Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

Sociology and Social Policy

Dr Nick Emmel

Senior Lecturer

I am a realist methodologist and critical sociologist who always questions preconceived and common sense notions and names causes. I like to ask hard (and interesting) questions about why inequalities are widening and how these relationships are maintained. I am particularly interested in the ways in which our investigation of the social world shapes understandings of the objects of our studies and how we best evaluate this understanding through bringing our explanations into some kind of relationship with empirical research. At the moment I am leading a group of over 30 academics from across the University of Leeds to establish #RealismLeeds, organizing its inaugural conference in November, and editing a new book, The State of the Art of Realist Methodologies.

Research Interests

I have conducted extensive research in the UK and India interpreting and explaining processes of vulnerability and exclusion with a focus on inequalities and inequities in health. I have written widely on these issues. Over the last decade I have conducted qualitative longitudinal and mixed method research in low-income communities in Leeds, with successive waves of this research funded by the ESRC’s Research Methods Programme, National Centre for Research Methods, and Timescapes, the ESRC’s Qualitative Longitudinal Initiative. Through this methodological funding I have developed innovative methodologies and written extensively about accessing hard-to-reach groups, qualitatively driven mixed method research, participatory methods, qualitative longitudinal research, and realist methodologies.


My research-led teaching addresses health inequalities and inequities in an international context. I lead the team-taught MA module From Conception to the Grave (a.k.a. sperm to the worm), the Sociology and Social Policy of Health and Illness. I contribute to under-graduate teaching with a particular focus on explaining health outcomes across the world. I also provide research methods training within the School, in the wider University, and White Rose Doctoral Training Center. My expertise is in realist methodologies and qualitative longitudinal methods. I lead the team-taught Ma module Research Strategy and Design. In 2002, I established the Intercalated BSc in International Health, which is now delivered at the Nuffield Institute for Health and Development.

PhD Supervision

I supervise students critically applying realist methods in qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method enquiry to a wide range of social issues. I have a particular interest in the following subject areas:

  • Poverty, vulnerability, and exclusion
  • Stigma, particularly in accessing health and social care in UK and majority world contexts
  • People’s and communities’ responses to inequalities and inequities

Key Publications

  • Emmel ND (2015) Themes, variables, and the limits to calculating sample size in qualitative research: A response to Fugard and Potts. International Journal of Social Research Methodology.
  • Emmel N and Hughes K (2014) Vulnerability, inter-generational exchange, and the conscience of generations. In Holland J and Edwards R (Eds.) Understanding Families over Time: Research and Policy, Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  • Emmel N (2013) Sampling and choosing cases in qualitative research: a realist approach. London. Sage.
  • Emmel N and Hughes K (2013) Investigating vulnerability and qualitative longitudinal research in the Academy of Social Sciences (Eds.) Making the Case for the Social Sciences – No 8 Longitudinal Studies
  • Emmel ND and Hughes K (2010) ‘Recession, it’s all the same to us son’: the longitudinal experience (1999-2010) of deprivation. Journal of the Academy of Social Sciences. 21st Century Society 5(2):171-181
  • Emmel ND and Clark A (2009) The methods used in Connected Lives: investigating networks, neighbourhoods, and communities. ESRC National Centre for Research Methods. NCRM Working Paper Series 06/09.
  • Emmel ND (2009) Researching the vulnerable International Journal of Social Research Methodology 12(3):271–272
  • Emmel ND and Hughes K (2009) Small –N access cases to refine theories of social exclusion and access to socially excluded individuals and groups in Byrne D and Ragin C (eds.) The SAGE handbook of Case-Centred Methods. Sage. London
  • Emmel ND, Hughes K, Greenhalgh J and Sales A (2007) Accessing socially excluded people-trust and the gatekeeper in the researcher-participant relationship. Sociological Research Online 12(2) March

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