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Research Profile

Prof Tom Horlick-Jones 

  • Current Research

    • 1. Policy Addressing Climate Change and Learning about Consumer Behaviour and Everyday Life (PACHELBEL) (January 2010-December 2012)
    • At the heart of this project lies the development, trialling and operationalisation of a tool (STAVE), designed to support the work of policy-making for sustainability in real-world settings. The tool will support processes of knowledge brokerage, promoting the appropriate application of existing research findings, and the generation of new knowledge which is focused on specific policy objectives. In substantive terms, the project responds to recent work on sustainable consumption, which has provided compelling arguments about the difficulties entailed in seeking to address anthropogenic climate change by attempting to shift patterns of consumer behaviour. The project will take the form of a series of collaborative problem-focused interventions with policy-makers which will engage with their current work in these areas. STAVE will allow these policy-makers to examine the nature and validity of assumptions about human sensibilities, reasoning and action that are incorporated into the development of policy. The project will yield detailed guidance on how best to utilise STAVE across a variety of organisational and policy-specific environments. It will also generate important insights into the mechanisms by which different sources of knowledge are utilised in the practical activity of policymaking; and into the nature of lay citizens’ practical reasoning and everyday activities, as they relate to the sustainability of their patterns of consumption.This project is being supported by the European Union Framework 7 Environment programme.
    • Other partners comprise: CIEMAT (Spain, with Ana Prades as overall project co-ordinator and Christian Oltra), Autonomous University of Barcelona (Josep Espluga and Àlex Boso), Brunel University (Julie Barnett and Afrodita Marcu), London School of Economics (Jonathan Rosenhead), SYMLOG (France, Marc Poumadère and Clare Mays), DIALOGIK (Germany, Wilfried Konrad and Ortwin Renn), Swedish National Defence College (Ann Enander and Susanne Hede), MEDA Research (Romania, Marian Constantin) and AMPHOS Consulting (Spain, Beatriz Medina).
    • We are delighted that Lorenzo Marvulli joined the team in October 2010 as Tom’s ESRC-supported postgraduate student.
    • At present, we are working closely with the UK government Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in seeking to apply STAVE to support policy-making for sustainability.

    • 2. Making sense of nuclear fusion: learning and reasoning about an energy technology (2007-10)
    • The need to develop practical ways to address human-generated climate change has brought a new urgency in the search for sustainable sources of energy. Among the possible options, fusion (the form of nuclear reaction that powers the sun) has long been recognised as a potential source of safe, sustainable, and essentially limitless power. As the international demonstration fusion reactor (ITER) approaches completion, the fusion R&D community has become more aware of the need to engage with societal awareness of its activities. This project has used a hybrid research/engagement group-based methodology to investigate the various modes of practical reasoning employed by lay people in seeking to understand fusion power. The work has  investigates the character of interpretative resources used in such reasoning, including the ‘stigma’ effect associated  with the nuclear fission programme.  The project has been carried out in collaboration with CIEMAT, a Spanish Government agency, which has made  possible a comparative cross-cultural examination of British and Spanish data. The project  also provided an opportunity for groups of lay citizens to ‘have their say’ about fusion and related matters regarding possible energy futures. Supported by the European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA) and the Economic & Social Research Council.
    • ESRC pages on this project

    • 3. Risk, praxis and everyday life
    • This is an ongoing project that is seeking to synthesize insights drawn from a number of current and past projects. It is particularly concerned with generic aspects of the nature and properties of contingency and risk-related practices in everyday life, across a broad range of public and organisational settings. The analysis is informed by a number of conceptual perspectives, in particular ethnomethodology, phenomenology, and Goffman’s and Laing’s approaches to understanding social interaction. It also draws on literary and other sources, including the work of the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch; essayist and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips; and of the ordinary language philosophers.  
    • In line with his interest in re-thinking the sociology of risk, Tom Horlick-Jones organised a highly-successful seminar series on the theme ‘Toward a New Sociology of Risk’ which took place at SOCSI in the Autumn of 2009.

