Empowerment and Social Justice Research Area

An illustration of planet Earth surrounded by silhouettes of people's faces

The Empowerment and Social Justice research area within the ARU Centre for Societies and Groups (ARU-CSG) is a group of qualitatively-focused scholars working toward social change, social justice, empowerment, and overturning the marginalisation of disenfranchised groups.

About us

We undertake collaborative and applied research that makes a real difference to people’s lives through understandings of the self and social processes, with impacts on public policy, health and social care, justice and group relations.

We take an action-oriented approach to our work with a range of non-academic partners, such as health and social care services, third sector organisations, service-user groups, and industry. We offer courses on applied qualitative research methods to both academics and non-academic audiences wishing to conduct research in their own organisations. We also work with a wide range of organisations, communities, and individuals, consulting on research practices and methods.

Current topics of research include improving mental health and learning disability services, evaluations of social media and digital technologies, extremism, prejudice and conflict, coping with chronic health conditions, body image and men’s health and masculinities.

Please contact our hub lead, Prof Mick Finlay, for more information.

We offer a Psychology PhD and a range of innovative research project opportunities for postgraduate researchers.

Want to study qualitative research? Find out about our continuing professional development (CPD) course.

The ESJ research group has had a jointly-authored paper accepted for publication in the journal Political Psychology, Norms Concerning the Recognition of Victimhood in Post-Conflict Societies: An Analysis of ‘Whatabouteries’. Authors: Finlay, W.M.L., Cattier, J., Donois, K., Goodings, L., Kaminskiy, E., Owen, C., Storey, L., Swami, V.

Dr Lewis Goodings and Prof Mick Finlay have been awarded £10K from the British Academy Small Research Grants Scheme to explore the role of digital inclusion for people with learning disabilities. This is a qualitative pilot study of the risks and benefits of social media and other interactive online platforms.

Dr Lewis Goodings' and colleagues (2024) book, Understanding Mental Health Apps: An Applied Psychosocial Perspective, examines digital mental health app use from a social perspective, considering a range of apps that have recently been developed for us to capture, monitor and attend to psychological health and wellbeing. Through exploring issues such as self-tracking and different ways of evaluating mental health apps, it provides an expanded view of digital technologies, positioning these as part of the complex assemblage of technologies through which moments of mental health distress are experienced and respond to.

ESJ members have given talks to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT). These talks have included:

  • Dads get sad too by Professor Viren Swami
  • Empowerment and People with Learning Disabilities by Professor Mick Finlay
  • Using Qualitative Methods to Explore Health Issues by Dr Lesley Storey.

Members of the ESJ research group are developing two research projects concerning the lives of people with learning disabilities. One examines the use of digital technologies, and particularly social media. The other examiners the social lives of people with severe and profound learning disabilities. We are working with partner representatives from Mencap, Victim Support, ACE Advocacy, Cambridgeshire County Council and Summit on these projects.

The ESJ was delighted to be awarded two SHARE research internships by Cambridge University. These fully paid internships provide free accommodation in Cambridge to the interns, as well as intensive training and research experience. The interns will be working on a project investigating digital inclusion for people with learning disabilities.

Read more about read more news from the empowerment and social justice research group.

Doris Denton-West Eguamo
Contact: [email protected]
Supervisory team: Dr Emma Kaminskiy, Prof Mick Finlay, Dr Steven Stagg
Thesis title: Autism Among Black Ethnicity in the United Kingdom; Investigating the Influence of Caregivers' Perception and Cultural Beliefs on Early Diagnosis.
Research Summary: Research suggests there is a rise in the prevalence of autism from 1.57% to 1.76% from 2009 to 2021 within the UK. Studies have also evidenced variations of autism prevalence among ethnic groups within the UK; however, there is no research aimed at understanding the perception of autism within the black ethnic minority group within the UK. This research will examine the perception, knowledge, and belief system of the black ethnic groups in the UK regarding autism. It will also investigate how cultural beliefs impact caregivers of children with autism from the black ethnic minority groups at the time of seeking a diagnosis and the barriers encountered. A mixed method approach of qualitative and quantitative methods will be used for this research.

Jenny Cattier
Contact: [email protected]
Supervisory team: Dr Tim Jarvis, Dr Craig Owen, Associate Professor Laura Dietz
Thesis title: An Exploration into the Efficacy of Short Speculative Fiction as a Therapeutic Agent for Female Depression..
Research summary: Jenny's research includes an interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) study exploring the experience of women who have found reading short speculative fiction helpful in managing their depressive symptoms.

Katrine Donois
Contact: [email protected]
Supervisory team: Dr Lewis Goodings, Prof Mick Finlay, Dr Nic Gibson
Thesis title: Science, Society, and the Media: Bridging the Communication Divide.
Research summary: Katrine's research concerns the multiple ways in which 'science' is communicated or understood and examines the processes that impact the effective communication of science.

Karen Mutsatsa
Contact: [email protected]
Supervisory team: Prof Mick Finlay, Dr Emma Kaminskiy, Dr Lewis Goodings
Thesis title: The pursuit of happiness with a physical/sensory impairment: an exploration of the 'Good Life' concept.
Research summary: Investigating the attitudes, resources, and behaviours which facilitate or hinder "living-well" with a physical/sensory Impairment. Karen adopts phenomenological and social constructionist approaches to investigate what It means to be happy and disabled in the UK.

Evelin Kis
Contact: [email protected]
Supervisory team: Prof Viren Swami, Dr Emma Kaminskiy, Dr Barbara Vohmann
Thesis title: Adapting wise belonging interventions for race minority students in STEM to transform their experiences, relationships, and achievements.
Research summary: This project looks at adapting wise belonging interventions developed in the US to improve the attainment and retention levels of race minority students in the UK higher educational context.

Read more about find out more about the phd researchers in the empowerment and social justice research group.

Aneita Pringle
Contact: [email protected]
Thesis title: The importance of being humane: a case study of a positive practice ward and a mixed methods exploration of the development and acceptability of the personal narrative model.

Magdalena Borawska-Charko - 'An examination of the sexual health knowledge, experiences and needs of people with learning disabilities'

Clare Nicholson - 'Interactions involving people with severe intellectual disabilities'

Caroline Davenport
Thesis title: Sick, selfish, or silenced? A qualitative exploration of paternal postnatal depression from the perspective of fathers, mothers, and health visitors.


Research increasingly suggests that the transition to fatherhood can trigger mental health problems in the perinatal period (i.e., the period spanning pregnancy, childbirth, and the first postnatal year). The financial costs of paternal perinatal mental ill-health on the UK economy are substantial, but so too is the burden on fathers themselves, their partners, and their children. It is therefore important to consider perinatal mental health in terms of the family unit, including fathers.

In the Groups and Social Processes research area, we are leading ambitious projects that consider the lived experiences of fathers in terms of their mental health, in collaboration with partners in mental health services and scholars internationally. Led by Prof Viren Swami and PhD candidate Caroline Estrella, this research seeks to understand the experience of psychological distress in fathers and how best to help fathers experiencing distress to get the help they need.

Read more about read more about the perinatal and mental health in fathers project .

In order to improve services for people, we need to understand how people use and access support services, and what happens in interactions between workers and those they support.

In the Groups and Social Processes research area, we study how people communicate with each other in care services for people with intellectual disabilities, how psychiatrists discuss medication with people who have mental health issues, how people use mental health apps, and how ward staff make formulations. Led by Dr Emma Kaminskiy, Dr Lewis Goodings and Dr Mick Finlay, we try and understand what happens when people access psychological and social support.

Read more about read more about the service experiences of people with mental health problems and intellectual disabilities project.

Qualitative Research Methods training for all professionals

New to qualitative research? Why not apply for our CPD course?

Taught by a team of experts in qualitative methods, this introductory two-day course will take participants through the stages of a qualitative research project. Topics include:

  • What is a qualitative research question?
  • How to collect data appropriate to your project (including interviews, focus groups, observations, document, media and social media sources)
  • How to analyse data (we will focus in detail on thematic analysis and content analysis, but will introduce a range of other analytic techniques such as discourse analysis, narrative analysis, framework analysis, conversation analysis, realist evaluation, ethnography, participatory action research)
  • How to report results of qualitative research.

Who can attend: No entry requirements, all professionals.

Where you'll study: ARU, Cambridge campus.

Course fees: £440 for a two-day CPD course (ex. VAT) and an optional consultancy add-on for £186 (inc. VAT) (fees for 2022/3).

Contact Prof Mick Finlay or visit our course page for more information.