Dr John Heathershaw

Research Interests

I study the international politics of conflict, security and development with a special focus on post-Soviet Central Asia.  Although my PhD is in IR I consider myself an inter-disciplinary scholar; I regularly work with scholars of Anthropology, Geography, History and Religion.  

My research begins with the proposition that the distinctiveness of Central Asia’s international relations comes neither from its ostensibly distant location nor its purported backwardness, but from its modern political history.   In particular, the region has been distinguished by the fact that the former Soviet republics became independent later than most postcolonies, in an era of globalization with increasingly intrusive and normatively-driven international intervention and lax regulation of international finance.  The research demonstrates that, though the post-Soviet Central Asian states have experienced remarkably little political violence and mass political upheaval, they have also failed to meet external demands for liberal reform.  Western actors have been more influential in facilitating the emergence and consolidation of authoritarian kleptocracies than they have in holding these kleptocracts to account for their theft and repression.

My research addresses incidences of armed conflict and more commonplace strategies of security as they take place in authoritarian political environments.  Around this guiding theme there are several sub-topics of my work.  My doctoral work on peacebuilding was published as Post-Conflict Tajikistan in 2009 and this has been furthered in several co-authored papers on authoritarain conflict management emerging from my recent ESRC project.  Related to this, I have long researched state strength in supposedly weak states and recently published a  volume, Paradox of Power, co-edited with Ed Schatz and published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2017.  

Much of my work extends beyond the national scale to the transnational.  For several years I have conducted research on offshore finance and conflict much of which is published in Dictators Without Borders, a monograph co-authored with Alex Cooley and published by Yale University Press in 2017.  I have become increasingly interested in extra-territorial politics and diaspora communities, with the Central Asian Political Exiles Project and database, launch at the Houses of Parliament in 2016.  I also work on religion and conflict, including studies of post-Soviet Muslim radicalization in a much-cited Chatham House paper and British Council project with David Montgomery in 2014-15 and several follow-up short articles on the weaknesses and unintednded consequences of counter-radiclization work.  .  

I have various other tangential interests such as the ethics of fieldwork in difficult political environments, conspiracy theories as political discourse, practices of non-violent resistance, theories of Christian peacemaking, the historical and theological contexts of post-Christendom, and the nature of militarism in British society, particularly in the south-west of England. In recent years, I have begun to undertake more research on modern Anabaptist political thinking and practices and have a contract to write a book which explores this tradition's relevance to the modern predicament of international security.  

Access to the texts of my publications in each of these areas can be found here.

Research Supervision

I supervise postgraduate research on all aspects of the the politics of armed conflict and related areas of international politial economy, peace and conflict studies, security studies and state formation. I am particularly interested in supervising research on the politics and international relations of the post-Soviet Central Asian republics.

I have supervised more than 10 PhD students to completion and examined over 20 students at Exeter and elsewhere including LSE, SOAS, KCL, UCL, St Andrews, Manchester, Ottawa and Humboldt.  Please look at the list of my current and previous students to get some idea of the range of research I have supoervised.  

Prospective PhD students shoudl contact me in advance of application to see whether I am an appropriate supervsior and to gain advice on constructing the proposal.

Exeter undergraduate and taught postgraduate students who would like me to supervise their dissertation may come and see me in office hours prior to submitting their research idea and request for supervision.  

Research Students

Current students (as first supervisor):

Leen Al-Habash, "Nonviolent activism amid political violence: the case of Syria"

Oliver Hayakawa, "Trading Under Occupation: A Study of Palestinian ‘Globalisation From Below’ "

Janyl Moldalieva,"Towards an Understanding of Good Resource Governance: Transparency and Accountability in the Mining and Energy Sectors of the Kyrgyz Republic" (as external supervsior to UNU-MERIT)


Past students:

Saipira Furtstenburg, "Applying the global governance agenda in post-Soivet states: the case of EITI in Kazkahstan and Kyrgyzstan", 2013-2017 (as external supervisor to the University of Bremen)

Ben Boulton, 2011-2016, 'Reconciling irreconcilables? British discourse of the comprehensive approach to peacebuilding'

Edward Lemon, 2012-2016, "Governing Islam and Security in Tajikistan and Beyond" (ESRC studentship)

Asel Doolotkeldieva, 2010-2016, "Social mobilisations, politics and society in contemporary Kyrgyzstan" (University of Central Asia Faculty Development Programme)

Lucy Morgan Edwards, 2012-2015, "Western Support to Warlords in Afghanistan from 2001 - 2014 and its Effect on Political Legitimacy"

Zulfiya Bakhtibekova, 2010-2014, "Early girls' marriage in Tajikistan: causes and continuity" (as second supervisor, University of Central Asia Faculty Development Programme)

Khalil Osman, 2010-2013, "The Hissing Sectarian Snake: Sectarianism and the Making of State and Nation in Modern Iraq"

Zamira Dildorbekova, 2009-2014, "The dynamics of Islam and modernity in Tajikistan: contemporary Ismaili discourse" (University of Central Asia Faculty Development Programme)

Kemel Toktomushev, 2011-2014. "Regime Security and Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Policy" (University of Central Asia Faculty Development Programme)

Catherine Owen, 2010-2014, "'Obshchestvennyi Kontrol'' [Public Scrutiny] from Discourse to Action in Contemporary Russia: The Emergence of Authoritarian Neoliberal Governance" (Exeter studentship)

Owen Thomas, 2010-2013, "The Iraq Inquiries: Publicity, Secrecy and Liberal Security" (ESRC studentship)

Timor Sharan, 2009-2013, "The Network Politics of International Statebuilding: Intervention and Statehood in Post-2001 Afghanistan" (ESRC studentship)

Ozker Kocadal, 2008-2012, “Peacemaking for power-sharing: the role of kin-states”