I joined The Open University in 2004. I have worked as a Staff Tutor and lecturer in Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, and Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty of Social Sciences (2014-2016). I am now Professor of Sociology and Intimacy.
Before joining the OU, I worked in the Centre for Applied Childhood Studies (University of Huddersfield), the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies (University of Leeds) and the Department of Sociology and Gender Studies (University of Hull). I started academic life in the School of Media (University of Humberside). I have a PhD Women’s Studies/Sociology from the University of York (2002).
My research and innovative impact activities have been recognised by three prestigious awards: the BSA Philip Abrams Memorial prize (2009) for best sole-authored first book in Sociology, the Open University Engaging Research Award (2014), the Evelyn Gillian Research Impact Award (2016). I am coordinating research impact for Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology for REF2021.
I am the Associate Director for the Citizenship and Governance strategic research area and lead the Gender, Intimacies, Sexuality (GENIES) research stream. I was previously Co-director of the Families, Relationships and Communities Programme in the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance (CCIG).
I am currently seconded (part-time) to work as the Chief Relationships Officer with Paired on a new app for couples. Drawing upon Enduring Love? study findings, the app significantly extends the impact and public engagement of this research. The app is designed to improve communication and deepen intimacy through daily interactions.
I am interested in exploring interdisciplinary approaches for researching and theorizing intimacy and personal relationships, working in the fields of Family and Sexuality Studies. I also have established interests in mixed methods and multiple qualitative methods research. I have completed RCUK-funded projects on couple relationships, lesbian parenthood, intimacy and sexuality in families, and post-divorce fatherhood. I am currently completing a Wellcome Trust (UNS39780) project on LGBTQ youth and mental health with Liz McDermott (Lancaster University). My recent ESRC-funded study on long-term couple relationships Enduring Love? (RES-063-23-3056) has received awards for impact and widespread critical acclaim, with findings being reported in the national and international media, and published in academic, self-help, relationship support and educational formats.
Recent doctoral research student supervision includes:
Rochelle Mallet (current), Combining queer theory and children’s rights: a case study of early years practitioners’ approaches to gender in the early years learning environment
Amy Dean (current), Young people and sex education
Tom Witney (2020), Same-sex couples in serodiscordant partnerships in the UK
Olga Plakhotnik (2019), Queer kinship: sexual citizenship in Ukraine
Danni Pearson (2015), The trials, tribulations and celebrations of long-term, same-sex partner relationships
Thierry Chessum (2015), Graphic interrogation in psychosocial research: comics AND Deleuze AND middle-aged men
I welcome applications from new students in areas related to my research interests including studies on families, personal relationships, intimacy, emotions, sexuality and gender.
My teaching time at The Open University is focused on the development and production of postgraduate curriculum, particularly research methods. I am currently working with colleagues on a module in production, DD215 Social research: crime, justice and society.
I was Module Team Chair (production) of Introduction to quantitative and qualitative research methods (D849). I have been module team chair of Investigating the Psychological World (D821) and Investigating the Social World (D822), and a module team member of Research methods dissertation in social sciences (D845). I also contributed to the third level sociological module Making Social Worlds (DD308) - writing the chapter on 'Family Attachments' in one of the core texts.
The Enduring Love? study investigated how couples experience and understand their long-term relationships. Media coverage of the launch of study findings featured on national and international live and pre-corded television and radio, including: BBC World News, BBC Four News and CNN. There was extensive coverage in print and online media, including: the New York Post (USA), LA Times (USA), Le Point (France), The Age (Australia), South China Morning Post, Pink News, and all major UK newspapers. Findings continue to inform debate on couple diversity and the ways that relationships endure over the life course.
I am currently seconded to Paired as the Chief Relationships Officer, working on a new app for couples that is designed to strengthen their partnerships. The app has been particularly informed by my research and findings of the Enduring Love? study. It combines daily tips from clinical psychotherapists and academics with fun questions and quizzes, underpinned by longer in-depth courses.
