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Dr Jennifer Lea

Dr Jennifer Lea

Senior Lecturer in Human Geography


 Amory C419


Amory Building, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4RJ , UK


I am most interested in geographies of the body and embodiment. There are three main strands to my research. The first of these is in geographies of spirituality and wellbeing. An AHRC small grant allowed me to explore how wellbeing practices such as yoga and mindfulness meditation are situated in contemporary urban lives. This project emerged out of themes explored in my PhD research, which explored health, care and embodied learning through practices such as therapeutic massage and yoga. The second is my interest in geographies of education, which emerges from an ESRC project which looked at the relationship between disability and social relationships. From this I developed particular interests in the kinds of techniques and interventions being used in schools in the areas of emotional and social health and wellbeing (e.g. SEAL, restorative justice). The third is a developing interest in perinatal mental health and the geographies of recovery.

Broad research specialisms:

  • wellbeing and health
  • embodied practices
  • experience
  • geographies of inclusion and exclusion
  • children’s geographies
  • post-structural philosophies
  • ethnography and qualitative research.

Please see for details of my publications


PhD University of Bristol (2006)
MSc University of Bristol (2002)
BSc University of Bristol (2001)


Prior to my post at Exeter I worked as a research assistant at Loughborough University, and had teaching posts at Lancaster and Glasgow Universities. Before this I had an ESRC postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Glasgow, working with  Professor Chris Philo.

2009 - 2013 Researcher – ‘Embodied social capital and (dis)ability: connecting macro- and micro- scales of inclusion and exclusion’, Department of Geography, Loughborough University, University of Reading.

2008 - 2009 Lecturer, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University.

2007 – 2008 Teaching Assistant, Department of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow.

2006 – 2007 ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Department of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow.

Research group links

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Research interests

A series of journal articles and book chapters have explored what practices such as yoga, massage and meditation can tell us about touch, habit, learning embodied skills, reflexive practices, experiences of stillness, and our relationship to (therapeutic) landscapes. This writing draws on my PhD research, which looked at a yoga retreat, a massage training course and the healing field at a music festival. More recent fieldwork was carried out with Professor Chris Philo and Dr Louisa Cadman, looking at everyday spiritual landscapes in the city of Brighton, and was funded by the AHRC. I am currently carrying out some further research into the various geographies of mindfulness meditation.

I have also done work on children's geographies and disability, doing fieldwork in 9 schools. This was part of an ESRC funded project working with Dr Louise Holt and Dr Sophie Bowlby. This has given rise to writing on social capital, emotional norms, and restorative justice.

I have recently developed a new research strand looking at perinatal mental health. I have done some work around service provision in the South West of England which led to Bristol City Council commissioning me to perform a qualitative review of some services for mothers experiencing mental health difficulties. I am really pleased to be involved in this work and to play some part in the provision of high quality services for mothers and babies in Bristol.

Most recently, I have returned to yoga to explore the geographies of new forms of service work. I am really enjoying carrying out in depth interviews with yoga teachers in the South West of England, to explore the kind of work that they do, the ways this labour is structured and organised, and the impacts this has on worker identity. 

Research projects

2019 - Yoga teaching and labour 

2016 - Mindfulness meditation as an embodied practice

2016 - Review of Rockabumps and Rockabye groups for Bristol City Council

2015 - Research into services for postnatal depression in Bristol and North Somerset

2011 - Everyday spiritual practices


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Journal articles

Lea J (In Press). Understanding therapeutic massage as a form of bodywork: knowing and working on the (energetic) body. Sociology of Health and Illness
Holt L, Bowlby S, Lea J (2017). Everyone knows me. I sort of like move about’’: the friendships and encounters of young people with Special Educational Needs in different school settings. Environment and Planning A, 49(6), 1361-1378.
Lea J, Cadman L, Philo C (2015). Changing the habits of a lifetime? Mindfulness meditation and habitual geographies. Cultural Geographies, 22(1), 49-65. Abstract.
Lea J, Philo C, Cadman L (2015). ‘It’s a fine line between. self discipline, devotion and dedication’: negotiating authority in the teaching and learning of Ashtanga yoga. cultural geographies, 23(1), 69-85. Abstract.
Philo C, Cadman L, Lea J (2014). New Energy Geographies: a Case Study of Yoga, Meditation and Healthfulness. Journal of Medical Humanities, 36(1), 35-46.
Holt L, Bowlby S, Lea J (2013). Emotions and the habitus: Young people with socio-emotional differences (re)producing social, emotional and cultural capital in family and leisure space-times. Emotion, Space and Society, 9, 33-41.
Holt L, Lea J, Bowlby S (2012). Special Units for Young People on the Autistic Spectrum in Mainstream Schools: Sites of Normalisation, Abnormalisation, Inclusion, and Exclusion. Environment and Planning a Economy and Space, 44(9), 2191-2206.
Holt L, Lea J, Bowlby S (2012). Special units for young people on the Autistic Spectrum in mainstream schools: sites of normalisation, abnormalisation, inclusion and exclusion. Environment and Planning A: international journal of urban and regional research, 9(44), 2191-2206.
Lea J (2009). Becoming skilled: the cultural and corporeal geographies of teaching and learning Thai Yoga Massage. Geoforum, 3(40), 465-474.
Lea J (2009). Liberation or limitation? Understanding Iyengar Yoga as a practice of the self. Body and Society, 3(15), 71-92.
Lea J (2008). Retreating to nature: rethinking therapeutic landscapes. Area, 1(80), 90-98.
Lea J (2006). Experiencing Festival Bodies: connecting massage and wellness. Tourism Recreation Research, 1(31), 65-75.


