Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

Sociology and Social Policy

Research Student: Ashley R. Bullard

Interpersonal Politics in Policy Making: Cognition Enhancers and Drug Policy [Working Title]

Photo of Ashley R. Bullard

My research is a contribution within Critical Social Policy, particularly a lineage of critical-race and critical-feminist, psychosocial-informed scholarship that has come to theorize social identity and human power and agency to rethink the essentialising terms of ‘mainstream’ social policy and welfare debates.

The relational politics approach developed within this body of scholarship has turned a lens onto the interaction of the identities of policy actors as well as welfare subjects. I advance this theorizing by considering the role of the identity of objects – informed by a decolonial discourse theoretical approach – in the enactment of social policy.

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.

Utilising the overdetermination of cognition enhancers as a hermeneutic to explore the rationality and rationalisations of policy making, this research hopes to explore the material, symbolic, and affective dynamics involved in policy making. This will account for the multiple ways that identity informs policy decisions.

In doing so, I hope to contribute to an understanding of policy making that moves beyond technical questions of evidence and rationality. Such an approach enables an appreciation of the socially contingent nature of policy making, and increase the multiple openings for contestation.


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?

I have long been interested in the question of how can drug policy continue in its current form in the face of such overwhelming evidence that it is arbitrary, irrational, and counter-productive.

Over time I’ve become interested in theories of power, especially from critical-feminist and critical-race approaches. I have similarly developed an interested in anti-foundationalist critiques of the social sciences more broadly. I was motivated to do a PhD to try bringing my theoretical interests to tackle the question of drug policy.

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

It is my intention to go travelling (central America) for an extended period once I have completed my PhD. What I shall do once I return I am unsure. I am interested in staying within academia, but also keen to try something new.


Teaching experience

Understanding and Researching Contemporary Society (level 1)

Crime and Deviance (level 1)

The Sociology of Modern Societies (level 1)

Power and Conflict (level 1)

Research Methods (level 2)

I also provided cover for Formations of Modernity (level 1)

Module Development

Power and Conflict (level 1) – An interdisciplinary blended learning module (first of its type at the University of Leeds), I was part of the development team on this discovery module, responsible for the 2-week ‘Social and Societal Power and Conflict’ unit, also contributing content to other units on the module.


Crime and Deviance (level 1) – On the topics of drugs.

Book reviews

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.

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