The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Staff Profile

Dr Al James

Professor of Economic Geography


Al James. BA Geography (Cambridge), PhD Economic Geography (Cambridge), FRSA, FRGS

I am an economic geographer with research and teaching interests in: labour | women and work | social reproduction | gig economy | work platforms | work-life balance | family-friendly working | India's Service Economy | creativity, learning and innovation.

So far, my work has involved fieldwork in the UK, USA, Ireland and India, and collaborations with like-minded colleagues in Labour Studies, Gender Studies, Sociology and Business / Management.  My research develops worker-centred understandings of economies in four main areas:

(1) Gendered Digital Work-Lives: this research disrupts masculinist 'universal' economic theory through new engagements with gender inequalities, social reproduction and work-life ‘balance’; examines the precarious work-lives of working mothers and fathers using online work platforms in the 'Gig Economy'; and develops more inclusive conceptions of economic ‘development’ that integrate normative questions around family-friendly working, gender equality, and social inclusion (with funding from the ESRC and a British Academy Mid Career Fellowship). 

(2) India's New Service Economy: this research engages with white collar and blue collar service workers in India in multiple sectors to: explore opportunities of employment-led growth for Indian youth; challenge the marginalisation of the global South as a focus for economic research; deepen our understanding of worker agency in remaking capitalism beyond Anglo-American 'core' economies; and build cross-disciplinary partnerships with Development scholars (funded by Nuffield Foundation, Cambridge Humanities Research Scheme, and Indian Institute of Management Calcutta). 

(3) Re-imagining EconomiesIn the wake of the Great Recession and subsequent geographies of austerity, this work explores new theoretical, methodological, policy and practical possibilities for inclusive growth, doing economy differently, and for challenging the socioeconomic hardship of marginalised groups.  It is based on inclusive conversations between academics, third sector organisations, policy makers and community groups (funded by Newcastle REA). 

(4) Cultures of Learning and Innovation: this earlier body of research explored how corporate cultures and regional industrial cultures powerfully shape the competitive performance of workers, firms and regions; to support the development of more effective policy interventions in pursuit of greater socioeconomic prosperity and growth (ESRC funded). 

This work is all free to download from my geoworklives research website, also ResearchGate, GoogleScholar, and Slideshare pages, please do take a look.  And if you a looking to pursue a PhD or a Postdoc and can see a good fit with my research interests then please get in touch.  You can see a list of my current and former PhD students here and some potential PhD topics here

My research has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Arts and Humanities Research Council, British Academy, Nuffield Foundation, Centre for the Study of Migration, RGS-IBG, Cambridge Humanities Research Scheme, and Newcastle University Research Excellence Academy. I have previously held positions as Economic Geography Editor for Geography Compass (2015-18), a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship (2017-18), and convenor of the Economic Geographies Research Group at Newcastle Geography. Before moving to Newcastle I worked at two other international hotspots in economic geography: Queen Mary University of London (2007-16), and Cambridge University (2003-7).  

Key publications:


Research Focus

labour |  women and work | female returners | gig economy | online work platforms | work-life balance | family-friendly working | India's Service Economy | learning and innovation.

