Dr Michael Leyshon
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography


Research interests

My current research focuses on the current Challenges for the Voluntary Sector. The growth in Britain’s ageing population, coupled with the significant financial pressures on the NHS mean that innovative approaches are needed to deliver public services. The voluntary care sector is playing an increasingly important role in delivering these services. As the UK Governments White Paper on volunteering explained, “the voluntary and community sector is uniquely placed to reach socially isolated people and connect them to befriending services and other networks of friendship and support” (HMSO, 2012: 22). Because as we know, people are happiest and healthiest when they are active, independent, valued members of their communities, and supported by a network of family and friends. Despite potential the voluntary care sector still faces great challenges; especially around training, organising and retaining volunteers in communities.

Research projects

Volunteers in Communities

Volunteers in Communities is an action research project seeking to enable innovation in the voluntary sector. The project is being led by world leading researchers at the Centre for Geography, Environment and Society (CGES) in partnership with Volunteer Cornwall and Age UK Cornwall. Our website <volunteersincommunities.org> provides a platform to showcase the teams successes and communicate research findings. On the site you will be able to freely access a range of resources and learn about the projects I am currently working on.


Youth Identity and Performativity

I have a long term research interest on the lives of young people, especially those growing up in the countryside or remote places. I'm particularly concerned in the ways in which spatial seperation from centres of cultural production influences the identities and performances of young people.

Young People and Identity
This research teases apart the different lived experiences of rural young people by arguing that much of their behaviour in public and private space(s) can be seen in terms of performative acts of spectacle, compliance and challenges to disciplinary frameworks. To illustrate this point this research focuses on how young people employ various embodied strategies to move between and through spaces to experiment with their bodies and alternative sexualities and ‘do’ their gender, thereby contesting acceptable rural gender roles and expectations. Through shedding light on young people’s identity formation, this research reveals how this experimentation affects their sense of their body, connections to nature, gender and belonging in the countryside.

Young People and Discourses of the Countryside
This research focuses on the creative challenges of understanding the ways in which young people imagine, define and create discourses of the countryside, in particular how they envision both the place of the countryside and their place in the countryside. This research pays attention to how rural youth situate themselves within discourses of the rural and in so doing, challenges previous constructions of the relationship between young people, the rural idyll and cultural marginality. Specifically, this research assesses the role and importance of place-myths, difference and embodied practices in the formation of identity.

Embodied Drinking Practices
This research extends our understanding of the ways in which young people in rural areas produce, negotiate and experience identity through an exploration of their drinking practices. Through a close ethnography of rural youth this research shows how pubs, clubs, bedrooms and other informal spaces such as ‘in the park’ provide arenas of performance in which identities are constructed, negotiated and reproduced. In particular this research explores the significance given by young people to their discursive drinking practices and the extent to which these practices lead to cultures of inclusion and/or exclusion, violence and sexuality. Through shedding light on drinking practices, this research reveals how this experimentation affects young people’s sense of their body, gender and belonging in the countryside. In an extension of this project I have begun a new collaborative project with Dr Marcia England (Miami University, Ohio) looking at public space and drinking practices in Butler County, Ohio and Somerset, UK. In particular we are exploring the embodied processes of drinking and the emergent affect of alcohol on the body.

Sustainable Lifestyles

A Life in the Country: Enabling Rural Futures for Young People
The overall aim of this project is to explore the extent to which a community development/partnership approach to rural youth work can best promote the social inclusion of young people within rural communities. Specifically this project intends:

  • To gain a deeper understanding of rural employment, housing and transport networks, examining how they operate, the geographical and social/ ‘professional’ areas they cover and their degree of ‘formality’ and/or ‘informality’.
  • To determine the extent to which young people are included or excluded from these networks and whether this influences young people’s ability to find a life in the countryside.
  • To provide positive solutions for the inclusion of young people in the village life, through exploring a raft of measures that will help young people find their future in the countryside. In particular, to explore, and provide solutions to, young people’s inclusion in employment, housing and transport facilities in rural villages. This research will directly influence how rural youth workers and other agencies can best intervene to promote the social inclusion of young people within the new evolutionary structures of rural communities.

This research is divided into a number of smaller projects listed below.

Environmental Skills and Knowledge for Sustainable Rural Communities: Problems and Prospects for the Inclusion of Young
This research was funded by the ESRC and ASC, and explores the environmental skills and knowledges of young people. Managing the countryside for the purposes of environmental sustainability is one of the few sectors of the rural economy that can offer young people the opportunity to live and work locally. It is also a means by which young people can develop a sense of responsibility for, and involvement in, their locales. Yet, how are community engagements being fostered through this sector, and how does it relate to a future for young people in rural areas?

The purpose of this research is to provide some answers to these difficult questions. In particular, through a combination of extended survey and in-depth qualitative research in two contrasting landscape regions the project aims to assess how, and with what effect, young people between the ages of 16 and 25 are being engaged in the environmental sector through programmes of voluntary work. It considers the roles that environmental organisations play in enabling young people to develop environmental skills and knowledges, and how these are mediated through the work of other groups at the heart of sustainable community networks.

Rural Youth and Access to Education, Training and Leisure
This research focused on the needs of young people in rural Somerset over the last 12 years and forms the basis of the only longitudinal study of rural youth culture in the United Kingdom. Using a raft of quantitative and qualitative techniques this research has enabled young people from a variety of socio-cultural backgrounds to have a say in their local communities. The research has lead to the publication of two widely cited reports, jointly authored with Dr. Jo Little, entitled A Place to Hang Out: Rural Youth and Access to Education, Training and Leisure in Somerset (1998) and Revisiting a Place to Hangout (2003). The Somerset Rural Youth Project funded the intial research and have since funded two further studies, leading to the final report in this project - Returning to a Place to Hang Out (2013) represents the conclusion of the first longitudinal study of the leisure lifestyles of rural youth in the world.

Youth and Place Engagement
This on going research, jointly conducted with Dr Sean DiGiovanna (Watchung Hills Regional High School, New Jersey) and Prof Bria Holcomb (Rutgers University, NJ). Emerging research in the area of youth identity and spacial awareness, primarily in the USA and UK, points to the role of young people as active agents in the construction of their identities and in turn, in the ways in which local spaces are constructed and appropriated. Of particular interest are the ways in which rural and suburban youth are negotiating the increasing annihilation of public space as communities attempt to control youth behaviour by denying them places for informal recreation and socialization. We completed the first project on the role of GPS systems on young people's ability to wayfind in 2013. The results are dosumented in our paper in the journal Urban Studies. Our current work is focusing on the role of 'selfies' in spatial understandings and happiness.

Recent Grants:

  • My research has been funded by a range of organisations including the ESRC, European Union, New Economics Foundation, Tudor Trust, Nesta

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