Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Politics & International Studies

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Research in Politics and International Studies

As well as addressing critical challenges in British and international politics, our research informs and enriches our award-winning modules and qualifications. Academics within Politics and International Studies (POLIS) deliver research with real impact and purpose. They cover a wide range of topics in two broad areas - ‘International Relations beyond the west’ and ‘Democratic Politics: performance and participation’. Combining research with knowledge exchange and public engagement, we strive to spark debate, present new ideas and find positive solutions.

Our areas of research

International Relations beyond the west

The Allée des Nations in front of the Palace of Nations, Geneva

Within the field of International Relations, the focus of our research centres around non-western states, and both state and non-state actors. In the context of an increasing challenge to a western-dominated international order, our research spans several non-western contexts including Russia, Iran, the Middle East, China, Pakistan, South Asia, Africa and Latin America. Exploring foreign policy and regional co-operation, as well as cultural diplomacy, social media and development cooperation, our research encompasses media organisations, religious foundations, militaries, NGOS and sub-state regional economic actors.

Democratic Politics: Performance and Participation

A Ugandan protester displays a place card reading WE ARE FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM  during a protest in Nairobi, Kenya, November, 2020

Within the broad field of democratic politics, POLIS research has a particular focus on the way in which citizens and elites participate in political processes. We are interested in how different kinds of political acts take place and the opportunities and limits for participating in politics. Our work on citizenship, democratic crises and participation falls within this group, as does our examination of security politics and counter-radicalisation, leadership and elites, political loyalty, identity and belonging, and participation in the democratic process.

How we work with others

POLIS researchers are actively engaged in ongoing scholarship on the teaching of Politics and International Studies and the practice of distance and online learning which we share with colleagues in the sector. We sustain a lively research culture where communicating ideas in an accessible way is paramount. We work with a number of partner organisations including policymakers (within UK Parliament), think tanks (such as Brookings, the Foreign Policy Centre, and South Asia Democratic Forum), arts organisations (Tate Modern), journalists and those working in the media (including BBC and International Forum for Journalism) and a range of other third-sector organisations.

We are proud to work with professional associations including Political Studies Association (PSA), British International Studies Association (BISA), European International Studies Association (EISA), and British Association for South Asian Studies (BASAS) among others.

Our publications

Our work is published in a number of academic journals, books, public blog posts, popular media, policy working papers and policy briefs. As our research sheds a light on some of the world’s most pressing social and political issues, we believe in disseminating our work in both academic and publicly accessible forms (such as OpenDemocracy and The Conversation). Here is a small selection of our recent publications:

Dr Donna Smith (2023) “Working with politics ‘students as partners’ to engender student community: Opportunities and challenges”, Politics (early view).
Dr Edward Wastnidge (2023) “The resistance axis and regional order in the Middle East: nomos, space, and normative alternatives”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, (earlyview) (with Simon Mabon).

Dr Georgina Holmes (2022), “Feminist approaches”, in Badache, Fanny; Kimber, Leah R. and Maertens, Lucile eds. International Organizations and Research Methods: An Introduction. University of Michigan Press (In Press), pp. 333–340.

Dr Filippo Boni (2022) "Strategic Partnerships and China's Diplomacy in Europe: insights from Italy", British Journal of Politics and International Relations, (Early Access)
Dr Precious Chatterje-Doody (2021) Russia Today and Conspiracy Theories: People, Power and Politics on RT, with Dr Ilya Yablokov (Routledge).

Free access to many of the POLIS publications can be found through ORO.

Recent BBC collaborations

Drawing our research expertise in democratic politics and international relations, POLIS members also act as academic consultants on high-profile BBC television and radio programmes, some of which are listed below.

David Olusoga stood infront of a stone wall with rolling hills behind, in Ireland

Union with David Olusoga

Dr Dan Taylor, Prof Gerry Mooney and Dr Helen O’Shea 

Donald Trump with his hand in the air

Trump takes on the World

Dr Precious Chatterje-Doody and Dr Filippo Boni

Sign for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Inside the Foreign Office

Dr William Brown and Dr Edward Wastnidge

Crowds gathered in the house of Lords

Meet the Lords

Dr Richard Heffernan

Selected current projects

Democracy, Disinformation and Religion (DDR)

Scattered clouds against a blue sky with the sun glaring through

Democracy, Disinformation and Religion is a best practice network of academics, journalists, artists, civil society actors, religious organisations, policymaking and counter-disinformation professionals from across the globe. It promotes cross-disciplinary research on religious organisations as (dis)information actors, and creative methods of knowledge exchange with different communities.


The ‘Changemakers’ research project, led by Dr Donna Smith, explores improving young adults' understanding of making political and social change, using Wales as a case study. The project aims to develop educational resource(s) to improve understanding, engendering active citizenship. The project is funded by The Open University’s ‘Open Societal Challenges’ programme.

Sectarianism, Proxies and De-Sectarianisation (SEPAD)


Dr Edward Wastnidge is deputy Director on a collaborative project aimed at understanding the conditions that give rise to sectarian violence and proxy conflicts in the Middle East and beyond. SEPAD is based at Lancaster University’s Richardson Institute under the directorship of Professor Simon Mabon.

Growth for all along the A13?

Map of much of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham from Google Earth

This project is an in-depth exploration of growth, development and change in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, an area hailed as London’s “growth opportunity” and undergoing substantial change. It is led by Dr Dan Taylor, Lecturer in Social and Political Thought in POLIS, with support from Dr Peter Wood, Consultant in Geography for The Open University.

Place, Community and Connection in the Fens

Painting of green space

Led by Dr. Dan Taylor, this Open Societal Challenges project investigates what constitutes a “good place” in the Fens, England, with particular attention to infrastructure, connection and identity. Amid challenges like economic shifts and societal changes, it aims to explore community strengths and obstacles, culminating in a report and film by 2024.

Find out more

You can find out more about what is going on in POLIS by following us on X (previously known as Twitter) and see how we are collaborating with colleagues in the School of Social Sciences and Global Studies. Latest news relating to research at the OU can be found on the main OU research news webpage. Discover our individual researchers and team of academics.

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