The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Staff Profile

Professor Alexandra Hughes

Professor of Economic Geography

Background

Roles and Responsibilities:

Editorial Board Member of the RGS-IBG Book Series published by Wiley-Blackwell, 2013-present

Editorial Board Member of Journal of Economic Geography, 2017-

Editorial Board Member of Economic Geography, 2017-

Associate Editor of Competition and Change (Sage), 2016-

Member of ESRC Peer Review College, 2015-

External Examiner, Southampton University Geography BA Programme, 2016-

Chair of the Economic Geography Research Group of the Royal Geographical Society (with the IBG), 2012-15

Research Director for the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University, 2014-2017


Current Externally Funded Research and Impact Projects:

2018-2020: Economic and Social Research Council (Responsive Mode Research Grant), £584,900 (RCUK contribution), "Sustainable Consumption, the Middle Classes and Agri-food Ethics in the Global South" (Principal Investigator) with Mike Crang and Cheryl McEwan (University of Durham), Bob Doherty, Hector Gonzalez and Fernando Fastaso (University of York Management School), Dorothea Kleine and Stefania Vicari (University of Sheffield), Shari Daya (University of Cape Town), Guojun Zeng (Sun Yat-sen University) and Rita Afonso and Roberto Bartholo (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro)

Sustainable food consumption spaces and practices in the global South are of critical importance yet remain under-researched and poorly understood because most studies assume that ethical consumers are situated in the global North. Expanding middle class consumption in global South countries is seen simultaneously as providing a potential stimulus to global economic growth and a threat to environmental sustainability. The UN's Sustainable Development Goal 12 (Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production) recognises the need to support developing countries in strengthening their technological capacity to enable more sustainable patterns of consumption, to promote sustainable public procurement practices, and to ensure that consumers have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable lifestyles. In response, this research evaluates the mobilisation and practice of sustainable consumption in the global South through an examination of systems of food provision and regulation, everyday consumer habits, and trends and fashions in food consumption. It draws on case study research in Brazil, China, and South Africa, where there is robust evidence of large and growing middle classes.

The research is essential to understand how sustainable food consumption is mobilised and practised in distinct global South contexts, how this might be affected during times of increasing political instability and social precarity, and how this relates to the wider context of global population growth and globalising consumerism. Pilot research in the case study countries suggests that digital technologies are increasingly interwoven into societies and food systems as follows: consumers share, receive information about, purchase and review food online; food retail companies optimise their distribution with the help of IT technology; and state procurement systems increasingly move online. Recognising these realities, the research provides an innovative investigation of the interconnectedness of online and offline spaces of sustainable food consumption in the global South.

The research is organised into four phases. The first focuses on institutional and cultural drivers of sustainable food consumption. It analyses policy and media reports, business strategies, codes, campaigns and initiatives in the policy and popular domain. Key informant interviews are conducted with government departments responsible for food procurement and standards, campaigners, and leading food retailers, wholesalers and restaurateurs. The second phase, focusing on consumer habits and everyday trends, comprises ethnographic research in middle-class residential areas of Guangzhou, Rio de Janeiro and Johannesburg. Interviews address household food consumption practices, judgments about 'good' food, and popular influences on food ethics and environmental values. Digital ethnographies examine the online practices of consumers, including how they collect information, shop or review online, and the influence of social media on ethical judgment and creating markets for sustainable foods. Accompanied shopping interviews and co-cooking sessions capture the nuances of food choices, moral judgments, engagement with government and corporate ethical initiatives, and the ordinary ethics of food purchase and use. The third phase, focusing on fashion and trends, uses text mining of social media to trace lines of influence in sustainable food consumption. To widen the reach of the research, and provide material with traction with policy and commercial actors, the final phase gathers quantitative data through a web-based survey of the drivers of sustainable food consumption and the behavioural intentions arising from these. The research is an innovative analysis of different global South contexts in which shifts towards sustainable food consumption are likely to have global impact. The three case studies offer comparisons of the potential of different drivers of food sustainability.

Pump Priming Funding from N8 (Northern 8) Agri-food (£22,384) has supported the 'Pathways to Impact' for this project.


2017-2018: Economic and Social Research Council, £174,934, "Corporate food retailers, meat supply chains and the responsibilities of tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR)" (Principal Investigator) with Dr Emma Roe
and Profs Neil Wrigley, Bill Keevil and Michelle Lowe (University of Southampton) and Steve Wearne (Food Standards Agency)

This project makes a contribution to the agenda for tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by focusing scoping research and significant networking events on a link that has so far been missing from academic and policy debate - the pivotal role of corporate food retailers. The aim of the project is to address the responsibility of retailers in tackling the AMR challenge in the context of their chicken and pork supply chains, and to investigate this evolving role and how it might be shaped in the future, in the UK and at a global scale. Against a backdrop of decades of intensive farming of animals involving the use of antibiotics, it is becoming clearer that while antimicrobials are a necessary tool to maintain health and welfare on the farm, the key issue is their inappropriate and disproportionate use in animals thereby reducing availability for humans. There is food industry-wide concern that this is leading to growing resistance amongst certain bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E-coli, placing pressure on the sector to develop and implement standards for more responsible use.

