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 was Head of Department from January 2015 to July 2018.

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. 


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 'Perspectives on Development'. I am also involved in the Year 2 Malawi fieldtrip.

At postgraduate level I contribute to the MSc Practising Sustainable Development.

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 22 students to successful completion and am currently supervising five 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 Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography and IDPR, and a member of the Editorial Collective of the Geographical Association journal, Geography. I am Vice-President (Expeditions & Fieldwork) at the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).

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