Alison Thomas (retired)

Position: Faculty member

Department: Sociology

Faculty: Humanities and Social Sciences



  • Ph.D, University of Reading
  • B.A., M.A., University of Cambridge


I was educated in the UK and started my teaching career there, teaching on an interdisciplinary degree programme in Psychosocial Studies at the University of East London, before immigrating to Canada in 1996. After spending eight years teaching in the Sociology Department at the University of Victoria I joined Ƶ in January 2005.

My doctoral research focused on gender and identity and gender has remained an important topic for me in both my research and teaching.  After spending several years conducting research on sexual harassment, my experience of teaching courses on families and the changing status of women in society led me to change direction and to focus on exploring and explaining the slow pace of change in the gendered division of labour in the home. In 2006 I collaborated with Dr. Elizabeth Dennis (University of the Fraser Valley) on a study examining representations of parental roles and responsibilities in Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards, which showed how these (like other forms of mass media) contribute to shaping ideas about gendered roles in the home.

Since then I have been engaged mainly in research on teaching and student learning. I participated in two collaborative studies with Ƶ colleagues (one exploring student engagement, and the other, student experiences in our summer ‘field schools’) and then in 2012 embarked on a three year solo research project investigating student learning in the introductory sociology course I teach. Specifically, my study employed the concept of learning ‘thresholds’ to examine how students’ exposure to the sociological imagination (a ‘threshold concept’ in introductory sociology) can have a transformative effect on their worldview. This research has revealed important differences in students’ initial ability to develop a sociological imagination and also in the long-term impact this has on them, and these findings have helped me to reconsider how I teach this concept in my first year classes.

Courses Taught

  • Soci 1125 Social Processes
  • Soci 2240 Women in Society
  • Soci 2250 Families and Social Change
  • Soci 2260 Introduction to Sociological Research

Research Interests

Teaching and learning: student acquisition of ‘threshold concepts’; transformative learning; factors affecting student engagement in learning; student perspectives on collaborative learning; student learning in short term Study Abroad programmes.

Gender: gender and identity; the social construction of gender and family roles (esp. father involvement in family work).

Current and Recent Projects

  • 2019-2020: Understanding ‘not learning’. (International Collaborative Writing Group project sponsored by the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning)
  • 2012-2015: Documenting the development of a ‘sociological imagination’ in a first year sociology course.
  • 2009-2012: Short term Study Abroad at Ƶ: a study of students’ expectations, experiences and learning.   (Collaborative project with Siobhan Ashe, Bob Cowin, Mike McPhee, Susan Smythe, Heather Tobe, Kristin Wagner)
  • 2006-2009: Investigating student perspectives on factors contributing to ‘engaged learning’ at Ƶ.  (Collaborative project with Anna Helewka, Lin Langley, Susan Smythe, Sarah Stephens, Heather Tobe, Miriam Tynski, Tom Whalley)
  • 2006-2009 and 2016-2018: Deconstructing representations of gender and family work in Mother's Day and Father's Day cards. (Collaborative project with Dr. E. Dennis, University of the Fraser Valley)

Selected Publications

Thomas, A.M. & Dennis, E. (2020) Supermoms and Bumbling Dads: How do Mother's Day and Father's Day cards help perpetuate traditional roles in the home? In Davidson, T. and Park, O. (eds.) Seasonal Sociology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Thomas, A.M. (2019) Edging towards understanding: Illuminating student experiences of liminality in introductory sociology. In Timmermans, J. & Land, R. Threshold Concepts on the Edge. Leiden: Brill/Sense Publishers.

Ashe, S., Cowin, R., McPhee, M., Smythe, S., Thomas, A.M., Tobe, H. & Wagner, K.

(2018) Investigating short-stay study abroad programs at Ƶ: Initial findings from an exploratory study 2012-2014.  Unpublished report, Ƶ.

Thomas, A.M. & Helewka, A. (2011) [Expletive deleted]: Why do students gripe about group work? In C. Rust & G. Gibbs (eds.) Improving Student Learning: Global theories and local practices: institutional, disciplinary and cultural variations. Oxford: OCLSD

Thomas, A.M. & Stephens, S. (2008) What do students identify as aspects of the classroom environment that positively influence learning at Ƶ? An analysis of interview findings from Phase I of the SoTL cohort research project.   Unpublished report, Centre for Faculty Development, Ƶ.

Thomas, A.M. (2005) Terms of inclusion? Rejecting the role of 'honorary man' in the ivory tower. In R. Hile Bassett (ed.) Alma Mater: Narratives of Motherwork in the Academic Culture. Vanderbilt University Press

Thomas, A.M. (2004) Politics, policies and practice: assessing the impact of sexual harassment policies in UK universities. British Journal of Sociology of Education 25(2) 143-159.

Thomas, A.M. (2001) “Swimming against the tide": feminists mothering sons. In A. O'Reilly (ed.) Mothers and Sons: Feminist Perspectives. Routledge, New York.

Thomas, A.M. & Kitzinger, C. (1997) Sexual Harassment: Contemporary Feminist Perspectives. Open University Press.

Rowland, R. & Thomas, A.M. (1996) (eds.) Mothering Sons: a crucial feminist challenge. Special feature in Feminism and Psychology 6 (1) 93-154.