My research is formally located in the fields of political economy and political science.
But I’m interested more generally in social theory, philosophy, historical sociology, cultural studies, political and economic geography, feminist theory, science and technology studies, and anything else I find interesting.
I am currently mostly researching neoliberalism, tax, and austerity.
But broadly speaking, I’m interested in questions about how social orders are maintained and challenged, the relationship between power and truth, and who gets what, when, and how.
I’m also interested in methodology, and I like to explore new ways to research the world.
I’m currently working on three research projects:
1. After neoliberalism? Austerity, life, and death in a post-crisis world
I’m currently about (as of April 2018) halfway through this book project. The book asks: What’s changed since the global financial crisis in 2008? To what extent has neoliberalism survived the crash? And what links the Grenfell Tower disaster, nostalgia for wartime rationing, and automated holographic assistants in Birmingham New St. station…? This book addresses these questions through the politics of austerity in the UK. Rather than treating austerity as a macroeconomic idea or as synonymous with spending cuts, this books starts with the observation that austerity encapsulates “fiscal consolidation” but also cupcakes and the Great British Bake Off. By rejecting a distinction between culture and economy, the book shows how the significance and costs of austerity run much deeper than is commonly thought: It has shifted the very context in which people imagine their social existence, relate to others, and relate to the state. This process, however, also simultaneously intensifies social conflict over (re-)distribution, increasing scrutiny over the boundaries of “us” and “them” and, in the extreme, shifts the value of life and death. Austerity thereby helped set the scene for the still-emerging “drawbridge up” populist and nativist social forces associated with the Brexit vote. This account has implications for how we understand the impact of the global financial crisis and the future of neoliberalism — but also for questioning the limits of prevailing conceptions of economy.
2. Public attitudes toward ‘the underserving rich’ (with Todd Hartman, funded by the the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust)
What do people find more unfair: tax evasion by the wealthy, or welfare fraud by the poor? The idea of an ‘undeserving poor’ has a long history in Western liberal democracies. The idea of an ‘undeserving rich’, however, is less common. But this notion, whether named as such or not, has percolated in liberal societies since the 2008 global financial crisis and the subsequent rise of populist narratives of elite culpability and agitation at increasing inequality. The project uses vignette- and conjoint-based survey experiments with respondents from the UK and US to explore these issues.
3. Reimagining tax through speculative design (with Rebecca Bramall, funded by ESRC/University of Sheffield)
This collaborative project explores the role of communications between tax authorities and taxpayers in increasing ‘tax morale’. A key element of the UK government’s approach to communicating with citizens about tax has been the introduction in 2014 of the ‘Annual Tax Summary’: personalised statements explaining how the recipient’s tax contributed to public spending that are now sent to millions of taxpayers in the UK each year. My previous research with Todd Hartman demonstrated that although the scheme aims to improve transparency, the Annual Tax Summary decreases taxpayers’ tax morale – that is, their motivation and willingness to pay tax. Using a methodology informed by speculative design, the project will generate a series of alternative tax summaries that posit different ways of valuing taxpayers and the contribution that tax makes to society. A workshop in Spring 2018 brought together researchers, policymakers, campaigners and creative communications experts to explore how tax authorities can communicate differently with taxpayers. Drawing on the workshop’s outcomes, designers will produce a series of alternative tax statements. The results will be made publicly available online, and will be exhibited in September 2018 as part of the London Design Festival.
Selected academic publications
Questions to the Prime Minister: A comparative study of PMQs from Thatcher to Cameron, Parliamentary Affairs, 67(2), 253-280 (with Stephen Bates, Peter Kerr and Christopher Byrne), DOI link / Pre-publication file