School of Social and Political Science

REF 2021: Sociology, including Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (STIS), at the University of Edinburgh



SPS REF Results


The results of the REF 2021 exercise demonstrated that our Sociology and STIS subject areas are excelling. Our submission was ranked top in the UK by Research Professional for the overall quality and breadth of our research. 

The University of Edinburgh’s ‘Sociology’ submission to REF 2021 was composed largely of colleagues from the Sociology and Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (STIS) subject areas along with some staff from Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, Asian Studies, and Informatics.   

The results speak very highly of the research activities and environment in Sociology and STIS. Overall, 82% of our submission was rated world-leading or internationally excellent. 

Expanding our research 

The staff cohort submitted to the Sociology subpanel was considerably larger than that for REF2014, reflecting an expansion of our expertise across a range of groupings.  We now have staff producing exciting and innovative research in areas such as: 

  • Digital  
  • Energy  
  • Nationalism and politics  
  • Intimacy  
  • Decolonial thought  
  • Culture  
  • Finance  
  • Policy in the life sciences.   

The proportion of our research publications, in these areas and more widely, graded as world-leading increased by 13% in the 2021 REF exercise, demonstrating the quality of our recent research in Sociology, STIS and beyond. In all, over three quarters of our publications were judged to be world-leading or internationally excellent. 

Creating impact for better societies 

The research we do is having a real impact in aiding policy makers, regulators, healthcare professionals, companies, educators and citizens to work towards kinder, greener, more equal societies. We have, for example: 

  • Enabled citizens across the world to rethink South Africa’s past 
  • Set standards for responsible innovation in the UK 
  • Turned kindness into a public policy issue 
  • Informed awareness, policy and practice for patients with implantable medical devices (to learn more, follow this link:
  • Helped influence heat and energy efficiency policies in Scotland and the UK
  • Made Scotland the first country worldwide to formalise good practice for community benefits in offshore wind farming. 

The value of our impact activities was recognised, with over 80% of our impact case studies deemed to be world-leading or internationally excellent. 

An inclusive research environment

Research and impact need a supportive environment in which to thrive. Whether small or large-scale, unfunded or funded (research income for the REF 2021 period reached £17.5M), we have supported research through a working environment focused on inclusion.   

Our submission was well-balanced, with quality publications from colleagues across all career stages. Early career researchers featured prominently, including 11 externally funded postdoctoral fellows. Our hardworking doctoral students and their supervisors contributed to an increase in doctoral completions per year of 75% compared to REF 2014.   

Sociology and STIS at Edinburgh have also provided outstanding intellectual leadership, including leadership of the British Sociological Association and the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism, and through eight editorships of leading journals since 2014.  

The quality of our inclusive research environment was recognised in REF 2021 as world-leading and internationally excellent. 

We see these results as a testament to the incredible hard work of our academic staff and professional support colleagues, and their dedication to producing and facilitating insightful research that makes a difference.