Personal profile

Academic Biography

I am Senior Lecturer in Human Geography and teach across the Social Scicence and Humanities degrees at Teesside University.

My research is centred on the lived experiences of urban and environmental problems. Methodologically it is driven by participatory, co-productive, and arts-based approaches. Conceptually my work uses aesthetic practice and theory to connect interests in cultural geography, urban and environmental planning, and contemporary art. 

Central to my research ethos is interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues and practitioners within the academy, as well as research and practice-based collaborations with organisations including Royal Town Planning Institute, Tate Modern, Town and Country Planning Association, and MIMA, and artists such as Laura Harrington, Barby Asante, Onya McCausland, Amalia Pica, and Sarah Cole. 

Before joining Teesside University I held academic positions at Royal Holloway, Leeds Beckett University, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, and University of Reading.

Summary of Research Interests

My current research has three main focuses: 

1) Critical and creative geographies of flooding

Supported with a British Academy Small Research Grant, I am currently developing a new research focus on the multiple and contested knowledges of flooding, sitting at the intersection of geography, aesthetics, environmental planning and management, and place-based public knowledges. This is starting with the development and critical evaluation of a new interdisciplinary and creative methodology called the ‘River Studio’ – a collaboration between artists, flood, and urban practitioners, and those affected by flooding to use art-based approaches to explore flood knowledge grounded in the experience of people and places. Building on my research on geographies of participatory art and the built environment, the project will evaluate the critical ability of art practice in creating new flood knowledges through a series of pilot River Studio workshops in Morpeth (UK) to establish and refine this methodology. The project will critically investigate the extent to which this experimental approach creates new knowledge and understanding of the relationships between embodied knowledge, place, flooding, and flood risk management.

2) Geographies of participatory art

I am currently preparing a monograph manuscript entitled Aesthetic Encounters: Cultural Geographies of Partcipatory Art. This book argues that a focus on aesthetic encounters is a vital and novel way to consider how artworks create geographies, providing a new intervention into geography’s work on contemporary art and the wider creative (re)turn. Drawing from the geographies of art and aesthetics, geographies of materiality and new materialism, social geographies of encounter, and art theory, the book argues that a focus on the ethical and aesthetic relations of participatory art enables an expanded and more critical understanding of the “work art does in the world” (Hawkins 2013).  In doing so, it is situated within and developing two contemporary academic and practice-based canons, the “creative (re)turn” in geography (Hawkins 2019), and the “social turn” within art theory and practice (Bishop 2005). 

3) The relationship between aesthetic thinking, art practice and planning processes

In collaboration with Katie McClymont (Urban Planning, UWE), and an international network of artists, academics, and urban planning practioners, I am exploring the relationships between, and experiences of, planners working with artists and artists working with planners. Key questions we are addressing are:

  1. What are the experiences of artists and planners working in each other's fields?
  2. How is public space generated by the collaborations between artists and planners? What sorts of places can this produce? What are the tensions in this? What part does community engagement play?
  3. What historical examples can be drawn on for contemporary practitioners? For example, the legacy of the Artists Placement Group which placed artists within industry and government departments, and site-specific collaborative art works such as Park Fiction which involved extended interaction between artists, participatory planning processes, and local communities to engage with and influence community concerns away from the interests of capital. 
  4. How can aesthetic practices challenge the structured ways of thinking which are prevalent in planning practice (understandings of use, need etc)? Can this lead to a more progressive planning culture, in which power dynamics are altered rather than perpetuated?
  5. What is the relationship between artists, the planning system and gentrification? How can practice resist the tokenistic deployment of artists in public consultation? What sorts of spaces are needed to resist this? 
  6. Can developing dialogue between planners and artists change ways of working and create more progressive urban spaces? 

This work has been published in a Special Issue of Planning Theory and Practice

Academic Responsibilities

I lead the ongoing development of the human geography components of the BSc Geography programme. I currently lead or teach on a range of modules on our BSc Geography and MSc Environmental Management degrees including, Human Geography and Globalisation, Cities and Sustainable Futures, Cultural Geography, Interpreting Environments, and Sustainability and Society.

PhD and Research Opportunities

Current PhD Students

2022 - Duncan Evennou (Primary supervisor / Director of Studies)

“Petrified Museum” Performing the present tense through geological archives 

Lesley Hicks (Primary supervisor / Director of Studies)

Drawing upon Landscape

2021 - Danae Contou  (External/third supervisor, with Prof Phil Steinberg and Prof Paul Harrison, Durham University)

Cartographic Arctic Uncertainties

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, Participatory art and the cultural geographies of encounter, Royal Holloway University of London

Award Date: 1 May 2016

Master, Cultural Geography (Research), Royal Holloway University of London

Award Date: 31 Aug 2010

Bachelor, Human Geography, Leeds Metropolitan University

Award Date: 30 Jun 2009

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