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Dr David Pinder

Reader in Geography

Tel: 020 7882 2753
Location: Francis Bancroft building Room 2.01 (City Centre)


David Pinder

My interests lie in urban and cultural geography, and focus on the ways in which cities and their spaces are imagined, represented, performed and contested. Underlying my research are questions about the possibilities of urban society and life, and how these can be reimagined and reconstituted within and against capitalist urbanisation. This has included explorations of utopian ideas and practices from within modernist and avant-garde movements in twentieth-century Europe, among them the situationists (for example in my book Visions of the City). Through such historical studies as well as more recent engagements with urban theory, I am seeking to challenge widespread claims about the ‘end of utopia’, and to reclaim and rethink utopia as a vital concept for critically addressing urban questions and possibilities today. A related theme is mobile cities, through which I am exploring the political implications of approaching urbanism in terms of mobility, flexibility, speed and nomadism. A further theme, which is the subject of a book in progress, concerns contemporary art and spatial politics, and artistic practices as means of exploring and intervening in urban spaces.

I joined the School of Geography at Queen Mary in 1999, having previously lectured in Geography at the University of Southampton for four years. Prior to that I studied for a BA and PhD at the University of Cambridge. I have held visiting positions at the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University; at the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; and at Roskilde University, in Denmark, where I was Velux Visiting Professor in 2011–12. I was recently reviews editor of Cultural Geographies for four years, and I have been a co-editor of the Re-Materialising Cultural Geography book series for Ashgate since 2008. I have been invited to present my research in a wide range of settings within and beyond the UK, including in the United States, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Lebanon and Hong Kong.

Recent publications include (for fuller list see here):

  • Reconstituting the possible: Lefebvre, utopia and the urban question. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (2013), in press.
  • Dis-locative arts: mobile media and the politics of global positioning. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 27.4 (2013), in press.
  • Errant paths: the poetics and politics of walking. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29.4 (2011), pp. 672–692.
  • Cities moving, plugging in, floating and dissolving. In Tim Cresswell and Peter Merriman, editors, Geographies of Mobility: Subjects, Spaces and Practices. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2011, pp. 167–186.
  • Visions of the City: Utopianism, Power and Politics in Twentieth-Century Urbanism. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press; and New York, Routledge. 2005. 354pp.


My teaching, like my research, focuses on the cultural geographies of cities, and on ideas and theory within human geography. What initially attracted me to study geography as an undergraduate and a postgarduate were the ways in which it opened up new and challenging perspectives on what was around me, not only on some of the ‘big’ social and political issues of the time but also on the most apparently ordinary spaces of daily life. I was excited about the breadth of the subject, its openness to ideas and approaches, and how it encouraged me to explore, to question and to think differently about the world. I found many of my taken-for-granted perspectives being productively troubled if not overturned. Why are spaces and ways of living organised like this, and what are the consequences? How do they differ geographically and historically? How could they be constructed differently (more justly, more appropriately for human survival and well-being)? These are aspects of geography that continue to excite me and I hope something of that comes across in what I teach and how.

Since my teaching and my research spring from the same fundamental interests and questions, they have always informed one another. I currently teach across the range of our programmes, from first year undergraduates to masters and PhD students. I remain committed to the idea that there is something very special about the collective and embodied experience of live teaching and learning, whether in a lecture and seminar room or in the field. I am also committed to the significance of reading carefully and critically as well as writing. Since moving to Queen Mary almost fifteen years ago, I have particularly enjoyed the opportunities provided by our location in London’s East End for engaging critically with urban issues. The extraordinary diversity of the city with its vast contrasts in conditions and wealth poses huge questions to us as geographers. This is not only about understanding the complex processes through which these geographies are being produced as well as their unequal consequences, but also about considering how they could be changed for the better. That latter question is, in my view, one with which a critical human geography should necessarily be concerned.

