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Dr Jack Newman

Research Blog

Jack Newman

This is an intermittently updated blog about my work on social ontology and critical realism.
I try to explain complex ideas in simple terms.

Dr Jack Newman
University of Manchester
Department of Politics
Productivity Institute



Staff profile:



I am a Research Associate at The Productivity Institute and the Department of Politics, University of Manchester. My current research sits within the Productivity Institute’s ‘Institutions & Governance’ theme, asking whether UK productivity is constrained by the structure of its political institutions.

Previously, I worked at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, collaborating with the Institute for Government on a review of the UK constitution. This followed a post at the University of Surrey’s Centre for Research in Social Simulation on the LIPSIT research project, which analysed the link between local economies and the design of political institutions. Across these projects, I have written academic papers, media pieces, and policy reports about English devolution, the “levelling up agenda”, and the effectiveness of place-based policymaking.

In 2019, I completed a PhD at the University of Leeds, focused on the underlying (ontological) assumptions of UK social policy and the Conservative governments of the 2010s. I also hold an MA Politics from Leeds (2014) and a BA Politics from the University of Liverpool (2010).

I am active in academic networks relating to British politics, regional studies, and critical realism. I am an active member of the Critical Realism Network, a council member of the International Association for Critical Realism, and sit on the editorial committee of the Journal of Critical Realism.


My current research sits within the Productivity Institute’s ‘Institutions & Governance’ theme, asking whether UK productivity is constrained by the structure of its political institutions. This particularly considers whether UK governance is too centralised, too fragmented, and too short-termist to improve productivity and tackle regional inequalities.

More broadly, my research concerns how institutional structures and underlying assumptions affect the policymaking capacity of the UK’s political institutions. This overarching interest entails several specific strands of research:

  1. The development of devolution and central-local relations in England.
  2. The impact of governance structures on place-based policymaking and regional inequality.
  3. The underlying (ontological) assumptions of social and economic policy in the UK.
  4. The influence of the private sector on politics and policymaking.

This research is underpinned by mixed-methods approaches and an active engagement in the philosophy of social science, with a particular focus on critical realism, social ontology, network analysis, and critical discourse analysis.

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…

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…

Simplifying some -isms and -ologies.

In this blog post, I outline some key -isms and -ologies that often arise when teaching the philosophy of the social sciences. Students often find it difficult to grapple with this complex of approaches. Here I suggest ways of simplifying these issues for students. <<<HOMEPAGE || I have some new research in the pipeline, but…

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…