Spotlight on...

Yohan Iddawela

Get to know our staff and students through our Spotlight series.

My main passion is using technology and data to promote economic development

Yohan Iddawela

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What was your pre-PhD background, and what brought you to LSE?

I had previously worked as an economist for the Australian government, and in the international development space in places such as Afghanistan and Puerto Rico. I had also founded a couple of small geospatial start-ups such as Lanterne and Crowdless. My main passion is using technology and data to promote economic development.

After completing an MSc in Local Economic Development at LSE, I wanted to undertake a PhD to further develop my quantitative skills, and to use these skills to analyse some of the barriers to economic development in sub-national regions.

What was your PhD about?

My PhD examined the relationship between sub-national governments and economic development in African regions. More specifically, I was interested in understanding how sub-national governments would impact wealth and inequality. Similarly, I investigated what causes variations in sub-national government quality across African regions.

The idea was spurred by my MSc dissertation, which focussed on examining the barriers to firm expansion in Kampala. I was thrilled to continue working under Neil Lee and Andrés Rodriguez-Pose for the PhD.

Who were your examiners, and what did you talk about?

My examiners were Javier Revilla-Diez and Jonas Stein. They asked a range of questions which covered everything from the methodology adopted (i.e. identification strategies), to the policy implications of the research. It was a wonderful experience to engage with some of the experts in the field, and to have the opportunity to discuss the research I had spent several years on. 

What’s next?

I am currently running an economics company, 505 Economics, which I founded with a couple of LSE Geography and Environment alumni. We’re passionate about bringing the tools and insights from economic geography’s academic space to the public.

The demand for geospatial data and insights has been growing significantly in recent years, so I’m thrilled to be able to apply my academic work in a different, non-traditional way.

We’re currently using data science to create novel sub-national economic indicators from alternative datasets. For example, we create monthly sub-national GDP estimates derived from satellite imagery, as well as nowcasting economic activity using search trends data.

The plan is to continue focussing on 505 Economics, while also pursuing my academic research on the side as a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Geography and Environment.

Yohan Iddawela, PhD in Economics and Visiting Fellow

Spotlight series

Meredith Whitten

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What are you currently working on in your research?

My current research examines strategic green space planning. I'm researching whether there has been a shift towards approaching green space planning, design and management from a more integrated, strategic perspective. For the most part, green spaces are a local -- even a micro-level -- provision.

The pandemic and lockdowns have highlighted the importance of having nature at the doorstep, but at the same time, even small spaces contribute to citywide or regional objectives, such as climate change mitigation, when they are approached as essential pieces of an interconnected, multifunctional network. I'm using two recently created organisations, the London Green Spaces Commission and the London National Park City Foundation, as vehicles for exploring a pan-London perspective on green space.

What first inspired your interest in urban green space?

I can't remember a time when I didn't love being in green space, from playing in the backyard or a local park as a kid to working in U.S. wilderness areas and national parks as a professional. Every summer, my family would take long trips in our station-wagon to national parks and other natural areas around the country. I loved experiencing such incredibly diverse landscapes and that only intensified when I travelled more internationally.

At heart, I'm a city girl, so I became more interested in how nature is integrated into urban areas in particular and how these spaces can do so much work for human and ecological health if actively planned and managed. 

What have you been enjoying recently?

Like so many others, I've been binge-watching Netflix for months, so I've seen so many shows lately that it's hard to pick a favourite. I've made an effort to read more for fun (not just for work) and have chosen uplifting, humorous or even silly books.

For Christmas, my husband Carl gave me Andrew Cotter's book about life with his dogs, Olive and Mabel. I got hooked on the Olive and Mabel videos from the start of lockdown and the book is just as much a tonic for the soul during what has been really a difficult time. Plus, it's reminded me how much I enjoyed having a dog around, so Carl and I are now looking to adopt.  

Dr Meredith Whitten, ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow

Jessie Speer

Jessie Speer

Jessie, you’re a new face in the department. What are your first impressions of Geography & Environment, and of LSE more generally?

I first was introduced to the LSE campus years ago when I was doing research on an oral history collection at the library archives. I remember being impressed by the swirling architecture of the library atrium, and the location of the campus right next to the most historic bits of London. Since arriving to the department this September, I've been teaching online only, but my first virtual impressions have been so positive. The students are astonishingly brilliant, the staff have been so kind and welcoming despite the difficult pandemic circumstances, and the teaching and research in the department is exciting and challenging.

Can you tell us a little about your research and what led you to your field?

I became interested in housing and homelessness after working as a legal aid attorney in California, assisting people in eviction cases. Many clients would return repeatedly, stuck in an ongoing cycle of eviction and homelessness. Frustrated by the "band aid" work of eviction defence, I wanted to better understand the underlying causes that lead to displacement.

I came to geography after discovering the ground-breaking work of urban geographers who critique the politics of housing displacement and challenge stigma surrounding homelessness. As the crisis of homeless encampments was exploding across the US, I pursued a master's degree in geography examining the urban politics of encampments. In my doctoral work, I began researching memoirs and oral histories of homelessness to better understand how people who experience homelessness critique American housing and imagine alternate ways of living.

How do you like to relax and unwind?

I love cycling in London. It's one of the most beautiful cities I've ever lived in, and I'm always discovering new backstreets and hidden parks. I have a specific soft spot for south London and have lived in the south since arriving to London three years ago. Since the pandemic began, I've been occupying my spare time making cheesy art collages. I used to sing and play a bit of guitar with friends and am always looking to meet musicians in London who are similarly casual and unambitious! 

Other than that, drinks with friends, dancing, and cooking are all great pleasures. I love watching cartoons to unwind, and these days am getting into sci-fi (am currently reading The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu).

Dr Jessie Speer, Assistant Professor in Human Geography

Marta Talevi 

What was your pre-PhD background, and what brought you to the LSE?

I want to answer your question on what brought me to the LSE – and then through the PhD – by looking at who and what enabled me to be where I am today: kind peers and scholarships.

To be honest, when I started University I had no idea what a PhD was or what an academic career looked like, let alone how to get there. I was very lucky to have colleagues that had already gone through the process and were kind enough to help me navigate the system. I say colleagues, but I really see them as my ‘academic older siblings’ and good friends – they are the map and compass that guided me and keep guiding me through this journey.

But how did I know I wanted to get a PhD, you might ask. While at university I realised I wanted to do research and I started considering three types of research-related careers: international organisations, think tanks and academia. I applied for grants and scholarship programmes to have a taste of each path, and was able to secure funding for international exchanges such as one year of studying abroad with the Erasmus programme (my best and most formative university year!), internships at the OECD Development Centre in Paris, and then at the Energy, Environment and Resource Programme at Chatham House in London, as well as short-term appointments as a research assistant with university professors. These experiences gave me valuable insights into what different career paths actually look like from the inside and put me in contact with amazing and inspiring people. I really want to stress how crucial scholarships have been in my journey, as all of these activities as well as all of my undergraduate and postgraduate studies were funded through grants and scholarships.

What was your PhD about?

