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 Ryan Shum

Ryan Shum

PhD Research Student



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


I am an ESRC-funded (+3) PhD student working with Professor Gail Davies and Dr Angeliki Balayannis on a project entitled ‘How to care for microplastics: a multi-sited ethnography of microplastic science’. This project, drawing on work at the intersections of geography and science and technology studies, explores the contemporary concerns for microplastics by investigating how microplastic researchers manage the practical and ethical challenges of working with and generating scientific knowledge about microplastics.  Deploying a multi-sited approach, this research engages with scientists working from different disciplinary backgrounds across the UK to provide an insight into how microplastics, and their impacts, are made detectable in and across different spaces and environments. I am particularly interested in investigating the ways these findings shape policy and public responses or fail to effect change.

Before joining Exeter, I graduated from University College London in 2019 having undertaken a BA Geography degree and subsequently an MSc in Environment, Politics and Society. During this time, I developed an interest in the social science of plastic pollution as a part of my MSc dissertation titled ‘Becoming island and/or soup: responding to an ontological politics of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’. This project based on a discourse analysis of UK-published news articles, documentary films and art installations is a speculative response to the phenomenon known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It begins by investigating the multiple articulations of the Patch circulating through the public imagination to ask how, where and in what form it is made to appear and what political work its different enactments are enrolled to do. During my time at UCL, I was included on the Dean’s List of the Faculty of Social and Historical sciences for academic excellence in 2018 and 2019, and was awarded the Hugh Prince prize as the final year undergraduate student with the best results in Human Geography.


My broad research interests include:

  • Geographies of waste and pollution
  • Discard studies
  • Cultural and material geographies 
  • More-than-human geographies of science 


MSc Environment, Politics and Society (Distinction) – University College London

BA Geography, First Class (Hons)  – University College London 


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