Professor Fiona McConnell

Professor of Political Geography

Fellow and Tutor at St Catherine's College, Oxford

Academic Profile

Fiona McConnell is Professor of Political 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 PhD from Queen Mary, University of London.

As a political geographer Fiona's research aims to develop new areas of thinking regarding governance beyond the state, how political legitimacy is articulated by marginalised communities, and changing practices of diplomacy and mediation. Fiona was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize for Geography in 2019, the Back Award from the Royal Geographical Society in 2022, the Stanley D. Brunn Young Scholar Award by the Political Geography Specialty Group of the AAG in 2013 and held a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship in 2017. She was an Associate Editor at Political Geography 2016-19, and serves on the editorial boards of Geopolitics, The Geographical Journal and Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space. Fiona also sits on the Board of Directors of the Tibet Justice Center.

Current Research

Driving much of Fiona's research has been an interest 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. Her doctoral and post-doctoral research focused on the political institutions and practices of the exile Tibetan government based in India. She has an ongoing interest in how political legitimacy is claimed, constructed and contested, particularly in the so-called margins of geopolitics, and in practices of peace, diplomacy and mediation.

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. Working with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) she has examined both the barriers faced by stateless communities in engaging with diplomacy, particularly at the UN, and the innovative strategies they use to make their voices heard. She is using funds from her Philip Leverhulme Prize to scale up her research on stateless communities by mapping hitherto hidden geographies of diplomacy and establishing new ways of thinking about diplomacy as an inherently spatial practice. This includes work with Costas Constantinou from the University of Cyprus on the notion of a right to diplomacy.

Related to this work is an interest in the pedagogy of diplomacy. Fiona is working with Ruth Craggs and Jonathan Harris (KCL) on a Leverhulme Trust funded project 'Training Diplomats of Postcolonial African States, 1957-1997'. The project analyses geopolitical dynamics of the training of diplomats from newly independent African states, focusing on the spaces, networks, and power relations of learning to be a diplomat. Fiona is also working with Liam Saddington (Cambridge) on developing 'Model UNPO' teaching resources that can be used in secondary schools and by diaspora communities. This initiative has been funded by a Ray Y Gildea Jr Award (RGS-IBG) and University of Oxford's Public Engagement with Research Seed Fund.

ii. Geographies of peace and mediation

Working with Nick Megoran (Newcastle) and Philippa Williams (QMUL), Fiona has been 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.

Extending this work to issues of mediation, Fiona was PI on the ESRC GCRF funded project Gobi Framework for sustainable infrastructure development: scaling up praxis from Mongolia to Central Asia (2018-2021), working alongside Troy Sternberg and Ariell Ahearn at Oxford. This project was a collaboration with the University of Central Asia and the Independent Research Institute of Mongolia (IRIM) and it developed a framework for sustainable infrastructure development in the context of large scale mining initiatives in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan.

Teaching and Supervision

Fiona is Director of Graduate Studies for MSc and MPhil courses in SoGE.

She runs a Final Honour School option course 'Geopolitics in the Margins', convenes and teaches on the FHS course 'Space, Place and Society' and teaches on Prelims Human Geography.

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; marginality and liminality.

Current Graduate Research Students

Rachael Chan

The Staging of Indigeneity in Taiwan as a Geopolitical Strategy

Tiger Hills

Constituting and contesting urban displacements: the political geographies of parks in Vancouver

Tarek Kheir Eddine

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

Jin Hee Lim

Infrastructural intersection and everyday experiences of state and status in Northern Thailand.

Recent Graduate Research Students (since 2006)

Alexander Manby

Completed DPhil in 2023

Geographies of Naga (Inter)nationalism 1946-2022

Shona Loong
Completed DPhil in 2021

At the margins of a "development darling": civil society, territory, and development in Karen State, Myanmar

Janak Padhiar
Completed DPhil in 2021

Towards understanding life course geographies of young Afghans in India

Liam Saddington
Completed DPhil in 2021

Rising Seas and Sinking Islands: The Geopolitics of Climate Change in Tuvalu and Kiribati

Alice Watson
Completed DPhil in 2021

"And now on Radio 4...": imaginative geographies of migration on the airwaves

Serkan Birgel
Completed DPhil in 2019

Peacebuilding through natural resources - the case of Cyprus

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

Diplomatic Cultures and International Politics: Translations, Spaces and Alternatives
Dittmer, J. and McConnell, F. (2016)
Routledge, Abingdon
Diplomatic Cultures and International Politics: Translations, Spaces and Alternatives
Rehearsing the State: The Political Practices of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile
McConnell, F. (2016)
Rehearsing the State: The Political Practices of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile
The Geographies of Peace
McConnell, F., Megoran, N. and Williams, P. (eds.) (2014)
Tauris, London
The Geographies of Peace



Saddington, L. and McConnell, F. (2024) Geoforum, 151.
1991889 - Simulating alternative internationals: geopolitics...
Constantinou, C., McConnell, F., Dirik, D., Regassa, A., Loong, S. and Kuokkanen, R. (2024) Political Geography [Preprint].
1991888 - Reimagining self-determination: relational, decolo...
MCCONNELL, F. and MANBY, A. (2024) in BJOLA, C. and Manor, I. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Digital Diplomacy. Oxford University Press.
McConnell, F. (2023) in International Organizations and Research Methods: An Introduction, pp. 29–30.
Loong, S., Manby, A. and McConnell, F. (2023) Territory, Politics, Governance [Preprint].
1488817 - Rethinking self-determination: colonial and relati...
Mason, O., Barry, A., Grove, K., Massey, R., McConnell, F. and Menga, F. (2023) Political Geography, 104.
1347799 - Critically reflecting on the PolGRG Book Prize
Harris, J., Craggs, R. and McConnell, F. (2023) Diplomatica, 5, pp. 121–129.
1325380 - Learning to be an Algerian diplomat in the era of ...
Saddington, L. and McConnell, F. (2023) Teaching Geography, 1(48), pp. 14–17.
Constantinou, C. and McConnell, F. (2022) International Theory, 15(1), pp. 53–78.
1261830 - On the right to diplomacy: historicizing and theor...
Ho, E. and MCCONNELL, F. (2021) in Kennedy, L. (ed.) Routledge International Handbook of Diaspora Diplomacy. Routledge.