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.


  • Mills, D (2008) Difficult folk?: A political history of social anthropology.

  • Ntarangwi, M, Mills, D, Babiker, M (2006) African Anthropologies History, Critique and Practice. Zed Books.

  • James, W, Mills, D (2005) The Qualities of Time Anthropological Approaches. Berg Publishers.

  • Mills, DS (2004) Teaching Rites and Wrongs: Universities and the making of Anthropologists. C-SAP Monographs. Birmingham: C-SAP.

Book chapters

  • Mills, DS (2015) “Related Disciplines”, In: J Carrier, D Gewertz (eds.) The Handbook of Sociocultural Anthropology. A&C Black.

  • Mills, DS (2013) “Audrey Richards”, In: RJ McGee, RL Warms (eds.) Theory in Social and Cultural Anthropology. London: SAGE.

  • Mills, D (2012) “Anthropology and education”, In: Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education. 33-47
    DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4337/9781849805094.00010

  • Mills, DS (2010) “Comings and goings: Disciplinary ideologies and employment trajectories”, In: L McAlpine, G Åkerlind (eds.) New visions of academic practice: Preparing for careers in the social sciences. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Mills, DS (2007) “‘A major disaster to anthropology….’? Oxford and the Radcliffe-Brown years”, In: P Rivière (ed.) A History of Oxford Anthropology. Methodology & History in Anthropology. Berghahn Books.

  • Mills, DS (2006) “Those who can….? Teaching as a postgraduate”, In: N Gilbert (ed.) From Postgraduate to Social Scientist A Guide to Key Skills. London: SAGE.

  • Mills, DS (2006) “How not to be a colonial ‘house pet': Audrey Richards and the East African Institute of Social Research”, In: M Ntarangwi, D Mills, M Babiker (eds.) African Anthropologies History, Critique and Practice. Zed Books.

  • Mills, D (2006) “Made in Manchester?: Methods and myths in disciplinary history”, In: The Manchester School: Practice and Ethnographic Praxis in Anthropology. 165-179

  • Mills, DS (2006) “Juggling Acts: Teaching and the disciplinary vocation”, In: D Carter, M Lord (eds.) Engagements with Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Birmingham: C-SAP.

  • Mills, DS (2006) “Dinner at Claridges? Anthropology and the captains of industry 1947 -1955”, In: S Pink (ed.) Applications of Anthropology Professional Anthropology in the Twenty-first Century.

  • Mills, DS, Ssewakiryanga, R (2005) “No romance without finance: Masculinities, commodities and HIV in Uganda”, In: Readings in Gender in Africa. Oxford: James Currey Publishers.

  • Mills, DS (2005) “Anthropology at the End of Empire: The rise and fall of the Colonial Social Sciences Research Council 1944 -1962”, In: F Neiburg, L Sigaud, FN Benoit de L’Estoile (eds.) Empires, Nations, and Natives Anthropology and State-Making. Durham: Duke University Press Books. 135-166

  • Mills, D (2005) “Dinner at claridges?: Anthropology and the 'captains of industry', 1947-1955”, In: Applications of Anthropology: Professional Anthropology in the Twenty-First Century. 55-70

  • Mills, DS, Dracklé, D, Edgar, I (2004) “Introduction: Learning Fields; Disciplinary Practices”, In: I Edgar, D Drackle (eds.) Current Policies and Practices in European Social Anthropology Education. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

  • Mills, D (2003) “'Like a horse in blinkers'?: A political history of anthropology's research ethics”, In: The Ethics of Anthropology: Debates and Dilemmas. 37-54
    DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9780203633670

  • Mills, DS (2003) “Teaching the Uncomfortable Science: Social Anthropology in British Universities”, In: D Drackle, I Edgar, T Schippers (eds.) Educational Histories of European Social Anthropology. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

  • Mills, DS (2003) “‘Like a horse in blinkers’? A political history of anthropology’s research ethics”, In: P Caplan (ed.) The Ethics of Anthropology Debates and Dilemmas. London: Routledge. 37-54

  • Mills, DS (1999) “Progress as discursive spectacle: but what comes after development?”, In: R Fardon, W v. Bimsbergen, R v. Dijk (eds.) Modernity on a Shoestring Dimensions of Globalization, Consumption and Development in Africa and Beyond ; Based on an EIDOS Conference Held at The Hague, 13 - 16 March 1997. London and Leide: EIDOS (European Inter-University Development Opportunities Study Group). 91-116

Journal articles

Internet publication


  • Oancea, AE, Mills, D (2014) Educational Research. Final report of the BERA Observatory 2014.. London: British Educational Research Association.

  • Mills, DS, Jepson, A, Coxon, T, Easterby-Smith, M, Hawkins, P, Spencer, J (2006) Demographic Review of the Social Sciences. Swindon: ESRC.


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


Publications, books and other work