What is your field of research?

I am a human geographer, which – very broadly – means that I am interested in the ways humans relate to the places they live. Specifically, my research is concerned with the social, political, cultural, and historical narratives that shape how we perceive and value the environment. These narratives have huge power over how we respond to ecological crises, but their role is often poorly understood and underappreciated.

Dr Anna Pigott

How did you become interested in the field?

Doing an MSc in Environmental Dynamics and Climate Change at Swansea really drove home for me the severity of climate change and ecological loss in recent decades. By the end of the degree I was full of questions about what could be done, but these were never quite satisfied by turning to the science alone. I embarked on a PhD in Human Geography, and although it was initially a steep learning curve, it is no exaggeration to say that the ideas and approaches I encountered in this field turned many of my assumptions about the world on their head. I found new ways to think about the environmental crisis which not only helped me make sense of it all, but also inspired and empowered me – and it continues to do so!

How did you come to work at Swansea University?

After several years working as a field studies instructor and outdoor guide in the UK and Italy, I decided that I wanted to learn more about climate change and to develop a career in this area. Swansea’s MSc in Environmental Dynamics and Climate Change attracted me because it had a wide range of modules, and because students on the course were supported by a European Union bursary (very appealing for someone re-entering education!). I did not intend to stay after my MSc, but I have now been here ten years! I feel at home in the city and have been fortunate to find opportunities to continue my work at the university through a PhD, Fellowship, and now Lectureship in the Geography Department, alongside fantastic mentors and colleagues. My PhD research was based in south Wales, and further research opportunities have grown from that; in my case it has been hugely beneficial to be able to stay in one place and develop these community relationships – something which is not always easy in academia.

What do you hope to achieve with your research?

Tackling the climate and ecological crises will require much more than technological fixes; it requires a fundamental shift in how many of us (particularly in Western societies) understand ourselves in relation to the rest of the living world. Ultimately, I hope my research will support wider efforts – within and beyond academia – to identify and contribute to cultural narratives that enable more ecologically sensitive ways of living, so that we can learn from and be inspired by these.

What practical applications could your research have?

Geography is a subject with amazing breadth; it is inherently interdisciplinary as there is cross-pollination between the humanities, social, and environmental sciences. I am therefore trained to understand issues from multiple perspectives, and to apply critical thinking in my research. These kinds of approaches are needed now more than ever in order to understand and respond to some of the world’s big, interconnected problems – including climate change, inequality, racism, and Covid. In particular, I hope that my research helps to show how the stories, narratives and ideas through which we come to understand these global problems are themselves an important site of struggle, and that those that prevail have a significant bearing on the kinds of futures we create.  

What is next for your research?

I’ve just returned to work after a period of maternity leave, and am looking forward to developing a new undergraduate module – Geographies of Climate Action and Activism – which incorporates a lot of my previous research. In terms of new projects, I’m really interested in how trees and woodlands feature in emerging narratives about climate change; I am currently applying for funding to investigate cultural dimensions of large tree-planting initiatives in the UK.

Find out more about Dr Pigott