UCL Department of Geography
Science, Politics and Government
  
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Science, Politics and Government

With their focus on the practice of geographic information science and geographic policy and politics, members of this research group address applied geographic concerns in fields as diverse as health, genetics, environmental change and public service delivery. The motivation is to improve and deconstruct shared policy-relevant representations, at spatial scales spanning the local to the global, and timeframes from the dynastic to the diurnal. The substantive concerns of the two constituent research themes - “Lively Politics” and “Big data and applied geocomputation” – are overlapping, but the dominant underpinning research methodologies are more divergent.

  • Conceptual work theorises relations between scientific, social and technological practices, and their implications for the practice of social science in the Internet age
  • Analytical work advances the core organising principles of geographic information science through new methods of measurement and representation
  • Empirical work unpacks the remit and application of science and expertise in contemporary applications in resource allocation, climate change, and health and wellbeing.

 

Lively politics

This theme addresses political subjectivity and state practice in a range of environmental, technoscientific and calculative settings. Research seeks to advance our understanding of the ways in which life is constituted by and through practices and politics that may be every-day, or truly exceptional. Empirical applications and case studies have been grounded in areas such as health, environment and security, and draw upon three recurring themes.

Firstly, there is emphasis upon the ways in which life, environmental and social sciences are enmeshed in political practices. This incorporates research on the geopolitical and nationalist imaginations of health and security (Alan Ingram), precautionary approaches to addressing climate change (Sam Randalls) and managing fisheries (Peter Jones), and historical and contemporary calculations of life and health through life insurance (James Kneale).

Secondly, research explores the embodied and lived experiences that shape technoscientific practices and human and nonhuman subjectivities. This includes exploration of the everyday practices and material technologies mediating experiences of climate (Russell Hitchings), the changing experiences of alcohol consumption (James Kneale), the everyday patterns of sociality and corporeality that shape mass participation fitness practices (Alan Latham) and bridging ecology, epidemiology and queer theory with political ecology to explore the aesthetics, biodiversity and independent agency of nature (Matthew Gandy).

Thirdly, research points to the political-economic and governance implications of contemporary approaches to human and nonhuman life. Within this framework, research has examined neo-institutional and neo-liberal approaches to natural resource governance in Marine Protected Areas (Peter Jones) and environmental markets (Sam Randalls), the practices through which life is valued in ways that profit from alcohol-related illness (James Kneale) and the opportunities for fostering everyday practices that create healthier and more sustainable ways of living (Russell Hitchings).

 

Big data and applied geocomputation

Our shared understanding of large and complex datasets can make a vital contribution to the successful and practical application of science and the formulation of policy.  A succession of ESRC funded grants, CASE studentships and impact awards has developed quantitative applications of GIS to neighbourhood scale analysis of public service delivery in health, education and policing (Paul Longley, Pablo Mateos).  Internationally, similar issues have been addressed in the Middle East at scales from the local to the national (Paul Densham).  Basic work on algorithms and data structures is extending location-allocation modelling to address the challenges of the ‘big data’ era (Paul Densham), while the integration of diverse open data sources with volunteered geographic information is making it possible to conflate representations of virtual and observable worlds for the first time (Paul Longley).  Related research is developing new ontologies and geographies of cultural, ethnic and linguistic identity through the analysis of hundreds of millions of given and family names (Paul Longley, Pablo Mateos), while related work is mining Internet sources to understand emergent geographies of transnationalism (Pablo Mateos). This fundamental research underpins applied geographic analysis across the widest range of spatial and temporal scales. First, Wellcome Trust funded research is examining the extent to which family names can be indicative of spatial heterogeneity of human genome characteristics, with potentially far reaching implications for the design and implementation of geographically segmented clinical trials (Paul Longley, with the Oxford genetics group). Second, creation of the 2011 Output Area Classification in partnership with ONS is leading to enhancement of geodemographic neighbourhood classifications using population registers and other open data that are relevant to improving our understanding of society (Pablo Mateos, Paul Longley). Third, collection and analysis of big social media datasets is extending our understanding of daily activity patterns, extending geodemographic classifications far beyond night-time geographies of residence (Paul Longley).

 

Geography and public policy

In addition to the geocomputational contributions to public policy analysis in health, education, policing, migration and data, further quantitative and qualitative research in this research group brings out the centrality of space in informing social, scientific and environmental policy. An attention to context often underlines the links between health, well-being and sustainability.  James Kneale’s work reconsiders drink as a spatial problem in both alcohol licensing and public health decision-making.  Mark Maslin’s work informs debate on the geographically disparate health risks arising from climate change.  Russell Hitchings’s research on the everyday practice and management of local climate informs policies supporting sustainable and healthy modes of living amongst older people during winter and office workers in the city.  Jurgen Essletzbichler explores implications of the lack of geographic dimension to energy transition research and UK energy policy.  Peter Jones’s work develops and applies a framework for analysing and improving governance in the context of marine spatial planning initiatives.

 

Public Engagement

The group has strong links to the wider community, with a range of activities include network building (James Kneale, Paul Longley), knowledge transfer (Paul Densham, Russell Hitchings, Paul Longley), natural resource governance (Peter Jones) and art collaborations (Alan Ingram) that seek to enact, as well as understand, the interrelated geographies of science, policy and politics.  Contributions to policy are facilitated by participation in initiatives at: Chatham House (Alan Ingram); the Corporation of London (Russell Hitchings); the Department of Health (James Kneale); Global Health Watch (Alan Ingram); FAO, UNEP, Westminster Forum (Peter Jones); central government’s Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information (Paul Longley); and the ESRC UK Data Service Governing Board (Paul Longley).  Locally, the cluster is associated with university initiatives including UCL Grand Challenges of Global Health and Human Wellbeing and the UCL Environment Institute.

 

Funding

Since 2008, cluster members have attained nationally and internationally competitive research funding from the British Academy (Alan Ingram), ESRC (Paul Longley), EPSRC (Paul Longley), the European Commission (Peter Jones), Nuffield Foundation (Russell Hitchings), RGS-IBG (Sam Randalls) and The Wellcome Trust (Paul Longley).

 

Links

 

Cluster members are responsible for core teaching on the MSc in Environment, Science and Society and the MScs in Geographic Information Science and Geospatial Analysis.