Professor Robert Meadows
Rob joined the University of Surrey in 1999 to work at the Human Psychopharmacology Research Unit, Medical Research Centre (HPRU/MRC), having previously gained degrees in Law, Sociology and Social Anthropology (LLB: Keele) and Socio-Legal studies (MA: Sheffield). From 1999 to 2003 he held numerous research positions within the HPRU/MRC, (including Programmer/Analyst, Acting Head of Data Management) worked as part of a small Home Office funded team, and spent time visiting two Japanese Universities. In October 2003, Rob joined the sociology department as Research Fellow and co-investigator on an ESRC funded project, before becoming (2006-2008) a senior researcher and part of the core management team on a large-scale, cross-council, project. During this period Rob was also a part-time PhD student (2002-2008), Associate Lecturer/tutor (2002-2007) and a part-time (20%) lecturer (2007-2008) in the sociology department. He took up a full-time lectureship in August 2008, was promoted to senior lecturer in April 2013, Reader in 2017 and Professor in 2021.
Rob is currently Unit of Assessment Lead (REF) for the Department and is part of the team which looks after the day courses. Rob is on the editorial board of Sociological Research Online, is a member of the UKRI Future Leaders Peer Review College, sits on NIHR panels and is co-recorder of the Sociology and Social Policy Section of the British Science Association. He also currently acts as External Examiner at Portsmouth University.
Previous internal service roles include Deputy Director of Research (impact), Programme Director for Sociology Programmes, Senior Placement Tutor, Department Lead Academic Integrity Officer, Department Examinations Officer, Departmental International Liaison Officer, Member of the Faculty Ethics Committee. External roles have included PhD proposal reviewer for the Government of Ireland, Invited Member of Validation Panel (Brunel MSc in Public Health), External expert for the Open University (Health, Wellbeing and Aging), External subject expert for BSc and MSc programme validation Kingston University, External examiner Kingston University Undergraduate Sociology programmes, External examiner Kingston University MSc Life Planning and Retirement programme.
In the media
My research largely operates at the nexus of sleep, technology and recovery. My research has been supported by the ESRC (x2), the British Academy (x3), Wellcome Trust and Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness. I have also been an investigator on 7 internal awards and other contracts. I am currently working on :
(i) 'Making sleep';
My research on sleep takes a broad focus and speaks to diverse literatures - including health and illness, mental health, family, gender, STS and the sociology of the body – as well as tending to trouble disciplinary boundaries. I have been invited to talk about my work on sociological aspects of sleep in several countries (Japan, Turkey) and numerous UK Universities (for example Cambridge, Oxford, Chester). I am (co)author of 5 papers reprinted in a recent international volume on critical concepts in sleep. I was also part of the team which developed the Substance Use Sleep Scale (here). This has now been incorporated in the SURE Recovery app (see here). Current work focuses on public health and sleep and includes a forthcoming conference on 'Making sleep: new agendas for a new public health' - as well as a forthcoming co-authored book titled 'Technosleep'.
(ii) 'Making recovery'
Artificial intelligence (AI) is said to be ‘transforming mental health’. AI based technologies and technique are now considered to have uses in almost every domain of mental health care: including decision making, assessment and healthcare management. What remains underexplored is whether/how mental health recovery is situated within these discussions and practices. Projects include a British Academy funded study looking at chatbots and mental health recovery.
AI based chatbots are increasingly being used in the mental health field yet very little attention is being paid to how they relate to the concept of mental health recovery. The proposed study therefore asks: To what extent are chatbots both shaped by, and shaping, the concept of mental health recovery?
Sleep is a site and source of ethics, from long-standing proverbs of the ‘early to bed early to rise …’kind to contemporary moralising regarding sleep medicines. Recent developments in digital and social media add further dynamics to these matters given their Janus-faced relations with sleep. On the one hand, social media are said to disturb sleep; with recent research, for example, suggesting that increased dependency on social network sites is associated with decreased sleep quality. On the other hand, sleep experts are using the same media to develop novel methods for investigating sleep; with researchers, for example, building a ‘digital phenotype’ of insomnia using microblogging (Twitter) data. Further complexities arise when new technologies are considered – such as Somnometer, Fitbit etc - which feed sleep data directly to users and encourage sharing to traditional forms of social media. We undertook a programme of work provided (i) an innovative methodology which is reflective of its own role with regard to ethical issues; (ii) a multidisciplinary network which includes social scientists, biomedical sleep experts, designers and methodologists; and (iii) scoping data from designers/sleep experts involved in design and from a large sample of users/non-users/prospective users.