Supermarket chains are a key set of actors strategically positioned to address the global challenge of reducing antibiotic use in food supply chains and raising consumer awareness as part of tackling AMR. The project will address the role of retailers in navigating the AMR challenge through their overseas as well as their national store networks, and through supply chains that flow through spaces of the global South as well as the North. Specifically, the project addresses this role by proposing scoping research and dissemination events in the UK, where policy leadership is acknowledged and where corporate retail power is well-established. Driving the momentum of the project's policy engagement will be the support of the UK government's Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a Project Partner..

The objectives of the project are: (i) to map and model the current AMR challenge involving corporate food retailers through their chicken and pork supply chains; (ii) to evaluate current and evolving corporate retail strategies and standards in the UK for reducing antibiotic use in chicken and pork supply chains; (iii) to consider the role of consumer engagement in raising standards for responsible use of antibiotics in farming; and (iv) to facilitate increased dialogue between corporate food retailers and wider institutional policy and scientific networks in the UK, in order to shape future strategy for tackling AMR. These objectives will be met through four project phases conducted over eighteen months and involving both quantitative and qualitative methods that include: the mapping and modelling with trade data of the AMR problem facing UK corporate food retailers in their supply chains; interviews with retailers' food technologists and food standards policy-makers in the UK; and interviews with a sample of UK meat producers.

Project website hosted by the University of Southampton's Network for Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Prevention (NAMRIP) at: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/namrip/research/behaviour-in-the-wider-world/meat-in-food-chain.page

A workshop in advance of this ESRC-funded research was organised by the project team at the Universities of Southampton and Newcastle and hosted by the Food Standards Agency on 25th November 2016, details at: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/namrip/research/behaviour-in-the-wider-world/meat-in-food-chain.page


2016-2019: British Academy/Newton Advanced Fellowship held by Dr Shari Daya of the University of Cape Town with Hughes as Co-Investigator and Newcastle University as UK host institution, £75,988, "Consumer ethics in post-apartheid South Africa"

This Fellowship aims to deepen understanding of how consumption, ethical judgements about food, and identity intersect in post-apartheid South African cities (Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg). Most research assumes that agents of ethical consumption are in the global North, while poor producers are in the South. We challenge this narrow conceptualisation of Southern economic actors, using the framework of ordinary ethics to expand what counts as ethical, and to interrogate how changing values and ideals relating to consumption, particularly among rapidly growing middle classes, may advance understanding of how identities of race and class are also shifting. Such an understanding will benefit both retailers and civil society organisations in South Africa, and UK businesses seeking ethical markets in the global South. The Fellowship will build a fuller appreciation of how ethical consumption and sustainability are imagined by diverse citizen groups, taking seriously the everyday practices of shopping, cooking and eating that contribute to shaping social relations in the turbulent contemporary moment in South Africa.


2017-18: Economic and Social Research Council North East Impact Acceleration Fund Award, £21,003, "Converting Sustainable Wildflower Harvesting Resources into a Mobile App" (with Prof Cheryl McEwan, University of Durham)

The aim of this project is to develop ongoing impact and engagement work concerning the sustainable harvesting and conservation of indigenous Western Cape wildflowers (fynbos). This work has been co-produced by the applicants at Newcastle and Durham Universities and Flower Valley Conservation Trust (FVCT) against the backdrop of previous research funded by the Leverhulme Trust and ESRC. Specifically, the objective is to use funding to convert the centrepiece of this work - the ‘Field Guide for the Sustainable Harvesting of Wildflowers’ – into a mobile app format, which will ensure its continued and more effective use by FVCT, regulators, exporters, retailers and (most significantly) conservation educators in ways that should enhance their diverse work on the sustainable management and conservation of this indigenous resource. To see more about the Field Guide, see Flower Valley Conservation Trust's web pages at: http://www.flowervalley.org.za/fynbos-field-guide/


For details on past research and impact projects, see link to 'Research'.

 

Research

Research Interests

Economic Geography: cultural political economy; postcolonial economies; global value chains and production networks; knowledge and economy; rethinking economy; transnational retailers and corporate responsibility; retailer-supplier relationships in the UK and USA; ethical trade and labour in South Africa, Kenya and Pakistan; tackling anti-microbial resistance in food supply chains; regulation and governance; corporate social responsibility and sustainability; the audit economy; learning networks; ethical public procurement; ethical consumption in the global South; qualitative research methods.

