Joe Smith 2I’m Professor of Environment and Society at The Open University, writing mostly about environmental history, policy and politics.   I’ve written books at the border between geography and architecture (ATLAS of Interdependence, Black Dog Press, 2011) on climate change (with Stephen Peake, Oxford University Press, 2009), quality of life (as co-ed with Andrew Simms, Constable Robinson 2008), the green movement (Granta, 2006) and the media and global environmental issues (Earthscan, 2000).  I’ve also co-edited two books of essays on culture and climate change (2011; 2014).

Since the mid 1990s I’ve also consulted for media organisations on varied projects, from strategic level workshops to advising on over thirty hours of BBC broadcasts. Off the day job I serve as Director of Smith of Derby Ltd (we think the world’s oldest and largest public clock company) as a fifth generation representative of the family that started it.

My teaching spans introductory to Masters and PhD level, with a particular enthusiasm for innovating around digital learning and debate, though I still think a well made book is the most interactive and durable medium going. Almost all of my teaching is interdisciplinary and team based: I am constantly learning from my excellent Science and Maths, Computing and Technology colleagues, as well as the Arts Faculty based Digital Humanities group, and the LTS and OMU teams.

My media work to date includes designing and facilitating seminars on environmental change and development issues for senior media decision makers.  I’ve also served as academic consultant on a number of major TV projects including David Attenborough’s BBC One programmes for the 2006 climate change season, BBC Two’s Coast (2005) and the world’s first climate change political thriller Burn Up (BBC Two 2008), written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire).  I initiated Interdependence Day, a communications and research project that took a fresh look at global issues (one project report was described as ‘essential reading’ according to UK Government Minister Hilary Benn, and the ‘Do Good Lives’ book including essays by Benn and David Cameron).

I also put together an ambitious ten-year multi-media project Creative Climate, which plots changing understandings and actions related to environmental change 2010-2020. Creative Climate is an experiment in trying to bring teaching, research and public engagement together in one place in order to support a fresh and inquiring tone in approaching these complex issues. The project has co-commissioned broadcasts and short films, generated learning materials and will increasingly be a holding place for research interviews generated by two major AHRC funded projects (see below).

Together with Petr Jehlicka (also OU Geography) I’ve been working to understand why so many people from all social classes (up to 40%) produce so much of their own food (again, up to 40%) in post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe. This time series research project is combining qualitative and quantitative methods, and has been running since 2004.

The following projects will be absorbing almost all of my research time through until spring 2017:

Earth in Vision (AHRC project)
Stories of Change (AHRC project)

although together with Renata Tyszczuk and Robert Butler I’ll be continuing to work to encourage more conversations at the join between ‘culture and climate change’ and that work is currently focusing on the theme of Scenarios, including a pilot artist residency programme:

Mediating Change links & publications

I hold a BA degree in Social and Political Sciences and a PhD in Geography from the University of Cambridge, and ran a University-wide environmental research and teaching network there (1995-2000), while also teaching papers in the Departments of Social and Political Sciences, History, Economics and Geography.  I’ve held visiting fellowships at Clare Hall (2005/6) and CRASSH (2008/09). I’m a Fellow of the RGS, a member of the Architectural Association and the Antiquarian Horological Society and Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. In sparse remaining minutes I grow some fruit and flowers at Empty Common Allotments, Cambridge, and am Chairman of that Association.


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