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Triumphs and tribulations: An ethnographic approach to understanding academia as a site for activism

  • Full or part time
    Dr J O'Mahoney
    Dr L Bowman-Grieve
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, November 04, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Post summary

This study will investigate the experiences of Irish academics engaging in social activism, and the implications of this activity. Taking an ethnographic approach, this project will consist of 3 studies. Firstly, four case studies depicting Irish academic activists (2 men, 2 women) will be analysed to explore the core concepts and intersectionality of academia and social activism. Open source material in the public domain (e.g., traditional and social media) of the case study academics will be analysed for themes and descriptions of social activism and academia, and form the study of these concepts by identifying patterns in its description. Secondly, Irish academics (n=10) engaging with activism will be identified and interviewed to consider their experiences of academia as a site for social activism. The concept of activism will be interrogated, considering how the interviewees’ assign meaning to the nature, range and form of activism in their lives. The experiences of activism by participants, in particular the implications of involvement in social activism from a professional perspective, will be investigated in the interviews. The final study will consider a framework from which to understand the benefits and pitfalls of activist academia, and develop recommendations for academics engaging in activism.
Social activism can be generally defined as a “means for actively promoting social change, as by writing, speaking, rallying or protesting to change social systems or services, such as changing attitudes toward groups or providing services to disadvantaged groups” (McConochie, 2010, p.7). Academia can act as a site for social activism in four ways, by facilitating knowledge production to inform social change; research which incorporates social change; teaching and learning about social change; and the analysis of the
academic site itself, by challenging and reconstructing power relations (Downs & Manion, 2004; Zerai, 2002). Therefore, this study will investigate the experiences of Irish academics who engage in social activism in their personal and/or professional lives, and the implications of this activity.

The overall framework of the project is ethnographic in nature, as it aims to explore the experiences of Irish academics engaging in social activism. Ethnography supports a participative approach where the researcher participates in the community and engages in deep immersion. Ethnography is the umbrella method for describing the culture and experiences of academia as a site for social activism, as ethnographic research aims to yield an in-depth understanding of a group or situation from the point of view of its members (Fetterman, 1998).

There are several reasons for this research:
a) To gain an in-depth understanding of Irish academics’ experiences of engaging with social activism.
b) To investigate the benefits and drawbacks of engaging with activism while employed in academia.
c) To improve academic practice focused on achieving social change.
d) To articulate the needs of the activist academics to improve supervision, training, organisation and professional support.
e) To add to the theoretical knowledge, contributing to existing research studies of a similar focus.
f) To consider the project’s findings in light of gender equality, representation, and progression in academia.

Standard duties and responsibilities of the scholarship

The awardee is expected to:

● Follow the envisaged research schedule of the structured PhD programme
● Complete institutional deadlines as expected (e.g., submission to the Ethics Committee, transfer to PhD register, etc.)
● Undertake academic modules as per programme requirements
● Engage in ongoing dissemination activities
● Monitor the budget, expenditure, and costs of the funded project on an ongoing basis
● Actively engage with the supervisory team at all stages of the programme

Person specification



● Applicants should hold or expect to attain, as a minimum a 2:1 Honours degree, or equivalent, in Psychology. Comparative undergraduate degrees in Sociology, Social Science, or similar considered.
● A Masters postgraduate degree in Psychology. Comparative postgraduate degrees in Sociology, Social Science, or similar considered.

Knowledge & Experience


● Successful completion of an independent research project (at undergraduate and postgraduate level)
● Experience using qualitative methodologies in research
● Demonstrable evidence of knowledge and practice of research ethics


● Research experience on the topic of activism and/or academia
● Demonstrable evidence of interest in the topics of activism and/or academia
● Evidence of research dissemination (e.g. at conferences or in publications)

Skills & Competencies


● Applicants whose first language is not English must submit evidence of competency in English, please see WIT’s English Language Requirements for details.
● Excellent communication skills


● Knowledge of nVivo qualitative software or similar

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year full-time structured PhD programme

Stipend: €12,000 p/a
Fees: €4,500 p/a
Research costs: €2,000 p/a

Further information
Informal queries, please contact Dr Jennifer O’Mahoney at .

For queries relating to the application and admission process please contact the Postgraduate Admissions Office at or telephone +353 (0)51 302883.

Website: View Website

Application procedure

Download the Research Postgraduate Application Form from WIT Website and return completed applications to quoting WIT_PhD_2019_007_R2 in the email subject line. Please note that paper submissions will not be accepted.

Any queries relating to the application process should be emailed to .

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