Academic Profile

Sarah is a graduate of University College London where she gained a BA (Geography) in 1981; an M.Phil. (Town Planning) in 1983 and, after a stint working for the Greater London Council, a PhD (Geography) in 1988. She spent 12 years teaching in the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol, where she was promoted to a Chair in Human Geography in 1999 and awarded a DSc for published research in 2000. She moved to the Geography Discipline at the Open University in September 2001 as Professor of Environmental Geography. Sarah has also held visiting appointments in several institutions overseas including the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of Wisconsin, Madison (USA); the University of Newcastle, (Australia); and the University of Trondheim (Norway).

A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) for nearly 20 years, Sarah was elected to the Council of the RGS/IBG and to membership of the Research Committee in June 2004 for 3 years. She was appointed to the Defra/DECC Social Science Expert panel in April 2012. She is also an elected member of the Academy of Learned Societies in the Social Sciences and a Fellow of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce). She is currently an editor of Environment and Planning, A (Pion) and of the Blackwell Dictionary of Human Geography (5th edition), and serves on the editorial boards of several journals.

Her research focuses on relations between people and the material world, particularly the living world, and the spatial habits of thought that inform the ways in which these relations are imagined and practiced in the conduct of science, governance and everyday life. She has published widely on the theoretical and political implications of these questions in two main directions.

First, developing 'more-than-human' modes of enquiry that address (i) the material and ecological fabric of social life and (ii) the politics of knowledge through which this fabric is contested and re-made. These concerns are informed by an interest in a range of philosophical resources (e.g. the creative tensions between bio-philosophy and feminist theories of the bodily) and experiments in transdisciplinary research practice that work against prevailing divisions between natural and social science, 'expert' and 'lay' knowledge (notably those associated with new fields like Science and Technology studies and with disciplines that pre-date these divisions like geography, anthropology and archaeology).

Second, interrogating the relationship between science and democracy particularly in terms of (i) environmental knowledge controversies and geo-political technologies of risk management (eg flood risk modelling / mapping; regulating the movement of GM plant materials); and (ii) collaborative research practices which bring the different knowledge competences of social and natural scientists into play with those of diverse publics engaged in common matters of environmental concern. Current projects include work with hydrological modellers on the science and politics of flood risk management (RELU programme - ESRC/NERC/BBSRC); with sociologists and political scientists on sustainable consumption (ANR, France); and with conservation biologists on the commercialisation of wildlife (ESRC).

These themes are brought together in her most recent books - Political Matter: technoscience, democracy and public life (2010) (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis) (co-edited with Braun); Hybrid Geographies: natures cultures spaces, 2002 (Sage, London); Using Social Theory: Thinking through research, 2003 (Sage, London) (co-edited with Pryke and Rose); and Cultural Geography: Critical concepts, 2004 (two volumes) (Routledge, London) (co-edited with Thrift).

She was recipient of the Cuthbert Peek award from the RGS/IBG in 2003 for 'innovative contributions to the understanding of nature-society relations' and her research has been supported by a variety of funding bodies including Research Councils, NGOs and Government agencies, such as the Economic and Social Research Council; the Worldwide Fund for Nature and English Nature.

Current Research

  1. Mellon Foundation funded Sawyer seminar series on 'Human Creativity: ecologies and practices of invention', 2010/2011. With Professor Chris Gosden (Oxford, Archaeology), Sarah is coordinating a series of activities and events involving international visiting scholars and Oxford academics from philosophy to neuroscience working collectively through the mediations of 'objects' selected from the University's museum collections. Charlotte Bates will be joining the School in January 2011 to take up the post-doctoral position associated with this project, and support for final year DPhil students whose work relates to the themes of the project will be available.
  2. leading a 36 month interdisciplinary research project on Environmental knowledge controversies: science, democracy and expertise looking at the socio-political articulations of flood risk modelling (2007-2009). She is working with Prof. Stuart Lane at the University of Durham and Prof. Neil Ward at the University of Newcastle. The project is part of the Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) Programme funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC); Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The project recently won the RELU Programme Award. A film about the project is available on the project website.
  3. organising (with Bruce Braun, University of Minnesota) a residential workshop that brings together leading international scholars in political theory and science and technology studies on The stuff of politics: technoscience, democracy and public life, 7-10 December 2006, University of Oxford. The workshop has now been published by University of Minnesota Press as Political Matter: technoscience, democracy and public life, 2010.
  4. collaborating in an interdisciplinary research project on Sustainable consumption: social contestation and consumer action with French and Belgian research teams. Funded under the ADD programme of the Agence Nationale de la Recherche, France. Oct. 2005 - Sept. 2008.


Current Graduate Research Students

Jeremy Brice

Materials, markets, and the making of South Australian wine: uncertainties, vulnerabilities, valuation

Vanessa Burns

Oceanic assemblages: reconceptualising geographies of climate adaptation

Christopher Coghlan

Reconciling food security across scales

Anna Davidson

Mobilizing bodies: difference, power and ecology in urban cycling practices

Sasha Engelmann

Being-in-the-air: atmosphere in art-science projects

Rory Hill

'Local, loyal and constant'? On the dynamism of terroir in sustainable agriculture

Narendra Killada

Environmental publics in the Indian case: situated interpretations of nature and democracy in addressing resource conflicts

Helge Peters

Configuring socio-environmental complexity: an ethnography of agent-based modelling

Matthew Shepherd

Geo-Urban Attunements: Reykjavík, convection, genius loci

Recent Graduate Research Students (since 2006)

Thomas Jellis
Completed in 2013

Spaces of aesthetic experiment

Victoria Mason
Completed in 2013

Connecting canals: exercises in recombinant ecology

ZoŽ Enstone
Completed in 2012

Becoming Goth: Geographies of an (un)popular culture

Joe Gerlach
Completed in 2012

Vernacular mappings: affect, virtuality, performance

Sebastian Abrahamsson
Completed in 2011

Invasive science and inventive arts: towards a cartography of bodily inner spaces

Anders Munk
Completed in 2010

Risking the flood: cartographies of things to come

Pamela Richardson-Ngwenya
Completed in 2009

The ethical geographies of Caribbean sugar

Susannah Sallu
Completed in 2007

Biodiversity dynamics, knowledges and livelihoods in Kalahari dryland biomes.

Selected Publications

Publications are those that were listed on the old website. Publications database integration forthcoming.


Book Chapters, Papers and Articles