Dr. Russell Hitchings
University College London
26 Bedford Way
Tel: +44 (0)207 679 5426
Fax: +44 (0)207 679 7565
Between December 2012 and April 2013 I am taking a sabbatical as a research fellow at Wollongong University, Australia. I will be answering emails, but won't be in the office.
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
2007-present 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
- 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)
Teaching and Administration
- 2003- Methods in Human Geography
- 3036- Berlin Fieldclass
- 3054- Independent Study
- G026- Sustainable consumption and everyday life
- G040- Social Science Research Methods
- Admissions Tutor
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 so far through three specific projects. The first concerned plants and gardens in contemporary London, the second examined how office workers relate to the bundles of phenomena we group together under the banner of outdoor experience, and the third builds on a current interest in seasonality to explore how different groups of older people negotiate winter.
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 wider climatic change.
3. Older people and the winter transition today
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 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 interesting insights about this increasingly important sector.
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 enrich each other. I would 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:
Rebecca Collins 2010-present. Young people and sustainable consumption through the lens of divestment
Jacqueline Lau 2011-present. How young people in Singapore relate to nature conservation
Regan Koch. 2009-present. Eating in public and ways of making cities more hospitable
Anna Plyushteva 2011-present. City mega projects and new modes of commuting in Sofia
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.
- Hitchings, R. 2012. Studying the preoccupations that prevent people from going into green space. Landscape and Urban Planning forthcoming
- 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
- 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.
- Day, R. and Hitchings, R. 2009. Older people and their winter warmth behaviours. Report for the Nuffield Foundation
- Hitchings, R. 2010. Indoor office workers and outdoor nature. Report for the ESRC
- Hitchings, R. 2003. Aspects of the changing role of horticultural knowledge in the London garden economy Report for the RHS