PhD in Visual Culture

The School of Visual Culture is an interdisciplinary centre for teaching and research in humanities and social science disciplines with particular focus and expertise across the history, theory and criticism of art, design and visual culture.

The School creates a community that fosters lively exchange, scholarly discussion and critical debate. The mix of disciplines in the School enables ambitious enquiries into all aspects of art and design, representation, cultural production, cultural consumption, material culture, visual and spatial culture and cultural politics. Themes are explored through a variety of methodologies and with reference to a wide variety of art and design practices and forms of Visual Culture.

We welcome proposals for doctoral research 'by thesis' and 'by practice' - see the FAQs tab for further details. 

Research students in the School also benefit from opportunities to take classes in our MA programmes.

Current and completed doctoral research projects at the School include:

  • Fred Boissonas's Phtography and the Representation of the Greek Landscape
  • Miroslaw Balka and the Politics of Memory in Polish Art
  • From Hide to Hand: The Leather Glove as Material and Metaphor in Polite English Culture, ca. 1730 to 1820 (IRC funded studentship)
  • Objects, Spaces and Rituals. A Social and Material History of Matrnity in Ireland, c. 1730-1830 (IRC funded studentship)
  • Irish Identity through the Home: The Suburban Mid-Century Transformation
  • On Ballet and Design
  • Ontology of the Digitally-generated Image
  • Systems Theory / cybernetics and the contemporary art institution
  • On the Stained Glass of William Early (1872-1956)
  • Bochner's Intermittent Objects: Aesthetics, Embodiment and Affect in Conceptual Art
  • Interstitial Distance: The Future Of The Critical Arts Insitutions' Relationahip To The Neoliberal State
  • Narratives of Global Modernity: International Contemporary Art Exhibitions as Places for Mapping Relational Geographies
  • Reclaiming Remix: The critical role of Sampling in Transformative Works - a multimodal semiotic analysis of rhetoric and ideology in Critical Remix video
  • Bracha L Ettinger's Matrixial Theory & Aesthetics: Matrixial Flesh and the Jouissance of Non-Life.
  • Ghost-haunted land: Art After the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland - published by MUP
  • Advocating for the user: Functionalist industrial design practice in the German Democratic Republic - published as a book
  • Form, complexity and governance: Problems of play in contemporary arts practice - published as a book
  • Catholic Ireland: the Catholic church and the construction of Irish identity 1879-1923

For further details about length, duration of study, etc., please click on the FAQs tab above.

You apply through the admissions section of the website - here.

We welcome informal approaches before receiving a formal application.

We often encourage potential applicants to come in to NCAD / or talk on the phone/skype before applying. This allows us to understand the subject and also to establish whether we have the right expertise to support you.

If you would like to talk about your ideas before applying, it is helpful if you draft some notes in answer to the following questions

  • What is my research field and/or questions?
  • What is the state of thinking and / or research in that field? (it is important to demonstrate an awareness of the work of others in order to show ‘originality’)
  • What will my approach to research be? (will you be using a body of theory or conducting interviews?)
  • What sources will be required and do I have access to them? (For instance, do you plan to work with archives?)

Please send these notes to the Visual Culture office - and a member of staff will respond.

We also recommend that you read some PhD work prior making an application to understand the challenges involved. We keep copies of existing PhD work in the library at NCAD.

What form can a PHD research take at NCAD?

NCAD supports two kinds of PHD research: ‘by thesis’ and ‘by practice’.

‘By thesis’ is the long-standing practice of conducting original research which is presented for assessment as a thesis of between 80,000 - 100,000 words.

‘By practice’ is a combination of creative practice and a thesis. A film-maker, curator or other kind of creative practitioner can present their work for assessment accompanied by a thesis of c. 40,000 words. The creative practice will have been conceived and organised as a body of research and investigation over the duration of the studentship. It is important that the applicant has a clear sense of how their work constitutes research.  The precise nature of the work presented for examination will be negotiated carefully between the supervisor/s and the student.

It is also possible to write a full thesis (80,000 - 100,000 words) in which ‘creative practice’ is itself the means by which the research is conducted. A filmmaker or curator might conceive of their films or exhibitions as ‘experiments’ from which conclusions are drawn.

What makes for good PhD topic?

A PhD is often defined as an ‘original contribution to knowledge’. This means that the project needs to be demonstrably original and also that the knowledge generated will be of use and value to others.

Typically, a PhD researcher establishes some broad research questions which they set out to answer through their research. Outlining those questions at the outset is important, even if they evolve over time.

A PhD is the highest academic qualification, so the topic has to be ambitious and make a clear claim on significance. 

What makes me qualified to undertake a PhD?

The applicant must demonstrate that they have the key skills to undertake the research or, if they are not sufficiently experienced, they have a clear sense of how they will acquire those skills. The Visual Culture School may well be able to provide support in, for instance, in providing training in software or research ‘tools’ like interviewing.    

Usually, a PhD student will have a masters qualification in a related field. Relevant professional experience is highly valued too.

Why the School of Visual Culture at NCAD?

We have a strong track record in supporting doctoral study in the college. Six PhD students have graduated in last two years. Visual Culture staff have a broad range of expertise across art and design history, contemporary art and design criticism, architectural history and theory, aesthetic philosophy, film studies.   

How do we support our PhD students?

PhD students in the School of Visual Culture are given two supervisors. At least on the supervisors will have demonstrable expertise in the field of study.

Students participate in a cross college Research Methods Course which is designed to introduce research methods and issues to all postgraduate students at NCAD.  

Where appropriate PhD students can participate in our masters classes (Art in the Contemporary World and Design History and Material Culture MAs).

How long would I be a student?

The minimum period of registration for a PhD is 3 years full time. Part time registration is possible and in fact, most of our students are part time for the majority of the period of registration . It is also possible to change from part to full time studies and vice versa.

What funding supports are available?

Visual Culture students have benefited from the PhD studentships (covering fees and maintenance) offered by the Irish Research Council. The application process begins in November each year. Students can be offered funding before or during their studies. This is a highly competitive scheme.

Occasionally, NCAD offers scholarships covering the cost of fees. Such opportunities are announced on our website.