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Ms Coco Huggins MPhil

PhD student

A New Poor Law Politics? Exploring a Dickensian Discourse of UK Austerity from 2010 to 2020


Socio-economic and political geographer primarily interested in welfare and work in neoliberal society. Currently focused on discourses surrounding UK austerity policy and Dickensianism.


  • 2021-present PhD in Geography, University of Cambridge: “A New Poor Law Politics? Exploring a Dickensian Discourse of UK Austerity from 2010 to 2020”, ESRC Funded
  • 2020-2021 MPhil in Geographical Research, University of Cambridge: “Dickensian Neoliberalism? Exploring a Dickensian Discourse of UK Work and Welfare from 2010 to 2020“, ESRC Funded
  • 2016-2019: BA Geography, Durham University
    • Final Year Dissertation: “Constructing the Geographical Imagination: The Dickensian as a Discourse”


  • MPhil in Geographical Research, University of Cambridge
  • BA (Hons) Geography, Durham University (First Class)

Funding and awards

  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) 1 + 3 Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship (2020- present)
  • Searle Reading Prize, Pembroke College, Cambridge (2022)
  • Robin Mills Prize, Durham University (Highest BA Geography Degree/ Second Highest Overall Degree in Undergraduate Geography) (2019)
  • Nominee for the Royal Geographical Society’s (RGS) Historical Research Group Dissertation Award (2019)
  • Runner-Up Corpus Christi College, Cambridge Bacon Politics, Economics and International Relations Essay Competition (2015)
  • Highly Commended, RGS Young Geographer of the Year (2013)
  • Winner, RGS Young Geographer of the Year (2012)


My PhD research focuses on reforms to the benefit system in England instigated as part of UK austerity programmes from 2010 to 2020. It seeks to deconstruct the morals, ideologies and hierarchies embedded within relevant legislation, as well as the surrounding social, political and cultural discourse. It argues that the discourse of “the Dickensian” as a specific distillation of Charles Dickens’s work and “the Victorian” in general, may be used as a lens to analyse the emotional geographies and atmosphere of the study period. Epistemologically, my research is primarily situated within Critical Realism, using a hybridisation of Critical and Foucauldian Discourse Analysis to synthesise multiple forms of qualitative data.

Past research subjects include “Soundscaping East Jerusalem: Prosaics of the Arab-Israeli Conflict”, conceptions of ‘Home’ amongst Durham University Students and Bristol’s status as a European Green Capital.


Conference presentations & talks

  • “This House Believes New Labour Saved Britain” (Proposition Speaker) The Cambridge Union, November 2022
  • “The Human(e) Geographer: Emotions, Ethics and Philosophy in Research Practice” RGS-IBG Postgraduate Forum Mid-Term Conference, Online, April 2022
  • “Geographers As Culture Vultures” Geographical Association Annual Conference, University of Surrey, April 2022
  • “A New Poor Law Politics? Exploring a Dickensian Discourse of Austerity from 2010 to 2020” Pembroke Papers, Pembroke College Cambridge, January 2022
  • “Geography Beyond the Classroom: A Case Study of University Research”, School Outreach talk for Pangbourne College Geography Society, September 2021


  • “What the Dickens is Geography?” Lecture at the Sutton Trust Summer School, University of Cambridge, August 2022

External activities

  • Secretary, Royal Geographical Society (RGS) Postgraduate Forum (2022-)
  • RGS Associate Fellow (2022-)
  • RGS Geography Ambassador (2022-)
  • Disabilities Officer, Graduate Parlour Committee (GPC), Pembroke College Cambridge (2021- Present)
  • External Co-President, Cambridge University Refugee Scholarship Campaign (2021-22)
  • Chapel Clerk, Pembroke College Cambridge (2020-Pesent)
  • President, GPC, Pembroke College Cambridge (2020-2021)
  • Student Member, Geography Departmental Lecturer Recruitment Panel, Durham University (2018)