Skip to main content

Politics and International Relations (PIR): People


Christina Boswell

Christina Boswell
Professor Christina Boswell
Dean of Research, College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences
3.21 Chrystal Macmillan Building 15a George Square Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
+44 (0)131 650 9924
Research Interests
Political Sociology, Use of Research in Policy, Immigration and asylum policy, Politics of immigration, Public policy
Guidance and Feedback Hours: by appointment. 
New Book: Manufacturing Political Trust: Targets and Performance Measurement in Public Policy (Cambridge University Press, March 2018).

Research Interests

My research explores the relationship between knowledge and public policy. I examine how politicians and civil servants produce and draw on different kinds of knowledge to make sense of policy problems, and to communicate and legitimise their responses. I also look at how knowledge and expertise are deployed in political debate, and the role that knowledge claims play in building (or undermining) trust and accountability between politicians, government and their voters. My work draws on theories from political science and public policy, organisational sociology, science and technology studies, and Luhmann's systems theory.

Much of my work has focused on the production and uses of knowledge in immigration and asylum policy. I have been researching and writing on various aspects of immigration and asylum for two decades, both as an academic, and in various consultancy roles for governments and international organisations.

I am currently leading an ESRC project on "Seeing Illegal Immigrants: State Monitoring and Political Rationality" (2016-18). The project explores how public authorities in the UK, France and Germany have constructed and monitored "illegal" residents since the late 1960s. The current project builds on a recently completed ESRC project on "The Politics of Monitoring: Information, Indicators and Targets in Climate Change, Defence and Immigration Policy" (2013-16). You can find a list of previous projects on my blog-site.

You can watch my inaugural lecture, 'Against "Interests" in Political Science: Public Policy and Political Legitimation', here.

I blog (monthly) on immigration policy and knowledge/policy relations - see  Politics, Knowledge and Migration. Follow me on Twitter: @BoswellPol


1993: BA Hons in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (Balliol College, Oxford University)

1994: MA in European Politics (College of Europe, Bruges)

2001: PhD in International Relations (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Academic career

I joined the University of Edinburgh in 2006, and was promoted to Chair in 2011. Before 2006 I worked in Hamburg for 6 years, first as a Marie Curie post-doctoral fellow, and then as recipient of a Marie Curie Excellence Grant (predecessor of the ERC Starting Grant). While in Hamburg I founded and led the Migration Research Group at the Hamburg Institute of International Economics. I have also worked for the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in 2000-2001, and had a stint as a field officer for the UNHCR in Burundi, 1995-6.

Since arriving at Edinburgh I have held a number of research management roles, including PIR Research Convenor and REF Coordinator (2007-13), Deputy Director of Research for the School of Social and Political Science (2007-11), Deputy Dean of Research for the College of Humanities and Social Science (2011-2013), and Director of Research for SSPS (2015-). In 2014 I founded the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Policy - SKAPE, which I co-directed from 2014-16. From January 2018 I took up the role of Dean of Research for the College.

I was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2017.

Knowledge exchange and impact

In addition to my academic research, I have served as a consultant on immigration and asylum issues for the UN High Commission for Refugees, the UN Global Commission on International Migration, the British Foreign Office, the European Commission, European Parliament, the OECD, and the Scottish Government.

I currently serve as Chair of the Scottish Government's independent Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population (established in October 2018). I also  chair the Royal Society of Edinburgh Working Group on Immigration and Diversity, which has produced a series of briefings and papers on UK and Scottish immigration policy after Brexit.

Recent studies on this issue include a paper on options for Scottish immigration policy after Brexit authored with Sarah Kymabi and Saskia Smellie; and a study co-authored with Sarah Kyambi and Rebecca Kay and other colleagues at the University of Glasgow on options for regulating low-skilled immigration to Scotland/the UK after Brexit. Both pieces of research were funded by ESRC Impact Accelerator Awards. 

Recent Publications


Manufacturing Political Trust: Targets and Performance Measurement in Public Policy (Cambridge University Press, March 2018).

'A fantastically important and timely book... This is a major intevention in a debate whose significance can scarcely be over-stated.' (Prof Colin Hay, Sciences Po, Paris)

The Political Uses of Expert Knowledge: Immigration Policy and Social Research (Cambridge University Press, 2009/2012).

