Dr Nicholas Thoburn

Senior Lecturer

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Research interests

My research is broadly located in political sociology and the sociology of culture and media, where I currently focus on the sociology of publishing, writing and the book, social housing and architecture, and social and political theory.

The sociology of publishing, writing and the book

My recent monograph, Anti-Book (University of Minnesota Press 2016), is an analysis of the art and politics of radical publishing. Inviting us to challenge the commodity form of books—to stop imagining books as transcendent intellectual, moral, and aesthetic goods unsullied by commerce—it explores how the media forms and social relations of publishing can become objects of political practice. Anti-Book takes a ‘post-digital’ approach to a wide array of media forms, and develops a series of concepts by which experimental practice can be critically appraised, from the self-published pamphlet as ‘communist object’, through the analytics of the ‘root book’ and ‘rhizome book’, to magazine ‘diagrammatic publishing’. Befitting the critical aims of the book, a version in Serbo-Croat was published in an experimental form by the independent media centre, Kuda.org.

My writing in this field has also appeared in leading journals, including Social Text, New Media and Society, and Cultural Critique, and in a coedited special issue of New Formations (with Sas Mays) on ‘Materialities of Text’. Extending ideas from my monograph, I am currently developing a new research project on racialization and material text.

Social housing and architecture

In the field of social housing, I am conducting research for an interview and photography project on the lived experience and demolition of Robin Hood Gardens, the east London council estate designed by ‘New Brutalist’ architects Alison and Peter Smithson. While the estate has been the object of much public discourse, the clichéd terms of the discussion—is it a ‘concrete monstrosity’ or a ‘Brutalist masterpiece’?—have marginalized residents’ voices and obscured the dynamics and effects of the crisis of social housing that are at play in the estate’s demolition. Breaking with this narrative, this project foregrounds the relationship between residents, architecture, and housing policy, through interviews and photography of residents in their homes. The project was funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust, and is in collaboration with a photographer, Kois Miah, and two campaigning local charities, South Poplar Action for Secure Housing (SPLASH) and Docklands Outreach.

Two exhibitions of the project's photography have been held in London, most recently at Four Corners Gallery, and they have featured in the Guardian among other media. The first journal article from the project is published in City, titled 'Concrete and Council Housing: The Class Architecture of Brutalism "As Found" at Robin Hood Gardens'. Project website: ‘Concrete Dreams and the Demolition of Robin Hood Gardens’.

Social and political theory

My first monograph, Deleuze, Marx and Politics (Routledge 2003, translated into Korean, Turkish, and Spanish) was the first extended study of Deleuze’s relation to Marx, taking off from Deleuze’s unrealized plan to write a book called the Grandeur of Marx. Combining Deleuze and Guattari’s research on minority formations with Marx’s critique of political economy, the book proposes an original concept of ‘minor politics’—a politics based not on collective identity but on the social experience of being riven with competing imperatives and constraints—and develops this in the analysis of the organizational and expressive aspects of social movements concerned with the ‘refusal of work’.

My research in social and political theory has also explored the sociology of objects, most notably in a large coedited collection (with colleagues at CRESC) titled Objects and Materials (Routledge 2013), the politics of the ‘future’, in a coedited book (with Gary Genosko) of Franco Berardi’s writings, After the Future (AK Press 2011), and has branched into other work on social movements: a critique of militant subjectivity via the Weather Underground and analysis of the interplay of class and minority in the Industrial Workers of the World, as published in Social Movement Studies and Deleuze and Politics (Edinburgh University Press 2008), which I coedited with Ian Buchanan.

I continue to publish on contemporary social and political theory, most recently a critique of the ‘Idea of communism’ in Badiou, Zizek, and others, in Cultural Critique (2013), a development of the concept of ‘cramped space’ for a special issue on this theme from my first monograph, in the International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society (2016), and forthcoming book chapters on Mario Tronti and on Marxist theories of communication.

My journal articles can be found on the ‘publications’ tab on this site and on Academia.edu.

Other research

Supervision areas

I am happy to receive inquiries from potential students about PhD projects in my broad areas of research interest

Current and past PhD Students

Martin Greenwood 'The Post Office and Postcapitalism: the Role of Public Services in Radical Futures', co-supervisor

Judy Thorne 'Hope and Despair in the Greek Crisis: An Ethnography of Utopia at the Margins of Europe', second supervisor

Barbora Cernusakova 'Collective Action of Roma in the Czech Republic: A Revival of Class Consciousness?', co-supervisor

Chung Yan Priscilla Kam 'The Dynamics of Hong Kong Identity in Post-Colonial Hong Kong', second supervisor

Jamie Matthews 'Organising Radical Spaces: Occupy the London Stock Exchange and the New Global Politics of Occupation', first supervisor. Awarded 2017

Medina Aitieva 'Family Formations in Kyrgyzstan', second supervisor. Awarded 2015

Ulrike Flader 'Struggle for a Livable Life: Everyday Resistance among the Kurdish Population in Turkey', first supervisor. Awarded 2015

Sivamohan Valluvan 'Integration Reconsidered: A Study of Multi-Ethnic Lives in two Post-Integration Cities', co-supervisor. Awarded 2014

Svetoslav Nenov 'Biopolitics, Counter-Terrorism and Law after 9/11', first supervisor. Awarded 2013

Ben Garner 'Trade, Culture and the New Politics of Cultural Development at UNESCO', co-supervisor. Awarded 2011

Raphael Schlembach 'Social Movement Constructions of European Nationalism', second supervisor. Awarded 2010

Gavin Grindon 'Carnival against Capital: The Theory of Revolution as Festival', co-supervisor. Awarded 2007

Henning Klatran 'Beyond Sexual Identity? Friendship between Straight and Gay Men', co-supervisor. Awarded 2007  


Research and projects

No current projects are available for public display