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:


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., 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 forthcoming
  • 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 uses qualitative methods to investigate everyday practices in contemporary cities and draw out what these practices tell us about the changing ways in which people relate to elements of the natural world. The wider aim is to contribute to our understanding of how urban societies could be better organised in terms of resource use and social wellbeing. These interests have been substantiated 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 experienced plants in contemporary London gardens. Domestic gardens were, at the time, being repositioned in terms of how they were portrayed in the media and, given that these spaces cover over three per cent of our national land mass, I reasoned that any corresponding changes in physical practice were likely to have significant impacts in terms of issues that ranged from social wellbeing and wildlife preservation to water consumption. This project built on conceptual ideas about material culture and nonhuman agency and worked across a number of sites that included the garden centre, the garden design studio and different types of domestic garden. Through interview and ethnographic approaches, it considered whether the ways in which people related to living plants were indeed changing, questioned the reasons why this was so, and thereby sought to stimulate debate about the roles domestic gardens were beginning to assume.

2. Professional office workers and the urban outdoors

More recently, I have become interested in local cultural practices 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 at great environmental expense. This trend is troubling in terms that range from resource consumption to social sustainability. This second project took a sample of professional office workers in the city of London, as those potentially at the forefront of a wider movement towards increasingly sanitized indoor existences, and tracked their activities as they pass through the changing outdoor conditions presented by one calendar year. In the context of a need to understand the cultural adaptations entrained by global climate change and the means by which we might steer cities toward more sustainable futures, this study made a number of contributions. These relate to the changing geographies of thermal comfort and the possibility of societal indifference to the seasons, the weather, and other aspects of experienced climatic change.

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 therefore become committed to alleviating 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 contention that existing studies of older person winter adaptation are relatively neglectful of evolving social conventions in terms of how individuals and households become gradually drawn into seemingly appropriate patterns of behaviour. Yet it is only through close consideration of exactly this process that we will fully understand the changing ways in which older people are inclined to organise their winter experience and the resulting scope for useful interventions of various forms. By applying a novel approach to the evolution of personal practice to a stratified sample of older people in the contemporary UK, this project aims 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), took a novel qualitative approach to understanding how recreational runners in London come to find themselves running either indoors on treadmills or outside along streets or in parks. We have observed and interviewed how those who generally run in one or other of these environments relate to the experience, how they feel about the suggestion of doing it in the other environment, and how they came to run in the ways they currently do. The underpinning rationale is that this kind of in-depth study has the potential to generate fresh suggestions about the effective promotion of public health through exercise in view of the subtle appreciation of the lived experience of how running comes to be done in some ways instead of others that we aim to generate.

5. Dirt and disruption at summer music festivals

This project in collaboration with Alison Browne (Manchester) and Tullia Jack (Lund) focuses on the physical experience of being at summer music festivals in the UK. More specifically, we are interested in how festival goers may develop new cleanliness norms and ways of relating to the idea of being ‘dirty’ that tell us something important about wider processes of socialisation into certain ways of using water and relating to the outdoors in everyday life. By framing the summer festival as a naturally occurring ‘practice disruption’, our ambition is 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 discretionary 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 work on a collaborative project that seeks to understand how leisure mobility amongst older people is changing and, more specifically, why it is that older people may be travelling further than ever before. The question we ask here is: how have certain policies and pressures lead to this situation and what does that mean for the future energy demand associated with norms of post retirement mobility?

Areas of interest

In the process of completing these projects I have become interested in a number of areas of academic research. 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 holding different disciplinary perspectives in tension in order to explore how they can usefully inform one other. I welcome enquiries from potential research students interested in working with me on any of the above areas of interest. Current research students relate to these interests in various ways:

PhD Students

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

Valentine Seymour 2013-present. Conservation volunteering and green gyms

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 strives to combine academic originality and policy relevance. I have accordingly sought to ensure my findings are effectively disseminated outside 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 an average of seven invited talks per year, including invited 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
  • G026- Sustainable consumption and everyday life


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)