Dr Deborah Sporton

Department of Geography

Honorary Staff

+44 114 222 7953

Full contact details

Dr Deborah Sporton
Department of Geography
Geography and Planning Building
Winter Street
S3 7ND

Deborah graduated with a BA in Geography from the University of Sheffield and was awarded her PhD from the University of Sheffield in 1990. Her PhD was ESRC/CNRS funded and based for a year at the Université de Paris 1. In 1989 Deborah was appointed to a lectureship in Human Geography and promoted to a Senior Lectureship in 2003. Through her research, Deborah has developed extensive international collaborative links and has held visiting positions at the Université de Paris 1, the University of Zaragoza and the University of the North West, South Africa and the University of Namibia. She is currently Director of SIIDshare, a student run NGO within the Department of Geography.

Research interests

Deborah’s research has placed strong emphasis on research co-production involving active stakeholder and policy engagement. As such she has developed strong partnerships with communities, civil society groups and NGOs as well as policy makers both in the UK and across the Globe.

Her current and evolving research interests encompass population geographies, social identities and difference, social and environmental change, and international development.

Deborah is also Director of SIIDshare, a student-run enterprise and operates as a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO).



  • Sporton D & Thomas DSG (2002) Sustainable livelihoods in Kalahari environments. Oxford University Press, USA. RIS download Bibtex download
  • (2002) Sustainable Livelihoods in Kalahari Environments: A Contribution to Global Debates. RIS download Bibtex download

Journal articles


Conference proceedings papers

Teaching interests

Deborah has been involved in curriculum design and teaching at all levels. Most of her teaching has drawn on her research interests that encompass both International Development and Social/Population Geographies as well as those that embed social enterprise, engagement and internationalisation within the curriculum.

Deborah was actively involved in the design of three postgraduate Masters Programmes in International Development on which she currently teaches. These are the MA in International Development, the MSc in Environmental Change and International Development and the MPH in Public Health and International Development co-taught with colleagues from ScHARR.

Teaching activities

2016 University of Sheffield Senate Fellowship - Sustained Excellence in Learning and Teaching

'There is clear evidence that Deborah is having an impact on both student experience and learning within and beyond Sheffield and an impact on communities in the Global
South. The vision and tenacity are inspirational in themselves'.

2016 University of Sheffield Senate Award for Collaborative Activities in Learning and Teaching (Global Leadership Initiative)

This is an exciting interdisciplinary development that provides unique opportunities for students. It is genuinely innovative and articulates with both employability developments and engaged curricula. The team of academics at the heart of the project is of commendable stature and demonstrates the truly multi-disciplinary nature of the collaboration.

2015 Teaching Excellence Award in the Social Sciences (Global Leadership Initiative)

2011 Sheffield Students' Union Academic Awards

Deborah was awarded the Good Work Towards Employability award at the 2011 Sheffield Students' Union Academic Awards. These are awards run, nominated and given by students across the University in recognition that good teaching has an enormous positive impact on student's learning experience. Her citation for the award reads:
"Deborah's hard work and passion for the field has mobilised a year group of academically successful and employable Development students."

Deborah is also a 3EP European Entrepreneurship Educators Fellow.

Professional activities

Deborah has served on the Committee of the Institute for British Geographer's Population Geography Research Group and the BSPS Council. She is on the Editorial Board for the International Journal for Population Research.

In addition to acting as an external PhD examiner, Deborah was external examiner for the University of Sussex's MA in Environment, Development and Policy, and is currently external examiner for the MA in Education, Health Promotion and International Development at the Institute of Education.

Deborah has been a Principal Investigator on major competitive grants funded by the ESRC and DFID has also undertaken consultancy and advisory work for the ONS, DWP, Home Office, Sheffield City Council, the Northern Refugee Centre and DFID.

Additional research projects
Population Geographies

Deborah’s ongoing research interests in the broad area of Population Geographies have evolved from her PhD research on the fertility of minority ethnic groups in the Paris Region, France. She subsequently worked as an expert advisor for the Office for National Statistics developing fertility parameters to project the minority ethnic population of the UK from the 2001 Census. Recent work within this area has focused on internal and international migration specifically relating to asylum seekers and Eastern European migrants. Research in this area has been funded by the ESRC and the Home Office and has been developed in collaboration with key stakeholders.

She is a key advocate of the use of multi-methods and in particular qualitative methods in population research having organised an IBG-RGS workshop, participated as a key note speaker at another and acted as Guest Editor on a special edition of Migration Letters on ‘Biographical Migration Research’. Deborah is currently on the editorial board of the International Journal of Population Research. She has supervised a total of 11 PhD students in this area of whom 3 are currently registered.

Social Identities and Difference

Deborah was a Principal Investigator (with Professor Gill Valentine) on an ESRC funded research project exploring Post Conflict Identities: Practices and Affiliations of Somali Asylum Seeker Children.This project was one of 25 projects funded by the ESRC's Identities and Social Action Programme and explored the contemporary identity practices of post-conflict refugee and asylum seeker children in the UK. Drawing on case study research with young Somalis aged between 11 and 18 living in Sheffield and Aarhus Denmark, the project sought to understand the complex ways that these children's identities are spatially constituted through their diverse histories of mobility and accomplished in specific geographical sites. In addition to generating academic publications, the research findings were also fed into high level policy consultations, for example:

Research findings were included in a collective Identities Programme briefing at No 10. to inform Tony Blair’s speech on ‘Multiculturalism and Integration’ (8/12/2006). Research findings contributed to a collective ESRC Identities Programme submission to the Commission for Integration and Cohesion.

As part of the Identities and Social Action Programme, the photographer Chris Clunn was embedded within the research team as part of a Visualising Identities project. In 2009, Deborah organised an exhibition of his work with young Somalis as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences.

  • The research was used in the implementation of Citizens Advice’s Equality and Diversity strategy.
  • The research was presented at the former Commission for Racial Equality. The audience included: the Head of Public policy at CRE; the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Head of the Secretariat of the Commission on Cohesion and Integration, and Head of Strategy at the then Department for Education and Skills (21/3/2007).

Social and Environmental Change

Since 1994, Deborah has been involved in interdisciplinary research that focuses on social and environmental change in sub-Saharan Africa. As a Principal Investigator with Professor David Thomas (University of Oxford ) she worked on two large interdisciplinary projects funded by the ESRC Global Environmental Change Programme (1994-8) and DFID (1998-2001) that examined societal-environmental interactions in southern African drylands. The ESRC project in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Botswana examined Environmental Change and Poverty in Kalahari Pastoral Systems. The DFID funded research investigated public policy impacts on sustainable natural resource use and poverty in cross-border dryland regions in three southern African countries. This research encompassed new ways of thinking about social and environmental change, and developed innovative methods for dealing with these integrated issues. Details of the project and outputs can be found at the PANRUSA website. In addition to academic publications, the results of this research were used to inform DFID Southern Africa Programme Planning (DFID 2002).

On the basis of previous UNCCD PANRUSA related research, Deborah (with Lindsay Stringer University of Leeds) was commissioned in 2007 to undertake a research report on Defining the UNCCD’s comparative advantage in current international architecture (1)—International Perspective to inform the work of the Inter-sessional Intergovernmental Working Group (IIWG) of the UNCCD for the ten-year strategic plan and framework to enhance the implementation of the UNCCD 2008-18. Some of the recommendations were incorporated by the UNCCD at the UNCCD CRIC 5, Buenos Aires (March 2007).

Deborah has supervised 4 students in this area, of whom two are currently registered. She is involved as a Supervisor in a White Rose network on Climate Compatible Development with colleagues in Leeds and York.

International Development

Deborah’s research in International Development builds on her work on social and environmental change and links through to her research in population geographies. She has undertaken research funded by the ESRC to explore Population Ageing, Livelihoods and HIV in southern Africa in partnership with colleagues from the University of Namibia, Multi-Disciplinary Research Centre. Deborah has also participated in several policy panels that have focused on aspects of population change in sub Saharan Africa, e.g. Chatham House to join an expert panel on Population Growth and Demographic Trends: Implications for African States and Regions; and at the Legatum Institute’s launch of the 2013 Prosperity Index on Youth in Africa: threat or an opportunity for the continent.

Deborah’s current research interests in this area include a project (in collaboration with European and African Partners) that seeks to deconstruct the binaries that dominate academic research, policy and practice in international development. She is also exploring the role of Diaspora in the Development of failed or fragile States.