UCL Department of Geography
Dr. Russell Hitchings
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Dr. Russell Hitchings


Russell-Hitchings.jpgRoom G25
Department of Geography
Pearson Building

Tel: +44 (0)207 679 0508
Fax: +44 (0)207 679 7565



Office hours spring term 2015:

Tuesdays 9-10; Thursdays 9-11


After graduating I briefly worked in advertising before returning to research through an MSc centred on environment and society issues here at University College London. This led to a doctorate and a postdoctoral fellowship also at UCL where both were supported by the Economic and Social Research Council. After this I moved to Hull to take up an academic fellowship in Human Geography before returning as a lecturer in 2007.


2004 University College London PhD: Human Geography

2000 University College London MSc: Public Understanding of Environmental Change

1997 Cambridge University BA: Geography

Academic Appointments

2013-present University College London

Senior Lecturer in Human Geography

2012-2013 Wollongong University

Senior Visiting Research Fellow

2007-2013 University College London

Lecturer in Human Geography

2005-2007 University of Hull

RCUK Academic Fellow in Human Geography

2004-2005 University College London

ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow in Human Geography




If you are having trouble getting hold of any of the below, feel free to get in touch and I can send you a copy.

Journal Articles

  • Hitchings, R, Waitt, G., Roggeveen, K. and Chisholm. 2015. Winter cold in a summer place: perceived norms of seasonal adaptation and cultures of home heating in Australia. Energy Research and Social Science 8 162-172
  • Hitchings, R., Surrage, R., and Atkinson, W. 2014. Human activities at the frontiers of climate control: thermal comfort and how shoppers and sport spectators in the UK currently talk about air-conditioning. Geoforum 54 103-110
  • Hitchings, R., Collins, R. and Day, R. 2013. Inadvertent environmentalism and the action-value opportunity: reflections from studies at both ends of the generational spectrum. Local Environment forthcoming
  • Hitchings, R. 2013. Studying the preoccupations that prevent people from going into green space. Landscape and Urban Planning 118. 98-102.
  • Collins, R. and Hitchings, R. 2012. A tale of two teens: disciplinary boundaries and geographical opportunities in youth consumption and sustainability research. Area 44.2. 193-199.
  • Hitchings, R. 2012. People can talk about their practices. Area. 44.1. 61-67.
  • Hitchings, R. 2011. Researching air-conditioning addiction and ways of puncturing practice: professional office workers and the decision to go outside. Environment and Planning A. 43.12. 2838-2856
  • Hitchings, R. and Day, R. 2011. How older people relate to the private winter warmth practices of their peers and why we should be interested. Environment  and Planning A. 43.10. 2457-2467.
  • Day, R. and Hitchings, R. 2011. 'Only old ladies would do that': age stigma and older people's ways of dealing with winter cold. Health and Place. 17.4. 885-894
  • Hitchings, R. 2011. Coping with the immediate experience of climate: regional variations and indoor trajectories. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 2.2. 170-184
  • Hitchings, R. 2011. Do you ever disagree with your students? Avoiding personal politics in human geography teaching. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 31.5. 85-101
  • Hitchings, R. 2010. Urban green space from the inside out: an argument for the approach and a study with city workers. Geoforum 41. 855-864
  • Hitchings, R. 2010. Seasonal climate change and the indoor city worker. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35.2. 282-298
  • Hitchings, R. 2009. How to forget about urban nature Greenspaces. March. 24-27
  • Hitchings, R. 2009. Studying thermal comfort in context. Building Research and Information 37.1. 89-94
  • Hitchings, R. and Lee, S-J. 2008. Air conditioning and the material culture of routine human encasement The Journal of Material Culture 13. 251-265
  • Hitchings, R. 2007. How awkward encounters could influence the future form of many gardens. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 32.3. 363-376
  • Hitchings, R. 2007. Geographies of embodied outdoor experience and the arrival of the patio heater. Area 39.3. 340-348
  • Hitchings, R. 2007. Approaching life in the London garden centre: providing products and acquiring entities. Environment and Planning A 39.2. 242-259
  • Hitchings, R. 2006. Keep it Green Garden Design Journal November. 34-35
  • Hitchings, R. 2006. Expertise and inability: cultured materials and the reason for some retreating lawns in London. The Journal of Material Culture 11.3. 364-381
  • Hitchings, R. and Jones, V. 2004. Living with plants and the exploration of botanical encounter in human geography research. Ethics, Place and Environment 7.1. 3-19
  • Hitchings, R. 2004. At home with someone nonhuman. Home Cultures 1.2. 169-186
  • Hitchings, R. 2003. People, plants and performance: on actor network theory and the material pleasures of the private garden. Social and Cultural Geography 4.1. 99-113

Book chapters

  • Hitchings, R. 2013. Sharing conventions: communities of practice and thermal comfort. in Shove, E. And Spurling. N. (eds) Sustainable practices: social theory and climate change. London: Routledge forthcoming
  • Hitchings, R. 2012. Plants and animals. Introducing Human Geographies. Hodder and Arnold forthcoming
  • Hitchings, R. 2011. Gardening. in Southerton, D. (ed) The encyclopedia of consumer culture. CQ Press.
  • Hitchings, R. 2010. Studying thermal comfort in context in Shove, E., Chappells, H and Lutzehiser, L. (eds) Comfort in a lower carbon society. London: Routledge. 119-124.


Policy reports



My research examines aspects of everyday life that may be changing in ways that have important social and environmental consequences. The wider aim is to identify the most effective means of positively influencing the processes involved. These interests have been substantiated so far through the following projects:

1. People and plants in the gardens of London

These interests first took shape during my doctoral work on how people live with plants in the domestic gardens of London. Domestic gardens were, at the time, being repositioned in terms of their media portrayal and, given that these spaces cover over three per cent of our national land mass, I reasoned that any corresponding changes in physical practice would likely have significant impacts in terms of issues ranging from social wellbeing and wildlife preservation to water consumption. With this in mind, this project deployed conceptual ideas about material culture and nonhuman agency across a series of London sites (the garden centre, the garden design studio and different types of domestic garden) to understand how and whether these changes were actually taking place. Through interview and ethnographic work, the study particularly considered whether the ways in which people related to 'living' plants were changing and why this was so as a means of stimulating debate about the roles that domestic gardens were, at the time, coming to assume.

2. Professional office workers and the urban outdoors

Since then I have become interested in exploring the value of cultural studies of ambient experience through a further grant from the Economic and Social Research Council. People in the west now spend over ninety per cent of their time within buildings that are increasingly air conditioned and this trend is troubling in terms that range from resource consumption to social sustainability. With this in mind, this second project took a sample of professional office workers in the city of London, as those at the forefront of a wider movement towards sanitised indoor existences, and tracked their activities as they passed through the changing outdoor conditions presented by one calendar year. In the context of a need to understand the mundane adaptations entrained by global climate change and the means by which we might steer cities toward more sustainable futures, this study considered how a societal indifference to the seasons, the weather, and other aspects of immediate climatic change might be practically engineered and subjectively experienced.

3. Older people and the winter transition

There are many reasons to be interested in how older people organise their winter warmth within ageing societies such as ours. Winter mortality rates are highest amongst this group and several initiatives have been set up to alleviate the fuel poverty some older people are prone to experience. Yet many older people are also wealthier than ever and this leads to alternative environmental anxieties about how their home heating could exacerbate wider climatic changes. By straddling these two issues, this third project in collaboration with Rosie Day (Birmingham) began with the contention that existing studies of older person winter adaptation were relatively neglectful of evolving social conventions of keeping warm at home. We argued that it was only through close consideration of how these changes are lived out that we will fully understand the reasons why older people are inclined to organise their winter experience in some ways instead of others and what this means for positive intervention. By applying a novel approach to the evolution of personal practice to a stratified sample of older people in UK, this project aimed to address this issue and thereby uncover policy relevant and academically instructive insights about this increasingly important sector.

4. Indoor versus outdoor running

This project, in collaboration with Alan Latham (UCL geography) and Courtney Kipps (UCL Surgery and Interventional Science), sought to understand how recreational runners come to find themselves running either indoors on treadmills or outside along streets or in parks. By spending time with those who generally ran in one or other of these two environments and talking with them about the physical experiences involved we sought to generate fresh suggestions about the effective promotion of public health through regular exercise.

5. Dirt and disruption at summer music festivals

This project in collaboration with Alison Browne (Manchester) and Tullia Jack (Lund) also focussed on physical experience. This time, however, the spot light was on dirt at summer music festivals in the UK. More specifically, we were interested in whether and how festival goers develop new cleanliness norms and ways of relating to being ‘dirty’ when at these festivals and what that tells us about the wider establishment (and potential unsettling) of different ways of using water in everyday life. Framing the festival as a naturally occurring ‘practice disruption’, our ambition was to extract wider lessons about how more or less sustainable ways of living with dirt come about and about how this process may be influenced to positive effect.

6. The changing energy demand of leisure travel after retirement

Most recently I have joined a team of academics across UK and France aiming to develop an original line of research focussed on how energy demand can be understood as an outcome of wider processes of social change. For more information on this see the ‘Demand Centre’ website (www.demand.ac.uk). My role within the centre is to jointly lead a collaborative project seeking to understand how post retirement leisure mobility may be changing in the UK. The core question we ask here is: how have certain policies and pressures lead to the current situation and what does that tells us about the future of post retirement mobility?

Areas of interest

In the process of completing these projects I have become interested in a range of academic topics. These include:

  • material culture and embodiment
  • theories of social practice and social norms
  • different approaches to nature and environmental experience
  • human adaptation and contemporary consumption
  • qualitative interview and ethnographic methods


I am particularly interested in looking across different disciplinary perspectives to see how they can usefully inform one another. I welcome enquiries from potential research students interested in working with me on any of the above topics. Current research students relate to these interests in various ways:

PhD Students

Jacqueline Lau 2012-present. Nature experience and young people in Singapore

Faye Wade 2012-present. An ethnographic approach to boiler installation in UK homes

Anna Plyushteva 2011-present. City mega projects and new modes of commuting in Sofia

Rebecca Collins 2009-2013. Young people and sustainable consumption through the lens of divestment

Regan Koch. 2009-2013. Eating in public and ways of making cities more hospitable



My research aims to combine academic originality and policy relevance. I have accordingly sought to ensure my findings are effectively disseminated outside as well as within academia. My project on how older people keep warm during winter, for example, was developed in collaboration with Help the Aged (now AgeUK) and my study of city office workers and outdoor experience was supported by the Corporation of London and various legal firms. Tailored policy reports have been produced and disseminated on completion of recent projects and I have also written articles for identified trade journals highlighting how readers might respond to my findings. I have also addressed wider audiences through various presentations, workshops and consultancy activities. Knowledge transfer / exchange in my two most recent projects in more detail:

‘Older people and winter adaptation’. We ended the fieldwork for this project with a policy workshop hosted here at UCL. This provided policymakers from across government departments (DECC, DEFRA), the energy sector (EDF and EON), and campaigning groups (Help the Aged, Attend Rights to Warmth) with the opportunity to discuss how they might work together to tackle the issues identified in our study (reluctance to respond to campaigns targeted at older people, the social stigma of particular energy saving actions etc.). This also led to various further policymakers requesting the report we went on to write on completion of our analysis. Indeed we used the feedback from this policy event to ensure our recommendations were practicable and sensitive to the wider policy context at that time. Since then I have been involved in various further knowledge exchange activities around the topic of ‘thermal comfort’, most notably a policy workshop hosted at UCL with colleagues at Lancaster University, and civil servants at DECC on the matter of ‘thermal comfort standards’, how they evolve, and how they may be encouraged to take more sustainable paths.

