School of Social and Political Science

Dr Plamena Panayotova

Job Title

British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow


Room number


Street (Address)

21 Buccleuch Place

City (Address)


Country (Address)


Research interests

Research interests


Current research

What makes science (un)popular: a sociological study of changing views of science in the UK

My British Academy postdoctoral research examines the motivations behind the production of, and public demand for, popular science in Britain since the eighteenth century. It aims to identify consistent trends in the strategies employed by popularisers to produce popular science materials and the reasons why laypeople engaged with such materials. The study compares these trends with results from an analysis of recent survey data on public understanding of science. The aim is to discover in what ways the current understanding of the relationship between science and society, revealed in the data, is similar to, or different from, conceptions predominant in the past. A study of this nature will help build a better understanding of what has been driving, and still drives, scientific curiosity among laypeople; it will help us identify the best ways to channel that curiosity into improving science literacy skills and promote better informed public attitudes to science.

In addition to this project, I study the history of statistics in Britain, including the early tradition of political arithmetic (1660s-1700s), the social statistics movement in the 1800s and the development of mathematical statistics in the works of Francis Galton, Karl Pearson and R.A. Fisher. I'm also interested in the development of statistical graphics and methods of visualisation.

Previous research

My PhD thesis was supervised by Professor John MacInnes and focussed on the historical relationship between British sociology and statistics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It showed that the relationship between sociology and statistics in Britain has been subject to very little change over many years and that it has been distinguished by a negative obsession with statistics on the part of British sociologists who have made consistent efforts to try to prove statistics unsuitable for sociological research and excuse themselves from using it. The study emphasised that the relationship between statistics and sociology in Britain has not been determined on the basis of pragmatic concerns but on the basis of uninformed preferences and deficiency in statistical knowledge. It also showed that the divide that has existed between sociology and statistics was not inevitable but was the product of a particular set of circumstances and a particular set of choices made both within and without British academic sociology. The aim of the doctoral research was to bring to the fore the interplay of these factors and show that the relationship between sociology and statistics ought to be an area of growing concern to British sociologists since it is not merely about British sociology’s methodological choices but about its relationship with the very thing that made possible both it and the society it studies – modern science.

My broader interests include the history of natural and social science; particularly the history of statistics and quantification, and the popularisation of science and its social role.




Course Organiser: Data Literacy 2020-present

Tutor and Lecturer: Statistical Literacy 2016-19, Data Literacy, 2019-20

Tutor: Statistical Literacy 2015-16, Sociology 1A 2016-17, Doing Survey Research 2018-19, Introduction to Statistics for Social Science 2018-19


British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow Award (2020-2023)

Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award 2018/19

Best Presentation, Q-Step Postgraduate Inaugural Event, Cardiff, October 2015

ESRC 1+3 Doctoral Scholarship, 2014-2018

Colin Bell Prize for Best Sociology Dissertation, 2014

Conferences and Academic Events

Edinburgh Q-step Seminar, January 2020: The Evolution of Statistics in the Work of Karl Pearson (1857-1936) and R. A. Fisher (1890-1962)

University of Glasgow Sociology Seminar Series, October 2019: Two centuries of sociology and statistics in Britain.

Royal Statistical Society Annual Conference 3rd - 6th September 2018: What can we learn about the teaching of statistics from the historical relationship between sociology and statistics in Britain?

British Sociological Association Annual Conference, April 2018: What Impact did the Methodological Debates of the 70s have on British Sociology? The revelation of the Peel (1968) and Wakeford (1979) Reports

Edinburgh Q-step Seminar, June 2017: Sociology and Statistics in Britain, 1903-1979

British Sociological Association Annual Conference, April 2017: British Sociology and Statistics – Historical divides

Annual New Directions Conference 2017: British Sociology and Statistics – Historical Divides

Edinburgh Q-step Seminar, November 2015: Statistics and social science in the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) and in the London Statistical Society, 1830s-1890s

Q-Step Postgraduate Inaugural Event, Cardiff, October 2015: An Historical Overview of the Relationship Between Sociology and Statistics in the UK, 1830s-1980s

Annual New Directions Conference, April 2015: British Sociology and Statistics: four challenges.

Between April 2017 and April 2018, I organised a two-day conference on the history of British sociology, which was held in Edinburgh on 16th-17th April 2018. The conference covered a variety of historical themes from the Scottish Enlightenment to the present and brought together distinguished scholars from the UK, USA and France in a range of fields, including sociology, history and statistics.

History of Sociology in Britain



Panayotova, P. 2020. Sociology and Statistics in Britain, 1833–1979. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Panayotova, P. (ed.). 2019. The History of Sociology in Britain: New Research and Revaluation. London: Palgrave Macmillan.


Panayotova, P. 2020. ‘R.A. Fisher (1890-1962)’. In Atkinson, P. and Delamont, S., Sage Research Methods Foundations-An Encyclopaedia. London: Sage.

Panayotova, P. 2020. ‘Karl Pearson (1857-1936)’. In Atkinson, P. and Delamont, S., Sage Research Methods Foundations-An Encyclopaedia. London: Sage.

Panayotova, P. 2019. ‘Beyond Drink, Drainage and Divorce? What the Sociological Society did for British Sociology, The Sociological Review 67(6): 1212-1227

Panayotova, P. 2019. ‘Realities and perceptions of methodological teaching and debates in post-war British sociology: new evidence from Peel (1968) and Wakeford (1979)’, Sociology 53(5): 826-842.

Panayotova, P. 2019. ‘The Teaching of Research Methods in British Sociology in the Twentieth Century’. In Panayotova, P. (ed.) The History of Sociology in Britain: New Research and Revaluation. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Panayotova, P. 2015. American Sociology: From Pre-Disciplinary to Post-Normal, by Stephen Turner. Reviewed in The Sociological Review, 63(1):188-191.


Works within