Dr James Dawson
(Acting) Director MSc Democracy and Comparative Politics and Teaching Fellow
James joined the teaching staff at UCL School of Public Policy in 2013 and currently serves as acting Director of MSc Democracy and Comparative Politics. Before taking up this post, James taught classes in Politics at UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies and King’s College London’s Department of Political Economy. He was awarded his PhD in Political Science in 2013 after completing his studies at SPP.
James has written on several themes that are central to the field of comparative politics, including democratization, civil society and nationalism. He is very familiar with a wide range of theoretical approaches used within the discipline, from rational choice to relational and interpretive theories. In terms of empirical work, he is particularly experienced in carrying out ethnographic research in the Balkans, usually working in the vernacular languages of the region. His most recent project examined the political cultures of Serbia and Bulgaria from the ‘above and below’ angles of elite political discourse and the everyday discussions of citizens. The fieldwork comprised a year of participant observation divided between large provincial cities in each country supported by two-dozen focus groups and discourse analyses of political platforms as they appeared in the local media. This project is now a book monograph, to be published by Ashgate in Autumn 2014 under the title ‘Cultures of Democracy in Serbia and Bulgaria: How Ideas Shape Publics’.
James is a keen methodologist and has developed innovative theoretical approaches for dealing with such challenges as facilitating generalization between cases without diluting the presentation of the full ethnographic context in which the data emerges. He is also experienced in survey design and analysis. In an earlier fieldwork project that was published in Nationalities Papers, James carried out original survey and ethnographic research to examine the overlap of ethnic and non-ethnic political identities among Bulgarians and Turks in an ethnically-mixed region of Bulgaria. He has reviewed for Problems of Post-Communism, Ethnicities and other journals.
Democratic Political Institutions (only 2013-14)
The main finding of this comparative ethnographic project is that the Serbian public sphere is considerably more contested, pluralist and (at the margins) liberal than its Bulgaria counterpart. This demonstrates that the progress of Post-Socialist states in implementing liberal democratic institutions to the satisfaction of the European Union is not a reliable guide for ascertaining whether or not liberal democratic ideals have taken root in those societies. At a time when several formerly socialist EU member states are increasingly attracting scholarly attention for the rise to power of illiberal and sometimes plainly anti-democratic political movements (Hungary, Romania), the analytical focus on ideas and identities in ‘Cultures of Democracy’ helps to explain why institutional progress has not necessarily led to the formation of liberal democratic publics.
- ‘The Ethnic and Non-Ethnic Politics of Everyday Life in Bulgaria’s Southern Borderland’, 2012, Nationalities Papers, Volume 40, Number 3, pp. 473-489.
- ‘Sporting Practices and National Identity in Dimitrovgrad’/ ‘Sportska Praksa I Nacionalni Identitet u Dimitrovgradu’ (co-authored with Vladan Petrović), 2011, Teme, Volume 35, Number 4, pp. 1543-1558.
Conference Presentations (selected)
- ‘Democratization and Public Spheres in Serbia and Bulgaria’, Presented at ASN Annual World Convention, Harriman Institute, Columbia University, New York, April 2014
- ‘An Inconvenient Challenge for Bulgarian Civil Society’, Presented at BASEES Annual Conference, Cambridge University, April 2014
- The Mismatch Between Formalist Democracy Measurement and Everyday Political Practice in Bulgaria and Serbia’, Presented at Research Seminar Series, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, December 2012
- ‘Comparison with Sensitivity to Context’ presented at the International Studies Association – North East Conference Methods Workshop, Baltimore, USA, November 2010
- From 2009-2012, James’s PhD research at UCL School of Public Policy was funded by a +3 Award from the Economic and Social Research Council.
- From 2007-2009, James received a CEELBAS scholarship to pursue the MRes in East European Studies at UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies