Debbie Epstein

Debbie Epstein


Former affiliation

Research activity per year

Personal profile


Debbie Epstein is Professor of Cultural Studies in Education in the School of Education at the University of Roehampton. She left South Africa six months after starting a BA at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1962. After a BA in History at the University of Sussex, she worked briefly as a research assistant in the History Department at University College London. In the ensuing seventeen years she pursued a career in the teaching profession, working either part or full time as a schoolteacher. Her final school post was as Head of Infants in what was this Hertfordshire's largest primary school.
In 1987, she moved to Birmingham, where she worked as an Adviser for Race Equality in predominantly white schools and began her PhD on a part-time basis at the University of Birmingham. In 1989 she became a full-time student and gained her doctorate in Cultural Studies 1991. Since then she has worked in the Department of Sociology at the University of Central England, at the Institute of Education from September 1994—May 2001, Goldsmiths College London and Cardiff University School of Social Sciences before moving to Roehampton in 2013. In 2007 she went part time to pursue her interest in psychotherapy alongside her academic work.
Since 1991, she has published or have in press: eleven single or co-authored books (of which one has been translated into Spanish and six are in the Academic's Support Kit), forty papers in refereed journals (five of them translated and another eight reprinted), twenty-seven chapters in edited collections (four of them reprints from earlier publications), six edited books (one of them also translated into Spanish) and eleven edited special issues of international refereed journals. She was co-editor of an international refereed journal (Gender and Education) from 2006-12.

She is lead organizer of the Gender and Education Association biennial international conference, which this year is dedicated to the theme of Feminism, Power and Pedagogy. It will take place at the University of Roehampton from June 24th to 26th 2015, together with a workshop on the 23rd June for doctoral students and early career researchers on publishing in international journals.


BA (Hons), PGCE, Clinical Diploma in Integrative Psychotherapy, PhD.

Research interests

Debbie works at the nexus of cultural studies and sociology of education, gender, childhood and youth. Her research interests are led by her theoretical focus on the dominant and how it is held in place; this often involves investigating the experiences of those in subordinated, marginalised and/or stigmatised groups as well as those in more dominant groups. She is especially concerned with how people negotiate these 'differences that make a difference' (Epstein and Johnson, 1998, Schooling Sexualities, p. 4) and their agency in the context of institutional settings such as schools and families. More specifically, she is interested in:
- Sexuality: questions to do with the construction of sexual identities, particularly in the context of educational institutions, popular culture and policy-making. Here she is interested in heterosexuality and the light that the experiences of non-heterosexual people can throw on how it is held in place as an institution. She also concerned more widely in how different sexual identities become accepted/ acceptable or stigmatized.
- Gender: questions about gender relations in various sites such as educational organisations (schools, universities) and popular culture and the relationship between gender regimes and sexuality. In particular, she has been concerned to examine how masculinities are constructed and change in changing circumstances.
- Race/ethnicity: questions to do with constructions of race/ethnicity in the context of particular institutional settings. Her primary focus here has been on whiteness and on the interactions between sexuality, gender and race/ethnicity both in the UK and in South Africa.
- The impact of globalisation and neoliberal regimes on educational institutions (schooling and higher education) and the people within them
- Children and childhood. The question her is how children manage, perceive and negotiate intimate, familial/friendly and romantic/quasi-romantic relationships. She is also interested in how these social processes shape and are shaped by other differences that make a difference (such as ethnicity and class).
- Gender, sexuality and HIV/AIDS, particularly in Southern Africa. This is an area of research that brings together her interest in sexuality, gender and race/ethnicity. She is particularly interested in how identities or all kinds are shaped and maintained in the context of the HIV epidemic and in what kind of strategies might be used to intervene in schools and other institutional settings to reduce the prevalence of HIV in future.

Research projects

Current research
Elite Independent Schools in Globalising Circumstances: A Multi-Sited Ethnography (
This is an international project funded by the Australian Research Council. The principal investigator is Australian Research Professor Jane Kenway. Others in the team are: Professor Debbie Epstein (University of Roehampton); Dr Johannah Fahey (Monash University); Associate Professor Aaron Koh (Nanyang Technological University, National Institute of Education); Professor Cameron McCarthy (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign); Professor Fazal Rizvi (University of Melbourne). The project is a multi-sited global ethnographic study of high status schools in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Barbados, South Africa, England, Argentina, Cyprus and Israel: all with historical links to the British empire's 'public' schools model. As such schools are often seen as the gold standard for school education, and because their alumni are often highly influential in economic, political and professional circles, understanding what they do and the ideals they stand for is important nationally and globally. This study will identify the impact of increasing global forces, connections and imaginations on such schools and will enhance understanding of how many national and transnational leaders are formed through their education and with what possible implications.

Higher Education, Globalisation and Governance. This is on-going work with Professor Rebecca Boden (University of Roehampton) that looks at different aspects of the impact of changing regimes in universities globally and locally on the people within them and on the production of knowledge. It forms part of the newly formed Higher Education Research (HER)@Roehampton.

Completed Research Projects
2000-December 2008: Gender and Sexuality in the context of HIV and AIDS in South African Schools (funded by DfID, via a British Council Higher Education Link, South Africa, the Human Sciences Research Council (South Africa) and the Ford Foundation). With Dr Elaine Unterhalter, Institute of Education, Professors Robert Morrell, Relebohile Moletsane and Deevia Bhana all University of KwaZulu-Natal.

April 2006-July 2007: Mathematical images and identities: education, entertainment, social justice. (Funded by the ESRC.) This research examined the ways in which young people in schools and universities negotiate their relationships with mathematics, comparing those who continue with maths post-16 and those who did not. With Dr Heather Mendick, London Metropolitan University.

February 1998-March 2000: The Violence-Resilient Schools: a comparative study of schools and their environments, ESRC funded (with Dr Roger Hewitt, Goldsmiths College, Professor Diana Leonard, Dr Chris Watkins and Dr Melanie Mauthner, all Institute of Education).

January 1998-December 1999: Children's 'Relationship Cultures' in Years 5-6: a Qualitative Study, ESRC funded (with Prof. Maírtín Mac an Ghaill, University of Sheffield, Dr Peter Redman, Open University and Dr Mary Kehily, then of Institute of Education).

1994-95: Teaching and learning about families, gender and sexuality in a London primary school, unfunded pilot for Children's 'Relationship Cultures' Project.

1992-94: Sexuality in Education Research Project, funded by East Birmingham Health Authority. Birmingham University and the University of Central England

Professional affiliations

British Educational Research Association
Gender and Education Association

Consultancy work

Professor Epstein has a long history of acting as a consultant to various international research funding organisations, such as the National Research Foundation of South Africa and the Australian Research Council. She has provided courses for teachers and others on equality issues and acted as a consultant for the Welsh Assembly Government on bullying in schools.


Research methods
Equality issues
CPD for university staff