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School of Social and Political Science: Graduate school


Órla Meadhbh Murray

Órla Meadhbh Murray
Órla Meadhbh Murray
Sociology School of Social and Political Science University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh UK
Research Interests
Feminist Epistemology, Work, Institutional Ethnography, Intersectionality, Sociology of Knowledge, Qualitative Research Methods, Texts, Work and Labour, Theatre and Performance, Activism, Queer Theory, Feminism, Reflexivity

PhD Title

Invisible Work, Textual Performance, and Legitimacy: An Institutional Ethnography of UK Higher Education

PhD Research

My research is an ESRC (1+3) funded project exploring UK higher education and developing an accountable text-focused version of Dorothy Smith’s feminist approach to research, institutional ethnography. The overall question I wish to answer is: how is UK higher education organised by texts? And from this, I hope to identify points at which neo-liberalism and structural inequality occur, and thus how we might be able to resist them in higher education and in other institutions.

My research is couched in feminist discussions about the social construction of knowledge and an intersectional understanding of structural inequality. I am particularly interested in feminist epistemological discussions and critical methodologies that aim to intertwine activism and academia. The core of my understanding is a belief that we are all complicit in oppressive structures, which gives us varying degrees of opportunity to change these through our everyday activities.

In institutional ethnography, texts are defined as replicable material objects that carry messages such as bureaucratic documents, the internet, video, and books. They are seen as central to how institutions exist and organise people's activities across different locales. I am interested in how different people read institutional texts differently; how they can be used, performed, and interpreted in ways that often differ from the intended meaning by authors and institutions, and how texts can confer authority and legitimacy when used in certain ways by certain people. 

I am also interested in work and how we define it. Following feminist conceptualisations of work, I want to consider the reproductive labour that is involved in reproducing a workplace, an institution, and workers, including everyday tasks such as negotiating bureaucracy and managing health problems, alongside other emotional, social and activist work. In applying this concept of work to the higher education context, it highlights the invisible work done by staff and students that is not acknowledged as work and thus is often un(der)appreciated and un(der)paid.

Thus far, I have explored Dorothy Smith's development of institutional ethnography, criticisms of her work, and the different ways in which institutional ethnography has been used. I have also explored feminist epistemological discussions about accountability and reflexivity, developing an accountable text-focused approach to institutional ethnography. My analysis focuses on three key textual-mediated processes and regulatory texts in UK higher education: the National Student Survey (NSS), ESRC funding processes, and the Research Excellence Framework (REF). I have handed in my PhD thesis and will sit my viva on Wednesday 21st November 2018.


Professor Liz Stanley

Dr. Mary Holmes


2018 - Ó.M. Murray, L. Kalayji, Forging Feminist Futures Through Discomfort: Vulnerability, Authority, and Labour in the Queer Feminist Classroom. Journal of Applied Social Theory - Special Edition: Futures and Fractures in Feminist & Queer Education.

2018 - Ó.M. Murray, Feel the Fear and Killjoy Anyway: Being a Challenging Feminist Presence in Precarious Academia. In: Y. Taylor & K. Lahad (eds) Feeling Academic in the Neoliberal University: Feminist Flights, Fights and Failures, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 163-189.

2016 - Ó.M. Murray, M. Crowley, L. Wånggren, Feminist Work in Academia and Beyond. In: R. Thwaites & A. Pressland (eds) Being an Early-Career Feminist Academic: Global Perspectives, Experiences, and Challenges, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 215-235. 

2014 - A. Bancroft, J. Zimpfer, Ó.M. Murray, M. Karels, Working at Pleasure in Young Women’s Alcohol Consumption: A Participatory Visual Ethnography, Sociological Research Online. 19 (3).

2014 - A. Bancroft, M. Karels, Ó.M. Murray, J. Zimpfer, Not Being There: Research at a Distance with Video, Text and Speech. In: S. Hillyard & M. Hand (eds) Big Data?: Qualitative Approaches to Digital Research (Studies in Qualitative Methodology, Volume 13), Emerald Group Publishing, pp. 137 - 153.

