PhD Art and Social Practice / Programme details

Year of entry: 2024

Programme description

Arts and Social Practice is a broad term referring inclusively to any form of arts practice seeking to engage or intervene in social, educational and/or community contexts.

Our pioneering PhD Arts and Social Practice doctoral programme is specifically designed for people working in applied practice, arts and health, community arts and related contexts across visual, creative and performing arts who want to undertake advanced research which builds on their professional knowledge and practice.

The structure of the programme is devised to enable you to develop your career while simultaneously undertaking a research project that leads to a doctoral qualification.

This professional practice-focused doctorate aims to engage experienced professionals in advanced research, and reflects the need for structured forms of professional development and reflective practice across the arts sector.

The programme takes explicit account of the professional practice-base of the student, integrating this as a central knowledge base for the research project, and supporting the development of dynamic knowledge outcomes that can have an impact across academic and non-academic contexts.

We support the development of reflective practice that can respond to and influence the complex unpredictable and shifting social and cultural contexts within which arts practitioners operate.

The programme will introduce you to a range of dynamic and challenging concepts and methods with which to reflect critically and constructively on your professional practice. A further feature of the programme is the opportunity to join a cohort of peers on professional practice PhD programmes through bi-annual residential workshops and events.

Special features

Research environment

In the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF2021), Drama at Manchester was ranked second nationally (by grade point average) among the 300+ departments whose research was assessed under Unit of Assessment 33 (Music, Drama, Dance, Performing Arts, Film and Screen Studies). More of our research (76%) was scored in the highest, 4* assessment band than that of any other department in the University of Manchester. This included our being awarded the maximum possible 4* grading (100%) for the 'outstanding' impact of our research. 

Pioneering programme

Our PhD draws on the supervisory expertise of Manchester's Drama staff, who have long been at the forefront of research in applied theatre and performance, socially engaged, participatory and community arts, both nationally and internationally. The programme also benefits from working closely with sister programmes and supervisors in the Institute for Cultural Practice on the PhD in Arts and Cultural Management and PhD Museum Practice. Researchers in Drama at Manchester founded the TiPP Centre (Theatre in Prisons and Probation) in the 1990s, and key research initiatives since include 'In Place of War' (an international arts project engaging with artists working in war zones), Performance, Learning and Heritage (exploring theatre in museums and heritage sites) and Poor Theatres (researching and documenting theatre and economic justice initiatives). Staff research includes:
  • work on the heritage and influence of the British Community Arts Movement
  • arts work with community groups and with people from refugee and migrant communities in particular
  • arts and climate change
  • arts and care

Additional programme information

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities.

We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact.

We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status.

All appointments are made on merit.

The University of Manchester and our external partners are fully committed to equality, diversity and inclusion.

Teaching and learning

The structure of the programme is designed to support people who are embarking on advanced research and who are combining doctoral study with a career.

Students join together in a learning environment to investigate the principles of reflective practice and practice-based research, and to engage in research methods training and group learning about relevant areas of social and cultural theory.

This pedagogical approach enables students' professional contexts to become their primary research resource.

Students receive individual supervision from an academic supervisor with a specialism related to their field of research, as well as opportunities to develop reflective enquiry into practice via group-based learning exercises with other practitioners at two three-day-long meetings per year.

Coursework and assessment

You will receive monthly individual supervisions.

Researchers work towards key milestones over the course of the programme. Progress is also supported via attendance at two three-day-long meetings per year, in autumn and spring (Thursday to Saturday).

Written and practical work produced for each milestone is revised for the final thesis submission.

Assuming that the PhD is undertaken part-time over a six-year period, the key milestones are:

  • Year 1: literature review (12,000 - 15,000words in total);
  • Year 2: revised research proposal and portfolio of reflective practice (10,000 words in total);
  • Year 3-5: individual targets appropriate to the completion of the thesis research, including practical work, draft chapters, reflective writing;
  • Year 6: work towards submission of thesis of 80,000words or practical outcome accompanied by a 20-50,000 word thesis.

The programme is structured on the basis that the most suitable pathway is the part-time route.

However, there is a negotiable full-time route in special cases (which may be more desirable, for example, for students who have accessed funding to support an extended break from their profession, or for retired professionals).

Full-time students will have 12 individual supervisions per year, twice-yearly 'research panels' and access to additional support at twice yearly workshop meetings to ensure that they can meet key milestones.


Manchester is home to one of the UK's five National Research Libraries - one of the best-resourced academic libraries in the UK and widely recognised as one of the world's greatest research libraries.

Find out more about libraries and study spaces for postgraduate research students at Manchester.

We also have one of the largest academic IT services in Europe - supporting world-class teaching and research. There are extensive computing facilities across campus, with access to standard office software as well as specialist programmes, all connected to the campus network and internet.

Every student is registered for email, file storage and internet access. If more demanding computer access is required, our specialist computing division can provide high-end and specialist computing services.

Graduate School

All of our postgraduate students become members of the Graduate School when you start at Manchester. It has dedicated facilities for students and offers opportunities to collaborate with other postgraduates.

Disability support

Practical support and advice for current students and applicants is available from the Disability Advisory and Support Service. Email: