Social change and transformation

This group brings together researchers concerned with the dynamics of society and economy in relation to social justice, including through environmental change.

A climate demonstration in Aberystwyth
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Research in the group unites around three key themes:

  • First, on key societal challenges and how capacity to act on them is unevenly distributed, in relation to social justice, environmental change, agriculture, wealth, place, geo-politics, housing and more;
  • Second, through challenging and informing policy and professional practice with new ideas and evidence, on themes like biosecurity, mobility, food justice, housing, resource use, and post-Brexit agricultural policy;
  • Third, on how change is shaped by place, space and difference , including through activism, citizenship, digital technologies and infrastructures.

Research themes

Power and Space

Our research applies geographical thought to understand contemporary challenges in society, economy, and the environment, and how the capacity to act on these challenges is unevenly distributed

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Pressing problems relating to knowledge and expertise, the state, the environment, and the dynamics of capital accumulation are addressed through a range of research projects on the theme of power and space. In order to forge progressive alternatives, reconfigure unequal power relationships, and contribute to more just futures at a range of spatial scales, current and ongoing projects explore themes including:

Alternatives to environmentally destructive housing practices, such as eco-homes. Changes to environmentally destructive consumption practices, such as flying. Resilient ways of linking producers and consumers in local and alternative food systems. Reproductive (in)justice and gendered bodily autonomy. Geographies of intimacy and care in relation to, and as opposed to, politics of occupation in Palestine. The role of scientific and practitioner knowledge and expertise in sustainable agricultural production and the adoption of sustainable farming practices. The co-design of post-Brexit agri-environmental policy. Austerity, resilience, and political activism. Our research is situated within and beyond the UK, involving:

  • Housing and environmental activism in Australia, and Britain.
  • Farmers and farming organisations
  • Local food system actors in the UK.
  • Policy makers in Britain
  • Decolonial geographies of Pacific climate adaptation

Researchers in this field include: Adam Barker, Megan Blake, Hazal Dolek, José Luis Fajardo Escoffié, Dan Hammett, Anna Hawkins, Ruth LittleJenny Pickerill, Luke Temple, Judith Tsouvalis, Jennifer Veenstra, Matt Watson.

Example publications in this theme

Relative deprivation and inequalities in social and political activism by Maria Grasso, Barbara Yoxon, Sotirios Karampampas  & Luke Temple in Acta Politica, 2019, 54(3), 398-429

Developing a ‘civil’ society in partial democracies: Citizens, in/civility and a critical public sphere by Dan Hammett and Lucy Jackson in Political Geography 2018, 67, pp. 145-155 

Reoccupation and Resurgence: Indigenous protest camps in Canada by Adam Barker & Ross Russell Ross, a chapter in Protest Camps in International Context: Spaces, Infrastructures, and Media of Resistance edited by Gavin Brown, Anna Feigenbaum, Fabian Frenzel & Patrick McCurdy (Polity Press, Oxford 2017).

Placing power in practice theory by Matt Watson, a chapter in the book The Nexus of Practices edited by Alison Hui, Ted Schatzki and Elizabeth Shove, Routledge, London 2016.

Eco-homes: People, place and politics: a book by Jenny Pickerill (Zed Books, London 2016).

Policy and Practice for Contemporary Challenges

Working to effect change by contributing to evidence-based policy and putting forward solutions to key social and environmental challenges of the contemporary world.

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Critically analysing how policy and practice might be developed to respond to challenges arising from the social, political, economic, and environmental changes shaping our world today. Our work in this area addresses themes relating to:

  • Tackling use and disposal of single use plastics and transitions to processes of reuse.
  • New approaches to policy thinking on reducing home resource consumption.
  • The role local authorities, schools, and third sector organizations play in supporting healthy diet for deprived communities.
  • Biosecurity, disease management, and intensification in livestock production.
  • Enhancing the role of stakeholders and the general public in co-designing agricultural and environmental policy.
  • Mapping the obscured power structures shaping contemporary food consumption practices.
  • Infection prevention and control in (human) healthcare services
Our research in this area incorporates geospatial methods such as spatial statistics, as well as methods rooted in qualitative approaches, including ethnography, time-space diaries, and archival research, interviews, and participatory approaches.

Researchers in this field include: Megan Blake, José Luis Fajardo Escoffié, Anna Hawkins, Peter Fuzesi, Ruth LittleRorie Parsons, Judith Tsouvalis, Matt Watson.

Example publications in this theme

Engaging citizens, depoliticising society? Training citizens as agents for good governance by Dan Hammett in Geografiska Annaler Series B, Human Geography 2018, 100(2), pp.64-80.

Opening up the participation laboratory: The cocreation of publics and futures in upstream participation by Anna Krzywoszynska, Matt Watson, et al in Science, Technology, & Human Values 2018, 43.5: 785-809.

Challenges and opportunities for re-framing resource use policy with social practice theories, by Matt Watson et al published in 2020 in Global Environmental Change 62 102072.

Dynamic Places

We explore a range of questions around processes of change in places, including through urbanisation, patterns of development and agricultural change in the global North and global South.

