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Ben Thurlow BA, MPhil

PhD student

From ‘zero-tolerance’ to ‘living with the virus’: geographies of containment in the elite political discourse of COVID-19 in New Zealand


Human geographer interested in geopolitics, critical geographies of health, more-than-human geographies, and science and technology studies.


  • 2023 – present: Visiting Scholar at the School of Science in Society, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
  • 2023 – present: Intern at the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 2021 – present: PhD in Geography, University of Cambridge
  • 2020 – 2021: MPhil in Geographical Research, University of Cambridge
  • 2017 – 2020: BA in Geography, University of Cambridge


  • MPhil in Geographical Research, University of Cambridge
  • BA in Geography, University of Cambridge


  • ESRC 1+3 Studentship (2020-2024)
  • Phillip Lake Prize for best overall performance, Department of Geography (2019)
  • William Vaughan Lewis Prize for part II dissertation, Department of Geography (2020)
  • Margaret Anderson Prize (2018, 2019, 2020); Sir Arthur Arnold Scholarship (2018); Ellen McArthur Scholarship (2018, 2019); Angela Dunn-Gardiner Scholarship (2019); Janet Chamberlain Prize (2020); Lady Carlisle Scholarship (2020), Girton College
  • Edith Helen Major Travel Award, Girton College (2019)
  • David Richards Travel Award, Department of Geography (2019)


My PhD research examines the elite political discourse of the COVID-19 pandemic. Focusing on the national case study of New Zealand, my work traces the complex entanglements of geopolitics, more-than-human geographies, and scientific expertise that arise as political knowledge about the virus is assembled. In examining these entanglements, this project interrogates what it frames as competing geographies of containment: the multiple tensions between the desire to confine the virus in a range of discursive and material ways, and the constant threat of escape. Methodologically, I am combining discourse analysis of formal political output with embedded qualitative research in the New Zealand science-policy interface. In piecing together how political knowledge about the virus was produced, I hope to reveal insights about the construction of politico-scientific knowledge in times of crisis, the relations between geopolitics and the more-than-human, and how we make sense of infectious diseases and human-viral interactions more broadly.


  • II Legal Geographies
  • IA Geopolitics and Political Geography
  • IA Geography’s Shapes: Pasts, Patterns, Prospects
  • IB Human Geography Research Training – Discourse Analysis and Coding

External activities

  • Co-convenor of Mental Health in Academia peer support group
  • Member of Vital Geographies and Geographies of Knowledge research groups
  • Associate Fellow of RGS