Personal profile

Personal profile

  • 2019-2021 Commissioner, international Commission on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification (CoSAI)
  • 2020ff Director of External Engagement, School of Life Sciences and Environment, Royal Holloway
  • 2020ff joint Editor-in-Chief, new open access, non-profit Global Social Challenges Journal (GSCJ) published by Bristol University Press from 2022
  • Sept 2019-Dec 2019 Director, Mistra Urban Futures, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg (on 80% secondment).
  • Head of the Department of Geography (2008-2011)
  • Professor in Development Geography (1999ff)
  • Member, Geography and Environmental Studies sub-panel, UK 2008 Research Assessment Exercise
  • Chair, Editorial Board of the Journal of Southern African Studies, 2012-2016
  • Editorial Working Group member, Review of African Political Economy
  • Editorial Board member, Nature Urban Sustainability, International Development Planning Review, Progress in Development Studies, Journal of Southern African Studies,and African Geographical Review.
  • Scientific Steering Committee member, IHDP programme on Urbanization and Global Environmental Change (2005-2015) (see and co-chair, Urban Transition Team preparing an urban component for the new Future Earth framework (2014-15).
  • Chair, UK National Committee on the Human Dimensions of GEC (2006-2010).

My research encompasses principally the interface between development and the environment, in the context of sustainability and global environmental/climate change, with particular reference to urban, peri-urban and regional change. My interests include aspects of political geography, critical geopolitics and transport policy.

I have a keen interest in theoretical, applied and policy arenas, underpinned by the belief that real progress lies in a far closer integration across them than is generally the case. Rewarding as I find theoretical debate, I attach fundamental importance to 'grounding' it in real-world conditions, and to seeking to apply the insights thereby gained to improving policies and practices. Conversely, applied research benefits substantially from the rigour and orientation afforded by an appropriate, theoretically informed direction.

I have been at the leading edge of debates about the nature of 'development' and the exploration of the utility of so-called 'post-structuralist' perspectives such as postmodernism, postcolonialism and post-traditionalism, with application to various empirical contexts. This work has been presented at international conferences, and published especially in leading international outlets like Geografiska Annaler (1997), Environment and Planning D: Society and Space (1998), my co-edited book, Development as Theory and Practice (1999); the edited volume, Towards a new regional and local development research agenda (2002); Development in Practice (2003) and in Progress in Development Studies (2003). The last-mentioned paper, a revised version of my professorial Inaugural Lecture, provides an extended exposition of my theoretical and more applied research contributions in relation to the state-of-the-art. This work has since been taken forward via a series of conference papers and papers published in The Geographical Journal in 2006, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography in 2007, Environment and Planning A in 2011 and Third World Quarterly in 2014.

My highly innovative research monograph, Holocaust Escapees and Global Development: Hidden histories (Zed Books, 2019) breaks new ground by uncovering the crucial but hitherto unknown roles and contributions of a diverse group of Holocaust escapees in the emergence and flourishing of international development / development studies after World War II.  The second and greatly expanded second edition of my Key Thinkers on Development was also published in 2019 (Routledge).

Research interests

My work in relation to urban areas and climate/environmental change has examined the likely implications of environmental change for African cities and their populations, as well as seeking to understand how cities are preparing mitigation and adaptation strategies in response. This work has appeared in the Geographical Journal, International Journal of Green Economics, Area, Urban Forum, Climate and Development, Urban Studies, Urban Climate (a co-edited special issue in 2014), the International Development Planning Review, Current Opinion in Environment and Sustainability (a co-edited special issue in 2015) and CITY (see publications list).

While Director of Mistra Urban Futures (2014-19), an international research centre on urban sustainability using various approaches to transdisciplinary co-production, my research and publications increasingly reflected this focus, constituting a neat synthesis of my earlier work on urban sustainability (see below) with the recent urban climate/environmental change work just outlined) and methodological concerns (as reflected, for instance, in Simon and Schiemer 2015 (see publications list).

