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Durham University

Department of Anthropology

Anthropology of Health Members

Dr Frances Thirlway

Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology

Contact Dr Frances Thirlway


I work at the University of York as Principal Investigator on a project on electronic cigarettes and health inequalities funded by Cancer Research UK, which runs from April 2017 to March 2019 and involves fieldwork in County Durham and North Manchester.

My research interests are in health, class and culture, with a particular interest in smoking cessation (including e-cigarette use) in relation to health inequalities in the north of England and in Scotland. I am also working on a cross-cultural case study of participation in working-class musical traditions and pathways to health in the former coalfields of the North East of England and Northern France. I am interested in using specific cultural practices as a way into broader issues of resilience and moral identity. I had an advisory role on Episode 1 of the critically acclaimed Swan Films/Grayson Perry Channel 4 series on masculinity ‘All Man’

My doctoral research explored how decisions to quit or to continue smoking formed part of local moral worlds which I contrasted with the hegemonic privileging of aspiration, narrowly defined as social and geographical mobility and the denigration of close family ties as atavistic. I used this wider framework to show how public policy frames individual health as a moral imperative as part of an individualised project of the self. I explored working-class cultural practices poised between resistance through the assertion of moral value, and the experience of shame and loss.

My teaching experience includes tutoring first and second year medical students on the Medicine in the Community module from 2009 to 2014. I have worked on the evaluation of a wellbeing service in County Durham, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Nutrition Friendly Schools Initiative (NFSI) and been Head of Grants at County Durham Foundation and an Investigator for the Local Government Ombudsman.

Working languages: English, French, Dutch, German (fluent); Italian, Spanish, Portuguese (reading only)
Geographical areas: post-industrial areas of the global north


Interviews about my smoking research on BBC Radio Newcastle in March and June 2014.
Follow me on Twitter @fthirlway 
Available for media contact on smoking, cessation and e-cigarette use
Interview for Swiss blog 'Vapolitique', December 2016
Article on French news site, December 2016

Professional memberships and recognition

British Sociological Association
FUSE: The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health
Scottish Tobacco-free Alliance Research Group
UK E-Cigarette Research Forum
Imagining Pasts & Futures research cluster
Peer reviewer for the Wellcome Trust and Drugs: Education, Prevention & Policy

Research projects

Thirlway, F., Nettleton, S., Miles, A. (2017) Electronic cigarettes, health inequalities and smoking cessation: a community study of take-up and market evolution in two high smoking prevalence areas of the North of England’. Cancer Research UK (April 2017-March 2019).

Visram, S., Lewis, S., Thirlway, F., Russell, A. (2015) Evaluation of the County Durham Wellbeing for Life Service, Work package 2: Qualitative study and process evaluation. Durham County Council Public Health (April 2015 – February 2017).

Thirlway F. (2016) Marching bands, majorettes and resilience in post-industrial areas of Northern England & France. Institute of Hazard, Risk & Resilience, Durham University.

Selected Publications

Thirlway, F. (2018). How will e-cigarettes affect health inequalities? Applying Bourdieu to smoking and cessation. International Journal of Drug Policy 54: 99-104.

Thirlway, F. (2016) Everyday tactics in local moral worlds: e-cigarette practices in a working-class area of the UK. Social Science & Medicine, December 2016, vol. 170 pp. 106-103

Thirlway, F. (2016) It's complicated: health inequalities and electronic cigarettes. FUSE blog, November 2016

Thirlway, F. (2016) Smokers in deprived area put off by cost and faff of electronic cigarettes. SHA blog, November 2016

Thirlway, F. (2015) Re: Why e-cigarettes are dividing the public health community. Rapid response, BMJ, 8 July 2015.

Thirlway, F. (2016) Time dimensions of regional divides: the Durham coalfield as temporal other. In progress

Thirlway, F. (2016) Ordinary people, getting by: (moral tales of) smoking and quitting in the North East of England. Submitted.


Conference papers

Thirlway, F. (2017) Health interventions and the gender politics of food and sport. BSA Annual Conference, 4-6 April 2017, Manchester, UK.

Thirlway, F. (2016) Time dimensions of regional divides: the Durham coalfield as temporal other. Association of Social Anthropologists Annual Conference, 4-7 July 2016, Durham, UK.

