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Research Areas

The al-Sabah programme has clearly delivered across a range of activities and is now widely regarded as having delivered publications, educational collaboration, research partnerships, and outreach activities of international standing. The strategy for the 2016-2021 period is to build on the successes of the first five years and consolidate the research agenda of the Programme around five critical themes, three of which will be developed in partnership with other institutions. The five themes will be:

These themes speak directly to the wider research strategy of the School of Government and International Affairs (SGIA) and in particular, the core strategic aim of the School to be a top 15 UK department for research following the 2021 REF:

  • to contribute to the range and scale of research income for the School; to contribute significantly to the growth of the PGR community
  • to ensure that the significance of the research activity generated is realized through its impact.

The Programme has already made substantial progress towards meeting these goals within the wider context of SGIA. For example, the core activities of the Programme, not least in the area of the Gulf and ‘Asianisation’ fed directly into the successful Horizon 2020, and the AHRC’s Open Worlds grant success that now underpins the new academic group in International Relations and Security as well as the recent relaunch of the Institute for Middle East and Islamic studies (IMEIS). The ‘Changing Geopolitics of the Mediterranean Region’, in partnership with the H2020 consortium now profits from the appointment of externally-funded post-doctoral fellows while the theme ‘Political Islam and Transient Identities’, benefits from the appointment of a new al-Sabah Programme Doctoral Fellow. Such appointments not only support existing activities across the School in the areas of IR, Security and Middle East studies, but will allow SGIA and the al-Sabah Programme to support and develop a new generation of scholars looking to work in these interlinked areas over the next 2-5 years.

As a means, therefore, of embedding the Programme within a wider research community and ensuring a clear legacy, the project on political Islam will benefit from planned cooperation with the MENA Programme of the RIIA; the agendas on systemic shift, and Asianisation will be explored with existing partners in the UK and East Asia, and the research on MENA regional security developed in cooperation with regional partners and also the National Defense University. It is the expectation that as these relationships mature over the next five years, new avenues of research, developed from acknowledged publications of recognised international standing will generate impact case studies in the medium to long term. This is in full accordance with both the aims of the Programme itself and in line with the core research strategy of SGIA.

In conjunction with the School, the Director will also develop the Programme’s existing internship scheme, and will aim to enhance this with the introduction of a ‘visiting scholar’ scheme in order to broaden the research base of the Programme and widen its research networks, both within the academe and beyond. Such internships are seen as a long term investment positions as through careful mentoring, such interns can help create substantive links back to Durham as they move on to career opportunities elsewhere. Links too with Kuwait will continue to be strengthened. The encouragement of the donor for the further development of the al-Sabah Programme is recognition of the return on the investment to date, and acknowledgement of the measured ambition the Programme has for the future. Accordingly, the Programme provides a sound platform for both developing existing income streams where possible, and identifying future sources of finance to support the intellectual and academic development of wider School activity, not least in the realms of Middle East Studies and IR.

The Director will now enhance the publication schedule of the al-Sabah Papers in the Insights publications series, as well as the book series that currently appears under the Routledge imprint. These publications are important, not just for the potential contribution to any future UK wide research exercise for the School, but in supporting and developing a unified body of independently-refereed scholarship that has global reach and significance. The work produced to date under the auspices of the Programme very much chimes with this strategy. To this end, ensuring the effective dissemination of material, through virtual connections on the web and an improved website is a key development objective over the next five years. The website will be extensively revised with a view to adding new features to the site in order to position the Programme as a key source of knowledge for academics and practitioners. Again, this will be crucial to ensuring that the impact and legacy of the Programme is embedded fully within the School, and associate departments and institutes across the University and beyond.

Finally, the al-Sabah programme will continue to support a range of conferences and workshops that bring together students (UGs/PGT/Rs) as well as academics and practitioners. This is fully in line with developing ‘grass-roots’ interests in the range of themes and conceptual approaches embraced by the Programme while encouraging a new generation of scholars to think critically on a series of issues related to global significance. In particular, the Programme will seek to continue to support ECRs wishing to organise workshops and conferences covering issues of geopolitical as well as strategic importance for the MENA region. The value of such support is to be realised in the intellectual as well as practical legacy such workshops yield in the development of the next generation of scholars.