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A UK backchannel? A science diplomacy history of the British Council in the 20th Century and beyond

   Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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  Dr S Turchetti, Dr K Flanagan  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

We are looking for an enthusiastic PhD student eager to transform our understanding of the British Council as an organization by exploring its science initiatives, and shedding new light on the nature, implications and historical significance of science diplomacy in the context of UK international relations.

Established in 1940, the British Council is the major UK’s international organization promoting educational opportunities, cultural and scientific relations between the UK and other countries around the world. In the post-war years, it was active in many places including West Africa, the Middle East, and Asia shaping scientific developments in other countries and building global knowledge networks. As an organisation independent of UK government, the British Council can be seen as projecting ‘soft power’ free of political interests, and providing a platform for “backchannel” diplomacy - overcoming barriers to formal state-to-state relations through dialogue around the promotion of science.

This exciting study will seek to further explore these assumptions. It will also entail accessing a rich set of archival documents and adopting an interdisciplinary perspective drawing on Science and Technology Studies (STS), Science Policy Studies, International Relations, and the growing context of studies of transnational history and science diplomacy. The student will be based at the University of Manchester joining a vibrant research group exploring other science diplomacy cases at the university’s history of science centre (CHSTM) and innovation research institute (MIOIR). The student will also travel to the British Council headquarters and other sites to access archival records, with the support of the Council.

The study will focus on three significant cases: UK-Soviet Russia relations during the Cold War; post-colonial rapprochement with India; and Egypt after the Suez Crisis. In this way, it will also assist in considering the British Council’s current legacy and UK’s future relations. Since 2010 there has been a decisive ‘international’ turn in UK science funding, though with echoes of colonial-era activities. The study on the vital role of past international scientific collaborations can thus help inform thinking on UK’s post-Brexit international and scientific relations.

Entry Requirements

Candidates are expected to hold a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a subject area of history of science, technology and medicine as well as science policy. Candidates are also expect to hold or about to obtain a Masters in the same subject area. In some cases we may be able to consider relevant professional experience in place of a Master’s qualification: please contact the academic supervisor ([Email Address Removed]) for guidance before applying.

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor. You MUST also submit an online application form - choose PhD History of Science, Technology and Medicine.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website

Funding Notes

This project is funded by ESRC. Studentship funding is for three years to commence in September 2021 and covers tuition fees and a UKRI stipend. The University of Manchester aims to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK. We are able to offer a scholarship that will enable full studentship to be awarded to international applicants. This full studentship will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this funding.
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