The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Staff Profile

Dr Alison Williams

Reader in Political Geography



I am a Reader in Political Geography. My research is situated in military geographies and geopolitics. Specifically, I am interested in vertical and aerial geopolitics; analysing the role of aviation and aircraft in the projection of power across space. This interest has both historical and contemporary foci and includes work on the aerial geopolitics of the inter-war Pacific, the use of military air power to enforce international boundaries, the performativity of UK military airspaces, and the embodied geopolitics of drone warfare.

I have been PI on an ESRC funded project investigating the 'value' of university armed service units (2012-15), and was academic lead on a Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence project on visualising military airspaces (2013-14). I was an ESRC Research Fellow working on a programme of research entitled 'The Geographies of Military Airspaces' (2008-11).

Roles and Responsibilities

PGR Director for Geography (2020-)

ESRC NINE DTP Human Geography pathway lead (2020-)

Degree Programme Director for Geography (L701, F800, FH82) (2015-19)

ESRC NINE DTP Conflict, Security and Justice pathway leader (2016-19) and director (2017-18)

ESRC Peer Review College member (2010-)

Northumbrian Universities Military Education Committee member (2008-2018)


2005: PhD Human Geography, University of Hull

1999: MA International Relations, Keele University

1998: BA (Hons) Geography, University of Liverpool

Previous Positions

2014-2020 - Senior Lecturer in Political Geography, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University

2011-2014 Lecturer in Human Geography, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University

2008-11: ESRC Research Fellow, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University

2007-8: Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Liverpool

2005-7: Post-Doctoral Research Associate, International Boundaries Research Unit, Geography Department, Durham University

Professional Recognition

Fellow of Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers

Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy


Research Interests

My research falls into two main areas. The majority of my work seeks to consider ideas of geopolitics and specifically the relationships between aerial technologies and power porjection, with an empirical focus on military geography, especially relating to military air power. My work in these areas seeks to understand how aircraft can be and are used to project state power, and also how that can be challenged and disrupted. Empirically, my work ranges from the use of aviation to project US power across the interwar Pacific, through the performance of UK military airspace, to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and the relationships between bodies and technologies in the projection of military power by aircraft.

I also have a research interest in the transferable skills agenda within UK Higher Education. This encompasses pedagogic work to help develop opportunities for students to develop skills during their degree programme, but also focuses on how students might be enabled to develop other skills and knowledges at university, and the legacy of these in graduate life. This overlaps with my military geography interests in work on University Armed Service Units.

Current Research

Aerial Geopolitics

This is my main area of research interest. Between July 2008 and June 2011 I was an ESRC Research Fellow, working on a programme of research under the heading of the 'Geographies of Military Airspaces'. Within this Fellowship I sought to theorise airspace; investigate how airspace is constructed through a variety of legal regimes; discover how military flight crews are taught to 'see' and understand airspace; consider popular geopolitical representations of military airspace in video gaming; and analyse the significance of unmanned aerial vehicles technologies within the military sphere. This research has been published in a number of journal articles and I continue to write up this research for publication. 

More recently, I have begun to re-engage with my PhD research on US aviation, geopolitics and the inter-war Pacific. A recent paper in Journal of Historical Geography links this work to mobilities scholarship. 

Visualising the aerial

I have ongoing interests in how militarised spaces can be represented through engagements with artistic and creative practice.

I was academic lead on a Leverhulme Artist-in Residence award working with Dr Matthew Flintham to create artistic interventions to visualise military airspaces. This project provided Dr Flintham (as a practising artist) opportunities to create art works that will visualise the spaces used in the UK for the training of military aircrews, offering opportunities to uncover these hidden spaces. The work produced in the project was shown at a public exhibition held in Newcastle in January 2015. For more information on this project visit

I was part of the Interventions Project, which brought together designers and researchers to collaborate to produce a piece of work related to our research. I worked with Nelly Ben Hayoun (, an award winning designer based in London on a project to materialise resistance to airspace control. .

