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School of Social and Political Science: Staff profiles


Stephen Kemp

Stephen Kemp
Dr Stephen Kemp
5.09 Chrystal Macmillan Building 15a George Square Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
+44 (0)131 650 3895
Research Interests
Social theory, the structure/agency problem, actor-network theory, Feminist Theory, rationality, explanation, complexity theory, Risk, epistemology and epistemic justification

Feedback and Guidance Hours

Semester 2 of 2019-20: Monday 3-5pm


  • BA, MPhil (Sociology, Massey University, New Zealand)
  • PhD (University of Edinburgh)

Research Interests

My research is in the area of social theory, and I have a particular interest in debates about social scientific knowledge (epistemology) and about the fundamental features of the social world (ontology).  In relation to social scientific knowledge, I'm interested in the question of what knowledge is for - is the intention to describe the social world, to explain it, or to change it?  I also spend a lot of time thinking about issues of justification, reflecting on whether social scientific knowledge claims can be epistemically justified despite their apparent entanglements with politics and power.  I'm currently thinking about these questions in relation to relatively recent developments like actor-network theory and the 'new empiricism', but I also consider older approaches such as realism and constructionism.  In relation to the ontology of the social world, I'm interested in contestations over the fundamental features of the social world - is the social world made up of discourses and performances, networks and flows, structures and agents, or some other entities?  As this list would suggest, I engage with the work of thinkers like Judith Butler, Bruno Latour,  and Margaret Archer on these topics.

Publications include:

 'The two stories of the habitus/structure relation and the riddle of reflexivity: A meta‐theoretical reappraisal', 2019, C. Bouzanis and S. Kemp, Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour (online first)

'Residuality and inconsistency in the interpretation of socio-theoretical systems', 2019, C. Bouzanis and S. Kemp, Sociological Theory, 37(3), pp.282-292.

'Transformational Fallibilism and the Development of Understanding', 2017, Social Epistemology,

'The Analysis School and Feminism: Intersection, Explanation and a Challenge', 2016, in S. Raffel and B. Sandywell (eds.) The Reflexive Initiative: On The Grounds and Prospects of Analytic Theorizing, Routledge

'Evaluating Interests in Social Science: Beyond Objectivist Evaluation and the Non-Judgemental Stance', 2012, Sociology, Vol. 46, No. 4, pp. 664-679,

'Questioning Contingency in Social Life: Roles, Agreement and Agency' (with John Holmwood), 2012, Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5914.2012.00499.x

Topics interested in supervising

I would be very happy to supervise research in any of the following areas: (1) Social theory: including ontological arguments about discourse, performance and structure, debates about the complexity of the social world, the interpretation of social action, and rationality in scientific and everyday contexts. (2) Philosophy of social science: including investigations concerned with the links between theory and research, the impact of politics, power, and values on knowledge, and analyses of progress, explanation and theory testing in social science. (3) Risk: including research addressing Beck's Risk Society thesis, extreme risk-taking, expertise and lay-expert relations, and the gendered aspects of risk perception and action. (4) Sociology of knowledge: including debates around the social character of knowledge, science and gender, and approaches such as the Strong Programme and Actor-Network Theory

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

PhD in Sociology