Community Engagement and Active Citizenship: a case study of an estate in Camden, London

ESRC Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) collaborative doctoral studentship

The Department of Geography, the Open University with Camden Council, London.



Professor Steve Pile, Professor of Human Geography, The Open University

Professor Michael Keith, Professor at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford

Non-academic supervisor from Camden Council (TBA)



The ESRC Grand Union DTP is awarding a collaborative doctoral studentship based in the Department of Geography, the Open University. It is being offered in conjunction with the Camden Council, London.

This project explores the extent to which cities are open to – welcoming of – newcomers. It involves a collaboration with the London Borough of Camden, and is designed around questions of active citizenship and community engagement on estates in Camden. For Camden Council, population demographics and dynamics raises profound practical questions about how people live together on their estates, especially how new arrivals on their estates are integrated and socially cohere with longer standing residents. In particular, Camden is interested in how newcomers are called into, or not, active citizenship. To address this, Camden has a wide range of projects that are designed to understand and foster community engagement.

This studentship will investigate ongoing acts of citizenship, spatially. The central hypothesis is that places have different patterns and styles of 'citizenliness', which are marked by their different histories and geographies of migration and settlement, of work and housing, of social justice, neighbourliness and civic action. The studentship will therefore investigate the relationship between neighbourliness and civic action by contextualising it in relation to people's experiences of social stratification and spatial differentiation within London, through for example the intersectional composition of class, race and gender.

The studentship is aligned with the ESRC funded project, Open City, which Pile and Keith are co-investigators on. The successful applicant will be able to shape both the conceptual and methodological approach of the studentship. It is expected that the empirical focus will be on an estate that is similar to, yet different from, the Open City case study locations. This allows the studentship to draw on the wider quantitative data and analysis being generated by the Open City project.

This project would be of interest to a student with a background in Geography, Sociology, Urban Studies, Migration Studies, or similar disciplines. It will afford the student with a socially-engaged research project, in a world class research setting, to ensure employability post-PhD. We particularly encourage applicants who have a strong connection to Camden or similar London Boroughs.



The project offers the strong research environment provided by the Open City Project and also the support of Camden Council, especially three units directly responsible for supporting communities (i.e. 'Development', 'Community Services' and 'Housing Support Services'). The core focus of the project has been developed in close collaboration with Camden Council. Camden is interested in how newcomers are called into, or not, active citizenship. To address this, Camden has a wide range of projects that are designed to understand and foster community engagement. This studentship takes advantage of the opportunity to research initiatives that are currently being designed for implementation in the immediate future. These include: participatory budgeting, which will give residents on estates control over budgets, including core services; a community engagement strategy, which aims to place residents at the heart of community strategies and make neighbourhoods better places to live; and, Camden's Renewal Commission, which is designed to produce a sustainable economy.



The PhD studentship will be funded by the Grand Union DTP for an expected 3 years (or part-time equivalent) from October 2023. The award length offered may differ depending on the candidate’s prior training and how they meet ESRC training requirements. The part-time option is only available to students with a Home status, or those that do not require a Visa for study in the UK.

Information about Grand Union DTP ESRC studentships and eligibility can be found on the Grand Union DTP website.



12:00 midday UK time on Wednesday 11 January 2023



To apply for the studentship you must submit:

  • A cover letter outlining why the proposed collaborative project is an important area of study, how your background relates to the selected research topic and why you wish to study at The Open University.
  • An outline research proposal of no more than 2,000 words, including background related to the collaborative project, proposed research questions, methodology and methods. Your proposal can draw on the description of the research detailed above.
  • An academic CV that includes contact details of three referees, including at least two academics.
  • An Open University application form, downloadable from:
  • A Grand Union DTP Application form, downloadable from:

Applications should be sent to by 12:00 on 11 January 2023.

The admissions process is in two parts: applications will be assessed by the institution and the selected candidate will then be assessed as part of the applicant pool for ESRC Grand Union DTP funding.



Queries about the studentship should be addressed to: Professor Steve Pile at