Dr Ben Coles


Lecturer in Human Geography

Room: Bennett Building, F49

Tel: +44 (0)116 252 3838

Email: bfc2@le.ac.uk

Personal details

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 materialisation of governance through various forms, such as notions of ‘security’ and ‘securitisation’, 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-centred 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 effective consumptive experiences that problematise the normative and dualistic relationships that often characterise ‘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 resonance 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 underly notions of the 'ethical' and address these challenges through a geographical framework in which place and place-making are at the centre.



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.

gTo date, SuRN has produced five workshops and a co-authored commentary (Abbots and Coles, forthcoming).


Research areas for PhD supervision

  • Food
  • Energy
  • Water ‘nexus’
  • Brazil/Latin America
  • ‘Alternative’ economies
  • Security
  • Place/Place-making/Topography
  • Markets and materiality
  • ‘Urban’ Metabolism
  • Embodiment and Temporality
  • Creativity as radical space
  • Photography and visual material culture
  • Multi-sensory methods and embodied methodologies
  • Cosmopolitanism (and challenges)

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
  • 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 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 pgrgeog@le.ac.uk.

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

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School of Geography, Geology and the Environment
Bennett Building
University Road
University of Leicester

T: 0116 252 3933

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