The title of my PhD thesis is “Economic and non-economic drivers of the low-carbon energy transition: evidence from households in the UK, rural India, and refugee settlements in Sub-Saharan Africa”. In brief, I look at why people choose to switch – or not to switch – to cleaner energy technologies. The first barrier that comes to mind is their price (I have a degree in economics after all!), but there are many other elements that play a role and make the story much more nuanced. For example, the role of peers, geography, previous experiences and beliefs, impatience, and aversion to uncertainty and risk.

In the UK I focused on solar panels to generate electricity, while in India and Sub-Saharan Africa I looked at clean cooking fuels. At this point I am usually told “wow, those are totally different contexts!”. But when you start analysing them and talking to the people, I assure you there are plenty of similarities. I got lots of “it’s too expensive”, “it doesn’t suit my taste”, or “I like that it reduces pollution” in each of my case studies.

This research would not have been possible without my amazingly supportive supervisors at LSE, Susana Mourato and Antoine Dechezleprêtre. I was also incredibly lucky to be mentored by Ken Gillingham at Yale for my research on solar panels and the electricity, and by Subhrendu Pattanayak at Duke for my work on cleaner cooking. I also had the chance to work on energy and gender relations with the wonderful Karina Standal and Hege Westskog at CICERO (here is the result of our collaboration). 

Finally, I really want to thank Practical Action and all the partners involved in the Moving Energy Initiative for their important work enabling sustainable energy access in refugee settlements in Africa and Asia. It was a privilege working with them.

What’s next?

Next, I will keep working on mitigation and adaptation to the climate crisis. I am currently working on an interdisciplinary project on pollution exposure and social justice in India, with colleagues at ISEP, the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy. I am also a member of the Sustainable Energy Transition Initiative and of Women in Environmental Economics for Development, two networks supported by EfD that are doing incredibly relevant work at the intersection of environmental and social protection, while also fostering a strong culture of mentorship and collaboration.

On the teaching side, Ben Groom and I have recently written a Chapter on the history of environmental economic thought for the textbook “Recharting the History of Economic Thought”. I look forward to incorporating this material into my teaching and hope that others might find it a useful introduction to the discipline.

Finally, in my spare time I am learning about bees and beekeeping, a hobby I started thanks to the LSESU Beekeeping Society (did you know there are bees living on one of our rooftops at LSE? Check it out). I recently discovered that my grandfather used to keep bees too when he was young, so it seems to be an interest that runs in the family!

If you would like to know more about my research, feel free to get in touch via email or Twitter or visit my personal page

Marta Talevi, PhD in Environmental Economics

Deen Shariff Sharp

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Deen, we have reached the end of the academic year. What will you be working on over the summer?

Most of my time (I hope!) will be taken up over the summer working on my book, provisionally titled Capitalizing Urbanization that will be out with the University of California Press at the end of next year.

In addition to my book, I am delighted to start working on two new projects with the LSE Middle East Centre that will be officially launched in September. The first, entitled Lebanon Unsettled, is on the large-scale non-sectarian protests that have erupted across Lebanon over the past year and continue to the present day. This project will place this uprising in its larger historical and geographical context.

The second project, entitled Sustaining Kuwait in Unsustainable Times, asks what Kuwaitis (both nationals and non-nationals) think about, and how do they experience, climate change? I look forward to promoting my new edited volume (co-edited with my late mentor Michael SorkinOpen Gaza that will be out in October with the American University in Cairo (AUC) Press. And I will be co-editing the book Reconstruction as Violence: The Case of Syria with Nasser Rabbat that will be out next year, with AUC Press.

I have also launched the AUC Press book series on Middle East Urban Studies with Noura Wahby. We hope that our summer will be occupied by reviewing manuscripts for this exciting new series.

Finally, I will of course be preparing material for the course that I will be teaching in the new academic term, namely GY431 Cities, People and Poverty and GY459 Urban Theory and the Global South.

What first inspired your interest in urban studies?

It was not love at first sight. I continue to have a complex, difficult, contradictory, and loving interest in urban studies as a field of study and with its object of inquiry, this difficult and elusive thing we call the “urban”.

On the one hand, what is there not to be interested in, and hopeful for, when it comes to the urban? Struggles for social and environmental justice continue to be distinctly urban in their composition. This can be seen from Lebanon and to the Black Lives Matter protests that have proliferated throughout the planetary urban fabric. The battle against climate change, and the struggle for racial, economic and social justice, will be won or lost in the streets of our cities and through the formation of our urban terrains.

Indeed, on the other hand, there is much to despair when it comes to the urban. There is a very good case to be made that rapid and extended urbanisation has enabled the spread of infectious diseases, like COVID-19. As someone whose work focuses on urban studies in the regional context of the "Middle East", I have also spent a lot of time thinking about how war and violence have entered the processes of urbanisation and how the construction and organisation of our built fabrics are increasingly violent and oppressive.   

How do you like to relax?

I love cooking. There is nothing that helps me relax more after a hard day reading and writing than making my own pasta, daal or vegetable stock. Secretly, I would like to do a TV show of academic meets chef from Beirut to Hanoi, although I think the late great Anthony Bourdain beat me to it. 

Dr Deen Shariff Sharp, LSE Fellow in Human Geography

Tom Jones

tom jones spotlight

Tom, you have nearly completed a full academic year in the department. How have you found working in Geography and Environment?

It’s been a great year in the department and I’ve really enjoyed it. Everyone in the Department has really welcomed me and it made getting up to speed with everything at the start of Michaelmas Term really quite easy. I really have to thank the rest of the PG Team (Mark, Louise and Pete) for answering my constant questions in the office during that time.

Looking after the RUPS, REEF and HGUS students throughout the year has meant that no day is really the same due to the varied courses the students undertake. Of course, adapting to working from home in March was a new experience for everyone but I think we’ve really smashed it out of the park. I do admit that I really do miss the LSE campus and can’t wait for us to get back – when it is completely safe to do so!

You are part of LSE’s new Safe Contacts scheme. Can you tell us a bit about the scheme and your role?

Being a Safe Contact at LSE is about being a source of confidential signposting for both students and members of staff who have experienced any form of bullying, harassment or sexual violence. I am a Safe Contact for Bullying, Harassment and Sexual Violence and we’ve had training from Rape Crisis South London and Survivors UK about how to signpost people to the multiple sources of both internal and external help within London.

Universities are massive places and it’s sometimes hard to know who you can speak to especially if it’s a topic that isn’t commonly spoken about like sexual violence, so as Safe Contacts we are readily available to speak with anyone that needs to – both staff and students.

All our contact details are on the Safe Contact website so if you are in need of help please get in touch.

Where is your favourite spot on campus?

I really enjoy sitting on the benches outside the NAB with my morning coffee and spending 10 -15 minutes people watching before work starts. With the lovely green space of Lincoln’s Inn Fields in the background it really does start my day off well – especially if the sun is out.

Tom Jones, Graduate Programmes Co-ordinator

Carwyn Morris

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What are you currently working on?

I'm currently writing up my thesis and finishing a paper on hashtag activism in China. I'm an ESRC funded PhD candidate and I have to hand in the final version by the end of March. My thesis explores two key things. First, how the Chinese state controls spatial environments to control populations, and secondly, how certain groups of people resist the Chinese state's goals. To understand this, my fieldwork took place in Beijing, China. Whilst there I took part in hashtag activism, instant messaging activism and spent a year with informal food workers. In my thesis I understand informal food workers from a spatial perspective, those who use stalls or start up restaurants in unregulated buildings (though they often lack business licenses too).

