Emily Nicholls

Dr Emily Nicholls is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Portsmouth, specialising in research on gender identity, alcohol and sobriety.

After completing her PhD at Newcastle University, focusing on alcohol consumption and the ‘girls’ night out’, Emily has gone onto publish a book based on this research, exploring the ways in which alcohol is used to construct ‘feminine identities’ and to negotiate female friendships in these contexts. Negotiating Femininities in the Neoliberal Night-Time Economy - Too Much of a Girl? is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

More recently, she has undertaken a small, qualitative research project with women in the UK in the first two years of sobriety who have not accessed formal treatment programmes or rehab. Using in-depth interviews, the project explores the ways in which women who stop drinking frame their ‘drinking pasts’, ‘sober presents’ and ‘imagined futures’, encouraging participants to tell a story about their journey to sobriety and talk about how their relationships with both others and themselves have changed. The project explores the experiences of those who mostly frame their sobriety as a positive lifestyle choice and do not necessarily identify with terms such as ‘alcoholic’, ‘addiction’ or ‘recovery’.


Emily has undertaken a range of research projects focusing largely on issues of gender and identity. Her Masters thesis explored young women’s negotiations of condom use, and her PhD examined the ways in which young women negotiate ‘appropriate femininities’ through dress, drinking and risk management on a ‘girls’ night out’ in Newcastle. She has also worked on a project involving podiatrists and their patients, exploring patients’ resistance to making changes to their footwear and the ways in which shoe choices are bound up with lifestyle and identity. She is currently working on a project called ‘Sobriety Stories’ – interviewing women in early sobriety to highlight the ways in which they talk about sobriety as a positive lifestyle choice outside of formal recovery and treatment programmes.

Areas of expertise

Gender, femininities, alcohol, sobriety, nightlife, qualitative research, interviews 

Personal treatment philosophy

I am interested in understanding people’s lived experiences, the ways that they make sense of the world around them and how this links to identity. 

Regarding my approach to alcohol research, my aim is to make space for stories around sobriety that move beyond a focus on ‘alcoholism’, ‘addiction’ and ‘recovery’ to consider the ways in which sobriety can be framed as a positive lifestyle choice, both in growing online movements and the personal narratives of those who stop drinking.

Why this particular specialism?

My interest in gender and identity developed when I was studying an undergraduate degree in politics and philosophy and discovered feminist theory. For several years, I have been interested in the ways in which gender and femininity are negotiated and performed through alcohol consumption (and more recently through sobriety). As a woman who stopped drinking in early 2018 and a member of a number of online sober communities and groups, my current interest in this topic stems in part from my own personal experiences of navigating sobriety outside of treatment programmes. 

What makes a ‘good day’ at the office ‘for you’?

For me, a ‘good day’ at the office is one where a student has an ‘aha’ moment and something clicks in terms of what I have been teaching or a project that they have been working on.