Example Projects

Prospective researchers will be asked to outline their own proposals as part of the application process. Included here are a few, example ideas that reflect the kinds of approach that will be encouraged.

Cultural/biological perspectives on the parasite [C1]

Co-supervisors: Dr Alison Dunn (Biology) and Prof Graham Huggan (English)

Invasive alien species (IAS) and the diseases they carry are one of the top global causes of extinction. In the UK, the red squirrel has been virtually wiped out by diseases spread by the grey squirrel, while the invasive chytrid disease has led to the extinction of 90 amphibian species worldwide. At the same time, popular discourse relating to ‘native’ versus ‘alien’ species has taken on xenophobic features, especially when such language, carrying over from biology to culture, is transferred onto migrants and other ‘unwelcome’ social groups. The science around invasive species is much needed to combat species loss, which is a huge challenge, but equally needed is critical attention to the protectionist discourse of ‘foreign threat’. This project will bring the two together to look at current issues around national biosecurity, focusing on the intermediary figure of the parasite as a biological invader with the potential to trigger infectious diseases and as a destructive metaphor for managing cultural threat.


Not-so-golden triangles: climate change, language death and species decline in contemporary Oman [C1, C3]

Co-supervisors: Prof Janet Watson (Languages, Cultures and Societies) and Dr Maria Beger (Biology)

This project asks whether there is a common thread that links declining marine resources, changing climates, and the extinction of local languages. One example among several possible others would be two coastal regions in Oman, Dhofar (in the south) and Musandam (in the north). Both locations exhibit considerable biocultural diversity and are home to several languages and species from nowhere else in the world. However, recent climate change, exacerbated by the urbanization of traditionally rural and nomadic peoples, has had devastating effects on both endemic languages and marine species, and is causing possibly irreversible cultural and socioeconomic change.


Extinction prepping: apocalyptic narratives, activism and community resilience [C1, C3]

Co-supervisors: Assoc Prof Stefan Skrimshire (Philosophy, Religion and History of Science) and Dr Katy Wright (Sociology and Social Policy)

Policy, campaign and activist discourse around the global extinction crisis frequently associates the rapid decline of species with possible near-term ecological and social collapse, with activist organizations such as Extinction Rebellion demanding rapid political change in order to avoid the extinction of all humanity. Such messaging, and the civic and political response it triggers, is interpreted within complex and diverse narrative framings, from catastrophist invocations of apocalypse to re-articulations of the meaning of hope in an age of ecological tragedy. A plethora of sources and traditions informs such narratives, from futurological forecasting to religiously oriented narratives of the future, and from the apocalyptic to the messianic/‘redemptive’. This project examines the relationship between such narratives and the activities of local activist groups responding to the extinction crisis. Drawing on a combination of sociological fieldwork and philosophical/theological analysis, the project will engage with existing individuals or groups who are responding to the extinction crisis at personal, civic and/or institutional levels, and will seek to understand the link between imaginations of future extinction and the emerging social dynamics of adaptation, resilience and activism.


Cultural genocide in the 21st century [C1, C2, C3]

Co-supervisors: Assoc Prof Adrian Gallagher (Politics and International Relations) and Prof Thea Pitman (Languages, Cultures and Societies)

In recent years, the cultural destruction of groups such as the Uighurs in China, Indigenous communities in Brazil, as well as the contested legacies of Indigenous groups in New Zealand and Australia, has seen debates over cultural genocide come to the fore. As part of this, academics have sought to re-engage with Raphael Lemkin’s original 1944 definition of the term genocide. Lemkin viewed genocide as a multifaceted process that included physical and non-physical policies designed to destroy a group’s culture by eradicating aspects such as their language and identity. When genocide was written into international law in 1948, the focus on cultural genocide was omitted due to pressure from a number of countries. This project has a supervisory team with expertise in genocide studies and Indigenous studies. The applicant will be asked to specify how cultural genocide might be applied to a particular case or comparative case study.


Can we use past mass extinctions to predict future biodiversity loss? [C1, C2]

Co-supervisors: Dr Alex Dunhill (Earth and Environment) and Dr Chris Hassall (Biology)

It is widely claimed that we are in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction. However, past mass extinctions from deep time were catastrophes far beyond anything experienced by our species. It is tempting for palaeontologists to draw parallels between past mass extinctions and potential biodiversity loss due to future anthropogenic environmental damage. But are these past mass extinction events suitable analogues for a future world? This doctoral project will use a variety of modelling approaches (time series analysis, phylogenetic simulations, ecological niche modelling, etc.) as a shared language to translate the meaning of extinction between palaeontology and ecology. The results will demonstrate whether data collated on palaeontological timescales can be used to predict the effects of anthropogenic warming over the coming decades and centuries.


As is evident from the sample projects above, the programme, in keeping with its interdisciplinary remit, is designed so as to facilitate ‘exchanges of knowledge [which] generate understandings that are more than the sum of their parts’ (Strang 2018: 2).