The Institute of Spatial and Environmental Planning
School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering

PhD Studentships 2012-13

Ph.D studentships for 2013

Click on the link below for a full list of studentships from the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil engineering.

Studentship Opportunities

Priority Areas of Research

PhD Studentships are available for proposals which are within the School's Priority Areas of Research. Candidates must be from the United Kingdom or Europe and the DEL eligibility criteria will be applied.


IS01: Assuming Control: Negotiating privacy in outdoor community spaces in divided cities

Primary Supervisor: Dr. Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem and Dr. Gehan Selim

The Political separation between different groups and communities based on ethnic, religious, or national identities used to impose long lasting effects the architecture or urban spaces and its spatial order. This project aims at analysing the patterns of control that communities assume and impose in shared outdoor spaces in divided cities and the consequences this control has on the integration of different groups and communities. One factor imposing a significant effect on the division of communities is the control and use of outdoor space.Belfast, Nicosia, and Beirut are potential examples of cities where community and public open spaces have been segregated on different grounds. Through the use of qualitative techniques of data gathering, observation and interviews as well as cognitive mapping and spatial relationships analysis, the concept of control and ownership of contested land will be explored and defined from the local perspective. The project aims at developing a framework and guidelines for socially-informed design agenda in contested urban spaces provides inclusive of social issues, accessibility, identity and integration of public and private activities.


IS03: Unlocking the potential of A8 migrants to contribute to regional economies

Primary Supervisor: Dr. Ruth McAreavey

Following the recent expansion of Europe, NI attracted a proportionately larger number of A8 nationals than other areas of the UK and they settled in both urban and rural locations. Paid work provides a powerful route out of poverty but this is uneven across social groups. Further, ethnicity can result in disadvantage in relation to recruitment, promotion, training and retention with evidence of particular vulnerability of migrants. SME’s, the main source of employment for migrant workers to the UK, tend to be more discriminatory than larger employers.

There is anecdotal evidence of migrants being employed in jobs well below the level of their skills level across many sectors of the economy in the UK. Economic mobility is further hampered by failure to recognise overseas qualifications. Preliminary investigation indicates that many migrants are interested in establishing their own businesses but are overwhelmed and mystified by the process. This research will examine the economic mobility of recent migrants to Northern Ireland. Building on McAreavey’s ongoing research into this area it will examine pathways to economic mobility as part of the process of integration and social mobility.

The research will analyse the role of different actors (employers, policymakers, employees, and support agencies) to reveal pathways to economic mobility. It will do this in the context of binary ethnic-religious difference with consideration given to the way in which new identities (i.e. migrants) have been superimposed on traditional and often territorial communities. The research will explore the patterns and practices of the employment of migrants in Northern Ireland, including barriers to mobility and attitudes to entrepreneurship. Consideration will be given to macro-issues such as equality legislation in NI and the extent to which migrants are able to overcome associated structural barriers such as inflexibility in the labour market. It is envisaged that the research will consider the theoretical concepts of integration and of social and economic capital. However the research may not be constrained by this and input from the student would be welcome.


Further Opportunities for Research/Study

Further studentships may be awarded, with priority given to strong candidates who meet DEL eligibility criteria in the following areas:


IS02: Migrants: identities, space and place

Primary Supervisors: Dr. Ruth McAreavey and Dr. Chaitali Das

This research will examine issues of identity within the context of Northern Ireland a society that has been challenged - economically, socially and politically - by its recent status as a ‘new’ destination for migrants. Consequently communities with multiple identities have emerged and often exist in confined geographical locations. The research will consider how identities are created, negotiated and re-created. It will do so in the context of equality legislation in NI that seeks to protect vulnerable groups and which has attracted worldwide attention for its progressive and multi-faceted nature.

An increasingly diverse mix of groups represents the ‘community’ in Northern Ireland (NISRA 2011) many different layers of community existing in a given locality. These ‘socially variegated spaces’ (Amin 2002: 972) result in differentials such as those within the Protestant and Catholic communities in relation to employment rates and educational achievement (Shuttleworth and Lavery 2004). Matters are complicated as a result of increased population mobility from European and international immigrants.

