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School of Social and Political Science: Staff profiles


Jonathan Hearn

Jonathan Hearn
Professor Jonathan Hearn
Professor of Political and Historical Sociology
Room 6.05 Chrystal Macmillan Building 15a George Square Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
+44 (0)131 650 4242
Research Interests
Theories of social power, the origins and nature of liberal society, social change and evolution, Nationalism and National Identity, The Sociology of Scotland, sociology of competition, Classical sociology and Scottish Enlightenment thought

Guidance and Feedback Hours

  • I am on sabbatical Aug 2020-July 2021. Meetings by appointment.


I am a political and historical sociologist, interested in how we conceptualise and theorise power, its role in society, and associated long-term patterns of historical and social change.  This connects to an interest in the nature of liberal society, its emergence and fate.  My work can be described as historically informed sociological theory.  Much of my work is on nationalism and national identity, with particular interest in liberal or civic forms of nationalism, as in Scotland.  I have done ethnographically based empirical research on devolution politics in Scotland, and the role of national identities in a changing Scottish financial sector.  My most recent book with Manchester University Press (July 2017) is based on ethnographic data collected in a major Scottish bank prior to the 2008 crisis, revisiting that data from a post-crisis perspective. In addition to the above, I have a range of research interests including classical social theory and Scottish Enlightenment thought (especially David Hume and Adam Smith).  

My current research focus is twofold:

(1) On the profound legal, institutional and organisational transformations of 'competition' in the formation of liberal capitalist societies since the 18th century.  This has implications for how we understand the pathologies and deformations of competition in society today. 

(2) On the emergence of modern forms of agency and legal personhood, and their implications for the relationships between individuals, corporations, and nations states.

Connected to these I am also interested in the usefulness of the concept of 'evolution' for understanding social change.

I am also President of the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism (ASEN)



Salvage Ethnography in the Financial Sector: the path to economic crisis in Scotland, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017.

Theorizing Power, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 

Rethinking Nationalism: A Critical Introduction, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Claiming Scotland: National Identity and Liberal Culture, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

Recent articles, chapters and contributions

‘How to Read the Wealth of Nations (or why the division of labor is more important than competition in Adam Smith), Sociological Theory, 36(2): 162-184, 2018.

‘Theoretical and methodological considerations for the study of banal and everyday nationalism’, with Marco Antonsich, Nations and Nationalism 24(3): 594-605, July 2018.

Power, Culture, Identity and the work of Anthony Smith’, Nations and Nationalism 24(2): 286-291, contribution to special section in memory of Smith, April 2018.

‘Dingxin Zhao, The Confucian Legalist State: A New Theory of Chinese History’, Chinese Sociological Review, extended review as part of special issue reviewing this book, forthcoming in 2018.

‘Power’ 8000-word article for Sage Handbook of Political Sociology, William Outhwaite and Stephen Turner, eds.  2 vols.  Sage.  2018.

‘Heinrich Popitz’s Phenomonology of Power’, International Political Anthropology, 10(2).  Extended review as part of group review marking English translation of Popitz’s book.  2017.

‘Power’ 7265-word article for Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Theory, Bryan S. Turner, Editor-in-Chief.  2017.

'Vox Populi: Nationalism, Globalization and the Balance of Power in the Making of Brexit', in Brexit: Sociological Responses, W. Outhwaite (ed.), London and New York: Anthem Press, 2017. 

'The Culture of Competition in Modern Liberal Societies', Humanities: Christianity and Culture, vol. 48, 2017.

‘Strong and Weak Civic Identity, and the Management of Conflict in Liberal           Societies’, in M. Antonsich, E. Mavroudi & S. Mihelj (eds), ‘Building inclusive             nations in the age of migration’, comment section of Identities: Global                        Studies in Culture and Power 24(2): 156-76, 2017.

‘Once more with feeling: the Scottish Enlightenment, sympathy, and social Welfare’, Ethics and Social Welfare 10(3): 211-223, 2016.  

'Power and Economics' with Steven Lukes, in Who Runs the Economy? The Role of Power in Economics, R Skidelskey and N. Craig (eds.), Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 2016.

'Inequality, liberal society, and the balance of power', Revue Internationale de Philosophie, No. 275, 1/2016.   [I also guest-edited this issue on 'Power and Liberal Society'.] 

'Demos before Democracy: Ideas of nation and society in Adam Smith’, Journal of Classical Sociology,  6(2): 396-414, 2016.

'Nationalism and Globalization: Challenging Assumptions', The SAIS Review of International Affairs, 35(2): 5-11, 2015.

‘On the social evolution of power to/over’, Journal of Political Power, 7(2): 175-191, 2014.

‘Opening remarks: Debate on Bernard Yack’s book Nationalism and the Moral Psychology of Community’Nations and Nationalism, 20(3): 395-397, 2014.  

Teaching and Supervision


  • Theories and Theorists in Nationalism Studies (PG)
  • Comparative Perspectives in Nationalism Studies (PG)
  • Power: Conceptualising, Theorising, Investigating (PG)
  • Theories of Power (UG honours)
  • Globalization (UG honours and PG variant)
  • Sociology 1B, units on 'Social Structure' and 'Social Change' (UG)

Supervision: I enjoy supervising PhDs, MSc dissertations, and honours projects, on topics related to my research and teaching interests above, although I am happy to consider supervision beyond this, where appropriate.  I am best suited to supervising work using ethnographic, historical, comparative and qualitative methods, and work concerned with problems of theorisation.

Biographical Note and Qualifications

I attended a radically experimental primary and secondary school in Austin, Texas, modeled on the educational philosophies of A. S. Neill and John Holt.  The School was not accredited by the Texas State Board of Schools and could not award diplomas, so I obtained a 'General Equivalency Diploma'.  During the late 1970s and early 1980s I concentrated on music (guitar, songwriting, composing), working and recording with theatrical groups, modern dance troupes, and several bands in Austin.  In 1986 I turned to undergraduate studies in earnest, earning a BA (1989) in Social Studies, with a concentration in Anthropology, at Bard College.  From there I went to do a Ph.D. (1997) in Cultural Anthropology at the City University of New York, earning an MA en route.  While working on my Ph.D. I taught as an adjunct at several colleges in New York City.  After completing my Ph.D. I taught briefly part-time at the New School for Social Research, and had a post-doc from the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research in 1998.  I began a joint post in Sociology and Politics at the University of Edinburgh in Autumn 1998, and moved entirely into Sociology three years later.  I continue to play music in my spare time. 

See my blog:

Topics interested in supervising

I am interested in four broad areas: (1) the dynamics of social power (domination, authority, legitimacy) in a variety of social contexts; (2) issues in nationalism and national identity; (3) macrosociology, social evolution and social change; (4) the nature and dynamics of liberal society. More specific topics of recent interest, connected to the above, include: competition, the public/private dichotomy, banking and the economic crisis.

If you are interested in being supervised by Jonathan Hearn, please see the links below for more information:

PhD in Sociology; MSc (R) Sociology