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Dr Rachael Dobson

  • Overview



    I am guided by the central principle to work across theory, policy and practice, for the purposes of social and racial justice. This is reflected in my experiences across research, academic, teaching and practice fields.

    I think critically about policy; what it is, how it is made, and how it links to practice. My work cuts across critical policy studies and critical social policy and is interdisciplinary, informed by onto-epistemic, critical feminist, critical race, anthropological and psychosocial frameworks.

    I focus on policy-making and implementation, public service institutions, cultures, identities and experiences, and human power, agency and resistance. I am especially interested in statutory actors working in different locations and with diverse remits, from local authorities to the civil service.

    I was recently awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for 'Where Is The Power? Policy Ontologies In Theory and Practice' (2021) and am lead for international academic network The Policy Ontologies Project and empirical study The Understanding Policy Project.

    As an academic I have held lectureships at the University of Leeds, Kingston University and now Birkbeck, University of London, Visiting Fellowships at the University of New South Wales and University of Sydney.

    I have over a decade’s experience of editorial, referee and learned society activity. I am member of the editorial collective for Critical Social Policy, a highly ranked, peer reviewed journal that provides an international forum for debate on social policy and welfare issues from socialist, feminist, anti-racist and radical perspectives. I have been twice elected to the Social Policy Association, most recently as Honorary Secretary. 


    • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, HEA, 2019

    Web profiles

    Administrative responsibilities

    • Postgraduate Admissions Tutor, Criminology Programmes

    Visiting posts

    Professional activities

    Editorial Collective, Critical Social Policy

    Professional memberships

    • Social Policy Association

    • White Spaces Network.

    • BSA Psychoanalysis & Psychosocial Study Group

    • Women, Crime & Criminal Justice Network

    • Homeless Link

    Honours and awards


  • Research


    Research interests

    • Critical Policy Studies, Critical Social Policy
    • Policy-making, Policy implementation
    • Policy and welfare practice
    • Human power, agency, resistance
    • Public service institutions, cultures, identities and experiences
    • Theoretical and methodological approaches: onto-epistemic, critical feminist, critical race, relational, emotions, reflexive, psychosocial
    • Empirical foci: Civil Service, The Local-State (local authorities, non-profit sector), Homelessness

    Research overview

    My research contributes to critical and cultural approaches to policy-making. Drawing on onto-epistemic frameworks, I think critically about policy; what it is, how it is made, and how it links to practice.

    To that end, I theorise the role of policy actors in the making-of policy phenomena like states, governments, institutions, policies and human actors themselves. And I think about relationships between these different phenomena to understand potential for resistance and social change through everyday, conscious and unconscious, social practices and actions.

    As part of this work, I am currently undertaking empirical research, The Understanding Policy Project. Supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship award, the study uses qualitative methods to investigate how senior civil servants conceive of the interventions they are involved with, and their own sense of place and power in policymaking processes.

    Previously, my research has brought critical policy perspectives to homelessness studies, in exploring interventions with vulnerable adults with ‘complex needs’, encompassing policy, legislation, models of support and everyday practices. I have been especially interested in experiences in lower status, under-professionalised, materially fragmented and ‘dirty work’ sectors. 

    Theoretically and methodologically, my research is informed by critical feminist, race, postcolonial, anthropological, psychosocial, affect and cultural studies.

    Research Centres and Institutes

    Research clusters and groups

    • Member, Policy, Practice and Activism Cluster (Law School)

    Research projects

    Where Is The Power? Policy Ontologies In Theory And Practice.

  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    I welcome enquiries from prospective PhD students who are interested in undertaking research in any of my areas of research interest.

    Critical Policy Studies, Critical Social Policy

    Social Policy, Social Welfare

    Policy-Making, Policy Implementation

    Policy and welfare practice

    Public service institutions, cultures, identities and experiences

    Human power, agency, resistance

    Empirical foci: Civil Service, The Local-State (local authorities, non-profit sector), Homelessness

    Theoretical and methodological approaches: onto-epistemic, critical feminist, critical race, relational, emotions, reflexive, psychosocial

    Current doctoral researchers


    Doctoral alumni since 2013-14



    My teaching is driven by the imperative to work across theory, policy and practice. It is research-led and interdisciplinary, cutting across policy, criminology, sociology, socio-legal, psychosocial, housing and urban studies. I have developed teaching programmes for policy-makers, practitioners and students at access, undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

    Presently, I convene two modules: Policy, Power & Social Change (undergraduate) and Understanding Crime (undergraduate). Policy, Power & Social Change introduces students to social, cultural and onto-epistemic approaches to policy-making and resistance. Understanding Crime introduces students to key issues and theories in criminology.

    I have previously convened two modules: Influencing Public Policy (postgraduate) and The Criminalisation of Welfare (undergraduate). Influencing Public Policy introduces students to critical approaches to policy-making. The Criminalisation of Welfare examines the construction and regulation of social problems and ‘problem people’ through policy and legislative interventions.

    I deliver guest lectures on three postgraduate modules: Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice (Department of Criminology), Research Methods (Law School) and Independent Research (Department of Psychosocial Studies).

    Teaching modules

    • Policy, Power and Social Change (Level 5) (LACN029H5)
    • Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice (LADD059S7)
    • Understanding Crime (LALA146S4)
  • Publications



    Book Section

  • Business and community

    Business and community


    I am experienced in facilitating 'Communities of Practice' (CoPs) with 'local-state' organisations, meaning, local authority departments (housing, homelessness, adult social care, social work) and non-profit organisations. 

    CoPs bring together different organisations and professionals to meet a shared vision to improve outcomes for the users of services. 

    This activity reflects my long-standing engagement with institutional barriers to policy and legislation implementation (Dobson, 2019). 

    CoPs surface these issues and develop proposals to achieve practical change through training, knowledge building and the sharing of everyday practices.