Dr Jack Newman

Research Blog

Jack Newman

This is an intermittently updated blog about my research.

Dr Jack Newman
Bennett Institute for Public Policy
University of Cambridge

Email: jn454@cam.ac.uk


Staff profile: https://www.bennettinstitute.cam.ac.uk/about-us/team/jack-newman/


I’m a Research Associate at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy (University of Cambridge), working on an a review of the UK constitution as part of a collaboration with the Institute for Government. My background is in political science, with a focus on British politics, the Conservative Party, devolution, and local government, as well as a long-standing interest in social ontology and critical realism.

From 2020-22, I worked as a Research Fellow at the University of Surrey on the LIPSIT research project, which analysed local economies and the design of regional government. This led to a focus on the ‘levelling up’ agenda, and authorship of academic, media, and policy pieces, which included a major report: ‘Delivering Levelling Up’. 

In my doctoral research (University of Leeds 2015-19), I focused on ‘ontological assumptions’ in Conservative Party welfare policy. My thesis developed innovative tools for analysing policy assumptions, and led to publications on discourse analysis, the structure-agency debate, and David Cameron’s ‘modernisation’ project. I also have an MA Politics from the University of Leeds and a BA Politics from the University of Liverpool.

Underpinning my empirical work is a contribution to the development of critical realist social theory, social ontology, and mixed-methods research. I have published papers in the Journal of Critical Realism and the Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. I am also an organising member of the Critical Realist Network and a member of the IACR council.

I am also a member of the Regional Studies Association, the Political Studies Association, the Social Policy Association, the International Public Policy Association, and the Money, Security, and Social Policy network.

Key words: UK politics; devolution; UK constitution; local government; regional politics; social ontology; critical realism; critical discourse analysis; social theory; social security policy.

What is ontology? Ontology explained (using apples)

This blog post attempts to give an accessible introduction to ‘ontology’. This is my second such attempt – see this earlier post. I was inspired to write this by Tom Fryer’s excellent introduction to ontology and epistemology. I should also acknowledge (and highly recommend) Peter Adamson’s philosophy podcast for the ancient examples. Fundamentally, ontology is …

Levelling up: four problems with Boris Johnson’s flagship project

This piece was co-authored with Nigel Gilbert, Charles Seaford, Nigel Driffield, and Simon Collinson. It represented the the LIPSIT Project response to the UK Government’s Levelling Up White Paper. It was originally published by The Conversation on 4th February 2021, and subsequently published by the Bennett Institute, Warwick Business School, and CityREDI. Thank you to …

Five things we learned about levelling up from the Conservative party conference

This piece was originally published by The Conversation on 6th October 2021. Thank you to Laura Hood for the editing. The research was part of the LIPSIT Project. Every political party relies on slogans to sell their policies and justify their decisions. Most vanish instantly into the void, but some are more special. These are …

What actually is ‘levelling up’? What we know about Boris Johnson’s agenda – and what we don’t

This piece was originally published on The Conversation on 23rd July 2021. Thank you to Laura Hood for the editing. The research was part of the LIPSIT Project. The promise to “level up and unite the country” has been a central message since the current UK government came to power in 2019. During the election …

The ‘Levelling Up’ Agenda of Boris Johnson’s Government: Why there might be trouble ahead

This post was originally published on The Loop, ECPR’s Political Science Blog. The research comes from a paper published in The Political Quarterly: ‘The Ambiguous Ideology of Levelling Up’. The research was part of the LIPSIT Project. Levelling up has become the centrepiece of the UK government’s vision for a post-Brexit and post-Covid Britain. It …

Cameron’s Failure Shows that ‘Levelling Up’ Needs a Coherent Theory of Change

This post was originally published on the PSA blog and in a slightly edited form on the Politics@Surrey Blog. The research comes from a joint paper with Richard Hayton in the journal British Politics: ‘The ontological failure of David Cameron’s ‘modernisation’ of the Conservative Party’. The Conservative Party’s ubiquitous ‘levelling up agenda’ has developed from …

Critical Discourse Analysis and Poststructuralist Discourse Theory

In this blog post, I outline some key differences between ‘critical discourse analysis’ and ‘poststructuralist discourse theory’, by asking how discourse relates to society and subjects. This blog is based on my recent publication: Newman, J. (2020). ‘Critical realism, critical discourse analysis, and the morphogenetic approach‘. Journal of Critical Realism. <<<HOMEPAGE || In a recent …

What is Ontology?

<<<HOMEPAGE || Ontology: “the philosophy of being and existence.”  The importance of ontology is increasingly recognised across the social sciences, which is why it is worth trying to get a good grasp on its meaning. However, unless you already know what ontology is, the above definition does not really get you much closer to understanding …

Are structure and agency real?

<<<HOMEPAGE || Introduction In my publication in the Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, I engage with two influential approaches to the structure-agency issue: constructivist institutionalism (Hay, 2016) and the morphogenetic approach (Archer, 1995). My paper deals with numerous points of agreement and disagreement between the two approaches, but in this blog, I will …

Positivism, Constructivism, and Realism in Social Analysis

<<<HOMEPAGE || Introduction In the first chapter of my thesis, Ontological Social Policy Analysis, I lay out my own ontological assumptions and my prefered analytical modelling of those assumptions. In simpler terms, I explain how I view social reality. This view is one amongst many in the social sciences, and it is therefore necessary for …

Ontological Social Policy Analysis: An Introduction

<<<HOMEPAGE || On 3rd May 2019, my doctoral thesis was passed without corrections by examiners Dave Marsh and Tim Heppell. I would like to thank Stuart McAnulla and Richard Hayton for their three and half years of dedicated supervision. The full manuscript is now available online through the following link: Jack Newman thesis – Ontological …

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