theatrical productions and engages with multiple stakeholders involved in the creation, curation and exhibition of military-thematic art. Although there is a long history of militaries engaging with artists, this project problematises the conditions specific to the 21st century conflict, from 2001 onwards including: 1) the participation of Western liberal democracies in overseas, protracted, traumatising (forever) conflicts involving thousands of soldiers; 2) the intensification of biopolitical neo-liberalism - an ideology which has profoundly informed facets of contemporary military and government policies, particularly in terms of finding the ‘cost-effective’ ways of managing warfare as well as military welfare for veterans with PTSD; 3) the perceived deepening of civil-military gap within Western societies where less than 1 per cent of the population serves in the military, the fact which is often blamed by policy makers on the invisibility and misunderstanding of the 21st century soldiering. This project draws on/expands debates within Art/Aesthetics and Visual IR, Feminist IR, Critical Military Studies and society-military relations. This research project has received support of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (April 2022-April 2023).

AI and the Bomb: Nuclear Strategy and Risk in the Digital Age

James Johnson, University of Aberdeen

Will AI make accidental nuclear war more likely? If so, how might these risks be reduced? This research provides a coherent, innovative, and multidisciplinary examination of the potential effects of AI technology on nuclear strategy and escalation risk. The project addresses a gap in the international relations and strategic studies literature that considers how AI might influence nuclear security and future warfare. Its findings will have important theoretical and policy implications for using AI in the nuclear enterprise. The research advances an innovative theoretical framework to consider AI technology and atomic risk, drawing on insights from political psychology, neuroscience, computer science, and strategic studies. This multidisciplinary research unpacks the seminal cognitive-psychological features of the Cold War-era scholarship, offering a novel explanation for why these matter for AI applications and nuclear strategic thinking; thus, ensuring the research's policy relevance and contribution to the literature that considers the impact of military force and technological change.

For more on Dr Johnson's forthcoming book

Defenders of Local Democracy: Profiling Aberdeen City and Shire Councillors and Their Interests

Lynn Bennie and Malcolm Harvey, University of Aberdeen

Studies of representatives tend to focus on the national level – MPs and MSPs – and very little research considers local representation.  This pilot study collates publicly available information on all 115 Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire councillors, documenting social characteristics, educational and professional backgrounds, declared interests and campaigns they support.  (Pending funding, a larger project will build on this pilot, taking in all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities.) Our findings so far suggest that, despite parties’ attempts to adopt more inclusive approaches to candidate selection, there has been limited progress in increasing the diversity of those elected to local government, a lack of descriptive representation.  However, councillors are engaged with and attempt to support many local businesses, groups and ‘good causes’ in society, pointing to a model of representation with strong links to the local area (a form of community representation).

Solar Planning in the UK

David Toke, Kathrin Thomas, Jo Vergunst, Paula Duffy, Costanza Concetti, Mohsin Hussain, University of Aberdeen

The Solar Planning project will further the understanding of factors influencing the outcomes of planning applications for ground mounted solar photovoltaics (pv) farms at a local authority level. This will be done through analysis of stakeholder narratives, qualitative interviewing, surveys, ethnographic analysis and statistical analysis of GIS data and data from planning reports. This is a vitally important topic because of the importance of renewable energy to the target of obtaining net zero UK emissions by 2050. It is also important because this will advance the theory of the role of narratives and how this interacts with a range of spatial and demographic factors and also communities' relationships with the landscape. This is an interdisciplinary project involving Political Science, Anthropology and Geography.

Exploring 20th Century Policies Affecting Gypsy/Traveller Communities in Scotland

Ali Watson (PI, University of St Andrews), Jamie Hinch (University of St Andrews), Bennett Collins (University of Aberdeen) 

Dr Bennett Collins is part of a 9-person research team, largely based out of the Third Generation Project at the University of St Andrews, that is carrying out archival research into historic state policies affecting Gypsy/Traveller communities in Scotland during the 20th century. These policies, colloquially known as the “Tinker Experiment”, are thought to have involved the forced housing of Gypsy/Traveller families in substandard accommodation at sites across Scotland and, in some instances, the forced removal of children from their families and subsequent adoption domestically and overseas. Funded by the Scottish Government, the project aims to establish a timeline of key events involved in the implementation of these policies; identify any available records on key decisions made by key stakeholders in the state and Third Sector that led to these policies; and estimate the extent to which these policies were implemented. The project began in Spring 2023 and is set to conclude towards the end of 2024.  