This means that I spent a lot of time on street corners, in restaurants eating delicious food, running away from city officials, taking part in emerging activist projects to fight displacement and evictions and a lot of time 'playing' with websites to explore what can and cannot be done in them in an effort to understand how states, and corporations govern and how individuals and groups can resist this governance.

Your research involves a lot of fieldwork, particularly in China. What do you enjoy most about carrying out fieldwork?

Fieldwork is both challenging and inspiring. It sounds cliché, but the best thing about doing fieldwork is that it may be your job to interact with people who you may never meet otherwise. You're paid to interact, engage, understand, walk a mile in the same boots and share the experiences of others. I met some amazing people through fieldwork that I would not have met otherwise, from liangpi sellers to activist organisers and warlords.

Secondly, doing fieldwork anywhere is amazing because you have the opportunity to be there and witness. This witnessing means being present when 'stuff' happens. Really, that's the point of my type of fieldwork, to know people and be there when stuff happens. You don't know when stuff will happen, which means you need to be there for it to happen when you are close, this may result in a lot of waiting, but you use that to build bridges and know people. With my research on activist groups I would never have been able to do it if not for being there at the right time and knowing some of the right people.

But a caveat, this also means it can be emotionally draining. You create connections to people, animals, material objects, buildings, landscapes and institutions, when they are harmed it hurts you too, when an entire neighbourhood is demolished you take the burden of numerous demolitions with you. It is then your job to be the memory of these experiences, the archivist of stuff others may not remember or that governments may not want remembered!

What are your favourite albums?

At this present moment and with my absolutely awful memory, here is a non-exhaustive few of my favourite things that have got me through my PhD:

Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea; Burial - Untrue; Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85 - 92 / Selected Ambient Works Volume II;  Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly/Good Kid; Patti Smith - Horses; Idles - Joy as an Act of Resistance; The Velvet Underground and Nico - Self titled; David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust; Talking Heads - Remain in the Light; Boards of Canada - Music has the right to children; The Comet is Coming - Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery;  Nils Frahm - Spaces; Deafhaven - Sunbather

There are many others (including fellow PhD Candidate Carl Truedsson's band). Recently I have mostly been listening to NTS Radio. Including this recent mix about the London Docklands that includes samples of Doreen Massey and David Harvey.

Is there anything else?

Here are some other answers, feel free to figure out what the questions are and tweet me: Beagle, NUMTOT, Sphynx, the graphic novel Saga, Biangbiang noodles, 烤肉串, Italy, Japan, Copenhagen, yes, never, beer, clothes, Reddit, Football Manager, Dota 2, Android, badminton, and the sea.

Carwyn Morris, PhD in Human Geography and Urban Studies

William Stein

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William, in your final year you were the President of the Geography and Environment Society. How did you find this experience?

It’s been a crazy few years being part of the society.

The whole experience made me realise that there are two approaches to life. One can complain about things or one can try to change things. Joining the LSE, I was surprised at the lack of flagship events aimed at academic departments. The Geography and Environment Society gave me the platform I needed to implement such events, furthermore, fostering a greater sense of community.

Being part of the society and launching flagship events, like the Geography and Environment Winter Ball, has taught me the importance of perseverance and enthusiasm in bringing visions to reality. It has also shown me that you shouldn’t be upset when things go wrong, especially as sometimes it works out for the better - “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”.

What is the best feature of the Department of Geography and Environment?

It is the people within the department which make it what it is. When I started my degree, one of the first topics was about how an individual’s ‘sense of place’ is influenced, not by the physical attributes of their environment, but the experiences they have with other individuals and entities within a given space. At first this theory went straight over my head. However, it was only after I started developing greater relationships with other students and staff in the department that I realised what it is like to truly feel a ‘sense of place’.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I have been asking myself this question for a while now. As much as I love planning events and trips, the thought of becoming an events planner or travel agent doesn’t give me the same buzz as doing events for the Geography and Environment Society.

It was studying human geography and my involvement in the Geography & Environment Society which made me realise that my drive for events and trips came from the desire to foster a stronger sense of community and ‘sense of place’ among students. Whilst I enjoyed putting together fun occasions for students (and sometimes staff) to meet, the joy was not from the alcohol, food or even the magicians, but from the creation of a memorable experiences for everyone who attended.

I would like to go into a job which involves fostering a community across London. Whether this is working on local area, borough or city-wide projects, I want to help foster a greater ‘sense of place’ among the capital’s citizens. I am not sure if such a job currently exists, however, I will cross that bridge when I get there.

William Stein, BSc Geography with Economics alumnus and Graduate Intern

Eduardo Ibarra-Olivo

 eduardo spotlight

What are you currently working on?

After an extremely hectic summer, which started with the run up to thesis submission followed by 3 weeks of intense summer school teaching, a congress in France and a quick getaway to the Italian coast, I finally defended my doctoral thesis last week, and it was approved without corrections! It is a great feeling of excitement and satisfaction, but also a strange sense of emptiness as the PhD draws to a close. As I now settle back into the daily grind I realise that, as per usual, I have my finger in many pies. 

My main job at the moment is as Research Officer on a project with Dr Neil Lee and Prof Simona Iammarino. The objective of the project is to identify the deterrents of innovation in order to promote private R&D expenditure in Kuwait. As a Gulf economy, heavily reliant on oil revenues, it presents a unique case study for the link of innovation and growth.

At the same time, I am starting to prepare my thesis papers for peer-reviewed journal submission. One paper, in co-authorship with Professors Simona Iammarino and Lucia Piscitello, explores the regional determinants of the recent internationalisation of Mexican firms to different destinations, with particular attention to skills, productivity and innovation.

A second paper, which received the EPAINOS 2019 prize for best paper by a young scientist (awarded by the European Regional Science Association), examines the home effects of outward FDI on the relative demand for skilled and unskilled workers in the relevant regional labour markets in Mexico. Findings suggest that investment directed towards high-income countries is associated with skill downgrading at home.

I also have a collaboration with some colleagues at the University of Cologne on a paper intended to study the role of Multinational Enterprises in shaping the local Training and Vocational Education Systems in Southeast Asian countries according to the different sectors and functions (of the value chain) in which investments take place.

What do you enjoy most about teaching in the department?

I have been teaching for over 8 years now. I started as an adjunct teacher, during my last year of undergraduate studies, teaching first year’s Introduction to Economics. Ever since I have been delivering teaching in Economics and Quantitative Methods.

Here at the department I began teaching during the second year of my PhD. I was a bit nervous since it was the first time I would be teaching in English. However, I was at ease after the first class. I enjoy teaching introduction to quantitative methods because it means going back to the basics: I believe that a good foundational course in statistics is paramount for anyone’s professional career.  

Teaching quant methods in G&E is both challenging but gratifying. First-year students, fresh from their A levels, find it a bit intimidating and struggle to keep up with the pace, but they still make their best to engage with the course. The results are evident in the final projects they produce. It is deeply satisfying to see the progress they’ve made at the end of the module.

What is your favorite place to visit in London and why?