I continue to work on the intersections between geopolitics, militarism and art, and have published on the work of artist Fiona Banner, who has repeatedly used military aviation in her art.

University Armed Service Units  

This was a two-year ESRC funded project investigating the non-economic value of the University Armed Service Units (USU), on which I was PI. These student societies are run by the UK Armed Forces and teach military skills, as well as transferable skills. This project will undertake an in-depth UK-wide analysis of the impact of USU participation for current students, USU graduates who have not pursued military careers, graduate employers, UK universities, and the UK Armed Forces. Working with Prof Rachel Woodward (Co-I) and Dr Neil Jenkings (Co-I and SRA), this project will use a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate the worth of USUs in relation to transferable skills, civil-military relations, and militarism. For more about this project visit The book of the project is now available at

Pedagogic research

I am also interested in the wider issue of transferable skills and the graduate skills agenda. To this end, I have developed a website for Newcastle Geography students to help them identify the transferable skills that completion of the various modes of assessment within our degree programmes can enable them to advance ( I have also received funding (with Dr Simon Tate) from the Newcastle University teaching and learning Innovation Fund to develop video-based peer learning tools to enhance students' dissertation skills. These are used in our dissertation preparation module to enable our stage 2 students to hear the experiences of stage 3 students who have completed their dissertations.

Research Roles

PGR Director for Geography (2020-)

NINE DTP Human Geography pathway lead (2020-)

NINE DTP Conflict, Security & Justice pathway lead (2016-19)

Military, War and Security (faculty-level) Research Group - Convenor (2012-15)

Power, Space, Politics research cluster - Convenor (2012-15)

Postgraduate Supervision

I welcome PhD enquiries from students interested in undertaking research on geopolitics, military geographies, aerial geographies, and international boundaries.

Current and completed PhD supervisions

2019-: Tom Shrimplin - Everyday geopolitics on online video gaming (ESRC DTP)

2019-: Karen Passmore - Military Pilots, identity and flying drones (part-time self-funded)

2018-: Lauren Tibble - Playing the aerial: storytelling, spirits and the sky (ESRC DTP)

2018-: Paul Barber - Cadet forces and the skills agenda (ESRC DTP)

2012- : Panayiotis Hadjipavlis - Analysing the geopolitics of Cypriot airspace (part-time self-funded) 

2015-19: Hannah Lyons - Young people, religion and popular geopolitics (ESRC DTC)

2013-17 : Matthew Scott - Technogeopolitics and transcontinental railways (ESRC DTC)

2011-15: Daniel Bos - Popular geopolitics of military video games (ESRC DTC)

2008-12 : Matthew Rech - Critical geopolitics of RAF recruitment (ESRC) 

Research Funding

2018-19: GPS Research Fund (£980) Interwar air defence of the UK (scoping study)

2013-14: Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence award (c.£15,000) Visualising Military Airspaces (PI; artist Dr Matthew Flintham)

2013-2014: Catherine Cookson Foundation (£700) Historical geographies of military aviation in the north-east (scoping study)

2012-15: ESRC Research Grant (c.£270,000) 'The value of University Armed Service Units' (PI; Co-I Prof Rachel Woodward; Co-I & SRA Dr Neil Jenkings) ES/J023868/1

2011-12: Newcastle University Teaching and Learning Committee Innovation Fund (c. £3000) 'Learning from Research Practice: developing a web-based video resource that will provide Geography dissertation students with examples of how Geography staff and postgrads do their research' (with Simon Tate)

2009-2010: HaSS Faculty Research Fund (£3650) 'The graduate skills agenda and the university armed services experience'

2008-2011: ESRC Research Fellowship (c. £350,000 including PhD studentship)'The Geographies of Military Airspaces' - RES-063-27-0154

2001-2005: ESRC Open Competition PhD funding (c. £40,000)'Aviation Technogeopolitics and the Territorialisation of the Pacific as US Space, 1918-1941'- R42200134521


In 2020-21 I will be contributing to the following modules:

GEO2047 Political Geography

GEO3099 Dissertation

GEO3102 Geopolitics