Mapping the linkages in the political violence of South East Asia's authoritarian (re)turn

   Faculty of Business and Law

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr Tom Smith  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Applications are invited for a self-funded, 3 year full-time or 6 year part-time PhD project.

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Business and Law and will be supervised by Dr Tom Smith, RAF Cranwell, and Strategy, Enterprise and Innovation subject group, Faculty of Business and Law. 

The work on this project will:

  • Investigate the commonalities of political violence across Southeast Asia.
  • Examine the causes and effects of recent and historical authoritarian politics in the region.   
  • Use comparative analysis and case studies to explore methods of political mobilization and Human rights implications.
  • Contribute to policy-related work on human rights in the region.
  • Present research papers at academic conferences 

Research Questions

  • How has political violence manifest in the current wave of authoritarianism across Southeast Asia?
  • How do we measure the effects on human rights? 
  • What are the patterns and possible linkages in this violence, are these localised or regional?
  • How has social media been utilised by 21st century authoritarianism in Southeast Asia?

Project description

Authoritarian political leaders in Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Myanmar have used varying forms of political violence. This has been characterised as a regional trend, perhaps even global with comparisons made to Putin in Russia and Trump in America.  But little is understood about the political violence seen in these nations, notably its effects on human rights and the mobilization of political violence using social media. It remains unclear if the political violence manifested from the various pockets of authoritarianism is connected, in other words – is it endemic or pandemic?

Australian academic Lee Morgenbesser has recently published a monographed The Rise of Sophisticated Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2020) and has charted the history of this political trend in across the region. This work and others now present us with specific questions about the manifestations of this revitalized contemporary phenomena. Decades old political and social contracts are been torn up and human rights mechanism abolished with very little theoretical and empirical research available to understand and assess trends across nations and any possible linkages. Examples for case study include ‘war on drugs’ in the Philippines or thematic research focusing on militarism across the region would serve as an important Area Studies research project behind many of the current headlines in the international press. 

A doctoral candidate is required for research understanding patterns of violence across authoritarian regimes in Southeast Asia. The project will investigate linkages between campaigns of political violence such as Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ in the Philippines, the persecution of the Rohingya by the military junta of Myanmar, attacks on political opponents in Cambodia, amongst other options  While violence is well documented by the likes of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch research is needed on what appears to be a regional trend, its impact on human rights and the role of social media as tool for mobilisation.

This project aligns clearly with the universities Democratic Citizenship research theme but also both the Security and Risk and Future and Emerging Technologies themes too.  The candidate will have natural homes in both the Centre for European and International Studies Research (CEISR) and Peace, Conflict and Security research centres of the University.  

General admissions criteria

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in Politics or International Relations or a related area. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or Qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements 

Suitable candidates may have fluency in one of the region's languages or extensive experience of the region. Prior research or work experience in the region’s governments, human rights, media or communities would be welcome. Suitably qualified candidates from Southeast Asian nations are encouraged to apply.  The research involved will be interdisciplinary and will require a mixed methods approach to both the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data.  The research will involve the creation of a dataset of political violence from selected case studies in the region for further analysis. 

How to Apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr Tom Smith ([Email Address Removed]) to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Business and Management PhD subject area page and select the link for the relevant intake. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV.  Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. 

Please also include a research proposal of 1,000 words outlining the main features of your proposed research design – including how it meets the stated objectives, the challenges this project may present, and how the work will build on or challenge existing research in the above field. 

When applying please quote project code SE&I4761021.

Politics & Government (30)

Funding Notes

Self-funded PhD students only.
Please for tuition fee information and discounts.