London is an amazing place to live. Although sometimes the daily routine prevents you from fully enjoying it, I always try to make time for myself and to strike a nice work-life balance.

In my spare time I can be found at the Royal Opera House for a nice opera or ballet function; strolling along the Thames path for mindfulness; taking a peek in the National Gallery; or at the Royal Festival Hall for an unwinding session of classical music.

During the weekends I enjoy meeting with friends, either for a relaxing walk in the country, to try food from some distant corner of the world, for a lively chat in any one of the over 3,500 London pubs or for a good dance at some queer place in East London.  

Eduardo Ibarra-Olivo, Research Officer

Henry Overman

henry spotlight

What are you currently researching?

I’m currently director of the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth that aims to improve the cost-effectiveness of local economic growth interventions. As a result, I’m doing quite a lot of work to evaluate the impact of different local economic growth policies. But I try to keep doing some work on broader urban economics issues. For example, I’m just starting a new project on the lifecycle of urban land using amazing data for a 30m by 30m grid covering the whole of the continental United States. We used some similar data nearly 15 years ago to look at urban sprawl in the US and it will be interesting to see what’s changed. One thing that’s already clear – the incredible increase in computing power means we can now analyse the data from our desktops. Last time round it was far more difficult and much, much slower.

How do you divide your time between research and your duties as Director of What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth?

Badly! I’ve learnt a lot from the challenge of balancing research and policy, but the rhythm of the two activities is very different. Research evolves gradually, and feedback loops are slow.

In contrast, the What Works role involves a lot of work with both local and central government, that requires rapid reaction and where feedback loops are very fast. Fast feedback and constant newness make it very tempting to spend all my time on What Works, which would be a lot of fun, but not very consistent with my role at a leading research university. The last six months or so, I’ve adopted a new working rule to help fix this – I try to spend at least one hour every morning reading or writing something research related. Most days it seems to be working.

How do you like to relax?

Family and friends, books, beer (and British Military Fitness to sweat out the beer).

Prof Henry Overman, Professor of Economic Geography

Arzucan Askin

arzucan askin

How did you get involved with the Royal Geographical Society's Geography Ambassador Scheme?

I truly enjoyed my time at the RGS during my internship and inquired about ways to get involved more with the work the society does. I found out about the RGS Ambassador scheme which recruits, trains and supports undergraduate, postgraduate and graduate geographers from universities and businesses to act as ambassadors for geography in the classroom and beyond. Particularly because there is such a widespread “stigma” about geography - most pupils and parents think that the discipline of geography simply consists of memorising the locations of countries, capitals, rivers, etc. - this seemed like a wonderful opportunity to make an impact and share my personal view of geography as an incredibly varied and exciting subject that touches upon almost all topics we see in the news today.

Ambassadors serve as positive role models for pupils and illustrate – via a range of informative, interactive and enjoyable sessions – the transferable skills and interests they have developed as geographers. The scheme works closely with schools, universities, as well as organisations, offering the opportunity for all to strengthen their links with each other on a local, regional and national scale.

Can you tell us a bit about what you have done with the RGS?

Initially I attended the RGS-IBGs Monday Night Lectures and then started going to all kinds of RGS-IBG events that catered to my specific geographical interests, ranging from Evenings of Adventure, training seminars for fieldwork, photography exhibitions, cartography days, etc. 

I have also had the immense pleasure to be part of several research groups, with my commitment and passion mostly focusing on the Marine and Coastal Geography Research Group and the Climate Change Research Group. During the Christmas season in 2017, I completed my internship with the Research and Higher Education Office of the RGS-IBG and in August this summer I will have the pleasure of volunteering during the RGS-IBGs Annual International Conference in Cardiff, which brings together more than 2000 Geographers from all around the world.

How has the scheme benefited you?

Working with the RGS and attending the society’s seminars and lectures has been a fantastic addition to my university experience, particularly because it allowed me to take part in projects and events that cater to my very specific geographical interests and personal research areas. It allowed me to enhance my knowledge and skills, while connecting with people working in the geographical field.

What would you say to a geography student who is thinking about joining the scheme?

If you can spare a few hours in the afternoons or evenings during term time, I would definitely recommend you to become a Geography ambassador, or attend events or lectures offered at and by the RGS-IBG. It’s a wonderful place full of geographers that is guaranteed to offer you new insights, knowledge and inspiration! 

Arzucan Askin, BA Geography

Learn more about the RGS Ambassador scheme here

Laura Antona


Laura, you have just got back from The American Association of Geographers 2018 Conference in New Orleans, how was it?

This was my first time attending the AAG and it was a really fascinating, if slightly overwhelming, experience. The AAG is the largest conference I have been to and it spanned across three hotels. There were really thought-provoking plenary lectures and so many interesting smaller sessions I often didn’t know which one to attend.

The conference was in New Orleans this year which meant that we were able to explore the city and to learn about the history of Louisiana. I was able to visit the Whitney Plantation Museum which, while harrowing, helped me to understand a lot more about the histories of slavery and racism in the USA (and beyond). Being in New Orleans also meant that there was incredible food and music throughout the French Quarter and beyond it, which meant that the 8am start times for the conference were a little tricky!

I co-organised a session with two other PhD students, Jordana Ramalho and Paroj Banerjee, called ‘Bodies and Spaces of and at Risk in the City’ and I also presented my work in the session too. My presentation was centred around the different ways in which state policies and the practices of employment agencies render domestic workers both of and at risk in Singapore.

We had a great turnout and the other presenters talked about some really interesting research, with topics varying from environmental racism in the USA to the removal of favelas in Brazil. Another of our colleagues, Jeanne Firth, acted as discussant and she did an amazing job of drawing out some of the emerging themes across our papers. Jeanne actually lives in New Orleans and her fieldwork is based in the region so she was also able to connect our discussions to contemporary and historical issues in Louisiana.

What first inspired your interest in urban studies?

That is actually quite a difficult question to answer. I suppose in some ways I really just fell in to the discipline by accident, because I was unsure exactly what I wanted to do! I took a year out to work and travel after finishing school but I knew I wanted to learn more and to go to university.

Growing up, I was really interested in the social sciences but I also loved art and design, so I was pretty torn about what academic/career path I might want to follow. Travelling in Central and Eastern Europe, and also a little in Asia, really cemented my desire to learn more about cities however, and so an urban planning and design degree seemed to be an appropriate middle ground between these interests.

After completing my BSc at UCL, and after working in practice for a short period, I realised that the thing I was actually most fascinated by was the urban studies classes I had taken, modules which addressed the everyday lives and experiences of people in cities. This fascination, paired with a dissatisfaction with the planning and design practices I was exposed to, spurred me on to complete my MSc which only cemented my desire to pursue a PhD.

What is the most memorable place you have visited?

Another difficult question! I don’t know if I could choose just one place because I try to learn something from every place I visit. I suppose the place that has left the greatest and most lasting impression on me is Singapore, where I carried out my fieldwork for my PhD. While it might not be my ‘favourite’ place, the people who I met and the experiences that I had there have changed my perspectives on the world.

