Geography / Geology
School of Environmental Sciences

Elsbeth Robson

Elsbeth Robson

Senior Lecturer in Human Geography

School of Environmental Sciences

  • Profile
  • Teaching
  • Research Interests
  • PhD Supervision
  • Publications

Profile

I am a human and development geographer with research and teaching interests in social inequality and social justice particularly with respect to women and children/youth. I embrace qualitative, participatory and quantitative research methods. My career so far has been rooted in Europe (mainly UK) and Africa.

Gaining my BSc Hons Geography from Durham University (1990) included a year studying as an ERASMUS student at Tübingen University, Germany, and an independent research project in Kenya on peri-urban land-use transformations. My doctorate (Oxford University 2002) focused on the work of rural Hausa women in Northern Nigeria using feminist theories of empowerment applied to socio-spatial mobilities and inequalities. As a Lecturer in Development Studies (within Geography) at Keele University (1995-2005) I led numerous undergraduate fieldtrips to Kenya and developed research on young people’s caregiving work within the AIDS pandemic in Southern Africa. I also undertook an MA in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (Keele University 2006).

During 2004-2013 I was based in Blantyre (Malawi) managing the Malawi component of large multi-country, inter-institutional and inter-disciplinary ESRC-DFID research grants, working for Nanzikambe Arts (Malawi’s leading theatre for development NGO), as well as undertaking consultancy and leading the occasional field course for geography undergraduates.

I joined the University of Hull in the summer of 2013.

Audience at community research dissemination event, Mpemba CDSS, Malawi

Teaching

  • 16115 : Geographies of Development
  • 16141 : World Cities
  • 16273 : Research Methods 2
  • 16302 : Dissertations (leader)
  • 16343 : Malawi field course (leader)
  • 16372 : Children’s Geographies (leader)

Fieldcourse teaching – visiting a micro-hydro project in Mulanje District, Malawi

Research Interests

Engagement with policy and practice underlies my research / consultancy and I have considerable experience of knowledge exchange ensuring policy relevance and maximum impact. My recent research and consultancy in Malawi (2004-2013) involved collaborating internationally with universities, government and non-governmental organizations; while being informed by political economy and feminist theoretical approaches (with a concern for ethics).

Recent major research projects:

Social cash transfers, generational relations and youth poverty trajectories in rural Lesotho and Malawi – I am co-investigator on this project led by PI Dr Nicola Ansell (Brunel University), together with Co-Is Dr Lorraine van Blerk (University of Dundee), Dr Flora Hajdu (Swedish University of Agricultural Science), Dr Evance Mwathunga (University of Malawi Chancellor College) and Ms Thandie Keromamang Hlabana (National University of Lesotho).

Social cash transfer (SCT) schemes which disburse cash to poor people are a major recent innovation in policy responses to poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. There is growing evidence that SCTs address symptoms of poverty among their target populations, particularly children and the elderly. However, researchers or policy makers have paid minimal attention to the effects of SCTs on young adults or generational relations. Researchers increasingly recognise that poverty is produced through structural power relations including political and economic relations, and relations within and between social groups (based on social categorisations such as gender, age, generation and class). Our research focuses on their effects on the power relationships that structure young lives. Drawing on recent calls for a 'generationing' of development, it examines how SCTs shape generational relationships. As generational relations intersect with other social relations, effects of SCTs on relations of age and gender are to be examined. The proposal addresses the question: What factors shape pathways into and out of poverty for youth and young people's experience of these, and how can policy create sustained routes out of extreme poverty in ways that can be replicated and scaled up? It focuses on two countries that have instituted contrasting SCTs in the past decade: Lesotho (social pensions and child grants) and Malawi (SCTs to ultra-poor labour constrained households).

Ansell, A; van Blerk, L; Robson, E; Hajdu, F; Mwathunga, E; Hlabana, T K Economic & Social Research Council/Department for International Development Grant Ref ES/M009076/1 Sept. 2015 – Aug. 2018, c£338,000 (final budget tbc)

SCT scheme research

Mobile Phones and Youth in Africa - In collaboration with the Centre for Social Research, University of Malawi (Dr Alister Munthali, James Milner), I am engaged in an ESRC-DFID funded research project on youth and use of mobile telephones in sub-Saharan Africa, with Dr Gina Porter (PI, Durham University) & Kate Hampshire (co-I, Durham University) and partners in Ghana at Cape Coast (Prof Albert Abane) and in South Africa at University of Cape Town:

Porter, G; Hampshire, K; Robson, E; Munthali, A; Abane, A; & Mashiri, M. Economic & Social Research Council/Department for International Development Award No. ES/J018082/1 Mobile Phones and Youth in Africa. Aug. 2012 – Jan. 2015, £460,000.

Providing mobile phone services in Malawi – expanding youth employment opportunities

Pilgrimage & Sacred Mountains in Malawi - With Dr Avril Maddrell (University of West of England) and partners at the Catholic University of Malawi (Prof Chakanza) I am working on a small pilot project looking at religio-spatial practices and environmental impacts at the Queen of Peace Pilgrimage Shrine, on Michiru Mountain in Malawi.

Inscribing holy ground – rock painted with bible verses, Michiru Mountain, Malawi

Children’s Mobilities & Transport in Africa -The research on mobile phones evolved from an earlier ESRC-DFID funded project looking at children’s mobilities and use of transport in Ghana, South Africa and Malawi. This large qualitative and quantitative study across remote rural, rural, peri-urban and urban field sites used both adult and young researchers. For more information see the project website.

Porter, G; Hampshire, K; Robson, E; Munthali, A; Abane, A; & Mashiri, M. Economic & Social Research Council/Department for International Development Award No. RES-167-25-0028 Children, transport and mobility in sub-Saharan Africa: Developing a child-centred evidence base to improve policy and change thinking across Africa. Aug. 2006 – May 2009, £353,932.

Young researcher’s training workshop, Blantyre, Malawi

New Variant Famine in Southern Africa? - With Dr Nicola Ansell (Brunel University), Dr Lorraine van Blerk (Dundee University) and Dr Flora Hajdu (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala ) in an ESCRC-DFID-funded project we used participatory methods to investigate the well-being of rural AIDS-affected youth in case study villages in Malawi and Lesotho:

Ansell, N; Robson, E; and van Blerk, L. Economic & Social Research Council/Department for International Development Award No. RES-167-25-0167 Averting New Variant Famine in southern Africa: Building Food-secure livelihoods with AIDS-affected young people. June 2007 - December 2008, £256,901.

For more information visit the project website

Sharing views on research findings – community meeting, Nihelo, Malawi

PhD Supervision

I welcome enquiries from potential PhD students on topics related (but not limited) to:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Development
  • Children and youth
  • Gender and feminism

Promoting children’s rights – billboard, Lilongwe, Malawi

I am currently supervising:

  • Bronia Chichlowska (University of Hull studentship 2014 - 2017) ‘Colonial childhoods in Nyasaland’
  • Kalliopi Kaparounaki (University of Hull studentship 2014 - 2017) ‘Caregiving children in Malawi’
  • Mayeso Lazaro (University of Hull studentship 2015 -2018) ‘Grandparenting in the context of HIV/AIDS and poverty in rural Southern Malawi’ 
  • Mbali Pewa (Commonwealth Scholarship 2015 – 2018) ‘Waste recycling and poverty alleviation in peri-urban South Africa’

Publications

Published Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

2016

  • Ansell, N, Hajdu, F, van Blerk, L, Robson, E 2016 ‘AIDS-affected young people's access to livelihood assets: exploring 'new variant famine' in rural southern Africa’ Journal of Rural Studies, 46 23-34. DOI: 10.1016/j.jrurstud.2016.05.008
  • Porter, G, Hampshire, K, Milner, J, Munthali, A, Robson, E, DeLannoy, A, Bango, A, Gunguluza, N, Mashiri, M, Tanle, A, Abane, A, 2016 ‘Mobile phones and education in sub-Saharan Africa: From youth practice to public policy’ Journal of International Development 28, 22-39 DOI: 10.1002/jid.3116 IF0.622

2015

  • Hampshire, K; Porter, G; Owusu, S A; Mariwah, S; Abane, A; Robson, E; Munthali, A; DeLannoy, A; Bango, A; Gunguluza, N; Milner, J 2015 ‘Informal m-health: How are young people using mobile phones to bridge healthcare gaps in Sub-Saharan Africa?’ Social Science & Medicine 142 90-99. DOI:10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.07.033
  • Porter, G; Hampshire, K; Abane, A; Munthali, A; Robson, E; Bango, A; de Lannoy, A; Gunguluza, N; Tanle, A; Owusu, S; Milner, J 2015 ‘Intergenerational relations and the power of the cell phone: Perspectives on young people's phone usage in Sub-Saharan Africa’ Geoforum 64 37-46. DOI:10.1016/j.geoforum.2015.06.002 IF1.759
  • Hampshire, K; Porter, G; Agblorti, S; Robson, E; Munthali, A & Abane, A 2015 ‘Context matters: Fostering, orphanhood and schooling in Sub-Saharan Africa’ Journal of Biosocial Sciences 47(2) 141-164. DOI: 10.1017/S0021932014000169 IF0.883

