Research Student: Ashley R. Bullard
Interpersonal Politics in Policy Making: Cognition Enhancers and Drug Policy [Working Title]
My research is a reflection upon the role of rationality within drug policy analysis, and its privileging within critiques of current policy. Using cognition enhancers as a case study, my research seeks to consider the role of interpersonal politics in the making of drug policy, and evaluate the potential limitations this places upon rational policy making.
The empirical focus of my project is the emergence of cognition enhancers on the policy agenda from roughly 2002 through to its disappearance in 2009. During this period, the positioning of cognition enhancers changed from something that was thought to be widespread and to become common place, to something that was no longer mentioned. This raises questions around why policy agendas change.
Utilising the overdetermination of cognition enhancers as a hermeneutic to explore the rationality and rationalisations of policy making, this research hopes to explore the affective dynamics and interpersonal politics involved in policy making. This will account for the multiple ways that identity informs policy decision.
In doing so, I hope to contribute to an understanding of policy making that moves beyond technical questions of how evidence is used and misused in drug policy. Such an approach enables an appreciation of the socially contingent nature of policy making. It is also hoped that this will encourage theoretically driven analyses of drug policy in the future, and new ways of more effective engagement with policy making.
I began my academic path here at the University of Leeds as an undergraduate Maths student, but quickly realised that I’d be better suited to a Social Sciences degree; so I transferred to Leeds Metropolitan University to study Social Sciences BA in 2010. I transferred into SSP at Leeds University at level 2 to do Sociology and Social Policy (International) BA for which I obtained a First.
I was fortunate to receive the School’s Leeds Graduate Bursary to do my Masters here also; studying Social Research MA (Distinction). During this I was awarded the University’s ESRC (Social Policy) Scholarship to begin the following year.
What motivated me to undertake PhD study?
Whilst studying for my Level 1 at Leeds Metropolitan, I discovered a real enjoyment and passion for Sociology which is what enticed me transfer back to Leeds University in the first instance. Over time I’ve become increasingly frustrated with a lack of a critical engagement within drug policy analysis; critiques of Social Policy and the structuring of power through the social as well as anti-foundationalist critiques of the social sciences more broadly have not been brought to bear in UK Drug Policy.
I was motivated to do a PhD to be able to take forward a sustained consideration of what these epistemological critiques could do for drug policy and its academic analysis. Current approaches demonstrably do not work, and perhaps new methods of engagement are required.
What makes me passionate about my subject?
I believe drug policy can be utilised to reflect upon the wider social problems of society. By moving from a question of the problem of ‘drugs’ to a question around the problem of ‘people’, we are able to start seeing how some people, cultures, and behaviours, are valued more in society than others are. Through the lens of drugs as a social problem, we are able to consider issues of race, gender, class, sexuality, the environment, international relations, terrorism, and so much more. I find these connections thoroughly interesting, and believe a full appreciation of these elements can help towards more holistic policy responses.
What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?
Luckily I am currently far away from this being a pressing issue, but I am at a crossroads as to whether to stay in academia or to pursue other interests. ts.
Understanding and Researching Contemporary Society (level 1)
Crime and Deviance (level 1)
The Sociology of Modern Societies (level 1)
Bullard, A. (2016) Review: Bob Jessop’s The State: Past, Present, Futures. LSE Review of Books. Available at:
Bullard, A. (forthcoming) Review: Kath Woodward’s Psychosocial Studies: An Introduction. Journal of Psycho-Social Studies.