Academic Positions United Kingdom

University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

PhD fellowship on ‘Legitimacy Crisis and Anti-Politics’ at the University of Cambridge

The Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) of the University of Cambridge invites applications for a PhD fellowship on ‘Legitimacy Crisis and Anti-Politics’. This fellowship is part of the PhD network ‘The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the European Union’ (PLATO), which is an EU-funded PhD network coordinated by Prof. Chris Lord at ARENA Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo. The successful fellow will be supervised by Dr Christopher Bickerton, lecturer in politics at POLIS and fellow of Queens’ College, Cambridge.

The application deadline for this position is the 31st January 2017.

Applicants should hold a Masters degree in political science, public administration, sociology, or a related social science discipline. The position is announced for a period of 3 years with no teaching obligations. The official starting date for the fellowship is 1 September 2017 with formal enrolment in the PhD programme starting at the beginning of the Michaelmas term of 2017 (early October 2017).

Legitimacy Crisis and Anti-Politics (ESR113)

One important test of the legitimacy of any political order is whether it meets its own standards. The Lisbon Treaty claims that the European Union is based on standards of representative democracy. The credibility of this claim rests on an understanding of representative democracy in which competition between political parties for the people’s vote – in European elections and in national elections – directly and indirectly gives EU institutions a legitimate right to make decisions binding on all.  Two contrasting trends in contemporary European politics –technocracy and populism – question how far a standard understanding of representation based on competition and compromise between political parties confers legitimacy at all. For defenders of technocracy, political competition cannot confer legitimacy where it produces wrong or inexpert decisions. For populists, political competition between political parties is a disguised form of elitism. This research will use an analysis of a) the discourse of EU institutions such as the European Commission and the European Central Bank b) the content of media debate c) the content of political speeches and related political literature, to investigate how far the European Union’s responses to the crises have been contested on technocratic or populist grounds. The research will also consider how far variation in the relative frequency of populist or technocratic forms of contestation can be attributed to the financial crisis or to alternative mid-term and long-term factors.


The PhD fellow will be part of a research group led by Dr Christopher Bickerton, lecturer in politics at POLIS. This group includes other doctoral and post-doctoral students working on populism and other related topics. Co-supervision will be offered by a senior scholar at another PLATO partner university, to be selected by the network based on the submitted proposal.

Mandatory secondments:

  • 4-weeks non-academic secondment at Clingendael, The Hague to gain practical experience from the policy advise sector (February 2020).
  • 3-month academic secondment and co-supervision at a PLATO partner university, to be settled by the network

Phd Programme:

The successful candidate will be enrolled in the PhD programme of POLIS at the University of Cambridge and the work will result in a doctorate in political science and international studies. The recruited candidate will be automatically admitted to the PhD programme. If the person who is hired has a disciplinary background other than political science, additional courses may be required.


Two important eligibility conditions apply to Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action (MSCA) Innovative Training Networks (ITN):

  • Candidates cannot have resided and carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the United Kingdom for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to 1 September 2017. If it is not evident from the application that this criterion is met, please include an explanation as part of your application.
  • Candidates must be in the first four years (full-time equivalent) of her/his research career and not already be in the possession of a doctoral degree.

Further qualifications for the position:

  • Master’s degree in political science, public administration or equivalent social science degree. A prerequisite for taking up the position is the successful completion of a master’s degree.
  • An outstanding academic record that consists of a first class degree of equivalent at the Bachelor (undergraduate) level and a distinction (or equivalent) at the Masters level.
  • English language proficiency. If you are not a native English speaker, or if the language of instruction at your previous university was not English, we will ask you to provide evidence of strong English language skills. Please include English language test results in your application if this applies to you. English language tests should not be more than two years old at the time of application.

We offer

In addition to the benefits of taking a team PhD as part of PLATO, POLIS (University of Cambridge) offers:

  • A competitive salary, including living, mobility and family allowances (if applicable)
  • Academically stimulating working environment
  • Vibrant, integrated and international research community
  • Good welfare benefits
  • The support of the Cambridge collegiate system and specifically a college affiliation


POLIS is a multidisciplinary department covering most of sub-fields of political science, including international relations, political theory, comparative politics and international political economy. POLIS has a large academic staff that includes postdoctoral students and academic visitors, as well as over 30 permanent faculty. POLIS hosts numerous research centres devoted to inter alia African politics, gender, Latin American politics, Europe and development studies. POLIS is one of the leading politics departments in the UK. The University of Cambridge is a leading global educational institution and is currently ranked 4th in the world higher education rankings. More information on POLIS is available at

PLATO PhD network

PLATO will be a fully integrated, thematic research school with its own research question. The aim is to go beyond the state-of-the-art by building a theory of legitimacy crisis in the EU from a uniquely interdisciplinary understanding of how democracy, power, law, economies and societies all fit together with institutions within and beyond the state to affect the legitimacy of contemporary political order. What you need to know about PLATO's research in preparing applications for a PhD position (pdf).

PLATO will offer state-of-the-art academic training as well as training in core professional skills, research leadership and entrepreneurship, and dissemination; a quality framework of supervision; work experience from the policy-advice, consulting or civil society sectors at European level; and professional individual career development. For more on PLATO’s research and training programme as well as the common call for 15 PhD candidates (Early Stage Researchers, ESRs), please see: 


In assessing the candidates, particular emphasis will be placed on the quality and originality of the project proposal as well as the individual project’s fit within the overall research programme. Academic qualifications, writing skills, language proficiency and other qualifying experience will also be of key importance.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interviews in the period 6–17 March 2017. Job offers will be made by the end of April 2017.

Application procedure

Applications must be submitted through the University of Cambridge’s applications portal. Further information about how to apply for a PhD at Polis is to be found here:

This website also includes details about entry requirements and the necessary documentation that makes up the PhD application. An application must follow the instructions laid out by the Board of Graduate Studies of the University of Cambridge. The web page with the applicant portal and all relevant advisory information is the following:

In addition to the general rules, applicants for the PLATO PhD position must include a letter of motivation; the project proposal must follow the PLATO guidelines; and provide a CV that includes information demonstrating that the MSCA-ITN criteria are met (mobility rule and career stage).

The application and all supporting documents must be provided in English


Dr Christopher Bickerton, PLATO Principal Investigator in Cambridge
Department of Politics and International Studies, Cambridge University
7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT, United Kingdom

Emma Cantu, PhD Administrator, Polis
Department of Politics and International Studies, Cambridge University
7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT, United Kingdom
Phone: +44 1223 767236

University of Cambridge

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Application details

Application deadline:

Apply here

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