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Research in this theme addresses the dynamism of places through studying how local urban and rural landscapes are changing, and the processes associated with these transformations. Work explores issues such as:

  • Transformations of post-Brexit agricultural policy and landscapes
  • Changing relationships between people and soils in agriculture and food systems
  • Migration and trajectories of local change
  • The intersection of environmental activism and economic opportunity
  • Infrastructural change and urban life
  • Geographies of discontent
  • Our research in this area spans the global North and global South, including work involving:
    • Old-growth forests in Tasmania
    • Working-class urban, rural and peri-urban areas of Britain
    • Farms in the UK and Canada
Example publications in this theme

Doings with the land and sea: Decolonising geographies, Indigeneity, and enacting place-agency by Adam Barker and Jenny Pickerill in Progress in Human Geography, 2020, 44, 4: 640-662.

Whose development? Power and space in international development by Dan Hammett in Geography, 2018, 104(1), pp. 12-18

Black and Green: The future of Indigenous-environmentalist relations in Australia by Jenny Pickerill in Environmental Politics, 27, 6, 1122-1145.

Research making an impact

Food Ladders: Increasing resilience and reducing vulnerability to food insecurity.

Led by Dr Megan Blake.

One in five UK adults experience food insecurity and this is expected to increase in the current context of stagnant wages, price rises, and continuing austerity. Dr. Blake has redefined food support through her innovative framework, Food Ladders. Blake’s work drove organisational and policy change achieving greater reach, access to resources and influence for food charities, including the UK’s largest surplus food redistributor, FareShare. Her framework has led to policy interventions to eliminate vulnerability to hunger, poor nutrition and social isolation through collaborations locally and internationally. Food Ladders has been pivotal to the UK’s planning responses, disaster mitigation, and longer-term strategy for more than 40 UK-wide charities, local and central government, and business during COVID-19.  This work was submitted as a REF impact case study in 2021. Since 2021, and as a result of her research she has become an external academic advisory to Feeding Britain.  She is also supporting the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission to help grants and trusts organisations shape their funding models to bring them toward a better alignment with the objectives that the Food Ladders approach seeks to achieve.  Along with Adam Whitworth (Strathclyde), Anglo Moretti (MMU) and the Food Foundation, Dr Blake developed the UK’s first map of local authority food insecurity estimates.  This map has been used by local authorities and food groups to persuade elected officials in their areas to consider how to support people who are struggling.   It was also featured in a large number of national and local newspapers including The Guardian, The Times, The Standard, The Big Issue, and others. 

More Than Just Food is a short documentary about how everyday food insecurity is linked to loneliness and how community organisations are addressing both issues.  See the film here.  A subtitled version and over 80 translations is also available.

Map: Adult Food Insecurity at Local Authority Scale

Blake, M.K., (2018) Building an unjust foodscape: shifting governance regimes, urban place making and the making of Chinese food as ordinary in Hong Kong. Local Environment, 23(11), pp.1047-1062. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2017.1328674

Blake, M.K. (2020). Releasing Social Value from Surplus Food: An evaluation of the impact of British Red Cross funding to help address loneliness and Isolation through FareShare food redistribution. Final Report. DOI:  10.13140/RG.2.2.30789.27361.


Eco-communities in an urban future

Led by Jenny Pickerill.

Eco-communities are permanent interventions to build and reshape the urban, a form of insurgent urbanism. Using examples from already existing urban eco-communities the ways such projects demonstrate lasting material, social and economic transformations are illustrated through three examples of; generating affordability, designing for frequent social interaction, and repurposing marginalized public urban spaces.

These examples are scalable to the city level, but would work best if replicated and reworked by neighborhoods, rather than taking one-size-fits-all approach to climate urbanism. However, for many eco-communities, there are often gaps between their imagined politics and their realization. Racial exclusion and class exclusivity, along with contradictions encountered in property ownership and affordability, require ongoing critical interrogation of seemingly radical versions of climate urbanism, lest they too contribute to the entrenchment rather than amelioration of inequalities in the contemporary urban.

Jenny Pickerill (2020): Eco-communities as insurgent climate urbanism: radical urban socio-material transformations, Urban Geography.​​​​


Agri-Environmental Governance Post-Brexit

This research - led by Ruth Little - is broadly concerned with how the Government is going about achieving a ‘Green Brexit’ and the goals set out in the 25-year Environment Plan, the Green Growth Strategy and the new Environment Bill in the context of agriculture.

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Sustaining Gender: Intimate Politics, Joyful Encounters and Endurance in Hebron

In exploring the specific geographic context of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Hazal Dolek’s project focuses on Palestinian women's spacings, more precisely, geographies of intimacy and care in relation to, and as opposed to, politics of occupation.

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Geographies of Discontent: Uncanny Materiality and the Cambridgeshire Fens

This research by Rowan Jaines seeks to explore elements of the rural that have been disavowed, denied and dispossessed by contemporary human geography through a specific focus on the district of Fenland in the North of Cambridgeshire.

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