The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Staff Profile

Dr Caleb Johnston

Lecturer in Human Geography



2010 Ph.D. University of British Columbia

2006 MA UBC, Geography

2004 BA (honours) UBC, Geography

Previous Positions

Lecturer in Human Geography, Institute of Geography, University of Edinburgh 2013-16

Research Associate, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow 2011-13

Visiting Scholar, Center for Global Metropolitan Studies, University of California, Berkeley 2010-11

Current Service

Member, Creative Practice Research Forum, Newcastle University                          

Steering committee member for the Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network

Editorial board member for Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Editor for Creative Interventions in Studies for Social Justice 

Recent Talks  

2017 Playing games of chance in the Canadian North. Performing Urgency: Space, Performance and Politics. Nordic Geographers Meeting, Stockholm.

2017 Ethnographic performances and games of change in the decolonizing present. Keynote talk for Society and Space at the annual conference of the American Association of Geographers, Boston.

2017 Tlingipino Bingo: Performing Solidarity Across Indigenous and Filipino Immigrant Experiences of State Violence. Reimagining Creative Economy. University of Alberta, Calgary.

2017 Testimonial Theatre and the Geopolitics of Trauma and Empathy. University of Leeds.

2016 Performing precarity in Bagong Barrio. Annual Meeting of Institute of British Geographers (with IBG), London (presenter and convenor).

2016 Life-times and spaces of disposability in Bagong Barrio, Metro Manila. Social Geographies of Urban Abandonment. American Association of Geographers, San Francisco.

2016 Urban crisis: resistances, opportunities and co-optation. University of Edinburgh (convenor).

2015 Who saved the city? Exploring urban activisms in times of austerity in North America and Europe and Beyond. University of Edinburgh (convenor).

2015 Performance as transnational and scholarly inquiry: migrant labour and urban dispossession. Canadian Association of Geographers, Vancouver.  

2014 Theatre, politics and the impossible ethic. Annual Meeting of Institute of British Geographers (with IBG). Keynote talk for the Participatory Geographies Research Group, London.

2014 Transnational affects in the space of theatre. Centre for the History of Emotions, University of London, Queen Mary, London.

2014 The political work of feelings. Migration and Intimate Life. Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network, University of Glasgow, Glasgow.

2013 Testimony, theatre and ethics. Queen’s University, Department of Drama, Canada.

2013 Emotions on the move. New Frontiers of Geographical Knowledge and Practice? Annual Meeting of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), London.

2013 Circulating discourses of suffering across national contexts. Institutional Spaces of Pain, Suffering and Trauma. Emotional Geographies, Groningen.

2013 Circulating suffering: part two. Institutional Spaces of Pain, Suffering and Trauma [redux]. Association of American Geographers, Los Angeles.

Grants and Fellowships

2017 Newcastle University, IAA 

2017 Newcastle University, Faculty Research Fund

2016 Yukon Government, Arts Fund                                                           

2016 Yukon Government, Culture Quest                                                                                       

2013 Economic and Social Research Council                        

2012 Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), Small Grants                                                                              

2012 British Columbia Arts Council, Projects

2012 Jasmin Leila Award, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

2011 Social Science and Humanities Research Council, Postdoctoral Fellowship

2011 British Columbia Arts Council, Projects                                                                                                  

2011 City of Vancouver, Cultural Grants Program                                                                 

2010 British Columbia Arts Council, Projects                                                                                                  

2010 City of Vancouver, Cultural Grants Program

2010 British Council, International Projects

2009 Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, India Studies Fellowship                                                    

2009 Vancouver Foundation, Arts and Culture                                                                                          

2008 British Columbia Arts Council, Projects                                                                                                 

2008 Vancouver Foundation, Health and Social Development                                       

2008 City of Vancouver, Cultural Grants Program                                                                 

2008 Canada Council for the Arts, Projects                                                                                                                          

2006 Social Science and Humanities Research Council, Doctoral Fellowship

2004 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Masters Fellowship 



Core Interests

Performing arts, politics, aesthetics, testimony, witnessing 

Migration, precarious labour, transnational families

Globalising care, 'disposable' bodies, outsourcing 

Subaltern urbanism, informalisation, India 


Tlingipino Bingo 2016-17

This is a new theatre project developed in collaboration with Tlingit and Filipino theatre artists in the city of Whitehorse. The piece revolves around an actual bingo game, in which audience members participate as bingo players and storytellers. The performance provides the occasion for community storytelling and exchange, and serious play around issues of shared dispossession, and communication and miscommunication between Tlingit people and Filipino migrants in the Canadian North. The play premiered at Whitehorse’s 2016 Nuit Blanche Festival. Funded by Yukon Government of Canada. 

