Bringing ideas to life

About This Site

Hello and welcome to Social Theory Applied. My name is Mark Murphy and I am a Reader in Education & Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. I’ve been teaching and researching in universities for 20 years now (not sure where those years went), and have amassed a reasonable level of experience, particularly in the field of applied theory and social research. This experience has been very positive overall but at the same time has made me realize how challenging the application of theory can be, both for me as a relatively experienced researcher as well as new researchers coming into the field. At various stages in my career I’ve conducted theoretical applications, especially via the work of critical theory (Jürgen Habermas and Axel Honneth for example). I’d have to say these efforts have not been without their difficulties and may not always have been as successful as I would have liked (no sniggering at the back there). But time and time again, I’ve seen the same issues faced by other researchers, including Masters and Doctoral students. So it’s not just me.

And why wouldn’t it be challenging? After all, we’re talking about a set of theories, developed by the likes of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu et al, that could never be described as ‘simple’ or easy to navigate. On top of that you have a variety of issues faced when applying such ideas in research contexts, a field of complex interwoven imperatives and practices in its own right. These challenges – epistemological, operational, analytical – inevitably impact on researchers and our attempts to make sense of research questions, whether these be questions of governance and political regulation, social reproduction, power, cultural or professional identities (among others). So care needs to be taken when applying a challenging set of ideas onto a challenging set of practices, incorporating a strong consideration for both intellectual arguments alongside the concerns of the professional researcher.

Hence the development of this site. Alongside some of my recent publications in this field (see the About Me page), I wanted to develop a space where issues in research could be fleshed out and explored in more detail, providing an online forum that offers the practitioner/researcher a suitable space to assist their acquisition, understanding and application of social theory (emphasis on the application). I would especially like to see this site grow as a place where students and academics can come together to share ideas, collaborate and learn from each other. Let’s face it, none of us have the final word on anything.

I’m updating this page a year into running this site (the site became active in January 2013 – it’s now January 2014) and so far it’s been a very enjoyable experience – an experience that combines a curating role (there have  been 23 contributors to the site so far), with my own input as post contributor on a range of theoretical and methodological issues. I look forward to seeing how the site develops during 2014, particularly as regards the ‘application’ aspect – keep an eye out for developments around the topic of theory as method. Please note that the remit of the site is to become broader than its original focus on educational research – now to cover the field of social science research generally. This change in emphasis is in line with my own intellectual interests but also reflects my strong belief that research in fields such as education should not be considered in isolation from other connected fields such as social work, urban studies, etc.

Thanks for reading, any comments on the site (design, content, aims) are always welcome. And to reiterate, don’t be shy – get in touch if you want to make a contribution. I would be delighted to hear from you.

All the best, Mark


  1. Catriona Oates
    Catriona Oates

    Looking forward to sharing and connecting with others on this site.

  2. Tina Hearn

    Looking foward to sharing thoughts and ideas with people with similar interests ….

  3. Jane Sibley

    Really enjoy this site and your new book on Social Theory. I am a part time PhD student and am struggling with social theory and how to fit it with my research topic. Refreshing to read that It is common to take time to undestand the concept of social theory and its significance! I am coming coming from a teaching and action research background so it is all new!

    I have found lots of ideas to think about and explore from this site and the book.

    Any good ideas about where to read about ANT? My research is in the area of the development of teachers as agents of change and the impact of accountability systems on pedagogy. I will be looking at teaching schools/alliances in England and the new systems of audit with CfE. ( Well that us the proposal so far in Year 1!).

  4. Mark Murphy
    Mark Murphy

    Hey Jane, welcome to the site and glad you are enjoying the book! I think Anna is better placed than I to recommend texts on ANT, especially given your research topic. But she’s busy living it up in a tent somewhere – she could probably do with a break from Scottish education policy for a while 🙂 Mark

  5. Anna Beck
    Anna Beck

    Hi Jane (and Mark),

    I have now left my tent and I am back into the world of early morning panic and Scottish education policy 🙁

    Your research sounds very interesting! And is quite similar to mine. I am using ANT and human agency to trace the implementation of education policy (the Donaldson Report) and try to understand how partnership groups developed to plan policy implementation actually achieve change. I am a 2nd year PhD student… and STILL struggling with social theory!

    A good place to start with ANT (if you haven’t come across it already) is Fenwick & Edwards (2010) Actor-Network Theory in Education. There is a chapter in there called ‘Entangling Curriculum Making’. Fenwick and Edwards (2011) ‘Emerging Approaches to Educational Research: Tracing the Socio-Material’ is also helpful (chapters 6&7) and I’ve also used lots of Richards Edwards papers – this one is on translating curriculum:

    The first two chapters of Latour’s book: ‘Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor Network Theory’ have been recommended to me (but still trying to get through them!) – supposedly they really useful for making sense of ANT concepts and terms…

    Apologies if you have seen all of these and you’re looking for something else – I have a list of ANT stuff I can email to you if that helps?

    So pleased to hear that you are also combining elements of ANT and human agency! At the moment I am finding it difficult to find a link between ANT and human agency – some ANTists talk about agency, but argue that human agency cannot be viewed as a single element – that it is an effect of the traction of non-human objects… although I would like to think that we have agency before we enter a process, that non-human objects can impact on this, but that human intent is more powerful (in most cases)…. Just searching for that missing link!

    Here is my email address is you want to send me an email and I’ll forward you that list 🙂


  6. Jane Sibley

    Thanks Anna

    Really useful links. I am meeting my supervisor on Thursday and he has written quite a lot on teacher agency which I have copies. I also know that one of the lecturers is writing a joint paper presently on the impact of partnership working if you require a contact. There is a lot of info on the English National College for Teaching and Leadership which shares CPD themes with the Donaldson Report. It is a national priority in England to encourage ‘great professional development’. Alma Harris has written a lot in this area.

    Also I realized the paper you suggested has been written by two members of staff at Stirling so I will contact them re ANT. Tara Fenwick oversees my course.

    I will email you directly after Thursday for more info.

    Thanks for replying!

  7. Jeffery Quaye

    Looking forward to sharing research ideas with people working on related topics on interest. I am particularly interested in Bourdieu’s conceptual tools and issues about inequalities in the field of education.

  8. James

    Thanks for creating this site. I have been out of school since 1993, having almost completed an M.A. in sociology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

    Did all the coursework, only had the thesis to do. Theory was always my main interest in sociology, but unfortunately our department had no courses on postmodern theorists like the ones being discussed on this site,.

  9. Aine Alam

    Anyone thought of ANT and Martha Rogers Unitary
    Human Beings, I also feel there is some missing link

  10. XJ

    a useful website! I am your new student.I will see it often.

    kind regards,

    Jie Xu

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