Professor Lydia Morris

Department of Sociology
Professor Lydia Morris



Lydia has a background in anthropology as well as in sociology and politics, and her PhD and Post-doctoral studies looked at marginality and household forms in Puerto Rico and in Mexico City. For some time after that she researched aspects of labour market change, gender relations and the underclass in Britain, and in connection with this work has also had an interest in welfare rights and poverty. More recently this interest has featured in her work on the politics of migration in the EU, with a related focus on human rights. Her research in the area of human rights has been grounded in empirical analysis of citizenship, migration and asylum, but also has a strong theoretical dimension, which examines the specifically sociological contribution to understanding and analysing the practice of rights. She held academic appointments at Swansea University and Durham University, before coming to Essex in 1990. She was promoted to Professor in 1995 and was Head of the Department of Sociology from 2001-2004. She has been a visiting scholar at the Hansewissenschaftskolleg, the Centre for European Studies (Harvard), and the Centre for the Study of Human Rights (LSE). She has held grants from the ESRC, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Nuffield Foundation, the British Academy, and most recently the Leverhulme Trust. Lydia has served on the editorial boards of Work Employment and Society (both as book review editor and as a board member), Sociology (as book review editor and board member), and (currently) the British Journal of Sociology. Lydia is also a member of the Human Rights Centre at Essex and has served on its management committee. RECENT BOOKS: Lydia's Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust culminated in a book 'The Moral Economy of Welfare and Migration: Reconfiguring Rights in Austerity, published by McGill-Queens University Press (2021). The book shifts the idea of ‘moral economy’ from its original focus on food riots in 18th century England to a more contemporary application that refers not simply to protest from ‘below’, but to discourse imposed from ‘above’ in a strategic reshaping of key features of socio-economic life. This framework is applied to the analysis of a collection of political speeches on domestic welfare and migration, tracing the translation of abstract concepts into substantive content. Hence, we find ‘morality’ construed as ‘fairness’ and ‘responsibility’ as against ‘dependency’ and ‘abuse’, along with a view of welfare and migration as ‘two sides of the same coin’, mutually opposed in a zero-sum game. The research tracks this discourse through to the design and implementation of policy measures, to enable a mapping of the differential access to rights (civic stratification) that has emerged, with particular attention to the boundary drawing deployed in defining target groups. The contestable margins entailed feed into a further layer of research on how policy across the whole welfare-migration-asylum complex has been contested. This book was the joint winner of the Richard Titmuss Prize for 2022, awarded by the Social Policy Association. It was also the joint winner of the Peter Townsend prize for 2023, awarded by the British Academy. Human Rights and Social Theory (Palgrave 2013) presents a critical analysis of the contribution social theory can make to our understanding of human rights. It moves from the most individualised of human rights to the most collectivised, and shows how different aspects of social theory can illuminate the functioning of these different types of rights. The chapters cover an extensive range of rights and related issues, beginning with protection against torture, and moving through civil and political rights, the rights of citizenship, trans-national (migrant) rights, cultural rights, and rights to subsistence, illustrating theoretical ideas through substantive case studies. ENDORSEMENTS: Understanding human rights as ultimately concerned with the protection of human dignity, Lydia Morris skillfully combines social theory and ethical inquiry to show how rights claims emerge from ceaseless struggles in civil society. A major contribution to the sociology of human rights. Bryan S. Turner, Professor of Sociology, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, USA. A remarkably lucid and authoritative survey of an enormous body of literature on social theory and human rights. This highly engaging text captures complex material ranging from philosophy to legal theory with admirable clarity and in the process provides students of contemporary human rights with an invaluable tool for understanding the theoretical underpinnings of contemporary arguments and dilemmas. Jacqueline Bhabha, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health, USA. Asylum, Welfare and the Cosmopolitan Ideal: A Sociology of Rights (Routledge, 2010) was based on her 2007/8 British Academy Senior Research Fellowship 'What makes a Judgement?' This project brings together several aspects of her past work. The research addresses the connection between idealised conceptions of rights and the study of rights in practice. It does so through a focus on judgment, whereby universal standards are applied to specific cases, taking as an example the ten year history of legislative attempts to withdraw welfare support from in-country claimants for asylum. In particular, the research analyses the process of challenging such legislation, culminating in 14 judgments variously delivered by the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. Based on both documentary sources and qualitative interviews with key actors, the research addresses four empirical levels: political purpose, civil society mobilisation, the dynamic of legal argument, and the delivery and effects of the judgments. The research then moves on to draw out the theoretical implications of this case study for a sociology of rights and judgement. ENDORSEMENTS: Lydia Morris is that rarity in academe, a first class sociologist with a strong grasp of the law and no fear of legal jargon. All her skills are on display in this excellent and important work. Conor Gearty, Professor of Law, London School of Economics In this major contribution to debates on the implementation of universal human rights, Professor Morris provides a thoroughgoing analysis of the way in which the status of asylum seekers in Britain has been shaped by the interplay between government policies, the judgments of the courts, and civic activists. The work not only deals with a topic of widespread public interest, but also provides an important new perspective on the dynamics of civic stratification.' David Lockwood, Emeritus Professor, University of Essex