Thirlway, F. (2014) Caring, Not Stopping: Affective Meanings of Smoking in a Former Mining Village in the North East of England. Association of Social Anthropologists Decennial Conference, 19-22 June 2014, Edinburgh, UK.

Thirlway, F. (2014) Caring, Not Stopping: Affective Meanings of Smoking in a Former Mining Village in the North East of England. British Sociological Association Annual Conference, 23-25 April 2014, Leeds, UK.

Thirlway, F. (2013) Sticky places? Cultural reproduction in a former mining village in the North East of England. BSA Family Studies Group and Youth Studies Group seminar: Justice, Genes and Welfare: Are Intergenerational relationships toxic? 28 November 2013, London, UK.

Thirlway, F. (2012) The embodiment of working class history in the lives of smokers. American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting, 28-31 October 2012. San Francisco, USA.

Thirlway, F. (2012) The embodiment of inequality in the life stories of smokers. European Society of Health & Medical Sociology (ESHMS) Conference, 30 August-1 September 2012, Hannover, Germany.

Thirlway, F. (2011) Smokers in time and space. Smoking Interest Group symposium, 21 September 2011, Durham, UK.

Thirlway, F. (2011) What have smokers told us (and who’s asking): a review and critique of qualitative evidence. International Medical Geography Symposium (IMGS), 10-15 July 2011, Durham, UK.

Thirlway, F. (2011) The social context of snacking: the use of vending machines in a North East leisure centre. Why we eat how we eat: food choices, nutrition and the politics of eating. Goldsmiths/SOAS Anthropology conference,24 February 2011, London, UK.

Thirlway, F. (2010) Being a smoker: a meta-ethnography. UK Society for Behavioural Medicine (UKBSM) Annual Meeting, 14-15 Dec 2010, Leeds, UK.

Thirlway, F. (2010) Smoking pockets, smoking islands. FUSE Quarterly Research Meeting: Tobacco and Public Health, 29 September 2010. Newcastle, UK.

Russell, A., Lewis S., Thirlway F., Macnaughton J. (2012) Rethinking ‘Denormalization’ in Public Health. European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) 12th Biennial conference, 10-13 July 2012, Nanterre, France.

Lewis, S., Thirlway, F., Russell, A. (2014) When liminalities and limits meet: ethnography at the edge of application. Annual Liverpool Symposium on Current Developments in Ethnographic Research, 27-29 September 2014, Ipswich, UK.

Theses: PhD

Thirlway, F. (2015) The persistence of memory: History, family and smoking in a Durham coalfield village

Invited presentations

Thirlway, F. (2016) Smoking and health inequalities: insights from a community study in North East England. Scottish Tobacco-free Alliance Short-life Working Group on Smoking & Poverty, 29 February 2016, Edinburgh.

Thirlway, F. (2014) Electronic Nicotine Delivery Devices: reducing or increasing the social gradient in smoking? Findings from an ethnographic study in the former mining villages of West Durham. Scottish Tobacco Control Alliance Research Group meeting, 12 Dec 2014, Edinburgh.

Thirlway, F. (2012) Life stories of ex/current/never-smokers. Strathclyde University's Scottish Oral History Centre invited seminar, 3 Dec 2012, Glasgow.


Public Health England & Cancer Research UK: National symposium – Electronic cigarettes: a new era for tobacco harm reduction, London, 6 July 2016

Sociology Department, University of York: Everyone a Winner? Being and Becoming Socially Mobile, York, 29 April 2016

CRESC/Sociology@Manchester symposium: Rethinking social mobility? People’s History Museum, Manchester, 2 July 2015

The International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, Newcastle University: Everyday creativity, everyday resilience: the role of creative interventions in fostering connectivity and resilience in older people, Newcastle, 8 July 2014 

Workshop facilitator for FUSE and Public Health England’s ‘Health Inequalities in the North of England’ conference, 2013

Public Health England: workshop facilitator for PHE event on assets-based approaches, 2012

PEAS III (Prof Carolyn Summerbell): dietary observations in the community
‘Healthy Middlesbrough’ (Prof Carolyn Summerbell): community challenge interviews, 2009

WHO Nutrition Friendly Schools Initiative: training/conference organiser and facilitator, 2009


Research Groups

Research Interests

  • Post-industrial and mining communities
  • Class and stigma
  • Working-class culture
  • Smoking and cessation


Journal Article