In a place where religion and politics intertwine, ‘community relations and identities in Northern Ireland are typically considered in binary terms; that is between the two major religious groups – Protestants and Catholics. The tendency of one group is to reinforce community boundaries, both virtual and real as evidenced through different social networks; physical ‘peace’ walls; distinct schools and segregated housing.  Issues of identity, territory, political and intercommunal violence have contributed to social and political disorder (McGarry and O’Leary 1996; Murtagh 2002). Meanwhile debate persists on issues of equality, inclusion and discrimination within Northern Ireland and the link between these factors and political unrest (see Gaffikin and Morrisey 2011 for an overview). These issues remain relevant but are complicated in this context of increased diversity.

Matters of cohesion, integration and identity are at the core of this research. It will consider the way in which recent migrants to Northern Ireland negotiate their identity/ies within their ‘community/ies’. It will examine the role of the state (through for example equality and employment legislation) and the way in which communities achieve resilience and cohesion.

A PhD Studentship is available for this project. Candidates must be from the United Kingdom or Europe and the DEL eligibility criteria will be applied.


IS04: Housing policies and markets in developing countries

Primary Supervisor: Dr. Brendan Murtagh and Dr. Urmi Sengupta

Urban growth is most rapid in the developing world, where cities gain an average of 5 million residents every month. The majority of them have fewer housing choices and end up living in slums and squatters. As cities grow in size, population and economy housing needs for the urban poor assumes paramount importance. Often cities in global south exhibit an underlying tension between housing needs for the poor and those from the upper echelons of the society.  In the past this schism led to the public provision of the housing for the poor and market provision of the housing for others. However, introduction of neoliberal policies in the 1980s and 1990s has now changed that equation. Many countries are now undergoing housing reform that has seen reduced role of the state in the direct provision of housing and enhanced role of the market and partnership arrangements. Given importance of housing in city building exercise, and economy, the cities in global south face challenge of addressing issues around housing affordability and inclusivity, governance and housing reform and urban informality and slums. These issues cut across a range of developmental and urbanisation theories making them truly interdisciplinary in both research and practice.

Project description:

This dissertation will examine the limitations of the housing approach currently observed in cities of developing countries.  It will focus on the recent attempts to conceptualise housing provision in developing countries and search for a broad paradigm upon which the rationale for strategies to confront the housing poverty is built. The dissertation queries the underlying relationship between housing policy, performance and market within the dynamic context of changing governance paradigm to explain effectiveness in supply and distribution of housing. The dissertation will adopt an inter-disciplinary approach and contribute to understanding of developmental dialectic between housing and politics, housing and society and housing and planning.


IS05: ‘Public Access to the Countryside: GB/NI Comparatives’

Primary Supervisor: Dr Linda Price

Despite legislation on access to the countryside in Great Britain being reformed and liberalised in 2000 in England and Wales and 2003 in Scotland, similar change has not occurred in Northern Ireland.  Legislation remains modelled on that passed for England and Wales in 1949.  Therefore, those visiting Northern Ireland for the first time and wishing to walk in the countryside are often surprised that few signs for footpaths are visible and that recreational access to the countryside does not appear to be an accepted norm.  However, no general statutory right of access exists in Northern Ireland as in GB, except in respect of publicly owned forests.  Access to the countryside is otherwise dependent on a limited number of public rights of way, exercise of discretionary powers by local government and tolerance by land owners. 

Therefore, the PhD might examine the following areas:

  1. The extent to which fewer access opportunities have been secured than under the 1949 legislation in England and Wales
  2. Investigation of why access has proved more difficult to secure under current legislation in Northern Ireland than under a similar regime in GB and why reforms of the early 21st century have not been replicated
  3. The impact of an absence of a tradition of access, political influence of landowners and issues of governance linked to the troubles
  4. The extent to which recreational group are lobbying for increased access rights.
  5. The impact of farm structure/historical evolution of land ownership
  6. The extent to which a discourse of ‘fear’ on increased access has been manifest in GB
  7. The ways in which planning systems deal with diverse and multiple views on countryside access i.e. consultation/zoning/enforcement.

