School of Social and Political Science

Christina Boswell

Job Title

Dean of Research, College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Christina Boswell

Room number


Building (Address)

Chrystal Macmillan Building

Street (Address)

15a George Square

City (Address)


Country (Address)


Post code (Address)




My research explores the relationship between knowledge and public policy. I examine how politicians and civil servants produce and draw on different kinds of knowledge, information and data to make sense of policy problems, and to communicate and legitimise their responses. I also analyse how knowledge and expertise are deployed in political debate, and the role that knowledge claims play in building (or undermining) trust and accountability between politicians, government and their voters. I explore these issues through the case of immigration policy, comparing the production and use of expertise and knowledge in UK, German and EU policy-making and political debate.

I have contributed to building this field of research through founding the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Policy - SKAPE in 2014, which I co-directed from 2014-16; and co-founding the Standing Group on Knowledge and Governance (2015) within the European Consortium for Political Research.

My book Manufacturing Political Trust: Targets and Performance Measurement in Public Policy (Cambridge, 2018) showed how targets on immigration and asylum have been deployed to shore up political trust - but have instead ended up further eroding public confidence in government. The book won the PSA's prize for best book in political science.

The Political Uses of Expert Knowledge: Immigration Policy and Social Research (Cambridge, 2009/12) explored how governments produce and deploy expert knowledge as a symbolic resource, to bolster legitimacy and substantiate their claims. The book won the 2020 APSA prize for best recent book on ideas, knowledge and policy.

My current work develops a theory of 'state ignorance', which is applied to understand how states have avoided producing knowledge on unauthorised residents. This work challenges prevailing assumptions about states as maximising surveillance of their populations - and is forthcoming as a co-authored book on States of Ignorance. 

As a follow-up to this project, I am currently exploring the use of digital technologies in immigration control.

Current and recent funded projects

Knowledge exchange and impact

I chair the Scottish Government's independent Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population (established in October 2018), and the Royal Society of Edinburgh Working Group on Immigration and Diversity. I am also Chair of the recently established charity and think tank Migration Policy Scotland, directed by Sarah Kyambi.

I have served as a consultant on immigration and asylum issues for the UN High Commission for Refugees, the UN Global Commission on International Migration, the British Foreign Office, the European Commission, European Parliament, the OECD, and the Scottish Government.

Academic career

After graduating in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (Balliol College, Oxford) and Public Administration (MSc, College of Europe, Bruges), I worked in the European Commission (Brussels) and the UNHCR (Geneva and Burundi) for three years. I returned to the UK to complete a PhD in International Relations (London School of Economics, 1997-2001), combining PhD research with policy research for the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House). I then worked as a postdoctoral researcher in Hamburg for 6 years, funded through a Marie Curie PDRF and then a Marie Curie Excellence Grant (predecessor of the ERC Starting Grant).

Since moving to Edinburgh in 2006, I have held a number of research management roles, including Politics and International Relations Research Convenor and REF Coordinator (2007-13), Deputy Dean of Research for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (2011-14) and Director of Research for SSPS (2015-17). In 2017 I took on the role of REF Dean for the College, leading our submission of 18 Units of Assessment; and since January 2018 have served as Dean of Research, responsible for research strategy and support for over 2,000 academic staff across the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. 

I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2017), Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (2019) and Fellow of the British Academy (2019). From July 2021 I am taking up the role of Vice President (Public Policy) at the British Academy.

Publications (Google Scholar)


Manufacturing Political Trust: Targets and Performance Measurement in Public Policy (Cambridge University Press, March 2018). Winner of the Political Studies Association Mackenzie Prize (Best Book in Political Science)

The Political Uses of Expert Knowledge: Immigration Policy and Social Research (Cambridge University Press, 2009/2012). Winner of the American Political Science Association Prize (Best Book on Ideas, Knowledge and Policy).

(with Andrew Geddes) Migration and Mobility in the European Union (Palgrave, 2011)

The Ethics of Refugee Policy (Routledge, 2005/2017)

European Migration Policies in Flux (Blackwell’s, 2003)


(2020) with Elisabeth Badenhoop, '"What Isn't in the Files, Isn't in the World": Understanding State Ignorance of Irregular Migration in Germany and the UK' Governance (early online - OPEN ACCESS).

(2019) with Mike Slaven, 'Why Symbolise Control? Irregular Migration to the UK and Symbolic Policy Making in the 1960s', Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, April (early online).

(2017) with Katherine Smith, 'Rethinking Policy ‘Impact’: Four Models of Research-Policy Relations'. Palgrave Communications: The Future of Research Assessment (3), December.

(2017) with James Hampshire, Ideas and Agency in Immigration Policy: A Discursive Institutionalist Approach. European Journal of Political Research (56:1), 133-150.

