PhD Opportunity: Scottish Folk Drama in the 21st Century

Title: Living Tradition and Cultural Revival: Scottish Folk Drama in the 21st Century

Partners: Heriot-Watt University, University of Edinburgh, TRACS Scottish Storytelling Centre

Location: Edinburgh, with visits to other locations in Scotland

Summary: Folk play is experiencing a revival in Scotland. In recent years, we have seen the reintroduction of a variety of forms of community drama traditionally performed throughout Britain since the medieval period. This project examines the reasons behind the resurgence of interest in this old art form and folk custom and its cultural implications. It investigates the motivations for participants and what these can tell us about modern attitudes to concepts like tradition and authenticity. Through the partnership with TRACS, which has been at the forefront of this renewal, the project offers a unique chance to examine revival in action.

Aims & Objectives: This project examines the place of revived folk drama in contemporary Scottish society. Its main objectives are: to produce a survey of Scottish folk drama activities today; to examine community-led performances and related activities ethnographically; to evaluate the motivations and aspiriations of participants and organisers and to assess their contribution to aspects of local identity, ideas of tradition, self-definition and community dynamics; to investigate how folk drama as a living practice contributes to developing conceptualisations of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Scotland; and to contribute to the newly emerging ‘Creative Ethnology’ movement led by the three institutions involved.

Research question: The project seeks to determine the place of revived folk playing in contemporary Scottish society. But what counts as Scottish folk drama? When and where do performances take place? How do communities and individuals engage with such performances, what motivates them, and how do they value their engagement? What questions and issues does folk drama raise with regard to conceptions of tradition, authenticity, and Scottish identity? What is the impact of changes in demography, migration, and commercialisation? And how can practice-based theatre work enhance ethnographic knowledge?

Research methods: The project requires a variety of research methods. Literature in critical heritage and theatre studies will offer frameworks for a survey of dramatic activity based on archival records, oral and written accounts, film, and video material, as well as for ethnographic research with participants and organisers. Extensive placements at TRACS allow for practice-based and participatory research, e.g. in the form of developing a performance. This will generate insights into new ways of communication between the researcher and the communities that engage with folk drama and the contribution of creative approaches to ethnographic research.

Supervisors: The academic supervisory team consists of:

Dr Kerstin Pfeiffer of the Intercultural Research Centre, Heriot-Watt University (as primary academic supervisor)

Prof Gary West, Chair in Scottish Ethnology and Director of the European Ethnological Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh

Dr Neill Martin of Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh

The partner organisation supervisor will be Dr Donald Smith, Director of Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS) at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. See for more information.

Entry requirements: Applicants should hold a First Class undergraduate degree in an Arts/Humanities subject and a masters level qualification preferably of the same calibre completed by October 2017. Those applying who hold a good 2:1 in their first degree will be considered on merit. As the doctoral project will rely on ethnographic and participatory methods, candidates should ideally demonstrate a relevant component to their undergraduate or masters degree and/or the desire and ability to engage with these methodologies.

The successful candidate must satisfy the general PhD entry requirements of Heriot-Watt University, including an English language requirement. If you have not already studied a degree programme that was taught and examined in the medium of English we require evidence of language proficiency. For IELTS: the minimum overall IELTS score is 6.5 with no score lower than 6.0 in Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. For more information about Knowledge of English requirements click on the link.

Applicants who are unsure if their qualifications meet the minimum criteria should contact

Please note that meeting the minimum qualifications does not guarantee shortlisting for interview.

How to Apply: 

The deadline for applications is Monday, 20 November 2017You should submit your application using the Heriot-Watt University online form:

On the admissions website please select the programme “PhD Languages”.

Please state clearly on your application that you are applying for an Applied Research Collaborative Studentship.  

 In order that your application can be processed, please ensure that all the supporting documents listed below are submitted with your application: 

  • A statement or covering letter (500 -1,000 words) explaining how your academic, extracurricular, workplace, and/or other experience has prepared you personally and intellectually to carry out this doctoral research.
  • Copies of transcripts from all previous and current degree courses.
  • A full CV.
  • Examples of written work not exceeding 3,000 words, including an explanation of the original purpose of the piece (e.g. excerpt from undergraduate dissertation, masters level essay, conference submission).
  • If applicable, evidence of fulfilling the English language requirement.
  • Two academic references. If you have references available these should be submitted with your application.  If they are not currently available, please ensure that you provide the names and contact details, including email addresses, of two academic referees on the application form.

Shortlisted candidates will be notified by 27 November 2017 and interviews will take place on Wednesday, 6 December 2017.

Any informal enquiries about the application process should be emailed to Dr Kerstin Pfeiffer ( and Prof Gary West ( ).