David Herbert





My research interests focus on migration and the ethnic and religious diversity and the social challenges and opportunities created (e.g. multiculturalism, populism, Islamophobia) in contemporary cities. I have worked on projects in Bradford, Belfast, London, Copenhagen, Oslo, Kristiansand, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Krakow and Leipzig. I have used several methods to investigate this field, including surveys, interviews, ethnography and social media analysis. These interests have led me to partner in bids for interdisciplinary projects focusing on how social processes impact on the environment, two of which have recently received Horizon Europe funding - Pro-Climate will investigate how social tipping points which favour climate change resilience are reached, and Pro-Coast will investigate factors shaping community participation in coastal biodiversity conservation actions. A third recently funded Horizon Europe project, ARM, led by Lovise Aahlen at the Christian Michaelsen Institute, will investigate how authoritarian governments seek to control and exert influence through their diaspora populations in Europe. 

Two recently completed projects are Cultural Conflict 2.0 (https://cc2.mediated.eu/) - which examined how social media reshapes social relations in cities in Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands - and Reaching for a New Sense of Connection (https://research.kent.ac.uk/understandingunbelief/research/research-projects-2/herbert-and-bullock/), which investigated how young people with no religion are finding new ways to connect with each other around existential and political questions in ten European cities.

A new project related to this topic, 'Banal (Non)Religion: Secular Imaginaries in Contemporary Pop-Culture' led by Evelina Lundmark of the University of Uppsala, will start in December 2023. 

I am a member of the research groups on Migration, Environment and Development and on Welfare, Inequality and the Lifecourse, and participant in the interdisciplinary Political Economy and Minority Studies research groups.


Recent Conference and Invited Presentations:

'Support for and Opposition to Populist Right Anti-Immigration Stances in Austria and the UK: Results of a New Survey.' 15th Conference of the European Sociological Association; 2021-08-31 - 2021-09-03

Troublesome entanglements: religion, politics and gender in contemporary Poland. Dynamics of Religious Change: Panels by the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics”, WWU at the 4th Annual Conference of the European Academy of Religion (EuARe); 2021-08-30 - 2021-09-02

‘Social Media, Religion and the City’ invitation to present at Kristiansand City Council ‘The City for All’ week, 4 Feb 2019.

‘The Conditions for the Politicisation of Religion in Europe and the Middle East’, NATO Defence Academy Rome, 5 April 2018 and 23 October 2018

‘Spatial Justice in the Digital City’ Spatial Justice in the City workshop jointly convened by CRESC OU and CUCR Goldsmiths and funded by the ESRC, June 30th– July 1, 2016 Open University, Milton Keynes.



My teaching interests are in urban sociology, migration and integration, race and ethnicity, religion, digital and mixed methods. The three courses that I currently lead are: SOS119 Global Cities: an introduction to urban sociology for the 21st century, MET900 Qualitative Digital Methods for Social Scientists and SOS120 Digital Sociology (new for Spring 2023). I also contribute to SOS100 Introduction to Sociology, SOS101 Classic and Modern Sociological Theory, and SOS321 Migration, Integration and Mobility (new for Autumn 2022). I supervise dissertations at both Bachelor and Master levels, and I am overseeing PhD completions from my previous job at Kingston University London.



See a complete overview of publications in Cristin.

Some recent publications:

2022 co-edited with Fisher-Høyrem, Stefan; Social Media and Social Order. De Gruyter Open (ISBN 9788366675605) https://doi.org/10.2478/9788366675612

2022 with Josh Bullock 'The Diversity of Nonreligion: Meaning-Making, Activism and Towards a Theory of Nonreligious Identity and Group Formation' in A. Zwilling and H. Årsheim eds. Nonreligion in Late Modern Societies. Institutional and Legal Perspectives pp. 151-171 https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-92395-2


2021 with Wigger, I, and Yendell, A. 'The end of ‘Welcome Culture’? How the Cologne assaults reframed Germany’s immigration discourse' European Journal of Communication (London), Vol.37 (1), p.21-47 https://doi.org/10.1177/02673231211012173

