Gemma Sou


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Personal profile


I’m a development geographer and I contribute to the critical geographies of disasters. I draw on postcolonial and cultural theory to understand three key areas:

First, the everyday ways that marginalised populations experience and adapt to disasters. Second, I research the knowledge politics and power relations of development aid – or aid ethnographies. I focus on the everyday negotiations between donor personnel and experts in aid recipient governments. Third, I theorise and engage in creative research translation research for different publics. This includes six graphic novels that have been used by educators in over 25 countries, downloaded more than 6000 times and translated into 5 languages.

I have worked in Latin America (Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua) and small island states (Antigua and Barbuda, Puerto Rico, Solomon Islands), and recently expanded my research to extreme heat in the UK.

I completed my PhD in the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester in 2015. I immediately took up a Lectureship in the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester. From 2020 to 2022 I held a Vice Chancellor’s Fellowship at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

Also see my personal website.

Service and Leadership

In addition to my academic position, I am also a founding Co-Editor of the Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, and a member the new Journal of Disaster Studies Editorial Board. At the Development Geographies Research Group in the Institute of British Geographers I was Secretary (2017-2020), and Executive committee member (2016-2017). 

Since 2018 I have regularly designed and delivered trainings about creative research translation and impact for doctoral students and ECRs within and beyond my own institution. In my current role I have also acted as the Programme Director of a master’s degree as well as an undergraduate degree.

I have a keen interest in research ethics, and I teach and provide trainings on this subject. I have also held several related service roles at discipline, and school level, including, Chair of School Ethics Committee (2017-2019), Ethics Signatory, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures (2017-2019) and Ethics Committee member (2015-17/2022 -).

Creative works

I have collaborated with artists and other academics to communicate my research findings in creative and accessible ways. This includes:

‘Everyday Stories of Climate Change’ - Graphic novella Second link

'Historias Cotidianas del Cambio Climático' - Novela gráfica Segundo link

‘After Maria: Everyday Recovery from Disaster’ Graphic novella

‘Después de Maria: Recuperación dia a día de desastre’ Novela Gráfica

‘Staying put’: Resistance after disasters’ – Photography Exhibition Second link

‘Emotional Mapping at Complexo do Alemão’ – Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.  Video

‘Everyday Resistance in Aid’ - Portraiture

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, Development studies, Global Development Institute

Award Date: 1 Jun 2015

Master of Planning, Urban Development Planning in the Global South, The University of Manchester

Award Date: 1 Aug 2011

Bachelor of Arts, International Relations and Politics, The University of Sheffield

Award Date: 1 Aug 2009

Bachelor of Arts, Political Science (study abroad year), Virginia Tech

Award Date: 1 Aug 2008

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute


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