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Pre-Set Topics for 2023/24

Applicants are required to work across at least two different disciplines, although they  will be based in a host School and will need to be admitted to that School in order to be eligible for funding. Applicants may either apply to work on a pre-set topic (see the list below) or develop their own research topic. In both cases, candidates are required to discuss their project with a prospective lead supervisor (see supervisor details on the website) from their chosen host School prior to submitting a formal application.


Pre-Set Topics

Topic A: Resisting cultural extinction and linguicide in diaspora

Co-supervisors: Dr Ipek Demir (School of Sociology and Social Policy), Dr Diane Nelson (School of Languages, Cultures and Societies)

Many of today’s diasporas are an outcome of historical relationships arising out of subordination and colonisation, of expansion and retraction of empires, including nationalist and ethno-political responses to these. Diasporas are key to carrying culture, language and identity. They are pivotal actors who, in the new home, can re-write culture and identity, shape responses to erasure and linguicide, revive identity, and push back against strategic ignorance of the home and the host. This doctoral project will examine how culture, identity and language are ‘revived’ and ‘resuscitated’ in diaspora through case studies and/or the use of comparative techniques. It is led by insights from (a) the social sciences (especially research on migration, diaspora and culture), and (b) linguistics (especially heritage languages).

For informal inquiries about the project, please contact Dr Ipek Demir (


Topic B: Cultural genocide in the 21st century

Co-supervisors: Assoc Prof Adrian Gallagher (School of Politics and International Relations), Prof Thea Pitman (School of Languages, Cultures and Societies), Dr Lorna Waddington (School of History) 

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.

For informal inquiries about the project, please contact Dr Adrian Gallagher (


Topic C: What’s wrong with extinction?

Co-supervisors: Dr Ellen Clarke (School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science), Dr Simon Goodman (School of Biology), Dr Alex Dunhill (School of Earth and Environment)

It might seem that extinction is just obviously an undesirable phenomenon, wherever and to whomever it occurs. On the other hand, some extinctions seem more regrettable than others. The great oxygenation event, for example, eliminated almost everything alive. But because it took place 2.3 billion years ago and paved the way for the evolution of most life as we know it, it is hard to feel too bad about it. Some conservation efforts are directed specifically at driving certain species out of an area on the grounds that they are not native, or at introducing synthetic organisms into a habitat even if they are likely to drive their non-synthetic counterparts extinct. Meanwhile, many would welcome the global extinction of certain species such as smallpox or COVID-19. There is thus clearly something to be said about what makes extinction ‘bad’, whether it is the identity of the species, the location, the timing, the rate, or the sheer volume; or perhaps it is about what the alternatives are.

Interestingly, biological species are not the only entities whose extinctions we regret: languages and cultures are also treated as worthy of preservation. This raises interesting questions about the basis of the commonality: are all lineage-forming phenomena worthy of conservation? Can we imagine worrying about the extinction of a gene, or of a type of computer code? Being precise about the ‘wrongness’ of extinction requires two tasks: (1) the articulation of a conservation ethic that can defend the value of preserving things from extinction, and provide criteria for determining the comparative value of preserving different things; and (2) the clarification of various biological concepts upon which the idea of extinction depends. Some of these are themselves problematic or contested, including species and biodiversity. What is a species? is the notion objective? Can we count species objectively? What is the right way to define and measure biodiversity? Why do we treat it as valuable? In what way is preserving biodiversity supposed to be helpful, and at what scale should we measure it? This doctoral project will look to address these and other questions by moving between philosophical and biological approaches to extinction, and by assessing the values accorded to preserving different things from extinction in different places at different times.

For informal inquiries about the project, please contact Dr Ellen Clarke (


Topic D: Framing loss and damage in international climate agreements 

Co-supervisors: Dr Stephen Whitfield (School of Earth and Environment), Dr Amrita Mukherjee (School of Law) 

Despite the establishment of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage in 2013, international negotiations have, until recent negotiations at COP27, failed to result in commitments on behalf of wealthier nations to provide acceptable finance to lower- and middle-income countries for current and historical loss and damage from climate change impacts. The Loss and Damage debate is one that brings to the fore a variety of challenging technical, philosophical, and legal questions. The debate is intrinsically tied to a knowledge politics surrounding scientific evidence and attribution of climate change impacts, as well as to different perspectives on how to translate (and monetise) the concepts of loss and damage across contexts and sectors, and the efficacy of different justice and regulatory lenses and mechanisms. This doctoral project will draw on approaches from the environmental social sciences, politics, and international law, and will adopt different justice lenses, in order to examine how Loss and Damage is framed and steered within the international climate policy, as well as to explore how Loss and Damage is experienced within one or more case study contexts.

For informal inquiries about the project, please contact Dr Stephen Whitfield (


Topic E:  Indigenous Communities, The Rights of Nature to Legal Personhood and Extinction

Co-supervisors: Dr Amrita Mukherjee (School of Law) and Professor Ipek Demir (School of Sociology and Social Policy)

This PhD project will examine how indigenous communities conceptualise nature as having intrinsic value and especially how they ‘give a seat’ or grant status to non-humans. Some indigenous communities have long attributed nature personhood, allowing its rights to be defended and protected. This important research would examine if and how non-humans (e.g. rivers, forests) can be accorded rights and status, for example, similar to the way companies have long been afforded legal status and standing in legal systems in the Global North. The research may examine a particular indigenous or local community who already apply this ecocentric approach, or the principle in the context of climate change or other extinction and conservation related matters, or how it may be accommodated in legal systems and impediments to, and enablers of, it. The aim would be to bring the insights of two disciplines - sociology (of indigenous groups) or sociological methods together with law to examine the rights of nature to legal personhood, especially focusing on learning from the indigenous communities and states in the Global South including those who have amended their constitutions to facilitate such rights. The project can show how the Global South can intervene to expand understandings and rights, including in the Global North.

For informal inquiries about the project, please contact Dr Amrita Mukherjee (