Keble welcomes Professor Sarah Whatmore

Professor Sarah Whatmore, currently Head of the School of Geography, is joining Keble College as a Professorial Fellow. She is moving from Linacre College.

Sarah is a very distinguished human geographer with a significant international reputation. She has been on the cutting edge of new thinking in the discipline for the past two decades or more. Her intellectual origins are in agricultural and cultural geography, which she developed doing her PhD at University College London. Much of her early work centred on the agro-food industry and alternative food networks (e.g. fair trade). But from these beginnings she developed an increasingly sophisticated and innovative theoretical stance, centred on the notion of hybrid geographies, the title of her path-breaking 2002 book. Cultural geography in the 1990s focused on representation, images, meanings and so forth, and tended to downplay the significance of the material world. Sarah’s work reconnected the study of nature and culture, human and non-human, social and material worlds in radical materialist ways. Her work responded to, and helped geographers understand, the emergence of unsettling or disruptive phenomena such as GM food, BSE-vCJD and a host of related anxieties about things which appeared neither wholly natural nor social. Hybrid Geographies for example, begins with a couple of chapters on what the notion of wildness can mean, using two cases – the Roman games and the associated circulation of beasts and the shifting relations between humans and elephants. Sarah was important in introducing human geographers to actor-network theory, an intriguing non-dualist way of thinking agency. She has pushed this further, thinking along the lines of a ‘more-than-human’ geography, i.e. a way of thinking which does not presume that humans are the sole intentional actors in the world. Some of these ideas are developed in Political Matter, edited with Bruce Braun (2010). This is not an abstract exercise. Her most recently completed project, with physical geographer Stuart Lane (now at the University of Lausanne), focused on an environmental controversy, flooding. This allowed her to explore the relations between democracy and science, and between lay and expert knowledge, not least by experimenting with novel means of developing flood risk knowledge through competency groups. You can watch a short film on the project here.

In addition to making significant contributions to geographic theory, Sarah as one of the editors of the Dictionary of Human Geography (5th edition), arguably the most influential single textbooks in the discipline.

For undergraduates, a good sense of Sarah’s work can be found in:

S. Whatmore and L. Thorne ‘Nourishing networks: alternative geographies of food’, in D. Goodman and M.J. Watts (eds) Globalising Food: Agrarian Questions and Global Restructuring, 1997.
S. Whatmore and L. Thorne ‘Wild(er)ness: reconfiguring the geographies of wildlife, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 23(4), 435-454, 1998
T. Spencer and S. Whatmore, ‘Editorial: Bio-geographies: putting life back into the discipline’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 26(2),l 139-41, 2001
S. Whatmore (2009) ‘Mapping knowledge controversies: environmental science, democracy and the redistribution of expertise’. Progress in Human Geography, 33(5): 587-599
Lane, S.N., Odoni, N., Landström, C., Whatmore, S.J., Ward, N. and Bradley, S. (2011) Doing flood risk science differently: an experiment in radical scientific method. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 36(1): 15-36.

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