While I do love cities and everything they have to offer, I also really love being in the countryside and by the beach; in much quieter places. A couple of years ago I visited Tromsø, Norway, within the Arctic Circle, and saw the Northern Lights which were breath-taking. I also loved trips where I have been camping and sleeping by lakes in New Zealand and part of central Europe, thinking about those places has a very calming effect on me.

That being said, one of my friends (Yi Jin, another Geography PhD student) just joked that perhaps my response should be the St. Clements building!

Laura Antona, PhD in Human Geography & Urban Studies

Tom Cowan

Tom Cowan

Tom, as an LSE alumni, how does it feel to be back teaching in the Department?

Yes, I did my MSc here back in 2011 so it’s good to be back! The Geography and Environment Department at LSE is second to none, the Department has a really nice collegial atmosphere and the weekly Urbanisation, Planning and Development seminar series ran in our cluster has been a really fantastic space to engage with geographical research from all over the world.

What are you currently working on in your research?

At the moment my research is focused in two related areas. First, I am interested in understanding the process through which complex agricultural landholdings in Delhi’s fringes are consolidated and transformed into globally legible real estate commodities. Agricultural land around Delhi’s fringe is highly sought after by international and domestic real estate developers, while access to agricultural land is a key component of the current Indian government’s Smart City urban development programme. 

In order to acquire large, contiguous parcels of agricultural land the developer must engage in the complex, highly politicised, infrastructures of agrarian landholding, carefully working alongside local level land brokers, rural state actors and political figures. The bigger conceptual claim of the project is that seemingly “global” real estate markets which are driving urban imaginaries and urbanisation processes in contemporary India not only take a great deal of negotiation and counter-negotiation on the behalf of investors and developers, but are equally underpinned by a whole series of decidedly agrarian histories, labours, institutions and actors.

This research builds on a longer project understanding rapid agrarian transformation and urbanisation in Gurgaon, a city 20km south-west of New Delhi, which witnessed rapid real estate-led urbanisation from the early 1990s. You can find out more about this project in a paper soon to be published in Antipode journal titled, “The urban village, agrarian transformation and rentier capitalism in Gurgaon, India”.

Second, my research focuses on migration and labour geographies which are transforming the political economic landscape of Gurgaon. I am interested in the role which labour dormitories play in both shaping particular kinds of workforce for the city’s industries and emerging forms of labour politics across the city.

What do you enjoy reading and watching?

I really enjoy reading feminist science fiction books. This year I’ve been reading a lot of Octavia Butler. Her books are amazing. I just finished the Parable of the Sower, it’s like a dystopian survival story, I’d thoroughly recommend it!

The last film I went to see at the cinema was called Loveless. I love the director’s previous film Leviathan so thought I’d check it out. It’s set in Moscow, about a couple going through a divorce whose son goes missing. It is incredibly, incredibly bleak.  

Tom Cowan, LSE Fellow in Human Geography

Allan Beltran-Hernandez


What are you currently working on in your research?

At the moment the core of my research focuses on understanding the value that people place on flood risk by looking at the housing market. The idea is that the price of a house reflects the value that people place on all its quality attributes including structural (e.g. number of rooms, square metres, number of bathrooms), locational (e.g. proximity to school or train station) and environmental (e.g. nice view, air pollution, noise pollution) characteristics. Flood risk is one of the characteristics attached to the location of a property. When people buy a house they implicitly trade flood risk in the market.

Is flood risk reflected in the price of houses? Is risk protection capitalised in house prices? How are the prices of flooded houses affected? Are prices of neighbouring properties also affected? These are some of the questions that my current research aims to answer for the UK in particular.

You can find the answer to the first question on a paper that has recently been published by my co-authors and myself in Ecological Economics titled “Is Flood Risk Capitalised into Property Values?”. In summary, the answer is yes! Houses in floodplains are about 5% cheaper. The size of the discount, however, depends largely on the type of risk and the flood history in the location of the house. The answer to the other questions will also be published soon, so stay tuned.

In recent years England has, along with many other countries, experienced a sequence of costly flood events. This trend is expected to worsen as a consequence of climate change and the construction of new developments in floodplains. This points to the importance of better understanding the true implications of flooding. My research aims to contribute to this discussion.

I am also increasingly getting involved in other exciting projects on topics related to renewable energy and the economic impacts of flooding and deforestation.

Finally, being from Latin America myself I have a natural interest in investigating the environmental challenges of the region. I am generally involved in research investigating the economic and distributional consequences of fiscal policy for climate change mitigation and the development of analytical tools to contribute to the design of a long-term strategy for climate change mitigation and adaptation in this region.

If you could give your younger student self some advice, what would it be?

I finished my PhD in 2016. During the last year, I have therefore experienced the transition from being a full-time student to a full-time member of the faculty here at the Department. Of course, being an academic full-time comes with many benefits, yet there are things I miss about being a student.

The advice I would give to my younger student self (either BSc, MSc or PhD) is to enjoy the present as much as you can. I used to worry quite a bit about the future. I would recommend students to keep focused on your goals, to work hard, and to trust in your own abilities. I believe that hard is always recompensed.

Meanwhile, travel more, laugh more and hang out more with your friends. Enjoy more sunsets, do more exercise, and take good care of your health. Most importantly, spend more time with your family. You still have a long way to go and soon you might find yourself living in a different country or even on a different continent with your family thousands of miles away. Keep smiling and do not forget to have fun along the way - there are exciting things for you to come!

While I always experienced my studies and my research as very enriching, life has many more facets which are worthwhile exploring. There is no better point in time than while studying towards a university degree to try out and experience new things, e.g. backpacking, a term abroad, or a summer internship are only a few of the many opportunities which arise for students here at LSE.

What is best about living and working in London?

There are many great things about living in London: musicals, festivals, green areas, artistic and cultural events etc. However, the best part about living in London for me is the rich multicultural exchange that I experience every day. I particularly enjoy teaching in a multicultural context where students bring different perspectives and backgrounds to the classroom.

I have always been impressed by the many languages that you can hear while walking on London’s streets or while using public transport. Of course, this daily cultural exchange results in the opportunity to learn from different cultures and to make friends from all over the world.

The diversity of London is also mirrored in the many restaurants bringing different tastes from across the globe to this city including some authentic Mexican cuisine! I believe this is the key aspect that makes London such a vibrant and unique city – its diversity. 

Allan Beltran-Hernandez, LSE Fellow in Environmental Economics

Hannah Kettle


Hannah, you’re a new face in the Department. What are your first impressions of Geography & Environment?

As with any new job, it’s always a little daunting to start working with new people, but the Geography and Environment Department have been incredibly welcoming and friendly! I could not have asked for a nicer team to be part of.

Describe a typical day in the office.

A typical day in the office begins with a massive cup of tea and a morning croissant at my desk. It’s followed by catching up with emails, PSS staff, academics & fellows, the PhD Academy, and students.

As it’s Michaelmas Term, it’s all a bit hectic; I’ve been dealing with course choice, seminar allocation, student enquiries, Moodle, along with tying up some loose ends of the previous academic year. Co-ordinating both MSc and PhD students in the Department adds some variety to my day as they have very different academic journeys whilst here at LSE.

What is your favourite TV show?