Current teaching

My undergraduate teaching includes a first year module on Critical Human Geographiesthat I convene and co-teach. This introduces key radical approaches to the subject, and considers how they emerged and have developed in relation to politics and struggles beyond universities and well as within. It has been gratifying to hear students say they find the module important for understanding broader theories as well as why they matter. Recent comments from participating students include ‘captivating lectures’ that are ‘very interesting and relevant to the world today’, and that it ‘forces you to challenge assumptions within the subject and the world. Applicable to so many things!’

I also teach a third year option Urbanism, Culture and Modernity that draws on my research on utopian visions of cities. This module engages with the ideas and practices of a range of influential architects, planners, artists, critics, activists and writers since the mid-nineteenth century and mainly in Europe, to explore how they imagined and sought to transform particular cities at certain moments. It suggests there is much to be learned from earlier efforts to transform urban environments and processes, not only for thinking about the past differently but also potential urban futures. Recent comments from students have described it as ‘challenging and thought provoking’, and ‘stimulating with very interesting topics’.  To allow students to develop interests in these themes, I recently added a linked Readings in Geography option module that involves independent research and writing towards an extended essay.

My MA module Art, Performance and the Citytakes urban and cultural issues further through engaging with artistic practices that explore and intervene in cities, and specifically in London’s East End. Through co-taught seminars, excursions and talks from visiting artists, the module introduces selected artists and practitioners, and sets them in broader contexts to assess their significance. Cases include socially engaged art that addresses urban developments around the London Docklands and the Olympics site, and practices of walking, touring, mapping and exploring the city. The module is interdisciplinary in approach and attracts students from programmes beyond those in Geography, including Media and Arts Technology, which has led to very interesting discussions.

My other teaching mainly focuses around issues of methodology and theory, and includes at Masters and PhD training level sessions on visual methodologies and critical cartographies, on thinking space and place, and on exploring places through mapping and multisensory methods.

Current BA/BSc modules:

Current MA/MRes modules:


Research interests:

Underlying my research is an interest in how urban spaces are imagined, represented, performed and contested. I seek to challenge assumptions about the inevitability of urban conditions by addressing how they are socially produced, and by opening up perspectives on what is possible and what could be. This is whether through exploring radical projects to transform urbanisation and everyday life, or through attending to more poetic and fleeting artistic engagements with the qualities of the urban.

Utopianism and cities
My research on this theme has addressed utopian visions of cities during the twentieth-century, with particular reference to modernist and avant-garde movements in western Europe. It has involved critically examining influential traditions of utopian thought concerned with planning and remaking modern cities, and challenging the ways in which they have informed modern urban imaginations. But it has also recovered other forms of utopian urbanism – especially those associated with the surrealists, and with the radical ideas and practices of the situationists – that sought to transform everyday life and space. Through studying utopian spaces from the recent past, I have sought to rekindle elements of utopianism for the present. Since the publication of my book Visions of the City (2005), I have been developing these questions and concerns through an engagement with forms of ‘everyday utopianism’ and a ‘breath of the possible’, concerned with uncovering possibilities in the here and now; and with the utopianism of critical urban theory, including through the writings of Henri Lefebvre. This work seeks to reclaim utopia as a vital concept for urban studies, and to challenge how the urban (im)possible comes to be defined. It is a project that resonates with and takes sustenance from recent political mobilisations around the world that insist ‘another world is possible’, and it is being extended further through a longer term project on utopia and urban theory.


Art, spatial practices and urban politics
This research is concerned with art as a means of exploring and intervening in urban spaces. The focus is on the spatial practices of selected artists drawn mainly from European and North American cities, through questions that include: In what ways do they imagine, represent, perform and contest urban spaces? How do they question or challenge the spatial constitution of power relations? How do they deploy tools and techniques such as walking, mapping, urban touring and locative media? The research attends closely to the poetics as well as politics of the practices involved, and considers them critically in their historical as well as geographical contexts. That includes their oft-neglected relationships to earlier avant-garde and psychogeographical practices, and their utopian engagements with everyday urban spaces. In approaching their spatial politics in this way I hope to avoid the pitfalls of overly celebratory accounts on the one hand, or of dismissive attitudes towards their ultimate insignificance on the other. Among artists that I have focused on to date include Janet Cardiff, Francis Alÿs, Platform, Nils Norman, Electronic Disturbance Theatre and locative media practitioners. ‘Arts of urban exploration’, as I termed them in a guest edited theme issue of Cultural Geographies with that title, are also coming together as a book in progress. My interest in cartographies and counter-mapping is further being extended beyond the urban context through a forthcoming paper on radical cartographies of capitalist globalization.


