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Durham University

Policy, Professions and Communities Research Group


Dr Sam Hillyard

Associate Professor (Reader) in the Department of Sociology
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 46836
Room number: 32 Old Elvet: Room 204

Contact Dr Sam Hillyard (email at


I joined the School in 2006 and taught qualitative research methods in the School of Education between 2007-9. Prior to Durham, I studied at Warwick University (BA, PhD, Sociology), researched at Lancaster University (researcher, ESRC project 00 23 7661, PI: Professor Rosemary Deem) and held lecturing posts at Keele University (UK) and the Institute for the Study of Genetics, Biorisks and Society (Nottingham University).

My work is informed by an enduring commitment to applied sociology, specifically the synergies between theoretical ideas and empirical ethnographic research. This interest has been applied across a variety of research settings: senior academics in UK universities; senior policy makers and members of the farming and veterinary communities; social science research on game shooting in the UK and; the role of the school in rural communities. 

My professional activities include membership of the editorial board of the journal Qualitative Research and formerly of Sociological Research Online and Ethnography and Education and I regularly review for over a dozen journals, publishing houses and research councils. I am also a member of the ESRC's peer-review college (2010- ) and series editor of Studies in Qualitative Methodology (Emerald) from 2012. I actively welcome enquires on future volumes for this series.

I have attracted funding from the ESRC, the University of Nottingham, the Rural Economy and Land Use programme (ESRC, NERC, BBSRC) and Guide Dogs for the Blind. Stemming from this work have been a number of books: on fieldwork with Professor Pole (Doing Fieldwork 2016); on rural sociology (sole-authored); managerialism in UK universities (with Professors Deem and Reed) and; an edited a volume on theory and ethnography (New Frontiers in Ethnography) and a four-volume collection on fieldwork for Sage (Approaches to fieldwork 2014). With Dr. Martin Hand (Queen’s, Canada), I edited a collection on ‘big data’ and qualitative methods ((Big data?. Qualitative approaches to digital research 2014).

With Professor Carl Bagley (Education, Durham), I was PI on a recently completed ESRC funded project exploring the micro-politics of rural schooling and communities (ESRC no. 000 22 3412). Carl and I conducted ethnographic fieldwork in two, English rural villages – challenging whether schools are at the heart of such communities. The project contrasts north Norfolk and North East locales, employing a variety of theoretical ideas attempting to capture the social, political-economic and spatial dynamics in play. Carl and I welcome all enquiries about the project ( I also concluded an additional piece of field research following on from an ESRC-funded project exploring managerialism in UK universities. This explored the career backgrounds, trajectories and decision-making of a handful of UK social science academics. Currently, I am exploring the impact of global elites in remote contexts. With colleagues in Politics and Anthropology at Durham, and with the support of the IHRR, I have been exploring food choice using rural-urban comparisons. 

I currently supervise a number of PhD students. Enquiries from prospective research students interested in the above fields or related topics are most welcome.

Research Projects

Rural schooling and the micro-politics of community. A study of two English, rural villages and their schools.

The research sought to explore the impact of policy change at the local level in two rural village communities and their schools. It used these case studies to see how large-scale policy impacted upon everyday lives. The project hence drew upon an array of qualitative methods, including archival and primary sources (such as interviews). Operationally, the research worked through five packages:

  1. Examining the current role and centrality of the school within two contrasting English rural villages
  2. Exploring the role and significance of the school inside the community over the past fifty years
  3. Evaluating as far as possible the sustainability of each school and instances of good practice or concern relating to the school’s future success (indeed, survival)
  4. Situating and examining educational provision in relation to other core services (such as health, housing, transport, policing, technology and retail)
  5. Exploring the schooling experience offered to pupils, staff and parents in a rural setting.

Grant Start Date: 1st April 2009 - Grant End Date: 30th September 2011


Authored book

Chapter in book

Edited book

Journal Article

Other (Digital/Visual Media)

Indicators of Esteem

  • Member, Editorial board Qualitative Research journal :

Research Projects

School of Education

  • Rural schooling and the micro-politics of community> A study of two English, rural villages and their schools

Teaching Areas

  • Dissertation Convenor (SASS, UG)
  • Rural Studies and Social Policy (SASS, UG)
  • Self, Identity and Society (SASS, UG)