2020 ‘Social Media and Spatial Justice: Instagram, Status Competition and the Deepening of Urban Exclusion in Northern Europe’ Chapter 2 in Spatial Justice in the City ed. Sophie Watson (London: Routledge), see: https://books.google.no/books/about/Spatial_Justice_in_the_City.html

2019 “Religion and The Dynamics of Right Wing Populism in Poland: Impacts, Causes, Prospects”. Religion and Society in Central and Eastern Europe 12 (1): 23-37. doi: https://doi.org/10.20413/rascee.2019.12.1.23-37

2019 ‘Legacies of 1998: What Kind of Social Peace Has Developed in Northern Ireland? Social Attitudes, Inequality and Territoriality’ in Charles Armstrong, David Herbert and Jan Eric Mustad The Legacy of 1998: Northern Irish Politics, Culture and Art after the Good Friday Agreement. (London: Palgrave MacMillan, Compromise After Conflict Series)

2019 ‘A Different Dynamic? Explaining Prejudice Against Muslims in the Russian Federation: Islamophobia or Internalized Racial Hierarchy?’  EEGA Leibniz Science Campus Special Issue 1: 45-53.

2019 with Fisher-Høyrem, S. ‘“When You Live Here, That’s What You Get”: Other-, Ex-, and Non-Religious Outsiders in the Norwegian Bible Belt’ Religions 2019, 10, 611; doi:10.3390/rel10110611

2018 with Janna Hansen, ‘‘You are no longer my flesh and blood’: Social Media and the Negotiation of a Hostile Media Frame by Danish ‘Reverts’ to Islam’ Nordic Journal of Religion and Society. 31 (1): 4-21 (anonymous peer reviewed)

2018 ‘Perspectives: Theorizing Mediatized Civic Settings and Cultural Conflict in Scandinavia’ in K. Kundby ed. Contesting Religion: The Media Dynamics of Cultural Conflict in Scandinavia (New York: De Gruyter) 155-170 (anonymous peer reviewed)

2018 with Janna Hansen, ‘Life in the Spotlight: How Danish Muslims Cope with a Hostile Media Frame’ in K. Kundby ed. Contesting Religion: The Media Dynamics of Cultural Conflict in Scandinavia (New York: De Gruyter) 205-223 (anonymous peer reviewed)

2018 with Mia Lövheim, Haakon Jernsletten, Knut Lundby, Stig Hjarvard, ‘Attitudes to Religious Diversity: A Survey and Comparisons’ in K. Kundby ed. Contesting Religion: The Media Dynamics of Cultural Conflict in Scandinavia (New York: De Gruyter). 33-50 (anonymous peer reviewed)


PRO-COAST (Horizon Europe, Nov 2023 - Oct 2026)

PRO-COAST will develop and apply a cutting-edge operational framework in the study of coastal ecosystem dynamics for the benefit of the population most exposed to risk deriving from biodiversity loss. Such a framework needs to tackle the complex socialecological issues at hand, particularly so because these issues involve a dynamic perspective on the social as well as its interaction with the ecological system. Hence, the PRO-COAST framework will be based on the integrative Social Ecological Systems framework (SESF), which is the only framework that treats social and ecological systems in almost equal depth and is based on the seminal work of the late Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom. Furthermore, the SESF is currently the most advanced and widely used framework for the study of complex social systems in which some of the interdependent relationships among humans are mediated through interactions with biophysical and non-human biological units. Our ultimate goal is to encourage and empower communities of citizens (especially local people) to maintain and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services in their areas. Our vision is to stimulate and empower these communities and civil society in general, to support restoration and conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and thus to involve them more actively in environmental governance. Towards these goals, PRO-COAST will apply its holistic framework for identifying the interactions and dynamics of the different subsystems in a set of nine representative case studies located on the European continent, both in EU and non-EU areas, covering all five European coastal regions. The coastal ecosystem is the common thread running through all the case studies, but each one presents a specific issue and framework. In each case study we will co-create together with local stakeholders a set of tools and policies for the successful implementation of biodiversity conservation projects.

