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The impact of right-wing populist and nationalist discourses on the views of young people (Ref: RDF22/HLS/SWECW/MCCUSKER)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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  Dr S McCusker  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The proposed study will address whether young people’s views reflect increasingly prominent, right-wing populist and nationalist discourses within the UK and globally. Recent events have been linked to a heightened right-wing populist and nationalist climate in the UK, including the election of a Conservative government utilising populist discourse in 2019 (Cooper and Cooper, 2020), the Brexit referendum in 2016 (Freeden 2017), and Scottish independence referendum in 2014 (ibid) and more recently, the coronavirus pandemic, with anti-China rhetoric and conspiracy theories with right-wing populist underpinnings (McKee et al. 2020 and Freeman et al. 2020). To investigate the impact of right-wing populist and nationalist discourses on the views of young people, this study will use a multiple case study design, in which each school represents a case, across four schools in North East England to gain an in-depth perspective into their views towards immigration, politics, democracy and local communities. 

The use of a multiple case study design will help situate the views of young people within their local setting and help establish comparisons across schools, with the view of identifying main areas of influence on young people’s views (school, local community, family, national political discourse, social media, socio-economic background, ethnicity). To ensure robustness, multiple methods will be deployed to triangulate the data. Participatory group interviews will be the main source of data collection, employed to empower the young people within the research process (Tickle 2017). The use of participatory research methods, alongside providing tangible educational benefits for the study schools, will empower the young people and provide an understanding of their identity, their social and political status, and their views (Groundwater-Smith et al. 2014 pp68). Additionally, to complete the case study and add rigour, further methods such as observations, documentary analysis (school and local authority) will be employed.  

Discourse analysis will be used to facilitate understanding of the embedded meanings within the words and phrases collected. Sociolinguistic analysis will provide a situational context of the language used, informed by the socio-demographic and geographical characteristics of the school. This combination will provide a richer understanding of the discourse used by the young people and how it may be affected by their social situation will be achieved.

The proposed study makes an important contribution to the analysis of the impact of contemporary right-wing populist and nationalist discourses on young people in England. This study is of high importance as such discourses have the potential to negatively affect rates of xenophobia, racism and the cohesion of liberal democracy in the UK. The will have high impact, real-world applications and will provide schools with vital information to develop critical thinking in students. By enabling schools to target interventions to ameliorate such negative discourses, it will assist in the cultural and moral development of pupils, a key aim of the National Curriculum in England (United Kingdom Government 2014).

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Informal enquiries to Dr Sean McCusker ([Email Address Removed]).

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Lee, A.C.M., Walker, D.I., Chen, Y.H., Thoma, S.J. and McCusker, S., 2021. A comparative investigation of emerging adults’ moral thinking and communication competencies in Taiwan, the USA, and the UK. Journal of Moral Education, pp.1-20.
Welply, O & McCusker S; 2021 ‘Is Global Citizenship Education still needed? The role of universities in promoting SDG 4.7 at a time of uncertainty.’ Comparative and International Education Society 2021 Social Responsibility within Changing Contexts -Virtual
McCusker, Sean (2017) ‘LEGO® Serious Play®: thinking about Intercultural and International education’ Comparative and International Education Society 2017 Problematising (In)Equality March 2017, Atlanta, Georgia
McCusker, Sean & Welply, Oakleigh (2016) ‘Lego® Serious Play®: Thinking about the future of Comparative and International Education’ Comparative and International Education Society Conference Six Decades of Comparative and International Education: Taking Stock and Looking Forward.
March 2016 Vancouver, BC, Canada
Cooper, L. C. and C. (2020) ‘“ Get Brexit Done ”: The New Political Divides of England and Wales at the 2019 Election’, The Political Quarterly, 91(4).
Freeden, M. (2017) ‘After the Brexit referendum: revisiting populism as an ideology’, Journal of Political Ideologies. Routledge, 9317, pp. 1–11. Available at: DOI: 10.1080/13569317.2016.1260813 [Accessed 10 June 2020]
Freeman, D. Waite, F. Rosebrock, L. (2020) Coronavirus conspiracy beliefs, mistrust, and compliance with government guidelines in England. Psychological Medicine 1–13. Available at: https:// [Accessed 11 July 2020]
Groundwater-Smith, S. Dockett, S. Bottrell, D. (2014) Participatory Research with Children and Young People, Sage, Los Angeles.
McKee, M. et al. (2020) ‘Are Populist Leaders Creating the Conditions for the Spread
Of COVID-19? Comment on A Scoping Review of Populist Radical Right Parties’ Influence on Welfare Policy and its Implications for Population Health in Europe.’ International Journal of Health Policy Management 1-5. Available online at: DOI 10.34172/ijhpm.2020.124 [Accessed 13 October 2020]
Tickle, S. (2009) ‘Ethnographic research with young people: methods and rapport’. Qualitative Research Journal, 17:2 Available online at: doi: 10.1108/QRJ-10-2016-0059. [Accessed 10 December 2020]
United Kingdom Government (2014) The national curriculum in England Key stages 3 and 4 framework document. United Kingdom Government. Available at: [Accessed 22 October 2020]
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