Jon Phillips

Jon Phillips


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Biographical details

Dr Jon Phillips is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Geography department of the University of Exeter and a Visiting Research Associate in the Geography department at King's College London.


Jon is a human geographer interested in relationships between nature, society and space, particularly with respect to the production of resources and energy in the Global South. In his current post at Exeter, he explores urban energy governance in South Africa and the prospects for cities to transition to systems of lower carbon and more equitable urban energy services. His PhD research developed an account of how space became contested in the creation of a new offshore oil and gas industry in Ghana.


Prior to joining Exeter as a Postdoctoral Research Associate, Jon completed his PhD at King’s College London in early 2017, having previously worked as a Research Associate at the University of East Anglia. He has worked and volunteered for several NGOs and has conducted research with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex.


Research interests (short)

Nature and society; spatial resource politics; energy and climate change governance; political economies of development; sub-Saharan Africa

Research interests

My research interests are in understanding relationships between nature, society and space. This approach frames my research into who benefits from the production of resources and the governance of energy in the developing world. I have drawn heavily on fieldwork in sub-Saharan Africa to understand energy as a social relation and the production of resources as a social and material process.


The first aspect of this research has focused on the political economy of renewable energy technologies and finance in Africa. This has been developed through several collaborative projects, including analysis of how global climate finance schemes are governed in the developing countries that host carbon reduction projects (at UEA); how renewable energy technologies gain traction (or don’t) with domestic elites in the South (at IDS); and how developing country cities might overcome considerable obstacles to create cleaner, more equitable energy services for urban citizens (at Exeter). 


The second aspect of my research is concerned with the production of fossil fuel economies. My doctoral thesis developed arguements that oil politics is spatial politics, employing concepts of territory and materiality to explain where and why oil may become contested at modern resource frontiers. I provide spatial accounts of several controversies over oil in Ghana, including a battle over the terms of oil contracts, the impacts of oil production on fishing livelihoods, and whether Ghanaian elites have exercised agency in their new development partnerships with China, the US and the World Bank. The resolution of these controversies has been an inherently spatial business - one that shapes who benefits from oil and who does not. 


Whether it is concerned with solar power or crude oil, my research aims to demonstrate the contingency of inequitable systems of energy governance, which are at least partially open to change through alternative systems of technology, knowledge and power.


Current Project

I currently work as a Postdoctoral Research Associate for an ESRC-NRF funded project, Urban Transformation in South Africa Through Co-Designing Energy Services Provision (Urbatrans). The project is a collaboration between the University of Cape Town and several UK universities, working with South African NGO Sustainable Energy Africa and engaging closely with selected South African municipal governments.

The project asks how municipal governments might contribute to a transition to low carbon and equitable energy services in South Africa. To do so will mean changes in technical, social and political systems, which the project aims to foster through co-design with practitioners. More information is available at


Teaching experience

Masters: Guest Lecturer, Climate Change and International Development; and Globalisation and Insecurity (UEA); Teaching Assistant, Environment, Development and Livelihoods in the South (KCL)

Undergraduate: Guest Lecturer, Current Research in Geography (KCL); Tutor, Joint Honours Undergraduate Tutorials (SOAS/KCL); Teaching Associate, Field Research in Human Geography: Hong Kong, China (KCL); Teaching Assistant, Environment and Development (LSE); Undergraduate dissertation supervision (UEA);

Schools: Extra-curricular school teaching, Key Stage 3-4 Geography (Woolwich Polytechnic School); Natural Sciences Teacher, Moshi, Tanzania; Personal tuition, A Level and GCSE Geography

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Education/Academic qualification

Master of Arts, Environment & Development. Dissertation: Gender, Governmentality and Urban Water Supply in Monrovia, Liberia, King's College London

Award Date: 1 Jan 2009

Master in Science, Chemistry. Dissertation: Triple-isotope values of oxygen in seawater: Implication for the global carbon cycle, University of Bristol

Award Date: 1 Jan 2008

External positions

Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Exeter

1 Dec 2016 → …


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