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Richard Howells

Professor Richard Howells

Professor of Cultural Sociology

Richard HowellsEmail
Tel +44 (0)20 7848 1357
Culture, Media and Creative Industries
King’s College London
1.03 Chesham Building
Strand Campus





Richard Howells graduated Summa Cum Laude from Harvard University with an AB in Visual Studies. He took his MPhil and PhD in Social and Political Sciences at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. In 2004 he was Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Centre for the Arts in Society, Carnegie Mellon University, USA. He joined CMCI as a Reader in 2006, and was Centre Director until completing his term of office in 2010. In 2015 he was a Visiting Scholar at St John’s College, University of Oxford, and in 2017 will be a Visiting Fellow at Exeter College, University of Oxford.

Research Interests and PhD supervision
  • Visual and popular culture 
  • Cultural sociology 
  • The sociology of representation 
  • Critical theories of Utopia and the work of Ernst Bloch
  • The Titanic in myth and media
  • The Life and work of Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince

Richard Howells is a cultural sociologist who specializes in visual and popular culture. His work combines theory and practice to explore case studies as seemingly diverse as the myth of the Titanic, the work of the Bloomsbury Group, and the humour of Ali G. He is also a member of the Center for the Arts in Society, based in the USA, with whom he has worked and published on the analysis of controversies in the arts. Dr Howells’ most recent book is a monograph: A Critical Theory of Creativity: Utopia, Aesthetics, Atheism and Design (2015). His work is united by asking the big questions about culture-–what is it? Why do we have it? And what does it tell us about ourselves? Consequently, he was commissioned to write a policy essay for the Arts and Humanities Research Council, arguing for the value of arts and humanities research to society. This has now been published in an edited volume of work by “a group of distinguished humanities researchers, all working in Britain, but publishing research of international importance” and who advocate the public value rather than the economic impact of the arts and humanities. He is currently working on a chapter on “Visual Culture” commissioned for inclusion in A Companion to the Theories and Methods of Art History, edited by Geraldine A. Johnson (Oxford University), forthcoming, 2017. 

Richard Howells welcomes applications for PhD topics related to any of his research interests.

For more details, please see his full research profile.

Selected Publications

Recent publications include:

  • Richard Howells, A Critical Theory of Creativity: Utopia, Aesthetics, Atheism and Design, London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. ISBN 978113744616-9.
  • Richard Howells, “Copies and Translations: Roger Fry, Old Masters and the Omega Workshops” in the British Art Journal, Volume XVI, No. 1, 2015 (Summer), pp. 47-57. ISSN 1647-2016.
  • Richard Howells, Andreea Ritivoi and Judith Schachter (Center for the Arts in Society, Carnegie Mellon University), eds., Outrage: Art, Controversy, and Society, London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. ISBN 978023035397-8.
  • Richard Howells, The Myth of the Titanic, Centenary Edition, London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, March 2012.  ISBN: 978023031380-4.
  • Richard Howells, “One Hundred Years of the Titanic on Film”, in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 32, No. 1, March 2012, pp. 73–93. ISSN 01439685. 
  • Richard Howells and Joaquim Negreiros (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, Centro de Investigação e Estudos de Sociologia), Visual Culture, second, revised and expanded edition, Cambridge, England and Malden, Massachusetts: Polity Press, 2012. ISBN 0745650708 (hardback) 0745650716 (paperback).
  • Richard Howells, “Celebrities, Saints and Sinners: The Photograph as Holy Relic” in Celebrity Studies, Volume 2, No 2, July 2011, pp. 112-130. ISSN 1939-2397, DOI 10.1080/19392397.2011.574866.

For a complete list of publications, including foreign language translations, please see Richard Howells’ full research profile.


Richard Howells’ teaching is informed by his research and publications in visual culture and cultural sociology. He teaches the optional MA module Visual Culture, which explores what and how images mean. His focus is on textual analysis supported by hermeneutic methodologies.

He also contributes to the MA CCI core modules with lectures on media theory and the sociology of representation, together with research methodologies. 

Professor Howells has been nominated three times for King’s College London, Faculty of Arts and Humanities Teaching Excellence Awards, and has been the subject of The Times Higher Education Supplement’s “Star Turn” teaching column. 

Expertise and Public Engagement

In addition to being a speaker at international conferences, Richard Howells is a regular contributor to the press and broadcast media on cultural, creative and media issues. Contributions include: the “Today” programme (BBC Radio 4), “Front Row” (BBC Radio 4), “Broadcasting House” (BBC Radio 4), “You and Yours” (BBC Radio 4), “Woman’s Hour” (BBC Radio 4), “The Message” (BBC Radio 4), “The Media Show” (BBC Radio 5), “Beyond Belief” (BBC Radio 4) The Heaven and Earth Show” (BBC1 Television), the Independent, The Times Higher Education, and the BBC World Service. He has also appeared on international channels including ABC Television (USA), ABC (Australia), and ZDF (Germany) along with Sky News (UK).

He is a member of the Editorial Board of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, the Advisory Group of the British Universities Film and Video Council, and a Trustee of the Victoria Institute/Arts Centre in Arundel, West Sussex.

Recent plenary and keynote speeches include “The Titanic in Modern Memory” keynote lecture at the XXIVth Conference of the International Association for Media and History, Copenhagen, Denmark; “Beyond Bloch: Creation, Creativity and a Utopian Theory of Design” plenary paper given at “No Future”, Institute of Advanced Study, University of Durham; an invited paper: “Creation and Creativity: Utopia and Navajo Design”, invited paper given at “The Politics of Utopia: Marxism, Myth and Religion”, jointly organised by the Bakhtin Centre and the Centre for Ernst Bloch Studies at the University of Sheffield, and Funded by the British Academy.

He has also accepted invitations to speak at the National Portrait Gallery, London; the Center for the Arts in Society, USA; the UK Film Council; Kenwood House, the National Maritime Museum; the Institute of Ideas; and the King’s College London Arts and Humanities Festival. In 2015 he was a Visiting Scholar at St John’s College, University of Oxford, and in 2017 will be a Visiting Fellow at Exeter College, University of Oxford.


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