Protest against the government in Bulgaria, Varna

Contentious Civil Societies and Democratisation in Southeastern Europe

Eligibility: UK/International (including EU) graduates with the required entry requirements

Duration: Full-Time – between three and three and a half years fixed term

Application deadline: 31 March 2024

Interview date: Will be confirmed to shortlisted candidates

Start date: September 2024

For further details contact: Dr James Dawson 

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The Trailblazer PhD studentships have been devised and developed by leading early-career researchers at Coventry University.


This research will address whether the trend towards civil society contention and polarisation in Southeast Europe, can justifiably be considered a positive phase in the region’s path to democratisation.

Project details

This addresses a conundrum of interest to political scientists and democracy promoters worldwide: are polarised, contentious civil societies better understood as catalysing or spoiling factors in young democracies? The former interpretation prevails in much rationalist political science theorising while the latter argument is rooted in agonistic democratic theory and the new social movements literature. This project will put these competing interpretations under the microscope by gauging which finds more support in the subjective experience of Southeast European civil societies themselves, with a particular focus on emergent liberal and illiberal poles. These may be understood respectively as emancipatory social movements that seek to go beyond the minimal implementation of liberal rights as promoted by the European Union and illiberal movements that present themselves in opposition to those same rights. This project will involve ethnographic fieldwork, inclusive of conducting interviews and focus groups in one or more Post-Communist countries of Southeast Europe.


This is a fully-funded studentship, including tuition fees and stipend/bursary.


The successful candidate will receive comprehensive research training including technical, personal and professional skills.

All researchers at Coventry University (from PhD to Professor) are part of the Doctoral College and Centre for Research Capability and Development, which provides support with high-quality training and career development activities.

Entry requirements

  • A minimum of a 2:1 first degree in a relevant discipline/subject area with a minimum 60% mark in the project element or equivalent with a minimum 60% overall module average.


  • The potential to engage in innovative research and to complete the PhD within a 3.5 years.
  • A minimum of English language proficiency (IELTS academic overall minimum score of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.5 in each component).

Additional specifications

One or more languages of the Post-Communist Southeastern Europe region, inclusive of Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and all former Yugoslav states (desirable). 

How to apply

To find out more about the project, please contact Dr James Dawson.  

All applications require full supporting documentation, a covering letter, plus a 2000-word supporting statement showing how the applicant’s expertise and interests are relevant to the project.

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