MPhil/PhD Candidate in Political Science
- Name: James Dawson
- Fax: 020 7679 4969
- Email: email@example.com
Liberal Democracy Meets the Illiberal Public Sphere: A Comparison of Citizens’ Experience of Politics in Serbia and Bulgaria
James has been a PhD candidate at the School of Public Policy since joining the department in 2009. His thesis project is a comparison of experiences of liberal democracy in Bulgaria and Serbia. While liberal democracy is more usually studied and measured by reference to its institutions, his project is grounded in the assumption that the purpose of those same institutions – elections, parliaments, judiciaries and so-on – is to ensure that public life is experienced as free and democratic by citizens. Based on extensive data collected during long-term fieldwork in each of the countries of the study, the preliminary findings suggest that existing comparative efforts to measure the progress of democratization (such as Freedom House) do a good job of assessing the institutional character of the state but neglect the ways in which politics is actually enacted and experienced in society. Can liberal democracy really be flourishing where institutions function more or less to the satisfaction of Western-led monitoring organisations but liberal and oppositional voices are largely excluded from the public sphere of the national media? Does civil society fulfil a valuable democratic function where NGOs may be easily established in the legal sense but civil actors collectively fail to provide a serious challenge to the marginalization of disadvantaged groups or the authority of privileged political-economic cliques? By addressing such problems, his aim is to provide a corrective to dominant approaches to democratization that systemically neglect such vital aspects of its lived experience.
James spent the whole of 2011 conducting fieldwork in Serbia and then Bulgaria, returning to the former at the time of the Serbian parliamentary elections in May 2012. In the course of fieldwork, he conducted scores of group discussions and interviews in the local languages as well as teaching and conducting research for state universities in Niš (Serbia) and Plovdiv (Bulgaria). At present, aside from teaching on Politics and Research Methods courses at UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, he continues to work on the final draft of his thesis and to develop his comparative ethnographic approach to the study of democracy.
General Research Interests
- Democratization in the Balkans, especially Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia
- Public Sphere Discourse and Everyday Political Talk
- The Politics and Everyday Practice of Nationalism
- Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods
- Theory and Practice of Qualitative Comparison, Ethnographic and Survey Research.
- James’ current research is 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 the School of Slavonic and East European Studies – UCL.
- ‘The Ethnic and Non-Ethnic Politics of Everyday Life in Bulgaria’s Southern Borderland’, Nationalities Papers, Volume 40, Number 3, 1 May 2012, pp. 473-489.
- ‘Sporting Practices and National Identity in Dimitrovgrad’/ ‘Sportska Praksa I Nacionalni Identitet u Dimitrovgradu’ (co-authored with Vladan Petrović), Teme, Volume 35, Number 4, October-December 2011, pp. 1543-1558.
Conference Presentations (selected)
- ‘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
- ‘Two Contexts, Many Understandings of Politics’ Presented at ‘Apples and Oranges: Practicing Comparison’, Goldsmiths, University of London, September 2012
- ‘Towards Comparison with Room for Contingency?’ Presented at Political Studies Association Graduate Conference, University of Oxford, December 2010
- ‘Comparison with Sensitivity to Context’ presented at the International Studies Association – North East Conference Methods Workshop, Baltimore, USA, November 2010