Dr Rachael Dobson
Lecturer in Social Policy and Sociology
After completing a D.Phil I took up a post as lecturer in sociology and social policy here at the University of Leeds. Before postgraduate study I worked for five years as a local authority homelessness practitioner. These experiences inspired my research interests, which have since focused on themes around constructions of need, welfare practitioners and practices at the level of the ‘local state’, and social policy.
I have expertise in homelessness and global models of intervention with homeless people. My approach to the subject combines structural and institutional approaches, with social and affective dimensions of homelessness, which include social relations, identity, the body and individual agency and power.
My expertise in homelessness comes under a more extensive research agenda where I think about how specific social groups are constructed as especially problematic and how these ideas structure regulatory interventions with so-called problem or troublesome people. This research involves a study of ‘official’ and informal techniques that welfare practitioners use when working with people who they classify as both ‘vulnerable’ and ‘transgressive’ and observation of complex oscillations and fusions of care, support and therapeutics, and discipline, control and conditionality therein.
The research sites for these interests are what I call ‘new spaces of welfare’. I understand these spaces as organisations across statutory and non-statutory sectors that are required to respond to vulnerability because of: a) formal contractual arrangements with the state; and b) ‘informal’ demand in day-to-day practice encounters. These spaces are also characterized by staff members who possess fragmented and variable training and qualifications. The new spaces of welfare that I have researched include housing related support sector organisations (local authority homelessness units, social housing organisations, supported housing, drop-in centres). More recently I have completed research in prison contexts and faith-based organisations that respond to destitution and asylum seekers.
My research contributes to contemporary debates about how western nation states are thought to be increasingly regulatory, conditional and disciplining in social policy and welfare. I also contribute to somewhat long-standing debates about ‘care’ and ‘control’ at the ‘front-line’ of welfare practice, and Michael Lipsky’s ‘street-level bureaucracy’.
In my most recent work (Social Policy and Regulatory Interventions; a social worlds approach. Journal of Social Policy, under review) I use empirical data from housing and homelessness practice to theorise social policy process and state formation. This study of regulatory interventions enables me to theorise relational connections between the state, institutional structures, and individual social actors in relation to power, agency and affective dimensions. Informed by feminist, post-structural and psycho-social analyses of relational power, I have developed a theoretical framework that I call a ‘social worlds’ approach, in order to conceptualise these connections.
My research is interdisciplinary as I work with ideas from sociology, social policy, criminology, urban, housing and homelessness studies. I am increasingly drawn to feminist, psycho-social and anthropological approaches in order to theorise regulatory interventions with ‘vulnerable’ and transgressive groups.
While I am committed to interdisciplinary approaches I maintain a subject base in housing studies and social policy and I continue to contribute to contemporary debates about welfare changes. This approach is exemplified by my recent successful White Rose ESRC DTC award for the housing themed network, ‘The Urban Housing Experience in the age of Austerity’, where I am a lead supervisor for a studentship titled, ‘Governing vulnerability in a time of austerity; the private provision of temporary and permanent accommodation for homeless people’.
Impact, innovation and consultancy
I maintain a connection to practice fields through impact, knowledge transfer and consultancy work. I have successfully engaged with national and international policy and practice communities. My approach to ‘impact’ is to work alongside professionals and communicate research evidence and complex social phenomena, in order to facilitate insight and intellectual agility.
My expertise in homelessness and global models of intervention with homeless people is recognized in my role as expert advisor to the Department for Work and Pensions. I have also worked with Australian practice organization UnitingCare .
Finally, I have worked as a consultant and trainer for the Chartered Institute of Housing (De Montfort University) for postgraduate learners who work in housing practice, and who are completing MSc. Housing Studies programmes.
Selected research awards
- White Rose Doctoral Training Centre, Housing themed network, ‘The Urban Housing Experience in the Age of Austerity, Three studentships. 02/2012.
- HEIF faculty funding for Impact and Innovation in homelessness and global models of intervention, University of Leeds, 04/2012.
- NIHR programme development grant, ‘Pain Management in Prisons’, School of Healthcare, University of Leeds, co-applicant, 09/2011.
- Worldwide Universities Network, ‘A Comparative Study of Faith-Based Organisations and Responses to Destitution’, co-applicant with Dr Laura-Beth Bugg, University of Sydney, 09/2011.
- Worldwide Universities Network, Early Career Internationalisation Visit grant, University of Sydney, School of Sociology and Social Policy, 04/2011.
- ESRC Award, ‘International Networking and Collaboration’, Overseas visiting research fellow at University of New South Wales, 04/2009.
Academic environment and esteem
- Editorial collective member for Critical Social Policy
- Expert advisor on homelessness and global models of intervention for the Department for Work and Pensions
- Peer review for Routledge, ESRC grants, Sociological Review, and International Journal of Research Methodology, on homelessness, criminology and the urban.
- University of Sydney Visiting Scholar
- University of New South Wales Visiting Scholar
I am committed to research-led teaching and anti-oppressive practice, and I have been recently shortlisted for a University of Leeds Partnership Award 2013, which celebrates excellence in higher education teaching.
My teaching interests lie in social policy, sociology, urban studies, criminology and research methods. Currently, I convene two courses in the School of Sociology: Urban Disorders, Social Divisions and Social Control (SLSP 2952, level 2); and Urban Regulation, Power and Difference (SLSP 3432, level 3). I contribute to teaching for undergraduate sociology and criminology programmes on ‘Sexuality, Subcultures and Stigmas’ and I have taught ‘Crime, Deviance and Social Control’. I contribute to undergraduate social policy teaching on ‘Contemporary Debates in Welfare’.
My postgraduate teaching includes modules for MA Social Research and MA Social Policy programmes on research methods and critical approaches to social policy and welfare research. Previously I have developed modules for e-learning MSc. Housing Studies: Neighbourhood and Housing Services; and Regeneration and Sustainable Communities.
Dobson, R. Social Policy and Regulatory Interventions; a social worlds approach. Journal of Social Policy
Dobson, R. (2011) Conditionality and Homelessness Services; ‘Practice Realities’ in a Drop-in Centre, Social Policy and Society, 10 (4), pp 547 - 557
Dobson, R. & McNeill, J. (2011) Homelessness and Housing Support Services: Rationales and Policies under New Labour, Social Policy and Society, 10 (4), pp 581 - 589
Dwyer et al. (2011) Some Useful Sources; themed edition on multiple exclusion homelessness, Social Policy and Society, 10 (4), 591–593
Dobson, R. (2009) ‘Insiderness’, ‘Involvement’ and Emotions; impacts for methods, ‘knowledge’ and social research, People, Policy and Place, 3 (3) 183-195
Dobson, R. Regulatory Interventions in Practice; care and control at the front-line.
Dobson, R., Freshwater, D. & Walsh, L. The care-security dilemma and criminal justice practitioners.
Walsh E, Dobson R, Butt C, Briggs M, Alldred D, Wright N & Cahill J,. Staff Perspectives of Pain Management in Prison
Dobson, R. & Bugg, L. Faith Based Organisations and Responses to Asylum Seekers
Leadership and administration
- Admissions tutor for School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds
- Member of the School Taught Student Education Committee for School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds
Research Events and Seminars
- Facing Towards and Confronting Challenges: issues in teaching and learning in a time of transformation
- Thinking Critically About Analysis
- Innovation in Social Research: Methodology, Experience and Practice
- Social Policy Futures: research experiences, practices and developments
- Changing Academic Practice: Implications for future Social Policy Academics
Testimonials and publications are available on request