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Department of Geography

Human Geography

Below is a list of potential topics in the area of Human Geography. These are examples to give an idea of possible projects and the range of human geography research interests and themes covered by the department. This is not a full list and not all academic staff interests are shown here. Other projects that are related to the research areas within Human Geography (or interdisciplinary links with Physical Geography or other cognate disciplines) are also welcome.

For further information on research interests please visit the Research Clusters & Themes page.

For more information and questions on research topics please consult the research group websites (above) or contact a potential supervisor within your research area of interest or the Human Geography Postgraduate Admissions tutor (human.rpgadmissions@durham.ac.uk).


Dr Ben Anderson

  • Security in a networked world, including but not restricted to forms of emergency planning and response.
  • Practices and politics of anticipation, for example the operation of preemption or precaution in relation to events such as terrorism, urban unrest, weather-related events, trans-species epidemics or strikes.
  • Geographies of affect and emotion, with particular reference to questions of politics and ethics or related to new ways of governing life (such as neoliberalism) or new ways of organising economic life (e.g. financial capitalism).
  • Matter and materiality, including new experimentations in material life (for example nanotechnology).

Dr Ben Anderson


Professor Peter Atkins

  • Food quality, with particular reference to food safety
  • 'Emerging diseases', for instance at the human / animal boundary
  • 'Materialities' of food and drink
  • Historical geographies of food and drink and C19 and C20 Britain
  • Development geographies of South Asia

Professor Peter Atkins


Professor Sarah Atkinson

Proposals for post-graduate research are invited which complement the agenda of a new Centre for Medical Humanities (funded by Wellcome). The Centre aims to interrogate the role that medical knowledge does, and should, play in shaping conceptions of human flourishing and vice versa. Within this broad agenda, themes being explored and developed include:

  • The Role of the Creativity in Health and Wellbeing
    Contemporary debates about the nature of wellbeing or human flourishing, rather than the limited concept of health, make explicit the breadth of contexts and experiences that constitute being well. Creative acts, however defined in modern society, have been included as intrinsic and non-substitutable elements in definitions of human flourishing. As part of the Centre’s work, we aim to build a body of work to explore the opportunities, experiences and meanings attached to engagement with creativity. Creativity here may range from engagement with the more formal arts (theatre, music, dance) whether as performer or audience, or more informal acts of self-expression from reading, gardening, decorating etc.
  • Experience, Medical Knowledge and Individuals
    The nature of legitimate knowledge has been subject to critique and debate, yet the nature of an embodied, experiential knowledge is still treated as at best of second rate interest and at worst, when it clashes with the professional knowledge base, as ill-informed. Applications within this theme are welcomed in the following:
    (i) Research that explores the relationships at a more individual scale between experience and a range of other categories central to medical practice such as evaluation, action, self-identity and so forth, largely in collaboration with medical anthropologists. Research that has a particular interest in exploring these relationships with respect to complex chronic diseases (eg diabetes, cardiovascular disease) and health promotion is especially welcome.
    (ii) Research that explores the interactions of emotions and values with organisational structures and procedures in the health system. Opportunities and barriers to innovation within health systems, the complexities of processes affecting policy implementation and the particular dynamics of the hybrid organisational form of the social enterprise are of particular interest.
    (iii) Research on the processes by which what has been termed cognitive globalisation may impact on health, health care and wellbeing. This sub-theme includes the ways information about our bodies and our health is produced and disseminated in modern society, through the mass media and the internet.
  • Caring Practice and Flourishing
    The notion of caring has on the one hand been promoted as a lens through which we might bring together aspects of health and health care that have typically been fragmented and on the other denigrated as a patronising category automatically constructing the recipient as dependent. Projects seeking to explore the nature of practices of caring for the body in relation to specific sites and settings are welcomed.

Professor Sarah Atkinson


Dr Andrew Baldwin

  • Critical approaches to climate change and human migration (especially those with emphasis on racialisation, neoliberalism and political geography)
  • Political economies of climate change adaptation and disaster risk management
  • Cultural and political geographies of nature
  • Environmental citizenships
  • Complex systems theory and race

Dr Andrew Baldwin


Professor Gavin Bridge

  • Questions of property, access and control associated with 'new geographies' of resource production and consumption
  • Political ecologies of resource scarcity and security
  • The organisation of global production networks for raw materials, particularly those associated with old and new 'carbon economies'
  • The ways in which the material character of 'biophysical' resources shapes their appropriation, commodification and marketisation
  • Geographies of energy transition and governance

Professor Gavin Bridge


Dr Rachel Colls

  • Geographies of the body, including work interested in sexual difference, age, materiality, affect and emotion and (post)pregnancy
  • Geographical engagements with poststructuralist feminist theory
  • Critical geographies of obesity and Fat Studies /Health at Every Size (HAES) orientated research on topics including, but not restricted to activism, size discrimination, fat identities and sexualities, obesity policy and medical/non-medical obesity interventions
  • Geographies of food and clothing consumption