At the moment, my favourite TV show is Strictly Come Dancing. It’s just great entertainment: the clothes, the drama, the gossip, the music, the highs, the lows, the tears, the laughs, the glitz, the glamour – it’s got it all…not to mention the dancing itself! (In case you were wondering: I’m a terrible dancer).

I’m also really enjoying Taskmaster. Go check it out; it’s really funny!

Hannah Kettle, Graduate Programmes Co-ordinator

Paroj Banerjee


Can you tell us a bit about your PhD and research?

In my research I am looking at how pavement dwellers associate with the idea of 'home' in their everyday lives. I recently finished a year-long fieldwork in Mumbai (Mahim to be specific) where my research took a crucial turn.

Before, I was conceptualising these pavement dwellers and similar groups living on Indian streets as 'homeless'. However, my fieldwork and close interactions with the community of pavement dwellers made me realise that the trope of 'homelessness' is absent in their everyday practices. In fact, framing them as 'homeless' takes away the agency of their efforts to address the extreme vulnerabilities in their everyday life.

This is not to say that the lives they live are ideal, or to romanticise their daily struggles and hardships. What I want to draw attention to is the fact that the construction of the idea of 'home' itself is fraught with contradictions.

The experiences of 'home' are varied and I see the efforts to hold on to the notions of ‘home’ are strategies of addressing the precarious environment that street living entails. I also want to draw focus to the fact that the conceptualisation of terms like 'homeless' is a Western concept and in the Indian context these terms need re-framing. 

What is the best part about being a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department?

This is my first time teaching, and there are several (mostly great) things to say about the experience. First, as a GTA I have immense support from the faculty members leading the courses, my colleagues who have taught the courses before and are currently teaching with me, and the professional services staff. These people are not only very advanced in their field of knowledge but are very approachable. They have been really open to suggestions and forthcoming with help to address any challenges I face. I was super anxious before beginning teaching, but the training from the TLC has been useful.

Second, I am really enjoying teaching the courses GY100 (Introduction to Geography) and GY140 (Introduction to Geographical Research) because they are exposing me to the fundamentals of critical theory in Geography. The first course addresses the 'what' and 'why' of the discipline and the second addresses the 'how'. I have a background in Sociology and Urban Studies and my previous research focus has been interdisciplinary. I did not realise that what I have been doing so far is so intimately linked to Geography. These courses are helping me make crucial connections with my research. 

The thing that keeps me most motivated is the interaction with students. They are really lively, chatty and responsive. I am learning the discipline with fresh perspective from the students. The interactive nature of the classes helps us to understand each other better. For example, in a recent class they were asked to think of a place and explain why they feel connected or detached to it. Very interesting insights emerged from this sharing of experiences, one of them being the gendered experiences of places. What was great was the precise connections they were making with the text while describing their experiences. 

Where is the most memorable place you have visited?

I love travelling, so every place I have visited has had an impact on me. The experiences have been enriched because of the company that I have travelled with. I travel a lot with my family and friends.

But if I had to pick a place, it would be a solo trip I made to Japan when I was really young. I was excited for several reasons, particularly as I sensed freedom and responsibility at the same time.

I know you asked for one, but I will cheat and say that one image that is imprinted on my mind and will be forever was from a recent trip to Nubra Valley, in Ladakh. I have never seen such a stunning star-filled sky. It still gives me goose bumps. 

Paroj Banerjee, PhD in Regional & Urban Planning

Ryan Centner


What are you currently working on in your research?

My work is moving in several different directions right now, but they’re all linked by a core interest in urban transformation at the nexus of social, spatial, and economic change. That’s to say that I focus on how the built environment as well as people’s conditions and experiences are linked together, always with a view to how shifting broader economic projects and circumstances mediate these. 

More specifically, I am completing a longstanding ethnographic project on how three neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, Argentina, have fared in the long aftermath of IMF-sponsored reforms that reshaped the Argentine economy from the early 1990s onward. These were never “urban” reforms, but they have created a plainly urban legacy in terms of the redevelopment of places and the transformed livelihoods of Buenos Aires residents across the socioeconomic spectrum. I’m finishing a book that presents these “urban afterlives” as a way of understanding what these kinds of economic restructuring – sharing similarities with Greece and Puerto Rico, among other cases – leave in their local wake, well beyond the original intentions of policy.

Other streams of research I have been working on, in a range of sites, include:

1) Comparing the implementation of “the right to the city” as an idea, and often a law, across Latin American contexts, from São Paulo to Caracas to Santiago de Chile to Mexico City to Havana.

2) Examining the contentious nature of increasingly heterogeneous urban middle classes (which is emphatically plural) in Brazil, Turkey, and South Africa as rapidly changing middle-income countries.

3) Exploring the links between urban innovations, inequalities, and the everyday politics of what we might call the “self-regard” of cities. I look specifically at the three major urban areas of North America’s Pacific Northwest region – Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland – which are collectively hailed as green, creative, progressive, and hip; this reputation is clearly known to residents and is unavoidable in the daily experience of these places, which are plainly cities in love with themselves. As I come from Portland myself, I train a critical eye on how the distinct assemblage of innovations in each city exacerbates, or sometimes relies on, inequalities.

4) Tracing how the speculative expansion of aviation into new geographies is related to city-building through investments in infrastructure and the forging of new inter-urban linkages. I am particularly interested in the rapid proliferation of airline networks in Africa over the last decade, but I am interested in comparing these to transformations that have unfolded previously in parts of the Middle East and Latin America.

5) As I always find it important to do local research, wherever I may be based, I have begun an inquiry into how gentrification is specifically affecting LGBT nocturnal geographies – essentially, the spaces and nature of gay nightlife – in east London. This is part of a set of papers I am working on editing with collaborators at other institutions on “Gay Male Urban Spaces after Grindr & Gentrification.”

As organiser of the undergraduate field trip, what do you enjoy most about this experience? 

I think fieldwork, and really digging into a local context, is one of the most rewarding – if challenging – experiences in the critical social sciences. And for geographers in particular, fieldwork is a must. I love to see the proverbial light bulbs go on in students’ heads as they begin to discover new understandings about a place, sometimes even a place they already thought they knew well. 

A great joy of leading a field course is to be a part of that interpretive project; instructing in the field, and being able to make connections between theoretical or historical lessons and the visible stuff all around us in the moment is one of those amazing opportunities to make teaching really come alive. 

What is your favourite film ? 

This might seem a bit obscure, but it’s a movie that has resonated with me for a long time now: from Argentina, Daniel Burman’s Abrazo Partido (2004), usually translated as Lost Embrace. It’s a very funny but also moving story about personal relationships that manages to tie in history, geopolitics, economic globalization, immigration, and a lot of good Argentine sarcasm, all in an area very near where I conducted much of my fieldwork in Buenos Aires. And if you don’t speak Spanish, I can confirm from the various friends (and even some students) whom I’ve forced to watch the movie in the past, it’s still very good with subtitles!

Ryan Centner, Assistant Professor of Urban Geography

Megan Ryburn

Megan spotlight

What are you currently working on in your research?

In 2018, I will be publishing a book, tentatively entitled Uncertain citizenship: Everyday practices of Bolivian migrants in Chile, with the University of California Press. It explores how Bolivian migrants to Chile experience citizenship across borders in their daily lives.

