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Economic, Social and Political Sciences
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Dr Rachel Ayrton 

ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Dr Rachel Ayrton's photo

Rachel Ayrton returned to the University of Southampton having completed her MSc (2012) and PhD (2017) in Sociology here.  She subsequently worked on research contracts both in Southampton and with the University of Cambridge and is now pursuing an ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellowship through the South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership.

I am interested to see how the tools of sociological research – both theory and method – can help us to understand the conceptions, experiences and outlook of conflict-affected diaspora communities.

Rachel’s professional background in community development and engagement laid the groundwork for the applied focus of Rachel’s research and provoked many of the questions that she now seeks to address through her work.  Between 2005 and 2009 she worked for a New Deal for Communities regeneration programme in a disadvantaged urban neighbourhood in Southampton, supporting and building the capacity of the local voluntary and community sector and managing a portfolio of community development and leisure projects.  She went on to manage community engagement across four priority areas for regeneration in the London Borough of Enfield (2009 – 2011) before retraining as a sociologist.

For her doctoral research, Rachel’s thesis considered methodological pluralism in British sociology, using Bourdieu’s notion of reflexive sociology to frame the discussion.  Following a three paper format, the components of Rachel’s thesis each explored a different dimension of methodological pluralism, examining: the history of the social survey method in the UK and the US; the use of storyboarding as a tool for researchers to apply themselves in the pre-empirical processes of conceptualisation and operationalisation; and the microdynamics of power in focus group discussions.  She also laid out the theoretical foundations for a study of trust within post-conflict communities which she hopes to expand in the future.

Through an ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Rachel is developing a research project which examines national identity among the South Sudanese diaspora in the UK.  Having already conducted some focus group discussions on the topic in preparation for her third PhD paper, she plans to work with the community to organise further discussions and unpack key questions around migration, community cohesion and post-conflict reconciliation.  The Fellowship will also enable her to expand her networks, submit further publications arising from her PhD, consolidate her research training, undertake an ambitious programme of impact and engagement activities, and plan for the next stage of her research.



Research interests

My research considers three interrelated clusters of issues that represent important contemporary social challenges and experiences: poverty, inequality and marginalisation; transnational migration and diasporas; community cohesion, identity and belonging.  I am interested in theoretical lenses that create connections between these areas, such as theories of trust and national identity.  In applying these themes, my work has an emphasis on developing countries, in particular those affected by violent conflict and the sub-Saharan African region. 

In addition to these substantive concerns I continue to harbour a fascination with research methods and epistemology, in particular mixed methods research, biographical methods, creative and participatory approaches, visual and multi-modal methods, and ethical considerations in research with conflict-affected communities.


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SOCI1002 Transformations of the Modern World

Competing loyalties: Dilemmas arising from violent outbreak in a planned research site, South Sudan – available from

Dr Rachel Ayrton
Reception Building 58 University of Southampton Southampton SO17 1BJ United Kingdom

Room Number : 58/4047/M44

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