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Dr Tom O'Brien
Lecturer in Political Sociology



I grew up on a farm in New Zealand’s King Country region. I was inspired to complete a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree at the University of Waikato by a charismatic lecturer on a polytechnic course, who pushed us in new directions. I followed this with an Honours year at Victoria University Wellington and a Masters at the University of Auckland. After two years working in the New Zealand Ministry of Health, I moved to Melbourne to pursue a PhD, exploring whether democratisation leads to improved environmental standards and factors that may influence such outcomes. I travelled to Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria and Romania for extended fieldwork, speaking to officials, civil society representatives and experts about democratisation and the environment.

I joined the Department of Sociology in August 2018, as lecturer in political sociology.


I have previously held academic posts in the UK, New Zealand and Australia, most recently at Cranfield University at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom.

External roles

I am currently Treasurer of the Political Leadership Standing Group of the Political Studies Association.

Associate Editor of Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online.



My research interests have expanded over time, encompassing environmental sociology, democratisation, social movements and political leadership. I am currently working with colleagues in New Zealand, Romania and the UK examining topics such as forest protests in Australia, governance of hybrid or weakly democratic regimes in Southeast Asia, political entrepreneurship in New Zealand, and anti-government protest in Romania.


Selected publications

Creţan, R. and O’Brien, T. (2019) ‘Corruption and Conflagration: (In)Justice and Protest in Bucharest after the Colectiv Fire’, Urban Geography, ifirst. [doi:10.1080/02723638.2019.1664252]

O’Brien, T. (2019) ‘“Our Patience Has Run Out”: Tracking the Anti-Government Protest Cycle in Bulgaria’, Journal of Contemporary European Studies, ifirst [doi:10.1080/14782804.2019.1656603]

O’Brien, T. (2019) ‘Political Entrepreneurship in the Field of Māori Sovereignty in Aotearoa New Zealand,’ British Journal of Sociology, 70(4): 1179-1197. [doi:10.1111/BJOS.12611]

Creţan, R. and O’Brien, T. (2019) ‘“Get out of Traian Square!”: Roma Stigmatisation as a Mobilising Tool for the Far Right in Timişoara, Romania,’ International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 43(5): 833-47. [doi:10.1111/1468-2427.12775]

O’Brien, T. (2019) ‘“Let This Forest Forever Rest”: Tracking Protest and Identity in Australia’s Forests’, Australian Geographer, 50(3): 365-80. [doi:10.1080/00049182.2018.1555745]

O’Brien, T. and Creţan, R. (2019) ‘The Role of Identity in the 2015 Romanian Shepherd Protests’, Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 26(4): 470-88. [doi:10.1080/1070289X.2017.1400322]

O’Brien, T. and Huntington, N. (2018) ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold: The Green Party and the 2017 New Zealand Election’, Environmental Politics, 27(2): 373-78. (Profile) [doi: 10.1080/09644016.2018.1414745]

O’Brien, T. (2017) ‘“Cut Pollution, Create Jobs? Yeah, Nah”: Partisan Effects on Environmental Protest in Aotearoa New Zealand’, Political Science, 69(3): 264-81. [doi:10.1080/00323187.2017.1387032]

O’Brien, T. (2017) ‘Unbuilding from the Inside: Leadership and Democratization in South Africa and South Korea’, Government and Opposition, 52(4): 614-39. [doi:10.1017/gov.2015.41]

O’Brien, T. (2017) ‘Shifting Patterns of Governance in Authoritarian Regimes’, Australian Journal of Political Science, 52(2): 303-16. (Review Essay) [doi: 10.1080/10361146.2017.1300872]

Full publications list

For a complete list of publications see ORCID.

Contact details

Dr Tom O'Brien
W/N/249, Department of Sociology
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: 01904 32 3048