Professor Richard Phillips

School of Geography and Planning

Professor in Human Geography

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+44 114 222 7943

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Professor Richard Phillips
School of Geography and Planning (nee Geography)
Room F17
Geography and Planning Building
Winter Street
S3 7ND

Richard Phillips’s research and teaching explore:

  • Creativity and Curiosity: storytelling, creative writing and innovative fieldwork
  • The World after Empire: themes include Muslim geographies and postcolonial cities
  • Sexuality, Space and Power: constructions and contestations of sexual identities

Richard has been Professor of Human Geography at Sheffield since 2012. Previously, he taught at the Universities of Aberystwyth, Salford and Liverpool.

As a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of British Columbia (1994), Richard investigated ‘The Geography of Adventure’.  Before then, he studied at the University of California Santa Barbara, and the University of Bristol.

Research interests

Creativity and Curiosity: storytelling, creative writing and innovative fieldwork

My first book – Mapping Men and Empire: A Geography of Adventure (1997) – introduces themes that I have been exploring and expanding ever since. Most directly about boys' adventure stories, and their significance for constructions of imperialism and masculinity, this book asked broader questions about geographical curiosity and imagination, creative writing and popular literature.

Curiosity runs through my research and teaching too. I have published critical essays on curiosity in everyday life and in academic enquiry, as well as books for students about curiosity-driven fieldwork. I bring these interests into my teaching, in the field and the classroom. You can read about this in my articles in Progress in Human Geography and Theory, Culture and Society, and a book published by Sage, Fieldwork for Human Geography (2012).

Creativity runs through my teaching but also my research, where I both study and encourage creativity and also use creativity as a research method. My recent project, Storying Relationships, used creative writing and animation workshops to explore issues and experiences that many people find hard or impossible to talk about more directly, including personal relationships, conflicting desires and love.  You can read my articles about this in journals including Ethnicities and Cultural Geographies, and in a book, co-authored with fellow researchers: Storying Relationships: Young British Muslims Speak and Write about Sex and Love (2021). I have also co-written a book for researchers and students about creative writing as a research method: Creative Writing for Social Research (2021).

The World after Empire: South Asian heritage, Muslim geographies and postcolonial cities

Two generations after it was broken up, the British Empire lives on in a number of ways, including through communities that trace their heritage and origins to former colonies, and in cities, born of empire, that are forced to redefine themselves for new times.

Connections and relationships within the former British Empire live on through cultural and family connections between Britain and South Asia. These connections are renewed – and sometimes rejected – when young British-Asians are making decisions about marriage: who to marry, and how. I write about this in a recent paper in Ethnic & Racial Studies.

For other minority communities, histories and memories of empire and its legacies continue to matter in other ways. The Liverpool-born black community trace their histories back through the shipping links between Liverpool and West Africa, the longer histories of slavery, and through episodes of racism and resistance. I explored these themes in a book about the memory of the riots, which took place in 1981 and are keenly remembered for their part in resisting police racism: Liverpool ’81: Remembering the Riots (2011).

Memories, ideas and vocabularies of empire and imperialism matter to everyone – not just the minorities most directly concerned – because issues like racism do too. I have also researched the ways in which empire is invoked in mainstream politics, through a project on anti-imperial language protests against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and through Scottish and Welsh nationalism.

Sexuality, Space and Power: constructions and contestations of sexual identities

Interesting and compelling in itself, sex is also a ‘transfer point for relations of power’. Sexual identity, desire, experience and possibility frame the power relations between parents and children, men and women, communities and individuals, institutions and employees, governments and subjects. Relationships between majority and minority groups are often framed around perceptions about the sexual relationship attitudes and practices of minorities: the ways in which these groups approach issues such as dating, marriage and homosexuality.

In Sex, Politics and Empire: A Postcolonial Geography (2006), I asked why British colonial governors, police and gossips were so interested in sex: between colonists and colonial subjects, between people of different races and classes, between women and men, and within each of these groups. Sex, I showed, was a powerful but contested vehicle for the expression of colonial power. This book focussed on four colonial settings: Sierra Leone, South Australia, Bombay and New South Wales.

The geographies of sexuality also feature in my co-edited book: De-Centring Sexualities (2001). This book, contributing to an emerging field of geographies of sexualities that had been preoccupied with cities, explored the sexual lives and imaginations of the countryside and provinces.

Sexuality is also a ‘transfer point’ for relations between mainstream and minority groups, who are widely but often wrongly assumed to be sexually and morally different, less free and less happy than their counterparts in the white, secular majority. Working with colleagues including Claire Chambers and Nafhesa Ali, I have investigated the ways in which young British Muslims are both stereotyped, and resist those stereotypes, which intersect with racism and Islamophobia. Our writing on the subject includes essays in Ethnicities and Sexualities, and a book: Storying Relationships: Young British Muslims Speak and Write about Sex and Love (2021).



  • Phillips R, Chambers C, Ali N, Karmakar I & Diprose K (2021) Storying Relationships Young British Muslims Speak and Write about Sex and Love. Zed Books. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Phillips R & Kara H (2021) Creative Writing for Social Research A Practical Guide. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Chambers C, Ali N & Phillips R (2020) A Match Made in Heaven. Hoperoad. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Phillips R, Leak A & Forsdick C (2019) Georges Perec's Geographies: Material, Performative and Textual Spaces. London: UCL Press. View this article in WRRO RIS download Bibtex download
  • Phillips R & Johns J (2012) Fieldwork for Human Geography. SAGE. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Frost D & Phillips R (2011) Liverpool '81 Remembering the Riots. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Phillips R (2006) Sex, Politics and Empire A Postcolonial Geography. Manchester University Press. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Phillips R & Watt D (2005) Introduction. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Shuttleton D, Watt D & Phillips R (2000) De-centring Sexualities Politics and Representations Beyond the Metropolis. Psychology Press. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Phillips R (1997) Mapping men and empire. A geography of adventure. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Phillips R () Mapping Men and Empire. Routledge. RIS download Bibtex download

Edited books

  • Phillips R (Ed.) (2009) Muslim Spaces of Hope Geographies as Possibility in Britain and the West. Zed Books. RIS download Bibtex download

Journal articles


Book reviews

Research group

Richard Phillips is an active member of the Culture Space and Difference Research Group. Doctoral students, also part of the group, are currently or have recently researched the following topics:

  • Spaces of Cinema and Decolonisation of the Maghreb
  • Intersectional Identities: Black British Muslim Women
  • Living with Difference: Religious Minorities and Sexual Politics in Poland
  • Cultures of Alcohol and Violence in Contemporary South Africa
  • Dogs and People: Relationships, Encounters and Spaces
  • Spaces for Curiosity and Innovation: Reshaping Museums
  • Reshaping Multiculturalism: leader of network of three doctoral students in Sheffield, York, Leeds
  • Homeless Migrants in Rome: Multisensory Geographies
Teaching interests

My undergraduate teaching interests include:

  • Fieldwork: destinations include Vancouver, Paris, Liverpool, New York
  • Social and Cultural Geography: Sexuality, Religion, Race, Difference, Multiculturalism
  • Postcolonial Geographies: Historical and Contemporary Geographies
  • Philosophical Issues In Human Geography
  • Play: Online teaching about creative and curiosity-driven learning

Recent undergraduate dissertation topics I have supervised include:

  • Geographies of Love
  • Attitudes towards Muslims in Contemporary Britain
  • Space for anti-Racism in Football
  • Masculinity, Intimacy and Alcohol
Current research

1. Ecologies of Loneliness

Governments, called to action by campaigners, community groups and charities, are seeking to understand, measure and mitigate loneliness. Defined as an ‘unpleasant experience’ arising from a ‘lack or loss of companionship’, loneliness is a source of distress and pain for individuals, public health and wellbeing pressures, and economic harm for societies. Foundational work on the subject – by psychologists – emphasises the individual and mental origins of this uncomfortable emotion(s). My research, in contrast, explores the relational and socio-geographical causes and experiences of loneliness.

Through this work, I have begun to investigate loneliness in the wake of pandemic, and to trace its impacts upon those most affected including student and people without the homes, gardens, private cars, garden centres and home-working options that cushioned the pandemic for some privileged members of society.


2. Storying, Storytelling and Creative Writing

Through an AHRC-funded research project involving British Muslims of Pakistani heritage – Storying Relationships – I worked with colleagues Claire Chambers and Nafhesa Ali to creative convene workshops, in which we explored forms of storying and storytelling to explore issues that are otherwise hard to broach, including sexual relationships, sexual desires and choices. We worked with creative writers, animators and other artists who facilitated the workshops, involving young British Muslims, which took place in various community centres and libraries in Yorkshire and Scotland. This work – described in our book: Storying Relationships: Young British Muslims Speak and Write about Sex and Love (2021) – feeds into my new research, which develops pathways to impact and engagement, in bringing this research to the new Relationship and Sexual Education (RSE) curriculum in schools in England. This new work asks how RSE can be adapted so that its discussion of sensitive subjects is inclusive to religious and cultural minorities. 

I am also continuing to explore creative writing both as a research method, and as a form of geographical and social evidence or data about the world. I am currently building upon my initial work on fieldwork as a research method, which I explain in Creative Writing for Social Research (2021), and in an article and book about the French experimental writer, Georges Perec (both are free to download). I am bringing this approach to my new research on loneliness, which many people find hard to talk about more directly.

3. Geographies of Curiosity

Curiosity – my own, that of students, and that of other people – runs through my research and teaching, from my interest in adventure to my writing and teaching on fieldwork. I am currently drawing these ideas together in the form of a book project: Curious with Humanity. This project has a number of strands, all of which focus our interest in people and places, and explore the possibilities, and also the risks of being curious and showing curiosity. Chapters will explore how:

  • Curiosity – a quality of attention that overlaps with mindfulness – can be beneficial for our mental wellbeing;
  • Curiosity can be a catalyst for learning and inquiry, if sparked and channelled effectively;
  • Curiosity about people can – if we get this right – draw us closer to others, combatting our isolation and loneliness;
  • Curiosity, including each of the expressions listed above, can also be risky and harmful, and this raises questions about how and whether we should try to restrict or regulate this form of desire for knowledge and novelty.