Dr David Mills

David Mills trained in social anthropology and carried out his doctoral research on educational discourses in Uganda.

His research combines historical method with an ethnographic attentiveness to education and its cultural politics.

His research interests include the study of higher education, and in particular the changing shape of the social sciences, their methods, pedagogies and governance. Recent work has focused on the transformation of doctoral education. He also writes about the history of anthropology and the social sciences, and East African education.

Published monographs include Ethnography and Education (2013), and Difficult Folk: A Political History of Social Anthropology (2008).

David’s research supervisees include students who are using a range of  ethnographic methods to explore the cultural politics of educational practice. Please get in touch if you would like to explore an idea for doctoral research.

David is Director of Oxford’s ESRC Doctoral Training Centre and Associate Professor of Pedagogy and the Social Sciences

Trained in Anthropology, David uses ethnographic approaches to study education. He has a particular research interest in disciplinarity and the changing nature of academic practice in higher education. As well as writing on the history of anthropology and ethnographic writing, recent publications discuss the transformation of doctoral education, the history of the social sciences, and East African education. He is currently developing a new project on research facilitation practices. He also is co-editor of the RAI journal Teaching Anthropology

David welcomes informal contacts from prospective students interested in using ethnographic approaches to explore:

  • Disciplinarity and Interdisciplinarity in and beyond the social sciences
  • University collaborations and governance
  • Higher and Secondary Education in African contexts
  • Pedagogic and policy reforms in Doctoral Education
  • The politics of method in the social sciences

Recent DPhil completions:

  • Yang, Peidong (2014) “Foreign Talent”: Desire and Singapore’s China Scholars
  • Mahmoud Natout (2014) Between ‘prophet’ and ‘professional': imagery and identification amongst beginning teachers in Lebanon
  • Karpinska, Z. (2013). Educational Planning for situations of instability: Standardisation and Advocacy in Humanitarian Aid Practice.
  • Sato, M. (2012). Unpacking Faculty Development in Japan: An ethnography of faculty development practitioners.
  • Remtulla, A. (2012). Muslim Chaplaincy on Campus: A case-study of two American Universities.
  • O’Shea, J. (2011). Delaying the Academy: A Gap Year Education.
  • Alexander, P. (2010). Learning to Act your Age: Negotiating Age Imaginaries in an English Secondary School.

Current DPhil supervisees

  • Hem Borker, completing an ethnography of a girls’ madrasa in Delhi
  • Soufia Siddiqui, writing about citizenship education in Lahore
  • Zainab Kabba, working on intensive Islamic educational settings in the US
  • Luke Buckley (Criminology), doing an ethnography of disciplinary regimes in an East London school
  • Laura Brace, looking at parental attitudes about their daughters’ education in elite girls schools
  • Emma Abotsi, completing an ethnography of transnational educational and parenting practices in Ghana and London
  • Robyn Sneath, writing about Mennonite education in Canada
  • Jason Todd, writing about young people’s social remembering and historical consciousness
  • Shungmiao Han, starting a study of Chinese Higher Education policy experiments.
  • Isaac Calvert, writing about faith-based pedagogies.