‘Office workers and the urban outdoors’. Again the end of this project was marked by a tailored policy report being distributed to identified stakeholders. I also wrote a short opinion piece for the journal ‘GreenSpaces’ which targets those working in city green space policy. As a result of this work, I was asked to give expert advice at a Corporation of London strategy meeting and a keynote speech at the annual conference of their ‘green spaces’ team. As a consequence, they have since piloted an innovative mobile phone text based service that alerts city workers to the potential benefits of spending time outside at particular points in the year. One paper from this project has also since been selected by the European Commission’s environmental news service to be distributed to policy makers in all member countries.

Alongside this work outside the academy, I have contributed to scholarship in various ways:

I have reviewed major grant proposals for the ESRC, the NERC, the EPSRC and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology. I am currently serving my second term on the ESRC peer review panel and have reviewed over 25 grant proposals to date. I have reviewed book proposals for Ashgate, Wiley-Blackwell and Pearson and over 60 academic papers across a range of social science journals.

Over the last four years, I have given various invited talks per year, including overseas presentations in France, New Zealand, Australia, The US, Singapore, and Finland. I have been a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society since 2006, serving as secretary of the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group between 2007 and 2012. I am also an associate of the Higher Education Academy and a member of the British Sociological Association Climate Change group.


  • 2003- Methods in Human Geography
  • 2026 - Environment and Society
  • 3036- Berlin Fieldclass
  • 3054- Independent Study


PhD Students

PhD Students

Lara Kennedy 2013-present. Community gardens and sociality in London

Valentine Seymour 2013-present. Conservation volunteering and green gyms

Faye Wade 2012-present. An ethnographic approach to boiler installation in UK homes

Anna Plyushteva 2011-present. City mega projects and new modes of commuting in Sofia

Rebecca Collins 2009-2013. Young people and sustainable consumption through the lens of divestment

Regan Koch. 2009-2013. Eating in public and ways of making cities more hospitable

Recent Grants

  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council 2013 The DEMAND centre (£5,000,000)
  • UCL Dean's Travel Fund 2012 Grant for Research Trip to Austrlia (£750)
  • UCL Grand Challenges Collaborative Grant 2012 The spaces of recreational running (£4,500)
  • UCL Mead Scholarship 2012 Grant for research trip to Finland and Sweden (£400)
  • The Nuffield Foundation 2008 'Older people and the winter transition today: accounting for thermal practice' (£7,500)
  • British Academy 2007. 'Geographies of practice and the urban outdoors' Grant to present a paper and convene sessions at the Association of American Geographers Conference (£500)
  • Economic and Social Research Council 2006. ‘Professional office workers and the urban outdoors’ Grant (£98,000)
  • Reearch Councils UK 2005. Academic Fellowship in 'critical environmental politics and policy (£125,000)
  • UCL Graduate School 2005. 'The social accommodation of nonhuman difference' Grant to present a paper and convene sessions at the Association of American Geographers Conference (£1000)
  • UCL Mead Scholarship 2004. Grant to attend the European Sociological Association Conference (£500)
  • Economic and Social Research Council 2004. ‘Biophysical process in social context: developing an agenda and accounting for the garden’ Post-doctoral fellowship (£30,000)
  • Royal Horticultural Society 2003. 'The changing role of plants in the London garden economy' Project grant (£500)
  • European Science Foundation 2002. 'Consumption everyday life and sustainability' Summer School Internship (£600)
  • Economic and Social Research Council 2001. ‘Cultivating consumption: lifestyle and practice in the contemporary London garden’ Doctoral Studentship (£39,000)