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Professor of Economic Geography, The Open University

John Allen’s teaching and research experience includes work on issues of power and spatiality, more recently in relation to financialization, privatization, biopower and topology.

He is currently engaged on an Australian Research Council funded research project with colleagues at The University of Western Sydney which addresses the financialization of infrastructure, with an eye to its topological traits.

He has taught at The Open University for over thirty years and has a long-standing commitment to both introductory and interdisciplinary courses in the Social Sciences. He is a member of the Academy of Social Sciences and has held Visiting Professorships in both Australia and Switzerland. He is currently Deputy Chair of the University’s Research Committee.

Course development and teaching:
I am currently a member of the Faculty’s Foundation Course Team Introducing the Social Sciences (DD102), writing on power and supermarkets for the Understanding Social Lives text to be published in 2014. Prior to that, I wrote on sweatshops and political responsibility for Living in a Globalised World (DD205 ), which was published as part of a collection by Sage in 2008, as Geographies of Globalisation.

I believe strongly in the dynamic between teaching and research, and have practiced that in over thirteen Open University courses, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Research interests:
My research interests fall into two related areas, both of which have tended to blend into one another at various times. I have a long-standing interest in the relationship between geography and power, more specifically the difference that spatiality makes to the way that power works in its various modalities, from domination and authority through to seduction and manipulation.

In 2003, I published a book-length treatment on the subject, Lost Geographies of Power (Oxford , Blackwell) and am currently exploring a range of topological insights into power’s spatial twists and turns in these more complex, globalised times. This is currently being written under the working title of Topologies of Power for Routedge publications. I have also recently become interested in the nature of biopower and what a nonhuman dimension to power might look like when the ‘power’ to make life live is the central focus of enquiry. This interest was recently explored through an ESRC funded research project on poultry farm and food processing industries in the UK.

In parallel to this broad topic of spatiality and power, I have for some time been interested in the work of George Simmel and Siegfried Kracauer. The two theorists have informed much of my thinking on public spaces and seduction in an urban context, as well as giving me an insight into phenomenological accounts of the urban. This work has appeared in journals such as New Formations and Urban Studies.

John Allen is a member of the OpenSpace Research Centre.


  • –present
    Professor of Economic Geography, The Open University