Professor Richard Phillips
Department of Geography
Professor in Human Geography
+44 114 222 7943
Full contact details
Department of Geography
Geography and Planning Building
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).
- Storying Relationships Young British Muslims Speak and Write about Sex and Love. Zed Books.
- Creative Writing for Social Research A Practical Guide.
- A Match Made in Heaven. Hoperoad.
- View this article in WRRO Georges Perec's Geographies: Material, Performative and Textual Spaces. London: UCL Press.
- Fieldwork for Human Geography. SAGE.
- Liverpool '81 Remembering the Riots. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.
- Sex, Politics and Empire A Postcolonial Geography. Manchester University Press.
- De-centring Sexualities Politics and Representations Beyond the Metropolis. Psychology Press.
- Mapping men and empire. A geography of adventure.
- Mapping Men and Empire. Routledge.
- Working with community interviewers in social and cultural research. Area. View this article in WRRO
- Mobilizing Pakistani heritage, approaching marriage. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 43(16), 1-19. View this article in WRRO
- Critical collaborative storying : making an animated film about halal dating. Cultural Geographies. View this article in WRRO
- Halal dating : changing relationship attitudes and experiences among young British Muslims. Sexualities. View this article in WRRO
- ‘Sexual misery’ or ‘happy British Muslims’?: Contemporary depictions of Muslim sexuality. Ethnicities, 19(1), 66-94. View this article in WRRO
- Friendship, curiosity and the city: Dementia friends and memory walks in Liverpool. Urban Studies, 55(3), 639-654. View this article in WRRO
- Interventions in the political geographies of ‘area’. Political Geography, 57, 94-104.
- Georges Perec’s experimental fieldwork; Perecquian fieldwork. Social & Cultural Geography, 19(2), 171-191. View this article in WRRO
- Curious about Others: Relational and Empathetic Curiosity for Diverse Societies. New Formations, 88, 123-142. View this article in WRRO
- Curiosity, place and wellbeing: encouraging place-specific curiosity as a ‘way to wellbeing’. Environment and Planning A, 47(11), 2339-2354. View this article in WRRO
- Playful and multi-sensory fieldwork: seeing, hearing and touching New York. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 39(4), 617-629. View this article in WRRO
- Curiosity: Care, Virtue and Pleasure in Uncovering the New. Theory, Culture & Society, 32(3), 149-161. View this article in WRRO
- Space for curiosity. Progress in Human Geography, 38(4), 493-512. View this article in WRRO
- Curiosity and the politics of impact. ACME, 13(1), 39-42.
- Interventions against forced marriage: contesting hegemonic narratives and minority practices in Europe. GENDER PLACE AND CULTURE, 19(1), 21-41.
- The 2011 summer riots: Learning from history -remembering '81. Sociological Research Online, 17(3).
- Researching the riots. Geographical Journal. View this article in WRRO
- Curiosity and fieldwork. Geography, 97(2), 78-85.
- Remebering Islamic Empires:speaking of Imperialism and Islamophobia. New Formations.
- Vernacular Anti-Imperialism. ANNALS OF THE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN GEOGRAPHERS, 101(5), 1109-1125.
- The impact agenda and geographies of curiosity. TRANSACTIONS OF THE INSTITUTE OF BRITISH GEOGRAPHERS, 35(4), 447-452.
- Writing, Travel and Empire: In the Margins of Anthropology. CULTURAL GEOGRAPHIES, 17(3), 415-415.
- The Empire in One City: Liverpool's Inconvenient Imperial Past.. JOURNAL OF HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY, 36(1), 118-119.
- Bridging East and West: Muslim-identified activists and organisations in the UK anti-war movements. TRANSACTIONS OF THE INSTITUTE OF BRITISH GEOGRAPHERS, 34(4), 506-520.
- Geographies of Muslim identities: diaspora, gender and belonging. PROGRESS IN HUMAN GEOGRAPHY, 33(3), 424-425.
- Common ground? Anti-imperialism in UK anti-war movements, 239-256.
- Settler colonialism and the nuclear family. CANADIAN GEOGRAPHER-GEOGRAPHE CANADIEN, 53(2), 239-253.
- Standing together: the Muslim Association of Britain and the anti-war movement. RACE & CLASS, 50(2), 101-113.
- Imperial and Anti-Imperial Constructions of Civilisation: Engagements with Pre-Modern Pasts. GEOPOLITICS, 13(4), 730-735.
- Introduction: spatialities of transnational networks. Global Networks, 7(4), 383-391.
- Histories of sexuality and imperialism: What's the use?. HISTORY WORKSHOP JOURNAL(63), 137-153.
- Spaces of masculinities.. PROGRESS IN HUMAN GEOGRAPHY, 30(4), 550-552.
- Heterogeneous imperialism and the regulation of sexuality in British West Africa. JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY, 14(3), 291-315.
- Scandal in the colonies: Sydney and Cape Town, 1820-1850. JOURNAL OF HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY, 31(3), 600-602.
- Unsettling geographical horizons: Exploring premodern and non-european imperialism. ANNALS OF THE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN GEOGRAPHERS, 95(1), 141-161.
- Prostitution, race and politics: Policing venereal disease in the British Empire. JOURNAL OF HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY, 30(4), 821-823.
- Dystopian space in colonial representations and interventions: sierra leone as ‘the white man's grave’. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 84(3-4), 189-200.
- Imperialism and the regulation of sexuality: colonial legislation on contagious diseases and ages of consent. Journal of Historical Geography, 28(3), 339-362.
- Politics of reading: decolonizing children’s geographies. Ecumene, 8(2), 125-150.
- Decolonizing geographies of travel: Reading James/Jan Morris. Social & Cultural Geography, 2(1), 5-24.
- Politics of Reading: Cultural Politics of Homelessness. Antipode, 32(4), 429-462.
- Sexual Politics of Authorship: Rereading the travels and translations of Richard and Isabel Burton. Gender, Place & Culture, 6(3), 241-257.
- Spaces of Adventure and Cultural Politics of Masculinity: R M Ballantyne andThe Young Fur Traders. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 13(5), 591-608.
- The language of images in geography. Progress in Human Geography, 17(2), 180-194.
- Student loneliness through the pandemic: How, why and where?. The Geographical Journal.
- After or against secularism, The Routledge Handbook of Postsecularity (pp. 349-359). Routledge
- Informal Education, Its Drivers and Geographies: Necessity and Curiosity in Africa and the West, Laboring and Learning (pp. 65-89). Springer Singapore
- Informal Education, Its Drivers and Geographies: Necessity and Curiosity in Africa and the West, Labouring and Learning (pp. 1-25). Springer Singapore
- Postcolonial Travel Writing Palgrave Macmillan UK
- Travel and Travel-Writing, International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (pp. 476-483). Elsevier
- Imagined geographies and sexuality politics: The city, the country and the age of consent, De-Centering Sexualities: Politics and representations beyond the metropolis (pp. 101-122).
- Sexuality, A Companion to Cultural Geography (pp. 265-278). Blackwell Publishing Ltd
- Islam in sexuality. Dialogues in Human Geography, 6(2), 237-239.
- 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.