Mobile and nomadic cities
What is to be made of demands for cities to become mobile? To leave behind static forms and embrace movement, even to take flight? This project connects with that on utopianism by focusing on urban imaginations and practices that emphasise mobility. It explores critically figurations of mobility, flexibility, speed and the nomadic through projects that include radical architectural schemes in Europe during the 1960s and 1970s such as those by Archigram, Yona Friedman and others, through to more recent practices that centre on mobile technologies. The research asks what lies behind the attraction of the mobile and dynamic for urbanists? What are the political and social implications of their emphasis on these themes? By exploring earlier debates on these issues, especially from the post-war avant-gardes, the research emphasizes the need to address critically questions of power and politics, which often get elided in more celebratory accounts of nomadic cities. This has implications for contemporary accounts of urban nomadism and mobilities, and also for recent interest in temporary cities and urban design.



Visions of the City

Pinder, D. (2005) Visions of the City: Utopianism, Power and Politics in Twentieth-Century Urbanism. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press; and New York, Routledge. 354pp.

Some reviews of Visions of the City:

  • ‘A superb critical exploration of the underside of utopian thought over the last hundred years and its continuing relevance in the here and now for thinking about possible urban worlds. The treatment of the Situationists and their milieu is a revelation’ – David Harvey (back cover).
  • Visions of the City will quickly become a revered, much-cited and “classic” text’ – Chris Philo (back cover).
  • ‘A wonderfully readable and lively contribution to the literature on urban utopianism. It can be recommended to student and researcher alike, as well as to a much wider audience’ – Cultural Geographies.
  • ‘David Pinder’s Visions of the City takes its readers on a fascinating and richly illustrated tour through some of the most powerful and influential visions at the heart of western European urban theory, policy and practice…. This book’s strength lies in its diligent attention to detail, making connections and enquiring about the regulatory practices underpinning utopian thinking and practice, and the spatiality of utopian thinking. It thus makes an important contribution well beyond its study of the Situationists … and as such contributes to how the contemporary city is envisioned, regulated and practiced ’ – Area.
  • ‘Pinder’s book is a fascinating, scholarly and engaging analysis of utopian urban visions. At the beginning of the new millennium, when there is a persistent thrust to present the view that there is no alternative, the need for utopian urban visions is apparent’ – Journal of Sociology.
  • ‘A brilliant exploration into the relationship between power, politics and ideas of metropolitan utopianism…. Having made its mark in Urban Studies, this book deserves a wider readership among young artists and writers who would find a solid theoretical framework for contemporary conceptual art movements. Unlike most academic works on this theme, it is not only literate but literary – a good read and eminently readable’ – Bob Biderman, Visions of the City Magazine.
  • ‘David Pinder's book is well written, well documented, and appropriately illustrated… It is of equal interest to urban and architectural scholars and utopian studies specialists. It challenges the value systems of utopian design aspirations while encouraging what he calls “the cultivation of critical utopian imagination”. I highly recommend it’ – Utopian Studies.
  • ‘If jeremiads against utopianism have become something of a commonplace, David Pinder's book is an eloquent attempt to rescue a series of episodes in the wider historical geography of utopian thought.… Not only does Visions of the City make an important contribution to recent work which has increasingly come to explore the cultural geography of the everyday city, it also does so in a way that engages – generously – with the vexed history of modernism sensu lato.  Indeed, one of its main contributions is to recast the standard orthodox narrative of modernism in resolutely spatial terms and to ask what it means to think modernism otherwise and in relation to its mainstream currents.... A lively and pressing intervention’ – Environment and Planning A.
  • ‘A wise and imaginative guide through the tradition and counter-tradition of urban plans and visions’ – Urban Studies.
  • ‘Visions of the City makes several new claims on the reader’s attention: a critical consideration of the situationists in the context of twentieth-century urbanism, especially Ebenezer Howard and Le Corbusier; a depth of research and a careful historicization of the different situationists at different moments in the movement’s history; and an analysis of the situationists' urbanism specifically in the context of utopia’ – Modernism/Modernity.


