School of Arts and Cultures

Staff Profiles

Dr James Ash

Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies



PhD - Bristol University

MSc - Bristol University

BA(hons) - Royal Holloway, University of London


James is a social scientist working at the intersections of media, cultural studies and human geography. James' research interests revolve around the cultures, economies and politics of smart technology and digital interfaces.

In relation to smart technology, his most recent book 'Phase Media: Space, Time and the Politics of Smart Objects' (Bloomsbury 2017) explores how smart technologies generate and alter spatial experience. 

In relation to interfaces, James is currently a primary investigator on an ESRC funded research project entitled: 'Digital Interfaces and Debt: understanding mediated decision making processes in high cost short term credit products' (£202,657 2016-2018).

Previously he has examined the design and use of videogame interfaces through an ESRC funded PhD studentship (£65,000 2004-2008), which culminated in a monograph entitled 'The Interface Envelope: Gaming, Technology, Power' (Bloomsbury 2015)

Beyond these texts, James has also published a number of articles and book chapters in academic journals and edited collections on interfaces, technology and games design.

PhD Supervision

James is currently co-supervising Mr James Harper who is conducting his AHRC Northern Bridge funded PhD research on Live Action Role Play (LARP). 

Previous students James has supervised include Dr Robin Bootes and Dr Altman Peng, both of whom successfully graduated from the PhD programme in 2017.

James is also keen to hear from students interested in pursuing a PhD in relation to topics including (but not limited to), digital interfaces, digital money and finance, app economies, phenomenology and new media, mobile media, media theory, new materialism, speculative realism and interdisciplinary projects across media studies and geography.

Google Scholar link


My research forms part of the media, affect and interpersonal relations research cluster in the department and can be split into three areas.

Digital Interfaces, Credit and Debt (funded by ESRC, value £202,657, 2016-18)

I am primary investigator on an ESRC funded project entitled: 'Digital Interfaces and Debt: understanding mediated decision making processes in high cost short term credit products’ with co-investigators: Dr Ben Anderson and Dr Paul Langley.

This 18 month project seeks to understand how consumers access HCSTC (High Cost Short Term Credit), such as cash and pay day loans through digital interfaces, on personal computers and mobile devices and in turn how these interfaces shape decision making processes regarding the purchasing of credit. The project proposes a novel approach to debt as an everyday phenomenon that is mediated through the relationship between technology and embodied practice. Understanding how people become indebted through digital interfaces is critical to analyzing and explaining contemporary indebtedness  because 82% of cash and pay day loans, a key form of HCSTC, are now applied for and managed via digital interfaces on laptops, tablets and smart phones (Competition and Markets Authority, 2015). Through original empirical investigation with designers and users of mobile interfaces, debt support charities and financial regulators, the research will generate new evidence about everyday experiences of debt and indebtedness and contributes to important societal and academic debates about emerging forms of credit and problematic forms of economic subjectivity.

Game Interfaces (funded by ESRC 1 3 PhD studentship, value £61,500, 2004-08)

My ESRC funded MSc and PhD research at Bristol University examined how videogame environments are designed to capture and hold attention and generate positive affective and emotional states for players. This research drew upon qualitative data including interviews, observant participation and video ethnography with players and games designers. Since completing my PhD in 2009 I have published a range of work on videogames and games design from the project. This concern with videogames has lead to a broader interest in the role of the digital interface in everyday life, which culminated in a monograph entitled 'The Interface Envelope: Gaming, Technology, Power' published with Bloomsbury in 2015. The book develops a new theoretical model to understand how interfaces shape humans capacity to sense space and time. In doing so I argue interface designers attempt to manipulate spatio-temporal perception to generate new forms of affective value in the products they create.

Theorising Technology

Further to this, I have also become interested in theorising technology as a category of being that is distinct from either human or animal life. Drawing upon ideas from new materialist and continental philosophy I have published and am currently writing a number of papers on how a range of technologies, from mobile phones to speakers, generate and shape the spaces and times that humans find themselves in. Through this research, my work contributes to debates in media and cultural studies and human geography around the role that technology plays in everyday life as well as rethinking the status of technology in the social sciences more generally. 


Module leader:

COM1023 'Introduction to Media'

COM3081 'Digital Culture in a Networked World'.


COM8057 'Media Analysis'

COM3073 'Research Dissertation'

COM8199 'Research DIssertation'.