Photograph ADDr Alex Dennis

Lecturer in Sociology

(BSc (Hons) Psychology, MA (Econ) Applied Social Research, PhD Sociology)

Telephone: 0114 222 6448 (external), 26448 (internal)
Room: Elmfield, B06c


Alex grew up in Leeds and Bradford, and was educated at the University of Manchester, taking a first degree in psychology and then pursuing postgraduate work in organisational sociology, specialising in ethnomethodological studies of work. He lectured in sociology at the Universities of Huddersfield and Salford before starting at Sheffield in 2012.

Most of Alex's work is collaborative, most recently with Allison Cavanagh (University of Leeds), Wes Sharrock and Pete Martin (both University of Manchester). Between 1998 and 2006, Alex was part of the collaborative writing machine the Free Association.


Alex is interested in social theory, interactionist studies, non-criminal deviance and social movements. This divides into three areas:

  1. Criticisms of contemporary social theory, questioning the philosophical sanity of the mainstream (with Wes Sharrock), and suggesting that pragmatist and interactionist perspectives can do a better job (with Pete Martin).
  2. Empirical studies of deviance, broadly conceived, in historical and cultural perspective. Alex is particularly interested in notions of social tolerance and permission, in the fields of sexuality, art and music, and 'anti-social' behaviour.
  3. Studies of 'protest' and dissent, empirical and theoretical, with a particular concern with questions of 'what works'.


I utilise an adapted pragmatist approach to teaching (Dewey's), and take as a starting point his idea that learning is both social and interactive. People learn most effectively when they can imagine the relevance of a course's content to their own experiences, and can critically engage with texts on the basis of that. Teaching is about trying—occasionally successfully—to impart a body of knowledge while also making students the centre of the process.

I currently teach introductory social science research skills at masters level (The Research Process), a critical introduction to media studies at level 2, and a case-study based course on protest and dissent at level 3.

Postgraduate Supervision

I am interested in supervising students interested in conducting interactionist investigations; studies of protest, particularly in its cultural aspects; social-theoretical work; and studies in the sociology of deviance, particularly in non-criminal forms (lifestyle, sexuality, appearance, etc.).

To find out more about our PhD programmes, go to:
Studying for a PhD in Sociology


Publications since 2005

Dennis, Alex, Rob Philburn, and Greg Smith. 2013. Sociologies of Interaction. Cambridge: Polity.

Cavanagh, Allison, and Alex Dennis. 2013. Having your say: The social organisation of online news commentary. Sociological Research Online 18, no. 2 (May). [LINK TO:]

Cavanagh, Allison, and Alex Dennis. 2012. Behind the news: Framing the riots. Capital and Class 36, no. 3 (October): 375–81. doi: 10.1177/0309816812453599

Dennis, Alex. 2011. Symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology. Symbolic Interaction 34, no. 3 (Summer): 349–56. doi: 10.1525/si.2011.34.3.349

Dennis, Alex. 2011. Pragmatism and symbolic interactionism. In The Sage handbook of the philosophy of social sciences, eds Ian Jarvie and Jesús Zamora-Bonilla, 463–74. London: Sage.

The Free Association (Alex Dennis, David Harvie, Nette Humphreys, Keir Milburn and David Watts). 2011. Moments of excess: Movements, protest and everyday life. San Francisco: PM Press.

Martin, Peter J., and Alex Dennis, eds. 2010. Human agents and social structures. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Dennis, Alex. 2010. Structure and agency as the products of dynamic social processes: Marx and modern social theory. In Human agents and social structures, eds Peter J. Martin and Alex Dennis, 52–67. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Cavanagh, Allison, and Alex Dennis. 2010. On the reception of Foucault. In Human agents and social structures, eds Peter J. Martin and Alex Dennis, 117–30. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Martin, Peter J., and Alex Dennis. 2010. The opposition of structure and agency. In Human agents and social structures, eds Peter J. Martin and Alex Dennis, 3–16. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Dennis, Alex. 2009. Structure and agency. In The Sage dictionary of leisure studies, eds Tony Blackshaw and Garry Crawford, 199–200. London: Sage.

Sharrock, Wes, and Alex Dennis. 2008. That we obey rules blindly does not mean that we are blindly subservient to rules. Theory, Culture and Society 25, no. 2 (March): 33–50. doi: 10.1177/0263276407086790

The Leeds May Day Group (Alex Dennis, David Harvie, Nette Humphreys, Keir Milburn and David Watts). 2008. Anti-capitalist movements. In Subverting the present, imagining the future, ed. Werner Bonefeld, 115–26. New York: Autonomedia.

Dennis, Alex, and Peter J. Martin. 2007. Symbolic interactionism and the concept of social structure. Sociological Focus 40, no. 3 (August): 287–305.

The Free Association. 2007. Worlds in motion. Turbulence, no. 1 (June): 75–80.

The Free Association. 2006. Moments of excess. The Anomalist, no. 2: 1–11.  (accessed 21 December 2007).

Dennis, Alex, and Peter J. Martin. 2005. Symbolic interactionism and the concept of power. British Journal of Sociology 56, no. 2 (June): 191–213. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2005.00055.x

The Free Association. 2005. On the road. In Shut them down: The G8, Gleneagles and the movement of movements, eds David Harvie, Keir Milburn, Ben Trott and David Watts, 17–26. New York: Autonomedia.

The Free Association. 2005. Event horizon. Ephemera 5, no. 4 (November): 568–79. (accessed 21 December 2007).