Nanay: a testimonial play 2009-16

Nanay is a testimonial theatre project designed to engender public debate about Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program, and directly addresses the experiences of Filipino domestic workers who come to Canada as migrant labourers. Nanay transforms very conventional qualitative interview transcripts into testimonial theatre, which is to say, our project is based entirely on verbatim monologues taken from interviews conducted over a 15 year period with domestic workers, their children and Canadian employers. Our overall objective in Nanay is to forge a more complex identification with both the plight of domestic workers, as well as that of middle-class families struggling to secure affordable care in Canada.The production premiered at Vancouver’s 2009 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, and then toured to Berlin’s HAU1 Theatre as part of their Your Nanny Hates You! Festival. In 2012, we conducted a script reading with professional actors at the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) in Edinburgh (2013) and Whitehorse (2014). We have also carried out two productions of the work in Metro Manila (2013; 2015).  Funded by the ESRC, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canada Council for the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, City of Vancouver, Koerner Foundation and Vancouver Foundation. 

Tu Vois Ce Que Je veux Dire? [Do You See What I Mean?] 2013-14

This project invites spectators to experience the city in a radically new fashion, turning the routine of daily life into an extraordinary journey of heightened senses and transformed perceptions. Created by Lyon-based Projet In Situ, this piece of one-on-one theatre is a 2.5 hour blindfolded tour into the streets, storefronts and homes of Vancouver. It is a site for experiencing the tactile, felt geographies of the city. The project was presented at Vancouver's 2013 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. A performance created by Projet In Situ. Funded by the British Columbia Arts Council, City of Vancouver, French Consulate, and Institute Frances.

City of Dreams 2011

This new theatre work explored Vancouver social histories, topographies and embedded urban memories. The central image of the work is a poetic map of Vancouver constructed from hundreds of found objects that were assembled during performance. This physical mapping of Vancouver was mirrored by a soundscape composed of recorded and archived audio materials, from environmental sounds, snatches of song to oral testimonies. City of Dreams premiered at the 2011 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. Funded by British Columbia Arts Council, City of Vancouver, and British Council.

Counter Mapping 2011

This contemporary interdisciplinary exhibition brought together the work of 17 professional artists around the theme of counter mapping the city of Vancouver. This exhibition began with a question: if maps are the instruments of power, how might we produce and circulate a poetic, radical cartography? Working across disciplines, artists deployed a range of tactics in their rewriting of the urban landscape, utilizing mapping and surveillance technologies to constructive disruptive cartographies. We moved from tracking individual lines of inquiry through GPS to impersonating tour guides in offering alternative histories of the city. We traced maps to get lost in the city, to descend into and experiment with new ways of moving through the urban terrain. The exhibition included collaboration between cultural geographers from the University of British Columbia and visual artists at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts. Counter Mapping premiered at the 2011 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, and selected works toured to the University of Glasgow for an international conference entitled Excursions: telling stories and journeys. Funded by City of Vancouver and British Columbia Arts Council.

A Storied Sea 2009

This geo-audio-literary work was created for Vancouver’s Western Front as part of Intersections—a new music series that brought together writers and composers together to create site-specific commentaries informing particular geographic spaces in Vancouver. Created in partnership with Vancouver composer James Maxwell, the piece spliced environmental sounds and composed music for trombones with the recorded testimonies of David Fraser, whose family squatted on the Vancouver waterfront in the 1920s. A Storied Sea was performed in a guerilla street performance, concert and online forum. It was researched as a site exploring new ways of writing geographical knowledges, and for circulating sensory, felt geographies of the city. 

Arts, Health and Seniors 2008-10

Funded by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, and bringing together a collaboration between UBC's Faculty of Nursing and the City of Vancouver, Arts, Health and Seniors looked to demonstrate how involvement in the arts can improve the health and well being of seniors experiencing physical, social, and sexual orientation barriers. Engaging 80 seniors in four different community centres over a three-year period, the project built new expertise between health workers, artists and funders in the area of chronic disease management. I spent two years working as project manager, researcher and one of eight site artists in AHS. Funded by Vancouver Coastal Health and City of Vancouver. 

Practicing Democracy 2004-06

Created by Vancouver's Headlines Theatre for Living, Practicing Democracy was North America’s first deployment of August Boal’s model of Legislative Forum Theatre. Devised in collaboration with city planners and elected municipal councillors, the objective of this project was to use forum theatre to generate community-based law on issues related to homelessness in the City of Vancouver. We researched the project as a substantial effort to use a particular model of political theatre to generate creative solutions to what is now a familiar aspect of neo-liberal economic policy, namely, cuts to social services and welfare provision. Funded by Canada Council for the Arts, British Columbia Arts, and City of Vancouver.


Current Teaching 

GEO1015 Contemporary Human Geography of the UK

GEO2043 Key Methods for Human Geographers 

GEO2100 Contested Geographies of New York City

GEO2110 Social Geographies 

GEO2111 Doing Human Geography Research: Theory and Practice 

GEO3099 Dissertation (Module Leader)

Completed PhD Students

Nico Stefanovics. (2016) The Making of a New Downtown: Urban Place-Making in HafenCity, Hamburg, Germany.

Current PhD Students

Christos Galavis. Hillwalkers and Homecomers: Walking as Belonging among Munro Baggers and Scots-Canadians in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Principal's Career Development Scholarship.