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Vital Geographies

Research in this group explores the production, politics and governance of different forms of life.

In the context of the challenges faced in the Anthropocene, the research examines the relationships between human and non-human agencies, broadly conceptualised to include, for example, plants and animals, disease vectors, environments and natural hazards.

It asks how different forms of agency are conceptualised, produced, differentially positioned, regulated, and intervened in, and explores the nature of outcomes from these processes. It investigates the processes that make life, its nature and quality, and those that attenuate that life.

Current interests include geographies of agriculture, food and nutrition; demography, health and wellbeing; animal geographies; and political ecologies and conservation.

Drawing on approaches from quantitative as well as qualitative social science, and, amongst others, from critical political economy, feminist, and poststructuralist approaches (including postcolonial and posthumanist traditions), a shared priority is to make reflective contributions that promote lives that are good and flourishing across the globe.


Geographies of agriculture, food and nutrition

This sub-theme explores the practices and politics of food production, distribution and consumption and their significance for human wellbeing across different periods and geographical contexts. Interests include questions of food shortage and food security, the nature and significance of indigenous, smallholder or livestock production systems, food and forest relations, and old and new transformations to food production including, for example, the social and ecological impacts of large-scale land acquisitions, new cultures of food, the design and roll-out of cutting-edge agro-technologies, the fostering and incubation of new attachments and embodied relations between people and land, and political processes involved in the making of various Green Revolutions. A shared concern is with understanding agriculture, food and nutrition as implicated in wider political processes related to land or subjects and their uneven outcomes.

Demography, health and wellbeing

Research in this sub-theme investigates the spatial, social and temporal differentials in migration, fertility, mortality, health and wellbeing. The influences we consider include individuals’ characteristics as well as local, regional and national factors such as the physical environment, health services, institutions, and the influence of culture on behaviour. Our research ranges from the historical demography of medieval and early modern Britain, through substantial work on the late nineteenth century, to obesity in present-day London and early marriage in Nepal. We have a strong focus on demographic, statistical and GIS techniques, but qualitative methods are also important including archival, textual, and interview research.

Animal geographies

The animal geographies research concerns the relations between humans and non-human animals. We call into questions the conventional place of animals in cultural and geographical studies and push towards manner of study in which the supposed contrast between human and beast is undermined. We seek to reconstruct animal geographies as heterogeneously constituted by complex networks and assemblages of agents and actors, both human and not. We explore this more complicated relationship where animals can be placed along a broad range between nature and culture in various geographical locations and historical settings.

Political ecologies and conservation

Research in this area centres around the various politics – material and symbolic – of socially constructed natures. While the technologies and epistemic concerns of conservation science are a key interest, the group covers a broad set of geographies, fields, sites, and theoretical approaches. Research within the group draws on historical and contemporary accounts, as well as engaging with new materials and texts, such as digital media. Many group members are active in the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and contribute to policy and practice outside of the university.

The Vital Geographies group has strong links to the Political Ecology group in the Department of Geography, the Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, the Cambridge Global Food Security Interdisciplinary Research Centre and the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure; Vital Geography members are also often members of these networks/groups.

Group members

Professor Bill Adams The political ecology of socially constructed natures
Dr Maan Barua Urban ecologies, Nature/Capitalism, Biodiversity, Posthumanism, More-than-human geographies
Professor Tim Bayliss-Smith Agroforestry, intensification and social institutions in Melanesia.
Jane Corbett Research description to follow.
Dr Alexander Cullen Research description to follow.
Dr Romola Davenport The urban mortality transition in north-west Europe in the period 1700-1850, including the geography of smallpox epidemics in Britain before vaccination.
Dr Tom Fry Environmental social scientist studying the political ecology of human-wildlife interactions, sociocultural understandings of nature, wildlife conservation and environmental management.
Professor Matthew Gandy Landscape, urban bio-diversity, infrastructure, and modernity, including corporeal and sensory geographies.
Professor Rachael Garrett Research description to follow.
Professor Philip Howell
The cultural and historical geography of prostitution, gender and sexuality in Victorian Britain and its empire; changing animal geographies.
Dr Hannaliis Jaadla Research description to follow.
Dr Francesca Moore Historical-political geographer with research interests in population politics, the regulation of reproduction and public health.
Professor David Nally
Geographical dimensions of colonisation, the geopolitics of subsistence crises, and the politics of famine relief measures, for example the Irish Famine; the politics of global food provisioning
Dr Howard Nelson Research description to follow.
Dr Olga Petri
Research description to follow.
Professor Alice Reid Infant, child and maternal mortality in British populations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, including the role of doctors and midwifery.
Dr Liam Saddington Research description to follow.
Dr Garima Sahai Labour; gender; work; youth; public policy and development practice in developing countries especially India.
Professor Chris Sandbrook Political ecology; market-based conservation; role of evidence in conservation
Dr Max Satchell Historical geography, occupational structure and transport networks using GIS, and leprosy in Britain since c.1000.
Dr Ivan Scales Political ecology of resource use and environmental change
Professor Richard Smith Welfare and demography in England c. 1300-1834, the geography of poor relief, and a re-assessment of the Mortality Revolution and Epidemiological Transition models for England, western Europe and Asia.
Professor Bhaskar Vira Political economy of natural resources, ecosystem services and development. Has a particular focus on political economy and institutional change in contemporary India. He studies justices and injustices that result from economic change, including India's new service economy, and changes in land use and land ownership.

Graduate students

The following graduate students are also associated with the group:

Prerna Bindra The aftermath: the human implications of conservation related relocations; and the institutions that shape them
Diane Borden ‘Apis-temologies’: More-than-human Temporalities of Pollination and Economics
Emiliano Cabrera Rocha Genomic Utopia in the Jungle: Indigenous Knowledge, Instruments, and Infrastructure in the Remaking of the Amazon
Valerio Donfrancesco The political ecology of coexistence between people and large carnivores
Bronte Evans Rayward Animal Atmospheres and Scientific Practice on Bird Island
Lucy Goodman Large scale water-management infrastructure in Central and South Asia - to what extent have policies been based on flawed or incomplete economic analysis driven environmental
Abbie Greig Regulating ‘The Good Patient’: Organ Transplantation and the Regulation of the (Dis)embodied Self
Pei Jiang Seeds of Struggle: A Political Ecology of Millet Growing in Aohan, China
Elspeth Mathau Creating food in fragile Landscapes: impacts of environmental and climate change on biodiversity conservation, local food systems, and biocultural adaption in subarctic Canada
Alice Millington ‘Amended Animation’: Engaging with the ‘More than human’ Topographies of Tibetan-Himalayan belief systems as a platform to approach climate change in the Himalayas
Sarah Rafferty Infant and early childhood mortality decline in London, 1870-1929: a spatial and temporal analysis of its patterns, inequalities and policy impacts
Ilanah Taves Variations in Responses to Newly Situated Wildlife Among Disparate Cultural Groups in Urban Spaces
Lucy Thompson Stepping in Time and Space with Circum-Atlantic Performance: A Cultural and Historical Geography of Tap Dance
Benjamin Thurlow From ‘zero-tolerance’ to ‘living with the virus’: Geographies of containment in the elite political discourse of COVID-19 in New Zealand
Fleur Winn Understanding participation in and through conservation research and practice



The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure

The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure is an interdisciplinary research group based in the Department of Geography and the Faculty of History.

Political Ecology Group

Political ecology group

The Political Ecology Group is interested in all aspects of the symbolic and material politics of socially constructed natures. Its interests span the industrialised and developing world.