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Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Professor Rachel Pain

Professor in the Department of Geography
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41876
Fax: +44 (0) 191 33 41801
Room number: 407

Contact Professor Rachel Pain (email at


Born in Northumberland and brought up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, I have lived and worked in North East England for most of my life. At Durham, I am Professor of Human Geography, Co-Director of the Centre for Social Justice and Community Action, I run the University’s Participatory Research Hub, and I serve as Director of Education for our Geography undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes. I love teaching our inspiring BA Geography students on four honours modules, and I supervise the studies of eight PhD students.

I am a social geographer whose research is founded in feminist and participatory praxis. Most of my research over the last two decades has focused on fear, violence and community safety. I have worked with groups such as older people, young people, refugees and asylum seekers, and domestic abuse survivors to understand experiences of violence, harm and trauma, and to work collaboratively towards change using Participatory Action Research. The conceptual thread running through these projects seeks to politicise what are commonly seen as personal and private experiences of violence and trauma. Equally, it recasts international forms of violence, such as war and terrorism, as having intimate roots. Through developing concepts such as ‘globalised fear’, ‘intimacy-geopolitics’ and ‘intimate war’, the work unpicks common ideas that persist about scales of violence and harm.

Through this research I collaborate with community organisations, charities, activists, and engage local and national policy-makers. I have also led projects which forge new participatory approaches in sites as diverse as the housing crisis, museums, climate change activism and river conservation. On a transdisciplinary project on the future of social housing, I am currently working with Horden Colliery Residents Association, Durham County Council, local photographer Carl Joyce and the folk band Ribbon Road to explore and publicise the effects of national housing policy on a County Durham community and the development of alternatives.

Such work is united by a long-standing interest in impact, imagined not as an add-on to traditional research, but as an ethical commitment at the heart of scholarly work so that it contributes something tangible to movements for social justice. Since ‘impact’ became mainstream, I have been a leading figure in debates on what impact means for co-produced research, and what socially just impact might look like within and outside Universities. Meanwhile, I have been helping to build infrastructure to support collaborative research between Universities and the public and voluntary sectors. I am a co-founder and co-Director of the Centre for Social Justice and Community Action, which since 2009 has developed and supported theory and practice around participatory action research at local, national and international levels. More recently, our Participatory Research Hub actively connects, trains and mentors community-University projects.

Rachel with participants at a PAR training event, May 2012.

Prizes and Awards

  • Philip Leverhulme Prize 2005
  • Royal Geographical Society Gill Memorial Award 2008, for contributions to social geography and participatory research
  • 2009 Julian Minghi Outstanding Research Award of the Political Speciality Group of the Association of American Geographers. Awarded jointly with Susan J Smith for 'Fear: Critical Geopolitics and Everyday Life'
  • 2012 Durham University Excellence in Learning and Teaching Award
  • 2014 Durham University Excellence in Research Impact Award

Recent Reports

Research Groups

Research Projects

Research Interests

  • Fear, violence and community safety
  • Emotions and geopolitics
  • Domestic violence and terrorism
  • The wellbeing and safekeeping of young refugees
  • Gender, youth, old age and intergenerational relations
  • Participatory practice, politics and theory


Journal Article

Chapter in book

  • Alexander, C. & Pain, R. Urban Security: Whose Security? Everyday responses to urban fears. In: Ceccato, V. The urban fabric of crime and fear. Springer; 2012:37-53.
  • kinpaisby-hill, C. Participatory praxis and social justice: towards more fully social geographies. In: Del Casino, V., Thomas, M.E., Cloke, P. & Panelli, R. A Companion to Social Geography. Blackwell; 2011:214-34.
  • Pain, R. & Smith, S.J. Fear, critical geopolitics and everyday life. In: Pain, R. & Smith, S.J. Fear: Critical Geopolitics and Everyday Life. Aldershot: Ashgate; 2008:1-24.

Edited book

Other (Print)

  • Pain, R., Whitman, G., Milledge, D. & Lune Rivers Trust Participatory Action Research Toolkit: an introduction to using PAR as an approach to learning, research and action. 2012.
  • Durham Community Research Team. Community-based Participatory Research: Ethical Challenges 2011.

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Crime: Violence and fear