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Law & Criminology: Swansea University Research Excellence Scholarship: Counterterrorism and the Role of the New “Security Actors”: an Ethnographic Study

Start date: 1 October 2018

Swansea University is proud to offer 15 fully-funded PhD scholarships for students commencing study in October 2018 or January 2019.

The scholarships will be awarded on the basis of student excellence across a portfolio of 34 potential projects.

Project description: 

In response to suggestions that the field of counterterrorism has been “securitised” – that is, placed beyond the realm of public debate by virtue of the severity of the potential harm and the secret nature of intelligence – more recent literature has highlighted the role played by front-line practitioners across a range of professions, from health and welfare to education and sport. Often, these individuals have no prior background in counterterrorism and require training in order to perform their new role as “security actors”. In 2015 over 400,000 frontline staff received training on radicalisation (more than double the year before), with future plans to increase this number still further. This reflects a fundamental shift. Counterterrorism is no longer the preserve of a select few with special training and expertise. And surveillance is no longer guided by linear profiling and restricted to suspicious entities; rather the entire population is surveilled via the provision of public services.

The aim of this project is to deepen understanding of the role played by these new security actors, in order to enhance both their effectiveness and legitimacy. This is particularly significant given the negative publicity and perceptions of the Prevent agenda, including from relevant service users. The project will therefore examine:

The attitude of these professionals towards their role as security actors and how they operationalise their duty, under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015, to refer individuals who are deemed to be at risk of radicalisation;The perspectives of service users (students, patients, etc.) on front-line practitioners’ role as security actors, and how these attitudes impact practitioners’ ability to perform their role effectively; and,Differences that exist between sectors, particularly given agencies’ differing ideologies, and how far (if at all) agencies manage to reconcile these differences to achieve multi-agency partnership.

The empirical aspect of the project has a regional focus, which offers the opportunity to identify areas of good practice and disseminate these via the Welsh and Westminster Governments. The project will also explore the impact of devolution in this context, specifically by assessing the practical impact of the duty to have due regard to the UNCRC rights of children and young people, which has been adopted by both the Welsh Government (May 2014) and the City and County of Swansea (October 2014).  This will enable the development of policy recommendations and training materials that encapsulate a rights-based approach.

The project will employ an ethnographic methodology. In addition to qualitative data gained from semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders (frontline professionals, Prevent practitioners and service users, including ones referred to the Channel programme), the student will complete a programme of training to enable them to gather observational data by working alongside Prevent practitioners in different sectoral settings. The advantages of this field-based approach include the holistic, inductive and dialogic nature of the findings that will emerge.

In addition to a PhD thesis and other academic outputs, the project will generate training materials for local frontline professionals, co-created by the student and Prevent practitioners, and policy recommendations that will be presented to the Welsh and Westminster Governments.

In addition to Criminology, the project will draw upon the disciplines of Law (in relation to developing a rights-based approach) and Political Science (in relation to the theoretical framework around securitisation and the role of new “security actors”). This is reflected in the anticipated supervisory team:

The lead supervisor (Prof Macdonald) is based in the Department of Legal Studies. He was the lead organiser of the 2017 International Terrorism and Social Media Conference and 2016 NATO Advanced Research Workshop on terrorists’ use of the Internet, is a guest lecturer at NATO’s Centre of Excellence on Defence Against Terrorism, was the holder of a Fulbright Cyber Award for 2016/17, and is a member of EUROPOL’s Advisory Group on Online Terrorist Propaganda.The second supervisor (Dr Nouri) is based in the Department of Criminology and has a background in Political Science. She was a participant in the 2016 Welsh Digital Economy Crucible and is currently the holder of a Fulbright Cyber Award.

Professor Macdonald has supervised four students from enrolment to completion. He received the “Outstanding Research Supervision” Award at the University’s 2016 Research and Innovation Awards. 

More broadly, the student will form part of a wider research community at Swansea (currently consisting of five PhD students and three academic staff), working on projects related to countering violent extremism, from across Law, Criminology, Political Science, Linguistics and Computer Science.

External collaboration: After completing the required training and security clearance, the student will spend twelve months working within the Community Cohesion team at Swansea Council. This team is tasked with implementing the UK’s Prevent strategy at a local level. This first-hand experience will enable the student to gain a detailed understanding of how practitioners in the field implement their duty to assess individuals that have been identified as being at risk of radicalisation. The student will have the opportunity to interview both front-line professionals and individuals identified as being at risk. In addition, the student will attend local multi-agency meetings in order to observe the functioning of multi-agency partnership in this context. During the writing-up period, the student will feed their results back to the Community Cohesion team and work with the Prevent lead to develop new training materials that incorporate the lessons learned.

The successful applicant will have access to our Postgraduate Research Student Training programmes.

Eligibility

Applicants should have (or expect to obtain) a first class honours degree (or equivalent) and/or a distinction at master's level in criminology, law, politics, psychology and other cognate disciplines.

Due to funding restrictions, this scholarship is available to UK/EU students only.

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Benefits

The scholarship covers the full cost of UK/EU tuition fees, plus an annual stipend of £14,553 (in line with the RCUK stipend amount) for 3 years. 

There will also be £1,000 per annum available for research expenses such as travel, accommodation, field trips and conference attendance.

Application

Please visit our website for more information.

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