Professor Peter Adey

Personal profile

My work lies at the intersection between space, security and mobility, and the blurring boundaries between Cultural and Political Geography. I arrived in Royal Holloway at the start of 2012, and took up leadership of the new Geopolitics and Security MSc, an exciting new programme with Politics and International Relations. Around the MSc we have grown a developing research community of staff, students, post-grads and post-doctoral researchers working at different coordinates around mobility, security, geopolitics and culture; many of us contribute to our established blog which is edited and curated by the group. I am also Chair of the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group, one of the largest research groups of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). In 2011 I was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize for my contributions to Human Geography.

Much of my research has revolved around the putative ‘new mobilities paradigm’, and I published my first book Mobility with Routledge in 2009. A review in Progress in Human Geography described the book as “quite simply one of the most engaging invitations to explore life on the move”. A further co-edited Handbook of Mobilities came out with Routledge in 2014, co-edited with David Bissell, Kevin Hannam, Peter Merriman and Mimi Sheller, and with Monika Busher (Lancaster) I am co-editor of the new Changing Mobilities book series which has already commissioned a range of new and interesting books.  


My most direct research interests orbit around several intertwined empirical and conceptual sites of enquiry:

Vertical and Military Geographies

Across several book projects I have been trying to develop a kind of cultural politics of the aerial or the vertical, or, how we came to know and govern the air above us: how does the air above show up as threatening? This research has explored the entanglements of geopolitical discourse alongside biopolitical and governmental power, intimate geographies of emotion and affect, with large-scale political volumes and spaces. I finished my book Aerial Life: mobilities, spaces, affects (2010, Wiley-Blackwell), with the help of an AHRC research leave award and the support of a visiting fellowship at UCL. Stephen Graham wrote that it “offers a vitally important riposte to the long neglect of aerial cultural politics in the social sciences. Aerial Life is a brilliant tour de force [...] – this is the book which can guide us as we address the geographies of the aerial.” The Times Literary Supplement described the book as a “compelling study” with a “remarkable breadth of analysis” and “practical relevance”. With Alison Williams and Mark Whitehead we organised a special section of Theory, Culture and Society on the nature of contemporary targeting and an edited book From Above was published in 2014 with Hurst and Oxford University Press.

Much of my earlier PhD research and on-going has considered the space of the airport terminal and particularly the cultures of security and surveillance which have sought to govern mobilities, bodies and identities across borders and boundaries. A project funded by the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche, in collaborations with colleagues in Paris, Grenoble, Keele, has explored the passenger mobilities and atmospheres of travel between London and Paris. I have been particularly concerned to explore what we could call atmospheres of security through a number of key articles.

Relatedly, I am co-investigator of a large-scale project that explores how contemporary militaries are navigating their itinerant lifestyles along with social media platforms and technologies. With colleagues from a number of different disciplines we are exploring how military life and culture is being adapted, challenged and made more and less insecure.


The Matter of Air

Alongside these interests in the vertical I have also become increasingly interested in the matter or substance of Air itself and the kinds of (micro)politics of life air performs. My book Air came out with Reaktion (distributed by Chicago in the US) in 2014 in their new series earth which tries to tease how we have come to study, feel and ultimately live with air, taking perspectives between science and culture (including politics, medicine, art and earth sciences). This has been really well received by The Lancet in a recent review which concluded that Air was made both “strange and magical.” A forum in Dialogues in Human Geography will be soon published where I develop these ideas into a more substantive contribution around the geo-politics of the elemental.

A stint as a fellow within Durham’s Institute of Advanced Studies during Spring 2014 let me push this work further into a very diverting side project on Levitation – as a cultural, political, legal, theological and artistic phenomenon - which will become another book with Reaktion I am due to submit in summer 2015. I am also working with artist Julie Westerman on an art book based on our collaboration in Durham. 



Emergencies, Evacuation and the Futures of Mobility

In collaboration with Ben Anderson and Steve Graham on a project funded by the ESRC on contemporary emergency planning practices, and Barry Godfrey and David Cox on the emergence of emergency regulations and practices during the bombing of Liverpool during the Second World War, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, this final area of work has questioned the nature of threat and how risks are governed in complex and contingent societies. Working quite closely with today’s and yesterday’s emergency planning legislation, practices and practitioners, this research has argued that we should be complicating debates over a ‘state of exception’ by adding important empirical insight into the evolving modes and logics of governance which seek to prepare for uncertain and dangerous futures. This work has argued that we should take seriously the ways in which people and populations experience security and its practices that plan and prepare for the future, as well as the very ‘life’ of security - how the objects, materials and things of security, are not so easily enrolled into its systems, exceeding their grasp and comprehension. A special issue of Theory, Culture and Society on Governing Emergencies will be published in early 2015, whilst a book on governing the Liverpool Blitz titled, Protecting the Population is due to be completed soon with Bloomsbury.

My Philip Leverhulme Prize has enabled me to bring together these interests into a sustained study of Evacuation, particularly focusing on how evacuation mobilities are governed and lived. This project explores how evacuation has emerged as a governmental technology, focusing especially on the 20th century development of the term, concept and practice. I am currently working on a long-term book project based on this research.  

Finally with Tim Cresswell, I will be working for the next two years with post-doc fellows Anna Nikolaeva, Astrid Wood, Cristina Temenos and Jane Lee on Living in the Mobility Transition, a large and global study of mobility futures, funded by the Mobile Lives Forum. You can find our project website here, and follow our project blog here.  



I currently supervise a range of extraordinary PhD students. Their work ranges from airports and artistic practice to the geopolitics of video games, from the politics of the search algorithm to the mobilities of jogging. I would be interested to hear from prospective students interested in projects that relate to:

-       Verticality and the volumetric; airpower; aerial and subterranean spatialities

-       Circulations and mobilities governance; borders; biopolitics of security; airports and port security

-       Affect and materiality; intimacy, sensation and touch, atmospheres

-       Emergencies and crisis management; civil contingencies; evacuation mobilities; disaster and development



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