Academic Profile

Fiona McConnell is an Associate Professor in Human Geography and Tutorial Fellow at St Catherine's College. She joined the School of Geography and the Environment in December 2013. Prior to this she was a lecturer in human geography at Newcastle University and has also held a Junior Research fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge (2011-2013) and an ESRC postdoctoral fellowship at Newcastle University (2010-2011). Fiona has a BA in Geography from the University of Cambridge (Fitzwilliam College) and completed her ESRC-funded PhD at Queen Mary, University of London in 2010.

As a political geographer Fiona's research aims to develop new areas of thinking regarding governance beyond the state and different modes of political legitimacy. In particular, she is interested in how communities officially excluded from formal state politics are nevertheless engaging with aspects of statecraft, and in using such seemingly anomalous cases as a lens to critically examine the 'norms' of governance. At the core of her approach to research is asking important geopolitical questions through a commitment to ethnographic methodologies, and her work intersects with scholarship in political geography, critical international relations and political anthropology. A significant part of her research to date has focused on the political structures and practices of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile based in India. She has ongoing research projects on: cultures of diplomacy and the diplomatic practices of unrecognised polities; geographies of work and social mobility in India's post-liberal economy; geographies of peace; and constructions and contestations of political legitimacy.

Fiona was awarded the Stanley D. Brunn Young Scholar Award by the Political Geography Specialty Group of the AAG in 2013. She is the editor of the Political Geography Section of Geography Compass and is a contributing editor for the European Bulletin of Himalayan Research (2010-2014). She has been a committee member of the RGS-IBG Political Geography Research Group from 2010 until 2013 and is a 'young member' of the International Geographical Union, Commission on Political Geography. Fiona also sits on the Board of Directors of the Tibet Justice Center, an independent volunteer committee of lawyers and scholars which advocates for human rights and self-determination for Tibetans.

Current Research

Fiona's research interests lie in the everyday construction of statehood and sovereignty in cases of tenuous territoriality. Her doctoral research focused on the political institutions and practices of the exile Tibetan government based in India, an institution which engages in state-like functions despite being legally unrecognised and lacking jurisdiction over territory. Grounded in over ten years working with the Tibetan diaspora, this research speaks directly to political geography's concerns with power and space, and contributes to four broad areas of academic debate:

  • theories of sovereignty, and the relationship between territory and authority;
  • theories of the state and the use of ethnographic methods to uncover everyday state practices;
  • political and legal identities, including refugeehood, citizenship and diaspora;
  • transnational governance, governmentality and democracy.

Fiona's forthcoming monograph draws on this research on exile Tibetan politics to consider the idea of rehearsing the state.

In developing her interest in the construction of political legitimacy and issues of marginality Fiona's current research is focused on the following four strands:

i. Geographies of Peace

Based on a co-authored intervention in Antipode and a forthcoming co-edited book, Fiona is working with Nick Megoran and Philippa Williams on developing a research agenda around geographies of peace. Their focus is on contextualised and contingent practices of peace, and their work seeks to critically unpack the nature of everyday peaceful existence and ask who peace is for. To date Fiona's empirical focus has been on Tibetan Buddhist articulations of non-violence as a strategy of soft power and the emergence of a non-violent resistance movement ('Lhakar') in Tibet.

ii. Practices and pedagogy of diplomacy in the margins

Fiona has two ongoing and intersecting projects on the changing geographies and practices of diplomacy, with a particular focus on how diplomacy is taught, and on non-state diplomatic actors. She is a Co-Investigator with Jason Dittmer (UCL) on an AHRC funded research network on 'translating diplomatic cultures'. To date this has consisted of three interactive workshops bringing together interdisciplinary scholars and diplomacy stakeholders, an edited volume in preparation and ongoing collaborations with the FCO policy unit. The second project focuses on how diplomatic practices are taught and learned beyond traditional spaces of diplomacy, and investigates what this tells us about the mechanisms of statecraft more generally. With funding from a RGS-IBG Small Research Grant Fiona has undertaken research on the diplomatic practices of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), a membership organisation of political communities not adequately represented at major international fora.

iii. Geographies of marginality in India

This research strand focuses on the spaces and practices through which minority groups negotiate their relationship with the state, experience incomplete citizenship and youth transitions, and the ways in which marginality might be conceived as a site of political mobilisation. Against a background of jobless growth in India Fiona is undertaking collaborative research with Al James (QMUL), Bhaskar Vira (Cambridge) and Philippa Williams (QMUL) which examines the extent to which India's new service economy is 'socially inclusive' for graduates from marginalised communities. With funding from a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant they have overseen a survey of labour market experiences of 1000 graduates from Muslim and Tibeto-Burman communities in Delhi.

iv. Constructing legitimacy

Cross-cutting the above research themes Fiona has an interest in how political legitimacy is claimed, constructed and contested, particularly in the so-called margins of geopolitics. Having organised an interdisciplinary conference on 'Producing legitimacy: governance against the odds' at the University of Cambridge in 2013 she is working with Alice Wilson and Alex Jeffrey on a special issue of Geoforum on this theme, and is interested in examining intersections between political geography and questions of legitimacy more generally.

Teaching

Fiona runs a Final Honour School option course 'Geopolitics in the Margins' and is convening the UNIQ Summer School for Geography in 2014.

At St Catherine's College, Fiona and her colleagues are responsible for teaching students across the entire breadth of geographical topics for the Preliminary Examination and Final Honour School of Geography.

Fiona welcomes enquiries from individuals wishing to undertake doctoral or post-doctoral research in the following broadly defined areas: contested sovereignties; practices and pedagogies of diplomacy; peace and non-violence; the Tibetan diaspora; politics of identity in the Himalayas; marginality; legitimacy; the politics of refugeehood.

Current Graduate Research Students

Tarek Kheir Eddine

The impact of confessional politics and socio-economic stratification on the use and development of public spaces in Lebanon

Janak Padhiar

(Re)imaging the geopolitics of the exiled: Bhutanese refugee identities, space, citizenship and belonging in the UK

Viresh Patel

Youth strategies and generational change in rural Gujarat, India

Selected Publications

Publications are those that were listed on the old website. Publications database integration forthcoming.
Journal articles
Books
  • McConnell, F., Megoran, N. and Williams, P. (2014) The Geographies of Peace. I.B. Tauris, London. pp. 288. ISBN: 9781780761435.
  • McConnell, F. (manuscript in preparation) Rehearsing the State: The Governance Practices of the Exile Tibetan Government, RGS-IBG Book Series, Oxford: John Wiley.
Book chapters
  • McConnell, F. (forthcoming) Negotiating activist/ academic roles in researching exile politics. In, Graham, M., Hammett, D., and Twyman, C. (eds.) Research and Development in Fieldwork. London: Routledge.
  • McConnell, F. (2014) Contextualising and contesting peace: geographies of Tibetan satyagraha. In, McConnell, F., Megoran, N. and Williams, P. (eds.) The Geographies of Peace. I.B. Tauris, London. pp. 131-150. ISBN: 9781780761435.
  • McConnell, F. (2013) Nationalising a diaspora: The Tibetan government-in-exile in India. Chapter 17 in, Chatterji, J. and Washbrook, D. (eds.) Handbook of the South Asian Diaspora. London: Routledge. ISBN: 978-0-415-48010-9. 430 pp.
  • McConnell, F. (2013) Sovereignty. In, Dodds, K., Kuus, M. and Sharp, J. (eds.) The Ashgate Research Companion to Critical Geopolitics. London: Ashgate.
  • McConnell, F. (2013) Democracy-in-exile: the 'uniqueness' and limitations of democratic procedures in a territory-less polity. In, Arora, V. and Jayaram, N. (eds.) Roots and Routes of Democracy in the Himalayas. New Delhi: Routledge.
Book reviews