    • 4. Cancer-related research
    • Some work has been done on the social organisation of symptoms and bodily awareness; and on communication and counselling processes associated with cancer care. A paper has been published in Sociology of Health & Illness
    • In 2009-10, Tom co-supervised (with Christian Broer) AnneLieke Driessen’s masters dissertation at the University of Amsterdam, based on research into male breast cancer.
    • With a number of colleagues, Tom has been working to develop cancer-related research activity within the School. He would welcome expressions of interest from medical and health-care professionals, and by others with a practical involvement in this area.

    Recent Research

    • 1. Development of stakeholder engagement for the UK railway industry (2006)
    • The development of group-based techniques for citizen engagement, including a pilot study. Research into how lay citizens reason in everyday terms about safety management policy issues. Supported by the Railway Safety & Standards Board.

    • 2. Review of research evidence on lay perceptions of fusion power (2006)
    • A comprehensive review of empirical evidence. In collaboration with Ana Prades and her colleagues at CIEMAT. Supported by EFDA.

    • 3. Evaluation of the GM Nation? public debate (2002-06)
    • The systematic evaluation of an unprecedented experiment in public participation: the government-sponsored debate about possible commercialisation of ‘GM’ crops in the UK (2002-03). The evaluation was independently-funded, yet accredited by the organisers, so providing unique research access. The process of evaluation was conceptually-informed and empirically-based, drawing upon detailed observation of both public and behind-the-scenes aspects of the process, the views of participants in debate events, a survey of public views, and details of media coverage. The design, implementation and effectiveness of the debate process was analysed, together with a critique of the debate’s official findings. In collaboration with a group of researchers at the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences, and with Gene Rowe at the Norwich-based Institute of Food Research. Supported by the Leverhulme Trust and the Economic & Social Research Council.

    • 4. Problems of governance of seafarers’ health and safety (2002-04)
    • An international comparative study of regulation in the global shipping industry. In collaboration with Mick Bloor ( SOCSI/SIRC), Mike Levi (SOCSI), and researchers at the International Labour Office, the Sociological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. Supported by the Economic & Social Research Council.

    • 5. Risk and health: review of current research and identification of areas for further research (2001-02)
    • A comprehensive review of the potential for applying social science research into risk in areas concerned with health and medicine. In collaboration with Andy Alaszewski of the University of Kent. Supported by the Economic & Social Research Council and Medical Research Council.

    • 6. The governance of risk in British state institutions (2001-05)
    • A series of conceptual and empirical studies of the use of risk thinking and risk techniques by governmental and regulatory bodies. In collaboration with the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences. Supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

    • 7. Complex Risk Management (CRISP) (2000-2002)
    • Project CRISP set out to operationalise the application of a class of decision support methods called problem structuring methods, so as to provide practical tools and guidance for the support of a range of organisational (and inter-organisational) situations associated with the management of complex risk. A secondary objective of the project was to gain insights into the fine detail of real-world organisational risk management practices and processes. The project included two action research case studies: one concerned with the development of a new risk assessment procedure for the rail industry; and the other with strategic planning of the Notting Hill Carnival, and in particular with matters concerning the safety of the event.
    • In practical terms, the project contributed to the design on a new railway industry standard risk assessment procedure. It also contributed to a process of strategic planning which resulted in a new route for the Notting Hill Carnival procession.
    • A number of research findings emerged from this project. The first set of these were  concerned with the functioning of problem structuring methods, and address: conflict situations; combining hard and soft methods; bespoke mixing; improvisation; using ethnographic and problem structuring methods in combination; decision processes and implementation; and the character of problem structuring methods-mediated interactions. The second set of findings were concerned with risk, organisations and social interaction, and address: risk and practical reasoning; the micropolitics of risk; the uses of risk assessment; and researching organisational risk management through action research.
    • This project involved close collaborations with Jonathan Rosenhead of the London School of Economics, with Railtrack, and with the Greater London Authority and other organisations involved in the planning and implementation of the Notting Hill Carnival. It was funded by the BP/CARR Complex Risk Programme.