  • BA (Keele) Joint Hons Politics and Sociology

  • PhD in Anthropology (London School of Economics)

Research and professional activities

Research interests

Sociology of Rights



Human Rights

Trans-national migration



Conferences and presentations

Keynote lecture on the Moral Economy of Welfare and Migration

Invited presentation, Keynote presentation, Conference on the unmaking of integration, Centre for Integration and Migration Research, Essen, Germany, 16/3/2022

welfare, migration and civic stratification

Invited presentation, Festschrift for Enzo Mingione, Western Capitalism in transition, Milan, Italy, 24/11/2017

Social integration and social divisions - keynote public lecture

Invited presentation, Keynote presentation, Social Cohesion in times of uncertainty, Cumberland Lodge Colloquium, 24/9/2017

Keynote speaker on ‘The Sociology of Human Rights’

Invited presentation, Keynote presentation, Regional Post-Graduate Event for the British Sociological Association, on 12th July 2017, Regional Post-Graduate event for BSA, Colchester, United Kingdom, 12/7/2017

Teaching and supervision

Current teaching responsibilities

  • Human Rights & Social Justice: Structures, Theory and Practice (HU200)

  • Selected Issues in Human Rights (HU300)

Previous supervision

Tilotama Pradhan
Tilotama Pradhan
Thesis title: The Intellectual, Emotional and Sociocultural Experience of Indian Students in the U.K.
Degree subject: Sociology
Degree type: Doctor of Philosophy
Awarded date: 30/10/2019
Sara Bailey
Sara Bailey
Thesis title: The Making of India's 'Right to Food Act'
Degree subject: Human Rights
Degree type: Doctor of Philosophy
Awarded date: 6/12/2018
Stefanie Katharina Nitsche
Stefanie Katharina Nitsche
Thesis title: Law and Rights in the Lives of Undocumented Migrant Women in the UK
Degree subject: Sociology
Degree type: Doctor of Philosophy
Awarded date: 7/9/2018
Cavidan Soykan
Cavidan Soykan
Thesis title: Refuge or Limbo? A Sociological Analysis of the Turkish Asylum System
Degree subject: Sociology
Degree type: Doctor of Philosophy
Awarded date: 11/3/2015
Umit Cetin
Umit Cetin
Thesis title: Anomic Disaffection: A Sociological Study of Youth Suicide Within the Alevi Kurdish Community in London
Degree subject: Sociology
Degree type: Doctor of Philosophy
Awarded date: 12/3/2014
Philippa Victoria Reeve
Philippa Victoria Reeve
Thesis title: The Rights of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children Claiming in the Uk: Transnational Inequality and Methodological Cosmopolitanism
Degree subject: Sociology
Degree type: Doctor of Philosophy
Awarded date: 18/2/2014


Journal articles (49)

Morris, L., (2021). Moral economy from above and below: contesting contraction of migrant rights in austerity Britain. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. 0 (7), 1686-1703