This research is timely as Northern Ireland considers the proposition of its first National Park in the Mourne Mountains and is trying to encourage visitor numbers.  The ongoing discourse of support/opposition to increased access might be examined via the conceptual lenses of a productivist/post-productivist/multi functional countryside; utilise insights from cultural, rural studies on the countryside as social construct to be read as ‘text’ where diverse views are embedded in the planning process.  By applying a comparative approach the PhD might evaluate whether the fears of greater access rights being played out in the NI context have come to bear in GB.  For example, issues of privacy fear of litigation, enforcement of land ownership, danger to animals, environmental issues.  In addition, assessing the impact of conflict in NI on governance structures, land ownership and priorities will move forward the debate in the UK.


IS06: Neoliberalism and the contested urbanism

Primary Supervisor: Professor Frank Gaffikin & Dr Urmi Sengupta

The vast majority of cities around the world exhibit a fascinating context of social, economic and political transition. The forces of globalisation and neoliberalism have accelerated integration with the global economy, altering the very nature of spatial imagination, consumption and production.  Although this transition is one of the most celebrated transitions of recent times, this has intensified the disparities between the formal with the informal, local with the global amidst multitudinous ongoing activities, innovations and contestations. The resultant urbanism borne out of such contestation is varied albeit intriguing, unfinished and uncertain and makes a productive urban inquiry.

This dissertation focuses on the current paradigm of urban development in large cities, which is emerging as the bastion of new contestation. On one hand powerful corporate-state nexus is defining the power structure suggestive of a new political formation seeking control over resources.  On the other, urban informality with its home-grown system of regulations and norms to govern the use of space has developed into a formidable social and political power. The attributes of these conflicts are however complex and nuanced requiring in-depth knowledge of parallel processes of political, social and economic transition. By the same logic the resolution for these conflicts vary greatly making them a social, political and urban construct. While the debates around conflicts in resource control are not as intensive as conflicts arising from social identity (religion, ethnicity, citizenship) the distinction between them is often blurred. Yet the dissertation seeks to derive a consensus on the resolution based on the assumption that governance structures are increasingly aligning themselves to the universal laws of neoliberlism and market dynamics. The dissertation focuses on the comparative perspective as a tool for understanding broad relationship between contestation, identity and space with the broader social economic wellbeing. On the other, there is an emergence of informal structures of governance and polity enabling such processes.


Applications are also welcome for any of the above projects offered. Additional funded positions, with later deadlines and/or different eligibility criteria, may become available – check the School’s research website for any new developments.

Those selected for studentships and/or coverage of fees will benefit from state-of-the-art research facilities and will be supervised by established researchers, some of whom are internationally renowned.  The work undertaken by the successful candidate will normally extend over a period of 3 years and is expected to lead to the award of a PhD.

Applicants should normally hold, or expect to hold, a 1st class or 2i honours degree in a relevant discipline. Candidates should make a separate application for each project that they are interested in.  Applications will be considered on a competitive basis with regard to the candidate’s qualifications, skills, experience and interests, together with the available funding mechanisms and the School’s strategic research priorities as shown in the tables above. Subject to eligibility and residency criteria for the various awards, successful candidates will normally be eligible for a 3-year studentship (£13,590 p.a. in 2011-12 for UK Research Council, DEL and University studentships, with anticipated increments for 2012-13 and beyond) and coverage of approved university tuition fees.

To apply please refer to the Postgraduate Office website, or phone 028 9097 4214. Within the electronic application, a one-page research proposal should be completed, responding to the advertised project.  This document will be used as part of the selection procedure. The deadline for applications for funded positions is 2 March 2012; shortlisted candidates should be available for interview/telephone interview in the period up to 9 March 2012.