2013 - A. Bancroft, M. Karels, J. Zimpfer, Ó.M. Murray, Video Ethnography Case: Alcohol Consumption among Young University Students in the United Kingdom, SAGE Research. Methods Cases

Book Reviews

2016 - Ó.M. Murray, Book Review: A.I. Griffith and D.E. Smith (eds) (2014), Under New Public Management:Institutional Ethnographies of Changing Front-Line Work, Qualitative Research, 16(6), pp. 738-739.

2015 - Ó.M. Murray, Book Review: D.E. Smith & S.M. Turner (eds) (2014), Incorporating Texts into Institutional Ethnographies, Sociology, pp.1-2.

2013 - Ó.M. Murray, Book Review: Lutz et al. (eds), Framing Intersectionality: Debates on a Multi-Faceted Concept in Gender Studies, Irish Journal of Sociology, 21(1), 117-119.

2013 - Ó.M. Murray, Book Review: Jo Reger, Everywhere and Nowhere: The State of Feminism in the United States, Sociological Research Online, 18(2)

Blog Articles

It Ain't Necessarily So - a collaborate blog run by social science students at the University of Edinburgh:

A Crying Shame: Emotional Labour in Activism

A Tale of Two Votes: What About Equal Marriage in Northern Ireland?

Home is Where the Heart (of Midlothian) Is: On Feeling at Home and Immigration

"Its's all a pile of bourgeois shite": Class, Culture, and the Edinburgh Festivals

Conference Presentations & Panels


'Committing Sociology In and Beyond the Academy' - organised and facilitated panel at New Directions University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh - 20th-21st April.

'Feel the Fear and Killjoy Anyway: Being a Challenging Feminist Presence in Precarious Academia' - Educational Futures and Fractures, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow - 24th February.


Invited Workshop Presenter/Facilitator with Muireann Crowley and Lena Wånggren - 'Breaking and Making': Discussion of Feminist Work and Resistance and Collective Zine-Making Workshop - at University of Warwick, Breaking Our Silences on the Neoliberal Academy, Warwick - 26th October.

'Fear, Privilege, and Reflexivity: Accountable Institutional Ethnography as a Feminist Approach to Research' - presentation at CIEG 1st International Congress, Gender Studies in Debate: Pathways, Challenges and Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Lisbon, Portugal - 25th-27th May.

'Un(der)appreciated and Un(der)paid: Invisible Work and Neoliberalism in UK Higher Education' - invited paper and presentation at the ISA International Laboratory for PhD Students in Sociology: Power, Violence and Justice, Birmingham - 1st-8th April.


'Fear, Privilege, and Reflexivity: Beyond Confessions and Representing 'Our Own' - presentation at Feminist Research Methodologies: Challenges and Negotiations, Sheffield Hallam University & Sheffield Institute of Education - 30th October.

'Institutions, Invisible Work and Texts: Institutional Ethnography as a Feminist Alternative Approach to Research' - presentation at the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, at The 9th European Feminist Research Conference - Sex & Capital, 3-6th June.

'Beyond 9-5: Invisible Work in Higher Education' - organised and contributed to panel at New Directions University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh - 30th-31st March.


'Everyday Feminism in Academia and Beyond' - co-ran workshop, including presenting on Dorothy Smith's concept of work and facilitating discussion at Transformative Feminist Methods University of Durham - 10th September.

'Politics of Protest' - panel discussant at New Directions University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh - 3rd-4th April.


'Female Trouble: An Institutional Ethnography of Contemporary Activisim in Belfast' - paper presented at Intersecting Gender, Sibéal Postgraduate Gender and Feminist Studies Network 6th Annual Conference Queen's University, Belfast - 22nd-23rd November.

'Methodology - Institutional Ethnography' - paper presented at New Directions University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh - 18-19th April.