Morris, L., (2020). Activating the welfare subject: the problem of agency. Sociology. 54 (2), 275-291

Morris, L., (2020). The topology of welfare-migration-asylum: Britain’s outsiders inside. Journal of Poverty and Social Justice. 28 (2), 245-264

Morris, L., (2019). 'Moralising' welfare and migration in austerity Britain: a backdrop to Brexit. European Societies. 21 (1), 76-100

Morris, L., (2019). Reconfiguring rights in austerity britain: boundaries behaviours and contestable margins. Journal of Social Policy. 48 (2), 271-291

Morris, L., (2016). Squaring the circle: domestic welfare, migrants rights, and human rights. Citizenship Studies. 20 (6-7), 693-709

Morris, L., (2016). The moral economy of austerity: analysing UK welfare reform. The British Journal of Sociology. 67 (1), 97-117

Morris, L., (2015). Trans-national migration and the dynamic nature of rights. WSI-Metteilung. 5, 365-373

Morris, L., (2013). Cosmopolitanism - beyond the 'beautiful idea'. Irish Journal of Sociology. 20 (2), 51-67

Morris, L., (2012). Understanding torture: the strengths and the limits of social theory. The International Journal of Human Rights. 16 (8), 1127-1141

Morris, L., (2012). Citizenship and human rights: ideals and actualities. The British Journal of Sociology. 63 (1), 39-46

Morris, L., (2011). Rights, Recognition and Judgment: Reflections on the Case of Welfare and Asylum. The British Journal of Politics & International Relations. 14 (1), 39-56

Morris, L., (2010). Sociology and the Two Faces of Human Rights. Sociology Compass. 4 (5), 322-333

Morris, L., (2010). Welfare, Asylum and the Politics of Judgment. Journal of Social Policy. 39 (01), 119-138

Morris, L., (2009). Asylum, welfare and civil society: a case study in civil repair. Citizenship Studies. 13 (4), 365-379

Morris, L., (2009). Civic Stratification and the Cosmopolitan Ideal. European Societies. 11 (4), 603-624

Morris, L., (2009). An emergent cosmopolitan paradigm? Asylum, welfare and human rights. The British Journal of Sociology. 60 (2), 215-235

Morris, L., (2007). New Labour's Community of Rights: welfare, immigration and asylum. Journal of Social Policy. 36 (1), 39-57

Morris, L., (2003). Managing contradiction: civic stratification and migrants' rights. International Migration Review. 37 (1), 74-100

Morris, L., (2002). Britain's immigration and asylum regime: the shifting contours of rights. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. 28 (3), 409-425

Morris, L., (2002). Britain's asylum and immigration regime: the shifting contours of rights. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. 28 (3), 409-425

Morris, L., (2001). The ambiguous terrain of rights and controls: Italy's emergent immigration regime. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 25 (3), 497-516

Morris, L., (2001). Stratified rights and the management of migration: national distinctiveness in Europe. European Societies. 3 (4), 387-411

Morris, L., (2000). Rights and controls in the management of migration: the case of Germany. The Sociological Review. 48 (2), 224-240

Morris, L., (1998). Governing at a Distance: The Elaboration of Controls in British Immigration. International Migration Review. 32 (4), 949-949

Morris, L., (1997). Globalization, Migration and the Nation-State: The Path to a Post-National Europe?. The British Journal of Sociology. 48 (2), 192-192

Morris, L., (1997). A Cluster of Contradictions: The Politics of Migration in the European Union. Sociology. 31 (2), 241-259

Morris, L., (1996). Researching Living Standards: Some Problems and Some Findings. Journal of Social Policy. 25 (4), 459-483

Morris, L. and Scott, J., (1996). The Attenuation of Class Analysis: Some Comments on G. Marshall, S. Roberts and C. Burgoyne, 'Social Class and the Underclass in Britain in the USA'. The British Journal of Sociology. 47 (1), 45-45

Morris, L. and Scott, J., (1996). The attenuation of class analysis: Comments. BRITISH JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY. 47 (1), 45-55

