I am a political geography lecturer at Newcastle Univerity, in the school of Geography, Politics and Sociology. I have been working here since December 2005. Prior to this, I have taught/researched at universities in Cambridge, Osh, and Ferghana, and studied in Durham, Roskilde, Cambridge and Osh.
I study the political geographies and geopolitics of post-Cold War inter-state relations. I am currently exploring this through research in two main areas:
The first is the building of nation-states in modern Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, with particular attention paid to border regions, boundary disputes and geopolitics. I am presently studying ideas of nationhood, ethnicity and belonging in the Ferghana Valley city of Osh.
The second is the place of religion and the church in war and peace, with particular reference to debates over the present British government's involvement in the so-called 'war of terror.' I am exploring the political significance of how certain events and people - the Crusades, the World War 1 Christmas Truces , Rev Martin Luther King's life and work, and the September 2001 attacks in the USA - are remembered, and the implications of this remembering or forgetting for either perpetuating conflict or effecting reconciliation.
I also work on understanding lots of other things in our fascinating world: including how geopolitical ideas 'travel' between these sites (Central Asia and UK/USA),how the theories of Sir Halford Mackinder are used to discuss Central Asia's international relations, the geographical imagination of Central Asia as a peculiarly dangerous place, critical geopolitical theory, asylum and migration, nonviolence and peace, the intersections of military ethics and political theology, and anarchism, pedagogy and politics. What I'd really like to see is the discipline of geography orentated to peace - to conceptualising what we mean by peace, and committed to building it.
My research and teaching try to balance two passionate reactions to places: wonder and horror, or curiosity and ethics. On curiosity, Denis Cosgrove said that 'the real magic of geography' is 'the sense of wonderment at the human world, the joy of seeing and reflecting upon the richly variegated mosaic of human life and of understanding the elegance of its expressions in the human landscape'. On ethics, Yi-Fu Tuan, said that whereas the primary question in philosophy is 'What is the good life?', geography's counterpart is, 'What is a good place?'. Political geographical analysis is both celebration and critique: it seeks to understand how good and bad places are produced, and how the former can be fostered and the latter transformed.
The big question at the heart of my work is: how and why do humans divide themselves up into different groups that become exclusionary, antagonistic, aggressive, and sometimes violent - amd what can we do about it? From Christian theology I derive an understanding that this situation is not intrinsic to the human condition, a hope that it will not always remain the case, and a mandate for remedial action; from political geography, a powerful set of tools, theories, and methodologies to help unpick some of the details, understand and challenge the processes, and suggest political alternatives. As you read my work reprinted or linked on this website, I invite you to judge for yourself how well I do that - and your comments are welcome!
In recent years, I've also devoted more energy to trying to make Universities in general, and Newcastle in particular, better places to be. In particular, I have worked with colleagues in the local branch of the University and College Union to defeat 'Raising the Bar', a coercive neoliberal targets-based performance-management system introduced in 2015 and withdrawn in 2016 as a result of academic activism and opposition.As a result there is a lot of energy on campus to make Newcastle an even better place to be. I am part of The Analogue University, a Newcastle collective writing and reflecting on this work.
I've been fascinated by all things Central Asian since childhood, and am on the editorial board of Central Asian Survey. I served as book review editor of the journal until summer 2014.
As an academic, I attempt to engage in debates outside purely scholarly confines. Thus, this website lists or contains links to pieces written for political activists, magazines, websites, churches, policy-focussed fora, public meetings, and newspapers, as well as academic journals.
With Andii Bowsher of Northumbria University, I am co-chair of The Northumbria and Newcastle Universities Martin Luther King Peace Committee. Inspired by King's visit to our city in 1967 this group, established in 2012 jointly between the chaplaincies of Newcastle and Northumbria universities, exists 'to build cultures of peace and coexistence.' Visit our website to see what we are up to and to get involved. As part of this work, I am on the steering group of Freedom City 2017, Newcastle's exciting programme of events to honour the legacy of King's visit and celebrate Newcastle as a city of freedom and peace.
Other important things about me: I am from Scunthorpe and am a keen supporter of Scunthorpe United Football Club ; am active in Newcastle Stop the War ; and am part of the community of Heaton Baptist Church, Newcastle.