There is an urgent need to address intra-regional migration in Latin America, which is rapidly increasing and challenging the ways in which citizenship in the region is understood and experienced. Globally, too, people are moving in great numbers, with much of this movement happening within under-researched contexts of the global South. My book, which is based on multi-sited ethnographic research in Chile and Bolivia, hopes to contribute to debates on the meaning and practice of citizenship in Latin America, connecting these to broader discussions around citizenship and migration.

Over the rest of the summer I’ll mainly be working on revisions to the book manuscript, ready for final submission at the end of September. I also have ideas percolating for my next research project, which is an exciting place to be.

Your research involves a lot of fieldwork, what do you enjoy most about carrying out research abroad?

I guess there are two main aspects that I enjoy, and which motivate me. First – and this applies as much to research I’ve done in the UK and New Zealand as in Chile and Bolivia – I feel very privileged to listen to research participants and find out about their lived experiences, and to be trusted to document and analyse this. I have had so many interesting, surprising, moving, and entertaining conversations, and learned so much during the different projects I’ve undertaken.

Second, I enjoy the sense of challenge. Contacting new people, navigating new places, speaking another language all the time – all of this can be daunting, but there is a great sense of achievement when you finally start to piece together the puzzle at the heart of your research.

What is your favourite non-academic book?

Tough question! I always have a novel or two on the go, and some equally keen friends and I recently started a reading group (which, it must be said, is also a good excuse to catch up over a glass of wine). We’re currently reading Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn, which is something of a fable for our times.

In terms of all-time favourites, I’d be hard-pressed to pick just one… Pride and Prejudice would certainly be up there. I adore Jane Austen’s talent for witty observation, and the timeless, complex female characters she wrote. Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera is in my top few as well. His beautiful prose transports you so utterly. Finally, I often return to my anthology of New Zealand poet Lauris Edmond’s work – she perfectly captures both grand events and the minutiae of daily life.

Megan Ryburn, LSE Fellow in Human Geography

Nancy Holman


We’ve reached the end of the academic year. What will you be working on over the summer? 

This has been a very good year in terms of research. I have just finished up a project with colleagues on short-term letting and planning deregulation, which produced an academic paper and some interesting content in terms of a short film and an animation.

I will be working on a larger bid to put forward to funders on the ‘sharing’ or platform economy in London over the summer. There is so much rhetoric surrounding the sharing economy – both positive and negative – that it is hard to think about what sensible regulation might look like. Our project hopes to address this. 

I will also be on sabbatical in the Michaelmas term so I am looking forward to re-working my optional course Planning for Sustainable Cities to get it ready for 2018-19.

What first inspired your interest in Urban Planning?

After university, where I studied politics, I lived in Austin, Texas. Two things spurred me on to study urban planning. The first was that I loved the neighbourhoods and the historic districts of Austin.  I was fascinated by the way certain neighbourhoods worked where others seemed to fail miserably in terms of both built form and as social space. I wanted to understand these processes better.

I was also in a terribly tedious job that filled me with dread each morning. So, when the opportunity came along to study for a Master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning I decided to do it. As a result, I have worked in both the US and the UK in planning and got my PhD in Urban Policy here in the UK. The result is that I now never dread going to work in the morning. 

What do you enjoy outside of LSE and the Department?

I enjoy doing a wide range of things – I like to go mudlarking on the river Thames – if you don’t know what this is think wellington boots and rubber gloves looking for treasure on the foreshore. My best find so far has been a shoe buckle from the 1760s but more regularly I find dead fish and trash.

I have also recently taken up learning to skateboard, which is something I always wanted to try but never did. I am not sure if taking this up in my 40s is the best plan but it is fun none the less – my goal is to be able to Ollie – my hope is to not break my neck.

Nancy Holman, Associate Professor of Urban Planning.

Neil Lee


What are you currently working on?

The biggest issue faced by the UK at the moment is Brexit. In academia we’re generally obsessed with migration, with good reason, but we’ve tended to overlook the experience of people who don’t move. But only a minority migrate – around 60% of the UK population lives within 20 miles of their place of birth. I’m particularly interested in people who don’t move, but whose local area experiences significant change – economic decline, large-scale migration or population loss. Does this make them more likely to vote for Brexit or a particular party, as a way of taking back control? 

Another big issue the UK faces is stagnant real wages. A lot of this is driven by low paid work in low-productivity sectors. The government is currently working on an industrial strategy and targeting particular sectors could be an important part of that. I’m working on a project – led by Professor Anne Green at Warwick – which looks at which sectors perform particularly badly, and the type of interventions which might help reduce low pay. (Lots of the reports are available here.)

What is the best feature of the Department of Geography and Environment?

We’re really lucky here – LSE Geography never feels like an ivory tower, separated away from the rest of the world, but can have a real impact on the world outside. Just this morning, my colleague Hyun Bang Shin was on TV talking about the South Korean elections. The Department has some of the leading institutes working on public policy - the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth is one example. We’re in a privileged position to study issues we think are important. Plus I have great colleagues and the students are top class. 

What's the most memorable place you've visited?

When most of my colleagues head off to the mediterranean to get a tan, I normally go to the rainy, windswept Orkney islands – an archipelago just to the north of Scotland. It’s a beautiful place, with stunning views and clean air. The local whisky is also amazing. I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have gone there out of choice, but my wife’s family are from there so I was made to visit. Now, if I don’t go once a year I really miss it.

Neil Lee, Professor of Economic Geography

Clare Barnes


Clare, you’re a new face in the Department. What are your first impressions of Geography & Environment, and of LSE more generally?

I am not only new to LSE, but also to London and to a certain extent the UK academic environment, after spending the last thirteen years abroad. I have been working at Utrecht University in The Netherlands for six years, teaching on Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development programmes, and conducting PhD research in Environmental Governance. I’ve been made to feel really welcome in the Department and appreciate everyone fielding my many questions on how things work (and always with a smile!).

I am really jealous of the students that get to study here! The wide range of courses to choose from mean students can put together a very exciting and challenging programme. I am also impressed by the level of support on offer to help students study, which seems like a really important resource to help them make the most of their time here and, importantly, have fun at the same time.

For me personally, it is great to be exposed to different perspectives on the environmental issues I work on. We all need our assumptions to be challenged from time to time to help us refine our thoughts and grow academically, and I look forward to doing that with colleagues and students at LSE.

What areas of the environment does your research focus on?

I am really interested in the governance of natural resources in the Global South. Nine years ago I spent six months volunteering for a small NGO in a rural area of Cambodia with alarming rates of deforestation. My time there made me confront my naïve assumptions about forest dependent communities and opened my eyes to the complexities of managing forest resources. Local teenagers gave me a glimpse into their lives – aspirations, fuel wood collection, hunting, farming, family, school, the looming threat of eviction by illegal and legal logging companies, fetching water, friends, dancing, a sensitive political climate etc. – and it made me question how interventions by NGOs aimed at reducing deforestation play out when confronted with such complex realities.

What approaches do NGOs employ when they work with community forest institutions set up to manage forest resources? Can they influence the creation of a supportive policy environment? How can we measure their success? These questions eventually turned into PhD research on interventions in community forestry in three states in India, theoretically informed by common pool resource theory, international development literature and critical institutionalism.

