skip to primary navigation skip to content

Liz Watson BSc PhD

Liz Watson BSc PhD

University Senior Lecturer and Pybus Fellow of Newnham College

Rural livelihoods and landscapes; indigenous agriculture - from extensive pastoralism to intensive smallholder agriculture; institutions for managing natural resources; processes of change and transformation, including impact of climate change/climate change adaptation policies, conservation-related interventions and large-scale development projects in Eastern Africa

Liz Watson's research is based mainly in the dryland regions of Eastern Africa, where she has worked on indigenous agriculture, from extensive pastoralist practices in northern Kenya/southern Ethiopia to intensive terraced agriculture in southern Ethiopia. Her work explores the entanglements of everyday food production with cultural ideas, forms of social organisation, and economic and political processes, and the ways these change over time. She is interested in the changes that emerge from within communities, and in tandem with regional, national and international policies and politics. One example of recent work focuses on change to species preference, as pastoralists who customarily relied upon cattle have increasingly taken to keeping camels in a development that has been understood by observers as an autonomous form of climate change adaptation (Watson et al. 2016). A second example examines how communities are being impacted upon and responding to a new wave of large-scale infrastructural development projects. This research has been published in a special collection of the Journal of Eastern African Studies that she edited with Jason Mosley. At present, she is continuing to develop her research on the spatial dynamics of development planning in East Africa, first through research into the establishment of wildlife conservancies, and second, through a new collaborative project on development 'corridors' led by UNEP WCMC.

In 2011, Liz Watson was Mellon Teaching Fellow a the Centre for Research into Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH). In 2012, she was awarded a Pilkington Prize in recognition of excellence in teaching at the University of Cambridge. In 2012, she was awarded the Royal Geographical Society with Institute of British Geographers Thesiger-Oman International Fellowship. In 2015, she was the recipient of a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship.


  • 1992-1993: Research Assistant, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
  • 1998-1999: Research Fellow, School of African and Asian Studies, University of Sussex
  • 1999-2000: Joint Assistant Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge and Newnham College.
  • 2000-2002: University Assistant Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge and Fellow of Newnham College
  • 2002-2010: University Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge and Fellow of Newnham College
  • 2010-present: University Senior Lecturer and Pybus Fellow of Newnham College


  • BSc Anthropology, University College London
  • PhD, University of Cambridge


Liz Watson is convenor of the Vital Geographies Research Theme Group in the Department and a member of the Political Ecology group. Current and recent research projects include:

  • Governing mobility in the context of risk, insecurity and opportunity: Funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship, the research was set in the context of what has been referred to as a 'new pastoralist development paradigm' in which policy-makers and governments acknowledge the value and resilience of pastoralist livelihoods reversing years of anti-pastoralist bias in development policy. The question explored by the research was to what extent is the reversal in attitudes to pastoralism and mobile livelihoods translated into new policies, and, if they are at all, what form do these new policies have? Some of the research findings have been published in the Journal of Eastern African Studies, and further publications are in preparation.
  • Climate change, livelihoods and responses - 'The Difference a Species Makes: Converting to Camels in Northern Kenya'. Funded by the Royal Geographical Society with IBG Thesiger-Oman International Fellowship, this research examines the implications of 'switching' from keeping cattle to camels as a response to climate change and new economic opportunities. The research examines the profound implications of this switch for social, economic, political and cultural lives.
  • Identities, landscapes and livelihoods - 'Belief and Belonging: Identity and Religion in Northern Kenya'. Funded by the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme, research was carried out with Professor John Mack (PI), Professor Justin Willis, Dr Hassan Arero, Dr Purity Kiura, and Dr Fugicha Waqo. Much of this research examined the history and influence of religion in northern Kenya, but was also developed to examine the importance of this history for livelihoods and the production of landscape (see Watson, 2010, below).


[Publications will appear automatically from the University's research database.]


Liz Watson teaches across all levels of the Geographical Tripos.

External activities