Diversity of voices on constitutional change in post-Brexit Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

Joanne McEvoy, University of Aberdeen, and Jennifer Todd, University College Dublin

We map the diversity of voices on constitutional change to understand how they approach constitutional debate, and how they would wish to participate in any future process. We have engaged with around 100 people in focus groups (with women's groups, ethnic minorities, and youth) and interviews with community groups and politicians. This research has been funded by the Irish Government Department of Foreign Affairs, the Irish Research Council, and the Royal Irish Academy/University of Notre Dame ARINS project.

The Global Governance of Revolutionary Technologies: Security, Competitiveness, and the Scientific State

Michael E. Smith, University of Aberdeen

This forthcoming volume provides a systematic analysis of the key political characteristics of revolutionary technologies, the collective action problems they generate, and the global solutions to those problems. The bulk of the analysis is devoted to high-profile modern revolutionary technologies for the purposes of advancing a conceptual framework regarding global technology governance. Thematically, the volume addresses: 1) the balance between public and private sources of innovation and governance; 2) the balance between international, regional, and domestic levels of jurisdiction; 3) how new technologies can both weaken and empower states in a globalised world depending on the context; 4) how new technologies are diffused from the primary innovating states to the less advanced states; and 5) how to address the economic competitiveness and security aspects of new technologies through international rules. All of these elements are especially critical for scholars and students of international relations in light of the increasing technological disputes across three major power centres (the US, China, and the EU), with supporting roles for other players (Japan, Russia, India, Brazil, etc.) depending on the technologies under consideration.

Covid, crisis, and belonging: Muslim charity in the UK

Samantha May, University of Aberdeen

The research seeks to explore the alterations in Muslim charitable practices during Covid, specifically the shift to donating within the UK in contrast to a previous emphasis on transnational giving. Partly in response to domestic crisis, this shift in charitable donations is also hypothesised to be evidence of British Muslim’s sense of social and political “belonging” to the UK in contrast to narratives which view British Muslims as “isolationist”. The research seeks to explain how and why, Muslim charitable practitioners were at the forefront of Covid mitigation strategies and their unique capacity to engage in post-Covid recovery efforts which simultaneously aid “social integration” broadly. In addition to mapping and understanding transformations in charitable practises and the positives this brings to British civil life, the research also seeks to contribute to conceptualisations of 'social integration' beyond the Westcentric framework currently espoused by British Policy makers.

The EU-NATO cooperation on countering hybrid threat

Dimitrios Anagnostakis, University of Aberdeen

This project focuses on the relationship between the European Union and NATO and on how the two organisations cooperate on countering hybrid threats. Hybrid threats are multidimensional threats which include both conventional and unconventional tools (e.g., diplomatic,military, technological, economic). During the last six years both the EU and NATO have established policies on countering hybrid threats and they have declared their willingness to start working together in this field. In 2017 the two organisations established the ‘European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats’ (CoE Hybrid) in Helsinki. CoE Hybrid is open to all the EU and NATO member states, and it is often described in EU and NATO documents as the key locus of the EU-NATO cooperation on that policy field. Therefore, the main puzzle that this project investigates is the following: how do the two organisations cooperate on countering hybrid threats, given the failure of the previous institutional arrangement of the Berlin Plus agreements? This research provides insights on how the two organisations cooperate with each other, on the effectiveness of their joint institutional frameworks, and on the nature of their relationship. These insights can, in turn, inform policy prescriptions about how the EU and NATO should best address the challenge of hybrid threats.

This project is funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland.

Where are Russia’s soldiers’ mothers now?: The analysis of gendered responses to Putin’s war in Ukraine

Natasha Danilova, University of Aberdeen and Jenny Mathers, University of Aberystwyth

The purpose of the project is to explore the complexities in Russian women’s responses to the war in Ukraine. In contrast to Moscow’s wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya, which provoked a strong groundswell of women’s and especially maternal opposition and marked the founding of one of Russia’s best-known civil society organisations, the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, the responses by Russian women to the current war in Ukraine have been much more varied. Alongside cases of vocal opposition to war and demands that the state release their male relatives from military service, there are numerous examples of women supporting the “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine, and women whose vocal activism demonstrates the intertwining of Putin’s militaristic, masculine patriotism with the stories of personal loss, despair and everyday struggle directed at finding the bodies of their dead sons/male relatives, claiming state-promised compensations, and demanding the recognition of soldiers’ sacrifice.

