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Sociology Research


Dr Matthew Sparkes joined the Department of Sociology in 2014 as a teaching associate, and he now lectures for the Social Science Research Methods Programme (SSRMP) and Cambridge Undergraduate Quantitative Methods Centre (CUQM).

Matthew’s research combines his interests in social class(ification), consumption, debt-based finance, and political economy. His previous studies have explored savings variations amongst participants of the Great British Class Survey, the role of personal credit and debt in class making and struggle, and the origins of the economic ideas of financialisation in Britain. Matthew’s current research examines classificatory discourses, models and struggles across media outlets and amongst financial institutions, and traces their affective dimensions through people’s identities, political persuasions, and life chances.

In the Department of Sociology, Matthew lectures on the Statistics and Methods (SOC5) and Social Problems in Britain (SOC12) papers, and supervises undergraduate and postgraduate students. For the SSRMP, he delivers courses in Foundations in Applied Statistics, Basic Quantitative Analysis, and Survey Research and Design, all using the software package STATA, and delivers workshops in Research Ethics. For CUQM, he runs a number of day courses in statistics using SPSS, including survey design, bivariate analysis, and regression. Furthermore, Matthew teaches for the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CiSL) delivering workshops on survey design, research design, and quantitative methods for survey research. 

Matthew has a first class BA honours degree in Sociology from Leeds Metropolitan University, an MA with Distinction in Social Research and a PhD in Economic Sociology from the University of York. He is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). Before commencing his role at Cambridge, Matthew taught sociology and research methods at the University of York, and worked as a Debt Advisor for the charity StepChange.

Research Interests

Matthew’s main research interest is in social class. This has led him to explore literature on credit and debt, identity, stigma, consumer culture, cultural class analysis, media studies, and political economy. His research is conducted in an emergent discipline of class analysis that investigates classificatory struggles. The discipline seeks to demystify the classifications and discourses mobilised to contain social phenomena caused by specific socio-economic practices, along with the values and norms they establish, in an attempt to uncover the institutional, cultural and economic landscape governing people within contemporary Britain.

Matthew recently completed a study that examined these processes. The project examined the relationship between credit/debt, neoliberal social and economic policies and governance, social class and rising inequality in the UK, placing the rise of credit and the impact of this in an historical context. Matthew drew upon qualitative interviews with individuals using the services of a debt charity, to explore how inequality creates processes of insecurity triggered by classificatory struggles and whether credit is used to navigate and ameliorate its effects.

Matthew is now currently working on a project exploring how stigma surrounding problem debt and insolvency is crafted and circulated by political actors and debt collection organisations to induce compliance in debtors.

Overall, Matthew’s research strives to challenge readings of inequality as the result of moral and individual failure and instead seeks to illuminate how inequality and its effects are produced through contemporary modes of governmentality for specific purposes.



SOC1: Introduction to Sociology

SOC12: Social Problems in Modern Britain

SOC5: Statistics and Methods

CUQM's Introduction to Statistics for Social Scientists (two day course)

CUQM's Introduction to Regression Analysis (one day course)

Graduate supervision availability and interests:

Matthew is available to supervise dissertation students at undergraduate and masters level in topics covering social class, finance, credit, debt, and political economy.

Key Publications - Book Chapters

Sparkes, M. (2020). 'I just felt responsible for my debts': Debt stigma and class(ificatory) exploitation. In J. Gardener, M. Grey, K. Moser (Eds.). Debt and Austerity: Implications of the Financial Crisis. London: Elgar Publishing.

Sparkes, M., Gumy, J. and Burchell, B. (2017), “Debt: Beyond Homo Economicus”, in A. Lewis (ed), Cambridge Handbook of Psychology and Economic Behaviour (Second Edition), pp. 198-233, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Key Publications - Journal Articles

Sparkes, M. and Wood, J. (2020). The Political Economy of Household Debt and the Keynesian Policy Paradigm. New Political Economy.

Sparkes, M. (2019). Borrowed identities: class(ification), inequality, and the role of credit-debt in class making and struggle. The Sociological Review.

Key Publications - Other

Sparkes, M. (2016). Teaching through leadership. The Sociology Teacher, 5(3), 10-15

Research Groups & Affiliations

Job Title:
Teaching Associate (Department of Sociology), Lecturer for CUQM & SSRMP, Director of Studies (Lucy Cavendish College)
Contact Information: