Dr Matt Watson
Department of Geography
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography
Director of Research
+44 114 222 7911
Full contact details
Department of Geography
Geography and Planning Building
Matt Watson’s work is concerned with understanding social change in relation to sustainability, through a focus on everyday life and the socio-technical systems that shape it. His research and writing engage with geographical and sociological theories of practice, materiality and everyday life and have covered issues relating to biodiversity, waste, food, mobility and energy.
Matt joined the department as a Lecturer in 2007 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2013. He gained a BSc in Geography from the University of Edinburgh. After a couple of years trying other things, he returned to higher education with an ESRC funded Masters in Society, Science and Nature at Lancaster University. This led on to an ESRC funded collaborative and interdisciplinary PhD, working with the National Trust and supervised across the Centre for Science Studies and the Unit of Vegetation Science at Lancaster University. After the PhD he worked part time as an Associate Lecturer for the Open University while being a full-time father, before a series of postdoctoral research jobs at Durham University.
- Research interests
My work engages and develops practice theory to develop insights into shifting social practices to reduce resource consumption. Humanity each year is using around 150% of the resources the earth can produce each year, with the world’s relatively wealthy disproportionately responsible. Getting resource demand within sustainable limits and fairly distributed will take radical changes to everyday life and ideas of good living, and so will require changes to the social processes and structures which shape everyday life. Through my research, I seek to develop and work with practice theory and related approaches, to produce and communicate new insights into broader social change.
Different projects have covered issues relating to biodiversity, waste, food, mobility and energy, and involved interdisciplinary collaborations across History, Design, Architecture, Planning, Sociology, Physics, Engineering and more. Reflecting motivations to inform change, I have worked with a range of partners outside of the academy – see projects below for some examples.
I led a team of researchers across Universities of Sheffield and Manchester, which is engaged with a range of partners, including Defra, Food Standards Agency, WRAP, WWF. Together we collaboratively developed a new approach to developing interventions to reduce resource use in the home. This approach, called Change Points, draws on insights from social practice research to inform a workshop toolkit that enables the development of new insights into the diverse relations that come to shape household energy use, as a basis for identifying new sites of intervention. The work has been funded by the ESRC, most recently via University of Manchester and University of Sheffield Impact Accelerator awards.
This approach developed from ideas and insights generated by two funded research projects on the Nexus at Home (see below).
Redefining Single-Use Plastics
I was co-investigator on this major interdisciplinary project which is stimulated creative thinking across disciplines and explored novel social and technical solutions to the challenges of plastics. See more on the project at its web site.
Reshaping the domestic nexus
This was a project I led, bringing together academics from leading research groups with policy partners in DECC, DEFRA, FSA and Waterwise. The researchers are from research groups which have been at the forefront of new ways of understanding how householders’ routine activities end up demanding resources, including of energy, food and water. This project’s purpose is to make that understanding useful for informing actual policy processes with our policy partners. The project is funded by the ESRC Nexus Network.
The Domestic Nexus: interrogating the interlinked practices of water, energy and food consumption
I was lead for this collaborative network across the Universities of Sheffield (Prof Peter Jackson and Dr Liz Sharpe) and Manchester (Prof Dale Southerton, Prof Alan Warde, Dr David Evans and Dr Alison Browne). It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council Nexus Network, as a programme of workshops and other activities involving academics and non-academics through late 2015. It brought together prominent researchers taking a practice theory approach to understanding domestic resource consumption, to consider the implications of the ‘nexus’ concept currently apparent in research funding priorities across UK councils. The final report is available here.
DEMAND: Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand
The Demand centre advanced understanding of the processes and dynamics through which energy demand is constituted, and identify the opportunities for tackling it. The centre was a collaboration across of 9 academic institutions, led by Lancaster University, with non-academic partners including the European Centre and Laboratories for Energy Efficiency Research, the International Energy Agency and Transport for London. It was funded with £5m from the Research Councils UK Energy Programme for 5 years from summer 2013. I was co-investigator in the centre, and led the University of Sheffield’s contribution to it.
- Food Words: essays in culinary culture. London: Bloomsbury.
- The Dynamics of Social Practice: Everyday Life and How it Changes. London: Sage.
- The Design of Everyday Life. Oxford: Berg Publishers.
- How infrastructures and practices shape each other : aggregation, integration and the introduction of gas central heating. Sociological Research Online.
