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Professor Des Fitzgerald

Associate Professor of Sociology

I’m a sociologist of science and medicine, with particular interests in the psychological and brain sciences. My work is about how these sciences take things we think of as “cultural,” and things we think of as “biological,” and fold them across one another in complex, delicate, and sometimes awkward ways. In previous research, I have explored this terrain in writing about the autism spectrum, about mind-wandering, and about the experience of feeling stressed in urban environments. I’ve also written about what it means to do interdisciplinary work across the social and biological sciences, mostly with my collaborator Felicity Callard – I’ve been involved in a lot of interdisciplinary projects – and about why this work is sometimes harder and weirder than we like to my admit.

At Exeter, I’m based at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health, where I’m working on range of projects about psychology and the city, including how psychological ideas intersect with architecture and urban design, what the role of green space is in a psychologically good city, and what it would mean for us to start designing and inhabiting spaces for good mental health. I’m working on a book called The Urban Brain, with Nikolas Rose, which is under contract at Princeton University Press for 2021. I’m also working on a popular book about urban green space and urban psychology, under contract at Faber & Faber (UK) and Basic Books (US) for 2022.

I trained at University College Cork, The University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics. I was awarded the Philip Leverhulme Prize for sociology in 2017 and was a BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker in 2018. My work has been supported by the Economic and Social research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Volkswagen Foundation, among others.

Research interests

I'm a qualitative sociologist, based at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health. I’m generally interested in what happens, politically and scientifically, when social and psychological problems get mixed together, especially in mental health contexts. In the past, I've written about autism, about stress, and about mind-wandering, among other topics. I also have a longstanding interest in "interdisciplinarity" - not only as an ethic or a practice, but as a problem in the sociology of knowledge-production too. My current work at the Wellcome centre is about how we have turned to think about 'the city' as a particular kind of ecological and psychological experience - and what happens, in terms of planning, design, and urban life, within that turn. I typically use interviews, documentary and ethnographic methods to explore these issues. Specific current concerns include:  

  • Urban mental health, and especially its relationship to green space.
  • The role of psychological science in architecture, urban design and planning.
  • How psychologists and neuroscientists think about the effects of built environments.
  • What it’s like to do interdisciplinary research.

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