Dr Jack Newman

Dr Jack Newman


My research combines abstract social and political theory with an interest in post-war British politics and a particular focus on the modern Conservative Party. With regards to social theory, I work within a critical realist morphogenetic approach, but show an interest in broader debates about ontology and epistemology. With regards to political theory, I am particularly interested in the overlap with social theory and the concept of 'feasability', but also have a wider interest in political ideology and political philosophy. My knowledge and research of British politics seeks to develop innovative ways to utilise these abstract theories in political analysis. As an embodiment of this approach, my (now completed) doctoral thesis proposes the analysis of ontological assumptions in public policy (further details below).

I studied for my undergraduate degree in Politics at the University of Liverpool, focusing on British politics and political theory, and graduated in 2010. I then completed an MA in Politics ('political theory pathway') part-time at the University of Leeds, with a dissertation on ontological assumptions in UK welfare policy; I graduated with a distinction in 2014. Between 2015 and 2019 I studied for a PhD, passing without corrections in May 2019. I have been teaching politics, political theory, and sociology since 2016.

Current teaching (2018/19)

  • PIED1100 British Politics
  • PIED1601 Freedom, Power and Resistance
  • PIED2601 Revolution and Reaction
  • PIED3608 Philosophy of Human Rights
  • SLSP2675 Sociology of Work

Previous teaching

  • PIED2160 Spin Drs and Electioneering
  • Leeds International Study Centre: lecturer and module lead on British Politics

Professional associations

  • Political Studies Association
  • PSA Conservatism Specialist Group
  • Social Policy Association
  • International Association for Critical Realism
  • Higher Education Academy - Associate Fellow

Research interests

Thesis abstract

My thesis builds from a central premise: all social policy, like all social research, relies on a number of assumptions about the fundamental nature of social reality and human existence. These assumptions are ‘ontological’ in the sense that ‘ontology’ is the philosophy of being and existence. Ontological assumptions are effectively the positions we take in response to the fundamental, unavoidable, and controversial questions from which human understanding proceeds. These questions include: ‘is there an objective social reality?’; ‘do we have free-will?’; ‘are we the product of our social context?’; and ‘are institutions and cultures causally significant?’. It is increasingly accepted in the academic literature that these questions are a crucial aspect of social research, because they are the base level upon which knowledge is built. And yet, despite this acceptance, the academic literature largely ignores the role of ontological assumptions in policy making. It is the central argument of this thesis that ontological assumptions are a crucial aspect of social policy making.

As well as asserting the importance of ontological assumptions in social policy, the thesis develops a critical realist framework for their analysis. This framework is named ‘ontological social policy analysis’, and it is applied here to UK social security policy. The empirical research takes the form of a textual analysis and considers a number of key social policy documents. The analysis begins with the post-2005 ‘modernisation’ projects in the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, and then goes on to consider their time in office as coalition partners (2010-2015), with a particular focus on the DWP and its flagship reform, Universal Credit. In the course of the analysis, a number of ontological contradictions are unearthed, each of which has the potential to significantly undermine the effectiveness of the policy reforms. Such findings demonstrate both the possibility and fecundity of ‘ontological social policy analysis’.

My thesis was passed in May 2019 without corrections. The full manuscript is available to view via the following link: Ontological Social Policy Analysis.