Dr Alison Hirst

Director of Postgraduate Research

Faculty:Faculty of Business and Law


Location: Cambridge

Alison's research interests are in how material objects, including technological artefacts, contribute to organisational stability and change. She uses qualitative methods, including ethnography, as ways of researching and writing about organisations.



Through her ESRC-funded doctorate at Nottingham University, Alison developed research interests in organisational space and sociomateriality. There are three broad strands to her work:

  1. how artefacts (such as buildings and technological objects) play active roles in organisations
  2. understanding changes in public sector organisations
  3. qualitative research methodology

Alison's current research is an exploration of artefacts with modular designs and their implications for the experience of work. Prior to undertaking her doctorate Alison worked as a principal lecturer and management development practitioner, and this keeps her connected to how things actually ‘work’ in organisations.

Research interests

  • Space and materiality in organizations
  • Public sector organizations and change
  • Qualitative methods, including ethnography as a way of researching and writing about organisation

Areas of research supervision

I have supervised

  • Faisal Iqbal (University of Bedfordshire) ‘The impact of reforms on the functioning of Pakistan public sector organisations’. PhD Awarded December 2014.

I am currently supervising

  • Smitha Sebastian (Anglia Ruskin University) ‘The history of workplace and organizational ethnography’ in third year of study.
  • Irina Popova (Anglia Ruskin University) 'Business Incubation as Liminal Space' in third year of study.

Alison is particularly interested in supervising doctoral research in the following areas:

  • the role of organisational space, buildings and artefacts
  • consequences of public sector reforms in the UK and internationally
  • qualitative research practices


I teach organisational behaviour and management research methods. Most of my teaching experience has been with practising managers studying postgraduate qualifications, and has aimed to support them to foster productive, rewarding and fair working practices.


  • PhD in Business and Management, University of Nottingham, 2011
  • MPhil in Critical Management (dist), Lancaster University Management School, 2003
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Management Studies (dist), London Guildhall University, 1995
  • BSc (Hons) Genetics (2.1), York University, 1983

Research grants, consultancy, knowledge exchange

  • ESRC +3 doctoral grant, University of Nottingham, 2006-2009, £36,300
  • Co-I in ‘Academic evaluation of Peterborough DNA’ Peterborough’s £3m Future Cities project, 2015-2016, £29,600

Selected recent publications

Hirst, A. & Humphreys, M. (2015). Configurable bureaucracy and the making of Modular Man. Organization Studies 36(11): 1531-1553.

Hirst, A. and Humphreys, M., 2013.  ‘Putting power in its place:  The centrality of edgelands’, Organization Studies (ABS 4*) 34, 1505-1527.

Hirst, A., 2011. ‘Settlers, vagrants and mutual indifference:  unintended consequences of hot-desking’ Journal of Organizational Change Management (ABS 2*) 24(6): 767-788.