Asker C, Lucas G, Lea J (2021). Non-representational Approaches to COVID-19. In  (Ed) COVID-19 and Similar Futures, Springer Nature, 85-90.
Lea J (2018). Non-representational theory and health geographies. In  (Ed) Routledge Handbook of Health Geography, Routledge, 144-152. Abstract.
Lea J, Philo C, Cadman L (2018). Problematising inner-life spiritualities: subjective experiences, enduring moods and present-moment attention in everyday spiritual practices. In  (Ed) Spaces of Spirituality. Abstract.
Cadman L, Philo C, Lea J (2017). Using time-space diaries and interviews to research spiritualities in an ‘everyday context. In Woodhead L (Ed) How to Research Religion: Putting Methods into Practice, OUP.
Lea J, Bowlby S (2016). Behaviourally, emotionally and socially ‘problematic’ students: interrogating emotional governance as a form of exclusionary practice. In Jupp E, Pykett J, Smith F (Eds.) Emotional States Governing with Feeling in Policymaking Practice and Participation, Routledge. Abstract.
Lea J, Holt L, Bowlby S (2016). Talking about socio-emotional differences, reproducing ‘Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties’? the use of restorative approaches to justice in schools. In Blazek M, Kraftl P (Eds.) Children’s Emotions in Policy and Practice: Mapping and Making Spaces of Childhood.
Lea J, Bowlby S, Holt L (2015). Reconstituting Social, Emotional and Mental Health Difficulties? the Use of Restorative Approaches to Justice in Schools. In  (Ed) Children’s Emotions in Policy and Practice, Springer Nature, 242-258.
Bowlby S, Lea J, Holt L (2014). Learning How to Behave in School: a Study of the Experiences of Children and Young People with Socio-emotional Differences. In  (Ed) Informal Education, Childhood and Youth, Springer Nature, 124-139.
Bowlby S, Lea J, Holt L (2014). Learning how to behave in school: a study of the experiences of children and young people with socio-emotional differences. In Mills S, Kraftl P (Eds.) Informal Education, Childhood and Youth: Geographies, Histories, Practices, Palgrave Macmillan.
Lea J (2012). Encountering touch: the “mixed bodies” of Michel Serres’. In Paterson M, Dodge M (Eds.) Touching Space Placing Touch, Ashgate Publishing Company.
Lea J (2011). Liberation or limitation? Understanding Iyengar Yoga as a practice of the self. In Heelas P (Ed) Spirituality in the Modern World, Routledge. Abstract.
Woodward K, Lea J (2009). Affective Geographies. In Smith S, Marston S, Pain R, Jones JP (Eds.) Handbook of Social Geography, Sage, 431-484.
Lea J (2009). Post-phenomenology/Post‐phenomenological geographies. In Kitchen R, Thrift N (Eds.) International Encyclopaedia of Human Geography, Oxford: Elsevier, 373-378.

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External Engagement and Impact

Invited lectures & workshops

I have given a number of keynote speeches over the past few years, including at the 'Other Psychotherapies' conference at the University of Glasgow in 2017, the 'Embodying Geographies: research intensive diversity work’ conference at the University of Birmingham also in 2017, and the 'Emerging and New Researchers in the Geographies of Health & Impairment' conference at the University of Exeter in 2019. 

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I am the director of the BA undergradute programme in geography. I am most interested in teaching geography through the lens of the body; whether that is everyday practices in first year teaching, geographies of beauty, aesthics and reflexive practices in the second year course, or throughout the third year course (which covers topics such as skills, senses, movement, feeling, embodied methods). 



Information not currently available

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Supervision / Group

Postgraduate researchers

  • Chloe Asker (ESRC SWDTP) Mindful geographies? Towards the geographies of mindfulness
  • Gemma Lucas SWDTP studentship
  • Eliott Rooke ESRC doctoral studentship
  • Jiajia Yi


  • Louise MacAllister
  • Sarah Tupper

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Office Hours:

Weeks 0-3 No office hours.

Please contact: Matt Finn (BA Programme Director) – with any queries.

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