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John Smith

John Smith BA Hons, PhD

John Smith
BA Hons, PhD

Principal Lecturer and Research Lead

Department of Education & Community Studies

Faculty of Education & Health

Dr John Smith is a Principal Lecturer and Research Lead in the Department of Education & Community Studies at the University of Greenwich.

John joined the university in 2003 initially part-time, then in 2007 as full-time programme leader and lecturer for BA Hons Education Studies.

He began his academic career as a painter and dissatisfied with the intellectual climate at the time, decided upon a second, part-time degree in sociology whilst developing a specialism within special needs teaching. These inter-related fields have informed his current inter-disciplinary research interests.

John completed his PhD thesis from Goldsmiths College in 1987 which contrasted the philosophical and sociological issues associated with the cultures of visual and verbal representation. He then moved to Lancaster University in 1993 to set up a new visual culture degree programme based on this research.

Returning to London in 1997, his time was split between special needs teaching and HE as well as an intense period of research development. His publications included two books: Images of Community (2001) and Qualitative Complexity (2006); both co-authored with Professor Chris Jenks.

His first book, Images of Community, was concerned with how visual and verbal cultures provoked serious philosophical and sociological contradictions. The second book, Qualitative Complexity, was concerned with restating these 'insurmountable' problems and assembling a field of relevant disciplines constituting the discipline that could address them.

John leads on an interdisciplinary group within the department to benefit from close mutual research between members whose 'root' disciplines are psychology, anthropology and childhood studies. He also co-operates with the Research Centre for the Study of Play & Recreation and attends the university annual conference: Discourse, Power, Resistance.

  • Principal Lecturer and Research Lead, Department of Education & Community Studies
  • Lead and lecturer on BA Hons Education Studies programme
  • The interdisciplinary group research lead for the department
  • Member of BERA, SES, BSA.

John's research includes complexity theory and its applications, including self-organisation, cognitive processes, the evolution of mind and culture, cultural representation in visual and verbal forms, and the emergence of social insitutions.

Lately, he is working in collaboration with Warwick University's ESCR funded seminar series 2014-17 on Complexity Theory and its applications. 

Complexity theory is concerned with self-organisation, emergence and evolution in complex systems 'far-from-equilibrium'. This is a necessarily interdisciplinary exercise, since emergent self-organisation is a characteristic of physical, biological and social systems. More than this, each of these interact with each other. What emerges is an ecological perspective on embodiment, (human) cognition, social need, institutions and cultures.

The first aim is the elucidation of the modern process sciences (systems theory) with phenomenology, especially in its social forms. The second aim is the description or application of this perspective to social phenomena, especially the institutions associated with education and culture. This necessarily involves evolutionary perspectives, the identification of physical and psychological need and the emergence of strong social structures. This is contrasted with the current dominance of so-called post-structuralism.

Particular concerns topicalised have been developmental need, special needs and adaptive behaviour, education and the economy, limits on human plasticity, and patterns of continuing adult development.

Smith, J. (2014). Memories of Childhood in post-war Grimsby. Childhood in the Past, pp. 82-95. 

Smith, J. (2013). The construction of childhood, learning and play: An evolutionary and ecological revision. Youth & Policy, 111, pp. 44-57. 

Smith, J. and Jenks, C. (2013). Reshaping social theory from complexity and ecological perspectives. Thesis Eleven, 114(1), pp. 61-75. 

Smith, J. (2011). Modelling education systems: An ecological approach. International Journal for Cross-Disciplinary Subjects in Education (IJCDSE), 2(1), pp. 312-319. 

Jenks, C. and Smith, J. (2008). After Beslan: Childhood, complexity and risk. The British Journal of Sociology, 59(3), pp. 501-518.

Smith, J. and Jenks, C. (2006). Qualitative Complexity. London: Routledge.

Browse our publications database

Smith, J. (2013). Images of Community in Discourse & the Visual Arts. Literature, Community and its Limits IOE, London.

Smith, J. (2013). Beyond the social and medical models of special educational needs. Discourse, Power, Resistance. London.

Smith, J. (2012). Education Studies & Complexity Theory. British Education Studies Association. Hull.

Smith, J. (2012). Re-evaluating socio-biology and evolutionary psychology for the philosophy, history & practices of education. Discourse, Power, Resistance. Plymouth.

Smith, J. (2012). Rethinking the history of childhood through evolutionary and ecological perspectives. Centre for Research into Play & Recreation. London.

Smith, J. (2011). Differing paradigms on play and development. Centre for Research into Play and Recreation. London.

Smith, J. (2011). A basis for ethics in education: constructivism, autopoiesis, ecological psychology, affordances, constrained perspectivalism and developmental psychology. Discourse, Power, Resistance. Plymouth.

Smith, J. (2010). Modelling Education Systems. International Conference on Education, London.

Browse our publications database