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Cathy Ratcliff - Talks about her motivations for studying for her PhD

Cathy Ratcliff

Cathy Ratcliff - Studied at University of Edinburgh

Cathy Ratcliff has worked in International Development for 28 years, and has just finished writing a briefing paper for the Scottish Parliament’s new Cross-Party Group on Russia, on Russian involvement in cyber media in Scotland.

She works in several roles: for Scotland’s oldest international healthcare charity, for two Fair Trade organisations developing the market for Malawian rice, and for international development organisation Thrive which she co-founded in 2016 with three associates.

Until 1992 she worked in software, but realised it wasn’t where her heart was. “I wanted to reduce inequality, but found myself working to make the president of the company rich,” she quipped. Cathy had various roles before undertaking her doctoral study, almost all as head of programmes for international development charities.

Cathy spent time in Ethiopia with Mercy Corps, and it was there that she picked up her interest in Russian again, having studied Russian and French as an undergraduate. On her return to Scotland, she decided to undertake a PhD after being inspired by her work and experiences in Ethiopia.

Cathy Ratcliff
Cathy Ratcliff in Malawi

Cathy’s doctoral study topic arose as a result of her daughter attending a Russian school while in Ethiopia.  She explains, “It was quite hard to explain to Russians what I did, as they don’t have a concept of organisations like Oxfam”. She added, “They have a relationship that goes back 200 years with Ethiopia and it’s non-colonial. It made me think about what they are doing, what they say about aid now, what they think of us, and what they think of Africa”.

Cathy studied for her PhD - titled ‘Seeing Africa: Discursive Construction of Africa, Aid and Development in Public Russian Discourse’ - at the University of Edinburgh. She wanted to explore how public discourse in Russia and the Soviet Union has evolved over 100 years.

Cathy explained that she wanted to research how Russian people think about Africa, aid and development. “I wouldn’t be able to do that if I think about it through the social sciences prism of African Studies. I’m only going to understand how they think about it by being with people who are day in, day out thinking about how Russia thinks. That’s what drew me to the AHRC studentship”.

Cathy described how doctoral study showed her different ways of looking at aid and the way the West’s attitude to aid and Africa differs from Russia’s. Her PhD also led her to look at Russian media discourse through cyber activity, which Cathy feels is a very important issue. She has also recently signed a contract with Routledge to turn her thesis into a book, with updated material on post-Soviet media.

She finished by emphasising the very practical benefits of being skilled in the arts and humanities: “It’s only through an arts and humanities approach that you can really answer in depth the questions that are also addressed in a different way by social science”.

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