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Professor Karen Bickerstaff

Professor Karen Bickerstaff

Professor in Human Geography


 +44 (0)1392 723306

 Amory 364a


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


Karen Bickerstaff is an environmental geographer and her work is concerned with: i) the place-based dimensions of living with techno-environmental risks, ii) geographies and temporalities of environmental injustice, and iii) social change and collaborative and participatory practice.   

Taking each of these core interests in turn:

i) Living with techno-environmental ‘risks’ and infrastructures that operate at different scales, such as climate change, air pollution, nuclear infrastructures, and domestic low carbon devices.  Karen’s work addresses the intersections between technology, emotion and agency, and how the dynamics of place inflect our experience of socio-technical change and failure.  In particular, her research challenges conceptions of ‘toxic’ and ‘nuclear’ communities – raising questions about the history of place(s), the experience of harm and the exercise of power.

ii) Ideas about environmental justice, and a critical engagement with their historical, geographical and philosophical roots, and the (possible) application of concepts to support in more sustainable and equitable future ways of living.  Her work, for instance, seeks to explore the geographical inclusions and exclusions embedded in foundational ‘tenets’ of energy and climate justice.  One way that she is currently progressing this research is through an interest in following the geographies of carbon – and how our multiple relations to/with carbon offer a critical entry point to assessing the ethical and political challenges (and opportunities) of global climate mitigation. This research is funded through a Leverhulme Research Fellowship starting in autumn 2023.

iii) A longstanding interest in the theory, practice and challenges of engaged and collaborative research in relation to environmental policy and practice. Karen is a member of the Leadership Team of the Exeter-led ACCESS network (Advancing Capacity for Climate and Environment Social Science), lead its Responsive Insights Group, and chairs its Net Zero Task Force.

Karen has previously held research and lecturing posts at the University of East Anglia (Environmental Sciences), Durham University (Geography) and Kings College London (Geography).

Karen is an Editor of Geo: Geography and Environment


BA Human Geography (Staffordshire University)

PhD Human Geography (Staffordshire University)

PG Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (Durham University)

Research group links

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Research interests

I’m interested in how ‘sustainable’ technologies, infrastructures and transitions are made sense of in the present and anticipated in the future, foregrounding geographies of socio-technical relations, the rhythms and routines of everyday life and the structuring of social and spatial injustice. A range of projects reflect these interests in different ways.

Research projects

2023-2025: Leverhulme Research Fellowship, ‘Reforming Carbon Societies’ (PI) (£65,000)

2022: University of Exeter Societies and Cultures Institute, Workshop on 'Nuclear Futures: Thinking with Failure’ (PI) (£5,000)

2023-2027: UK NWS Research Support Office, ‘Temporalities of nuclear infrastructure: histories and futures of energy and community’ (CoI) (£150,000)

2021-2027: ESRC Climate and Environment Leadership Grant, 'ACCESS (Advancing Capacity for Climate and Environment Social Science)', (Co-I) £6,249,934

2019-2022: Interreg Europe, ‘Sustainable Heating: Implementation of Fossil-Free Technologies’ (Co-I) € 5,701,122

2017-2018 ESRC Impact Accelerator Award, ‘Re-thinking Energy Demand: Co-creating strategies to transform Local Government energy demand’ (PI) £20,000

2016-2018 British Academy, ‘Working-class environmentalisms in the age of transnational markets’ (Co-I) £10,000

2015-2017: EPSRC, ‘Welfare, Employment and Energy Demand: Examining Tensions and Opportunities in the Delivery of Demand Reduction’ (Co-I) £300,000

2009-2012: EPSRC, ‘Interdisciplinary Cluster on Energy Systems, Equity and Vulnerability (InCluESEV)’ (PI) (£571,000)                                                                                                                                                      

2009-2011: EON/EPSRC, ‘Carbon, Control and Comfort: User-centred control systems for comfort, carbon saving and energy management’ (Co-I) (£2,500,000)                                                                    

2006-2011: ESRC, ‘The Waste of the World’ (Co-I) £3,643,000

Research networks

Nuclear Societies Group

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Bickerstaff K, Walker G, Bulkeley H (2013). Energy Justice in a Changing Climate Social equity implications of the energy and low-carbon relationship., Zed Books. Abstract.

