Dr Ben Coles

Lecturer in Human Geographybfc2

Contact Details

  • Telephone: 0116 252 3838
  • Email: bfc2@le.ac.uk
  • Room: Bennett Building, F49

Research Interests

I am a broadly trained economic and political geographer who researches commodities, markets and cultures of consumption on the one hand and their linkages to rural transformation and agrarian re/production on the other. My research interests include the geographies of commodities, food, and how these geographies relate to questions of place, space and scale. More recently, I am becoming interested in political (as well as economic and social) questions surrounding the materialization of governance through various forms, such as notions of ‘security’ and ‘securitization’, and the ways in which these forms of governance are variously reproduced in-situ  through processes of place and place-making. Ultimately, all of my research interests are underpinned by conceptual as well as methodological concerns of place and place-making.

My research is informed by a set of place-centered methodologies, that I call ‘topography’ (place-writing), which I use to examine the material, social and discursive assemblages of place. Topography employs a variety of qualitative methods such as participant observation, photography, interviews, ‘site-writing’, and soundscape recording in order to construct narratives of place and place-making. This methodological perspective has been deployed in a variety of contexts relating the economic and political spaces of the UK, EU, Latin America and beyond to examine a diverse array of geographical questions about the ‘geographies’ of foods (coffee, wine & chickens), the ‘geographies’ of production/consumption/in-between (markets, farms and factories), notions of social anxiety and food-bio-security, and critically the ways in which these geographies assemble and lead into affective consumptive experiences that problematize the normative and dualistic relationships that often characterize ‘consumption’ and ‘production’.

More recently, my work has revolved around bringing the 'conceptual' together with the 'methodological' when it comes to framing of place and place-making. This has particular resonances when it comes thinking about contemporary commodity and food provision -- specifically that framed around questions of 'ethics' (and ethical production/consumption) and 'alternative' (production/consumption). These questions lead to an emerging intellectual  project that seeks to challenge the moral assumptions that underlie notions of the 'ethical' and address these challenges through a geographical framework in which place and place-making are at the centre.

Research Projects

In 2012, I co-founded the Supermarkets Research Network with E-J Abbots (University of Wales Lampeter/St. David), M. Goodman (Reading University) and H. G. West (SOAS, University of London). Working on the premise that supermarkets are complex, multi-faceted phenomena that often provoke dichotomised debate, the network explores their paradoxes, moral complexities, trajectories and transitions. To date SuRN has produced five workshops and a co-authored commentary (Abbots and Coles, forthcoming).

More about my research

PhD Supervision

Research Areas for PhD Supervision

Environment and Social Change

Food, Energy, Water ‘nexus’, Brazil/Latin America, ‘Alternative’ economies, Security, Place/Place-making/Topography

I am interested in supervising students on the following topics:

  • Food, Energy Water (security, justice sovereignty)
  • Commodity processes and relations
  • Perceptions and Understandings of place

Planetary Urban and Rural Transformations

Markets and materiality, ‘Urban’ Metabolism, Food, Energy, Water ‘nexus’, Brazil/Latin America, Embodiment and Temporality, ‘Alternative’ economies

I am interested in supervising students on the following topics:

  • Markets (at all scales and configurations), their materialisations & their challenges
  • ‘Craft’/’Artisanal’ production and consumption
  • Urban/rural connections and materialities (e.g. food, energy, water)

Everyday (Geo)political Lives

Place/Place-making/Topography, Creativity as radical space, ‘Alternative’ economies, Photography and visual material culture, Multi-sensory methods and embodied methodologies, Cosmopolitanism (and challenges)

I am interested in supervising students on the following topics:

  • Everyday cosmopolitan consumption
  • ‘Making’ places (e.g. streets, markets, etc)
  • ‘Alternative’ production and consumption practices

Enquiries: If you are interested in studying for a PhD in one of these research areas, please make informal enquiries via geogPGresearch@le.ac.uk.

Find out more information about Geography PhDs including more research areas, how to apply, funding and entry requirements.


Abbots, E-J. Coles, BF (2013). Horsemeat-Gate: The Discursive Production of a Neo-liberal Food Scandal. Food Culture and Society 16.

Coles, B. F. (2013). Cultural Geographies in Practice: Topographic Mixings: Images and Imaginations in Londons Borough Market. Cultural Geographies.

Jackson, P., & The CONANX  Group (Coles, B.F). (2013). Food Words: essays in culinary culture . London: Bloomsbury Academic

Coles, B. F., & Hallett, L. F. (2013). Eating from the Bin: salmon heads, waste and the geographies that make them. Sociological Review Monographs 60 (S2) pp. 156-73.

Coles, B. F. (2013). Ingesting Places: the embodied geographies of coffee. In E. Abbots, & A. Lavis (Eds.), Why We Eat, How We Eat: Ethnographic Approaches to Eating. London: Ashgate.

Coles, B. F. (2011). Commodities. In D. Southerton (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Consumer Culture (three vols) (pp. 214-218). Los Angelas: Sage.

Coles, B. F., & Crang, P. (2011). Placing aletrnative consumption: commodity fetishism in Borough Fine Foods Market, London. In T. Lewis, & E. Potter (Eds.), Ethical Consumption: A Critical Introduction (pp. 87-102). London and New York: Routledge.

Coles, B. (2010, June 1). Thai aquaculture and adventures in geography. GEOGRAPHY, 95, 94-98.

Hallett, L. F, & Coles, B. F. (submitted). Place matters: geographies of food. Dialogues in Human Geography.

Brown, J. C., Koeppe, M. T., Coles, B. F., & Price, K. P. (2005). Soybean production and conversion of tropical forest in the Brazilian Amazon: the case of Vilhena, Rondonia.. Ambio, 34(6), 456-463. doi:10.1579/0044-7447-34.6.462

Working Papers/Books

Coles, B. F. Market Matters: Place and a Geography of Food. London: Ashgate

Coles, B.F. ‘We’re buzzing now’: affecting place in the marketplace.

Coles, B. F. There Ain’t No Black (Food) in the Union Jack: Exclusion, exclusivity and The Great British Menu

Coles, B. F. Place Matters in Camberwell: Producing and Consuming the Right Kind of Rural.

Coles, B. F. Beyond Borders, Edges and Boundaries: New Spaces of the Food Frontiers.

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