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Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Tim May


IAS Fellow at St Mary's College, Durham University (January - March 2016)



Tim May is Director of the Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures, an interdisciplinary research centre at the University of Salford. Following a career as an engineer in the agricultural sector, his first degree was from the London School of Economics and Political Science and he then went on to study for a M.Sc. in Social Research Methods at Surrey University (1986) and a Ph.D. at the University of Plymouth (1990). He was appointed to a lectureship at Plymouth (1989-95); he then moved to the University of Durham (1995-99) and was appointed as a Chair at Salford in August 1999.

Tim’s empirical work has been conducted in many organizations (Universities, Local Government, Whitehall, Regional Development Agencies, Government Offices, Probation, Health, Prison and Social Services and the Planning and Engineering sectors) and he has held research grants from: UK Research Councils (ESRC; EPSRC; AHRC); City Councils, the NHS and Mistra (Swedish Environmental Research Foundation); private sector; Regional Development Agencies; Universities; Core Cities; Science Cities; Office of the Deputy Prime Minister; Higher Education Funding Council and the Local Government Management Board. Tim has worked for universities advising them on intellectual, organizational and strategic issues. Since 2000, SURF has generated external income of £6.5M.

Tim has written and edited fourteen books that have been translated into fifteen languages, as well over one hundred and eighty articles, book chapters and research reports and eight special editions of journals. These cover: active intermediation in knowledge exchange; reflexivity and research methodology and methods; thinking sociologically; philosophy of science and social science; management and organizational change; policy development and learning; universities and socio-economic development; science policy; politics and regional representation and social theory. Tim was editor of the international book series ‘Issues in Society’ (Open University Press/McGraw-Hill) in which seventeen book were published from 1998-2010.

Tim’s work focuses on issues relating to knowledge, governance and policy-making, as well as effective knowledge exchange processes for university-city interactions. He is currently undertaking international comparative work on the production and reception of urban knowledge for sustainable futures and writing three books on reflexivity, cities and knowledge and thinking sociologically, as well as articles on knowledge development and methodology.

Along with colleagues in SURF, Tim is employed at the Mistra Urban Futures Centre, based in Gothenburg with partners across the world and on the AHRC Cultural Intermediaries project. The aim of the Mistra work is to create added value to existing activities through cross-sectoral and cross-disciplinary relationships between research and practice, whilst the aim of the AHRC work is to understand the work of cultural intermediation for community development.



Public Lecture - Cities of Knowledge and the Role of Universities: evidence from practice

16th February 2016, 17:30 to 18:30, Kenworthy Hall, St Mary's College


This lecture draws upon experiences of working in and for universities, research funders and the public and private sectors which informs its focus upon enhancing collaborations between cities and their universities.

There are two broad perspectives on contemporary relations between universities and their environments. First, there is a view that the distinction of the academy is being undermined. This has occurred, for example, through the growth of new knowledge producers and changes in higher education via an increased prioritisation of relevance and impact. Second, it is an opportunity summed up by the idea that universities are now as ‘coalmines were to the industrial economy’. Universities are thus seen as central to growth in the knowledge economy through greater collaborations beyond normal institutional boundaries. Overall, there is now a clear focus on relations between universities and their localities for the mutual benefit of all involved.

In practice there are a complex set of dynamics and reasons underpinning the production, transmission and reception of knowledge. These vary from the altruistic to the instrumental and from the affirmative to transformative. Important questions are then raised concerning the relationship between knowledge, policy and practice, as well as the intended and actual beneficiaries of knowledge-based development. What is also placed is question is the appropriateness of the organizational forms of universities in terms of comprising disciplinary silos measured against calls for relevant, interdisciplinary work.

The lecture will draw upon evidence from practice to examine these issues and their implications for universities and the practice of disciplines. In the process it will explore alternatives and seek to illuminate a question that is concerned with the survival of universities, but is often ignored, assumed or denied: just what is distinctive about the university as a site of knowledge production?

This lecture is free and open to all.

Professor Timothy May Publications

May, T., Perry, B., (2017) Reflexivity - The Essential Guide. London: Sage.