Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico
Professor Richard Howells
Richard Howells

Professor Richard Howells

  • Emeritus staff

Professor Emeritus of Cultural Sociology

Contact details


Richard Howells is Emeritus Professor of Cultural Sociology. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Harvard University with an AB in Visual Studies and then returned to his native England to take 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 is a former head of CMCI, which he joined in 2006. In 2015 he was a Visiting Scholar at St John’s College, University of Oxford, and in 2017 was a Visiting Fellow at Exeter College, University of Oxford, and Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations, also at the University of Oxford.

Research Interests 

Richard Howells is a cultural sociologist who specialises 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, Utopian critical theory, 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.

Professor Howells’ most recent book is a monograph: A Critical Theory of Creativity: Utopia, Aesthetics, Atheism and Design (2015; paperback edition 2017). 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.

A third edition of his book Visual Culture (previously 2003 and 2012) was published by Polity Press in 2019, and 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 in 2021.

For more details, please see his full research profile.

Expertise and Public Engagement

In addition to being a speaker at international conferences, Professor 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). His TEDx talk on Culture and Utopia is available at:

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 and company director of the Victoria Institute/Arts Centre in Arundel, West Sussex.

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”, 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; the King’s College London Arts and Humanities Festival; and the International Leaders Programme of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In 2015 he was a Visiting Scholar at St John’s College, University of Oxford, and in 2017 was a Visiting Fellow at Exeter College, also at the University of Oxford, where he remains and Extraordinary Member of the Senior Common Room.