The University of Southampton
Social Sciences: Politics & International RelationsPart of Social Sciences

Research Themes

The Division of Politics & International Relations has a broad research base with specialisms across a range of different areas, including political systems and institutions, international relations and international political economy, political theory and philosophy, environmental politics and global governance.

We are particularly interested in working across these boundaries and have therefore organised our research output around five broad, interdisciplinary strands:

Citizenship, Justice and Democracy

Problems of citizenship lie at the heart of many of the most important challenges facing the modern world. Whist the citizens of some countries are making unprecedented demands for democratic voice and the recognition of their civil and political rights, in others there is also mounting disillusionment with existing political processes and a questioning of the legitimacy of governments. In western democracies the current wave of austerity has provoked concerns that the social rights associated with the growth of welfare states are under growing attack, whilst many governments have responded to the financial crisis by demanding greater responsibility of their citizens. This cluster also examines inequality and justice across a number of dimensions, from local to global, and across dimensions (amongst others) of class, nationality, ethnicity and gender. It seeks to learn and integrate lessons from conceptual analysis and comparative politics, and to pay heed to new voices in debates about inequality and justice.

A series of questions need to be addressed from two perspectives: citizens and policy makers. From the citizens’ perspective these include questions such as: what are the rights and responsibilities which citizenship entails? How is citizenship expressed? How do the discontented express themselves? How do civil society and protest contribute to social change? What is the role of new technologies for citizen participation? From the policy makers’ perspective questions include how can contemporary governments improve the legitimacy of their democracy? Is a deliberative system realistic? To bridge the divide between policy makers and citizens we will also engage with questions on the learning of citizenship and democracy and examine how and to what extent citizenship can be learned both inside and outside the formal education system.

Globalisation, Development & Inequality

Political and economic globalisation, together with the emergence of acute transnational problems and a widening gap between rich and poor across the world, pose fundamental challenges to the orthodoxy of the governance and development paradigms. The advent of transnational crises – environmental catastrophes, systemic financial collapse, terrorism, migration, global poverty and pandemics – raises major theoretical and practical issues as these developments have also given rise to the emergence of a diversity of modes of discontent rejecting existing forms of governance at national, regional and global levels of political economy. Researchers in this cluster address these issues and ask: how do turbulent politics, uncertain economies, poverty, and inequality of opportunities generate cycles of contentious politics? How should we understand and respond to poverty and inequality at the global level? How do states and transnational organisations respond to claims-making by civil society movements? Are alternative forms of power relations and post-neoliberal governance arrangements likely to emerge and consolidate as responsive and inclusive models of development? Are they legitimate? Whose interests do they reflect?

Government & Public Policy

Policies span governmental jurisdictions, the public and private sectors, and the third or voluntary sector. Most policies involve several forms of governance; markets or contracts and patient choice, hierarchy or bureaucracy, networks or partnerships; and association or mutual societies. Each form of governance has distinctive problems and in each policy arena ‘it’s the mix that matters’. We explore not only the individual governance and implementation structures but also their mix in policy arenas with wicked problems that are topical, strongly contested, continuing, and beset by fragmented and overlapping responsibilities. Problems have no definitive formulation; no clear link between cause and effect. There are no right or wrong solutions. There are competing explanations with their own preferred solutions with each solution bringing another problem. We seek to describe such complexity and to explain the intended and unintended policy consequences of the different governance arrangements.

Institutions, Risk & Security

Globalisation is changing the nature of the risks facing modern societies and government. These risks take the form of ecological perils, the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, cyber-attacks, contagion in financial markets, infectious diseases, power blackouts, global terror networks, large scale industrial accidents and introduction of next-generation biotechnologies and nanotechnologies. Traditionally, threats to security were known and treated as certain by decision-makers. In contrast, the notion of risk is interlinked with uncertainty, but also attempts of societies and policy-makers to manage future possibilities. We are increasingly confronted by man-made dangers and natural hazards, threatening the lives and well-being of vulnerable individuals and societies. Globalisation contributes to the interconnectedness of risk itself via global telecoms and supply networks, international travel, migration and the global trade in goods, services and capital. As a result it has become harder to insulate social, political and economic systems from shocks or contamination outside their own territory or jurisdiction.

This globalised world does not provide a straightforward answer to the question of who is supposed to be in charge. National, international and transnational actors are transforming the way they approach security problems – with risk and security governance cutting across nation states and territorial boundaries and across public and private institutions. Rather than treating security as merely the problem of national security, international actors are increasingly seeking to enhance cooperation, pool sovereignty and create sustainable structures of effective regional and global governance. Under the ‘Institutions, Security and Risk’ theme, we explore a broad, but interrelated set of questions concerning the changing nature of modern risks, our understanding of security, and the changing forms of governance.

Migration & Membership

The movement of people within and across polities is a pervasive feature of contemporary political life. Some of these movements are largely unremarked, others provide sites of moral panic and contending political rhetoric; all of them contribute to profound social and cultural changes and often demand new policies. The drivers of migration can be diverse, ranging from climatic change and political persecution to family links and economic opportunities, and involve complex empirical questions concerning how these drivers interact with different institutions and policies as well as normative questions concerning how we govern the movement of people in different contexts of governance.

What accounts for these differences across countries and regions? How are governments and societies at both ends of the migration journey responding to increasing human mobility? Is the nation-based notion of citizenship obsolete? What mobility and membership rights should migrants and other displaced persons be entitled to? Given that people on the move can maintain multiple engagements today, what are the implications for political participation, immigrant integration in host societies, and the definition of national identity? And how do migration, membership and movement intersect with issues of democratic stability, global justice and transnational governance? How should we respond to such migrations? Regulated by formal membership rules and mobility rights, the movement of people is patterned by, for example, prior histories of migration, public policies and labour markets. It gives rise to new forms of identity, community and social networks that can, in turn, support economic and cultural relationships as well as giving rise to new political demands.

To find out more about our research, please visit  Centre for Citizenship, Globalization and Governance for more detail.

Thumbnail photo of Emily McMahon

“The course appealed to me as it is extremely flexible across all the social science areas that interest me.”

Emily McMahon - MSc Governance and Policy
  • 2 December 2016

    Politics researchers pick up prestigious a...

    Politics academics at the University of Southampton are part of a w...

    Read More
  • 1 September 2016

    University appoints Jon Sopel as Pro-Chanc...

    The University has announced the appointment of journalist and broa...

    Read More
  • C2G2 Manifesto

    Hear an audio podcast from the Centre's director, Professor Gerry Stocker

    Find out more

    We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive cookies on the University of Southampton website.

    ×