- A path to decolonization? Reducing air travel and resource consumption in higher education. Travel Behaviour and Society, 26, 231-239. View this article in WRRO
- Transforming innovation for decarbonisation? Insights from combining complex systems and social practice perspectives. Energy Research & Social Science, 65. View this article in WRRO
- Challenges and opportunities for re-framing resource use policy with practice theories : the change points approach. Global Environmental Change, 62. View this article in WRRO
- Opening Up the Participation Laboratory: The Cocreation of Publics and Futures in Upstream Participation. Science, Technology & Human Values, 43(5), 785-809. View this article in WRRO
- Interdisciplinarity in Transdisciplinary Projects: Circulating Knowledges, Practices and Effects. disP - The Planning Review, 54(2), 77-93. View this article in WRRO
- The water–energy–food nexus at home: New opportunities for policy interventions in household sustainability. The Geographical Journal. View this article in WRRO
- That’s when we started using the living room’: Lessons from a local history of domestic heating in the United Kingdom. Energy Research and Social Science, 28, 77-85. View this article in WRRO
- The Role of Compensatory Beliefs in Rationalizing Environmentally Detrimental Behaviors. Environment and Behavior. View this article in WRRO
- Theorizing Mobility Transitions: An Interdisciplinary Conversation. Transfers: an interdisciplinary journal of mobility studies, 7(1), 113-129. View this article in WRRO
- Co-producing energy futures: impacts of participatory modelling. Building Research and Information, 44(7), 804-815. View this article in WRRO
- Conceptualizing connections: Energy demand, infrastructures and social practices. European Journal of Social Theory, 18(3), 274-287. View this article in WRRO
- Development of Community Led Renewable Energy Projects. MRS Proceedings, 1657.
- A spatial microsimulation approach for the analysis of commuter patterns: From individual to regional levels. Journal of Transport Geography, 34, 282-296. View this article in WRRO
- Commentaries on the special issue on practice-oriented approaches to sustainable HCI. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 20(4), 1-15. View this article in WRRO
- Locating anxiety in the social: The cultural mediation of food fears. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 16(1), 24-42.
- Cooking up Consumer Anxieties about “Provenance” and “Ethics”. Food, Culture & Society, 16(3), 495-512. View this article in WRRO
- Food, Waste And Safety: Negotiating Conflicting Social Anxieties Into The Practices Of Domestic Provisioning. Sociological Review, 60(SUPPL.2), 102-120. View this article in WRRO
- Book review: Consuming Space: Placing Consumption in Perspective. Progress in Human Geography, 36(4), 556-558.
- How theories of practice can inform transition to a decarbonised transport system. Journal of Transport Geography, 24, 488-496. View this article in WRRO
- Stewardship of things: The radical potential of product stewardship for re-framing responsibilities and relationships to products and materials. Geoforum, 43(6), 1254-1265. View this article in WRRO
- Practice matters! geographical inquiry and theories of practice. Erdkunde, 65(4), 323-334.
- Saints and slackers: Challenging discourses about the decline of domestic cooking. Sociological Research Online, 16(2). View this article in WRRO
- Assessing the energy implications of replacing car trips with bicycle trips in Sheffield, UK. Energy Policy, 39(4), 2075-2087. View this article in WRRO
- The Materials of Consumption. Journal of Consumer Culture, 8(1), 5-10.
- Unpicking environmental policy integration with tales from waste management. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 26(3), 481-498. View this article in WRRO
- Product, competence, project and practice: DIY and the dynamics of craft consumption. Journal of Consumer Culture, 8(1), 69-89. View this article in WRRO
- Products and practices: Selected concepts from science and technology studies and from social theories of consumption and practice. Design Issues, 23(2), 3-16.
- Modes of governing municipal waste. Environment and Planning A, 39(11), 2733-2753.
- Book Review: Standard of Living - the Measure of the Middle Class in Modern America. Journal of Consumer Culture, 6(1), 144-146.
- Just waste? Municipal waste management and the politics of environmental justice. Local Environment, 10(4), 411-426.
- Governing municipal waste: Towards a new analytical framework. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, 7(1), 1-23.
- Performing place in nature reserves. Sociological Review Monograph, 51(s2), 145-160.
- The place and space of power: Mess, uncertainty and change over time, Enabling the City: Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Encounters in Research and Practice (pp. 48-63).
- Waste Management, International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (pp. 225-231). Elsevier
- Infrastructures in practice, Infrastructures in Practice (pp. 210-215). Routledge
- Introduction - infrastructures in practice: The evolution of demand in networked societies, Infrastructures in Practice: The Dynamics of Demand in Networked Societies (pp. 3-9).
- View this article in WRRO Placing Power in Practice Theory In Hui A, Schatzki T & Shove E (Ed.), The Nexus of Practices: Connections, constellations and practitioners London: Routledge.
- Building future systems of velomobility In Shove E & Spurling N (Ed.), Sustainable practice: social theory and climate change London: Sage.
- Mapping geographies of reuse in Sheffield and Melbourne In Lane R & Gorman-Murray A (Ed.), Material Geographies of Household Sustainability (pp. 133-156). Farnham: Ashgate.