(with Andrew Geddes) Migration and Mobility in the European Union (Palgrave, 2011)

The Ethics of Refugee Policy (Routledge, 2005/2017)

European Migration Policies in Flux (Blackwell’s, 2003) 


(2018) with Mike Slaven, 'Why Symbolise Control? Irregular Migration to the UK and Symbolic Policy Making in the 1960s', Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, April (early online).

(2017) with Katherine Smith, 'Rethinking Policy ‘Impact’: Four Models of Research-Policy Relations'. Palgrave Communications: The Future of Research Assessment (3), December.

(2017) with James Hampshire, Ideas and Agency in Immigration Policy: A Discursive Institutionalist Approach. European Journal of Political Research (56:1), 133-150.

(2016) with Eugenia Rodrigues, 'Policies, Politics and Organizational Problems: Multiple Streams and the Implementation of Targets in UK Government'. Policy and Politics (44:4), 507-524.

(2015) The Double Life of Targets in Public Policy: Disciplining and Signaling in UK Asylum Policy. Public Administration (93:2), 490-505.

(2015) with Alistair Hunter, 'Comparing the Political Functions of Independent Commissions: The Case of UK Migrant Integration Policy'. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis (17:1), 10-25.

(2012), 'How Information Scarcity Influences the Policy Agenda: Evidence from UK Immigration Policy'. Governance (25:3), 367-389.

(2011) "Migration Control and Narratives of Steering", British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 13:1, 12-25.

(2009) “Knowledge, Legitimation and the Politics of Risk: The Functions of Research in Public Debates on Migration”, Political Studies, 57:1.

(2009) with Oana Ciobanu, 'Culture, utility or social systems? Explaining the cross-national ties of emigrants from Borsa, Romania', Ethnic and Racial Studies, 57:1.

(2008) “The Political Functions of Expert Knowledge: Knowledge and Legitimation in European Union Immigration Policy”, Journal of European Public Policy, 15:4, 471-488.

(2008) “Evasion, Reinterpretation and Decoupling: European Commission responses to the ‘External Dimension’ of Immigration and Asylum”, West European Politics, 31:3, 491-512.

(2008) “Combining Economics and Sociology in Migration Theory” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 34:4, 549-566.

(2008) "The Elusive Rights of an Invisible Population", Ethics and International Affairs, 22:2.

(2008) with Dan Hough “Politicising Migration: Opportunity or Liability for the Centre-Right in Germany”, Journal of European Public Policy, 15:3, 331-347.

(2007) “Migration Control in Europe after 9/11: Explaining the Absence of Securitization” Journal of Common Market Studies, 45:3, 589-610.

(2007) “Theories of Migration Policy: Is There a Third Way?” International Migration Review, 41:1, 75-100.

For a list of pre-2007 articles, please click here

Special Issues and Edited Books:

With Andrew Geddes and Peter Scholten, eds. (2011) States, Knowledge and Narratives of Migration: The Construction of Migration in European Policy-Making Special Issue of the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 13:1.

With Peter Mueser, eds. (2008) Economics in Migration Research: Towards Interdisciplinary Integration? Special Issue of the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 34:4.

With Gianni D'Amato, eds. (2012) Immigration and Social Systems: Collected Essays of Michael Bommes (Amsterdam University Press).


(2016) "The 'Epistemic Turn' in Immigration Policy Analysis", in GP Freeman & N Mirilovic (eds), Handbook on Immigration and Social Policy, 1, Edward Elgar, 11-27.

(2015) "Cultures of Knowledge Use in Policy Making: The Functions of Research in German and UK Immigration Policy", in Scholten P., Entzinger H., Penninx R., Verbeek S. (eds), Integrating Immigrants in Europe, Springer Press, 19-38.

(2015) Boswell, C, Yearley, S, Fleming, C, Rodrigues, E & Spinardi, G, "The Effects of Targets and Indicators on Policy Formulation: Narrowing Down, Crowding Out and Locking In". in AJ Jordan & JR Turnpenny (eds), The Tools of Policy Formulation: Actors, Capacities, Venues and Effects. Edward Elgar, 225-244 .

For a list of pre-2015 chapters, please click here

Current Teaching

Christina teaches on the MA course the Politics of International Migration, and the Honours course Europe and International Migration. She also contributes to the 2nd year core course Comparative Politics in a Globalised World.

Topics interested in supervising

Christina is interested in supervising PhD research in three main areas: (1) immigration, asylum and integration policy (2) the uses of research in politics and policymaking, and (3) organizational sociology and systems theoretic approaches to public policy.

If you are interested in being supervised by Christina Boswell, please see the links below for more information:

PhD in Politics