Skip to main content

Politics and International Relations (PIR): Research


Grants and Projects

PIR has won over £2 million in external funding in recent years. Current projects include:

ESRC Scotland Fellowship

James Mitchell holds an ESRC Fellowship to study the Scottish referendum  His focus has been on public service reform and the implications for the rest of the UK of the 'Scottish Question'.  The main output from this fellowship has been his book, The Scottish Question published by Oxford University Press June 2014.

The Centre for Research into Information, Surveillance and Privacy (CRISP)

Charles Raab is a director of CRISP, a collaborative initiative between the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science and School of Law, the University of Stirling’s Management School, and The Open University Business School. It is a new research centre that aims to become one of the leading research and knowledge exchange centres in Europe studying the many dimensions of the surveillance society and its consequences. CRISP also incorporates the Scottish Privacy Forum, a group of Scottish privacy, data protection and information professionals. The centre's aims will be achieved through producing and disseminating the results of funded scholarly research, media engagement and the promotion of networking and knowledge exchange between practitioners, academics, students, activists and society more generally.

What Works Scotland

James Mitchell is Co-Director of What Works Scotland (WWS), an ESRC/Scottish Government project that aims: to deepen the impact of  emerging approaches to public service delivery and reform by examining what works and what does not; to shape wider understandings of transformational change in the delivery of public services; to embed innovative collaborative action-oriented approach to policy making and delivery.  WWS is one of a series of What Works centres established across the UK focused on improving policy-making and performance, learning from practice and developing theoretical work drawing on international and domestic comparisons.  WWS is a collaberative partnership with a range of academics primarily based in Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities but also including partners in statutory, voluntary and private sectors

IRISS - Increasing Resilience in Surveillance Societies

Charles Raab participates in this EU FP7 project, which investigates societal effects of different surveillance practices from a multi-disciplinary social science and legal perspective. It focuses on the effects that surveillance practices introduced to combat crime and terrorism can have on citizens in open and democratic societies. It reviews surveillance systems used in fighting crime and terrorism and examines their driving forces. Case studies of the impact of surveillance on the everyday lives of citizens are analysed, focusing on relations between citizens and the state, between citizens and private sector institutions and between citizens. Based on these, comparative empirical social experiments are conducted to test attitudes towards surveillance in different democratic contexts, investigating the extent to which democratic rights can be exercised under existing surveillance regimes, and how these rights can be strengthened. The research informs an analysis designed to explore options for increasing social, economic and institutional resilience. IRISS produces a comprehensive account of resilience options, focusing on strengthening democratic processes and public discourse about appropriate reactions towards threats against open democratic societies.

Project website:

PRISMS – Privacy and Security Mirrors

Charles Raab participates in this EU FP7 project, which analyses the traditional trade-off model between privacy and security but devises a more evidence-based perspective for reconciling privacy and security, trust and concern. It examines how technologies aimed at enhancing security are subjecting citizens to an increasing amount of surveillance, in many cases infringing privacy and fundamental rights. PRISMS conducts a multi-disciplinary inquiry into the concepts of privacy and security and their relationships, and an EU-wide survey to see whether people evaluate security technologies in terms of a privacy trade-off and the factors that affect public assessment of security and privacy. These results enable PRISMS to devise a decision support system (DSS) providing those who deploy and operate security systems with insight into the pros and cons, constraints and limits of specific security investments compared to alternatives, and proposes a methodology for reconciling security and privacy, public trust and concern. PRISMS helps ensure citizens’ security while respecting fundamental rights, including the protection of privacy and personal data, through an analysis of security and privacy technologies, a policy assessment of security and privacy, a criminological and legal analysis, a public discourse analysis as reflected in the media, and an analysis of  existing  public  opinion  surveys.

Project website:

Physiology, Identity and Behaviour: A Neuropolitical Perspective

Laura Cram is conducting this transformative study with £250,000 funding from the ESRC. The project runs from September 2013 to February 2015. It explores the relationship between expressed or stated identities, 'what we say', and revealed or observed responses to identity triggers, 'what we do'. Hormonal testing and fMRI brain imaging are used to provide new insights into old questions about the nature of identity and its effects on public attitudes and behaviours. The study's starting point is that identity matters. Political symbols play an important role in encouraging mass arousal and quiescence. The recent riots over the flying of the Union flag in Belfast highlight the potency of identity triggers. The role that identity will play in the forthcoming referenda in Scotland and Catalonia is heavily debated. The question of identity is also central to the ongoing debate about UK membership of the European Union. However, identity is complex and is not easily captured in standard surveys which ask, for example, how 'Scottish', 'Portuguese', 'Bavarian' or European an individual feels. Identity has an implicit as well as an explicit dimension. Using an innovative neuropolitics approach the project aims to enrich current understandings of identity and the role it plays in multi-level polities like the European Union.

The Impact of Implicit Exposure to National Symbols on Attitudes to the Constitutional Status of Scotland: An Experimental Approach

Laura Cram, James Mitchell and Stratos Patrikios are funded by the British Academy for this study, which runs from July 2012 to June 2014. The study evaluates the extent to which exposure to implicit cues that raise the salience of either Scotland or the UK can shape attitudes to Scotland’s constitutional status.  In contrast to standard laboratory approaches, with small student samples, this project uses online technology to reach a larger number of respondents from the general population. The investigators have previously tested the online approach as part of their ESRC study of EU Identity Triggers. Existing studies focus on states in which national and state boundaries are contiguous, with a symbolic trigger, such as a flag, assumed to act as shorthand for a pre-existing, uncontested, narrative about national /state identity. Identity in the UK is not so straightforward or uncontested. Scots, for example, typically hold multiple ‘national’ identities – composed of Scottish and British elements. This study is the first attempt to assess, in a robust experimental framework, the extent to which implicit exposure to UK and Scottish identity triggers provokes a shift in political attitudes, specifically in attitudes towards the constitutional status of Scotland.