Recent presentations

Funded Projects

  • Digital Work-Lives and Gender Inclusive Growth in the 'Sharing Economy' (2017-18). British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship. 
  • Re-Imagining Economies: Towards More Socially Inclusive Economic Geographies (2017-19). With Erica Pani, Stuart Dawley, Alex Hughes, Helen Jarvis, Danny MacKinnon, Andy Pike, Jane Pollard, Gareth Powells. Newcastle University Research Excellence Academy. 
  • In the Business of Economic Geography: Tracking the Movement of Economic Geographers into Business and Management (2015-16).  With Mike Bradshaw (Warwick), Catherine Souch (RGS-IBG), Neil Coe (NUS), James Faulconbridge (Lancaster). See:
  • Investigating Socially Inclusive Growth in India’s New Service Economy (2013).  With Bhaskar Vira (Cambridge), Philippa Williams (QMUL), and Fiona McConnell (Oxford). Cambridge Humanities Research Grants Scheme. 
  • Islamic Charitable Giving in London’s East End (2010-2013).  Kavita Datta (QMUL), Al James (QMUL), and Jane Pollard (Newcastle). Centre for Migration Studies (QMUL) and Newcastle University. 
  • Promoting Equality and Diversity in Economic Crisis (PEDEC) (2010-12).  With Kate Malleson (QMUL Law), Lizzie Barmes (QMUL Law), Geraldine Healy and Hazel Conley (QMUL Business Management).   
  • Impacts of Work-Life (Im)Balance on Innovation & Learning in Regional Economies (2006-9).  ESRC, RES-000-22-1574-A.  Project evaluated as ‘Outstanding’.  Project affiliated to ESRC Gender Equality Network (GeNet). 
  • Worker Mobility and Labour Market Intermediaries in the Call Centre Industry: An International Comparison (India and the UK) (2006-9).  With Bhaskar Vira (Cambridge), Nuffield Foundation (SGS 32348).  
  • Regional Culture, Corporate Strategy, and High Tech Innovation: Salt Lake City (1999-2002).  ESRC, doctoral research funding, Cambridge University (R-00-429-934-224).




Geographies of Working Lives (GEO3416)

  • This module explores the economic-development geographies of people's everyday struggles to make a living in the contemporary global economy.  Drawing on research within and across the global North and global South, this module engages with an exciting 'labour geographies' research agenda, concerned with how workers are capable of fashioning the geography of capitalism to suit their own needs and self-production; and to identify geographical possibilities and labour market strategies through which ‘workers may challenge, outmaneuver and perhaps even beat capital’ in different locations.  The module seeks to expose the spatial limits of mainstream 'universal' theories in geography which presume that 'the economy' and 'labour' can be theorised solely from the perspective of the formal spaces of advanced capitalist economies in the global North.

Also: Economic Geography (GEO2099), Local and Regional Development (GEO3114), Interconnected World (GEO1010)

Research Supervision:

  • Aditya Ray (with Philippa Williams, QMUL). ‘Work in India's New Service Economy: Employee experiences in the domestic voicebased consumerinteraction industry in Pune’ (2014–17). QMUL Doctoral Studentship Award.
  • Vincent Guermond (with Kavita Datta, QMUL). 'The financialisation of remittances: an example from the London to Ghana remittance corridor' (2014–2020, part-time). QMUL Doctoral Studentship Award.
  • Robert Stephenson (with Alastair Owens, QMUL; Laura Bedford and Eleanor John, Geffrye Museum). ‘Men juggling work, home and family in (post)recession London’ (2012-17, part-time). AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award.  Part of larger programme of research ‘Home-Work’ (4 CDAs 2012-15), co-ordinated by Alison Blunt. 
  • Josh Phillips (with Kavita Datta, QMUL). ‘Exploring the geographies of credit amongst entrepreneurial new migrant groups in London’ (2010-14). QMUL Doctoral Studentship Award. Completed.
  • Camille Aznar (with Kavita Datta QMUL). ‘Risk, financial exclusion and migrant workers in London’ (2009-2012). ESRC CASE studentship with the Runnymede Trust. Completed.
  • Supriti Bezbaruah (with Cathy McIlwaine, QMUL). ‘The evolving relationship of work, women and the State in India: the experience of the banking sector’ (2007-2011). Self-funded. Completed. Thesis subsequently written up as research monograph: Bezbaruah S. (2015) Banking on Equality: Women, Work and Employment in the Banking Sector in India. London: Routledge. 
  • Laurent Frideres (with Ron Martin, Cambridge University). ‘The spatial and temporal dynamics of industrial specialization & clustering in the regional economy’ (2004-2010).  Funded by The Luxembourg Ministry for Education. Completed. Awarded prize 2011 RGS-IBG PhD Prize (Economic Geography Research Group).