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, Sampling and choosing cases in qualitative research (London: Sage, 2013)

Journal articles

  • Emmel N, ‘Themes, variables, and the limits to calculating sample size in qualitative research: a response to Fugard and Potts’, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 18.6 (2015), 685-686
    DOI: 10.1080/13645579.2015.1005457, Repository URL: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/83194/

  • Emmel ND, Hughes K, ‘Recession, it's all the same to us son: the longitudinal experience (1999-2010)’, Journal of the Academy of Social Sciences, 5.2 (2010), 171-181

  • Emmel N, ‘Researching the vulnerable’, International Journal of Social Research, 12.3 (2009), 271-272


  • Emmel ND, Hughes K, ‘Vulnerability, inter-generational exchange, and the conscience of generations’, in Understanding Families Over Time Research and Policy, ed. by Holland J and Edwards R (Springer, 2014)
    DOI: 10.1057/9781137285089

  • Emmel ND, Hughes K, ‘Small N access cases to refine theories of social exclusion and access to socially excluded individuals and groups’, in The Sage Handbook of Case-Based Methods, ed. by Byrne and others (London: Sage, 2009)

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