In the policy arena, I have been invited to participate in all-party parliamentary briefings, receptions and consultation events. Research evidence has been presented to government departments (DfE, DWP and The Treasury) and parliamentary policy making groups (Centre for Social Justice and Labour Policy Review), enabling them to refine their understandings of family and relationship support.
Findings have been disseminated to frontline relationship support staff through conference and workshop presentations, and in collaboration with family systemic psychotherapists, the emotion map research method has been adapted for use in clinical practice as part of the clinical assessment toolkit.
In collaboration with Brook, we have ‘translated’ findings into online relationship information resources for young people and an eLearning teaching pack designed for teachers for use in schools as part of sex and relationship education (SRE). Launched at the House of Commons (13/09/16) these materials are designed to enable young people to learn about how relationships work and thus develop more realistic expectations that can be fulfilled.
Findings have also been published for a general readership in a self-help handbook The Secrets of Enduring Love (Penguin, Random House, 2016) and in a series of films The Art of Relationships. Academic publications include Couple Relationships in the 21st Century (Palgrave, 2015).
I was Co-editor (2010-2016) of Families, Relationships, Societies and now serve as an Editorial Management Board member on this international journal published by Policy Press. Other editorial roles include: Chair of the Editorial Board for the journal Sociological Research Online (2008-2011), Associate Editorial Board member for Sociology (2008-2010), and Editorial Assistant of Feminist Theory (1998-2001).
I have held executive positions in learned societies including Trustee for the British Sociological Association and co-convenor of the BSA Families and Relationships Study Group (2008-2011). I was an Executive Committee Member for the Feminist and Women's Studies Association (2007-2010), during which time I established the highly successful annual Palgrave Macmillan FWSA Book Prize.
I hold roles on several national funding bodies, including a serving member on the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Grants Assessment Panel (GAP) B, an invited member of the ESRC peer review college, and review panel member for Nordic Research Councils in the Humanities & Social Sciences (NOS-HS)
|Centre for Citizenship, Identifies and Governance (CCIG)||Centre||Faculty of Social Sciences|
|Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC)||Centre||Faculty of Social Sciences|
|Role||Start date||End date||Funding source|
|Lead||31 Dec 2020||30 Jun 2022||WELLCOME Wellcome Trust|
‘Engaging Sexual Stories’ is a Research Enrichment Public Engagement project funded by the Wellcome Trust (UNS100842). In collaboration, The Open University, University College London (UCL), Cardiff University, and Brook are developing a set of relationships and sex education (RSE) materials from National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) findings for teachers, young people and the general public. In particular, The OU is creating open educational resources (OERs) that can be used as part of RSE curriculum in schools (via Brook) and by the public more generally (via OpenLearn).
|Role||Start date||End date||Funding source|
|Co-investigator||01 Apr 2012||31 Mar 2015||Relate|
Enduring Love: The trials, tribulations and celebrations of long term partner relationships
|Role||Start date||End date||Funding source|
|Lead||01 Sep 2011||11 Nov 2013||ESRC Economic and Social Research Council|
The aim of Enduring Love? is to understand more about the meanings and experiences of long term adult couple relationships by unpicking the conundrum of how couples enter and sustain enduring relationships in the context of rapid socio-cultural change. Our analytic focus is the intersections of gender and generation, and the experience of couples living with and without children in long term relationships. Using a rigorous combination of qualitative mixed methods we will interrogate what it means to be a couple and how individuals manage to sustain their relationship, producing an incisive account of couples’ everyday emotional–social worlds in contemporary society. In particular we aim to: • Understand the gendered meanings, practices and imaginations of quality in long-term relationships and the ways that women and men work to stay together. • Advance knowledge of how enduring relationships are lived and felt by couples at different points in the life course in the socio-cultural context of shifting discourses on love, ‘marriage’, intimacy and commitment. • Interrogate the experience of adult couples, living with/without children, and the impact of family policies and cultural narratives which privilege parenthood and childrearing as part of the life course. The study will identify and reframe debate around the connectors and enduring relationship qualities that hold people together so that policy can speak to the diverse experience and needs of couples in Britain today.