Recruited by Referendum: The Causes and Consequences of Party Membership Surges

Lynn Bennie, University of Aberdeen, James Mitchell, University of Edinburgh, and Robert Johns, University of Essex

This ESRC-funded research has investigated party membership since the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. Following the referendum, the pro-independence parties - the SNP and Scottish Greens - experienced a huge surge in membership, at a time when political engagement through parties in the UK and elsewhere had appeared to be in irreversible decline. Through surveys of party members and nearly 80 interviews with movement activists and party elites, the project has focused on the reasons for these events and on the long-term consequences for the parties, including their internal organisations, and for the pro-independence movement.  Our findings reveal conventional patterns of party activism in that most members are inactive, although many are digitally connected, suggesting that membership for many is a symbolic or expressive act, and viewed as compatible with being part of a social movement (see Bennie, Mitchell and Johns 2021). The parties have not been ideologically altered or transformed, but they have been organisationally refreshed and have large numbers of members who can potentially be mobilised in the event of a second referendum on Scottish independence. A book with full results of the study is to be published by Routledge.

Bennie, L., Mitchell, J., & Johns, R. (2021). Parties, movements and the 2014 Scottish independence referendum: Explaining the post-referendum party membership surges. Party Politics, 27(6), 1184–1197.

How to get away with corruption? The discursive strategies of populist governments in Hungary and Turkey 

Digdem Soyaltin Colella, University of Aberdeen, and Robert Csehi, Hochschule für Politik München

Hungary and Turkey have been consistently ranked as the two most backsliding countries in terms of controlling corruption in Europe although their populist leaders (Orban in Hungary and Erdogan in Turkey) took the power with strong anti-corruption claims promising to save “pure” people from “corrupt” elites. According to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2022, Hungary and Turkey scored 42 and 36 out of 100 respectively, indicating a significant decline in their anti-corruption efforts. Indeed, both countries have been marred by significant corruption scandals in recent years. Yet, both leaders managed to get away with corruption and stayed in power. Existing literature largely focused on the structural factors (such as media manipulation, and judicial interference) related to the institutional occupation and the redistributive policies and concentration of power over clientele to explain how both ruling leaders sheltered the regime from any major backlash and get away with large-scale corruption. Yet, we do not know much about the discursive strategies employed by political leaders when talking about corruption. In this article, we focus on the political communication techniques of both leaders on how not to take responsibility, muddy waters and highlight how ’the elite’ driven by self-interest is still more corrupt. The empirical evidence is derived from an in-depth analysis of speeches of two leaders between 2018 and 2023.

Investigating the Political Success of Narcissistic Leaders

Philippe Beauregard, University of Aberdeen, and Brianna A. Smith, United States Naval Academy

What do American President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Russian leader Vladimir Putin have in common? They have all been accused of being highly and overtly narcissistic. Such leaders have been successful in rising to the top of their states, including in Western democracies where they often lead radical, extremist, and populist movements. Initially charismatic, these leaders can become dangerous. In the long term as they hold office, narcissists are more likely to fail to empathise with people in need, they are impulsive in making decisions, they gamble and take great risks, and are more likely to initiate a major war. Their aggressivity, attack on democratic institutions, and inability to effectively cooperate are a threat to humanity. Our project aims to discover why overtly narcissistic leaders are so popular. What is the secret to their political success? Is their grandiose image capable of reducing people’s fear and anxiety? Do they provide feelings of excitement with their bold moves and the drama around them that motivate people to take their side? Another possibility is that very angry and dissatisfied people resonate with their aggressive behaviour in which they demean and intimidate others. So far, no psychological study has attempted to test what best explains narcissistic leaders’ political success. We will answer these questions in a series of experiments in which we test when people would support such leaders. This method allows researchers to gather data on how the public responds to narcissistic leadership.

This project is funded by a small research grant from the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust.

Scottish Parties and the Scottish Party System

Malcolm Harvey, University of Aberdeen, and Peter Lynch, University of Stirling

This co-authored book will put the Scottish party system in a historical and theoretical context, looking at sociological and institutional explanations for the significant changes in the dominant party, as well as a look at the organisation, ideology and electoral records of modern parties in the Scottish Parliament.

In their own words: The democracy Tunisians want

Andrea TetiPamela Abbott, Ilia Xypolia, University of Aberdeen, and Saerom Han, Durham University

A paradox of research in MENA since the Arab Uprisings of 2010/11 is that opinion polls consistently show that democracy is seen as the best form of government but that even the countries that have adopted it have not got very far with it. The exception is Tunisia, which governments and academic analysts mostly consider to have achieved democratic status – but the Tunisians themselves do not agree! We have developed an innovative combination of discursive and cognitive interviewing which permits description of informants’ own ways of talking about democracy and what can be expected of governments, to explore precisely what the terms mean, what other concepts they imply or entail and what worldview they express. An understanding of the language and conceptual/discursive framework of the community will be invaluable in understanding what, at base, they want and expect from government, the persistent failure of the global north to understand it (something about which we have written elsewhere) and what has to be done and said to foster social inclusion and empower citizens. Once the method is developed it can be extended to other contexts, by further studies and by amending the routine opinion surveys.