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Department of Geography


Alumni events

Alumni events

The Future of Work with Professor Bhaskar Vira

Bhaskar ViraIt was my pleasure and privilege to convene and host a panel discussion on The Future of Work, as part of the University of Cambridge Alumni Festival 2021. A distinguished group of colleagues addressed what is probably one of the most important issues of our time - I hope you will enjoy the discussion.

Over the last couple of years, we have been building a programme of research and teaching on The Future of Work, hosted at the Department of Geography. This includes an undergraduate course on Work and Employment, PhD projects as well as a number of postdoctoral researchers. We have become the convening hub for this activity across the University, and already work closely with colleagues in Sociology, Education, the Cambridge Judge Business School and Economics, and hope that this builds into a more significant body of interdisciplinary research and teaching.

Even before the Covid pandemic, it was already evident that the Future of Work in the 21st Century was likely to follow a very different trajectory to the established norms that had dominated the experience of workers in the post War era, especially in what is sometimes called the developed world, or the Global North. Internationally, by the late twentieth century, the lived experience of work had taken many diverse forms. Settled, full time permanent jobs which are associated with the right to organize, social security and retirements benefits – what people see as the key ingredients of 'Decent Work' – were a privilege, but only enjoyed by a relatively small proportion of workers. For many in the developing world, or the Global South, their everyday working lives were more unstable, dominated by what is often called the informal economy.

Future of Work

By the turn of the 21st century, it was widely anticipated that the world of work was likely to be fundamentally different. We had seen the shift from the manufacturing sector to services, and the consequences in terms of the geographical distribution of work; for instance, away from the industrial heartlands in the US and UK, towards the financial-sector dominated economic hubs in New York and London – creating spatial inequality, as well as a concentration of wealth. In developing countries, while people remained dependent on the rural and agrarian sectors, education levels were rising, people's aspirations were changing, and people were increasingly in search of non-agricultural jobs – but these were precarious forms of work, typically in the urban informal economy. The rise of IT and automation is also having profound impacts – not necessarily reducing employment, but changing the nature of jobs, and the skills required to access these jobs. Initially, some countries experienced a boom due to outsourcing and call centres, and we have seen the growing dominance of platform-based forms of work, what is called the 'Gig Economy'.

All of these patterns have been magnified due to Covid. Work itself has been fundamentally disrupted, and we have seen agonising images of people from the informal urban sector in places like India being forced to walk to their rural homes, as their jobs simply disappeared overnight. The burden of care work has always been shared disproportionately by women – Covid made this even worse. And, as some economies now start to emerge from the initial waves of the pandemic, there are questions about what work will look like – and whether any of us will return to the 'old normal'? As governments talk about investment to 'Build Back Better', what will this actually look like – which sectors will thrive, and where will the jobs of the future be? And, how does all this link with the climate and biodiversity emergencies, the health and wellbeing of people and the planet, and the hope that we might be able to create Green Jobs that are also fair, equitable and inclusive in terms of their social outcomes?

This is a big agenda. Our conversation touches on some aspects of this, and I am delighted to have had the opportunity to discuss these issues with a fantastic group of colleagues.

Brendan Burchall is a Professor in the Social Sciences and member of the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge. His research interests include the effects of labour market experiences (e.g. job insecurity, work intensification, bankruptcy, zero hours contracts, part-time work, unemployment) on psychological well-being.

Garima Sahai is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Department of Geography and a Bye-Fellow at Murray Edwards College. Her research interests centre on issues of youth and gender, and she is especially interested in the intersections between research, policy and international development practice. She is currently working with me and others to help establish a Global Commission on Youth and Work in the Global South.

Caroline Francis completed her BA in Geography at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge, before going on to postgraduate study at the Daiichi University of Economics in Japan. She is a Managing Director at Accenture, a global profession services company that specialises in IT services and consulting.

Catherine Boyce holds a BA in History from the University of Cambridge and a Masters in Economic and Social History from the University of Oxford. She is the Director of Enterprise Development at CAMFED International, a pan-African, grassroots-led movement tackling poverty, inequality and injustice through girls' education and women's leadership.

Living with risk in the Anthropocene

As part of the 30th Cambridge University Alumni weekend the Department of Geography hosted a panel discussion on Living with Risk in the Anthropocene.

The discussion was hosted by Professor Bhaskar Vira, with panelists Dr Emma Mawdsley, Dr Howard Nelson, Professor Clive Oppenheimer, and Dame Professor Fiona Reynolds.

Geographical Passages with Professor Bill Adams

The Department of Geography hosted a webinar to mark the retirement of Professor Bill Adams. In conversation with Professor Bhaskar Vira, Bill talks about his life and career to date. Thank you to everyone who was able to attend and make this such a special event for Bill.

Centenary events

100 years of Cambridge Geography Centenary Day - 29th June 2019

We held a very packed day celebrating our centenary.

The programme for the day was as follows:

  • Exhibition of Departmental history and present at the Department of Geography.
  • Talks in the Department of Anatomy, live streamed to the Large Lecture Theatre.
  • Talks:
    • Opening by Head of Department
    • Reflections on the history of the Tripos by Dr Philip Howell
    • Talks by Emaan Ullah and Becky Shepherdson, current students
    • 'Climate change: lessons from the past' a panel featuring Professors Clive Oppenheimer, Ulf Buengten, Christine Lane and Mike Hulme, chaired by Joe Smith Director of the RGS
  • Celebratory tea at Pembroke College.

The Centenary Programme 2019- on film

During the 2018-19 academic year the Department held a series of public events including a Centenary Lecture series and public panel discussion on the Spirit and Purpose of Geography. Films of the events are now online.

Speakers included:

  • Professor Linda McDowell, University of Oxford, Border Crossings: geographies of class, gender, mobility and migration
  • Professor Harriet Bulkeley, University of Durham, Climate Changed Urban Futures: imaginaries, experiments and justice in the Anthropocene city
  • Professor Derek Gregory, University of British Columbia, Bloody Geography: injured bodies and the space of modern war
  • Professor Stuart Lane, University of Lausanne, Straigraphical Discourse in the Anthropocene: towards a more critical geographical tradition
  • Dame Fiona Reynolds, Master of Emmanuel College and former Director General of the National Trust
  • Belinda Gordon, Director of Strategy, Green Alliance
  • Matthew Price, BBC Radio 4 Today, Chief Correspondent
  • Dominic Waughray, Head of the World Economic Forum Centre for Global Public Goods

Earlier events

Information about past events held for alumni at the Department of Geography can be found in our archive.


Is it coming up to an anniversary year since you matriculated at Cambridge? Will you be holding a get together? We are always happy to host reunion groups here at the Department, and can help with the organisation. Got an idea for a reunion event? Let us know.

Talks and seminars

Alumni are welcome to attend our programme of public lectures and Departmental seminars, information available via our events listing. If you'd like to come along to a talk or lecture, please contact us.

University of Cambridge alumni events

The University run a wide-ranging series of events for alumni around the world- wherever you are, and whatever interests you, you're bound to find something that suits!

The University of Cambridge also run three annual Festivals: the Festival of Ideas, the Cambridge Festival and Open Cambridge for alumni and members of the public. Look out for Geography as part of these programmes.