Professor Jenny Pickerill

Professor in Environmental Geography


Room number: F19
Telephone (internal): 27960
Telephone (UK): 0114 222 7960
Telephone (International): +44 114 222 7960


Jenny Pickerill’s research connects three themes:

  • Environment: a social science approach to how we understand, value and (ab)use the environment
  • Difference: the importance of social justice, inequality, colonialism, racism and neo-liberalism in how the environment is understood
  • Experiments: inspiring grassroots solutions to environmental problems and hopeful and positive ways in which we can change social practices

As a geographer Jenny is interested in how these different issues connect, relate and entangle at different scales and in diverse places. She has conducted research in Britain, Australia, USA, Spain, Thailand and Argentina.

Jenny developed these interests through an undergraduate degree and PhD in Geography at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne and a MSc in Geographical Information Systems at Edinburgh University. She taught at the universities of Curtin (Australia) and Leicester (England) before taking up a Chair in Environmental Geography at the University of Sheffield in 2014.


Research Interests:


Why the environment is valued, or not, is crucial in understanding humans’ everyday practices, climate change and resource issues. Humans have complex relationships with the environment that need to be examined using social science research techniques. The apparent inability of humans to neither adequately mitigate climate change nor prepare through adaptation is a case in point. Jenny has researched how environmental activists have sought to communicate particular understandings of the environment through a variety of technologies (Cyberprotest: Environmental Activism Online, 2003). She is interested in how environmental campaigns are framed, for example around ‘wilderness’ (From wilderness to WildCountry, 2008), and in how activists mobilise to ‘save’ particular types of environment while ignoring other places (Finding Common Ground, 2009). Most recently she has started to work on a project about the crises of environmentalism.


Difference is a measure by which individuals, societies, and even nations seek to distinguish themselves. It is a measure of separation (as being unlike someone) and distinctiveness. In its assertion it creates an “other”—those we are not. Forms of difference have been grouped into broad social categories such as class, gender, race or ethnicity, and sexuality. However, difference can be asserted using any criterion, such as language, nationality, birthplace, religion, ancestry, and profession. It can also be tied to particular places and operates across many scales. Jenny is interested in how differences are included in a variety of activist campaigns such as autonomous activism (Notes towards autonomous geographies, 2006 with Paul Chatterton), the Occupy! movement, anti-war activism (Anti-War Activism, 2008 with Kevin Gillan and Frank Webster), and Australian environmental activism (Finding Common Ground, 2009). She is also concerned with developing ways in which different knowledges (particularly Australian indigenous knowledge) are valued and respected (Radicalising relationships to and through shared geographies, 2012, with Adam Barker). In researching difference Jenny has worked on issues of research ethics (Research Ethics and Social Movements, forthcoming, with Kevin Gillan) and is interested in developing more participatory and engaged methodologies that are able to accommodate diversity.


After researching environmental protest and activism for many years Jenny developed an interest in solutions to environmental problems. This stemmed from a recognition that activists were often advocating and practicing alternatives to contemporary capitalist lifestyles, but that there was a lack of research examining the potential of these innovations. Moreover, she believed that Universities should be advocating solutions to existing problems and there was a need to encourage geographers to be more explicit about the societal contributions that their work makes (Beyond scholar activism, 2010). Jenny has a particular interest in affordable self-build eco-housing (Eco-Homes: People, Place and Politics, forthcoming and Bodies, building and bricks, forthcoming). She has also attempted to teach environmental issues in a hopeful way that empowers students to make changes for their future. In this future orientated work it is particularly necessary to understand and employ emotions, especially hope, but also guilt, fear and anger (Space for emotion in the spaces of activism, 2009, with Gavin Brown).

Current Research:

Jenny’s current research focuses on two interconnected projects:

1. Understanding, Advocating and Building Eco-Homes
The main focus of this research is in analyzing the social, geographical and political issues of eco-housing in order to better understand the forms and functions of eco-homes, how eco-homes could be improved, how to encourage more supply and demand, how eco-building knowledge travels and how to make eco-housing more affordable. Based on worldwide empirical research with over thirty examples of affordable eco-housing (funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust) Jenny has written a book Eco-Homes: People, Place and Politics and a blog full of case study examples This research also explores particular dynamics within the eco-building movement, such as the lack of women eco-builders (published in an article in Gender, Place and Culture, 2014). Another project is examining how to encourage more community self-build eco-housing projects.

2. Crises of Environmentalism
This project interrogates the state of environmentalism in the global north, and develops a new analytical framework to explore the diverse contributions of environmentalism to contemporary societal politics and culture. The aim of this proposed project is to write a book on the Crises of Environmentalism that is structured around key tensions within environmental movements (such as the economy, jobs, and technology) and uses empirical examples to explore how environmentalists have sought to navigate and resolve these problematic issues. This research pulls together a number of preceding projects on, for example, processes of greening the economy in northern Australia (British Academy funded), rethinking processes of sustainability transitions (ESRC funded), work with Indigenous activists in Australia, and research on autonomous geographies (ESRC funded).


My undergraduate teaching interests include:

Environmental geography: values, social movements, indigenous knowledges and rights, climate change mitigation and adaptation, eco-housing and eco-communities

Fieldwork and participatory approaches: destinations include eco-communities in Nottinghamshire, SW USA and New York

Critical geopolitics: understanding neoliberalism and resistance to capitalism

I have supervised numerous doctoral students, current and recent topics include:

  • The brick as a cultural impediment to eco-housing
  • The attitudes, behaviour and practices of engagement of Japanese university students with sustainable living and adaptations to climate change
  • The impact of coastal change as a result of climate change on the sustainability and adaptation of coastal communities in England
  • (Re)Ordering the New World: Settler colonialism, space and identity
  • Restoration from Within - Developing Restoration Action Plans Through Ecological and Community Knowledge in Kalimantan, Indonesia
  • The future of responsible lending in India; Perceptions of sustainability and the environment

I would be interested in supervising PhD students in topics such as environmental geographies; grassroot environmental solutions; Indigenous geographies; eco-building; geographies of sustainability transitions; environmental justice; collective action; and participatory methodologies.


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