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Professor Marie Gillespie

Profile summary

Professional biography

Marie joined The Open University 2001 as Senior Lecturer in Sociology. Since 2007 she has been Professor of Sociology in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Prior to that, from 1995-2001 she was Lecturer in Sociology and Anthropology, University of Wales Swansea, from 1993-95, Lecturer, Centre for Journalism and Mass Communications, University of Wales Cardiff, and from 1992-93 Lecturer, Department of Human Sciences, Brunel University 

She undertook PhD research at Brunel University, Department of Human Sciences (1988-92). PhD: Television Talk in a London Punjabi Peer Culture. From 1986-87 at the University of London Institute of Education, she studied for a Master of Arts in:Film and Television for Education (Distinction). Dissertation: Audiovisual Culture among South Asian Families in Britain. From 1981-82 she studies at the University of London, St. Mary’s College, Twickenham, for a PGCE (Distinction). Her first degree BSc (Hons) Sociology and Anthropology (IIi) (1971-74) was obtained at that University of Southampton, 


Research interests

Marie is Professor of Sociology at the Open University. An anthropologist and ethnographer by training, the focus of her research and teaching has been on migrant cultures and communication, with a particular focus on South Asian and Middle Eastern diasporas. Recent research includes projects on forced migration and digital exclusion among Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees. Since 2015 she has conducted fieldwork in refugee camps on the island of Lesvos in Greece, and at Za’atari and Azraq camps in Jordan. She has worked with Syrian refugee women on several projects on digital inclusion and civic engagement in concert with UN Women in Jordan. 

She has also led several projects on culture and diplomacy, in particular on citizenship in Egypt and Ukraine. She has worked on and with diverse international organisations including the British Council and Goethe Insitut, BBC World Service, France Medias Monde and Deutsche Welle. The central aim of these projects has been to bring reliable ethnographic research to bear on intercultural dialogue and peace-building initiatives in conflict zones. 

One of her recent research projects has been on an AHRC-funded project entitled 'Reframing Russia for the global media sphere: from Cold War to Information War?' ( This project explores the chaging conjoined geopolitical and media landscapes, Russia's foreign policy including its involvement in Syria, the discourse of information war, conspiracy theories and how and why some audiences use RT as a reference point to understand 'what and how Russia today thinks'.

She has a keen interest in designing interdisciplinary collaborative methodologies. For example, with colleagues at the OU, she designed the Cultural Value Framework which is a theoretically- informed methodology which has been adopted and used as a tool of learning, monitoring and assessment by numerous international organisations. She has also been experimenting with social scientific and computational methods in projects on Arabic, Dari, English, French, Dari and Pashto media.

Most recently, she has been experimenting with an arts-based, collaborative digital ethnography (ABCDE) for a project with asylum seekers and refugees on Covid-19 (  Originally set up to document the first lockdown, two years later, the project has transmuted from its intensely local origins to attarct contirbutors globally.

Marie has been leading the OU's University of Sanctuary initiative and it is hoped that early in 2022, OU will be awarded recognition as a University of Sanctuary, offering a culture of welcome and support to forced migrants - as well as scholarships. More details at the website.

Marie has published in a range of interdisciplinary journals (see publications tab above) on migrant transnationalism, refugees and digital communications, international news and political communication, mediatization, religion and securitization. Publications include several books: Television, Ethnicity and Cultural Change; Drama for Development: Cultural Translation and Social Change; Diasporas and Diplomacy: Cosmopolitan Contact Zones at the BBC World Service 1932-2012; Social Media and Religious Change.

Teaching interests

2020-              DD318 Dissertation Module Chair           

2018-19          D218  Understanding Digital Societies

2012-17           Openings, D131 

2012-17           D845 Visual Culture 

2008-13            D844 Ethnography 

2002-08           Deputy Chair DA204 Understanding Media

2006                 Media Audiences, Sole editor. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

2006                 Analysing Media Texts. Co-edited with Jason Toynbee. Maidenhead:

                         Open University Press.

2006                 Narrative Analysis. Analysing Media Texts. Chapter author. Maidenhead:

                         Open University Press

 2006                 Audience Ethnography. Media Audiences. Chapter author. Maidenhead:Open University Press

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC)CentreFaculty of Social Sciences