Journal articles

Manktelow C, Hoppe T, Bickerstaff K, Itten A, Fremouw M, Naik M (2023). Can co-creation support local heat decarbonisation strategies? Insights from pilot projects in Bruges and Mechelen. Energy Research and Social Science, 99 Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Darvill C, Parsons L, Yu L (2023). Geography and environment: a time of change. Geo Geography and Environment, 10(1).
Bickerstaff K (2022). Living on with Sellafield: nuclear infrastructure, slow violence and the politics of quiescence. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Hinton E, Bulkeley H (2016). Decarbonisation at home: the contingent politics of experimental domestic energy technologies. Environment and Planning A, 48(10), 2006-2025. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Devine-Wright P, Butler C (2014). Living with low carbon technologies: an agenda for sharing and comparing qualitative energy research. Energy Policy Abstract.
Tweed C, Dixon D, Hinton E, Bickerstaff K (2014). Thermal comfort practices in the home and their impact on energy consumption. Architectural Engineering and Design Management, 10(1-2), 1-24. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K (2012). "Because we've got history here": Nuclear waste, cooperative siting, and the relational geography of a complex issue. Environment and Planning A, 44(11), 2611-2628. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Lorenzoni I, Jones M, Pidgeon N (2010). Locating scientific citizenship: the institutional contexts and cultures of public engagement. Science Technology and Human Values, 35(4), 474-500. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Simmons P (2009). Absencing/presencing risk: Rethinking proximity and the experience of living with major technological hazards. Geoforum, 40(5), 864-872. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Agyeman J (2009). Assembling justice spaces: the scalar politics of environmental justice in North-east England. Antipode, 41(4), 781-806. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Bulkeley H, painter J (2009). Justice, nature and the city. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(3), 591-600.
Bickerstaff K (2009). Resisting global toxics: transnational movements for environmental justice. ENVIRONMENT AND PLANNING A, 41(10), 2537-2539.  Author URL.
Bickerstaff K, Dodson B (2009). Reviews: the Geographies of Garbage Governance: Interventions, Interactions and Outcomes, Resisting Global Toxics: Transnational Movements for Environmental Justice, Development and the African Diaspora: Place and the Politics of Home. Environment and Planning a Economy and Space, 41(10), 2537-2540.
Bickerstaff K (2009). The geographies of garbage governance: interventions, interactions and outcomes. ENVIRONMENT AND PLANNING A, 41(10), 2537-2539.  Author URL.
Bickerstaff KJ, Simmons P, Pidgeon N (2008). Constructing responsibilities for risk: Negotiating citizen - State relationships. Environment and Planning A, 40(6), 1312-1330. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Lorenzoni I, Pidgeon NF, Poortinga W, Simmons P (2008). Reframing nuclear power in the UK energy debate: nuclear power, climate change mitigation and radioactive waste. Public Underst Sci, 17(2), 145-169. Abstract.  Author URL.
Bickerstaff K (2007). Hazards, vulnerability and environmental justice. JOURNAL OF RISK RESEARCH, 10(4), 585-587.  Author URL.
Bickerstaff K, Simmons P, Pidgeon N (2006). Situating local experience of risk: Peripherality, marginality and place identity in the UK foot and mouth disease crisis. Geoforum, 37(5), 844-858. Abstract.
Bergmans A, Elam M, Sundqvist G, Kos D, Simmons P, Bickerstaff K (2005). CARL: a social science research project into the effects of stakeholder involvement on decision-making in radioactive waste management (RWM). Proceedings - 10th International Conference on Environmental Remediation and Radioactive Waste Management, ICEM'05, 2005, 960-970. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Walker G (2005). Shared visions, unholy alliances: Power, governance and deliberative processes in local transport planning. Urban Studies, 42(12), 2123-2144. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K (2004). Risk perception research: socio-cultural perspectives on the public experience of air pollution. Environ Int, 30(6), 827-840. Abstract.  Author URL.
Poortinga W, Bickerstaff K, Langford I, Niewöhner J, Pidgeon N (2004). The British 2001 Foot and Mouth crisis: a comparative study of public risk perceptions, trust and beliefs about government policy in two communities. Journal of Risk Research, 7(1), 73-90. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Simmons P (2004). The right tool for the job? Modeling, spatial relationships, and styles of scientific practice in the UK foot and mouth crisis. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 22(3), 393-412. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Walker G (2003). The place(s) of matter: Matter out of place - Public understandings of air pollution. Progress in Human Geography, 27(1), 45-68. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Walker G (2002). Risk, responsibility, and blame: an analysis of vocabularies of motive in air-pollution(ing) discourses. Environment and Planning A, 34(12), 2175-2192. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Tolley R, Walker G (2002). Transport planning and participation: the rhetoric and realities of public involvement. Journal of Transport Geography, 10(1), 61-73. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Walker G (2001). Public understandings of air pollution: the 'localisation' of environmental risk. Global Environmental Change, 11(2), 133-145. Abstract.
Tolley R, Lumsdon L, Bickerstaff K (2001). The future of walking in Europe: a Delphi project to identify expert opinion on future walking scenarios. Transport Policy, 8(4), 307-315. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Walker G (1999). Clearing the smog? Public responses to air-quality information. Local Environment, 4(3), 279-294. Abstract.


Bickerstaff K (2017). Geographies of energy justice: Concepts, challenges and an emerging agenda. In  (Ed) Handbook on the Geographies of Energy, 438-449.
Bickerstaff K (2017). Justice in energy system transitions: a synthesis and agenda. In Holifield R, Chakraborty J, Walker G (Eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice, Routledge, 388-400. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Johnstone P (2017). The re-scaling of energy politics: UK nuclear facility siting in historical context. In Bouzarovski S, Pasqualetti MJ, Castán Broto V (Eds.) The Routledge Research Companion to Energy Geographies, Taylor & Francis. Abstract.
Bickerstaff K, Hinton E (2013). Chapter 14: Climate change, human security and the built environment. In  (Ed) Handbook on Climate Change and Human Security, Edward Elgar Publishing, 361-381.
Bickerstaff K (2013). Climate change, human security and the built environment. In Grasso M, Redclift MR (Eds.) Handbook on Climate Change and Human Security, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 361-361.
Bickerstaff K, Walker G (2013). Making sense of energy justice. In Bickerstaff K, Walker G, Bulkeley H (Eds.) Energy Justice in a Changing Climate, London: Zed, 1-13.
McLaren D, Krieger K, Bickerstaff K (2013). Procedural justice in energy system transitions: the case of CCS. In Bickerstaff K, Walker G, Bulkeley H (Eds.) Energy Justice in a Changing Climate, London: Zed, 158-181.
Bickerstaff K, Agyeman J (2010). Assembling justice spaces: the scalar politics of environmental justice in north-east england. In  (Ed) Spaces of Environmental Justice, 193-218.
Fuller S, Bickerstaff K, Khaw FM, Curtis S (2010). Communication About Persistent Environmental Risks: Problems of Knowledge Exchange and Potential of Participative Techniques. In  (Ed) Risk Communication and Public Health. Abstract.
Tolley R, Bickerstaff K, Lumsdon L (2003). 18 Social and cultural influences on the future of walking – the experts' opinion. In  (Ed) Sustainable Transport, Elsevier, 238-251.
Tolley R, Bickerstaff K, Lumsdon L (2003). Social and cultural influences on the future of walking - the experts' opinion. In  (Ed) Sustainable Transport, 238-251.

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External Engagement and Impact

Editorial responsibilities

I am an Editor of Geo: Geography and Environment

I have served on the Editorial Boards of Environment and Planning A and Geoforum.

External Examiner Positions

MSc Environmental Policy and Regulation, LSE (2013-2018)

MA Environmental Management and Consultancy; MRes Environment and Development, Lancaster University (2012-2017)

Competitively won research fellowships

2023-2025: Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship - Reforming Carbon Societies

External doctoral examining nationally and internationally

I have examined PhD theses for the following Universities: Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon; University at Buffalo, The State University of New York; University of Cape Town; University of Manchester;  Kings College London; University of Melbourne; Durham University; University of Central Lancashire; University of East Anglia.

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  • GEO1310: Geographies of Environment and Sustainability
  • GEO3137: Carbon Societies: risk, consumption and governance (Convenor)



Information not currently available

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Supervision / Group

Postgraduate researchers

  • Nayani Ghoshal. Topic: Net Zero energy transitions in rural India
  • Ji Young Jung. Topic: Climate regime, climate justice, and a theological response (Theology / Geography supervision)


  • Anne Maassen. Title: Solar Cities in Europe (Durham University)
  • Chris Manktelow. Title: Inside the forecast factory: The Communication of UK Met Office's 3-Month Outlook
  • Jane May Morrison. Title: Painting the Town Green: The temporal evolution of low-carbon practices in UK eco-developments
  • Catherine Queen. Title: Investigating public disengagement from planning for major infrastructure projects
  • Arie Yanwar Kapriadi. Title: Biofuel Policy and Politics in Indonesia

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