Academic Profile

Fiona McConnell is 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.

Fiona was awarded the Stanley D. Brunn Young Scholar Award by the Political Geography Specialty Group of the AAG in 2013. She is an Associate Editor at Political Geography, sits on the editorial boards of European Bulletin of Himalayan Research, Geopolitics, The Geographical Journal and Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, and is a Member of the Scientific Committee 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 and post-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.

Fiona's monograph Rehearsing the state: the political practices of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (Wiley 2016) draws on this research on exile Tibetan politics to consider the rehearsal of statecraft.

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. Practices and pedagogy of diplomacy in the margins

Fiona is interested in changing geographies and practices of diplomacy, with a particular focus on the diplomatic role of non-state actors.

She has undertaken research on the diplomatic practices of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), a membership organisation of political communities not adequately represented at major international fora. This research has been funded by an RGS-IBG Small Research Grant and a John Fell Fund small award. She was recently awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship (starting January 2017) for a project titled 'Representing the unrepresented: the politics and practices of subaltern diplomacy'. As part of this fellowship, and with additional funding from the Ray Y Gildea Jr Award (RGS-IBG) Fiona is producing Model UNPO teaching materials.

From July 2015 - September 2017 Fiona coordinated a programme of knowledge exchange activities titled 'Training of diplomats from unrepresented nations: capacity building for effective UN lobbying'. This programme was run in conjunction with the UNPO and the Tibet Justice Center and was funded by the University of Oxford's ESRC Impact Acceleration Account. The team has published a training pack on UN advocacy and is working on a report on reprisals at the UN.

She was also Co-Investigator with Jason Dittmer (UCL) on an AHRC funded research network on 'translating diplomatic cultures'. An edited volume from this network was published in 2016.

ii. Geographies of marginality in Asia

This research strand focuses on the spaces and practices through which minority groups negotiate their relationship with the state and the ways in which marginality might be conceived as a site of political mobilisation. There are several strands to this research. First, against a background of jobless growth in India Fiona has undertaken collaborative research with Al James (Newcastle), 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. Second, she is co-editing a special issue of Contemporary South Asia with Vasudha Chhotray (UEA) on 'Certifications of citizenship: the history, politics and materiality of identity documents in South Asia'. Third, with funding from the John Feel Fund GCRF Incubator Fund, Fiona is working with Troy Sternberg and Ariell Ahearn-Ligham on scoping institution building in peripheral states with a focus on China's 'New Silk Road'.

iii Geographies of Peace

Based on a co-authored intervention in Antipode (2011) and a co-edited book (2014), 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.

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 co-edited a special issue on this theme in Geoforum with Alice Wilson and Alex Jeffrey, and is interested in examining intersections between political geography and questions of legitimacy more generally.


Fiona runs a Final Honour School option course 'Geopolitics in the Margins' and convenes and teaches on the FHS course 'Space, Place and Society'. She also lectures on the MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance course.

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 and liminality.

Current Graduate Research Students

Serkan Birgel

Peacebuilding through natural resources - the case of Cyprus

Tarek Kheir Eddine

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

Shona Loong

At the margins of a ‘development darling’: intersections between sovereignty, territory, and development in Karen State, Myanmar

Janak Padhiar

Towards understanding life course geographies of young Afghans in India

Liam Saddington

Climate Change Geopolitics in Kiribati: Adaptation, Development and Diplomacy

Recent Graduate Research Students (since 2006)

Saher Hasnain
Completed DPhil in 2017

Food environments in Islamabad, Pakistan

Viresh Patel
Completed DPhil in 2017

Changing contours of sociality: Youth, education, and general relations in rural Gujarat, India

Selected Publications

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Journal Articles

Book Chapters

  • McConnell, F. (forthcoming) Dalai Lama. In, Martel, G. (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Diplomacy. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford. ISBN: 978-1-118-88791-2.
  • Megoran, N., McConnell, F. and Williams, P. (forthcoming) Geography. In, Richmond, O., Pogodda, S. and Ramovic, J. (eds.) Dimensions of Peace: Disciplinary and regional approaches. Palgrave Macmillan, London.
  • Dittmer, J. and McConnell, F. (2016) Diplomatic Culture. Chapter 8 in, Constantinou, C., Kerr, P. and Sharp, P. (eds.) SAGE Handbook of Diplomacy. SAGE, London. 722 pp. ISBN: 9781446298565.
  • McConnell, F. (2015) Reconfiguring diaspora identities and homeland connections: The Tibetan 'Lhakar' Movement. In, Mavroudi, L. and Christou, A. (eds.) Dismantling diasporas: rethinking the geographies of diasporic identity, connection and development. Ashgate. pp. 99-111. ISBN: 978-1-4724-3034-2.
  • 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. (2014) Negotiating activist/ academic roles in researching exile politics. In, Hammett, D., Twyman, C. and Graham, M. (eds.) Research and Fieldwork in Development. Routledge, London. pp. 24-25. ISBN: 9780415829571.
  • Megoran, N., Williams, P. and McConnell, F. (2014) Geographies of peace, geographies for peace. Chap. 13 in, McConnell, F., Megoran, N. and Williams, P. (eds.) The Geographies of Peace. I.B. Tauris, London. pp. 250-260. ISBN: 9781780761435.
  • Williams, P., Megoran, N. and McConnell, F. (2014) Introduction: geographical approaches to peace. 1. in, Williams, P., Megoran, N. and McConnell, F. (eds.) Geographies of Peace. I.B. Taurus. pp. 1-27. ISBN: 9781780761435.
  • 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. Routledge, New Delhi.
  • 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..
  • McConnell, F. (2013) Sovereignty. In, Dodds, K., Kuus, M. and Sharp, J. (eds.) The Ashgate Research Companion to Critical Geopolitics. Ashgate, London.

Other Publications