MORRIS, L., (1994). Informal Aspects of Social Divisions. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 18 (1), 112-126

Irwin, S. and Morris, L., (1993). Social Security or Economic Insecurity? The Concentration of Unemployment (and Research) Within Households. Journal of Social Policy. 22 (3), 349-372

Morris, L., (1993). Household Finance Management and the Labour Market: A Case Study in Hartlepool. The Sociological Review. 41 (3), 506-536

Morris, L., (1993). Migrants and Migration. Work, Employment and Society. 7 (3), 473-492

Morris, L., (1992). The Social Segregation of the Long-Term Unemployed in Hartlepool. The Sociological Review. 40 (2), 344-369

Morris, L. and Irwin, S., (1992). Unemployment and Informal Support: Dependency, Exclusion, or Participation?. Work, Employment and Society. 6 (2), 185-207

Morris, L. and Irwin, S., (1992). Employment Histories and the Concept of the Underclass. Sociology. 26 (3), 401-420

Morris, LD., (1991). Locality Studies and the Household. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. 23 (2), 165-177

Brown, R. and Morris, L., (1990). A Decade of Change?. Work, Employment and Society. 4 (5), 1-7

Morris, L., (1989). Household Strategies: The Individual, The Collectivity and The Labour Market - The Case of Married Couples. Work, Employment and Society. 3 (4), 447-464

Morris, LD., (1987). Local social polarization: a case study of Hartlepool. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 11 (3), 331-350

Morris, L., (1987). Constraints on Gender: The Family Wage, Social Security and the Labour Market; Reflections on Research in Hartlepool. Work, Employment and Society. 1 (1), 85-106

Morris, L., (1986). The changing social structure of Hartlepool.. Global restructuring local response, 147-157

Morris, L., (1985). Local Social Networks and Domestic Organisations: A Study of Redundant Steel Workers and Their Wives. The Sociological Review. 33 (2), 327-342

Morris, LD., (1985). Responses to Redundancy: Labour‐Market Experience, Domestic Organisation and Male Social Networks. International Journal of Social Economics. 12 (2), 5-16

Morris, LD., (1984). Redundancy and Patterns of Household Finance. The Sociological Review. 32 (3), 492-523

Morris, LD., (1984). Patterns of Social Activity and Post-Redundancy Labour-Market Experience. Sociology. 18 (3), 339-352

Morris, L., (1981). Women in Poverty: Domestic Organization among the Poor of Mexico City. Anthropological Quarterly. 54 (3), 117-117

Morris, L., (1979). Women without Men: Domestic Organization and the Welfare State as Seen in a Coastal Community of Puerto Rico. The British Journal of Sociology. 30 (3), 322-322

Books (9)

Morris, L., (2021). The Moral Economy of Welfare and Migration Reconfiguring Rights in Austerity Britain. McGill-Queen's University Press - MQUP. 0228007593. 9780228007593

Morris, L., (2014). Social Divisions. Routledge. 9781857282023

Morris, L., (2013). Human Rights and Social Theory. Palgrave Macmillan. 9780230551596

Morris, L., (2010). Asylum, Welfare and the Cosmopolitan Ideal: A Sociology of Rights. Routledge-Cavendish. 978-0-415-49773-2

Morris, L., (2006). Rights: Sociological perspectives. Routledge. 0415355222. 9780415355216

Morris, L., (2002). Managing Migration: Civic stratification and migrants rights. Routledge. 041516706X. 9780415167062

Morris, L., (1995). Social Divisions: Economic Decline and Social Structural Change. UCL Press. 978-1857282023

Morris, L., (1994). Dangerous Classes: The Underclass and Social Citizenship. Routledge. 9700415050140

Morris, L., (1990). The Workings of the Household: A US-UK Comparison. Polity Press. 9780745604428

Book chapters (1)

Morris, L., (2006). Citizenship. In: Sociology: The Key Concepts. 25- 27. 9780415344050

Grants and funding


The Moral Economy of Welfare and Migration: Reconfiguring Rights in Britain

Leverhulme Trust

+44 (0) 1206 873048


5A.319, Colchester Campus