All lecturing at University of Edinburgh, within the School of Social and Political Sciences, unless otherwise stated.


Researching Global Social Change (Postgraduate)

- Feminist Epistemology

Research Methodology, Psychiatry (for junior doctors preparing for the MRCPsych exam)

- What I Learnt from Laud Humphreys: An Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods - 31st January 2018.


Gender, Marginality and Social Change (UG, Honours)

- Sexual Politics and Marginality: Beyond Binaries - 14th February 2017.

Researching Global Social Change (Postgraduate)

- Institutional Ethnography and Texts - 6th February 2017.

- Backstage with the Researcher: Reflexivity and Accountability - 20th March 2017.

Key Concepts in Global Social Change (Postgraduate)

- 'Ain't I a Woman?' - Intersectional Feminism - 31st October 2016.

Research Methodology, Psychiatry (for junior doctors preparing for the MRCPsych exam)

- What I Learnt from Laud Humphreys: An Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods - 23rd November 2016.


LEAPS Widening Particiption Scheme (pre-university introductory lectures)

- Sociology of Gender - 23rd June 2016.

- Sociology of Pop Culture - 27th June 2016.

- Sociology of Social Movements - 30th June 2016.

Research Methodology, Psychiatry (for junior doctors preparing for the MRCPsych exam)

- What I Learnt from Laud Humphreys: An Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods - 9th March 2016.


Internet, Society & Economy

- Conclusions: Using Institutional Ethnography for Online Research


I am an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy having completed the Edinburgh Teaching Award Level One course.

Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) Teaching Awards:

Nominated for Best Postgraduate Tutor ('13/'14, '14/'15, '15/'16 and '16/'17); 

Nominated for Best Feedback ('14/'15).

All tutoring at University of Edinburgh within the School of Social and Political Sciences and the School of Geosciences Human Geography Department.


Designing and Doing Social Research (Honours) (Senior Tutor);

Fundamentals 1: Developing Sociological Imagination;

Fundamentals 2: Sociology;

Geography Fieldtrip: Athens (UG, Honours);

Sustainable Development Dissertation Workshops (Honours).


Designing and Doing Social Research (Honours) (Senior Tutor);

Fundamentals 1: Developing Sociological Imagination;

Fundamentals 2: Sociology;

Gender, Marginality & Social Change (Honours);

Social and Cultural Geography (2nd year);

Space, Place and Sensory Perception (Honours);

Sustainable Development Dissertation Workshops (Honours).


Designing and Doing Social Research (Honours);

Fundamentals 1: Developing Sociological Imagination;

Fundamentals 2: Sociology;

Sustainable Development Dissertation Workshops (Honours).


Designing and Doing Social Research (Honours);

Gender, Marginality & Social Change (Honours) (Senior Tutor);

Sustainable Development Dissertation Workshops (Honours).


Designing and Doing Social Research (Honours);

Internet, Society & Economy (Honours & Postgraduate) (Senior Tutor);

Sociology 1A.

Institutional Ethnography Network

Founder and organiser of the Institutional Ethnography Network, a group for postgraduates and staff who are interested in the work of ground-breaking feminist sociologist, Dorothy Smith, particularly her alternative sociology programme, institutional ethnography. 

For more information see our blog.

Other Projects

2017-2019 - Member of the Feminist Taleem: Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives Project with Principal Investigator Dr. Radhika Govinda, funded by the UK-India Educational Research Initiative. 

2017 - Organising Committee Member for the Sociology Department Annual Conference New Directions.

2014-2017 - Organiser of the bi-annual Sociology Writing Retreat with Nikki Dunne and Lisa Kalayji.


2013 - MSc (Research) Sociology - University of Edinburgh (Distinction) 

2012 - MA (Hons) Sociology & Politics - University of Edinburgh (1st)


2012 - 2016 - Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) 1+3 PhD Funding

2012 - Violet Laidlaw Prize, University of Edinburgh