Funded PhD Opportunity Human Rights and Protest Policing in the United Kingdom

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Social Work and Social Policy


This project examines how, and why, the police use different types of force in their encounter with protesters in the United Kingdom (1998–2018). It is an important topic because if the police use force disproportionately, and selectively, it can undermine the state’s commitment to provide an open space for citizens to exercise their basic human rights, including the right to privacy, assembly, demonstration and protest. There is, however, very little research on this subject in the United Kingdom, which is surprising not only because it is evidently important, but also because it is a subject of considerable current interest.

This project proposes a comparative case study of police forces in the United Kingdom to develop our understanding of protest policing in liberal democracies.

The project addresses five primary research questions:

1. What type of protest do the police target?

2. How, and why, do the police use different types of police powers – coercion, channeling, surveillance, infiltration – in their encounter with protesters.

3. How, and to what extent, do police use different combinations of tactics in their encounter with protesters?

4. How, if at all, does the statutory framework regulate the police in their encounter with protesters?

5. Does this framework provide adequate protection for citizen’s human rights?

This project will make three important contributions to the scholarly and public debate on protest policing. First, it will provide an empirical overview – the first of its kind – of police presence at public protest in the United Kingdom. Second, the project will provide a theoretical account of how, and why, the police use different types of powers – especially the power to use covert tactics – in their encounter with protesters, which is especially relevant in the wake of revelations about police use of undercover officers to infiltrate environmental protest groups. Third, the project will generate prescriptions to guide stakeholders, who might seek to re-design legislation, policy and codes of practice to protect individual liberties, and reduce social harm, while still providing the police with adequate tools to, inter alia, maintain public order, and prevent and detect crime.

The project uses a mixed-methods design: an in-depth study to develop our theoretical understanding of how, and under what conditions, the police use different types of force in their encounter with protesters; and a large-n analysis of all constabularies in the UK to test existing theoretical expectations about why the police target some protest groups, but not others. The project uses an inter-disciplinary lens to apply theoretical insights from the comparative literature on protest policing, social movement theory, and organizational studies. We expect to rely heavily on media analysis, semi-structured interviews, non-participant observation, and focus groups to analyse how, and why, the police use different powers in their encounter with protesters, and whether these different types of encounter have wider implications for the relationship between citizens and state in an open society.

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Research proposal of 2000 words detailing aims, objectives, milestones and methodology of the project

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 18 February 2019
Interview Date
25 to 27 March 2019


Jordanstown campus

Jordanstown campus
The largest of Ulster's campuses

Contact Supervisor

Dr Shane MacGiollabhui

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #344126 when applying for this PhD opportunity