The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Staff Profile

Professor Rachel Pain

Professor of Human Geography


Rachel Pain is Professor of Human Geography and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.


  • Gender-based violence and its impacts on women, men and children

  • Trauma and fear

  • Social housing and dispossession

  • Transgender youth and feminist theory

  • The relationships between domestic violence and international terrorism/warfare

  • Participatory action research

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 as a Lecturer at Northumbria University, before working at Durham University where I was promoted to Chair in Human Geography, was a 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, with gender-based violence an enduring interest as it affects women, men and children (including transgender people). I have also worked with older people, young people, refugees and asylum seekers to understand experiences of violence, harm and trauma, and to collaborate towards social change using Participatory Action Research. The conceptual thread running through these projects explores the social politics of what are commonly seen as personal and private experiences of violence and trauma. Equally, international forms of violence, such as war and terrorism, are recast 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 have collaborated with community organisations, charities, activists, and engaged local and national policy-makers. I have 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 to track the effects of national housing policy and growing divisions in housing wealth and access.

This research 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.


  • Philip Leverhulme Prize 2005

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

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

  • Durham University Excellence in Learning and Teaching Award 2012

  • Durham University Excellence in Research Impact Award 2014

  • Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences 2018