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Professor Katrina Brown

Professor Katrina Brown

Professor Emerita of Social Science



Kate is Emerita Professor of Social Science and is active in research and writing on environmental change, inequality and resilience, and as an advisor to international scientific organisations and programmes. 

Kate’s pronouns are she/her.

Kate is an interdisciplinary social scientist specialising in environmental change, vulnerability and resilience. Her research is concerned with how individuals and societies understand and respond to change, and their different capacities for adaptation and transformation. She has innovated in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research on sustainability and has led collaborative and international research teams to examine the interactions between environmental change, poverty and policy in many parts of the world. She is Editor in Chief of the journal Ecology and Society, and chair of Board of Trustees of S.A.F.E.Kenya. She is an ISI Highly cited author in the cross-field category for social sciences in 2020, 2021 and 2022. 

2020-  Emerita Professor, University of Exeter

2021 – Editor in Chief, Ecology and Society

2020- Chair of Trustees, SAFE Kenya

2012-2020 Chair in Social Science, University of Exeter

1991-2012 University of East Anglia (Professor of International Development since 2004)

2009-12 ESRC Professorial Fellowship on ‘Resilient Development in Social Ecological Systems’

2004-2010 Deputy Director for Social Sciences and Leader, International Development Programme, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research


Doctor Honoris Causa (University of Wageningen, Netherlands)

PhD Women’s farming groups in semi-arid Kenya (University of Nottingham)

MSc Tropical Agricultural Development (University of Reading)

BSc Agricultural and Environmental Science (University of Newcastle upon Tyne)


Kate is a world-leading social scientist working at the interface of international development, environmental change and sustainability. She has a longstanding commitment to interdisciplinary research, working with collaborators across social, ecological, and human sciences and with arts and humanities scholars and creative practitioners.  Her book, Resilience, Development and Global Changeresulted from an ESRC Professorial Fellowship, Resilient Development in Social Ecological Systems, and presents a re-visioning of resilience for development.  She has advised international research programmes, such as IHDP, the ARC Centre for Excellence on Coral Reefs and Stockholm Resilience Centre. 

Her record of support for early career research is exemplary, she has initiated and directed Masters level courses (East Anglia and Exeter), led and participated in Summer Schools, and supervised 35 PhDs to completion. In 2013 she won the first ‘AXA Outlook’ award for pioneering work in Kenya on resilience and poverty using Forum Theatre, which was the subject of a National Geographic film in 2014. In 2018 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Wageningen, Netherlands, in recognition of ‘outstanding contributions to environmental social science, in the fields of political ecology, conservation and resilience’. She was elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2018, and was a member of the GCRF Strategic Advisory Group from 2016-2020. She has chaired the Scientific Management Committee of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies since 2015. She is identified as one of the most influential cross-disciplinary scientists in ISI Highly Cited Researchers lists (2020,2021,2022).

Research group links

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Research interests

I am interested in how major challenges of sustainability – poverty, inequality and equity, uncertainty and environmental change play out and are interlinked. My research enables me to engage with broad fields, and to work across a range of disciplines, including human geography, political ecology and development studies. I use concepts such as resilience, adaptation, vulnerability and transformation to understand these changes, and I also work on ecosystem services, poverty and wellbeing. I passionately believe that environmental sustainability and social justice go hand in hand; we cannot achieve one without the other. I have broken through disciplinary boundaries to engage with diverse communities to co-create knowledge. In last decade this has involved working with creative practitioners, including social change agents such as SAFE Kenya, and Golden Tree Productions and The Paper Birds in UK. 

Research projects

Empowering Loita’s Girls: Breaking the Vicious Cycle of Gender-based Violence and the Climate Crisis WCEHH Transformative Research Award with SAFE Kenya 2022-3.

The School of Hope Arts Council, British Council with The Paper Birds 2021

ESPA Insights into Resilience and WellbeingESPA Programme of NERC/ESRC/DFID, 2017-8 (PI).

Food for Change, EU ESIF with Cornwall Food Foundation 2017-20

SPACES: Sustainable Poverty Alleviation from Coastal Ecosystem Services, ESPA programme of NERC/ESRC/DFID 2013-2017(Co-PI).

MAGIC: Multi-scale Adaptations to Climate Change at the CoastBelmont Forum 2013-17

You, me and our resilience AXA Outlook project with SAFE Kenya 2014-2017 

GLORIA Global Learning Opportunities for Regional Indian Ocean Adaptation ESPA programme of NERC/ESRC/DFID, 2015-2016 

Resilient Development in Social Ecological SystemsESRC Professorial Fellowship, 2009-2012

Participatory Modelling frameworks to understand well-being trade-offs in coastal ecosystem servicesESPA Programme Framework Grant 2010-2012 (Co-I)

Tropical Forests and Poverty Alleviation: From household data to global-comparative analysis DFID-ESRC 2008-2010

Coastal Resilience to Climate Change in Eastern Africa Leverhulme Trust 2006-9.

Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Co-applicant with Mike Hulme and 25 others, NERC/ESRC/EPSRC 2000-05, 2006-2009. 

Research networks


My 35 brilliant ex-students and colleagues do the most amazing things now! Some of them are professors and heads of institutes around the world, others hold senior government positions and guide policy on climate change, environment and conservation.  I’ve been so fortunate to work with so many fantastic students, co-researchers and colleagues and have learned much from each of them. 