2014

  • Ansell, N; Hajdu, F; van Blerk, L; Robson, E 2014 ‘Reconceptualising temporality in young lives: exploring young people's current and future livelihoods in AIDS-affected southern Africa’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39(3) 387-401. DOI: 10.1111/tran.12041 IF 4.011

2013

  • Browne, K.; Norcup, J.; Robson, E.; Sharp, J. 2013 ‘What’s in a name? Removing women from the Women in Geography Study Group’ Area 45 (1) 7-8. DOI: 10.1111/area.12007 IF1.685
  • Hajdu, F; Ansell, N; van Blerk, L; Robson, E 2013 ‘Rural young people’s opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship in globalised southern Africa: The limitations of targeting policies?’ International Development Planning Review vol. 35, no. 2, pp155-174. DOI:10.3828/idpr.2013.11
  • Browne, K.; Norcup, J.; Robson, E.; Sharp, J. 2013 ‘What’s in a name? Removing women from the Women in Geography Study Group’ Area vol. 45, no. 1, pp7-8. DOI: 10.1111/area.12007 Robson E, Porter, G, Hampshire, K, Munthali, A. 2013 ‘Heavy loads – children’s burdens of water carrying in Malawi’ Waterlines vol. 32, no. 1, pp23-35. DOI 10.3362/1756-3488.2013.003

2012

  • Porter, G; Hampshire, K; Abane, A; Munthali, A; Robson, E; Mashiri, M; Tanle, A; Maponya, G; Dube, S 2012 Child porterage and Africa’s transport gap: evidence from Ghana, Malawi and South Africa’ World Development vol. 40, no. 10, pp2136-2154. DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2012.05.004
  • Ansell, N.; van Blerk, L.; Robson, E.; Hajdu, F. 2012 ‘The spatial construction of young people’s livelihoods’ Geography vol. 97, part 3, pp135-140. http://www.geography.org.uk/Journals/Journals.asp?articleID=1011
  • Ansell, N; Robson, E; Hajdu, F; van Blerk, L; 2012 ‘Learning from young people about their lives: using participatory methods to research the impacts of AIDS in southern Africa’ Children’s Geographies vol. 10, no. 2, pp169-186. DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2012.667918
  • Hampshire, K; Porter, G; Owusu, S; Mariwah, S; Abane, A; Robson, E; Munthali, A.; Mashiri, M;Maponya, M; Bourdillon, M 2012 ‘Taking the long view: temporal considerations in the ethics of children’s research activity and knowledge production’ Children’s Geographies vol. 10, no. 2, pp 219-232. DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2012.667921
  • Porter, G.; Hampshire, K; Abane, A; Munthali, A; Robson, E; Mashiri, M; Tanle, A 2012 ‘Youth, mobility and mobile phones in Africa: findings from a three country study’ Information Technology for Development, Special Issue on ICT and Human Mobility: Cases from Developing Countries and Beyond. Vol 18, no. 2, pp145-162 DOI: 10.1080/02681102.2011.643210

2011

  • Porter, G.; Hampshire, K; Munthali, A; Robson, E. 2011 ‘Mobility, surveillance and control of children and young people in the everyday: perspectives from sub-Saharan Africa’ Society and Surveillance vol 9, no. 1 / 2, pp114-131. http://library.queensu.ca/ojs/index.php/surveillance-and-society/article/view/sub-saharan
  • Porter, G; Hampshire, K; Abane, A; Tanle, A; Munthali, A; Robson, E; Mashiri, M; Maponya, G 2011 ‘Young people’s transport and mobility in sub-Saharan Africa: the gendered journey to school’ Documents d’Anàlisi Geogràfica vol. 57, no. 1, pp61-79. http://www.raco.cat/index.php/DocumentsAnalisi/issue/view/17994/showToc
  • Ansell, N; van Blerk, L; Hajdu, F; Robson, E 2011 ‘Spaces, times and critical moments: A relational time-space analysis of the impacts of AIDS on rural youth in Malawi and Lesotho’ Environment & Planning A vol. 43, no. 3, pp525-544. DOI: 10.1068/a4363
  • Hajdu, F; Ansell, N; Robson, E; van Blerk, L; Chipeta, L 2011 ‘Income generating activities for young people in southern Africa: Exploring AIDS and other constraints’ Geographical Journal vol. 177, no. 3, pp251-263 DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2010.00381.x