British Academy funded research on Women in the Armed Forces: Lessons from Afghanistan

Claire Duncanson, in conjunction with the University of Newcastle, is considering the difference the deployment of British women personnel in Afghanistan has made to wider debates about women’s participation in the armed forces. The research, which will run 2013-2015, looks at the experiences and contributions of female personnel deployed to Afghanistan since 2002. It will further examine: 1) the patterns, policies and practices around the deployment of women members of the British armed forces in Afghanistan and more generally, from 2002 to the present; and 2) the insights for future deployments that have been gained through the use of specific strategies such as the use of Female Engagement Teams (FETs).

Project website:

The Politics of Monitoring; Information, Indicators and Targets in Climate Change, Immigration and Defence Policy

This is a 3-year ESRC project, launched in April 2013. It examines the determinants and impacts of changing practices in monitoring across three sectors of UK policy, between 1994-2014. It is led by Christina Boswell (PI) and brings together a team of researchers from PIR and Science and Technology Studies: Colin Fleming, Eugenia Rodrigues, Graham Spinardi and Steve Yearley.


This is an FP7 integrated project exploring measures to influence demand for products and services linked to human trafficking. Coordinated by ICMPD (Vienna), the project involves researchers and NGOs across seven European countries. The University of Edinburgh team (composed of Christina Boswell, Sarah Kyambi and Angus Bancroft) is leading work packages on options for smart regulation, and for dissemination. The project runs from 1 January 2014 to 30 June 2017.
Project website:

Leverhulme International Network on Continuity and Change in Indian Federalism

Wilfried Swenden leads this project, running April 2014-February 2017; with £113,000 of funding. The network brings together with Edinburgh specialists from the University of Delhi, the University of Hyderabad and the University of Burdwan in India as well as the Universities of Nottingham (Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies) and Bristol in the UK. A set of workshops and field research explore two major changes in the working of Indian federalism between 1989 and 2014: 1) the fragmentation of the Indian party system and the consolidation of broad based coalition governments at the centre; and 2) the transformation of the Indian economy from a 'command to a more liberalized demand economy'. The key aim is to provide an assessment of what these changes have meant for the practice of centre-state relations in India. The network will analyse change (and continuity) in the practice of Indian federalism in three important arenas: 1) the processes, dynamics and outcome of intergovernmental relations; 2) Indian fiscal federalism; 3) the capacity to regulate ethnic conflict.This will deliver the first comprehensive and cross-thematic review of Indian federalism from 1989 until the 2014 general elections.

Marie Curie Career Integration Grant on Judging Political Violence

Mathias Thaler's project runs from 2013-2017. It aims to advance Political Theory's contribution to the interdisciplinary study of political violence, and to contribute to a Political Theory that recognizes the guidance of ethical principles without disregarding real politics. This involves a pragmatically grounded account of judgment. The research objectives of the research are 1) Interpretive reconstruction: The project seeks to reconstruct the historical emergence of legal codifications of political violence; 2) Normative analysis: The project plans to explore the complex dimensions of defining an act of political violence; and 3) Reformist critique: The project will cover the controversies around historical and contemporary definitions of genocide, terrorism and torture.

Project website:

Leverhulme Trust Funded Project on the Second Postcolonial Moment in the Arab World

Yaniv Voller has been awarded a £60,000 grant for a project running from 2013-2016 on the second postcolonial moment in the Arab world, namely the rise of liberation movements within the newly liberation Arab states. The research focuses on the Iraqi Kurdish, South Sudanese and Western Saharan liberation movements, studying how their emergence in the context of decolonisation has affected their formation and strategies. The work tests the hypothesis that the relations between these liberation movements and the first generation (Arab) liberation movements in the Middle East could be better understood not only as continuous violence, but also as a dialogue, involving exchanges of ideas and learning. The project has implications for theoretical approaches to the study of decolonisation.


ERC Grant on Evaluation Practices in Financial Markets

Iain Hardie and Charlotte Rommerskirchen are part of a team of researchers based mainly in the School of Social and Political Science that has been awarded a grant of approximately €2.1 million Euros to research evaluation practices in financial markets. The team, led by Donald MacKenzie (Sociology), also includes Alex Preda (Sociology), James Clunie (Visiting Professor of Finance), Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra (Sociology, London School of Economics). The grant has been awarded by the European Research Council under their Advanced Investigator Grant scheme. The grant will run for five years from September 2012. The focus will be on how participants in financial markets evaluate financial instruments such as stocks and bonds, with Iain focusing on European government bond markets.

Project website:


TRANSWORLD: Transatlantic Relations, Global Governance & Emerging Powers


Chad Damro and John Peterson will participate in a large and innovative project on relations between the United States and European Union. TRANSWORLD will be led by the Institute for International Affairs (IAI) in Rome and funded through the EU's Framework VII programme for €3.2 million over 3 years. It brings together 13 institutional partners including Edinburgh PIR.  Research will focus on the redefinition of the transatlantic relationship, the global economy and US and EU adjustment policies, US and EU contributions to regional and global governance architectures, and policy proposals to boost global governance. TRANSWORLD seeks to achieve a major advance in our knowledge of the transatlantic relationship and how durable it is, but also on how it is changing and will change in the future.  The project begins in March 2012. Project website: