Dr Rachel Ayrton

Dr Rachel Ayrton

Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow

Contact details

Institute for Research into Superdiversity
School of Social Policy
Muirhead Tower
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Rachel Ayrton is a sociologist with expertise in research methodology and migration.  She is currently a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Institute for Research into Superdiversity here at Birmingham.

Rachel’s work centres around questions of power and agency, and how these are expressed and constrained in communities that are marginalised and oppressed.  She is particularly interested in how violent conflict disrupts and transforms patterns of sociality and opportunities for everyday practices of peace.

Rachel’s project Conviviality as relief and resistance: practices of togetherness and belonging among the South Sudanese diaspora in the UK focuses on practices of conviviality among a minority, conflict-affected diasporic group in the UK.  She takes a Participatory Action Research approach, working in close collaboration with a Research Advisory Group comprising South Sudanese-British volunteers.  Together, they seek to identify everyday spaces where South Sudanese people in the UK come together across boundaries of identity which have been reinforced in the ongoing conflict.  Practices of conviviality are conceived as acts of resistance to conflict, and the project will explore ways to enlarge these spaces as a means of grassroots peacebuilding.

Methodologically, Rachel is particularly interested in visual, creative, and group-based methods and participatory and inclusive approaches to research.


  • PhD in Sociology, University of Southampton, 2017
  • MSc (Distinction) in Sociology and Social Research Methods, University of Southampton, 2012
  • MA (Cantab) Theological and Religious Studies, University of Cambridge, 2005
  • Professional Certificate in Management, Open University, 2010
  • PRINCE2 Practitioner, APMG, 2007


Prior to joining Birmingham in 2022, Rachel held an ESRC-funded post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Southampton through the South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership.  In that role she developed a participatory project examining national identity and belonging among the South Sudanese diaspora in the UK using focus group discussions and photo elicitation.  In this role she established a collaboration with a Research Advisory Group made up of members of the South Sudanese diaspora in the UK to shape and direct the project with her.

Rachel’s Fellowship is based in the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS) at Birmingham, funded through the Leverhulme Trust.  This extends her previous work in two ways.  Substantively, the focus shifts from narratives of belonging to practices of togetherness among the South Sudanese diaspora as she highlights the ways and spaces in which people come together across politicised divides.  Methodologically, she is taking a Participatory Action Research approach, seeking to co-design interventions which enlarge spaces for convivial practices with her South Sudanese collaborators.

Professionally, Rachel’s background is in community development and engagement work in deprived urban communities in the UK, which is where her facilitative approach and commitments to participation and self-determination for marginalised communities first took root.  She worked for 3.5 years as a project officer in a New Deal for Communities regeneration programme in Southampton, before leading on community engagement within the neighbourhood regeneration team at Enfield Council.  She has held various voluntary roles including a period as Trustee and Chair of Southampton Citizens’ Advice Bureau.


  • Dissertation module – Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology (Undergraduate)
  • Dissertation module – Global Public Policy (Masters)

Other activities

  • Member, British Sociological Association
  • Trustee, South Sudan Medical Journal
  • Member, International Journal of Social Research Methods Reviewer College


Ayrton, R. (forthcoming) “Power between researcher and subject”. In Cyr, J. and Wallace Goodman, S. (eds.) Doing good qualitative research. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Ayrton, R. (2020) The case for creative, visual and multimodal methods in operationalising concepts in research design: An examination of storyboarding trust stories, The Sociological Review, 68 (6): 1229-1249.

Ayrton, R. (2019) The micro-dynamics of power and performance in focus groups: An example from discussions on national identity with the South Sudanese diaspora in the UK, Qualitative Research, 19 (3): 323-339.

Ayrton, R. (2017) Time for a revival? A historical review of the social survey in Great Britain and the United States. NCRM Methodological Review Paper.

Ayrton, R. (2017) What causes patients to trust medical professionals? Insights from mothers in Juba, South Sudan Medical Journal, 10 (2): 33-36.

View all publications in research portal