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Tim May

Professor Tim May

Honorary Distinguished Professor

School of Social Sciences


Tim was appointed as an Honorary Distinguished Professor in 2022. He has previously held academic positions at the Universities of Plymouth, Salford, Durham and Sheffield.

Tim has taught across a range of subjects in the social sciences at undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels, He has held management roles in universities, including being a Director of a largely self-funded research centre (Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures) with offices in Central Manchester.

Tim has worked and collaborated with the public, private and voluntary sectors, including universities, with grants being awarded from local, regional, national and international sources: for example, the European Union, ESRC, EPSRC, AHRC, NESTA, Manchester City Council, the NHS, British Business Chambers and the Mistra Foundation.

Tim has written and edited eighteen books, including new editions, which have been translated into fifteen languages, as well as editing a book series (Issues in Society) and writing over one hundred and eighty journal articles, book chapters, research reports and articles in other media.


After leaving school at sixteen, Tim trained and worked as an agricultural engineer. Following an evening return-to-study course, during which time he worked in the retail sectors, he entered university at the age of 25. Tim's first degree was from the LSE, where he was awarded the Hobhouse Memorial Prize (BSc Econ 1985). He then went on to study for a M.Sc. in Social Research Methods at Surrey University (1986) and a Ph.D. in social policy and sociology at the University of Plymouth (1990).

Tim was appointed as a lecturer at Plymouth University in September 1989. During this time he published books on the probation service, research methods and ethnography and was awarded a Diploma in the Design and Development of Open Learning Materials. He taught across a broad range of subjects including criminology, the sociology of deviance, study skills in higher education and social policy and social welfare. Tim moved to the University of Durham as a lecturer in sociology and social policy in 1995. He published in the areas of philosophy of social sciences, social theory, working with offenders, organizational change and research methodology and taught research methods, social theory and the sociology of management and organizations.

In August 1999, Tim became Chair in Sociology at Salford University. After a period as Director of Sociology, he became Lead Director of the Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures (SURF). Tim remained in SURF until 2016. He worked with organizations across different sectors, including through secondments and co-edited journal special editions, wrote journal articles, book chapters and research reports, edited an international book series (Issues in Society) and published books on social research and reflexivity, social theory and thinking sociologically.

SURF blended academic excellence and policy relevance. It operated on a mixed economy of funding, requiring the generation of approximately five hundred thousand pounds per annum to meet its overheads and the management and development of a supportive and collaborative culture of organizational inquiry. SURF was commended for its social scientific impact and policy relevance and successful cross-sectoral links were built with collaborators and funders at local, national and international levels across different sectors.

In 2015 Tim became a part-time Professor at Durham to advise them on setting up an interdisciplinary, cross-faculty centre in methodology and was a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies. In 2016 Tim became the Research Director of the Sheffield Methods Institute and then a Professorial Research Fellow at Sheffield University until August 2022.

Whilst at Sheffield Tim was part of a programme of research called Realising Just Cities. This was a £2.5M programme funded by two ESRC grants and Mistra Urban Futures, based in Sweden, with partners in Kenya, South Africa, Sweden and the UK. Tim worked for Mistra advising them on how to set up an interdisciplinary, collaborative international centre which could combine the elements which made SURF distinctive. His focus in Realising Just Cities was upon knowledge and justice, as well as a long-standing examination of the relations between methodology and organizational cultures. It is that topic which led to him being employed by universities to advise on their socio-economic strategies. In this period Tim published works on universities, reflexivity, cities and the knowledge economy, methodology and social research.

Professional memberships

2016      Elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.

Academic positions

2019-2022      Professorial Research Fellow, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Sheffield.

2016-2019      Director of Research, Sheffield Methods Institute, University of Sheffield.

2015-2016      Professor of Social Science Methodology, School of Applied Social Sciences, University of Durham.

2001-2015      Professor and Director, Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures, University of Salford.

1999-2001      Professor in Sociology, School of English, Sociology, Politics and Contemporary History, University of Salford.

1995-1999      Lecturer, Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Durham.

1989-1995      Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy, Department of Applied Social Science, University of Plymouth.