Of course this work raised more questions than it could answer and I’m currently exploring angles for future empirical research on how and with what effects NGOs scale out interventions in natural resource management beyond the initial small pockets of success. Having spent most of 2016 writing up my PhD, I’m looking forward to tackling my ‘post PhD reading’ folder and getting back out into the field!    

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Hopefully I’m lucky enough to still be in a function that allows me to spend my time researching and teaching about the environmental issues I feel passionately about. It is a pretty luxurious position to be in to get to work with intelligent, engaged students whilst developing my own thinking and research on the governance of natural resources. I’m excited to see where my new research project on scaling out NGO interventions in natural resource management takes me and who I’ll get to meet along the way.

Clare Barnes, LSE Fellow in Environment (2016-17)

Simona Iammarino


What are you currently working on in your research?

I have several works-in-progress with different co-authors, mostly around what traditionally has been my main research area: Multinational enterprises (MNEs), innovation and regional economic development. The current research focus is on the impact of MNE operations on local industries and regions – in terms of various indicators (e.g. innovation, jobs, structural change) – looking at both inward foreign investment and outward investment abroad and considering new policy approaches.

I have a few forthcoming talks on this topic, as for example, the Lezione di Economia Marche 2016, a public lecture at the Facoltà di Economia 'Giorgio Fuà', Ancona, 30 May 2016;  again as a key-note speaker at an event organised by the Italian Confindustria and British Council in Sofia, Bulgaria, 13 - 15 June 2016; and as discussant at the Workshop 'Smart Specialization in a Comparative Perspective: Challenges and Ways Forward', European Commission, DG for Regional & Urban Policy, Brussels, 27 June 2016.

Another active research area is that of the relationship between supply and demand of skills and local economic development in Italy, for which my co-authors and I will present a new paper at both the Workshop on 'Risk and Resilience: A Regional Perspective', Roma Tre University, 31 May - 1 June 2016; and the Uddevalla Symposium hosted by Birkbeck, University of London, 30 June - 2 July 2016.
How do you divide your time between research and Head of Department duties?

This is a difficult question, as I am not sure that my balance is ideal! However, being HoD is a big responsibility and a highly demanding task, and one has to be prepared to put research on a side as there are other priorities. I learnt that adjusting my own expectations is crucial not to feel permanently frustrated. Thus, I do less than before, more focussed on maximum a couple of research lines, and I think that for the moment I have different sources of personal reward, first and above all the appreciation of my colleagues. Obviously, I look forward to my sabbatical when my mandate is over in summer 2017!

What do you enjoy most about working in the Department of Geography & Environment?

The people. All of them, academics and administrators, LSE Fellows and GTAs, and the students both UG and PG. I am very lucky as my Department is a good working environment, where people are open, collegial and like getting together socially.

Simona Iammarino, Head of Department (until July 2017) and Professor of Economic Geography

Austin Zeiderman

Austin Zeiderman

We have reached the end of the academic year. What will you be working on over the summer? 

I’ve just finished teaching an LSE Summer School course, An Urbanising World, together with my colleague Hyun Shin. We had a lot of fun, thanks to a great group of students, and I came away newly energised about my summer research plans.

Having just finished a long-term project on security, risk, and political life in Bogotá, Colombia, I’m starting to think ahead to what comes next. To help get the ideas flowing, I’ll be spending a good month or so making my way through a stack of new and exciting books, which have been impatiently winking at me from my bookshelf. I’ll be reviewing a couple of them, but for the most part I want to immerse myself in the latest stuff coming out of geography, anthropology, Latin American history, and urban studies.

I’ll also be reading everything I can find on Colombia’s most prominent and storied river, the Río Magdalena. As many will already know, a negotiated peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC is on the horizon, and the country is anxiously anticipating the end of one of the world’s longest running armed conflicts. I’m particularly interested in the literal work going into building Colombia’s post-conflict future, and a major initiative to revive shipping traffic along the river is arguably one of many large-scale infrastructure projects motivated by the elusive promise of peace. I’ll be in Colombia in August and September to start interviewing people involved in the Río Magdalena project and to spend some time along the river itself, watching oil barges float downstream to the coast and dredging operations excavate centuries of sediment.

Colleagues at the Universidad de los Andes will also be kindly hosting an event to mark the launch of my recent book, so there will some time set aside for celebration, as well. 

Your first book, Endangered City, has just been published. How did the book come about? 

I’m always intrigued by that question, as well as by how I find myself answering it. In the preface, I tell the story of arriving in Bogotá for the first time in 2006. I was immediately struck by how often friends and strangers alike would go out of their way to inform me about the dangers of everyday life in the city. There was something oddly familiar about this, since it reminded me of how, as a kid, I had learned to navigate my own hometown of Philadelphia. It also seemed to be a particularly good example of a wider, perhaps global trend whereby cities are increasingly preoccupied with potential hazards lurking on the horizon. But this seemed paradoxical in Bogotá, since by all accounts the city was now far safer than it had been for quite a while, and urbanists and security experts from around the world were busy heralding its rebirth.

How, why, and to what effect do concerns about security and risk continue to shape the political life of the city? That was the question I would spend years trying to answer. But this was only part of the story. I began my research at a time when many Colombians were justifiably wary of yet another gringo coming to study violence in their country.

One couldn’t ignore the turbulent and traumatic history of the armed conflict, but it felt necessary to look at what else was going on. So rather than studying violence and insecurity directly, I decided to come at these topics from an angle by thinking about threats and dangers of all kinds—especially those seen to originate in nature rather than society.

I made contact with the municipal housing agency, which was relocating populations out of areas defined as “zones of high risk” for landslides and floods. For me, this became a way to analyse how concerns about threat and danger, about security and risk, were reconfiguring what it meant to be an urban citizen. The rest is history (or geography), so to speak.  

What do you think is unique about Geography and Environment at LSE? 

I came to the LSE in 2012 after finishing a doctoral degree in anthropology at Stanford University. I was trained in a style of anthropology that took the discipline’s history and methodology quite seriously, but that also encouraged engagement with a wide spectrum of research topics and intellectual traditions.

I spent a lot of time reading and learning from the work of geographers, and often felt that had I not ended up studying anthropology, geography could have been an equally good fit. So when I joined the Department of Geography and Environment at the LSE, to a certain degree I suspected I would feel right at home. What I didn’t expect was for the department to be as inclusive, collegial, and supportive a place to work. I attribute this to the fact that we’re such a diverse group of staff and students from all over the world with an astoundingly wide range of backgrounds and interests: from bona fide, card-carrying geographers to those with training in economics, sociology, urban planning, architecture, development studies, social policy, and much more.

I may be the lone anthropologist, but I’m never lonely. For one’s disciplinary training is rarely the primary identifier that determines how we interact with one another. I often find myself wondering what, then, holds us together—what it is that we all, to some degree, share—and I’ll go ahead and hazard a guess: a strong commitment to generating unconventional insights into questions of public and political relevance on the grounds of rigorous empirical work that takes seriously the specificities of space and place. I’m sure many of my colleagues in the department would put it differently, and perhaps even disagree—but I bet they would disagree with a smile.
Austin Zeiderman, Assistant Professor of Urban Geography