The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Staff Profile

Professor Rachel Pain

Professor of Human Geography


Born in Northumberland and brought up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, I have lived and worked in North East England for most of my life. I began my career at Northumbria University, before spending time at Durham University where I was founder and Co-Director of the Centre for Social Justice and Community Action and ran the Participatory Research Hub. I have been at Newcastle University since 2017.

I am a social geographer whose research is founded in feminist and participatory praxis. Most of my research over the last two decades has focused on fear, violence and community safety. I have worked with groups such as older people, young people, refugees and asylum seekers, and domestic abuse survivors to understand experiences of violence, harm and trauma, and to work collaboratively towards change using Participatory Action Research. The conceptual thread running through these projects seeks to politicise what are commonly seen as personal and private experiences of violence and trauma. Equally, it recasts international forms of violence, such as war and terrorism, as having intimate roots. Through developing concepts such as ‘globalised fear’, ‘intimacy-geopolitics’ and ‘intimate war’, the work unpicks common ideas that persist about scales of violence and harm.

Through this research I collaborate with community organisations, charities, activists, and engage local and national policy-makers. I have also led projects which forge new participatory approaches in sites as diverse as the housing crisis, museums, climate change activism and river conservation. On a transdisciplinary project on the future of social housing, I have recently worked with a range of organisations in Horden Colliery, County Durham, local photographer Carl Joyce and the folk band Ribbon Road; we have tracked the effects of national housing policy and growing divisions in housing wealth and access.

Such work is united by a long-standing interest in impact, imagined not as an add-on to traditional research, but as an ethical commitment at the heart of scholarly work so that it contributes something tangible to movements for social justice. Since ‘impact’ became mainstream, I have been a leading figure in debates on what impact means for co-produced research, and what socially just impact might look like within and outside Universities, as well as helping to build infrastructure to support collaborative research between Universities and the public and voluntary sectors.



  • Trauma, fear and violence

  • Intimate and international terrorism/warfare

  • Emotions and geopolitics

  • Gender, youth, old age and intergenerational relations

  • Participatory practice, politics and theory



  • Philip Leverhulme Prize 2005

  • Royal Geographical Society Gill Memorial Award 2008, for contributions to social geography and participatory research

  • 2009 Julian Minghi Outstanding Research Award of the Political Speciality Group of the Association of American Geographers. Awarded jointly with Susan J Smith for 'Fear: Critical Geopolitics and Everyday Life'

  • 2012 Durham University Excellence in Learning and Teaching Award

  • 2014 Durham University Excellence in Research Impact Award



  • Everyday Terrorism: How Fear Works in Domestic Abuse (2012) - a collaboration with Scottish Womens Aid

  • Mapping Alternative Impact: Alternative Approaches to Impact From Co-Produced Research (2016) - a project funded by ESRC/N8/Durham IAA

  • Disposal: the Housing Crisis in Horden’s Numbered Streets (2015) - a collaboration with Horden Colliery Residents Association  

  • After the Auctions: Impacts of the Disposal of Social Housing (2017)