Pinder, D. with Blunt, A., Gruffudd, P., May, J., Ogborn, M. editors (2003) Cultural Geography in Practice. London, Arnold 330pp. 


Journal guest editorship

  • Pinder, D. 2005, guest editor, ‘Arts of urban exploration’, Cultural Geographies 12.4, pp. 383–526.


Journal papers, essays and book contributions

  • Pinder, D. 2013, Reconstituting the possible: Lefebvre, utopia and the urban question. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, in press.
  • Pinder, D. 2013, Dis-locative arts: mobile media and the politics of global positioning. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 27.4, in press.
  • Pinder, D. 2013, Foreword. In Christoph Lindner and Andrew Hussey (eds), Paris-Amsterdam Underground: Essays on Cultural Resistance, Subversion, and Diversion. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 9-12. Open access here.
  • Pinder, D. 2012 Stepping into the cracks: challenging the existing real through art and activism. In Christian Gether, Stine Høholt and Marie Laurberg (eds) Utopia and Contemporary Art. Ishøj: Arken Museum of Art; and Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, pp. 128-137.
  • Pinder, D. 2011, Errant paths: the poetics and politics of walking. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29.4, pp. 672-692.
  • Pinder, D. 2011, Nomadic cities. In Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson, editors, New Companion to the City. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 221-234.
  • Pinder, D. 2011, Cities moving, plugging in, floating and dissolving. In Tim Cresswell and Peter Merriman, editors, Geographies of Mobility: Subjects, Spaces and Practices. Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 167-186.
  • Pinder, D. 2010, The breath of the possible: everyday utopianism and the street in modernist urbanism. In Michael Gordon, Gyan Prakash and Helen Tilley (eds), Utopia-Dystopia: Conditions of Historical Possibility. Princeton, Princeton University Press, pp. 203-230.
  • Pinder, D. 2010, Necessary utopias: uses of utopia in urban planning. In Jean Hillier and Patsy Healey, editors, Ashgate Research Companion to Planning Theory: Conceptual Challenges for Spatial Planning. Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 343-364.
  • Pinder, D. 2010, Utopian urbanism: ideals, practices and prospects. In Christian Hermansen, editor, Manifestos and Transformations in the Early Modernist City. Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 9-37.
  • Pinder, D. 2009, Situationism, situationist geography. In Rob Kitchin and Nigel Thrift, editors, Encyclopedia of Human Geography, Volume 10, pp. 144-150.
  • Pinder, D. 2009, Surrealism, surrealist geographies. In Rob Kitchin and Nigel Thrift, editors, Encyclopedia of Human Geography, Volume 11, pp. 87-94.
  • Pinder, D. 2008, Urban interventions: art, politics and pedagogy. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 32.3, pp. 70-76.
  • Pinder, D. 2008, Revolutionary space. Vertigo 3.9, pp. 25-26. Available here.
  • Pinder, D. 2007, Cartographies unbound. Cultural Geographies 14.3, pp. 453-462.
  • Pinder, D. 2006, Urban encounters: dérives from surrealism. In Elza Adamowicz, editor, Surrealism: Crossings/Frontiers. Oxford, Peter Lang, pp. 39-64.
  • Pinder, D. 2005, Arts of urban exploration. Cultural Geographies 12.4, pp. 383-411.
  • Pinder, D. 2005, Modernist urbanism and its monsters. In Thomas Mical, editor, Surrealism and Architecture. London and New York, Routledge, pp. 179-90.
  • Pinder, D. 2004, Inventing new games: unitary urbanism and the politics of space. In Loretta Lees, editor, The Emancipatory City? Paradoxes and Possibilities. London, Sage, pp. 108-22.
  • Pinder, D. 2004, Meanders. In Stephan Harrison, Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift, editors, Patterned Ground: Entanglements of Nature and Culture. London, Reaktion, pp. 82-84.
  • Pinder, D. 2003, Mapping worlds: cartography and the politics of representation. In Alison Blunt, Pyrs Gruffudd, Jon May, Miles Ogborn and David Pinder, editors, Cultural Geography in Practice.  London, Arnold, pp. 172-187.
  • Pinder, D.  2002, In defence of utopian urbanism: imagining cities after the “end of Utopia”. Geografiska Annaler 84B, pp. 229-241.
  • Pinder, D.  2001,Ghostly footsteps: voices, memories and walks in the city. Ecumene: A Journal of Cultural Geographies, 8.1, pp. 1-19.
  • Pinder, D.  2001, Utopian transfiguration: the other spaces of New Babylon. In Iain Borden and Sandy McCreery, editors, ‘New Babylonians’.  Architectural Design, 71, 3, pp. 15-19.
  • Pinder, D.  2000, ‘Old Paris is no more’: geographies of spectacle and anti-spectacle. Antipode, 32.4, pp. 357-386.
  • Pinder, D. 1996, Subverting cartography: the situationists and maps of the city. Environment and Planning A, 28, pp. 405-427. (Reprinted in Derek Gregory and Noel Castree, eds, Human Geography, Volume Two: Theories, Methods and Practices. London, Sage, 2011).


