John Connell's principal research interests are concerned with political, economic and social development in less developed countries, especially in the South Pacific region and in other small island states. Much of this research is currently oriented to issues of rural development, migration and inequality. A second research theme is on decolonisation and nationalism. More recently he has worked on the cultural geography of music and food. He is presently working on the impact of tourism and festivals on rural and regional development, the global migration of skilled health workers and the globalisation of football. He has written books on migration and development issues, especially concerning Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia and urbanisation in the Third World.
He has been a consultant to both the Department of Primary Industry and the Department of Mines and Energy in Papua New Guinea, and worked with the South Pacific Commission, the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation on long-term projects on migration and employment in the South Pacific region.