Research and Impact Funding and Projects

2018-2020: Economic and Social Research Council (Responsive Mode Research Grant), £584,900 (RCUK contribution), "Sustainable Consumption, the Middle Classes and Agri-food Ethics in the Global South" (Principal Investigator) with Mike Crang and Cheryl McEwan (University of Durham), Bob Doherty, Hector Gonzalez and Fernando Fastaso (University of York), Dorothea Kleine and Stefania Vicari (University of Sheffield), Shari Daya (University of Cape Town), Guojun Zeng (Sun Yat-sen University) and Rita Afonso and Roberto Bartholo (Federal University, Rio de Janeiro)

2017-2018: Economic and Social Research Council, £174,934, "Corporate food retailers, meat supply chains and the responsibilities of tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR)" (Principal Investigator) with Dr Emma Roe
and Profs Neil Wrigley, Bill Keevil and Michelle Lowe

2016-2019: British Academy/Newton Advanced Fellowship held by Dr Shari Daya of the University of Cape Town with Hughes as Co-Investigator and Newcastle University as UK host institution, £75,988, "Consumer ethics in post-apartheid South Africa"

2017-2018: N8 (Northern 8) Agri-food, £22,384, "Sustainable food consumption and agri-food ethics in the global South: developing pathways to impact" (Principal Investigator) with Profs Mike Crang, Cheryl McEwan, Bob Doherty and Dorothea Kleine and Drs Hector Gonzalez and Fernando Fastaso

2017-18: Economic and Social Research Council North East Impact Acceleration Fund Award, £21,003, "Converting Sustainable Wildflower Harvesting Resources into a Mobile App" (with Prof Cheryl McEwan)

2016: Economic and Social Research Council Global Challenges Research Fund Impact Acceleration Account, £17,497, "Deepening UK Markets for Sustainably Harvested Wildflowers and Sharing Best Practice with Wider Ethical Trade Networks"

2016-2017: Economic and Social Research Council North East Impact Acceleration Fund Award, £9,984, "Launching and Embedding Sustainable Harvesting Tools in the South African Fynbos Industry" (with Prof Cheryl McEwan)

2015-2016: Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Account Award, £9,994, "Developing and Embedding the Wild Fynbos Harvesting Guide"

2014: Elsevier, $30,000, Inaugural Geoforum Workshop, "Ethical Consumption and the Globalizing Middle Classes: Philosophies, Policies and Practices" (with Prof Mike Crang)

2013-2014: Economic and Social Research Council (Knowledge Exchange), £74, 210 (RCUK contribution), "Developing Sustainable Wildflower Harvesting for Global Supply Chains" (Principal Investigator) with Prof Cheryl McEwan and Dr David Bek (RA)

2010-2012: Leverhulme Trust, £180,722, "Ethical Production in South Africa: Advancing a Cultural Economy Approach” (Co-Investigator) with Prof Cheryl McEwan (Principal Investigator) and Dr David Bek (RA)

2011-2012: Faculty Research Fund, Newcastle University, £2,924, "Ethical Sourcing by the Public Sector: Institutional Responsibility in 'Austerity Britain'" 

2009-2011: The British Academy (SG-53960), £6778, "Managing Ethical Trade in a Global Economic Crisis: The Case of UK Retailers"

2007-2009: Economic and Social Research Council Impact Grant (RES-172-25-0048), £44,412, "Retailers and Corporate Social Responsibility: Developing and Promoting a Strategic Agenda" (Principal Investigator) with Professor Neil Wrigley

2005-2007: Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-23-0830), £108,000, “Organising Ethical Trade: a UK-USA Comparison” (Principal Investigator) with Professor Neil Wrigley

2005-2007: Economic and Social Research Council Seminar Series, Postcolonial Economies, with Professor Jane Pollard (GPS), Professor Nina Laurie (GPS), Professor Alison Stenning (GPS), Professor Uma Kothari (Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester) and Professor Cheryl McEwan (Department of Geography, University of Durham).

2002-2003: The British Academy (SG-33442), £4914, "Learning to Account for Ethical Trade: Retailers, Knowledges and Social Audits"

2000: University of Newcastle upon Tyne Small Grants Panel Award, £1,632, "Organisational Geographies of Business Ethics: The Case of the Ethical Trading Initiative"

1999: The Nuffield Foundation Social Science Small Grants Scheme (SGS/LB/0270), £3,995, “Practising Corporate Responsibility: Evaluating ‘Codes of Practice’ in the Kenyan Cut Flower Industry"

1996-1997: University of Aberdeen Research Committee Grant (R818), £3,525, “The Production of Festival Consumption: The Case of the Cut Flower Trade”

 Postgraduate Supervision

Research areas: economic geography and political economy; global value chains and production networks; knowledges and economies; postcolonial economies; retailer-supplier relationships; economic development in South Africa; regulation and governance; ethical trade and business responsibility; the audit economy; learning networks; ethical consumption in the global South.

Recent and current students:

Zara Babakordi (ESRC); Andrea Wilkinson (ESRC); Waziri Galadima (self-funded); Rituparna Sarma (self-funded); Jon Swords (ESRC/CASE); Peter Thomas (ESRC); David Phillips (ESRC/CASE with Traidcraft)

Teaching

Undergraduate Teaching

GEO3041 Geographies of Commodities
GEO2099 Economic Geography

Publications