Work on disciplinarity and the history of the social sciences

  • Mills, D. (forthcoming) Anthropology and Modernism.
  • Mills, D. (2013). Related Disciplines. Handbook of Sociocultural Anthropology. Eds. J. Carrier and D. Gewertz. Oxford, Berg.
  • Mills, D. (2012). Anthropology. Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education. S. Delamont. London, Edward Elgar.
  • Mills, D. (2011) Have we ever taught anthropology? A hidden history of disciplinary pedagogy. Teaching Anthropology 1(1): 12-20.
  • Hawkins, P. and D. Mills (2010). Home or Away? Widening Participation and the Challenge for Anthropology Anthropology in Action 17(2-3): 8-19.
  • Mills, D. (2008). Difficult Folk: A political history of social anthropology. Oxford, Berghahn.
  • Mills, D. (2008). Compare, contrast, converge: A biography of the Demographic Review of the Social Sciences (2006). Twenty First Century Society 3(3): 263 -278
  • Mills, D. (2007). ‘A major disaster to Anthropology….’? Oxford and the Radcliffe-Brown years. A history of Anthropology at the University of Oxford. P. Riviere. Oxford, Berghahn.
  • Mills, D. (2006). How not to be a colonial ‘house pet': Audrey Richards and the East African Institute of Social Research. African Anthropologies: History, Critique and Practice. M. Ntarangwi, D. Mills and M. Babiker. London, Zed.
  • Ntarangwi, M., Mills, D and Babiker, M, Eds. (2006). African Anthropologies: History, Critique and Practice. London, Zed Publishers.
  • Mills, D. (2006). Dinner at Claridges? Anthropology and the captains of industry 1947 -1955. Applications of Anthropology: Professional Anthropology in the twenty-first century. S. Pink. Oxford, Berghahn.
  • Mills, D. (2005) Made in Manchester? Methods and Myths in Disciplinary History. Social Analysis 49(3): 129 -143.
  • Mills, D. (2005). Anthropology at the End of Empire: The rise and fall of the Colonial Social Sciences Research Council 1944 -1962. Empires, Nations and Natives: Anthropology and State-Making. F. N. Benoit de L’Estoile, Lygia Sigaud. Durham, Duke University Press: 135-166
  • Mills, D. (2003). Professionalising or popularising Anthropology? A brief history of anthropology’s scholarly associations in the UK. Anthropology Today 19(5): 8 -13.
  • Mills, D. (2003). Teaching the Uncomfortable Science: Social Anthropology in British Universities. Educational Histories of European Social Anthropology. D. Drackle, I. Edgar and T. Schippers. Oxford, Berghahn.
  • Mills, D. (2003). ‘Like a horse in blinkers’? A political history of anthropology’s research ethics. The ethics of anthropology: Debates and Dilemmas. P. Caplan. London, Routledge: 37 -54.
  • Mills, D. (2002) Anthropology at the end of the British Empire: The rise and fall of the Colonial Social Science Research Council 1944 -1962. Revue d’Histoire des Sciences Humaines 6: 161 -188.
  • Mills, D. (2003). Quantifying the discipline: Some anthropology statistics from the UK. Anthropology Today 19(3): 19 -22.
  • Mills, D. (2003) Why Anthropology’s Ethics Matter: A short history. Anthropology in Action 9(3): 12-17
  • Mills, D. (2001) ‘We’ll show them a real discipline': Anthropology, Sociology and the politics of academic identity. Anthropology in Action 8(1): 34-41

Work on African Education

  • Vokes, Richard, and D, Mills. “‘Time for School’? School Fees, Savings Clubs and Social Reciprocity in Uganda.” Journal of East African Studies  (2015).
  • Lebeau, Y. and D. Mills (2008). From ‘crisis’ to ‘transformation’? Shifting orthodoxies of African higher education policy and research. Learning and Teaching: The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences 1(1): 58 – 88.
  • Mills, D. (2006) Life on the Hill: Students and the social history of Makerere. Africa 76(2): 247 -266
  • Mills, D. (2004). “The New African Higher Education?” African Affairs 103 (413): 667 -675
  • Mills, D. and R. Ssewakiryanga (2004). No romance without finance: Masculinities, commodities and HIV in Uganda. Readings in Gender in Africa. A. Cornwall. Oxford, James Currey Ltd.
  • Mills, D. and R. Ssewakiryanga (2002). That Beijing Thing': Challenging Transnational Feminisms in Kampala. Gender, Place and Culture: A journal of Feminist Geography 9(4): 385 -398.
  • Mills, D. (1999). ‘The nation’s valiant fighters against illiteracy': Locations of learning and progress. Social Analysis 43(1): 3 -17.
  • Mills, D. (1999). Progress as discursive spectacle: but what comes after development? Modernity on a Shoestring: Dimensions of globalisation, consumption and development in Africa and beyond. R. Fardon, W. v. Bimsbergen and R. v. Dijk. London and Leiden, EIDOS (European Inter-University Development Opportunities Study Group): 91-116.