Dr Rachel Colls


Professor Mike Crang

Mike Crang welcomes applications to work on a range of topics. He has supervised students working on topics from Asia to Europe to America, from various disciplinary backgrounds on projects within geography that face the arts, social sciences or crossing to the natural sciences, or collaborating with colleagues in other departments such as archaeology, philosophy and politics. Areas he would especially look forward to developing projects range across the following - and could of course cut across them:

  • Heritage and Identity
    In this field Mike is especially keen to think through issues of material culture, forms of presentation and representation for the past in various institutional contexts - such as museums and heritage sites, oral history, archives of objects, texts or images - and popular commemorative practices as they feed into social memory. Projects might explore the politics and poetics of conservation, issues of inclusion and exclusion, sensual engagements with the past and emotional responses.
  • Waste, Decay and Disposal
    The converse of conservation is decay, disposal and destruction. Projects that examines sites of wasting, ruins and transformation would be welcome. Studies might also examine the ends of lives of things, and their rebirth or reincarnation into new forms, looking at the social and economic value transformations entailed.
  • Cultural Geographies of Tourism
    Tourism is a vast industry that functions through the social organisation of enjoyment and desire - an economy of experience and value. Projects that examine how people experience places, how those places are created and the tourist experience organised would be especially welcome.
  • Cultural Landscapes, Literary and Media Geographies
    Our experience of landscape and place is often mediated and framed by things like films, TV programmes and novels. Mike has worked on both the analysis of literary depictions of places and their intersection with consumption practices in tourism. Equally work examining the inscription of meaning through shaping the landscape - be it through cultural forms, legal or scientific practice and the like, would be interesting areas.
  • New Media and the Shaping of Places
    Mike has focused mostly on the scale of urban life and the role new media have played in transforming how we experience, organise activities in, and connect across places in cities. Old patterns have been bent and buckled in some ways, whilst some 'old' patterns seem to be reinforced behind claims of 'novel' technologies. projects might focus on ordinary uses of the city and technologies or their strategic application. Current global challenges that demand smart cities using software to enhance urban functions by utilising masses of data on citizens' lives beg questions over who gains loses or controls the processes.

Professor Mike Crang


Professor Sarah Curtis

As a specialist in geographies of health and health care, and Director of the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience Sarah Curtis will be pleased to consider applications for PhD research training in fields such as:

  • Climate change impacts on health and health care
  • Innovative spatial planning and design of places to promote health and wellbeing
  • Geographies of mental health and wellbeing
  • Building resilience to disaster events in health and health care systems

Professor Sarah Curtis


Professor Nicky Gregson

  • Consumption & Disposal
  • 'Recycling' & Waste Economies
  • Science in Practice

Professor Nicky Gregson


Dr Kathrin Hörschelmann

  • Performing Geopolitics: Embodying the Cultural Politics of Militarisation and War
  • Political Geographies of Youth Beyond Borders
  • Relational Understandings of Citizenship and Dissent
  • Social and Cultural Geographies of Postsocialist Transformation
  • Youth Cultures, Identities and Space
  • Energy Vulnerability and Youth Transitions
  • Geographies of Age and the Lifecourse
  • Embodiment, Performativity and Intergenerational Relations

Dr Kathrin Horschelmann


Dr Paul Langley

  • Money: from the role of national and regional currencies in global markets to alternative digital monies and local exchange systems
  • Debt: from sovereign borrowing, bond rating and fiscal austerity to the embodied and lived experiences of household and individual indebtedness
  • Banking: from the practices and techniques of investment banks to the growth of peer-to-peer lending
  • Financialisation: from funding models for urban infrastructures to popular culture and finance as play and entertainment

Dr Paul Langley


Dr Ann Le Mare

  • Policies and practices of development, with an emphasis on poverty, inequality, gender and political activism
  • Conflict, reconstruction and peacemaking
  • Alternative Trading networks (fair trade, organic trade, ethical trade, environmental trades such as the Rainforest Alliance), in particular meanings and practices of business, and impact on producers and their communities
  • Changing livelihoods in the Global South

Dr Ann Le Mare


Dr Noam Leshem

  • The spatiality of political conflict, including but not restricted to: practices of social and cultural survival in periods of conflict and its aftermath; material and visual culture; legacies of conflict and memory regimes
  • Archives of violence: testimony and the narration of violent space; different repositories that collect, store and organise this knowledge; official, improvised, communal and activist archiving practices
  • Making / unmaking settler-colonial geographies: practices and materialities of settler space; settler anxieties and failures; indigenous-settler encounter; theories of settler-colonialism- states, spaces, discourses and imaginations

Dr Noam Leshem


Professor Phil Macnaghten

I am a human geographer with broad interests in science and technology governance and in the sociology of the environment. Topics on which I would be happy to supervise include:

  • The governance of science and technology
    In this field Phil is particularly interested in how to understand technological controversy (e.g. biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, synthetic biology, geoengineering), the social and ethical issues that arise from science and technology and that require novel theorisation, how and why we need new and deliberative methods to engage with publics and other civil society actors, as well as the need for comparative analysis.
  • Responsible innovation
    Responsible innovation is a new policy discourse that is structuring science and society relations. Phil is interested in responsible innovation as a policy practice, as a set of frameworks and dimensions that embrace anticipation, inclusion, reflexivity, responsiveness, and as a way of reconfiguring responsibility in scientific practice. He is further interested in barriers to responsible innovation (institutional, epistemic, cultural), and in comparative analysis.
  • Sociology of the environment
    Phil has undertaken research on the social factors that cause environmental problems, on the social invention of the environment, on everyday practices and their significance in reconfiguring environmental policy and politics, and on developing approaches that deploy concepts of story-lines and narratives in accounts of environmental change. He is particularly interested in these topics as they relate to climate change.

Professor Phil Macnaghten


Professor Cheryl McEwan

  • Postcolonial and feminist geographies
  • Geographies of transformation in South Africa
  • Geographies of solidarity
  • Cultural geographies of development, including topics such as ethical consumption in the global South
  • Changing geographies of international development
  • Geographies of alternative trade (including fair and ethical trade) and ethical development

Professor Cheryl McEwan


Dr Siobhan McGrath

I am a human geographer with a background in political economy and development studies. Below are four areas of interest with some examples of potential research topics, on which I welcome queries.

  • Work, labour and employment: unregulated work and violations of labour and employment law; contingent, precarious or degrading work; migrant labour and labour migration; race, gender and work; social movements around issues of work and employment; labour regulation
  • Unfreedom in labour relations (forced labour, unfree labour, human trafficking and ‘contemporary slavery’): policies around forced labour and trafficking in the context of labour regulation; the anti-trafficking industry; theorization of the role of unfree labour vis-à-vis capitalism; race, gender and unfree labour; agency and power in relation to unfree labour; forced labour within global production networks
  • Global Production Networks: labour within production networks; theorization of value within global production networks; bioethanol production networks
  • Rising Powers / BRICS, especially Brazil: South-South Cooperation and South-South globalisation; discourses around the BRICS; Brazil in Africa; Brazil in the international development and trade regimes; Brazilian visions of development

Dr Siobhan McGrath


Professor Rachel Pain

Please contact Rachel if you are interested in postgraduate research including (but not restricted to) the following topics:

  • Everyday and intimate geopolitics
  • Violence, fear of crime, domestic abuse
  • Participatory action research / activist research

Professor Rachel Pain


Professor Joe Painter

  • Geographies of citizenship and democracy
  • State restructuring and new forms of governance, with particular reference to the 'everyday' aspects of state practice
  • Geographies of work and labour
  • Urban and regional politics

Professor Joe Painter


Professor Marcus Power

  • The 'rising powers' and 'South-South co-operation' in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Spaces of (post)development
  • The geopolitical imagination and enframing of development (past and present)
  • Energy geographies and low carbon transition
  • Post-colonial and post-socialist geographies of Lusophone Africa
  • Vision, visuality and 'popular' geopolitics

Professor Marcus Power


Professor Phil Steinberg

My current research projects focus on the governance of spaces whose material/geophysical properties are other than the solid land-spaces that 'ground' the ideal of territorial sovereignty. As such, I am particularly interested in working with students whose projects cover:

  • Ocean governance (including tropes of ocean regionalisations)
  • Arctic geopolitics, particularly as the region both reproduces and challenges norms of territorial sovereignty
  • Activities that transcend the borders between states and their outsides, or that challenge the ideal of homogeneous sovereignties
  • Representations of non-normative spaces (e.g. oceans, air, outer space, wetlands, barrier islands, ice), and how such representations reflect and impact individual / national identities as well as senses of universal (post-)humanity

Professor Philip Steinberg


Dr Divya P. Tolia-Kelly

  • Visual and Material Culture: critical approaches to visual culture / art and cultures of art production and exhibition
  • Affect and Heritage: thinking affect and emotion at the sites of (world) heritage, museums and sites of memory, race and heritage, national identity, geographies of exclusion / inclusion
  • Cultural Geographies of Race; Critical Race Theory, black theorists, sites of body, city, locale, institutional, whiteness, the academy
  • Visual Methodologies - geographies of visual culture, working with art practitioners, community groups and cultural production
  • Cultural Geographies and Ecologies of Landscape - cultural identity, narrative, citizenship, emotional and embodied relationships, gender, race, and ethnicity
  • Postcolonial Geographies - Postcolonial Theory and cultural production; cultural geographies of the postcolonial world
  • Critical Geographies of the Museum: New museologies, thinking post-race at the space of the museum, Maori / Polynesian culture; postcolonial critical museology

Dr Divya P. Tolia-Kelly