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Professor Anthony King

B.A (Cantab), M.A. (University of Michigan), Ph.D (Salford)

Professor of Defence and Security Studies, Director Strategy and Security Institute

Professor Anthony King has been appointed as the Director of the University of Exeter’s pioneering Strategy and Security Institute.​

​Professor King said: “I’m delighted to work with colleagues at the Strategy and Security Institute to continue its work as a leading policy-facing research centre in the UK.”​

His inaugual lecture took place in December 2023, and you can view the recording here.

Research interests

Anthony King has published widely on sport, social theory and the military. Although apparently diverse, Anthony King’s research is unified by a concern to address a fundamental sociological question; the problem of collective action. How do humans form and maintain social groups? Although he is interested in developing a theoretical and philosophical answer to this question, his work simultaneously aspires to be historical. Substantively, he is interesed in the way in which selected social groups, such as soldiers or football fans, are adapting in the face of globalization. To this end, his work takes the 1970s as a critical transition from industrial modernity to postmodern, globalized post-Fordism and he has sought to demonstrate how social identities and collective practices in the twenty-first century are changing.

The Sociology of Sport:

His first book, The End of the Terraces (Leicester University Press, 1998), sought to explain the institutional dynamics behind the development of the English Premier League in early 1990s and the way the commercialisation of football impacted on fan groups at Manchester United. The European Ritual: football in the New Europe (Ashgate 2003), extrapolated from this study to examine the transformation of European football from the 1950s to the present. The fundamental argument of The European Ritual is that European football is now becoming transnational. As a result of the de-regulation of player markets and the media which has concentrated playing talent and financial resources into a group of major super-clubs, the geography of European football has been transformed since the 1990s with profound implications for every aspect of the sport.

He continues to keep up a keen interest in sport, contributing articles and chapters to edited collections and journals. He has written on the new European Stadium, regulatory regimes in sport, the representation of the female athlete, the reverse sweep (in cricket), the Oxford and Cambridge boat race (with Mark de Rond) and why England are so bad at football. In each case, he is interested in explaining specific kinds of social practice by reference to the wider historical and institutional context.

Social Theory

King’s 2004 book, The Structure of Social Theory (Routledge 2004), is a critical engagement with contemporary social theory. The work argues that contemporary social theory – and sociology more widely – is vitiated by a commitment to ontological dualism which conceives society as consisting of structure and agency. The Structure of Social Theory promotes a hermeneutic sociology which rejects this dualism.

Accordingly, King promotes the study, not of structure and agency, but of ‘life’; human social relations conducted on the basis of shared understandings. Through a series of empirical studies connected to theoretical exegesis and critique, the book demonstrates how hermeneutics offers an adequate basis for sociology in the new millennium.

He has written a number of articles on social theory since this book including a piece on Wittgenstein and Parsons in the Journal of Classical Sociology in 2009. He is currently working on a monograph on social change which is intended as a companion volume to The Structure of Social Theory. Rejection evolutionary, structuralist and individualist theories, this monograph will attempt to develop a neo-Durkheimian theory of social change which explains coherent patterns of historical development by reference to the dynamics of interacting social groups.

The Transformation of Europe ’s Armed Forces: From the Rhine to Afghanistan (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Supported by the British Academy and the ESRC, this research plots the trajectory of Europe’s armed forces. Focusing on Britain, France and Germany, as the major European powers, and NATO as the institutional framework in which development is occurring, he has conducted research on their rapid reaction brigades and operational headquarters. Although apparently distant from his work on football, the themes and methods which underpin this military project are closely compatible. Paralleling European football, the military is currently undergoing a process of transnationalisation. Concentrated nodes of military power are emerging at the operational and tactical level in each country and are coming into closer transnational relationship with each other to fulfill their missions. The project seeks to connect detailed changes at the tactical and cultural levels to wider transformations of the military and political institutions in Europe. Closely related to this monograph, King has published a number of papers on the armed forces including ones on commemoration in the British Journal of Sociology, a critical sociology of British operations in Helmand in International Affairs and a historical analysis of the cohesion in the armed forces in Armed Forces and Society.