(2016) with Eugenia Rodrigues, 'Policies, Politics and Organizational Problems: Multiple Streams and the Implementation of Targets in UK Government'. Policy and Politics (44:4), 507-524.

(2015) The Double Life of Targets in Public Policy: Disciplining and Signaling in UK Asylum Policy. Public Administration (93:2), 490-505.

(2015) with Alistair Hunter, 'Comparing the Political Functions of Independent Commissions: The Case of UK Migrant Integration Policy'. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis (17:1), 10-25.

(2012), 'How Information Scarcity Influences the Policy Agenda: Evidence from UK Immigration Policy'. Governance (25:3), 367-389.

(2011) "Migration Control and Narratives of Steering", British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 13:1, 12-25.

(2009) “Knowledge, Legitimation and the Politics of Risk: The Functions of Research in Public Debates on Migration”, Political Studies, 57:1.

(2009) with Oana Ciobanu, 'Culture, utility or social systems? Explaining the cross-national ties of emigrants from Borsa, Romania', Ethnic and Racial Studies, 57:1.

(2008) “The Political Functions of Expert Knowledge: Knowledge and Legitimation in European Union Immigration Policy”, Journal of European Public Policy, 15:4, 471-488.

(2008) “Evasion, Reinterpretation and Decoupling: European Commission responses to the ‘External Dimension’ of Immigration and Asylum”, West European Politics, 31:3, 491-512.

(2008) “Combining Economics and Sociology in Migration TheoryJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 34:4, 549-566.

(2008) "The Elusive Rights of an Invisible Population", Ethics and International Affairs, 22:2.

(2008) with Dan Hough “Politicising Migration: Opportunity or Liability for the Centre-Right in Germany”, Journal of European Public Policy, 15:3, 331-347.

(2007) “Migration Control in Europe after 9/11: Explaining the Absence of SecuritizationJournal of Common Market Studies, 45:3, 589-610.

(2007) “Theories of Migration Policy: Is There a Third Way?” International Migration Review, 41:1, 75-100.

(2004) Burden-sharing in the European Union: lessons from the German and UK experience, Journal of Refugee Studies 16 (3), 316-335

(2003) The ‘external dimension’of EU immigration and asylum policy, International Affairs 79 (3), 619-638

(2001) European values and the asylum crisis, International Affairs 76 (3), 537-557

Special Issues and Edited Books:

With Andrew Geddes and Peter Scholten, eds. (2011) States, Knowledge and Narratives of Migration: The Construction of Migration in European Policy-Making Special Issue of the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 13:1.

With Peter Mueser, eds. (2008) Economics in Migration Research: Towards Interdisciplinary Integration? Special Issue of the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 34:4.

With Gianni D'Amato, eds. (2012) Immigration and Social Systems: Collected Essays of Michael Bommes (Amsterdam University Press).


(2018) "Research, Experts and the Politics of Migration", in M Ruhs, K Tamas and J Palme (eds), Bridging the Gaps: Linking Research to Public Deabtes and Policy Making on Migration and Integration (Oxford University Press)

(2017) "The Role of Expert Knowledge in International Organizations", in A Littoz-Monnet (ed), The Politics of Expertise in IOs (Routledge).

(2016) "The 'Epistemic Turn' in Immigration Policy Analysis", in GP Freeman & N Mirilovic (eds), Handbook on Immigration and Social Policy, 1, Edward Elgar, 11-27.

(2015) "Cultures of Knowledge Use in Policy Making: The Functions of Research in German and UK Immigration Policy", in Scholten P., Entzinger H., Penninx R., Verbeek S. (eds), Integrating Immigrants in Europe, Springer Press, 19-38.

(2015) Boswell, C, Yearley, S, Fleming, C, Rodrigues, E & Spinardi, G, "The Effects of Targets and Indicators on Policy Formulation: Narrowing Down, Crowding Out and Locking In". in AJ Jordan & JR Turnpenny (eds), The Tools of Policy Formulation: Actors, Capacities, Venues and Effects. Edward Elgar, 225-244 .

Pre-2015 chapters.

Current Teaching

Christina teaches on the MA course the Politics of International Migration, and the Honours course Europe and International Migration. She also contributes to the 2nd year core course Comparative Politics in a Globalised World.

Research interests

Research interests

Political sociology, Use of research in policy, Immigration and asylum policy, Politics of immigration, Public policy

Topics interested in supervising

Christina is interested in supervising PhD research in three main areas: (1) immigration, asylum and integration policy (2) the uses of research in politics and policymaking, and (3) organizational sociology and systems theoretic approaches to public policy.

If you are interested in being supervised by Christina Boswell, please see the link below for more information:

Staff Hours and Guidance

By appointment