Professor Richard Phillips

Professor in Human Geography

Richard Phillips

Room number: F17
Telephone (internal): 27943
Telephone (UK): 0114 222 7943
Telephone (International): +44 114 222 7943

Richard Phillips’s research spans a series of contrasting yet connected themes:

  • The World after Empire: themes include Muslim geographies and postcolonial cities
  • Sexuality, Space and Power: constructions and contestations of sexual identities
  • Curiosity and Adventure: from children’s books to health and wellbeing policies

Richard is also very interested in geographical education, particularly fieldwork and other forms of curiosity-driven learning, so his research and teaching are closely connected.

Richard developed these interests through a Masters in Geography at the University of California Santa Barbara (1988) and a PhD at the University of British Columbia (1994). He taught at the Universities of Aberystwyth, Salford and Liverpool before taking up a Chair in Human Geography at the University of Sheffield in 2012.

Research Interests

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The World after Empire: themes include 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. I have investigated these issues through research involving British Muslims and members of the Liverpool-born black community (see Muslim Spaces of Hope, published in 2009, and Liverpool ’81: Remembering the Riots, 2011). I have also researched the ways in which empire is invoked in contemporary political action, through a project on anti-imperialism in the UK anti-war movements (which protested intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq). I have also investigated the historical geographies of the British Empire through studies of colonial travel and adventure literature (Mapping Men and Empire: A Geography of Adventure, 1997) and through an historical geography of sexuality politics in the British Empire (Sex, Politics and Empire: A Postcolonial Geography, 2006).

Sexuality, Space and Power: constructions and contestations of sexual identities
Sexuality is an important vehicle for constructing and contesting power relations between national, cultural and religious groups. I have traced imperial sexuality politics through key sites within the British Empire, investigating the legacies of these colonial histories and geographies in ex-colonies including Jamaica and Sierra Leone. I have also begun to examine these dynamics within Europe, investigating cultural practices through which Muslims are constructed as 'non-liberal' minorities, through representations of forced marriage and homophobia. My books about sexuality investigate the contested regulation of sexuality in the British Empire (Sex, Politics and Empire: A Postcolonial Geography, 2006), examine sexuality politics and identities outside the cities that dominate research on sexualities (De-Centring Sexualities, 2001), and investigate the place of sexuality within sometimes tense relationships between majority societies and cultural minorities (controversies surrounding Muslim attitudes towards marriage and homosexuality are examined in a paper published in Gender, Place and Culture, 2012).

Curiosity and Adventure: from children’s books to health and wellbeing policies
My first book, entitled Mapping Men and Empire: A Geography of Adventure (1997), investigated boys' adventure stories, tracing their significance for constructions of imperialism and masculinity. I have subsequently researched and written about adventures through a range of juvenile and adult literature, notably travel writing. My more recent work focusses upon a term closely related to adventure – curiosity – through research on ‘space for curiosity’ (the title of a paper in Progress in Human Geography, 2014) and interventions on the sometimes celebrated, sometimes embattled place of curiosity in universities (paper in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 2010). My interests in curiosity extend to a practical and philosophical approach to pedagogy, and a desire to better understand and encourage curiosity-driven learning among students was the motivation behind my book for students on the subject of geographical fieldwork: Fieldwork for Human Geography (2012).


Current research

1. Storying Relationships: British Muslims of Pakistani Heritage

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. These perceptions are often unfounded, yet they have implications for community relations. This project asks how young British Muslims, particularly those with Pakistani heritage, talk and think about their personal and sexual relationships. It involves reading discussion groups, and storytelling workshops. Funded by AHRC.

Richard Phillips is Principal Investigator on this project, funded by the AHRC, 2016-19. This project also involves Dr Nafhesi Ali, Postdoctoral Rearcher, and the Co-Investigators are Professor Peter Hopkins and Dr Raksha Pande (both at Newcastle University), Dr Claire Chambers (York University).

2. Understanding, Encouraging and Protecting Curiosity. This research has a number of interlinked strands, which will come together in a forthcoming book entitled Curious People:

  • Curiosity and Wellbeing: the 'take notice' agenda in Liverpool's Decade of Health and Wellbeing, collaborative research. Richard Phillips worked with Bethan Evans (Liverpool University) on this project, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust, 2012-13.
  • Curiosity-driven learning and inquiry: investigating the contested place of curiosity in universities, both in teaching and learning involving students, and also in scientific research and enquiry. This research is linked to Richard’s explorations of fieldwork, which include teaching and writing for students.
  • Curiosity and diversity: investigating how being curious with and about others can help cohere and reshape multicultural societies. Richard leads an ESRC-funded network entitled Reshaping Multiculturalism)
  • Curiosity and Innovation: this research investigates how curiosity can spark creativity, grounded in problem solving and the desire to know about things. Richard is leading an AHRC-funded project on curiosity and innovation in Sheffield Museums.


My undergraduate teaching interests include:

  • Fieldwork: destinations include Vancouver, Paris, Liverpool, New YorkImage of book cover
  • 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

Undergraduate dissertation supervisions. Recent topics I have supervised include:

  • Geographies of Love
  • Attitudes towards Muslims in Contemporary Britain
  • Space for anti-Racism in Football
  • Masculinity, Intimacy and Alcohol

I also supervise students at Masters and Doctoral students, with funding from the ESRC and AHRC. Current and recent topics include:

Key Publications

  • Phillips, R., Chambers, Ali, Pande and Hopkins, 2019, Mobilizing Pakistani heritage: approaching marriage, Ethnic and Racial Studies, open access.
  • Forsdick, C, Leak, A. and Phillips, R. 2019, Georges Perec's Geographies. London: UCL Press.
  • Phillips, R., Evans, B., 2016, Friendship, curiosity and the city: dementia friends and memory walks in Liverpool. Urban Studies.
  • Phillips, R. (2014) ‘Space for Curiosity.’ Progress in Human Geography.
  • Phillips, R. and Johns, J. (2012). Fieldwork for Human Geography. Sage, London.
  • Frost, D. and Phillips, R. (2011). Liverpool '81: Remembering the Riots. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool. Mixture of authorship and editorial contribution.
  • Phillips, R. (ed.) (2009). Muslim Spaces of Hope: Geographies of Possibility in Britain and the West. Zed, London.
  • Phillips, R. (2006). Sex, Politics and Empire: A Postcolonial Geography. Manchester University Press, Manchester.
  • Phillips, R., Watt, D. and Shuttleworth, D. (2000) Decentring Sexualities: Politics and representations beyond the metropolis. Routledge, London.
  • Phillips, R. (1997). Mapping Men and Empire: a Geography of Adventure. Routledge, London.