Nicola Mai

I am a sociologist, ethnographer and filmmaker.

My research, publications and films focus on the lives of stigmatised, criminalised and marginalised migrants.

Through collaborative, participative and co-creative methodologies my work aims to put their own priorities, needs and trajectories at the centre of the research findings, representations and policies.

Career Summary

Since January 2022, I have been working as Professor of Criminology at the University of Leicester UK, where I am developing the field of green criminology in collaboration with colleagues in the School of Criminology and in the Institute of Environmental Futures and across the University.

In 2020, I worked for a year as Professor of Sociology at the University of Newcastle in Australia, where I taught several MA modules.

Between 2015 and 2020, I worked as Professor of Sociology and Migration Studies at Kingston University London, where I taught graduate and postgraduate courses in criminology and sociology. My main task at Kingston was the delivery of SEXHUM (Sexual Humanitarianism: Migration, Sex Work and Trafficking – 2016-2020) an ERC Consolidator Grant studying the impact of anti-trafficking legislation and interventions on the lives and rights of migrant sex workers by analysing their own understandings and experiences of agency and exploitation in Australia, France, New Zealand and the US.

While at Kingston I also finalized the publication of my last book Mobile Orientations: An Intimate Autoethnography of Migration, Sex Work, and Humanitarian Borders (Chicago University Press, 2018).

Before then I worked for ten years for London Metropolitan University, where I delivered several research projects, as well as teaching graduate and post-graduate courses. Between 2008 and 2010, I directed a two-year ‘Migrant Workers in the UK Sex Industry’ ESRC project which produced 100 qualitative interviews and found that only a minority of people were trafficked. Between 2006 and 2008 I delivered, together with the other members of the research team, the ‘Rhythms and Realities of Everyday Life’ flagship project of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Immigration and Inclusion programme, focusing on the relationship between long-term residents and new arrivals in six sites across the UK. The results of this project were written up in a co-authored book: Hickman, M., Mai, N. and Crowley, H. (2012) Migration and Social Cohesion in the UK, Palgrave Macmillan.

During 2014 and 2015, I was based at the Mediterranean Laboratory of Sociology – LAMES (MMSH/Aix -Marseille University) to direct the Emborders project, comparing the impact of humanitarian interventions targeting migrant sex workers and sexual minority asylum seekers in the UK (London) and France (Marseille/Paris) through ethnographic research and experimental filmmaking.

At London Metropolitan University I also obtained and MA in Audio Visual Production, thanks to which I learnt how to edit the ethnographic audiovisual material I gathered in my research into documentaries and also how to incorporate audiovisual technologies into the research process, both in terms of data gathering and of findings dissemination.

Between 2003 and 2005 I was Morris Ginsberg Research Fellow at the Department of Sociology of the London School of Economics and Political Science. In the two years I spent at the LSE I worked on the relation between the introduction of new forms of communication/media, consumption and mobility and the emergence of migratory projects and youth identities with reference to the Italo-Albanian and two other transnational migratory spaces: Morocco-Spain and Cuba-USA.

Between 2001 and 2003 I was Research Fellow at the Sussex Centre for Migration Research of the University of Sussex. This postdoctoral fellowship was a two-year position within a project funded by the Leverhulme Trust. It aimed at examining the social and economic inclusion and exclusion of Albanians in Greece and Italy by looking at their migration processes, experiences of employment and housing and community structures and networks.

I obtained my PhD in Media and Cultural Studies in 2002 from the University of Sussex, under the supervision of Prof Russell King and Dr Nancy Wood. My research examined the role of media and of material culture in the process of re-construction of ethnic and political identities at a transcultural level and the extent to which they can foster social change, with particular reference to the emergence of youth culture and migration. Through long-term ethnographic research based on participant observation and semi-structured interviewing I studied a particular case, that of the relation between Albanian young people’s consumption of Italian television, the Albanian post-communist transformation, and the migration of young Albanians to Italy.

In 1995 I obtained a BA in Italian and Latin Literature at the University of Bologna where I focused on social and communication theory and film studies.