  • Pinder, D. (2007/8) ‘Interview with David Pinder, in conversation with Bob Biderman’. Visions of the City 1.1. Available here
  • Pinder, D. (2007) ‘Utopia and the city: an interview with David Pinder’, by Zack Furness. Bad Subjects 78, theme issue on Hope. Available here


PhD Supervision

I welcome enquiries from prospective PhD students interested in working in fields related to my research. Potential areas for supervision include: art, spatial practices and urban politics; geographies of modernism and twentieth-century avant-gardes; utopian spaces; psychogeography; locative media; counter-cartographies, and histories of radical geographical thought and practice. Please feel free to get in touch if you think you may be shared interests. To start a conversation it would be helpful if you could send me a summary of your background and qualifications, an initial outline of your project, and an example of an academic text that you have previously written. You should also indicate the sources of funding to which you intend to apply. You will find advice on putting together a proposal here , and information about funding possibilities available through our School when they are available here. Our main deadlines for funded studentships are usually around the end of January for starting the following autumn.

I additionally welcome approaches from students interested in working across disciplines through supervision between schools. Among my current PhD students are a number who I co-supervise with colleagues in Drama, History, and Media and Arts Technology or in other institutions, something that I enjoy and I think can be interesting and productive for all involved.

Current PhD students and their working titles:

  • Sam Miles Sex(uality) in the city: implications of digital technologies and locative media on urban queer geography. Primary supervisor (second supervisor Yasmin Ibrahim in Business and Management).
  • Hayley Peacock, Bringing Places to Life: The Politics of Urban Colour Interventions. AHRC studentship. Primary supervisor (second supervisor Tim Brown).
  • Cecilie Sachs Olsen, Re-Imagining the Urban: Art as a Framework for Analysing Space and Politics. QM Principal award. Primary supervisor (second supervisor Jen Harvie in Drama).
  • Sarah Thomasson, Performing the City: Place-making and the Edinburgh and Adelaide Festivals QM Principal award, joint between Drama and Geography. Second supervisor (primary supervisor Jen Harvie in Drama).
  • Ilze Black, Towards the Phenomenology of the Internet: Social and Spatial Perceptions of Network Space. Media and Arts Technology programme, School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science. Second supervisor (primary supervisor Graham White in EECS).
  • Davy Smith, Creating Performative Curated Experiences Through Ludic Trajectories. Media and Arts Technology programmme, School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science. Second supervisor (primary supervisor Laurissa Tokarchuk in EECS).
  • Dion Georgiou, Suburban Street Carnivals in Middlesex and Essex, 1890–1914: Place, Community, Voluntarism and Leisure on London’s Periphery. School of History. Second supervisor (primary supervisor Gareth Stedman Jones in History).
  • Mike Ricketts, Engaging Urban Social Space: A Practice-Based Enquiry. University of the Arts, Chelsea College of Art and Design. External supervisor (primary supervisor Neil Cummings at Chelsea).

