Alex Fenton

assoziierte(r) Doktorand(in)
Welfare State

Leibniz-Universität Hannover - Institut für Soziologie

Project Description

In Europe, statistical methods and statistical institutions of a recognisably modern sort emerged from the latter half of the eighteenth century onwards. These advances were closely bound with the development of the State's capacities and the progressive extension of its interests. Specialised instruments of statistical collection (for example, censuses and social surveys) and objects of interest (mortality, health, work and so on), types of statistical analysis (for example, the construction of macro-economic series) and statistical applications (for example, indicators in performance management) are central to different forms of State-capital relation, such as classic laissez-faire liberalism, the welfare state, authoritarianism and neo-liberalism.  However, the numerous historical accounts of statistics almost all end before or at 1945.

Sociology traces its origins in part to the moral statistics of the nineteenth century, and quantitative methods have always been a characteristic element of the discipline's methods. Even so, statistical practices have only fairly recently been themselves taken as objects of sociological enquiry. Statistics is sociologically interesting not least because of its dual aspect, as an component of the State's apparatus of rule and as a scientific practice, which asserts its autonomy and universality. The sociology of contemporary statistics addresses among others: the role of statistics in the constitution of “social problems” in public policy and the public sphere, the nature of statistical expertise and authority, the use of statistics in governing by audit and evaluation, and the profusion and diffusion of transactional data about the State and its subjects.

My doctoral project (started October 2013) is a comparative study of the production of official poverty and income statistics in Great Britain and Germany from the mid-1970s to the present. The period starts with considerable political and economic disruption, and waning certainty in both the post-war welfare state and positivist epistemology in social science. However, it also saw the founding of major long-running official surveys of income and poverty, and rapid technological change in the production, handling and dissemination of statistical data.  The study's primary investigations concern the measures, classifications and representations upon which government income statistics were based. Thus, for example: how exactly are income and poverty conceived and measured; how are households, families and persons classified; what geographical codings are employed; what aspects of distribution – over space, between classes or groups – are reported? From these follow questions about how states generate statistical knowledge for the administration of policy, and about the dual scientific and official character of public statistics. Thus, for example: where do statistical schema and techniques originate, and how do they come to dominate in public representations of a specific social question; what kind of institutions are engaged in the production of public statistics, and where are they located; how have states employed statistical knowledge in the service of power?

The first empirical part of the study (from 2014) is the systematic analysis and abstraction of public statistical digests and year-books, to describe the measures, classifications, techniques and geographic systems that were employed. This research also orients the second stage of the research, by identifying the underlying sources and institutions. A subset will be chosen for closer analysis of the relationship between state and science, by means of interviews with participants, archival research and textual analysis of supporting documentary material.

Short CV

Academic Background

2013 – now:

D Phil Candidate, Institut für Soziologie, Leibniz Universität Hannover. Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Eva Barlösius

2004 MSc Social Research Methods (distinction), University of Surrey

1998 MA(Hons) Social Anthropology (first class), University of Edinburgh


2011 – 2012

Research Fellow, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, London School of Economics and Political Science

2006 – 2011

Research Associate, Centre for Housing and Planning Research, Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge

2005 – 2006

Freelance Social Researcher, London

2004 – 2005

Research Officer, Sociology, Institute of Education, University of London

Other Information

2014 Doctoral Scholarship of the Hans-Böckler Stiftung

Visiting Research Fellow, CASE, London School of Economics


Selected Publications

Journal Articles & Book Chapters

Fenton, A. & Simpson, L., (in preparation) Austerity Statistics: the scale and meaning of cuts to public statistics in Britain from 2010

Fenton, A., (2013). Should we be using social security benefits data as proxies for income poverty? Journal of Poverty and Social Justice 21(3) pp207-218.

Fenton, A., Lupton, R., Tunstall, R & Arrundale, R., (2012). Public housing, commodification and 'rights to the city': the US and England compared. Cities, The International Journal of Urban Policy and Planning.

Fenton, A (2012). Reduced Statistics: Housing and Communities in England. Radical Statistics 107, pp70-77.

Fenton, A., (2010). Modelling the take-up of low-cost home ownership. In S. Monk & C. Whitehead, eds Making housing more affordable: the role of intermediate tenures. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Working Papers

Fenton, A., (2013). Small-area measures of income poverty (CASE Paper 173). London: London School of Economics.

Lupton, R., Fenton, A. & Fitzgerald, A. (2013) Labour's Record on Neighbourhood Renewal in England: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 1997 – 2010 (CASE Paper). London: London School of Economics.

Lupton, R., Vizard, P., Fitzgerald, A., Fenton, A., Gambaro, L., & Cunliffe, J. (2013) Prosperity, Poverty and Inequality in London 2000/01 – 2010/11 (CASE Paper). London: London School of Economics.

Fenton, A., (2011). Housing Benefit reform and the spatial segregation of low-income households in London. Cambridge: Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research.

Fenton, A., (2010). How will changes to Local Housing Allowance affect low-income tenants in private rented housing? Cambridge: Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research.

Blogs & Short Articles

Fenton, A. (2012) Falling poverty rates in inner London raise questions about inequality and segregation for a growing city in transition. British Politics and Policy at the LSE. Available at:

Research Notes & Data Sets

Fenton, A. & Lupton, R., (2013). Low-demand Housing and Unpopular Neighbourhoods Under Labour. London: London School of Economics.

Fenton, A., (2013). Urban Area and Hinterland: Defining Large Cities in England, Scotland and Wales in terms of their constituent neighbourhoods. London: London School of Economics.

Fenton, A., Fitzgerald, A. & Lupton, R. (2013) The Distribution of Local Government Finance by Local Authority-Level Deprivation.  London: London School of Economics.

Fenton, A., (2013). Post-censal household estimates for small areas. London: London School of Economics.

Fenton, A. (2012). Unadjusted Means-tested Benefits Rate (UMBR). [Dataset]. Available from:

Fenton, A. (2012). Broad Rental Market Areas (BRMA) lookups. [Dataset]. Available from:

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