Published: 14 December 2020

Call for interest in law and humanities PhD projects

Passionate about issues at the intersection of law and humanities? The University of Surrey, School of Law is seeking interested applicants in relation to the AHRC Techne studentship competition, for entry in October 2021. Studentships cover tuition fees and an annual stipend of £15,285.

The competition is open to both domestic and international applicants – for successful international applicants, the University of Surrey may cover the difference in fees. Applicants are expected to hold at least a 2:1 Bachelors degree along with a Masters degree at a minimum of a merit level in Law or other relevant discipline. For more information on entry requirements, please click HERE.

The deadline to apply to the Surrey Law PhD course is Jan 18 2021, but interest should be expressed as soon as possible. To express interest, please contact our Director of PhD Admissions, Dr Hrafn Asgeirsson (

The Techne consortium comprises nine universities in London and the South-East and has almost 60 AHRC studentships to award each year across a range of arts and humanities disciplines, including law. Initial applications are made through member universities rather than to Techne directly. Relevant applications first undergo an internal competition at Surrey and the University then puts forward a selection of projects for the Techne competition itself. For more information about Techne, please click HERE.

Interested applicants should feel free to propose a topic of their own, having considered supervisory expertise at Surrey, but can also – given a suitable background – express interest in any of the following project outlines, to be developed independently (but with potential input from relevant research staff):


The Force of Law: Anything Special?

Traditionally, one of the main tasks of general jurisprudence – a main branch of legal theory – has been to explain the distinctive power that the law exerts over us. Recently, however, several authors – including, perhaps most prominently, David Enoch and Andrei Marmor – have argued that there isn’t anything distinctive about the way in which the law gives us reasons to act. The law, it is argued, simply affects us in a variety of ways, each of which is shared with many other phenomena – ranging from games to parental directives. It’s like a lot of things and in a lot of ways. Some – like Enoch – even go so far as to claim that there isn’t really much interesting work to be done in this area of legal theorizing at all. The purpose of the proposed project is to adjudicate this dispute. There is ample work to be done to systematize the issues and arguments in this debate and to address each component of the debate in the detail it deserves.


Law’s Emotional Impact: The Overlooked Emotional Character of Legal Authority and the Rule of Law

The effective authority of legal institutions is the indispensable bedrock of social order in any complex society. The character of legal authority has thus always been a focus of foundational inquiry into the nature and function of law. Yet, due to the traditional view of the law as governed by reason alone, the vital role of the emotional responses and experiences of legal subjects in establishing legal authority has been neglected. A recent surge of scholarship on law and the emotions has exposed the limitations of the traditional view in various respects, but these insights have not yet been effectively employed to remedy the significant defects and gaps in our understanding of legal authority and the rule of law. The proposed project will address this, while also illustrating the theoretical power of the emotional character of legal authority by exploring implications for urgent new challenges to established legal orders.


Building a Human Rights Framework for Algorithmic Justice

Algorithmic risk assessment practices represent a criminal justice reform across the globe. An algorithm simply represents a mathematical calculation that predicts an individual’s likelihood of reoffending. Algorithmic risk tools take advantage of improvements in computing and the availability of big data to better automate the risk assessment process. These tools offer officialsthe ability to efficiently, objectively, and transparently evaluate their populations to distinguish high and low risk individuals, and then to manage them accordingly. Nonetheless, the algorithmic turn presents novel legal and ethical issues and thus is ahead of the rule of law’s ability to govern it. Authorities are raising concerns that algorithmic risk practices threaten human rights regarding equality, justice, and human dignity. The studentship is designed to consider a new governance structure that sufficiently regulates these new technologies in a way that officials can gain their advantages while reasonably honouring human rights law.


The Elusiveness of Ownership

Ownership has traditionally been seen as a fundamental private law right. However, unlike any other private right, it has often been described but never captured by a definition. Great scholars of past and present, like Blackstone, Austin and Honoré, have dedicated important pages to this topic. Yet, its essence still eludes us: a mere list of its powers, as suggested by the so-called bundle of rights theory, offers a purely formalistic approach that does not contribute to its understanding. In this project, ownership will be at the crossroads of legal theory, legal history and legal analysis. Several questions might be considered, such as:

  • Do different legal systems share the same concept of ownership?
  • Is the idea of ownership influenced by cultural backgrounds?
  • Does English law have a right of ownership? Do we need ownership if we have title?
  • Does the right of ownership evolve, or has it remained the same despite societal changes?
  • Does ownership change according to its object?

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