JCU Welcomes Professor of International Relations Nicholas Startin

Originally from London, Professor Nicholas Startin joined JCU’s Political Science and International Affairs Department in Fall 2022. He holds a Master’s in French Studies from Birmingham University and a Ph.D. in Politics from Brunel University in West London. Professor Startin currently teaches Comparative Politics, Western European Politics, and Populism.  

Tell us about your background.
I was brought up near Wales in the west of England and I studied European Studies and French as an undergraduate. I subsequently did a Master’s at Birmingham University in French Studies and a Ph.D. in Politics at Brunel University in West London. I lived in Northern France for two years and have professional experience working in the travel industry and teaching in schools. I also have a postgraduate teaching qualification from the University of Warwick. The bulk of my career has been lecturing at UK universities, such as The University of the West of England in Bristol and the University of Bath where I was the Head of the Department for Politics, Languages, and International Studies.

Nicholas Startin

Nicholas Startin

What are the rewards and challenges of teaching at a university level?
I have found university teaching to be extremely rewarding. It’s a real privilege to teach politics and International Relations to students who come from different countries and different backgrounds and to see them finding answers and solutions to some of the challenges the world faces. I wish that our governments across the West listened more closely to the voices of younger voters and students of politics. If they did, that would allow them to fully gauge how important issues like climate change and equality of opportunity are to the current generation. In terms of challenges, I am looking forward to teaching in an American Liberal Arts environment where students can study a range of disciplines beyond their core interests. I am a great believer in interdisciplinarity and not working in narrow academic silos.

What’s your teaching philosophy? 
The most important thing as a teacher, whatever age group you are teaching, is to create a classroom atmosphere where everyone is comfortable participating. That’s easier said than done at times, but it’s crucial. A teacher also needs to be clear and consistent with students in terms of the expectations required. It’s also important to be sensitive to individual students who may be experiencing difficulties or even having doubts about their studies. Finally, learning and teaching must be enjoyable! If students want to attend your class and professors want to teach their students, then all should work well!

You were chair of UACES for three years, tell us about what this role entailed?
I was the elected Chair of the University Association of Contemporary European Studies (UACES) from September 2018 to September 2021. UACES is Europe’s biggest membership association for academics, scholars, and practitioners who research the European Union. It’s a multidisciplinary association with members drawn mainly from the disciplines of Political Science, International Relations, Contemporary History, Law, and Economics. My role was to oversee the organization of the association, chair committee meetings, and work closely with committee members the organization of the annual conference and other events, the distribution of research funds, and updating members on the latest developments taking place within the association. Much of my time as Chair was against the backdrop of COVID but I think as an association we were able to function effectively in a virtual environment. After two virtual, annual conferences, it was great in September to attend in person the Annual conference in Lille in Northern France, a city where I used to live. The thing I was most proud of during my time as Chair of UACES was ensuring the introduction of an Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Policy. This was something I had highlighted in my campaign to become Chair, something I am passionate about.

Your research is on Euroscepticism and on the Radical Right in Europe, both very topical subjects. Can you tell us a little bit about this? 
Yes, my research on Euroscepticism and opposition to the EU centers on political parties, public opinion, referenda, the media, transnational networks of opposition, and inevitably on Brexit. In 2011, I was co-founder of the UACES Comparative Research Network on Euroscepticism and since then, I have co-edited various special issue journals and edited volumes on the subject including The Routledge Handbook of Euroscepticism.

My work on Radical Right parties in Europe has focused on their electoral rise and durability and their transnational collaboration in the European Parliament. The Rassemblement National in France is the case study I have worked and published on most. Having moved to Rome in the summer, I followed the election here closely and appeared on the ITN National News at Ten in the UK the day after the election as well as giving a commentary on the result for the radio channel EUradio.

What is your belief on Britain’s exit from the EU, known as Brexit? 
I think I was one of the few academics working on the issue of Euroscepticism who alluded to the fact that a ‘no’ vote could prevail if a referendum took place. In 2015, I published an article in the International Political Science Review entitled ‘Have we reached a tipping point? The mainstreaming of Euroscepticism in the UK.’ I argued that a vote to stay in the EU would be far from certain. I concluded that tabloid influence had left British citizens unable to weigh the costs and benefits of EU membership in a rational and informed fashion. The article ended up being shortlisted for an academic prize in 2020, partly I think because my predictions came true!

To go back to your original question, in economic and geopolitical terms, Brexit has been damaging.  I don’t need to add to the weight of economic data and forecasting pointing to this. In geopolitical terms if we take the UK’s closest two allies geographically (France and Ireland) in both cases relations have never been at such a low ebb in the post-war period, with the Northern Ireland protocol and the humanitarian/migrant situation in the Channel. There is also no doubt that UK citizens are beginning to wake up to the realities of Brexit on a personal level as they no longer benefit from the Freedom of Movement and what that entails.

I have already alluded to the role of the tabloid press as a factor in terms of the result. My most recent publication (Tabloid Tales: How the British Tabloid Press Shaped the Brexit Vote) explores this in some detail.

What advice would you give to students studying Political Science, and who wish to pursue a career in this field?
Go for it. Whether it’s working in Party Politics (in the frontline or behind the scenes), for a transnational organization, as a civil servant, for a civil society group, for a think-tank, in the media, in Academia, or in any related field, if you are interested in politics, such a career can be both rewarding and exciting.