This Symposium gathered together academics and postgraduate research students who have theoretical and empirical interest in ‘recovery’ in the context of mental health, physical illness or injury and addiction. Despite prima facie cross-over there has been little dialogue about recovery between these domains and the conceptual models of recovery they are building do not necessarily speak to each other. Within the field of mental health, Watson (2012) has identified a need for sociologists to develop a better understanding of recovery in the context of contemporary service provision, in particular the co-existence between policy framing of recovery as experienced by service users and biomedical and clinical conceptualisation of recovery as outcome. In contrast to mental health, recovery from acute physical illness or serious injury is relatively under-researched and under-theorised notwithstanding Frank’s (1995) seminal work on narratives of serious illness and extensive research on experiences of chronic illness. The concept of ‘survivorship’ has been found to be problematic from the perspective of cancer patients (Khan et al 2012) and findings from the recent ESRC-funded project Getting Back to Normal? (Thomas and Earthy) demonstrated the complexity of the social processes surrounding transition from an acute phase of illness and treatment to a more stable situation, whether that constitutes full or partial recovery. In 2007, White argued that the addiction field had failed to achieve consensus on a definition of “recovery” and that this had undermined clinical research, clinical practice and confused communications amongst clients, professionals, the public and policymakers.
The study used longitudinal dyadic data analysis to explore (i) the dynamics of gender identity within heterosexual couples over time; (ii) how gender dynamics within couples over time are associated with reports of sleep. Results were used to engage with ideas surrounding how traditional masculinities are constructed in relation to ‘emphasized feminities’ and how they are constructed in the areas of face-to-face interactions over time. The findings also enabled us to engage with recent sociological literature which suggests that ‘sleep’ is a gendered arena.
The project also enabled Meadows to be mentored by Professor Amanda Sacker (Director of the International Centre for Life-Course Studies, UCL). Prof. Sacker has extensive expertise in family demography and statistical methods. Meadows also spent time at Michigan State University developed his knowledge of dyadic data analysis techniques
Research by Neale and Nettleton into the everyday lives of recovering heroin users found sleep to be an important issue for those seeking to overcome addiction. Although there is a biomedical literature on substance misuse and sleep, there is virtually no sociological research on sleep during rehabilitation. Working with Meadows, a sociologist of sleep, the team explored how sleep is experienced, interpreted and managed by recovering users in residential treatment settings. A novel conceptual model which situates sleep, drug misuse and recovery as embodied social actions that are embedded within social contexts was developed. Thirty individuals wore an actiwatch (an established tool for measuring sleep/wake cycles) for one week; they were then interviewed to gather data on their perceptions of their night/day experiences. These subjective data matched, by objective measures of sleep, facilitated comparison between perceptions of sleeping patterns and actual patterns of sleeping.
More information can be found in this paper which considers the rationale for, design and outputs of a project, based at the University of Surrey UK and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), which sought to integrate aspects of teaching substantive and Quantitative Methods (QM) teaching across first year sociology undergraduate programmes using a blended approach. The paper considers the nature of concerns regarding teaching QM within social science undergraduate programmes. It goes on to describe the rationale for this project, its design and its primary outputs. We consider a range of data related to student attitudes towards studying QM at university as well as their perspectives on the project and the implications for practice.
The research examined social factors influencing the quality of sleep and sleep negotiation between working age men and women at varying stages of the lifecourse. It used a multi-method approach, which included the integration of social scientific and physiological data:
- Qualitative interviews with 40 couples, to obtain information as to their described sleep reality and to understand how this differs from their normative views on sleep.
- Individual qualitative audio recorded sleep diaries for a period of one week (x80), to provide qualitative data on each partners sleep behaviour.
- Quantitative actigraphy data for a period of one week (x80).
I currently lead on Drugs & Society, Sociology of Health and Illness and Sociology of Mental Health. For many years, I also taught theory modules across the undergraduate programmes and have also taught on a range of research methods modules.
In 2012, colleagues and I were awarded a grant from the ESRC to explore innovative ways to integrate quantitative methods into the FHEQ 4 curriculum. Findings from this pedagogical research were presented and published in 2014 (Bullock et al 2014). Other outputs include: http://www.discoverquants.surrey.ac.uk/ In 2020 I was awarded a teaching innovation grant titled: "teaching the sociology of mental health amidst an unfolding 'crisis'".
PhD students (Awarded)
- Theresa Ellmers A qualitative study of sleep and the night-time in care homes for older people
- Alex Cuncev Homelessness (co-supervisor)
- Basem Zuhur-Adi Education/Critical Realism
- Richard Green Masculinities and Prostate Cancer
- Jessica Underhill Household sleep and cerebral palsy
- Nadia Haerizadeh-Yazdi Parenting a Child Recipient of Proton-Beam Therapy
In Progress includes Lorraine Locke, Nicola Spencer-Godfrey, Megan Georgiou and Frances Sanders
Proton Beam Therapy (PBT) is a new type of therapy used to treat rare and complex tumours. PBT is claimed to improve patients’ quality-of-life by reducing treatment-related side effects and the risk of long-term complications; although long-term evidence for this is limited. Since 2008, NHS patients have had access to proton treatment through a government funded scheme, although access is restricted to an eligible list of users. Since the start of this scheme, the majority of treated patients have been paediatric patients. This research examines the experiences of parents of paediatric patients, treated with proton therapy. This is the first piece of research to examine users’ experiences involving proton treatment. Proton beam therapy is a new type of treatment and it is not known how users experience, perceive and make decisions involving this treatment.