Work on pedagogy and doctoral education

  • Lunt, I., L. McAlpine, and D.S. Mills. “Lively Bureaucracy? The ESRC’s Doctoral Training Centres and UK Universities.” Oxford Review of Education 40, no. 2 (2014): 151-69.
  • Mills, D. and R. Ratcliffe (2012). After Method: Anthropology, Education and the Knowledge Economy. Qualitative Research 12(2): 147-164.
  • Mills, D. and J. Rath (2012). Academia as Workplace: Critical and Comparative Perspectives. Special Issue of Higher Education Quarterly 66(2): 129-134.
  • Mills, D. (2010). Comings and goings: Disciplinary ideologies and employment trajectories. New visions of academic practice: Preparing for careers in the social sciences. L. McAlpine and G. Åkerlind. London, Palgrave Macmillan
  • Mills, D. and M. Berg (2010). Gender, Disembodiment and Vocation: Exploring the Unmentionables of British Academic Life. Critique of Anthropology 30(4): 331-353.
  • Mills, D. (2009) Making sense of doctoral training reforms in the social sciences. International Journal of Researcher Development 1(1): 71 -83.
  • Mills, D. (2006). Juggling Acts: Teaching and the disciplinary vocation. Engagements with learning and teaching in Higher Education. D. Carter and M. Lord. Birmingham, C-SAP.
  • Mills, D. (2006). Those who can….? Teaching as a postgraduate. From Postgraduate to Social Scientist: A Guide to Key Skills. N. Gilbert. London, Sage.
  • Mills, D. and M. Harris, Eds. (2004). Teaching Rites and Wrongs: Universities and the making of Anthropologists. C-SAP Monographs. Birmingham, C-SAP.
  • Mills, D., et al. (2003). Introduction: Learning Fields; Disciplinary Practices. Current Policies and Practices in European Social Anthropology. I. Edgar and D. Drackle. Oxford, Berghahn Books.

Interviews, essays, reviews, comments, shorter pieces, other work…

  • Mills, D. (2013). Audrey Richards. Theory in Social and Cultural Anthropology. R. J. McGee and R. L. Warms. London, SAGE.
  • Mills, D. (2009). “Silenced?” Anthropology Matters.
  • Mills, D. (2009). “Scientising the social sciences? Demographics and the research economy.” Research Intelligence 108: 13.
  • Mills, D. (2008). “Polly Hill.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • James, W. and D. Mills, Eds. (2004). The Qualities of Time: Anthropological Approaches. Oxford, Berg.
  • Mills, D. (2004). “Anthropology and the ‘amateurs': A personal view.” Anthropology Today 20(6): 25.
  • Mills, D. (2003). “Relativism and Cultural Studies.” Think: The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy 1(3): 29-32.
  • Mills, D. (2002). “Globalising Rights.” Anthropologymatters.com 4(1).
  • Mills, D. and R. Gibb (2001). “Centre and periphery: An interview with Paul Willis.” Cultural Anthropology 16(3): 388-414.
  • Mills, D. and R. Gibb (2001). “An Interview with Adam Kuper.” Social Anthropology 9(2): 207 -216.

Policy Reports

  • Taylor, C, Mills, D, Hardill I, Wallace, C (2015) Demographic Review Update. Swindon, ESRC
  • Oancea, A and Mills D. BERA Observatory Report on Educational Reserch  (2015)
  • Mills, D., Jepson, A, Coxon, T, Easterby-Smith, M, Hawkins, P, Spencer, J. (2006). Demographic Review of the Social Sciences. Swindon, Economic and Social Research Council.
David Mills profile 2


  • Department staff

College affiliation

  • Kellogg College


  • University Lecturer in Pedagogy and the Social Sciences

Subject area

  • Foundations of Educational Research
  • MSc Education (Higher Education)
  • Professional and Personal Research Skills
  • Qualitative Design and Data Analysis

Research groups

  • Comparative and International Education
  • Higher Education and Professional Learning