Professor Paul Cloke
Professor of Human Geography


Research interests

Paul has wide-ranging research interests in social and cultural geographies. His emphasis is to ground social and cultural theory in particular places, practices and performances, thus developing geographical interpretations which are relevant to the politics and sensibilities of everyday life.

Research projects


Postsecular Geographies 

Working with Dr Justin Beaumont (University of Groningen) and Dr Andy Williams and Dr Sam Thomas of the University of Exeter,  this research initially focused on the role of faith-based organisations in providing welfare and care services for marginalised people in the city. The research emphasised the scale and impact that faith-motivated individuals and groups are achieving in serving and caring for homeless people, asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, victims of indebtedness, and other socially excluded groups. More details can be found in Faith-based Organisations and Exclusion in European Cities (Policy Press, 2012) and Working Faith (Paternoster Press, 2013). One of the key themes that arose from this research is that most schemes to provide services for excluded people involved a range of religious and secular motivations, and that such schemes serve as ethical devices through which all kinds of people can get involved in order to "do something about something". Following the ideas presented by Jurgen Habermas and Klaus Eder, these third sector services have been interpreted in terms of their achievement of postsecular rapprochement, in which cross-over narratives (ethical and political) are developed which transcend previously significant social and sacred divides. Paul is now involved in research that seeks to understand this postsecularity in a number of different empirical arenas.

Ethical Consumption
Working with Dr. Clive Barnett (Open University), Dr. Nick Clarke (Southampton University) and Dr. Alice Malpass (Bristol University), Paul is engaged in a research project entitled Governing the Subjects and Spaces of Ethical Consumption which is part of the ESRC/AHRC Cultures of Consumption research programme. The project is culminating in the preparation of two books one on Ethical Campaigning, to be published by Berg, and the other on Ethics and Consumption to be published in Blackwell’s RGS-IBG series. The project examines the pragmatics of getting people to adopt “ethical” consumption behaviour. It develops a theoretically informed understanding of the pragmatics of ethical action in consumption processes by investigating the organisational and discursive processes involved in the regulation of ethical consumption. It examines the political strategies used by campaigning organisations and policy makers to encourage the adoption of ethical consumption behaviour by ordinary consumers, and investigates the forms of subjectivity that ethical consumption practices enable people to develop in their everyday lives. Paul is particularly interested in issues of fairtrade, and in the place of faith in ‘ethical’ subjectivities and practices.

Working with Dr Jon May (Queen Mary, University of London) and Dr Sarah Johnsen (University of York), Paul has been researching homelessness in a range of places throughout England in an ESRC-funded project on The Uneven Geographies of Provision for Single Homeless People. The results of this research are reported in a series of academic papers, and will form the basis of a book on Swept Up Lives to be published by Blackwell in the RGS-IBG Series. This project has been seeking to move beyond the rather narrow accounts of homelessness, public space and the ‘revanchist’ city, exploring instead the various and complex experiences of, and responses to, street homelessness in the UK. This research traces the changing face of service provision for homeless people in an era of neo-liberal welfare ‘reform’, focussing on three key areas of concern:- New Labour policies on street homelessness and the changing geographies of emergency service provision; geographies of voluntarism and the role of volunteers in emergent spaces of care; and homeless people’s own understandings and experiences of voluntary service spaces and of the streets. This work builds on previous ESRC-funded research with Professor Paul Milbourne (Cardiff University) on Rural Homelessness.

In a programme of work with Dr. Owain Jones (University of Exeter) Paul has been investigating how theories of nature-society relations inform grounded understandings of how place, agency, ethics, and performativity are co-constituted in hybrid assemblages involving the non-human as well as the human. An ESRC-funded project on The Place of Trees and an AHRC project on Children’s Landscapes have used dwelling theory to articulate these themes, and more recent research in New Zealand has explored animal geographies involving cetaceans. One of the key themes here is to re-explore rurality in terms of co-constructions of nature-society rather than simply via social constructions, although nature is by no means being conflated with rurality, and non-rural places have also been investigated. For example, more recently Paul has worked with Professor Eric Pawson (University of Canterbury, NZ) on the use of Trees for Memorial in the city of Christchurch.

In a longstanding collaboration with Professor Harvey Perkins (Lincoln University, NZ) Paul has developed nature-society and ethical themes in the setting of tourism in New Zealand. This has involved British Academy funded projects on Adventure Tourism, Eco-tourism (specifically looking at the growth of whale-watching and swimming with dolphins) and the Ethics of Travel Writing.

Spiritual Landscapes
In a more recent research initiative, Paul has been working with Dr. J D Dewsbury (University of Bristol) to develop work on the staging of religious experience and the performativity of spiritual events. This work proposes that spiritual landscapes of various kinds may be best understood in terms of a collaboration of the routine and representational and more immanent notions of becoming.

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