Professor David James

Professor David James

Professor and Director, ESRC Wales Doctoral Training Partnership

School of Social Sciences


I am a Professor in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University, and Director of the ESRC Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (a consortium led by Cardiff University which also includes the universities of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff Metropolitan, Gloucestershire and Swansea - http://www.walesdtc.ac.uk).  I have a distinguished track record as a social science researcher and teacher, mainly focused on the study of Education.  I am Chair of the Executive Editors of a leading international journal, the British Journal of Sociology of Education ( http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cbse20/current#.Vdr-1LxViko) and am on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Education and Work. I am a member of the ESRC Peer Review College, an elected member of BERA Council and current Chair of BERA's Membership and Engagement Committee.  I served on the Education Sub-panel for the 2014 REF (Research Excellence Framework) and chaired a panel assessing the quality of educational research for the Estonian Ministry of Education in 2013.

I have directed many research projects, evaluations and consultancies for a range of funders and clients, including the ESRC, government departments and agencies, local authorities, charities, universities, colleges and schools, all to time and within budget. I co-designed and co-directed the ESRC project 'Transforming Learning Cultures in Further Education' (2001-2005) and the ESRC project 'Identities, Education and the White Urban Middle Classes' (2005-2007). The first of these is still the only independent, large-scale study of learning in the English FE sector. I also co-directed an ESRC seminar series on 'New directions in learning and skills in England, Scotland and Wales' (2008-2010). I recently carried out (with Prof Lorna Unwin) a policy-focused study, commissioned by the Minister, of high quality vocational programmes in Further Education in Wales - see http://ppiw.org.uk/files/2016/01/PPIW-Report-Fostering-High-Quality-Further-Education-in-Wales.pdf

Research interests

My research interests encompass teaching, learning, assessment and learner identity across a range of educational settings, with a particular focus on the relationship between educational processes and social inequalities. I am interested in the extent to which educational policy shapes these things, and also in methodological and theoretical questions about how they may best be approached and understood. I have published widely on these topics for academic, policy and practitioner audiences.

Doctoral supervision

I am interested in supervising PhDs that in some way tackle the relationship between social inequality and all phases of the education system. Please see the 'Teaching' section.

I studied for a degree in social sciences at Bristol University as a 'mature' student (though I was only in my early 20s when I went there!). This was after a series of short-term jobs in factories on farms and a few years in clerical and administrative work in local government in London.  I was also attempting to make a living as a rock musician, and it was a fellow musician that introduced me to sociology.  I completed a Further Education teaching qualification before teaching in FE colleges in London, Bath and Gloucester.  In 1989 I took up a post in the (then) Bristol Polytechnic and completed a part-time PhD (entitled Mature Studentship in Higher Education) by 1996. I continued to work at the University of the West of England, Bristol, setting up and co-directing a research centre, and was promoted to Professor in 2004. I took up my current post at Cardiff in November 2011.

Qualifications & fellowships

  • 1981  BSc Hons (1st Class) Social Science, University of Bristol
  • 1982  Certificate in Education (FE) [Distinction], Garnett College, London
  • 1996 PhD – ‘Mature Studentship in Higher Education’, University of the West of England, Bristol (Ext. Examiner Prof R Burgess)
  • 2001 onwards - Fellow of Higher Education Academy (FHEA) (and prior equivalents)
  • 2010 onwards - Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (FRSA)
  • 2015 Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS)

Career overview

  • 1975-1978 Executive Officer, Greater London Council
  • 1982-1987 Lecturer in Sociology and Psychology, City of Bath College of Further Education
  • 1987-89 Lecturer 2/Senior Lecturer in Staff Development, GLOSCAT
  • 1989-91 Senior Lecturer in Education Policy Studies (temp.) Bristol Polytechnic
  • 1991-97 Senior Lecturer in Continuing Education, UWE, Bristol
  • 1997-2000 Principal Lecturer, UWE, Bristol
  • 2000-04 Reader, Faculty of Education, UWE, Bristol
  • 2004-11 Professor, Faculty of Education, UWE, Bristol
  • 2011 Professor, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University and Director, ESRC Doctoral Training Centre for Wales

Honours and awards

  • 2012: Winner of book prize from The Society for Educational Studies for White Middle Class Identities and Urban Schooling (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011 & 2013) (with Reay and Crozier)
  • 2012: Winner (with Colley and others) of the best Annual Conference symposium at the Annual Conference of the British Educational Research Association, on Radical Theory for Radical Times.  Award included acceptance of symposium at the 2013 American Educational Research Association conference in San Francisco and funding to participate.
  • 2006: Winner (with Grenfell and others) of the best Annual Conference symposium at the Annual Conference of the British Educational Research Association, on Exploring the use and usefulness of Bourdieu’s theory of practice for educational research. Award included acceptance of symposium for the 2007 American Educational Research Association conference in Chicago and funding to participate.

Professional memberships

  • Fellow of Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS)
  • Fellow of Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (FRSA)
  • Fellow of Higher Education Academy (FHEA)
  • Member of British Sociological Association (BSA)
  • Member of American Educational Research Association (AERA)
  • Member of British Educational Research Association (BERA)

Speaking engagements

Please see my Academia webpages at: http://cardiff.academia.edu/DavidJames

I have taught a wide range of social science topics across sociology and psychology, at every level from pre-GCSE to Doctoral. Main areas include research methodology, learning and assessment in further and higher education, the sociology of post-compulsory education, the social theory of Bourdieu, social equality and inequality, psychological and cultural theories of learning.

See my session for UK ESRC Doctoral students entitled How to get clear about method, methodology, epistemology and ontology, once and for all. This has been adopted by the Open University.  It is on You Tube, with over 27,000 views.  See it here: ESRC Conference: Methods session

Doctoral Supervision

I currently supervise 6 PhD students. I have supervised 20 Doctoral students to successful completion.

I am interested in supervising Doctorates that link to my research interests. Indicative topics include:

  • The nature of professional knowledge in educational settings
  • Assessment regimes and practices
  • Learning cultures
  • Social class and educational trajectories
  • Vocational and work-related learning
  • The education/work relationship
  • Marketisation and 'choice' in education
  • Student experience
  • Policy and practice.

Social class, gender and ethnicity are important lenses. I am also interested in Bourdieu and developments/critiques of Bourdieu around educational questions.

External examining

I've examined some 43 Doctoral theses,mostly as external examiner, in around 25 different universities in the UK and abroad. I am also an experienced examiner for taught programmes in other universities.  I currently (2014-2018) externally examine a strand of the MEd/MPhil programme in the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge.

See the 'Overview' section for an indication of major projects.  The central theme in my research is the relationship between education and social inequalities.  I have investigated and written on a range of topics including:

  • student experience and mature studentship
  • learning cultures, professionalism and policy in Further Education;
  • assessment, especially in Further and Higher Education
  • secondary school choice, white middle class identity and urban schooling;
  • curriculum innovation, creative teaching, creativity and professionalism;
  • work-related learning;
  • factors in GCSE attainment in secondary education;
  • the social theory of Bourdieu (though my work also draws on many other theoretical sources).

Whilst most of my research work has been qualitative, I use quantitative and mixed methods as well, depending on the nature of the research questions.

I was editior and advisory group chair for the Academy of Social Sciences booklet Making the Case No. 12: Education. This was launched at the House of Commons in December 2016 at an event hosted by Neil Camichael MP, chair of the Education Select Committee.

The booklet is available at https://www.acss.org.uk/mtc-12-education/

See also http://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/making-the-case/jhgjhgjhjhg

A short Academy video can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9ENtH9o6zs&feature=youtu.be