School of Social and Political Science

Christina Boswell

Job Title

Professor of Politics

Christina Boswell

Room number


Building (Address)

Charles Stewart House

Street (Address)

9-16 Chambers Street

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Christina Boswell is Professor of Politics in the School of Social and Political Science. In August 2023 she took up the role of Vice Principal for Research and Enterprise. This followed a 5-year term as Dean of Research for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. She also serves as Vice President for Public Policy of the British Academy.

Christina studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford, and then worked for 3 years in the European Commission (Brussels) and the UN (Geneva and Burundi), before completing a PhD at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She then spent 6 years in Hamburg as a post-doctoral fellow,  recipient of a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship and then an EU Excellence Grant (now ERC Starting Grant). She joined the University of Edinburgh as a Lecturer in 2006. At Edinburgh, she set up the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Policy in 2012.

Christina's research focuses on two main areas: (1) the role of science, knowledge and expertise in public policy; and (b) UK and European immigration policy. She has led a series of collaborative projects in these areas, funded by the EU, ESRC and Volkswagen Foundation, and her books have received prizes from the UK Political Studies Association and the American Political Science Association. She was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (in 2017), the Academy of Social Sciences (2019), and the British Academy (2019). 

Alongside her research, she has held a range of consultancy and advisory roles on immigration and asylum issues including for the UNHCR, the UN Global Commission on International Migration, the European Commission, European Parliament, OECD and British Foreign Office. Between 2018-21 she chaired the Scottish Government's independent Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population, which produced a series of influential reports on the dynamics and impacts of migration on the labour market, demography and local communities in Scotland. She recently led an RSE project (sponsored by the ESRC) on Rethinking Policy Impact.

Christina chairs the Board of Trustees of the recently established charity and think tank Migration Policy Scotland, directed by Sarah Kyambi; and sit on the Boards of Edinburgh Innovations, and Scottish Policy and Research Exchange.


Christina's research examines 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. She also analyses 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. She explores 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.

Her book Manufacturing Political Trust: Targets and Performance Measurement in Public Policy (Cambridge University Press, 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 Political Studies Association's prize for best book in political science.

The Political Uses of Expert Knowledge: Immigration Policy and Social Research (Cambridge University Press, 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 American Political Science Association prize for best recent book on ideas, knowledge and policy.

In her most recent work, Christina has developed 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. The resulting book (co-edited with Emile Chabal and with contributions from the SIMS project team), States of Ignorance, is in press with Cambridge (forthcoming in January 2024). 

Current and recent funded research

Selected Publications (see Google Scholar for full list)

New Book, forthcoming Jan 2023 - States of Ignorance: Governing Migrants in Western Europe (co-edited with Emile Chabal, Cambridge University Press)


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)


(2023) with James Besse, 'The Strange Resilience of the UK E-Borders Programme: Technology Hype, Failure and Lock-in in Border Control'Security Dialogue (online first)

(2021) 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 (34:2), 335-352.

(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 (45:9), 1477-1495.

(2017) with Katherine Smith, 'Rethinking Policy ‘Impact’: Four Models of Research-Policy Relations'. Palgrave Communications: The Future of Research Assessment (3:1).

(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.

Staff Hours and Guidance

By appointment