- Routledge Handbook on Consumption Routledge
Conference proceedings papers
- What does provenance bring to the table? Why it sometimes matters where foods come from in domestic provisioning. Annual Meeting. Washington DC
- Anxiety in the kitchen? managing conflicting concerns about food safety and waste. SOAS Food Studies Centre. London
- Anxiety in the Kitchen? A cross-generational study of the making of domestic kitchen practices. .. London
- Change Points: A toolkit for designing interventions that unlock unsustainable practices
- Energy use, flexibility and domestic food practices: implications for policy and intervention
- Food waste and kitchen practices: implications for policy and intervention
- Fats, oils, grease and kitchen practices: implications for policy and intervention
- Final report for the Reshaping the Domestic Nexus project
- The Domestic Nexus: interrogating the interlinked practices of water, energy and food consumption
- View this article in WRRO Interdisciplinary toolkit: Getting the most from interdisciplinarity
- Review of literature and research on public attitudes, perceptions and behaviour relating to remanufactured, repaired and reused products
- Inquiry Based Learning and University Geography Teaching
- Cultural diversity, social practice and sustainable water management
- Materialising consumption: products, projects and the dynamics of practice
- Governing waste sustainably – challenges and opportunities, Final project report
- Governing sustainable waste management: interim findings summary
- Governing sustainable waste management, Newcastle case study report
- Governing sustainable waste management, Durham case study report
- The governance of municipal waste management. Working paper
- Governing sustainable waste management, Stockton case study report
- Folder of ideas for the Unilever workshop on toothbrushes and toothbrushing
- No more meters? Let’s make energy a service, not a commodity.
- Matt Watson on Power.
- Multi-Level Perspective and Theories of Practice: a mistaken controversy?.
- Changing behaviour for a low-carbon future.
Theses / Dissertations
- Knowledge, practice and materiality. Making place in nature reserves.
- Science and Authenticity: Reforestation of Scotland as Discourse Coalition.
- Waste Management. In International Encyclopaedia of Human Geography. Oxford: Elsevier.
- Do-it-yourself. In International Encyclopedia of Housing and Home (Vol 1) Elsevier.
- Appropriation. In Encyclopaedia of Consumer Culture (Vol 1) Sage.
- Household Waste Recycling. In International Encyclopedia of Housing and Home (Vol 3) Elsevier.
- Do it yourself. In Encyclopaedia of Consumer Culture (Vol 1) Sage.
- De-skilling, re-skilling and up-skilling. In Encyclopaedia of Consumer Culture.
- Ordinary Consumption. In Encyclopaedia of Consumer Culture (Vol 2) Sage.
- Teaching interests
In much of my teaching, the topics, concepts and knowledge which I help students learn about are related to my own research on themes of sustainability, governing, technologies and consumption. Through modules like Consumption and Sustainability or Confronting the Anthropocene, a key aim is to engage students critically with big geographical themes, like climate change, food security, wellbeing and social justice, and with contemporary ways of thinking about them, by reflecting upon their own lives as members of the society which produces and responds to these challenges.
I taught with Open University, Lancaster University and Durham University before arriving in Sheffield. In addition to topical teaching like that above, I have taught research methods from 1st year undergraduate through to PhD training. I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
- Teaching activities
Consumption and Sustainability
I convene this third year module, which critically engages both ‘consumption’ and ‘sustainability’ and work with key debates and approaches that help us to understand what produces and maintains patterns of consumption.
Confronting the Anthropocene
This third year module, which I convene, explores the critical, contested and controversial debates about environmental and ecological issues framed by the problematic of the Anthropocene. Using a range of examples of research undertaken by staff in the department from a variety of different countries this module develops a critical geographical approach to understanding environmental controversies.
Nepal Field Class
This Masters module takes an international group of students for a 12 day field class in Nepal. At the core of the field class is 5 days primary research by students, working in small groups with a Nepali research colleague and local guides, to research topics like maternal health, migration or forestry with communities in Dhading district. I have written an account of leading one of these field classes here.
- Professional activities
I have been invited to advise national and international governmental and non-governmental organisations, recently including the G7, the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (to inform the UK Net Zero Strategy), the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee.
I am pleased to have had a lead role – as chair of a University Task and Finish group on travel decarbonisation – in shaping the University’s ambitious Sustainability Strategy and Action Plan.
I have provided peer review and have served in reporting and advisory roles for national and international research councils including the European Commission, UK Economic and Social Research Council, the UK Research Councils’ Energy Programme, Research Council of Norway, Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences, the Leverhulme Trust and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. I am a member of the EPSRC Peer Review College, and I am a registered expert with the European Commission.
I have been a PhD external examiner for international Universities including Stockholm University (Sweden) Aalborg University (Denmark), Copenhagen University (Denmark), Aalto University (Finland) and RMIT (Australia) as well as Manchester and Lancaster Universities, and the University of East Anglia, in the UK.
I have been an invited peer reviewer for over 30 scholarly journals and reviewed book manuscripts and proposals for publishers including Sage, Routledge and Polity
Current and recent advisory and working group roles include:
- International Advisory Board member for the Centre for Practice Theory at Lancaster (2022-)
- International Advisory Board member for ERC Advanced Investigator eCAPE, “New Energy Consumer roles and technologies – Actors, Practices and Equality” Kirsten Gram-Hanssen, Copenhagen University, Denmark, 2018-22
Within the department I am currently Director of Research and part of the Department’s Executive team as well as chairing Research Committee. I have previously served as Faculty co-Director of PGR, Departmental Director of Masters Programmes and Departmental Director of PGR Tutor.