Research Student: Alex Prior
Parliament and Public Engagement
I will be focusing my study around parliamentary outreach initiatives, examining their emphasis on democratic heritage and the extent to which this concept is invoked to encourage political participation.
Through my PhD, I hope to discern the long-term legacy of engagement that these outreach projects can inspire, offering a useful insight into the ‘arc’ of engagement over time. The notion that specific outreach projects have a finite ‘lifespan’ in terms of their effectiveness is of significant interest to me, and holds long-term implications for parliament and public.
Younger generations are typically put forward as an indicator for current socio-political attitudes, and, as a result, I will be giving a great deal of attention to issues surrounding youth engagement.
However, I am keen to include older generations within the project scope, in order to examine more ‘entrenched’ voting and participatory considerations.
I intend to examine consistent, largely internal (or community-based) political influences against the effects of external stimuli such as government policies and the rhetoric that they employ. In doing so, I hope to define a sense of interplay between long-term (even habitual) voting patterns and more immediate influences, such as parliamentary initiatives.
My academic background is in History, though this has naturally incorporated a great deal of political study. I completed my BA in History at the University of Leicester, before undertaking an MA in Modern History at the University of York.
Between my MA and my PhD, I was based in London and employed within the political sector, specifically the administration of ballot projects. Through the research, I undertook as part of my employment, I began to focus my academic interest around the topic of public engagement.
I have been consistently active within the field of political engagement through social media (my Twitter handle is @VoterEngagement) and blogging.
What motivated me to undertake PhD study?
I believe that 2015 will continue to be a pivotal year for political engagement within the UK. In addition to the General Election, which typically produces a catalytic effect on political discussion, numerous outreach projects were organised to mark the anniversaries of the Magna Carta and De Montfort’s Parliament.
It is therefore an ideal time to begin a study of parliament and public engagement. A great deal of debate has already taken place regarding the extent of political engagement within the UK. It is an incredibly polarising topic, even in regards to its terminology – an entire literature exists simply on its definition.
Turnout figures seem to indicate that involvement in politics is at a historical low-point; however, if participation is widened to encompass all channels of discussion, it is clear that engagement is much more nuanced (and enduring) than many political commentators would suggest.
The debates surrounding engagement in its most immediate and basic application, the volume of discussions within this area, and the context of the general election and anniversary-related outreach projects, were all key motivators for undertaking this PhD.
What makes me passionate about my subject?
The topic of political engagement is extremely approachable and inclusive – it is a topic that everyone has an opinion on. I have always emphasised the importance of case studies and first-hand accounts, as well as the power of narratives within a greater discourse.
A PhD on the topic of Parliament and Public Engagement seemed to be an ideal way of combining these interests – determining the ways in which people respond to, and interact with, the concepts that are put forward as part of engagement efforts.
Disinclination to engage by traditional means is commonly trivialised as ‘voter apathy’. The considerable use of sweeping generalisations within this discourse was an additional impetus to pursue the topic of engagement and, where possible, establish a sense of clarity surrounding its major themes.
What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?
I am currently deciding whether I would like to stay within academia, further refining my research interests, or to join an organisation where I can have more influence over grass roots activities. In the meantime, I am keen to remain active within the public engagement sector, and explore the discourse surrounding it as much as possible.