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Black placemaking in the Geography department: experiences and contributions of Black PGT and PGR students, academic and professional services staff at King’s College London.

Studies find that geographers can struggle to build and sustain meaningful, caring, and politically engaged relations to the places they live and work (Manzi et al., 2019). Black students and academic staff in geography departments in UK universities often face being excluded, microaggressions, and feeling out of place (Okoye, 2021). This project focuses on place-making, which can work to both include and exclude.

Place-making is understood as both a process and a way of thinking, through which the College, and the community of geographers, produce the departmental and disciplinary space (material and imagined) of geography (Manzi et al., 2019; Wheele et al., 2023).

As “place making is profoundly shaped by axes of social differentiations such as gender, sexuality, race, and class” (Manzi et al., 2019, p. 360), it is a crucial process through which people can be made to welcome or excluded (Manzi et al., 2019).


This project investigates place-making and addresses the questions:

  • How do Black (British and international), Masters and PhD students, academic and professional services staff experience the geography department at KCL?
  • How do Black (British and international) Masters and PhD students, academic and professional services staff make the geography department ‘from the bottom-up’ at King’s College London?
  • How can place-making in the geography department become more inclusive?

Rationale for project’s focus

The project focuses on Black master's and PhD students, academic and professional services staff in the geography department at King's, building on previous, but more limited ‘Conversations about race’ that took place in the department and Faculty in 2021/2.

The focus beyond the undergraduate community recognises the increasing lack of diversity - especially those with black African and Caribbean heritage - beyond undergraduate levels in geography within King's and the discipline more widely. A ‘leaky pipeline’ analogy is often used, though this reinforces ideas of an attainment gap rather than focusing on the crucial structural factors, including place-making practices, that can “perpetuate normative whiteness” (Johnson, 2020, p. 91; Okoye, 2021).

Understanding inclusive - often bottom up - place-making practices in the department, as well as more exclusionary ones, will provide evidence for best practice in producing a more diverse and anti-racist department in the future.

Project status: Ongoing

Principal Investigator