The Combat Soldier: infantry tactics and cohesion in the twentieth and twenty first centuries. (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Developing immediately out of Transformation, this book explores the development of infantry tactics from the First World War to Afghanistan to compare the combat performance of citizen infantries with those of today’s professional soldiers. During the Second World War, SLA Marshall ('SLAM') (1968) famously observed that only one in four US riflemen fired his weapon (known since that time as the SLAM effect). There have been numerous criticisms of his work but none have actually empirically demonstrated his findings to be fundamentally wrong. Inadequately trained, the mass armies of the twentieth century demonstrated low levels of cohesiveness in combat but tended to be united by a common national, ethnic or gender identity; typically, armies consisted of men from the same nation or ethnic group with a 'latent [or sometime not so latent] ideology'. These social identities were typically used to encourage and motivate soldiers. The professional army of the twenty-first century seems generate cohesion in a quite distinct way. Today, the mass army is being replaced by highly drilled teams who, through intense training, display collective virtuosity. Collective drills have allowed professional militaries to exceed the performance of the mass army and point to a quite different kind of solidarity. The emergence of professional tactical drills has potentially important implications in terms of equal opportunities for women which are discussed.


Research supervision


  • Social Theory/Philosophy of the Social Sciences
  • Sport and Football
  • Consumption and Identity
  • Contemporary Britain
  • Europe, European integration and European identity
  • Masculinity
  • Violence
  • The Media
  • The Military

Prospective postgraduates interested in any of King’s specified research areas are encouraged to contact him direct. He is actively looking to recruit new doctoral students especially in the areas of football/sport, social theory and the armed forces.

He has examined PhDs at the Universities of Liverpool, Warwick, Loughborough, Manchester, Bangor, Kings' College London and EUI.


Research students

2010-2013: Daniel Smith The Jack Wills Brand. Submitted August 2013.

2009-2013: Paola Innocenti The Sociology of Abortion in Italy. PhD. Awarded June 2013.

2009-2012: Victor Gazis Video Gaming: the sociology of a lifeworld. PhD Awarded 14 November 2012.

2007-10: Mark Doidge New Localism and Italian Fan Culture; a sociology of Livorno Football Club, PhD awarded February 2011.

 1999-2002: Ahmed Al-Mansoori, Camel Racing in the United Arab Emirates, full-time, overseas PhD student. PhD awarded February 2002.


Other information

Anthony King is a member of the editorial board of The European Journal of SocialTheory and. He currently reviews articles for numerous other journals including Sociological Review, British Journal of Social, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Theory, Culture and Society and American Journal of Sociology.

Media Work:
Anthony King has made increasingly frequent appearances on the national media, discussing topics from football to social class. He is available for future work and can be contacted directly. He is currently planning a programme proposal for a documentary on the armed forces.

Mentoring/Advising :
As a result of his research on the armed forces, Anthony King has been increasingly engaged in advisory work. He has given lectures at the Joint Services Command and Staff College for a number of years and is now on the advisory panel of this institution. He worked in the Prism Cell of NATO's Regional Command South in Afghanistan in 2009-2010, a branch of the headquarters offering non-military advice to the commander.



Anthony King read Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University, where he specialised in Social Anthropology and was supervised by Keith Hart. He graduated in 1989, and then studied an MA in Political Science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor between 1989 and 1991. In the course of this MA, he sustained his interest in anthropology, working on a Native Canadian Reserve in British Columbia. On returning to Britain, he began an ESRC-funded PhD (‘The Premier League and the New Consumption of Football’) at Salford University under Ian Taylor in 1992. He completed his dissertation in 1995 and was appointed as a lecturer in the Sociology Department at Liverpool University. In 1997, he moved to Exeter where he was Head of the Department, 2006-09. He has held three ESRC grants while at Exeter and in 2012-13 was a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College Oxford.

Anthony King is a keen sportsman. He has climbed since he was a teenager, rowed for the Cambridge University lightweights against Oxford in 1988, and skied for the University of Michigan cross-country ski club in 1990-91. In his spare time, he currently fell-runs, rock-climbs, surfs and skis. He completed a Bob Graham Round in 2012. 

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