Department of Social Work and Social Care

Prof Rachel Thomson

Post:Professor of Childhood & Youth Studies (Social Work and Social Care)
Other posts:Co-Director (Sussex Humanities Lab)
Location:ESSEX HOUSE EH 211

Telephone numbers
UK:01273 876689
International:+44 1273 876689

Research expertise:
download vCarddownload vCard to your mobile


Rachel Thomson is Director of the University of Sussex Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth (CIRCY)

She is a sociologist by discipline,and has worked at the University of Manchester, the  National Children’s Bureau;  London South Bank University and the Open University. Her research interests include the study of the life course and transitions, as well as the interdisciplinary fields of gender and sexuality studies. She is a methodolgical innovator and is especially interested in capturing lived experience, social processes and the interplay of biographical and historical time.

Her current research interests fall into the following areas:

Youthful sexualities:  young people’s sexual health and well-being, sex education, sexual cultures and the relationship between public representations and and private experience. Longstanding collaboration with Brook, the young people’s sexual health provider, involving research consultancy and co-funded PhD studentships and knowledge exchange exploring young people’s understandings of sexual pleasure (Ester McGeeney) and sexual consent (Whittington). 

 Biographies and transition: landmark empirical studies on young people’s transitions to adulthood (Inventing Adulthood) and transitions to new parenthood (Making Modern Mothers). Theoretical work on biography and social change including ‘critical moments’ and the ‘remaking' of inequality. Pioneering role in mapping and developing ‘temporal’ methods including qualitative longitudinal, intergenerational and revisiting research designs (see Researching Social Change, Sage 2009).

Digital Childhoods: the impact of the shift from analog to digital cultures on the meanings and practices of childhood. How digital cultures infuse everyday lives and the development of new mediated socialities that include parenting, play and education.

Private lives and professionalism:  professional boundaries and privacy for those working with children and young people as well as the reconfiguration of public and private spaces in the lives of children and young people in the face of new technologies.

 Current projects:

Curating Childhoods. Funded by AHRC Digital Transformations theme this collaboration with the Mass Observation Archive established a newmulti-media  collection on 'everyday childhoods' and explore synergies between popular and professional approaches to personal archives.

Recently completed projects

New frontiers in qualitative longitudinal research: A methodological innovation network funded by the National Centre for Reseach Methods that ran between October 2012 -13, involving a series of 5 seminars and workshops and resulting in a special issue of the International Journal for Social Research Methods March 2015. For further information see

Face 2 face: tracing the real and the mediated in children's cultures. Funded by NCRM as a methodological innovation project we follow panels of children and young people over time to trace everydy cultures and everyday digital childhoods using multi-media methods. The multimedia showcase can be accessed at

Past projects

Inventing Adulthoods: a 15 year qualitative longitudinal study of 100 young people’s transitions to adulthood funded by the ESRC and most recently by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

 Making Modern Mothers: Longitudinal and intergenerational investigation into the transition to new parenthood, funded by the ESRC through the Identities and Social Action programme and Timescapes



Editor – Children & Society

Editorial board -  Journal of Youth Studies, Gender and Education, Sex Education, Studies in the Maternal


PhD supervision.

Rachel has supervised the following students and welcomes doctoral applications in areas relevant to her research interests.

Anna Einarsdottir - same sex marriage and civil partnership in Iceland (PhD awarded  2008)

Jo Sanderson-Mann - the practices of motherhood (MPhil awarded 2010)

Naomi Rudoe - the education of school age mothers (PhD awarded 2011)

Ruth Ponsford - the consumption practices of teenage mothers (PhD awarded 2012)

Lucy Hadfield – Becoming a disabled mother – a qualitative longitudinal study (PhD awarded 2014)

Ester McGeeney – Young people’s understandings of good sex (co-funded with Brook) (phD awarded 2014)

Denise Turner - Parental experience of unexplained child death (awarded 2014)

Claire Bennett - narratives of lesbian asylum seekers (awarded 2015)

Padmini Iyer -Risk, rakhi, and romance: learning about gender and sexuality in Delhi schools

Cythia Okpokiri - parenting values and second generation Nigerian migrants

Tasleem Rana - Mentoring of socially exlcuded inner city young people (co-funded with Kids Company)

Yusef Bakkali - On road: young people and social exclusion


Recent Publications


Henderson, S., Holland, J., McGrellis, S., Sharpe, S. and Thomson, R (2007) Inventing adulthoods: a biographical approach to youth transitions,London: Sage.

McLeod, J. and Thomson, R. (2009) Researching social change: qualitative approaches,London: Sage.

Thomson, R. (2009) Unfolding lives: youth, gender, change,Bristol: Policy Press.

Thomson, R., Kehily, M.J, Hadfield, L. and Sharpe, S. (2011) Making modern mothers,Bristol: policy Press.


Journal articles

Thomson, R. (2007) ‘The qualitative longitudinal case history: practical, methodological and ethical reflections’ Social Policy and Society, 6(4): 571-582.

Gordon, T., Holland, J., Lahelma, E. and Thomson, R. (2008) ‘Young female citizens in education: emotions, resources and agency’  Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 16 (2): 177-191.

Thomson, R.  (2008) ‘Thinking intergenerationally about motherhood’, Studies in the Maternal inaugural edition 1 (1).

Holland, J. and Thomson, R. (2009) ‘Gaining a perspective on choice and fate: revisiting critical moments’ European Societies 11 (3): 451-469.

 Thomson, R., Hadfield, L., Kehily, M.J. and Sharpe, S. (2010) ‘Family fortunes: an intergenerational perspective on recession’ 21st Century Society 5 (2): 149-157.

 Holland, J. and Thomson, R. (2010) ‘Revisiting youthful sexuality – continuities and changes over two decades’, Sexual and Relationships Therapy, 10 year Jubilee Issue, 25 (3): 342-350.

 Thomson, R. and Kehily, M.J. (2011) ‘Troubling reflexivity: the identity flows of teachers becoming mothers’, Gender and Education, 23 (3): 233

 Thomson, R., Hadfield, L., Kehily, M.J., and Sharpe, S. (2012) ‘Acting up and acting out: encountering children in a longitudinal study of mothering’, Qualitative Research, 12 (2)

 Kehily, M.J. and Thomson, R. (2011) ‘Figuring families: generation, situation and narrative in contemporary mothering’, Sociological Research Online, 16(4) ISSN: 1360-7804

Thomson, R. (2012) ‘Making motherhood work?’ Studies in the Maternal, 3(2). []

 Thomson, R., Moe, A., Thorne, B. and Nielsen, H. (2012) ‘Situated affect in travelling data: tracing meaning-making in qualitative research’, Qualitative Inquiry 18 (5)

Thomson, R. (2014) Generational research: Between historical and sociological imaginations, International Journal of Social Research Methods, 17 (2) 147-156.

Berriman, L. and Thomson, R. (2015) ‘Spectacles of intimacy? Mapping the moral landscape of teenage social media’ Journal of Youth Studies, 18(5):  583-597DOI:10.1080/13676261.2014.992323

 Thomson, R. and McLeod, J. (2015) ‘New frontiers in qualitative longitudinal research: an agenda for research" International Journal of Social Research Methodology 18(3) 243-250.DOI:10.1080/13645579.2015.1017900.

 Thomson, R. & Arnott, S. (2015) Days of our lives: Making an sharing multi-media documentsof everyday mothering’. Studies in the Maternal 7 (1)


Book chapters

Elliott, J., Holland, J. and Thomson, R. (2007) 'Qualitative and quantitative longitudinal research' in Bickman, L., Brannen, J. and Alasuutari, P. Handbook of Social Research Methods, London/Thousand Oaks: Sage,pp228-248.

Rudoe, N. and Thomson, R. (2009) ‘Class cultures and the meaning of young motherhood’ in Graham, H. (ed) Understanding Health Inequalities: Second Edition, Maidenhead: Open University Press: 162-178.

Thomson, R, Kehily, M.J., Hadfield, L., and Sharpe, S. (2009) ‘The making of modern motherhoods: storying an emergent identity’ in Liveable Lives: Negotiating Identities in New Times, Palgrave Macmillan (ed.) Margaret Wetherell.

Thomson, R. (2010)‘Using biographical and longitudinal methods: researching motherhood’, Mason J. and Dale, A.  (eds) Understanding Social Research: Thinking Creatively about Method.,London:  Sage Publications

Kehily, M.J. and Thomson, R. (2011) ‘Displaying motherhood: representations, visual methods and the materiality of maternal practice’, in Dermott, E and Seymour, J. (eds.) Displaying Families,Basingstoke: Palgrave.pp61-80.

Holland, J. and Thomson, R. (2012) ‘The expansion of Higher Education in the UK: winners and losers, in (ed.) Tolonen, T. Cultural practices and transitions in education, London: the Tufnell Press

 Thomson, R. and Holland, J. (2012) ‘Memory Books as a methodological resource in biographical research’ in Delamont, S. Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education, London: Edward Elgar Publishing (in press)

 McLeod, J and Thomson, R. (2012 in press) ‘Revisiting’ (reprint) in Goodwin, J. (ed)  Secondary Data Analysis, Sage Publications Ltd.  ISBN: 978-1-4462-4690-0    

 Thomson, R. and Holland, J. (2012 reprint) ‘Hindsight, Foresight and Insight: The Challenges of Longitudinal Qualitative Research’ in Christina Hughes (ed)  Researching Gender, Sage, ISBN:  9781446248744

 Thomson, R. and Henderson, S. (2013) ‘Inventing adulthoods: a qualitative longitudinal study of growing up’ in Clark, A, Flewitt, R., and Hammersley, M. (eds) Understanding research with children and young people, Sage/ Open University Press. ISBN 978-1-4462-7493-4

Thomson, R. and Holland, J. (2014 reprint) ‘Thanks for the Memory’: Memory Books as a Methodological Resource in Biographical Research’, in Jason Hughes and John Goodwin (eds) Documentary & Archival Research, Sage ISBN: 978-1-4462-1094-9   

 Thomson, R. and Hadfield, L. (2014) ‘’Day-in-a-life’ microethnographies and ‘Favourite Things’ interviews’, in Johnson, V., Hart, R. and Colwell, J. (eds) Steps to engage young children in research: Volume 2, The researcher toolkit, Bernard Leer Foundation, pp126-130.

Thomson, R. (2014) ‘Possession: Research practice in the shadow of the archive’ in Smart, C., Hockey, J. and James, A. (eds) The craft of knowledge: experiences of living with data. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

 Thomson, R. and Holland, J.  (2015) ‘critical moments: the importance of timing in young people’s narratives’ in Wyn, J. and Cahil, (eds) Handbook of Children and Youth Studies, Springer



Thomson, R. and Hadfield, L.,  Holland, J., Henwood, K., Moore, N., Stanley, L. and Taylor, Rebecca (2014) New frontiers in QLR: definition, design and display. Technical Report. NCRM.



Professor of Childhood and Youth Studies, director of CIRCY (the Centre for Research and Innovation in Childhood and Youth), leader of 'digital lives and memory' strand of Sussex Humanities Lab. Visiting Professor at SFI (Danish National Centre for Social Research).