Banal (Non)Religion: Secular Imaginaries in Contemporary Pop-Culture (NordForsk, Dec 2023-Nov 2026)

In this project, we will answer the question of how secular imaginaries (Taylor 2007) are transmitted in and through popular culture expressing anti-religious sentiments, or religious indifference, and if it is useful to approach these as “banal,” or everyday (Hjarvard 2016), expressions of a hegemonizing secular worldview. The project will be structured around three work packages, covering media analysis and recipient studies looking at the transmission of secular imaginaries on social media. The three work packages focus on 1) humor in the form of stand-up comedy specials and podcasts, 2) depictions of death, funerals, and rituals in Nordic films, and 3) popular science podcasts and programs. Emblematic examples of stand-up specials, podcasts, movies, and science documentaries popular in the Nordic countries will be selected, collected, and analyzed, followed by analysis of the dispersal of secular imaginaries on social media, and finally we will assess how these texts, performances and images are understood by interviewing influencers and participants in their circulation. The three work packages allow us to approach the topic from different angles by exploring 1) anti-religious discourse through expressions of religious antipathy or indifference towards religion, 2) indifference or irrelevance of religion in relation to a domain which largely has been associated with religious traditions and worldviews, and 3) science as a core aspect of the secular imaginary, often posed in opposition to religion.

PRO-CLIMATE (Horizon Europe, Jan 2024-Dec 2026).

The strategic objective of PRO-CLIMATE is to support communities to proactively adapt to climate change through social transformation and behavioural change. To achieve this, PRO-CLIMATE will identify social tipping points and policy actions that enable systemic transformation to be achieved across social systems. PRO-CLIMATE will adopt an approach guided by the concept of systems thinking, which views communities as complex systems that are interconnected and influenced by multiple factors, socioeconomic and environmental. By understanding and leveraging their dynamics, it will then develop strategies and interventions that promote social transformation and behavioural change. This will result in a robust framework for designing effective methodologies and tools to foster proactively adaptive behaviours and facilitate transformative changes. A set of diverse (in terms of climate change problems and socio-economic contexts) case studies across Europe will be an instrumental tool for the co-creation, validation, and upscaling of this framework by running living labs and bringing stakeholders together to understand community governance and institutional structures, and to also pilot and validate the project's behaviour change activities. The outputs of PRO-CLIMATE will include: a) the identification of key components of climate adaptation systems, their interactions, systemic interdependencies and trade-offs, b) the design, implementation, and evaluation of a living lab framework, c) the identification of social tipping points and leverage actions for policy makers, d) the development of a multi agent computer model for European socio-ecological systems to allow a realistic analysis of existing and future policy scenarios likely to produce systemic transformations, and e) policy recommendations to accelerate systemic change.

ARM - The Long Arms of Authoritarian States (Horizon Europe, Feb 2024 - Jan 2027).

What strategies do authoritarian states deploy to control information beyond their borders? While disinformation efforts as foreign influence has received extensive attention, little has been done to systematically dissect information suppression strategies. By analysing the ways in which Russia, China, Ethiopia and Rwanda suppress information, the ARM project will conceptualise, identify and help address information suppression as foreign information manipulation and intervention (FIMI) by authoritarian states domestically, within Europe, and among diaspora communities residing in Europe. China and Russia are selected as two major powers highly active in managing information as a part of their foreign policy. Ethiopia and Rwanda, though less influential on the global stage, are some of the most engaged African states in transnational repression. Having substantial diaspora populations in Europe, their reach should be analysed and the implications of their information suppression should be understood. By conceptualising information suppression as part of FIMI, the ARM project will broaden the established approach to FIMI, which has traditionally only been focused on disinformation. By delineating the concept of information suppression within the strategic toolbox of authoritarian regimes, we will contribute to the scholarly discussions how autocracies manoeuvre to strengthen their power base. With the identification of the tactics, techniques, and procedures of information suppression, we will make a toolkit, including recommendations on how to combat information suppression operations, taking the risks and vulnerabilities of target groups into consideration. Through the lifespan of the project, we will involve the defender community: key actors within policy and civil society who try to detect, understand, and respond to threats stemming from authoritarian regimes’ suppression of information.

