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Sarah Childs

Professor of Politics and Gender

Director of the Centre for the Study of British Politics & Public Life

Sarah Childs joined Birkbeck in September 2017, having spent 13 years at the University of Bristol. She has published widely on women, representation, party politics and Parliament. Her recent publications include Deeds and Words (2015) with Rosie Campbell and Gender, Conservatism and Political Representation (2015) with Karen Celis. She is currently working on a new book on representation theory.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @profsarahchilds


    Sarah’s research interests include:  

    i) Gender and the theory and practice of political representation
    (ii) Political parties and Parliament
    (iii) Feminist institutionalism
    (iv) Gender, impact, and the role of the public intellectual

    In her work on representation policy over the last two decades Sarah has examined the origins, adoption, implementation, and effects of parties’ political recruitment strategies, and evaluated the determinants of party change. This research has involved extensive collaborations with Joni Lovenduski and Rosie Campbell (Birkbeck) and with Paul Webb (Sussex) on a three-year ESRC study of the Conservative party. Together, these studies demonstrate how parties respond over time to demands from women in the development of their representation policies, and how formal party policies can be subverted and resisted by informal practices and norms. Key books include: New Labour’s Women MPs (2004); Women and British Party Politics (2008); Sex, Gender and the Conservative Party, with Webb (2012); and Deeds and Words, with Campbell (2015).

    Sarah’s early research on representation and New Labour, as well as more recent work on the Conservatives and the 2010-5 Coalition government, produced important empirical evidence for links made in the theoretical literature on the relationship between descriptive and substantive representation; research that challenges critics - academic and politician - who continue to maintain that the identity of representatives does not matter. Her theoretical work on the concept of critical mass, with Krook (Rutgers) is widely recognised as globally significant; much of the subsequent literature is informed by Childs’ and Krook’s concept of critical actors. Working with Celis (VUB, Belgium), theoretical reflections on conservatism and representation and the quality of substantive representation, have challenged existing conceptualisations of women’s political representation. A co-edited collection, Gender, Conservatism and Political Representation, was published in 2015.

    Over the last five years Sarah has taken a greater interest in political institutions. In so doing she has become more explicitly engaged with concepts of (gendered) institutional change and power. A number of research projects – linking gender and politics with the comparative parties literature – capture the gendered nature and power dynamics within parties by examining political friendships, women’s party organisations and committees/caucuses, and party organisation, regulation, and intra-party democracy. Articles have been published in Politics and Gender, Representation, Political Studies and Parliamentary Affairs.


Research supervision

    Sarah would be keen to supervise research on representation, gender and politics broadly defined, political parties, and Parliaments.


    Sarah teaches on a number of modules at Birkbeck, including Parliamentary Studies, Modern British Politics, Qualitative Research and Social and Political Theory.

    Sarah is an award-winning academic for both teaching and research:

    •   2017 Winner of the Student Union, University of Bristol Staff Member of the Year Award
    •   2016 Political Studies Association ‘Special Recognition Award’ for Gender and Politics Research
    •   2014 Recipient of the ‘Student Award for Outstanding Teaching’, in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law, 2014 Bristol Teaching Awards

Contact Details


Twitter: @profsarahchilds

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