Alice Kaudia Social Forestry in Kitui District KenyaPhD awarded 1996

Suren Batagoda Sustainable Forest Management in Sri Lanka, PhD awarded 1998

Siri Eriksen Vulnerability and Adaptation to Environmental Change in Eastern KenyaPhD awarded 2000

Jennifer Leith Political Ecology of Transmigration and Environmental Change in Indonesia, PhD awarded 2001

Emma Tompkins Trade-off Analysis for Coastal Management and Conservation, PhD awarded 2001

Rebecca Clark Economics of Soil Erosion and Conservation in Sri LankaPhD awarded 2001

Mark Infield The Culture of Conservation: Exclusive Landscapes, Beautiful Cows and Conflict Over Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda  PhD awarded 2002

Marcia Muchagata Shaping the Frontier: Farmers’ organisations, collective action and environment in AmazoniaPhD awarded 2002

Sergio Rosendo Social Sustainability and Rainforest Conservation in Amazonia PhD awarded 2002

Valma Jessamy Natural Hazard Mitigation and Development Planning in the Eastern CaribbeanPhD awarded 2003

Emily Boyd Forest post-Kyoto: Global Priorities and Local Realities(ESRC studentship) PhD awarded 2004 

Aili Pyhala Socio-economics of biodiversity conservation and development: A Case Study of the region of Allpahuayo-Mishana-Nanay. PhD awarded 2004

David Hutchinson Institutional fit in tropical ecosystems: A test using marine protected areas(NERC/ESRC studentship) PhD awarded 2004 

Lisa Schipper Adaptation to Climate Change in Developing Countries: Policy Responses to Enhance Resilience in El Salvador (Tyndall Centre scholarship) PhD awarded 2004

Natasha Grist Natural resource management in colonist livelihoods in western Amazonia PhD awarded 2005

Esteve Corbera Elizalde Interrogating development in carbon forest projects: A case study of Mexico (Tyndall Centre scholarship) PhD awarded 2005

Nadine Renaudeau d’Arc Community wildlife management of vicuna in Andes. PhD awarded 2005

Sirkku Juhola Deconstructing Agricultural Biodiversity PhD awarded 2005

Johanna Wolf Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in Coastal Communities PhD awarded 2006

Mike Robbins Agriculture, Carbon Sequestration and Poverty (NERC/ESRC studentship) PhD awarded 2007

Patricia Almaguer Kalixto Puebla Panama Plan in Mexico (CONACYT funded) PhD awarded 2008

Louisa Evans  Knowledge and Science Interactions in marine conservation systems in East Africa (NERC/ESRC studentship) PhD awarded 2008

Kerstin Pfliegner The Impacts of Joint Forest Management on Forest Condition, Livelihoods and Governance: Case studies from Morogoro Region in Tanzania PhD awarded 2011

Jacopo Baggio Resilience in social ecological systems: Network analysis and agent-based models (ESRC funded)  PhD awarded 2011

Janet Fisher Payments for Ecosystem Services in Forests: Analysing Innovations, Policy Debates and Practical Implementation (ESRC funded) PhD awarded 2011

Geraldine Terry Climate, change and insecurity on a Gisu hillside (ESRCPhD awarded 2012

Naima Abdulla Besta Gender intra-household relations and seaweed farming in Tanzania (Ford Foundation)PhD awarded 2013

Lucy Baker CDM and energy governance in South Africa (ESRC Studentship) PhD awarded 2013

Wei Shen CDM governance in China (Tyndall Centre studentship) PhD awarded 2013

Tom Chaigneau Support for Marine Protected Areas in Philippines (NERC/ESRC studentship) PhD awarded 2013

Lucy Szaboova Exploring the well-being and ecosystem services relationship through the capability approach(UoE CLES studentship) PhD awarded 2016

Tom James Resilience characteristics of transformations in social-ecological systems: a case study of the Tamar Valley Organics Group (ESRC studentship) PhD awarded 2016

Diana Calvo-Boyero Social Vulnerability and Adaptation: A case study in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Mexico PhD awarded 2016 (ICTA, Autonmous University of Barcelona)

Lucy Faulkner Community Resilience and Collective Action (ESRC Studentship) PhD awarded 2019.

Alice Venn Climate Change and Human Rights Law (ESRC – registered at Bristol University) PhD awarded 2020

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External Engagement and Impact

Awards and Honours

Strategic Advisory Group, Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), UKRI 2016-2020 

Co-Chair, International Programme Advisory Committee, Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation, ESRC/NERC/DFID, 2011-18.

Chair, Scientific Advisory Committee, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies, 2015-22.

Scientific Board, Stockholm Resilience Centre. 2016-18.

Executive Board, Resilience Alliance, 2011-17.

Deputy Chair, Research Excellence Framework, Anthropology and Development Studies sub-Panel, HEFCE, 2011-14.

Member, Royal Society Working Group, Human Resilience to Climate Change, 2013-14.

Contributing Author IPCC Special Report on Extremes, 2012.

Co-editor Global Environmental Change (Elsevier), 2003-14.

Deputy Director and Programme Leader, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research 2004-10.

Scientific Committee, International Human Dimensions Programme, 2004-10.

Scientific Advisory Committee, Global Environmental Change and Food Systems programme 2005-11.

Convening Lead Author Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (Response Options Working Group), 2002-04.

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