Why Are Some Are More Equal than Others? Analysing Attitudes to a Changing European Asylum Landscape through the case of the UK: Hierarchies of Preference and the Outsourcing of Asylum Responsibilities (with Alex Yendell, Leipzig University)

Jan 2023 - June 2024

This small project grows out of discussions within the research group on migration, integration and mobility (MIM), and will comprise a national representative survey conducted in the UK in September or October 2022 and analysis of digital media discourse (social and news media) conducted in English language sources (underway) and for comparison in Norwegian, German and Danish.

The European landscape for refugees and asylum seekers is changing fast. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a new wave of Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children, with the EU waiving visa requirements to smooth the path for displaced people. However, this reception stands in marked contrast to that of refugees from the war in Syria in 2014-15 in many cases, and from other recent conflicts (De Witte 2022), which reflect trends towards the securitization and criminalisation of asylum seekers by governments across Europe:     

Migrants, including asylum seekers, who do manage to enter irregularly Council of Europe member states are often criminalised, locked up in prison-like conditions, and expelled as quickly as possible – even to countries where they risk persecution and torture. (Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, 2022).

Differential treatment of asylum seekers has produced some stark contrasts, from African students fleeing Ukraine ‘trapped at the borders, prevented from boarding trains (by Ukrainians) or from entering neighbouring countries (by Polish border guards)’ to ‘Middle Eastern refugees on the Belarusian border [who] face the option of crossing into war-torn Ukraine or being beaten back by Polish guards’ (ODI 2022 a, b). Such border scenes arguably make visible troubling forces at work across Europe, suggesting that a ‘racialized [and arguably gendered] hierarchy’ of preference shapes government asylum policies and informs the attitudes of border officials (ODI 2022b). Hence our first research question: how far does differential treatment of asylum seekers in policy and practice reflect broader public opinion? (RQ1)

The post-Brexit UK provides an interesting ‘laboratory’ in which to address this question. As a Council of Europe member, the UK is bound by the same obligations to asylum seekers as other European governments but has used asylum policy to mark post-Brexit difference, requiring Ukrainians to apply for a visa (though under more lenient conditions than other applicants). More radically, the UK has struck a deal with Rwanda for the total offshoring of the processing and resettlement of refugees arriving by irregular routes - with the first deportations thwarted only by the late intervention of the European Court. This policy has sharply divided public opinion in the UK. A YouGov poll (2022a) shows 43% support (27% strongly) the Rwanda asylum scheme with 40% opposed (28% strongly). However, it is unclear how well understood the policy or the principles at stake are, and why people support or oppose it. While the UK is not alone in seeking to offshore asylum processing (BBC 2021), offshoring resettlement is unprecedented in Europe, hence RQ2: in what ways and on what grounds do the public support or oppose offshoring asylum policy?

Contrary to these policy trends, explicit and declarative attitudes to immigration in the UK have become more positive (as in other Western European societies) in recent years, with positive answers to ‘does immigration make the UK a worse or better place to live?’ rising above 50% in 2018, up from just over 30% in 2014 (ODI 2022b), and those believing that that UK should accept fewer refugees falling from 20% in 2019 to 10% in April 2022 (YouGov 2022b). More work is needed to tease out the factors shaping individual attitudes and the process of public opinion formation, and to investigate whether and to what extent the apparently racialized hierarchy of preference visible in policy and media discourses (Bayoumi 2022) reflects explicit attitudes or, in contrast, is based on tacit, implicit, and non-declarative ethnic attitudes and racial stereotypes. We will complement the survey by analysing news media discourse (using Media Cloud) and social media debate on Twitter and Facebook (using NodeXL) to compare with other countries (e.g. Norway, Germany, Denmark).

The work builds on a survey last August also co-funded by småforsk, which innovated in combining psycho-social factors (Yendell) with social media use and discursive contact factors (Herbert) to explain over half the variation in support for far-right attitudes and conspiracy thinking in a representative sample from the UK and Austria. Findings were presented at the ESA last August with an article in peer review for Politics and Governance, and two further articles in preparation. The new survey will benefit from scales developed through this survey, lead to further publications and deepen collaboration within the department and internationally, strengthening networks for new research bids to national and international sources.

Recent Completed Projects

Cultural Conflict 2.0  - https://cc2.mediated.eu/

Reaching for a New Sense of Connection - https://research.kent.ac.uk/understandingunbelief/research/research-projects-2/herbert-and-bullock/#