Dr Karen Bickerstaff
Associate Professor in Human Geography


Research interests

I am a human geographer working at the interface of risk theory, science and technology studies and environmental justice studies.  My research falls into three broad categories:

Risk in place

A concern with the experience of environmental and technological hazards – how ‘risk’ is understood and made sense of as part of everyday life and how we might conceptualise the relationship between risk, place and proximity. Research here has focused particularly on the ‘located’ experience of urban air pollution and nuclear installations.  

The politics of energy transitions

This research addresses the social, material and political dimensions of energy transformations – with a particular focus on how low-carbon and efficiency technologies are incorporated into everyday domestic practices and ways of life.  A collaboration with Devon County Council (Rethinking Energy Demand) explores workplace energy demand by tracing interactions between employees, infrastructures, cultures and politics.

My work in this field sits within a broader interest in the social and material geographies of environmental justice – addressing the uneven consequences of infrastructure and policy transformations as well as the fairness of policy processes.  I co-edited a collection on this topic in 2013.

A project with Catherine Butler explores the relationship between welfare and energy policy, and consequences for social justice

Environmental controversies and responsibilities

This research centres on the dynamics of scientific and environmental controversies – both in relation to analysis of discourse (e.g. the role of nuclear power as a response to climate change) and the contested spatial practices of science (e.g. the 2001 Foot and Mouth crisis).  It has also examined the ways in which publics are implicated as political actors in responding to controversies, and includes a number of experiments in public participation in science communication and environmental planning – with an emphasis on the challenges of collaborative decision-making as well as policy discourses and strategies that aim to ‘activate’ individual environmental responsibilities

I welcome enquiries from potential students and others interested in these and more-or-less related areas.


Funded research projects

Working-class environmentalisms in the age of transnational markets (2016-2018) A BA/Leverhulme funded project to explore the relationship between working class activism and environmentalism in the UK and India (with Krithika Srinivasan [PI]) 10K

Rethinking Energy Demand (2016-2018) An ESRC Impact award in collaboration with Devon County Council. PI (with Catherine Butler) 20K

Welfare, Employment and Energy Demand: Examining Tensions and Opportunities in the Delivery of Demand Reduction  (2015-18)  Linked to DEMAND (with Catherine Butler [PI], Karen Parkhill, Gordon Walker) 242K

Interdisciplinary Cluster on Energy Systems, Equity and Vulnerability (InCluESEV) (2009-12) The RCUK Energy Programme network on energy systems and justice - a collaboration between researchers and practitioners in fifteen countries.  PI (with Gordon Walker and Harriet Bulkeley) 480K

Carbon, Control and Comfort: User-centred control systems for comfort, carbon saving and energy management (2009-12) An EON/EPSRC funded project to better understand the experience of comfort in domestic dwellings and pilot experimental efficiency devices  (with David Shipworth [PI] and others) 2M

The Waste of the Word (2006-20011)  An ESRC large grant that brought together an interdisciplinary team to address the cultural and material dynamics of global waste flows and economies (with Nicky Gregson, Ray Hudson, Mike Crang [PIs] and others) 3M

Durham University Research Development Fund (2008) (£5,000) Everyday nuclearities: an ethnography of West Cumbria 2008 (PI) 5K

Implementation issues for Deep Geological Disposal (2005) Committee on Radioactive Waste Management. PI (with Peter Simmons)  5K

An evaluation of the Royal Society’s Science in Society Dialogue Process (2002) Royal Society. PI (with Nick Pidgeon) 5K

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