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The University of Southampton
Centre for Political Ethnography


Currently, we have the following funded projects.

The Participation of Small States in International Organisations

For decades, the world’s smallest states—the most structurally weak members of the multilateral system—have been considered incapable of influencing international organisations (IOs). So, why has the label small state risen to prominence and become institutionalised as a formal grouping in multiple IOs? To answer these questions we draw on interviews with diplomats and officials and participation observation in multiple IOs.

The project, funded by the Australia Research Council, is a collaboration between Jack Corbett (Southampton), Xu Yi-chong and Patrick Weller (Griffith)

Institutional Memory and Collaborative Governance

This project seeks to understand changing modes of institutional memory in collaborative governance environments. It draws on in-depth interviews with policy actors from three countries – UK, Australia and New Zealand.

The project, funded by the Australian and New Zealand School of Government, is a collaboration between Jack Corbett (Southampton), Dennis Grube (Cambridge), Heather Lovell (Tasmania) and Rodney Scott (UNSW).

Making Ends Meet on the South Coast

Despite its perceived affluence in relation to other parts of the UK, pockets of severe multiple deprivation exist across the South Coast region. What is more, these pockets of deprivation present in very different contexts. Some exist in dense urban settings, some on the edges of market towns, and some in coastal areas experiencing economic stagnation. Here we set out to understand whether experiences and expectations of poverty are affected by being nested within a wider context of affluence. Is the experience of deprivation better, worse or just different depending on what your surroundings look like and how your neighbours live? And, what does it mean for policies targeted at improving the chances of the most deprived members of our communities?  We systematically selected 8 neighbourhoods across the South Coast that vary in both their remoteness and their levels of deprivation. We engaged 5-12 participants living on low incomes and/or in receipt of government benefits in each neighbourhood, generating in total 45 in-depth interviews and 6 focus groups. Our extensive fieldwork gives voice to local people who experience deprivation, allowing them to tell their stories about living out their lives and finding ways to make ends meet.

Research team: John Denham, Matt Ryan, John Boswell, Jamie Furlong, Anna Killick, Patricia Ndugga, Beata Rek and Jesse Shipp

Funder: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

The report launch takes place on June 15, 10-12 in the Hartley Suite, Building 38, Highfield Campus. Information on the event and registration can be found here.

Advising Ministers (R. A. W Rhodes)

The project was funded by the Australia and New Zealand School of Government. The book will be submitted to Palgrave Macmillan in December 2019.

Penal Policymaking under the Coalition (Dr. H. Annison)

This research project utilizes key moments of the 2010-15 Conservative-led coalition government – including controversies over sentencing reform, prison privatization and probation reform – to explore in greater depth the beliefs and practices that underpin penal policymaking. The research project draws on over 20 ‘ethnographic interviews’ with ‘elite’ criminal justice policymakers (contemporaneous notes of encounter, workplace; repeat formal/informal interviews with most research participants), coupled with document-based research. The project will conclude in late 2016. There will be peer-reviewed articles and policymaker-oriented publications in 2017.

Recruiting and Sustaining a Multi-Ethnic Workforce (Professor Jenny Fleming)

In 2015 Sussex Police commissioned a series of qualitative interviews and focus groups to develop insight on the recruitment, retention and progression of staff and officers who identify as Black and Minority Ethnic officers (BME). Data was collected in February/March 2016 via focus groups.

A presentation to senior officers was conducted in May 2016 and a report, Developing and Sustaining a Multi-Ethnic Workforce was provided to Sussex Police in July 2016. The research is currently being prepared for a journal article.

Comparative Cabinets: How does Collective Decision-making Work? (R. A. W. Rhodes, Patrick Weller, Griffith University, and Dennis Grube, University of Cambridge).

The aim of this project is to open up the black box of how cabinet actually operates in Australia, Britain, Denmark, The Netherland and Switzerland. It asks two questions: (i) when, how and why is collective agreement identified and obtained in cabinet systems; and (ii) under what conditions can cabinet government operate in conjunction with strong individual leadership? The project is funded by the Australian Research Council and will last until December 2018.

Blurring Genres

An AHRC funded seminar series (with Susan Hodgett, University of Ulster) that will run from. January 2016 to December 2017. This research network brings together an interdisciplinary and international group of experts to explore the ways in which the research methodologies usually associated with the Arts. Political scientists, area studies scholars and policy makers are beginning to recover the Humanities. The network has run six seminars at: SOAS, University of London (3), Manchester, Ulster, and the University of California, Berkeley. We ran also an impact seminar for the Cabinet Office the use of narratives in policy analysis. The outcome of the seminar series will be an edited book (Hodgett and Rhodes).

Proposed Future Research

Experiencing Penal Policymaking: An ethnographic study of the UK Ministry of Justice (Dr Harry Annison)

This research into policymaking by the UK Ministry of Justice will focus on the substantive issue of sentencing. The research will explore the beliefs, practices and traditions that underpin policymaking in this area. Dr Annison has developed robust and sustained relationships with many key policymakers and ‘gatekeepers’ in the Ministry of Justice.

The craft of bureaucracy (Professor Jenny Fleming and Professor R. A. W. Rhodes)

The public sector has been subject to two major waves of reform: the new public management (NPM); and the new public (or network) governance (NPG). This project seeks to assess how the craft of public administration among senior civil servants and police officers changed as a result of these reforms. It will explore the proposition that the old craft skills have acquired a new salience; for example, diplomacy, and prudence or practical wisdom. To date the project has published two articles: Rhodes 2015; and Fleming and Rhodes 2016.

The Art of Comparison (John Boswell, Jack Corbett and R. A. W. Rhodes)

Although the Centre favours fieldwork, it is also important to reflect on our core theoretical approach and methods. This book is a ‘think piece’ on the study of comparative politics. This subfield of political science is a diverse, incorporating large-n statistical analysis, medium-n structured comparison and small-n area studies. This book will provide a cogent and forceful justification for qualitative, comparative and interpretive research.

Other activities

We participate in the international network on ‘Ethnographic Research and Public Sector Reform’ based at the Department of Anthropology, University of Aarhus, Denmark. Contact person:

We have held three workshops - two on public sector reform, and one on ‘The ethnography of legislatures’.

Manchester University Press (MUP)

Historically, MUP is one of the most distinguished and long standing publishers of anthropology. In 2015, the Press agreed to establish a new series on ‘Political and Administrative Ethnography’ edited by Professor Rhodes. The proposed series has two key aims:

  1. To establish an outlet for ethnographic research into politics and administration. There are an increasing number of such studies but no publisher has a list that would give coherence and direction to the trend.
  2. To build an interdisciplinary platform for a readership interested in qualitative research into politics and administration. We expect such work to cut across traditional the scholarly boundaries of political science, public administration, anthropology, social policy studies, and development studies.


absurdity of bureaucracy book cover
The First Book
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