Young child holding sign at a climate change protest

Social theory research

See what we do in this Sociology area of expertise

Social theory draws on classical and contemporary social thought, philosophy, political economy, social anthropology and history to explain and analyse social processes, issues, and concerns at group, institutional, societal, system, and global levels.

Our social theory research offers comprehensive scientific analyses of social life and sociality in all its complex manifestations, encompassing macro issues and micro matters, and in turn economic, cultural, and political dimensions and aspects.

Social theory engages with epistemological, methodological, ontological, and substantive matters. It deliberates on debates and disagreements about the grounds or foundations of forms of knowledge, methods of approach and study, the nature and character of social being and increasingly species being, as well as offering substantive accounts and explanations of all forms of social and economic life, cultural forms and practices, political processes, institutions and events, and associated technological developments and environmental consequences.

Social theory testifies to the permeability (and limiting character) of disciplinary boundaries and overflows the disciplinary designation ‘sociology’.

Our research

Our research covers the following topics:

  • Aesthetics and taste
  • Body and embodiment
  • Capitalism
  • Classical and contemporary social thought
  • Consumption/consumer culture
  • Continental philosophy
  • Creative and culture industries
  • Critical theory
  • Culture
  • Discourse/language/media
  • Environment
  • Epistemology
  • Ethics and morality
  • Food
  • Gender and intersectionality
  • Globalisation
  • Higher education
  • Identity
  • Methodology
  • Modernity
  • Nationalism
  • Ontology
  • Political economy
  • Science and technology
  • Social class and inequalities
  • Sport


We use qualitative research methods, including critical political economy, philosophical inquiry, historical research, hermeneutics and other interpretative methods, discourse analysis, and readings of primary and secondary texts.


We have partnerships with the following organisations and institutions:

  • International Sociological Association (ISA)
  • European Sociological Association (ESA)
  • British Sociological Association (BSA)
  • Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU)
  • University and College Union (UCU)
  • Vegan Society
  • Research Advisory Committee of the Vegan Society
  • All Party Parliamentary Group on Vegetarianism and Veganism
  • Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics

Projects and publications

Our work is regularly published in leading academic journals within the field, including Theory, Culture and Society; European Journal of Social Theory, Journal of Classical Sociology; Journal of Sociology; Journal of Consumer Culture. Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change; Cultural Sociology, and Gender, Place and Culture.

We've also presented our work at conferences held by the International Sociological Association, the European Sociological Association, and the British Sociological Association, and published research monographs with publishers such as Sage, Routledge, Blackwell, Cambridge University Press, the Open University Press, Palgrave Macmillan, and Ashgate.

Recent publications

  • Critical theorising and the transformation of modern society

    Four social theory research monographs on different aspects of modernity: Modern Conditions, Postmodern Controversies (Smart, 1992); Postmodernity (Smart, 1993); Facing Modernity: Ambivalence, Reflexivity, and Morality (Smart ,1999); and Economy, Culture and Society: A Sociological Critique of Neo-liberalism (Smart, 2003).

    Also associated research monographs The Sport Star: Modern Sport and the Cultural Economy of Sporting Celebrity (Smart, 2005); Consumer Society: Critical Issues and Environmental Consequences (Smart, 2010).

  • Culture, aesthetics, and taste

    Research monographs (Stewart, 2010) on Culture and the Middle Classes (Stewart, 2010); Culture, Taste and Value (Stewart, 2014); and numerous journal articles on aesthetics and evaluative judgements.

  • Happiness, emotions, and wellbeing

    Research monograph on Happiness: Understandings, Narratives and Discourses (Hyman, 2014).

  • Michel Foucault’s contribution to critical social inquiry

    Series of publications (Smart, 1982–present) on the work of French philosopher/historian Michel Foucault, including: two major monographs (several editions of each monograph Foucault, Marxism and Critique (1983–2009); and Michel Foucault (1985–2002).

    Also seven edited reference volumes (1994 and 1995), contributions in edited books (most recent 2018), as well as numerous journal articles and translations of publications.

  • Nationalism

    Research monograph on Nationalism, Inequality and England's Political Predicament (Leddy-Owen, 2019).

Discover our areas of expertise

Social theory is one of four areas of expertise in our Sociology research area. Explore the others below.

Sociology of culture

We're probing the link between culture and power, confronting societal issues, and looking at the ideological function of culture in naturalising them.
Man wearing Gucci trainers in London
Read more

Identities and inequalities

We're asking questions around who we are, who is different from us, and who we want to be, to challenge structural violence and reduce inequality.
Boy in Delhi, India, collecting rubbish
Read more

Social research methods

We're investigating the different methods, tools, and techniques for studying social phenomena and generating information and data about all aspects of social life.
People meeting in a room at University of Portsmouth
Read more

Research groups

Sociology And Social Theory Research Group

We're researching a wide range of issues surrounding sociology with interests, including culture, emotions, gender and violence.

Interested in a PhD in Sociology?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Sociology and Gender Studies postgraduate research degrees page.