Helen Holmes

Helen Holmes


Personal profile


I am an interdisciplinary social scientist with expertise in the sociology of consumption, sustainability, materiality and diverse forms of economy, particularly circular economy.

Having completed a Geography BA at Durham University in 2002, I went on to carve out a career in marketing working for Yell PLC and The Co-operative Bank.  

In 2005 I returned to academia and gained my MA in Human Geography Research at Sheffield University.  I remained at Sheffield for the next nine years, undertaking an ESRC funded PhD exploring hair, hairdressing and the practices of women’s haircare (supervised by Prof Nicky Gregson),  followed by two post-doctoral positions investigating interdisciplinary collaborations between material science and social science.

I joined Manchester in 2015 as a Hallsworth Fellow based at the Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI), undertaking a project exploring contemporary forms of thrift.  I was made a research fellow of the SCI in 2018, followed by my appointment as Lecturer of Sociology in 2020 and Senior Lecturer in 2023.  I am also a member of the Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives.

I am Deputy Director of UoM's Sustainable Futures platform and also a member of the Sustainable Consumption Institute Management Group. I am former Editor and Co-editor-in-Chief of the Sage journal Sociology (2018-22). Externally, I am a panel member of UKRI's Cross Research Council Responsive Mode programme and a member of the Advisory Board of the British Beauty Council's Sustainability Coalition.

Research interests

  • Material culture and materiality
  • Everyday consumption and production
  • Diverse and alternative economies
  • Circular economy
  • Temporality
  • Innovative qualitative methods, particularly material methods

Other research

Most recent research projects

I am currently involved in several research projects, exploring the intersections of materiality, consumption and diverse economies.  These include:

One Bin to Rule Them All 2020-2023 (funded by UKRI Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Grant)

This project originally began life as an EPSRC grant exploring Reuse and Recycling in 2019-2020 and has since developed into a three year project involving over 25 partners from across the plastics supply chain.  The project unites social science with material science and economics to explore opportunities for the circular economy of plastic waste.  Involving key stakeholders from business, policy and local authorities it is focused on using empirical research to develop innovations in plastic waste management.

The Waste Tip 2022-2023 (funded by University of Manchester Interdisciplinary Research Grant)

This 12 month interdisciplinary pilot project draws together social science and material science to explore the phenomenon of fly-tipping.  Whilst waste has been a topic of much investigation in recent years, little attention has been paid to circumstances when waste infrastructures are deliberately disregarded and disrupted.  Through the lens of circular economy this project explores the impact of fly-tipping within the UK, why it is occurring, from what sources, and how it may be tackled. 

Rave Renaissance 2018-2023 (funded by School of Social Science Small Grant and John Rylands Pilot Grant)

The first part of this project (2018-2020) explored the revival of dance music and the changing creative economy.  Focused on Manchester, it drew on empirical research with older clubbers and music professionals and DJs to examine how the night time economy has changed since the 1990s dance music heyday.  The second part is an extension of the first, (supported by a John Rylands Research Institute and Library Grant) and is focused on using the newly formed British Pop Archive.  Drawing on the archives of Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton and Andy Spinoza, amongst others, the project will explores the influence of Manchester's night time economy (circa 1990) on rave's contemporary importance and heritage.  


Previous Projects:

Exploring Lost Property 2018-2020 (funded by a Sustainable Consumption Institute grant)

This pilot project explores how everyday object loss is experienced, drawing on empirical research with lost property offices, members of the public and cultural institutions to illuminate lost property stories. For this project I developed a unique form of object interviewing, which overcomes the subject-object binary (more can be found about this in my edited collection Mundane Methods, with Dr Sarah Marie Hall).  The research engages with debates on sustainable resource use, circular economy and consumption practices.

Makers, make do and mend: a newly thrifty consumer? 2015-2018 (funded by a UoM Hallsworth Fellowship)

This 3 year fellowship explored contemporary thrift, developing a critical understanding of thrift through a focus on lived everyday experience, materiality and practice.  It drew on empirical data gathered through qualitative techniques including participant observation in a number of community economies, 30 household interviews, and a Mass Observation Directive on the 'Being thrifty'.  The project produced several key journal articles in Sociology, Geoforum, The Sociological Review and Sustainability, an award winning impact event 'The Make do and Mend Expo', a good practice booklet 'Novel ways to provide for your community' co-produced with 10 third sector organisations and a website.



I welcome PhD students in the following areas:

  • Consumption and production
  • Material culture
  • Everyday life
  • Diverse and alternative economies
  • Circular economy
  • Sharing economy



Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action

Areas of expertise

  • HM Sociology

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Sustainable Futures
  • Sustainable Consumption Institute
  • Manchester Environmental Research Institute
  • Creative Manchester


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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