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Sociology Research


Matthew Sparkes is an Assistant Professor in Sociology and a Director of Studies and Fellow in HSPS at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. He is the course organiser for SOC3 Global Social Problems and Sociology Dissertations, and the organiser of the Social Class Reading Group.

Matthew's research is centred on examining neoliberal political economy, its origins and associations with financialisation, and the class, gender, and cultural dynamics of these processes. His work makes use of a variety of quantitative and qualitative research methods, and cuts across social science scholarship in sociology, cultural studies, economics, politics, geography, and labour history.

Currently, Matthew's research interests lie in two main strands. The first strand focuses on the way pro-neoliberal actors and institutions utilise discursive classifications to (re)embed neoliberal policymaking, particularly in moments of crises, and the consequences of these processes. The second, and more dominant, strand extends his enquires into social stratification processes within credit markets, and how they intersect with and reanimate social inequalities to perpetuate (dis)advantages.

Previously, Matthew was a Teaching Associate in Research Methods at the Social Science Research Methods Programme (SSRMP), Cambridge (2019-2022), and a Teaching Associate in Sociology in the Department of Sociology, Cambridge (2014-2019). Before entering academia, Matthew worked as a Debt Advisor for StepChange Debt Charity. He earned his PhD in Sociology and MA in Social Research at the University of York, and his BA in Sociology from Leeds Metropolitan University.

Research Interests

Neoliberalism; financialisation and debt; social class; cultural consumption; research methods.

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.



SOC3: Global Social Problems
SOC9: Global Capitalism

Sociology Dissertation

MPhil: Marginality and exclusion

Graduate supervision:
Matthew is available to supervise graduate students working in the area of: Political economy, particularly neoliberalism; social class inequality; financialisation, debt and credit; cultural consumption

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. (2024). Housing, debt, and credit score classification situations: What the unique ‘situation’ of mortgage prisoners reveals about contemporary class inequality. Information, Communication and Society.

Sparkes, M., Wang, S., and Wels, J. (2023). Debt, Credit Payment Holidays, and their Relationship with Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United Kingdom. Society and Mental Health.

Wood, D., Ausserladscheider, V. and Sparkes, M. (2022). The manufactured crisis of COVID-Keynesianism in Britain, Germany and the USA. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, rsac030.

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

Wood, J., Ausserladscheider, V. and Sparkes, M. (2022). ‘COVID-Keynesianism’ was a short-term crisis management tactic. Neoliberal policymaking is back. LSE British Politics and Policy Blog. Available at:

Sparkes, M. (2023). Why do we accept amplifying inequality? Cambridge Journal of Political Affairs.

Grants and Projects

Sparkes, M. (PI) Credit scores as 'codes' to markets and mobilities.
Cambridge Humanities Research Grants Scheme (2022): £4,050

The Dame Anne Warburton Research Award: Lucy Cavendish College (2020):

Media Articles

Research Groups & Affiliations

Job Title:
Assistant Professor in Sociology, Fellow in HSPS at Lucy Cavendish College
Matthew Sparkes
Contact Information: