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Staff Profile

Dr Dai O'Brien

Associate Professor in British Sign Language and Deaf Studies Programme Lead, REF Impact Case Study Lead, School Research and Knowledge Transfer Lead

staff profile

BSc Hons (Bristol), MSc (Bristol), MRes (Bristol), PhD (Bristol), FHEA

After studying Biological Sciences at undergraduate level, I took an MSc in Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Deaf Studies.  After taking some time out to travel and work in the NHS, I returned to academia to take an MRes in Sociology in the University of Bristol and then a PhD in the School for Policy Studies in the same university.  My research focus was the transitional experiences of young d/Deaf people from mainstream school, exploring their experiences through the use of photo-elicitation interviews, critical discourse analysis of government transition planning policy and interviews with professionals who worked with d/Deaf young people.

Take a look at my citation in support of Dr Paddy Ladd, a leading Deaf scholar, at the Graduation Ceremony 2017.



I am the module director for both Advanced British Sign Language (BSL) and the Sociolinguistics of BSL. I also teach on the British Sign Language Beginners and Continuation modules, which means I support British Sign Language students all the way from their very beginnings in the language all the way through to a level of conversational proficiency. I also lead seminar groups for the Language and Society first year module.

I am also the module leader for all the Deaf Studies modules. These include Deaf History, Deaf Cultures, Deaf Visual Experience and Deaf Social Theory.

Research and Publications

Research and publications

M Chua, Maartje De Meulder, Leah Geer, Jonathan Henner, Lynn Hou, Okan Kubus, Dai O’Brien and Octavian Robinson (2022) 1001 Small Victories: Deaf Academics and Imposter Syndrome. In The Palgrave Handbook of Imposter Syndrome in Higher Education. Springer International Publishing.

O’Brien, D. (2021) Theorising the deaf body: using Lefebvre and Bourdieu to understand deaf spatial experience. cultural geographies.

Crawley, V. and O’Brien, D. (2020) Multilingual and multicultural supervision meetings: the case of a deaf supervisor and hearing postgraduate researcher. The Learner Development Journal Issue 4: Exploring the Supervision Process Across Diverse Contexts: Collaborative Approaches.

O’Brien, D. (2020) Mapping deaf academic spaces. Higher Education DOI: 10.1007/s10734-020-00512-7

O’Brien, D. (2020) Negotiating academic environments: using Lefebvre to conceptualise deaf spaces and disabling/enabling environments. Journal of Cultural Geography 37 (1) Pages: 26-45 | DOI: 10.1080/08873631.2019.1677293.

O'Brien, D., Stead, L., and Nourse, N. (2017) Bristol Deaf Memories: archives, nostalgia and the loss of community space in the deaf community in Bristol. Social and Cultural Geography . (In Press)

O'Brien, D. (2017) Auto-driven Photo-Elicitation Interviews with Young Deaf People. In Boucher, M. (Ed) Participant Empowerment Through Photo-elicitation in Ethnographic Education Research: New Perspectives and Approaches. Cham: Springer. 

O’Brien, D. (2017) Deaf-led Deaf Studies: using Kaupapa Māori principles to guide the development of Deaf research practices. In Kusters, A., De Mulder, M. and O’Brien, D. (Eds) Innovations in Deaf Studies: the role of deaf scholars. London: Open University Press.

O’Brien, D. and Kusters, K. (2017) Visual methods in Deaf Studies: using photography and filmmaking in research with deaf people. In Kusters, A., De Mulder, M. and O’Brien, D. (Eds) Innovations in Deaf Studies: the role of deaf scholars. London: Open University Press.

Kusters, A., De Mulder, M. and O’Brien, D. (2017) Innovations in Deaf Studies: Critically mapping the field. In Kusters, A., De Mulder, M. and O’Brien, D. (Eds) Innovations in Deaf Studies: the role of deaf scholars. London: Open University Press.

Hall, C. J., O’Brien, D. and the LIdIA Policy Forum (2015). Making higher education more Deaf-friendly. LIdIA Position Statement and Position Paper 01. York: York St John University. Available online at:

O’Brien, D. (2015) Transition planning for d/Deaf young people from mainstream schools: professionals’ views on the implementation of policy.  Disability and Society 30:2 pp.227-240

O’Brien, D. and Emery, S.D. (2014) The Role of the Intellectual in Minority Group Studies: Reflections on Deaf Studies in Social and Political Contexts. Qualitative Inquiry 20:1 pp.27-36.

O’Brien, D. (2013) Visual Research with Young d/Deaf people: An Investigation of the Transitional Experiences of d/Deaf Young People from Mainstream Schools using Auto-driven Photo-elicitation Interviews. Graduate Journal of Social Sciences 10(2) pp.152-175.


Conference papers

“Lost Spaces”.  Association of American Geographers annual conference, Chicago 2015.

“Deaf-led Deaf studies: using Kaupapa Maori principles to guide development of Deaf research practices”. Conference presentation at Deaf Academics International conference, Leuven, 2015.

“Crossing Cultures: A Sociological Perspective on Deaf and Hearing Intercultural Relationships” with Nicola Nunn.  Conference presentation at Deaf Academics International conference, Leuven, 2015.

“Making the university inclusive for students and staff: a BSL teacher’s perspective” with Amanda Smith.  Invited keynote for Talking About Teaching conference, York St John University, 2015.

“The role of linguistic capital in exploring Deaf people's academic experiences”.  Conference presentation at the British Sociological Society annual conference, University of Leeds, 2014.

“Using visual research to explore the space of young d/Deaf people”.  Conference presentation at Association of American Geographers annual conference, New York, 2012.

“Combatting Inequalities in Research with Young d/Deaf People : the use of Visual Methodologies”.  Conference presentation at Cardiff University Social Work Research and Practice Seminar, Cardiff, 2012.

 “Mainstream schools as a space of identity development for d/Deaf young people”.  Conference presentation at Royal Geographical Society annual conference, London, 2011.



“Deaf Geographies: Deaf spaces and the methodological transformation of the academy”.  Panel member at Association of American Geographers, Chicago, 2015.

“Publish or Perish”.  Facilitator for workshop at Deaf Academics International conference, Leuven, 2015.

“Deaf Ethnographies”.  Panel member at Deaf Academics International conference, Leuven, 2015.

“Future of Deaf Academics Conference”.  Facilitator for workshop at Deaf Academics International conference, Leuven, 2015.

“Deaf Studies Futures”.  Facilitator for a 1 day workshop held in the University of Bristol, 2014.

“AHRC Connected Communities Early Career Workshop”.  Three day workshop hosted by the AHRC in Cardiff, 2014.

“Pierre Bourdieu: Key Concepts”.  Two day conference at the University of Bristol, Bristol, 2011.


Professional Activities

In 2017 I was awarded the Society for Research into Higher Education Prize for Newer Researchers for my research project 'The spaces and places of deaf academia'. This is a £3000 prize to support my current project which looks at the experiences of deaf people who are working in Higher Education. I currently sit on the Research and Development Committee of the SRHE.

Between 2015 and 2016 I was Primary Investigator on an AHRC project funded under their Connected Communities stream for £47,000.  This project, titled Lost Spaces, explored the effect of the closure of community places on Deaf people in Bristol. It was a multi-method project, using re-enactment, archive footage screening, poetry and filming workshops to explore Deaf people’s reactions to and feelings about the closures.

I am one of the founders of the Bridging the Gap conference series, which aims to bring together Deaf Studies professionals and the Deaf community.

My area of interest lies in all aspects of Deaf studies, in particular Deafhood, Deaf education and the effects of mainstream education on the Deaf community. I am keen to develop a more sociological understanding of the Deaf community in the UK and am a member of the British Sociological Association, and the BSA’s Bourdieu and Disability Studies study groups. My recent research also explores some of the approaches taken by human geography and how these can be applied in Deaf Studies research. I am also interested in developing visual research methods for researching in partnership with the Deaf community, to make the research process more accessible and more Deaf-friendly.