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Dr. Russell Hitchings

Room G25
Department of Geography
North-West Wing

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


Spring term 2023 - Wednesdays 9-10; Thursdays 9-11

Bookable here:

After graduating I briefly worked in advertising before returning to research through an MSc centred on environment and society issues here at UCL. This led to a doctorate and a postdoctoral fellowship also at UCL where both were supported by the Economic and Social Research Council. After that I moved to Hull to take up an academic fellowship in Human Geography before returning as a lecturer in 2007. In 2013, I was premoted to Senior Lecturer / Associate Professor.


2004 University College London PhD: Human Geography

2000 University College London MSc:Human Geography

1997 Cambridge University BA: Geography

Academic Appointments

2018-present University College London

Associate Professor of Human Geography

2013-2018 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


    In this perceptive, original and timely intervention, Russell Hitchings shows that the potential benefits of greenspace use will not be realised without consideration of how it interacts with the practices of everyday life. Distinguished by its crystal-clear prose, The Unsettling Outdoors also provides a passionate defence of the interview method in the social sciences.

    Lesley Head, Professor of Geography, University of Melbourne


    Russell Hitchings’ revealing interviews with office workers, recreational runners, garden owners, and festival campers show how distinctions between controlled indoor environments and 'the great outdoors' are enacted in practice. The result is a book that promises to transform long-standing debates about relations between people and the plants, trees and microbes with which they live.


    Elizabeth Shove, Professor of Sociology, Lancaster University

    Journal Articles

    • Hodgson, A. and Hitchings, R. 2023. Weather and exercise: a comparative review and the role of geographers. Geography Compass. Accepted, forthcoming.
    • Yang, G., Hitchings, R., Lotti, L. and Shipworth, M. 2023. Understanding the social norms of cooling in Chinese offices: predominance, professionalism and peer respect. Energy Research and Social Science. Accepted, forthcoming.
    • Hitchings, R. 2023. Agreeing about smartphones: making opinions in online focus groups. Area. Accepted, forthcoming.
    • Hitchings, R. 2022. Understanding air-conditioned lives: qualitative insights from Doha. Buildings and Cities. 3 28-41.
    • Hitchings, R. and Maller, C. 2021. Smartphone interactions and nature benefits: how predominant approaches picture social life and ways of taking this work forward. People and Nature. 4 4-14.
    • Willan, C., Hitchings, R., Ruyssevelt, P. and Shipworth, M. 2020. Talking about targets: how construction discourses of theory and reality represent the energy performance gap in the United Kingdom. Energy Research and Social Science. 46. 101330.
    • Hitchings, R. and Latham, A. 2021. Qualitative methods III - on different ways of describing our work. Progress in Human Geography. 45 394-403.
    • Hitchings, R. and Latham, A. 2020. Qualitative methods II - on the presentation of 'geographical ethnography' Progress in Human Geogaphy. 44 972-980
    • Hitchings, R. 2020. A curiosity driven approach to air-conditioning on the Arabian Peninsula - comparing the accounts of three resident groups in Qatar. Geoforum. 111 116-124
    • Hitchings, R. and Latham, A. 2020. Qualitative methods I - on current conventions in interview research. Progress in Human Geography. 44 384-398
    • Browne, A., Jack, T. and Hitchings, R. 2019. 'Already existing' sustainability experiments: Lessons on water demand, cleanliness practices and climate adaptation from the UK camping music festival. Geoforum. 103 16-25
    • Hodgson, A. and Hitchings, R. 2018. Air pollution perception through the experience of social practices: talking about breathing with recreational runners in London. Health and Place 52 26-33
    • Bamberg, J., Hitchings, R. and Latham, A. 2018. Enriching green exercise research. Landscape and Urban Planning 178 270-275
    • Hitchings, R. and Latham, A. 2018. On lenses and blind spots in qualitative exercise and environment research: a response to Stephanie Coen. Health and Place 53 268-270
    • Hitchings, R. Browne, A. and Jack, T. 2018. Should there be more showers at the summer music festival: studying the contextual dependence of resourcing consuming conventions and lessons for sustainable tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 26 496-514
    • Hitchings, R, Venn, S. and Day, R. 2018. Assumptions about later life travel and their implications: pushing people around? Ageing and Society 38 1-18
    • Wade, F., Murtagh, N. and Hitchings, R. 2018. Managing professional jurisdiction and domestic energy use. Building Research and Information 46 42-53
    • Fox, E., Hitchings, R., Day, R. and Venn, S. 2017. Demanding distances in later life leisure travel Geoforum 54 103-110
    • Wade, F, Shipworth, M. and Hitchings, R. 2017. How heating engineers influence the selection and use of domestic central heating controls. Building Research and Information 45 371-383
    • Hitchings, R. and Latham, A. 2017. Exercise and Environment: new qualitative work to link popular practice and public health  Health and Place 46 300-306
    • Hitchings, R and Latham, A. 2017. How 'social' is recreational running? Findings from a qualitative study in London and implications for public health promotion. Health & Place 46 337-343
    • Hitchings, R. and Latham, A. 2016. Indoor versus outdoor running: understanding how recreational exercise comes to inhabit environments through practitioner talk. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 41 503-514
    • Wade, F., Hitchings, R. and Shipworth, M. 2016. Understanding the missing middle men of domestic heating: installers as a community of professional practice in th UK. Energy Research and Social Science 19 39-47
    • Wade, F., Shipworth, M. and Hitchings, R. 2016. Influencing the central heating technologies installed in homes: the role of social capital in supply chain networks. Energy policy 95 52-60
    • 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 20 369-385
    • 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 44 193-199
    • Hitchings, R. 2012. People can talk about their practices. Area 44 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 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 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 17 885-894
    • Hitchings, R. 2011. Coping with the immediate experience of climate: regional variations and indoor trajectories. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 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 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 35 282-298
    • 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 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 32 363-376
    • Hitchings, R. 2007. Geographies of embodied outdoor experience and the arrival of the patio heater. Area 39 340-348
    • Hitchings, R. 2007. Approaching life in the London garden centre: providing products and acquiring entities. Environment and Planning A 39 242-259
    • 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 11 364-381
    • Hitchings, R. and Jones, V. 2004. Living with plants and the exploration of botanical encounter in human geography research. Ethics, Place and Environment 7 3-19
    • Hitchings, R. 2004. At home with someone nonhuman. Home Cultures 1 169-186
    • Hitchings, R. 2003. People, plants and performance: on actor network theory and the material pleasures of the private garden. Social and Cultural Geography 4 99-113