In 2015 I designed, raised funds and led a highly innovative comparative research project to assess the draft targets and indicators for Sustainable Development Goal 11 (the urban Goal) using MUF's transdisciiplinary teams in Gothenburg, Greater Manchester, Cape Town and Kisumu, as well as in Bangalore. This work broke new ground in comparative urban research as well as feeding directly into the finalisation of the targets and indicators by the UN statistical team. The research reports are available on the Mistra Urban Futures' website (, while papers have been pubished in Environment and Urbanization, African Geographical Review and Area Development and Policy (see publications list) and are on open access.

The successor multi-year project studying engagement with and implementation of the SDGs and New Urban Agenda until the end of 2019 led to papers in the International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development (2), Frontiers in Sustainable Cities, and a chapter in the Palgrave Encyclopedia on Climate Resilient Societies (2021).

I also edited and contributed  a major part of the text of Rethinking Sustainable Cities: Accessible, green and fair, major statement on the key components of urban sustainability globally (Policy Press, 2016, and available electronically on Open Access).

The companion to this title, Comparative Urban Research from Theory to Practice: Co-production for sustainability, of which I am lead editor with Henrietta Palmer and Jan Riise (Policy Press, March 2020, and also available electronically on open access) reports on the world leading methodological innovations undertaken by the Centre in cross-city transdisciplinary comparative research using diverse co-production methods.

The annotated manual of innovative transdisciplinary methods utilised by Mistra Urban Futures was published in 2021 as Transdisciplinary Knowledge Production: a guide for sustainable cities (Practical Action Publishing) and is available on open access.

Integrating my work at Mistra Urban Futures with my longstanding role on the Scientific Steering Committee of the IHDP/Future Earth core project on Urbanization and Global Environmental Change (UGEC), which concluded in 2017, I co-edited Urban Planet (Cambridge University Press, 2018 - see publications list), a flagship book on current and future urban challenges. The eBook version is available for free download on Open Access, the APCs having been paid by Mistra Urban Futures.

My previous grant-funded research experience spans the UK, Southern, East and West Africa (especially, Namibia, South Africa, Kenya and Ghana), and Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Philippines. I have completed two large projects, focusing on different aspects of sustainable natural resource utilisation in development. The first (Euro 650k under the European Union's INCO-DC programme) involved an eight-country team undertaking a comparative study of existing reservoir and lacustrine fisheries in the Asian countries just mentioned and how to enhance their sustainability. A highly innovative feature of this project has been its integration of limnological, ecological and biological, and social scientific expertise in order to address the complex systems holistically. I became the project leader early in the research phase and have seen it to successful completion; its principal output, an edited volume, Aquatic Ecosystems and Development: Comparative Asian Perspectives, was published by Backhuys/Margraf in late 2008 (see publications list).

I was also one of the three grant-holders (with Duncan McGregor and Don Thompson) of a £220k grant (1999-2002) from the Department for International Development's Natural Resources Systems Programme (NRSP) to assess the current state of knowledge and to formulate proposals for sustainable co-management of the peri-urban area surrounding Kumasi (Ghana). This work has been published (e.g. my paper in Peripherie 2001, and, as lead author, in Development in Practice, 2003, which offers a critical assessment of the current conventional wisdom about North-South research collaboration), and formed the basis for a session on the peri-urban interface in developing countries that Duncan, Don and I organised at the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) in London from 3-5 September 2003. This session formed the basis of our co-edited book, The Peri-Urban Interface: Approaches to sustainable natural and human resource use (Earthscan, 2006), which includes several chapters on our Kumasi work (see publications list).

As a follow-up to this research, one of our Ghanaian partner institutions, CEDEP, a leading local NGO, secured my participation in two subsequent NRSP projects to formulate and implement sustainable natural resource-based livelihoods for poor peri-urban dwellers around Kumasi. This work programme from 2002-5 was completed successfully, marking one of the first DFID projects in the programme to have been localised to PIs in the global South.

As a spin-off from the research experience on these projects, I was invited to act as a consultant to the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), based in Colombo, and part of the World Bank-funded Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), serving on their international expert panel assessing several hundred grant applications to the major new CG-wide Global Challenge on Water and Food, a research programme designed to promote collaboration between these international centres and national research bodies and NGOs. This involved two visits to IWMI, in May and September 2003, to undertake the shortlisting of outline applications to take forward to full proposals, and the final shortlisting respectively.  During 2006,  I again served as a panellist to shortlist and then make final selections of projects in the CPWF’s series of new Basin Focal Projects that address issues at the basin scale.

Learned Societies and Research Councils

In 2009, I was honoured to become a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.

I have served on the committees and as office-bearers of several learned societies including the Developing Areas Research Group (DARG) of the RGS/IBG, the African Studies Association of the UK, and the Standing Conference on University Studies of Africa (now merged with ASAUK). I have been a member of the ESRC's College of Postgraduate Assessors since its inception in 1997, and regularly referee grant applications for the UK's ESRC, Leverhulme Trust, the US National Science Foundation, Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian National Research Councils, South African National Research Foundation, and comparable bodies.

During my chairmanship of the DARG (see above), I initiated, and was series editor of, an innovative book series on development studies, published by Longman/Pearson between 1999 and 2004. These were up-to-date, theoretically informed and thematically organised texts on major regions of the global South and transitional economies, to be read in conjunction with the 'lead' volume on 'Development as theory and practice' (see list of publications below).

Academic Journal Editing

I currently serve on the editorial boards of several leading, interdisciplinary journals, including Progress in Development Studies, Third World QuarterlyInternational Development (formerly Third World) Planning Review, the South African Geographical Journal, African Geographical Review and Australian Geographical Studies. I have been particularly closely involved as a longstanding member of the working editorial boards of the Journal of Southern African Studies (JSAS) and Review of African Political Economy. From 2003-8 I was the social science and development editor of the Journal of Southern African Studies, and I chaired its working Editorial Board from 2012-16.

External Engagement

I also maintain active links beyond academe, through periodic consultancies for, and other interactions with, NGOs, international agencies and government departments. For instance, I serve as one of only two academics on the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office's specialist Africa Advisory Group, and I also recently served as the outside specialist on an FCO appointment panel. I was invited to present both written and oral evidence to the 2003/4 inquiry into South Africa by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee; and I also played a small advisory role for the 2004/5 Commission for Africa .

In addition, I was a longstanding trustee (1993-2016) and management committee member of the Canon Collins Educational Trust for Southern Africa, which provides invaluable funding for postgraduate students from the region, both locally and in the UK, and for educational projects within the region. I have also undertaken occasional work for Oxford Analytica, as a contributor to their Daily Brief, and occasional consultancies.

From 2007-10 I was specialist advisor to UN-HABITAT on cities and climate change, helping them to integrate such concerns into their policies and practices and to raise the external profile of their climate change actions. To this end I chaired and moderated the launch of the Cities and Climate Change Initiative in Oslo (March 2009); chaired and moderated a session at the local government summit in Copenhagen in June 2009 that formed a preparatory stage for the COP15 climate summit there in December 2009; was the only non-staff member of the UN-HABITAT delegation to COP15 where I chaired and moderated the ‘One UN’ side event. I also led one of the core e-Dialogues in preparation for the 5th World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro in March 2010, where I then chaired and moderated the semi-plenary Dialogue on Inclusive Sustainable Urbanization. I have subsequently contributed as author/editor to several key UN-HABITAT reports and am currently writing the key concluding chapter to their flagship World Cities Report 2020.

In early 2014, I provided expert assistance to the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) in preparing its report, Transformation for a Sustainable Global Urban Future as a contribution to HABITAT III.

Since joining Mistra Urban Futures later that year, external engagement has been a central feature of my role, from the very local level in Gothenburg and the other cities where MUF has research platforms to the national, regional and global scales. The latter is best exemplified by work on the Campaign for an Urban SDG, including a pilot project to test the draft targets and indicators (see publications list) and on the New Urban Agenda (NUA), adopted by the UN at Habitat III in Quito in October 2016. Collaborations with UN-Habitat and other international organisations continues, with ongoing research on how the 7 cities where Mistra Urban Futures works are engaging with and implementing the SDG 11 and the NUA. Progress was reported at a parallel event during the UN High Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development in New York, on 13 July 2018. Several papers and chapters on this research have since appeared (in the International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development (2019), in Comparative Research from Theory to Practice and are under review elsewhere.


  • GG2071
  • GG2001
  • GG3072
  • MSc PSD

Other work

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

External positions

Director, Mistra Urban Futures

15 Sept 2014 → …

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or