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Department of Geography

 

Staff profiles

Staff profiles

Read about the latest activity of our staff. You can also browse our full staff directory.

Dr Elia Apostolopoulou

Since her undergraduate studies looking at environmental and social conflicts around the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, Dr Elia Apostolopoulou has been investigating nature-society relationships under capitalism. Her current research looks at the neoliberalization of nature in post-crisis Europe and neoliberal conservation.

Elia ApostolopoulouMy interest in political ecology grew from when I was an undergraduate student, studying Biology and Ecology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. I was trying to decide the topic of my dissertation and, even though I liked both genetics and ecology, I was keen to find a way to link my interest in politics with my studies. I decided to focus on the social and environmental impacts of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, which took place whilst I was studying. In particular, I wanted to look at the severe conflicts that arose around the construction of the Olympic canoeing centre in Schinias, the last wetland in close proximity to Athens. My understanding of the contradictory character of nature-society relationships under capitalism and my Marxist theoretical background gradually led me to the field of political ecology, and to a PhD on the conflicts between conservation and economic development.

It was this interest in political ecology, along with my interest in the work of scholars like David Harvey, Neil Smith, and Henri Lefebvre, that led me to Geography. In fact, the Political Ecology Group has been one of the key reasons I first came to the Department of Geography as a visiting scholar in 2012. I then came back as a Marie Curie Fellow, 2013-16, finally re-joining in September 2017 after roles as a lecturer at the University of Oxford and as a Fellow in the Rachel Carson Centre (Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich). I find very stimulating the interdisciplinary character of the Department – which fits really well with my own interdisciplinary background as well as the fact that critical approaches are encouraged and supported.

My current research focuses on the neoliberalization of nature in post-crisis Europe and neoliberal conservation. Specific topics include: the impacts of the economic crisis and austerity in conservation policy and governance; environmental offsetting and extended urbanization; a Marxist critique to the economic valuation of nature; environmental movements, including anti-mining and anti-fracking struggles, with an emphasis on the right to the city and how it can be linked to the right to nature; and, more recently, urban agriculture in crisis ridden cities. In my research, I mainly use interviews, focus groups and participatory observation, and try to bring together the concerns of critical scholars, activists, and local communities and their aspirations for a radically different production of nature.

I would urge current students in the Department to take advantage of their time here to see the world through the lenses of key concepts of geographical imagination like place, space, time, and scale, and key theories like uneven geographical development and the production of space and nature under capitalism. This will lead them to discover the dialectical relationships between social, economic, cultural and environmental phenomena ultimately offering them pathways to alternative and non-conventional modes of thinking.

Professor Mike Hulme

Professor Mike Hulme, who joined the Department in Michaelmas 2017, tells us about his work around climate change and culture, and how his childhood love of cricket inspired his interest in the relationships between climate and society.

Mike HulmeI was born in London in 1960, and am a lifelong cricket fan. As a boy this inspired my twin interests in weather and statistics. The similarities between cricket scorecards and meteorological registers is uncanny (see the adjacent images). The wider story that this inspired in me was a deep fascination with the relationships between climates and cultures, between weather and society. I have pursued this interest throughout my career, which has pursued an ever deeper understanding — using scientific, social scientific and humanities insights — of both the physical and imaginative force of climate change. I am equally at home thinking through these different meta-disciplines.

Score card Score card

My work explores the idea of climate and its changes and I do this using historical, cultural and scientific analyses. I seek to illuminate the numerous ways in which climate change is deployed in public and political discourse. I believe it is important to understand and describe the varied ideological, political and ethical work that the idea of climate change is currently performing across many different social worlds.

For my undergraduate degree, I choose to study geography at university in Durham and for my undergraduate dissertation constructed a UK winter weather index. This was later picked up by Scottish Local Authorities and christened 'the Hulme Index', which they found useful for their winter road maintenance programme. Although I gained a BSc from Durham, my interests in geography spanned both the human and the physical and this 'holding together' of different ways of interpreting the world remains, for me, the essential hallmark of the geographer.

I started working in the University of Cambridge in September 2017, having previously worked at Kings College London, the University of East Anglia, the University of Zimbabwe and the University of Salford. The University has outstanding people – academics and students alike – and wonderful resources. The organisation of the University creates great flexibility and space for experimentation, collaboration and innovation, essential elements necessary for universities to make valued contributions to public life. It is a great privilege to teach and mentor the students who are attracted to this Department.

To current Geography students, I would say don't limit yourself to the familiar, whether these be people, places, ideas or courses – and develop a historical sensibility for whatever geographical subject matter you are studying. As geographers the world is your field site and, whether undergraduate or graduate, you should grasp the opportunities studying at a university like Cambridge brings with it.

Dr Francesco Muschitiello

Dr Francesco Muschitiello, Lecturer in Physical Geography, tells us how he came from conserving fine art to his current climate science research, working to improve our ability to predict climate change.

Francesco MuschitielloEver since I can remember I have always been fascinated by the Earth System and by all the natural processes at play on our planet. I was particularly curious about the interplay between atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere, and how all the chaotic physical processes around us still make life sustainable on our planet.

However, I came to study Climate Science, and Physical Geography, in kind of a roundabout way. I have a BSc in Chemistry for Conservation and Restoration of Fine Art- despite my passion for science, I didn't want to give up on humanities. It took me four long years before I realized I wanted to pursue an academic career in Earth and Natural Sciences. That's when I started an MSc in Geology at the University of Perugia.

