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Dr Joanie Willett

Senior Lecturer (Education and Research) - Cornwall


01326 253798

My teaching, research, and publishing specialism is in identity politics and I am particularly interested in the complex inter-relationship between identity, the economy, and the environment.  My background is in critical political theory and economic development, and might broadly be described as exploring sustainable communities through theory, practice, policy and governance.  I am regularly consulted by local and national media regarding topical political debate, and questions relating to my research interests.

Theoretically, I am interested in phenomenologies, complexity theory,  the new materialisms,  posthumanist thinking, and a politics of affect.  I apply this to our ongoing development of identities, currently with respect to participation in local government at a town and parish level.  Broadly, my work looks at regional governance, regional development, citizen participation, and sustainable communities.

Although firmly based in politics, I have active or previous collaborations with econonomists, geographers, artists, planners and sociologists, and have worked with community groups, policy practitioners, and health organisations.  I welcome exploring future collaborations.

Research interests

The inter-relationship between identity, the environment, and the economy.

This work follows several themes:

1.Improving Economic Development: How people, the economy, and the environments of peripheral regions become discursively constructed and the impacts that this has on socio-economic development.

2. Local Government: How can we improve local governance  in order to foster and maintain engaged, sustainable, resilient communities. 

3. Sustainable Fashion: How trends and fashion shape our attitudes to the environment.

My work has tended to involve comparisons and collaborations across the UK and EU, but I am increasingly starting to develop networks in the United States. 

I use critical political theory, complexity theory, new materialisms, post-humanism and a politics of affect as methodological tools to explore these questions, and consider the role that art and theatre has as a research method that best grasps the nuance, complexity, and dynamism of contemporary socio-environmental issues


External impact and engagement

Impact and public engagement is very important to my work. Much of my resaerch interests have direct and obvious policy implications, and I am always keen to explore these as much as possible, with individuals and organisations to whom they might be useful.  To this end, I am always seeking to extend my relationships with community/policy/business groups, and have worked with or developed relationships with a number of local, national, and international organisations.  These include Cornwall Council, the National Association for Local Councils, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and the European Association for Local Democracy. 

In addition to my research, I am always keen to explore public engagement activities and have participated in several ESRC Festival of Social Science events over the past few years, including “Citizens Take-over of Cornwall Council”, "On The Throne", and "Taking Overy My Town".  These were engagement and research events designed to explore the relationships of participants with local democracy·     

Finally,  I am always keen to engage with the local and national media, and have appeared on BBC Radio Cornwall, BBC Sunday Politics, BBC News 24, BBC Radio 4. 

      Aditionally I have contributed to a number of political blogs, including Democratic Audit; The Conversation; and Political Insight.


Modules taught


I took a Bsc in Combined Social Sciences with the University of Plymouth, and an MA in Critical Global Studies with the University of Exeter.  My PhD, entitled ‘Why is Cornwall So Poor, Narrative, Perception and Identity’ was completed in 2010 with the University of Exeter’.  In 2009/2010 I taught social theory on a social work degree with the University of Plymouth, and joined the politics department at Exeter at the start of the 2010/11 academic year.

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