Previous PhD students at QMUL and dates of graduation:

  • Mara Ferreri Cultural Politics of Temporary Urban Re-use: Performing Spatial Occupations. QM Principal award, graduated 2014. Primary supervisor (second supervisor Jon May).
  • Evelyn Owen, The Geographies of African Art. ESRC studentship, graduated 2013. Second supervisor (primary supervisor Catherine Nash).
  • Anthony Ince, Organizing Anarchy: Spatial Strategy, Prefiguration, and the Politics of Everyday Life. ESRC studentship, graduated 2010. Primary supervisor (second supervisor Jane Wills).
  • Felicity Paynter, Suburbs, Culture and Regeneration: Cultural Strategies in Three English Suburban Boroughs. ESRC studentship, graduated in 2010. Second supervisor (primary supervisor Alison Blunt).
  • Holly McLaren, Bordering Art: Geography, Collaboration and Creative Practices. AHRC studentship, graduated 2009. Joint primary supervisor with Catherine Nash.
  • Lina Jamoul, Teaching the Art of Politics: Broad Based Organising in Britain. ESRC CASE studentship, graduated 2006. Second supervisor (primary supervisor Jane Wills).
  • Ken Fox, Film Visions of Los Angeles. Graduated 2006. Second supervisor (primary supervisor Jon May).
  • Halima Begum, Commodifying Multicultures: Urban Regeneration and the Politics of Space in Spitalfields. ESRC studentship, graduated 2004.  Joint primary supervisor with Alison Blunt.
  • David Hurford, Daily Bread: Evangelical Beliefs and Identities Through Place. QM studentship, graduated 2004. Joint primary supervisor with Alison Blunt.

Public engagement

Alongside my interest in ideas and theories, I focus on practices through which urban spaces are thought about, explored, shaped and contested. As such my research has long involved engaging with practitioners of various kinds, especially with artists who work and intervene in cities and public spaces. I have been interested in developing dialogues between those of us situated within geography and urban studies and those who regard themselves as artists, activists, performers or cultural practitioners. The intersections between these fields, and the potential for connections and collaborations, are currently exciting although I am also interested in their longer histories. These cross-currents were a focus of my article ‘Arts of urban exploration’ in Cultural Geographies (2005) and the rest of the theme issue of that name that I guest edited, and they inform a variety of my recent and current writings in this area.

I participated in the early meetings of Conflux, the annual New York festival for contemporary psychogeography that began in 2003 and that involves exploring everyday urban life through artistic, social and technological practice, and I was invited to help curate the festival in 2007. I have also given talks at a variety of arts institutions that include the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester; the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow; the Urban Design Alliance in London; the Institute of Contemporary Interdisciplinary Arts in Bath; and the Metropolis Lab in Copenhagen, organized by the Copenhagen International Theatre. Among recent engagements have been talks and discussions with artists, activists and practitioners at the international event reART:theURBAN in Zurich, in October 2012; and at the Cultural Hijack CONTRAvention at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London, in May 2013. I have organized events with artists such as Platform and Nils Norman, and I am currently developing connections with those working in digital media, including through the recent award of three ESRC-funded multidisciplinary PhD studentships on digital technologies and the city through the London Social Science Doctoral Training Centre (to work in Geography, Media and Arts Technology, and Business and Management). My MA module Art, Performance and the City has involved contributions from a range of artists that include Loraine Leeson, Christian Nold, Lottie Child and Hilary Powell.

Writing has been a significant means through which I have engaged different publics. This has included through commissioned texts, for example articles in Architectural Design and the film magazine Vertigo, and an essay on utopia and contemporary art for an edited book on that theme produced through Arken Museum, in Denmark, as part of its three-year programme on Utopia. An interest in reaching beyond academia has animated my writing more generally and I have been glad to find that my book Visions of the City resonating with and being taken up in a variety of fields. That includes among artists, architects and a wider public, as suggested by some interviews in magazines such as those here and here.

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