2010

  • Porter, G; Hampshire, K; Abane, A; Robson, E; Munthali, M; Mashiri, M; Tanle, A. 2010 ‘Moving young lives: mobility, immobility and inter-generational tensions in urban Africa’ Geoforum vol. 41, no. 5, pp796-804. DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2010.05.001
  • Porter, G; Hampshire, K; Bourdillon, M; Robson, E; Munthali, A; Abane, M; & Mashiri, M. 2010 ‘Children as research collaborators: issues and reflections from a mobility study in sub-Saharan Africa’ American Journal of Community Psychology vol. 46, no. 1, pp215-227. DOI: 10.1007/s10464-010-9317-x
  • Porter G, Hampshire K, Abane A, Munthali A, Robson E, Mashiri M & Tanle A. 2010 ‘Youth transport, mobility and security in sub-Saharan Africa: the gendered journey to school’ World Transport Policy and Practice vol. 16, no. 1, pp51-71. http://www.eco-logica.co.uk/pdf/wtpp16.1.pdf
  • Porter, G; Hampshire, K; Abane, A; Munthali, A; Robson, E; & Mashiri, M. 2010 ‘Where dogs, ghosts and lions roam: learning from mobile ethnographies on the journey from school’ Children’s Geographies vol. 8, no. 2, pp91-105. DOI: 10.1080/14733281003691343

2009

  • Robson, E; Porter, G; Hampshire, K; & Bourdillon, M. 2009 ‘Doing it right?’: working with young researchers in Malawi to investigate children, transport and mobility Children’s Geographies vol. 7, no. 4, pp467-480. DOI: 10.1080/14733280903234535
  • Ansell, N; van Blerk, L; Robson, E; Hajdu, F, & Chipeta, L. 2009 ‘The new variant famine hypothesis: moving beyond the household to explain links between AIDS and food insecurity in southern Africa’ Progress in Development Studies vol. 9, no. 3, pp187-207. DOI: 10.1177/146499340800900302

2008

  • van Blerk, L; Ansell, N; Robson, E; Hajdu, F; & Chipeta, L. ‘Youth, AIDS and rural livelihoods in southern Africa’ 2008 Geography Compass vol 3 pp709-727. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2008.00114.x

Published Peer Reviewed Chapters

  • Ansell, N; Hajdu, F; Robson, E; van Blerk, L; Marandet, E. 2012 ‘Youth policy, neoliberalism and transnational governmentality’ in P. Kraftl, J. Horton, and F. Tucker (eds) Critical Geographies of Childhood and Youth: Contemporary Policy and Practice Policy Press: Bristol, pp43-59.
  • Porter, G; Hampshire, K; Abane, A; Robson, E; Munthali, A; Mashiri, M; Tanle, A; Maponya, G; Dube, S. 2011 ‘Perspectives on young people’s daily mobility, transport and service access in sub-Saharan Africa’ in M. Grieco and J. Urry (eds.) Mobilities: New Perspectives on Transport and Society Ashgate, Farnham, pp65-90.
  • Robson, E. 2010 ‘Children’s bodies working and caring in sub-Saharan Africa’, in R. Colls & K. Hörschelmann (eds) Contested Bodies of Childhood and Youth Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, pp148-162.

Other Publications (not peer reviewed)

  • Robson, E. & Evans, R. forthcoming ‘Dilemmas of dealing with distress during interviews with children’ in UNICEF Ethical Research Involving Children: Ethics Charter and Guidelines.
  • Robson, E., Munthali, A., Porter, G. & Hampshire, K. forthcoming ‘Payments to young researchers in Malawi’ in UNICEF Ethical Research Involving Children: Ethics Charter and Guidelines.
  • Robson, E., Horton, J. & Kraftl, P. 2013 Editorial Children’s Geographies: reflecting on our first ten years Children’s Geographies vol. 11, no. 1, pp1-6. DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2012.752665
  • Evans, R & Robson, E. 2011 ‘Distress during interviews’ in P. Alderson and V. Morrow The Ethics of Research with Children and Young People: A Practical Handbook SAGE, London, p28.
  • Hajdu, F; Ansell, N; Robson, E; van Blerk, L; & Chipeta, L. 2009 ‘Socio-Economic Causes of Food Insecurity in Malawi’ Society of Malawi Journal vol. 62, no. 2, pp6-18.

Consultancy Reports

  • Robson, E. 2012 Qualitative Service Assessment for Beneficiaries of the Government of Malawi’s Social Cash Transfer Programme Kadale Consultants for UNICEF/Government of Malawi (67pp).
  • Robson, E. 2011 Briefing Paper on Prevention of the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in East and Southern Africa, Knowing Children, Malaysia for Oak Foundation (63pp).
  • Robson, E. 2011 Social Research Report of Interactive Communication Programme for Community Development and Effective Decentralization Nanzikambe Arts for Trócaire: Blantyre, Malawi (85pp).

A full list of my publications is available as a PDF.

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