School of Sociology and Social Policy

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John Holmwood

Professor of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences



John Holmwood (Orcid ID: 0000-0002-3440-3524) joined the School of Sociology and Social Policy as Professor in Sociology in October 2009 from the University of Birmingham where he was Professor of Sociology and Head of Department.

He was an undergraduate in Social and Political Sciences at the University of Cambridge and was a Teaching Assistant in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, before returning to study for a PhD at the University of Cambridge. His first post was in the newly-formed Department of Sociology at the University of Tasmania in Australia (1978-80), before joining the Department of Sociology at the University of Edinburgh where he was Director of the Graduate School in Social Sciences and Professor of Sociological Theory. In January 2000 he joined the University of Sussex where he was Professor of Sociology and Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Cultural Studies. John was President of the British Sociological Association from 2012-14. During the academic year 2014-15 he was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

John is a co-founder of the Campaign for the Public University. He is editor of A Manifesto for the Public University (Bloomsbury 2011) and blogs regularly on higher education issues for the Campaign for the Public University, Research Blogs, Open Democracy, and Universities in Crisis. He is joint managing editor and co-founder of a new monthly online magazine of social research, policy analysis and commentary, Discover Society.

Current Research

John's main research interests are the relation between sociological theory and explanation, and social stratification and inequality. His current research addresses the challenge of global social inquiry and the role of pragmatism in the construction of public sociology. John was an expert witness for the defence in the National College of Teaching and Leadership case brought against teachers for an alleged plot to 'Islamicise' schools in Birmingham. His book on the case (co-authored with Therese O'Toole), Countering Extremism in British Schools? The Truth about the Birmingham Trojan Horse Affair, will be published by Policy Press in November 2017.

Research Summary

John Holmwood's current work addresses issues of pragmatism and public sociology and the role of the public university in the development of sociology as a discipline.

Selected Publications

Past Research

Much of John Holmwood's research on sociological theory has addressed the relationship between social theory and explanation. It develops a sustained argument for a creative and progressive social science, challenging dominant assumptions of social inquiry and showing how they serve to undermine sociology as an explanatory undertaking. The concern was to establish empirical research as central to the theoretical undertaking in sociology and to reverse the standard view, which regards a framework of theoretical categories as the necessary precondition of research, and as logically independent of any research activity to which it gives rise. These arguments have been published in Explanation and Social Theory (co-authored with A. Stewart) and in Founding Sociology? Talcott Parsons and the Idea of General Theory.

  • GURMINDER K. BHAMBRA and JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2018. Colonialism, Postcolonialism and the Liberal Welfare State New Political Economy. (In Press.)
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2017. 'Exit from the perspective of entry'. In: WILLIAM OUTHWAITE, ed., Brexit: Sociological Responses. Anthem.
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2017. ‘Divisions of Labour: Sociology in search of a new jurisdiction’. In: GRAHAM CROW AND JAIMIE ELLIS, ed., Revisiting Divisions of Labour Manchester University Press.
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD and THERESE O'TOOLE, 2017. Countering Extremism in British Schools?: The Truth about the Birmingham Trojan Horse Affair Policy Press. (In Press.)
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2016. Moral Economy Versus Political Economy: Provincializing Polanyi. In: The Commonalities of Global Crises: Markets, 'Communities' and Nostalgia Palgrave. 1-20 (In Press.)
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2016. ‘The university, democracy and the public sphere’ British Journal of the Sociology of Education..
  • 2016. ‘The ‘turn of the screw’: marketization and higher education in England’ Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation. 34(1), 63-72
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2015. Social Rights and Complex Freedom: A Comment on Fernando Atria Social Legal Studies. 24(4), 614-18
  • HOLMWOOD, J, 2014. From Social Rights to the Market: Neo-Liberalism and Knowledge Economy International Journal of Lifelong Learning. 33(1), 62-76
  • 2014. Beyond capital? The challenge for sociology in Britain British Journal of Sociology. 65(4), 607-18
  • HOLMWOOD, J, 2013. Citizenship and Social Class Revisited: Liberal Reason, Sociology and Publics. In: DEL MAR, MAKSYMILIAN and MICHELON, CLAUDIO, eds., The Anxiety of the Jurist: Legality, Exchange and Judgement Ashgate.
  • HOLMWOOD, J, 2013. Rethinking Moderation in a Pragmatist Frame. In: SMITH, A.T.T. and HOLMWOOD, J., eds., Sociologies of Moderation: Problems of Democracy, Expertise and the Media Wiley Blackwell.
  • HOLMWOOD, JOHN AND BHAMBRA, GURMINDER K., 2012. The attack on education as a social right South Atlantic Quarterly. 112(2),
  • HOLMWOOD, J, 2011. Pragmatism and the prospects of sociological theory Journal of Classical Sociology. 11(1), 15-30
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2011. The impact of ‘impact’ on UK social science Methodological Innovations. 6(1),
  • HOLMWOOD, J., 2011. Sociology after Fordism: prospects and problems European Journal of Social Theory. 14(4), 537-556
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2011. Реформи във висшето образование на Англия: от публично финансиране към пазарна логика: (In Bulgarian: Higher education reforms in England: From public funding to a market logic) Critique and Humanism. 36,
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD and GURMINDER K. BHAMBRA, 2011. Introduction Journal of Historical Sociology 2011 24 (1): 1-8: The Challenges of Translation in Interdisciplinary Research Journal of Historical Sociology. 24(1),
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, ed., 2011. A Manifesto for the Public University Bloomsbury Academic.
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2011. Introduction. In: JOHN HOLMWOOD, ed., A Manifesto for the Public University Bloomsbury Academic.
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2011. The idea of a public university. In: JOHN HOLMWOOD, ed., A Manifesto for the Public University Bloomsbury Academic.
  • KEMP, STEPHEN AND HOLMWOOD, JOHN, 2011. Questioning contingency in social life:: roles, agreement and agency. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior. 42(4),
  • HOLMWOOD, J., 2010. Sociology’s misfortune: disciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and the impact of audit culture The British Journal of Sociology. 61(4), 639-658
  • HOLMWOO, JOHN, 2010. The international benchmarking of Sociology: the UK case. In: MICHAEL BURAWOY, MAU-KEI CHANG and MICHELLE FEI-YU HSIEH, eds., Facing an Unequal World: Challenges for a Global Sociology Academica Sinica and the ISA.
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2009. The challenge of global social inquiry Sociological Research Online. 14(4),
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2009. Research Ethics Committees and the Creaking Piers of Peer Review Sociological Research Online. 15(4),
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2008. Contemporary sociological theory: post-Parsonian developments. In: B.S.TURNER, ed., The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory, 3rd Edition Blackwell.
  • JOHN HOLMWOOD, 2008. From 1968 to 1951: How Habermas transformed Marx into Parsons. In: GURMINDER K. BHAMBRA AND IPEK DEMIR, ed., 1968 in Retrospect: History, Theory, Alterity: History, Theory, Alterity Palgrave.

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