I went on to study for an MSc in Sweden, where I was given the opportunity to design paleo-climatic research, involving fieldwork, and laboratory work, among other activities. By the time I wrapped up my thesis I was completely captivated and mesmerized by Climate Science and its strong interdisciplinarity and in less than no time I joined a PhD programme in Physical Geography. Don't enter a PhD programme if you want to have a social life, but if you really have to, apply for Physical Geography: it will change your life for the better!

My current research focuses on reconstructing and understanding abrupt climate changes of the past to improve our ability to predict future climate change. I use a variety of geochemical proxies in sedimentary archives, such as microfossils and radiocarbon measurements. These proxies provide powerful tools to reconstruct past changes in ocean and atmospheric circulation, as well as changes in the global carbon cycle. I also employ a wide range of numerical and statistical tools to analyse large climate data sets and proxy-based climate records, and to assess the performance of climate model simulations against reconstructions.

I've worked in Cambridge since 2018, and like its dual nature, deeply rooted in the past, with its history and colleges, but with an eye to the future, strongly committed to educating youth and preparing future generations … but I also like the pubs … and fish and chips.

Dr Maan Barua

Having grown up witnessing the interplay between wildlife and politics in India, Dr Maan Barua is passionate about understanding relations between nature and society. His latest project explores the social impacts of ecologies in urban areas, from foxes in London to cattle in New Delhi.

Dr Maan Barua

My interest in nature-society relations stems from growing up in the countryside in Assam, north-eastern India. There I was witness to a constant traffic between nature and culture, wildlife and politics, ecology and the economy. I wanted to grasp some of these complexities, and this led me to Geography.

In Assam, I initially studied for an undergraduate degree in zoology and chemistry, aiming to become an ecologist. However, I realised that geography provided the best opportunities for researching across the nature/politics divide; the topic wasn't a ready fit with either the biological or social sciences. The relations between nature and society are one of geography's most durable concerns. The discipline- at both its "physical" and "human" ends- grapples, one might say extremely productively, with such tensions.

I read for an MSc and DPhil in Geography at the University of Oxford, where I later became a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow. My research focused on the relations between nature and capitalism, looking at what some have called "lively capital": value derived from life, which moves through spheres that cut across the nature/society divide. Subjects include: lions and the political economies of ecotourism; bees and the ecologies of agriculture; and pandas and affective labour in zoos.

Cow

For my latest project, I am looking at how animals inhabit the city, be it foxes in London, cattle in New Delhi or stray dogs in Guwahati. I focus on these three cities, examining ecologies that are cultivated (e.g. livestock, poultry), feral (stray dogs) and wild (macaques, avian scavengers). I look at the impact these ecologies have upon everyday lives, urban conflicts, and ultimately, in defining what urbanicity is. Urbanization is inherently about the urbanization of nature, but the latter often slips the leash of critical inquiry. This work speaks to concerns at the forefront of contemporary urban studies, and addresses key issues around making cities more just for those in urban poverty.

I've worked in Cambridge since January, and particularly like the University structure and the opportunities it offers for cross-disciplinary conversations. I feel privileged to be working in a Department conducting cutting-edge research around the politics between the living and material world - the perfect setting to explore urban ecologies.

Dr Richard Powell

Human geographer Dr Richard Powell has been interested in the peoples and cultures of the Arctic, and discipline formation, since his undergraduate days. His new, interdisciplinary project examines how colonial centres viewed Arctic areas.

Dr Richard Powell

I first became interested in the people and geographies of the Arctic during my undergraduate degree, which I took at Oxford. I have been privileged to work on different aspects of Arctic Cultures ever since, including during my MA at British Columbia and my PhD at Cambridge. Each of my degrees are in Geography, and though I am a cultural, historical and political geographer, I am interested broadly in the discipline.

The opportunity to work at the Scott Polar Research Institute, which is the foremost institution in the world in my field, brought me back to Cambridge in 2017. I always liked the Geography Department, but since moving back I have been delighted by the passion that colleagues share for geography in all its guises - for their brilliant undergraduate and graduate students, for their outstanding research and for their responsibilities to the world. This makes both Geography and SPRI inspiring places to work.

My new research project develops understanding of the consequences of forms of colonial representation for debates about the Circumpolar Arctic today. Named ARCTIC CULT, or 'Arctic Cultures: Sites of Collection in the Formation of the European and American Northlands', this ERC-funded project will last for 5 years, and includes myself, four Post-Doctoral Researchers and a Project Assistant. We are engaging with museums, archives, libraries and repositories across Europe and North America, as well as in Greenland and the Canadian Arctic. The project is interdisciplinary, involving historical and archival work, textual and discourse analysis, and consultation of material objects and museum collections. I am really excited to have the opportunity to get to grips with questions surrounding Arctic Cultures over a large, extended team project.

To current students, I would remind you that Geography is a fantastic subject and don't ever let anyone try and persuade you otherwise. It is a subject that leads to interesting careers. As teachers, we are here to help you in this and are always available to talk and provide advice. But I would say work hard and take advantage of all the excellent opportunities that are on offer here. More importantly, Geography makes good global citizens so try to remember that, especially when you leave Cambridge. And, obviously, please take the Arctic Paper!