    Book chapters

    • Day, R. Hitchings, R, Fox, E, Venn, S. and Hibbert, J. 2017. Leisure travel and the time of later life. In: Hui, A., Day, R., Walker, G., (eds.) Demanding Energy: Space, Time and Change. Palgrave Macmillan: Hampshire (in press).
    • 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.
    • Hitchings, R. 2012. Plants and animals. Introducing Human Geographies. Hodder and Arnold.
    • 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 and attempts at broader impact

      My research examines various aspects of everyday life that may be changing in ways that have important implications for social wellbeing and environmental sustainability. 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. Post retirement leisure travel and energy demand

      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 usefully studied as an outcome of wider processes of social change. For more information on this see the ‘Demand Centre’ website ( 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?

      7. Thermal modernity and air-conditioning in Qatar

      Together with academics from Australia and Singapore, this project develops my interest in how 'thermal comfort' and the energy demand associated with this idea can be examined through a cultural lens. Through a series of different research activities, and funded by the Qatari National Research Fund, we have been examining the link between ideas of social and cultural 'progress' and the provision of air-conditioning in Qatar. The broader aim is to see what such an exercise reveals about whether alternative, less energy consumptive, answers to the question of human comfort may yet be possible in this context. My own work has particularly sought to explore this by comparing how different social groups (older Qataris, younger Qataris, ex-pat residents) talk and think about air-conditioning in their everyday lives.


      Areas of interest

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

      • theories of social practice and social norms
      • ways of studying nature and environmental experience
      • human adaptation and sustainable consumption
      • energy research and the social sciences
      • qualitative interview and ethnographic methods



      My research aims to combine academic originality and policy relevance. I have accordingly sought to ensure my findings are 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. 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 third term on the ESRC peer review panel and have reviewed over 35 grant proposals to date. I have reviewed book proposals for Ashgate, Wiley-Blackwell, Sage and Pearson and over 120 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 an associate of the Higher Education Academy and a member of the British Sociological Association Climate Change group.


      • Methods in Human Geography
      • Overseas Fieldclass
      • Independent Study
      • Social science research methods


      I am interested in looking across different disciplinary perspectives to see how they can usefully inform one another. My graduate students have accordingly examined a range of topics in this way. What unites them, however, is that they have all generally used qualitative research methods and they have all generally begun with identified aspects of everyday life. Those who have completed their PhDs with me so far have gone onto secure a range of exciting academic appointments. Regan and Rebecca are now Geography Lecturers at Queen Mary and Chester Universities respectively, Anna is now a Marie Curie Research Fellow in Brussels, and Faye is a Research Fellow in Energy and Society at Edinburgh University. Feel free to get in touch if you are interested in working with me.

      Current PhD students at UCL:

      Antonia Hodgson - Weather experience and recreational running in London

      Yaqian Zhang - Community gardens as social infrastructure in Shanghai

      Hao Wu - Social media and gay life online in Chengdu

      Wanhao Zhang - Intergenerational negotiation around air-conditioning in Shenzhen

      Helene Shultz - Cultures and practices of seed sharing in London


      Past research students at UCL:

      Catherine Willan 2016-2019. Energy targets in the Construction Industry

      James Hudson 2015-2019. Older collaborative housing communities in Berlin

      Michael Nattrass, 2015-2019. Cycling policy and cycling practice in the UK.

      Faye Wade 2012-2016. An ethnographic approach to boiler installation in UK homes

      Anna Plyushteva 2011-2016. City mega projects and new modes of commuting in Sofia

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

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

      • Qatari National Research Foundation 2015 Thermal modernity in Qatar (£500,000)
      • UCL Grand Challenges Collaborative Grant. 2015 Architects and energy consumption in 'minor works' (£3,500)
      • 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: accounting for thermal practice' (£7,500)
      • British Academy 2007. 'Geographies of practice and the urban outdoors' Conference grant (£500)
      • Economic and Social Research Council 2006. ‘Professional office workers and the urban outdoors’ (£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' Conference grant (£1000)
      • UCL Mead Scholarship 2004. Grant to attend the European Sociological Association Conference (£500)
      • Economic and Social Research Council 2004. 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. Sustainability Summer School Internship (£600)
      • Economic and Social Research Council 2001. Doctoral Studentship (£39,000)