This is a qualitative inquiry based on joint and single interviews, carried out with 27 parents; eight fathers and 19 mothers. Participants were recruited via an online support group, as well as charities. A total of 21 families participated in this study; two families fell into the category of ‘self-funded’, meaning they opted for proton therapy against the advice of their child’s primary team of doctors and privately raised funds for treatment. The remaining families were sponsored by the NHS. Additionally, discourse analysis of patient information documents related to proton treatment was conducted. Juxtaposing the outcome of the discourse analysis with the accounts presented by parents in their interviews sheds insight into the different perspectives and experiences, if any, and enables us to look at whether and where contrasting views are reflected and reproduced, and the implications these may have.
The way parents view and understand PBT and approach decision-making about this new therapy, and other treatments, are explored in this study. Additionally, this research situates parental knowledge and work, deployed in the management of their child’s illness and treatment, as expertise. Through attaining this expertise parents reclaim some order of control, protect their parental role and responsibility and manage some of their uncertainties. Exploration of these parents’ post-treatment accounts highlights a range of on-going health issues and uncertainties, some specific to PBT, which impede aspects of their child’s recovery. The literature on recovery is primarily focused on an individualistic adult patient perspective, however this research conceptualises recovery from childhood illnesses as a joint venture shared between parent(s) and child. Findings presented in this thesis contribute to the sociology of health and illness, and family studies, by providing insight into the experiences of parents of paediatric patients treated with proton therapy. It also contributes to sociological literature on expertise and recovery.
Background: Sleep problems are common amongst people who use alcohol and other drugs, but treatment options are limited. This paper explores how people in residential treatment for alcohol and other drug problems perceived and described ‘non-problematic’ sleep to provide insights that might inform sleep interventions for this population.
Methods: Qualitative interviews were conducted with 28 residents (19 women, 9 men; ages 24-83 years) in two residential drug and alcohol treatment centres in England during 2014/15. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and coded. Accounts of non-problematic sleep were then analysed inductively.
Results: Non-problematic sleep comprised three linked components: i. personal sleep patterns and routines; ii. sleep perceptions; and iii. sleep metacognitions. Some participants reported they slept well; others described their sleep as problematic but improving. Participants believed that sleep improved naturally with residential treatment and abstinence, but perceptions of ‘good’ sleep varied greatly. Participants used a range of metacognitive strategies (e.g. downgrading the importance of sleep; adapting their sleeping patterns; and focusing on sleep quality alongside sleep quantity) to manage sleep problems and render them non-problematic.
Conclusions: Metacognitive strategies that focus on changing perceptions of sleep can potentially inform sleep interventions for people with a history of alcohol and other drug use.
To develop a patient reported outcome measure to assess sleep amongst people experiencing problems with alcohol or other drugs.Methods:
Item development included secondary analyses of qualitative interviews with drug/alcohol users in residential treatment, a review of validated sleep measures, focus groups with drug/alcohol users in residential treatment, and feedback from drug/alcohol users recruited from community and residential settings. An initial version of the measure was completed by 549 current and former drug/alcohol users (442 in person [IP] and 107 online [OL]). Analyses comprised classical test theory methods, exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, measurement invariance assessment, and item response theory (IRT).Results:
The initial measure (30 items) had good content and face validity, and was named the Substance Use Sleep Scale (SUSS) by addiction service users. After 7 items were removed due to low item-factor loadings, 2 factors were retained and labelled: ‘Mind and Body Sleep Problems’ (14 items) and ‘Substance Related Sleep Problems’ (9 items). Measurement invariance was confirmed with respect to gender, age, and administration format. IRT (information) and classical test theory (internal consistency, stability) indicated measure reliability. Standard parametric and non-parametric techniques supported convergent and discriminant validity.Conclusions:
SUSS is an easy-to-complete patient reported outcome measure of sleep for people with drug/alcohol problems. It can be used by those concerned about their own sleep, and by treatment providers and researchers seeking to better understand, assess, and potentially treat sleep difficulties amongst this population. Further validity testing with larger and more diverse samples is now required.
Background: Alcohol and other drug use is associated with poor sleep quality and quantity, but there is limited qualitative research exploring substance users’ experiences of sleep and few psychosocial sleep interventions for them.
Aim: To inform the development of psychosocial interventions to improve sleep amongst people reporting drug/alcohol problems.
Method: Qualitative data were collected during a sleep survey. Of the 549 drug/alcohol users completing the survey, 188 (34%) provided additional information about their sleep using a free text box. Responses were analysed via Iterative Categorization. Findings were reviewed with reference to the Behaviour Change Wheel (BCW).
Results: All data were categorized inductively under five headings: i. sleep quality; ii. nature of sleep problems; iii. sleep and substances; iv. factors improving sleep quality; v. factors undermining sleep quality. Substance use undermined sleep, but poor sleep often persisted after substance use had ceased. Sleep problems were diverse; as were the causes of, and strategies for dealing with, those problems. Causes and strategies had biological, psychological, social, and environmental roots.
Conclusions: The BCW facilitated the identification of intervention components that might improve the sleep of people who use substances. These components relate to education, training, enablement, modelling, service provision, guidelines and environment.