Academic Profile

Sarah is an elected Fellow of the British Academy, the Academy of Social Sciences and the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers). In 2015 she was appointed the University's Academic Champion for Public Engagement with Research. She has served on the Council of the RGS/IBG (2004-7) and is serving as Chair of annual Conference 2015 and Vice-President 2014-2016. She is an appointed member of the Defra Science Advisory Council (SAC) (2015-17) having previously served as a member the Defra/DECC Social Science Expert Panel 2012-2015. She is currently an editor of Environment and Planning, A (Pion) and an editorial board member of Environmental Humanities. She is a graduate of University College London (BA, MPhil and PhD) and before joining the University of Oxford, she taught at the University of Bristol (1989-2001) and the Open University (2001-2004). At Oxford she served as Head of the School of Geography and the Environment (2012-2015), Director of the international Graduate School (2004-2008) and Director of Research (2009-2012). She also served as the Deputy Head of the Social Sciences Division at Oxford (2013-2014) and as its Associate Head (Research) (2014-2016).

Her research focuses on cultures of nature and interrogates the ways in which human relations with the natural world 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 and is an acknowledged pioneer in what have become known as 'more-than-human' modes of enquiry, concerned with the material and ecological fabric of social life and the politics of knowledge through which this fabric is contested and re-made historically and today. Of particular interest are those situations and events in which different ecological epistemologies are brought into conflict. This informs a more recent body of work interrogating the relationship between science and democracy particularly in terms of the nature of evidence in the practices of environmental science and law and the role of expertise in environmental governance, now widely mediated by risk modelling techniques.

Her work is characterised by (i) a sustained engagement with a range of intellectual resources in philosophy, political theory and those disciplines most concerned with the study of material culture (notably cultural geography, archaeology, anthropology and science and technology studies); and (ii) a commitment to experimental and collaborative research practices that bring the different knowledge competences of social and natural scientists into play with those of diverse local publics that emerge in consequence of living with environmental risks and hazards. It has been supported by a variety of funding bodies including various UK Research Councils, NGOs and Government agencies, as well as charitable foundations such the Mellon Foundation.

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) (2nd revised and extended edition due in 2015); 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).

Current Research

  1. Environmental Competency Groups - Developing experimental collaborative public engagement methodology trialled in RELU Environmental knowledge controversies project working with communities in the UK affected by flood risk. The Environmental knowledge controversies: science, democracy and expertise project won the RELU Programme Award for 'best example of innovation in scientific methodology'. The development project involves creating a public web-resource that enables the application of this methodology to other knowledge controversies around environmental risk management. The current development project - Making 'Competency Groups' an online public resource - is supported by a NERC Impact Accelerator Award (with Dr Catharina Landström).
    Slowing the Flow in Pickering - A collaborative research project led by Prof Sarah Whatmore has won a Judges Special Prize at the Civic Voice National Design AwardsSlowing the Flow in Pickering - A collaborative research project led by Prof Sarah Whatmore has won a Judges Special Prize at the Civic Voice National Design Awards
  2. MaRIUS Programme - (2014-2017) Social science lead on a 36 month NERC/ESRC/AHRC funded project collaborating with hydrological modellers in Oxford (PI Prof Jim Hall) and Bristol on the science and politics of drought and water scarcity management in the Thames Catchment. Working with Dr Catharina Landström and Dr Eric Sarmiento (Oxford, SoGE) to deliver the socio-cultural and public engagement dimensions of this project. MaRIUS Programme.
  3. The Witness of Matter - a solo book project on the evidentiary practices at work in environmental science and law drawing on a decade of case study work in this field that will be the primary focus of her sabbatical leave 2015-17.

Ongoing Projects

  1. Mellon Foundation funded Sawyer seminar series on 'Human Creativity: ecologies and practices of invention', 2010/2011. Co-PI with Professor Chris Gosden (Oxford, Archaeology), coordinated 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 (Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean).
  2. ESRC/NERC funded interdisciplinary research project on Environmental knowledge controversies: science, democracy and expertise looking at the socio-political articulations of flood risk modelling (2007-2010). PI working with Prof Stuart Lane (University of Durham) and Prof Neil Ward (University of East Anglia). The project is part of the Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) Programme.


Current Graduate Research Students

Vanessa Burns

Oceanic assemblages: reconceptualising geographies of climate adaptation

Anna Davidson

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

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

Recent Graduate Research Students (since 2006)

Rory Hill
Completed DPhil in 2016

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

Jeremy Brice
Completed DPhil in 2015

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

Thomas Jellis
Completed DPhil in 2013

Spaces of aesthetic experiment

Victoria Mason
Completed DPhil in 2013

Connecting canals: exercises in recombinant ecology

Zoë Enstone
Completed DPhil in 2012

Becoming Goth: Geographies of an (un)popular culture

Joe Gerlach
Completed DPhil in 2012

Vernacular mappings: affect, virtuality, performance

Sebastian Abrahamsson
Completed DPhil in 2011

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

Anders Munk
Completed DPhil in 2010

Risking the flood: cartographies of things to come

Pamela Richardson-Ngwenya
Completed DPhil in 2009

The ethical geographies of Caribbean sugar

Susannah Sallu
Completed DPhil in 2007

Biodiversity dynamics, knowledges and livelihoods in Kalahari dryland biomes.

Selected Publications

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Journal Articles

Book Chapters