Dr John Shayegh: ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow

In Fellows by General Account

NINE DTP Postdoctoral Fellow: 2023-24

Group identities are an important part of how we view our social world. Initial research from John’s PhD focused on politicians and news media across three liberal democracies (UK, US, and Australia). The results demonstrated how two key identities of ‘the elite’ and ‘immigrants’ could be used to depict a range of voices in society as being untrustworthy sources of information and present people from elsewhere as having inherently antagonistic values causing them to reject the national identity. The research then investigated whether teaching people how their social identities could be used in political rhetoric could challenge negative social attitudes. It emerged that this was effective for challenging populist, but not anti-immigration, attitudes.

The NINE post-doctoral fellowship will build on this research through five objectives:

(1) Deliver impact activities to improve the critical evaluation of political claims,
(2) Engage with public research institutions to challenge existing policy,
(3) Develop skills in advanced experimental methods,
(4) Produce academic papers,
(5) Increase the academic reach of the findings through presentations.

The fellowship will maximise the impact of the findings for both academic and non-academic audiences through educational events aimed at teaching people some of the common rhetorical techniques used by populists. I will also present my findings to academic audiences in the UK and Canada and use the findings to challenge public research agencies to reflect on the terms they use to describe identities connected to immigration.

Speaking about his research, John has said “The narratives identified in my research are important to understand because multiple voices speaking on any given issue is a vital part of robust debate and accountability in liberal democracies, however, populist narratives can discredit various voices in society as ‘elites’ and therefore weaken trust in democratic processes. The fellowship will therefore take the research findings outside of academia to improve people’s ability to critically read the arguments of those who would seek to influence them. It aims to contribute towards more healthy forms of democratic debate and more positive perceptions of the relationships between different groups in society.”