Professor Katie Willis

Personal profile

I have been at Royal Holloway since September 2003. Prior to that I was Lecturer in Human Geography at The University of Liverpool (1994-2003). I studied at Oxford University for eight years, gaining a BA in Geography, an MPhil in Latin American Studies and a DPhil in Geography. My MPhil and DPhil research was based in Oaxaca City, Mexico and focused on gender, class, employment and social networks. I am currently Head of Department.

Research Interests

(i) Gender, households and migration

I have long-standing research interests in the role of gender in migration and particularly in the implications of migration, both internationally and nationally, for gendered identities and spatial practices. This research has been mainly conducted in Latin America (especially Mexico) and East Asia (China). 

(ii) Young people, asylum and immigration regimes

Building on my engagement with migration theory and practice, since 2012 I have been working with Sue Clayton (Goldsmiths Media Arts) and Anna Gupta (RHUL Social Work) on understanding the experiences of unaccompanied and separated children (UASCs) seeking asylum. I am Principal Investigator on an ESRC funded Seminar Series entitled 'Uncertain Journeys: Exploring the Challenges Facing Separated Children Seeking Asylum'. See: for more details. 

(iii) The place of 'development'

As someone who has worked in many parts of the Global South with households from across the socio-economic spectrum, I have sought to challenge representations of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean as purely sites of 'development' constructed as poverty alleviation. This work has included collaborations with Glyn Williams and Paula Meth at the Univesity of Sheffield on the book Geographies of Developing Areas: The Global South in a Changing World. 

(iv) Identity, Place and Belonging in the Andes

I was also co-investigator on a multi-disciplinary project 'Inca Ushnus: Landscape, Site and Symbol in the Andes'. This was funded through the AHRC Landscape and Environment Programme and was a collaboration between Royal Holloway, the University of Reading, the British Museum and the University of Huamanga, Peru.  For further details see:


I enjoy teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I currently teach the compulsory Year 1 course 'Human Geography II: Politics, Societies, Development and Enviroment' and the optional Year 3 course 'Gender and Development'. I am also involved in the Year 2 Malawi fieldtrip.

At postgraduate level I contribute to the MSc Practising Sustainable Development. I currently convene modules on 'Livelihoods, Income and Development' and 'Participatory Methods'.

I have written two widely-used textbooks: 'Theories and Practices of Development' (2nd edition, 2011, Routledge) and 'Geographies of Developing Areas: The Global South in a Changing World' (with Glyn Williams and Paula Meth, 2009, Routledge. Second edition 2014).

PhD Supervision

I have supervised 14 students to successful completion and am currently supervising eight students. I welcome applications from students seeking to research themes around gender and migration; gender and development; transnationalism; children & young people, migration & development.  .

External Activities

I was Editor of Geoforum from 2005 to 2011 and was Co-Editor of International Development Planning Review (IDPR) from 2000-2010. I am currently on the Editorial Board/ International Advisory Board of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (TIBG), Gender, Place and Culture, Singapore Journal of Tropical GeographyThird World Quarterly and IDPR.

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