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Professor Jane Wills

Professor of Human Geography

Tel: 020 7882 2752 (messages can be left on 020 7882 82
Location: Francis Bancroft building Room 2.03 (City Centre)


Jane Wills

Over the past two decades my research has been on: (1) The changing geo-political-economy of work, employment, labour supply and labour politics; (2) New forms of urban political alliances with a particular interest in community organising and, more recently; (3) The politics and practice of localism in the UK.

Key projects include:

  • Leverhulme-funded research into emergent localism in England.
  • ESRC and Trust-for-London-funded research into the living wage campaign and the importance of community organising in fostering the political alliances on which it depends.
  • ESRC-funded research into  low waged labour in London, the increasing dependence on foreign-born labour and the wider implications of this for policy, development and (in)justice.


From academic year 2015-16 I am offering a new third year module called Geographies of Democracy (GEG6133) with a linked Readings module (GEG6005 Readings in Geographies of Democracy). This module will explore the geographies of democracy and related debates about the democracy of geography as a discipline.

I will be teaching on the first year module, GEG4002 Ideas and Practice in Geography and Environmental Science.

I would welcome interest from potential Masters students (taking the MA/MSC Geography) who want to do a long dissertation in areas such as community, citizenship, organising and democracy.


Research interests:

New research into the impact of music-making in primary schools in Tower Hamlets

Between 2013 and 2015, funding from Creativeworks London allowed the School of Geography to help Spitalfields Music explore the impact of their work in two primary schools in Tower Hamlets.
Researchers looked at the Takeover festivals in Kobi Nazrul and Shapla primary schools. These projects enabled Year 3 pupils to create, programme and produce their own festival to be experienced by their entire school, families and the general public. Research data was collected through interviews with participants, artists, teachers and members of the Spitalfields Music team, focus groups with children and observations of the workshops and performances.
The summary report is available here

Leverhulme-funded research into Localism in the UK (£158K, 2012-5) 

This project aims to explore the reasons why the local is being mobilised and prioritised at this particular time; it considers people’s attitudes towards place and whether they want to take a greater role in political life and the conditions in which they do so; it charts the outcomes of top-down and bottom-up localism and determine whether localism is a viable route to democratic renewal in the UK. The research aims to take a national view of the localism agenda, its rationale and its impact in different parts of the country including rural and urban, rich and poor, well and weakly organised communities. It is designed to explore the scope for engaging people on the basis of their locality, the conditions in which this proves possible and the limits to the current models of localism.

ESRC and Trust-for-London-funded research into the living wage campaign

I have been mapping the development of the campaign for a living wage in London since 2001 and in the wider UK since the formation of the Living Wage Foundation in 2011. I have published research into the alliance behind the campaign and the costs and benefits of the living wage in London.

ESRC-funded research into London’s Migrant Divisions of Labour (£240K, 2005–09)

Working with colleagues, Kavita Datta, Yara Evans, Joanna Herbert, Jon May and Cathy McIlwaine, the Global Cities at Work project mapped the role and implications of foreign-born workers in London’s low paid jobs. This research highlighted the importance of immigration, subcontracting and benefit entitlements in shaping London’s migrant division of labour.


 To BUY a discounted copy of Global Cities at Work, click here:



  • Locating localism: Statecraft, citizenship and democracy, Bristol: Policy Press, 2016 (forthcoming).
  • Global cities at work: New migrant divisions of labour. Pluto, London, 2010. Written with Kavita Datta, Yara Evans, Joanna Herbert, Jon May and Cathy McIlwaine.
  • Threads of labour: Garment industry supply chains from the workers’ perspective. Blackwell, Oxford, 2005. Edited with Angela Hale.
  • Place, space and the new labour internationalisms. Blackwell, Oxford, 2001. Edited with Peter Waterman.
  • Union Futures: Building networked trade unionism in the UK.
    Fabian Ideas pamphlet 602. 2002. pp. 59. This publication is available from the Fabian Society, email:
  • Dissident geographies: An introduction to radical ideas and practice. Longman, London. Prentice Hall (Pearson), London, 2000. Written with Alison Blunt.
  • Geographies of economies. Arnold, London, 1997. Edited with Roger Lee.

  •       Union retreat and the regions: The shrinking landscape of organized labour. Jessica Kingsley (Kogan Page), London, 1996. Written with Ron Martin and Peter Sunley.

Journal Papers and book chapters:

  • Taking on the cosmocorps: Experiments in trans-national labor organization. Economic Geography, 1998, 74, 111-130.
  • Managing European Works Councils in British firms. Human Resource Management Journal, 1999, 9, 4, 19-38.
  • Great expectations: Three years in the life of one EWC. European Journal of Industrial Relations, 2000, 6, 83-105.
  • Uneven geographies of capital and labour: the lessons of European Works Councils. Antipode, 2001, 33, 484-509.
  • Community unionism and trade union renewal in the UK: Moving beyond the fragments at last? Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 2001, 26, 465-483.
  • Bargaining for the space to organise in the global economy: A review of the Accor–IUF trade union rights agreement. Review of International Political Economy, 2002, 9, 675-700.

  • F rom mutual interests to mutual exploitation: partnership and trade unionism in Barclays Bank PLC. Industrial Relations Journal, 2004, 35, 4, 329-343.
  • The Geography of Union Organising in Low-Paid Service Industries in the UK: Lessons from the T&G’s Campaign to Unionise the Dorchester Hotel, London Antipode, 2005, 37.
  • Building reciprocal community unionism in the UK. Capital and Class, 2004, 82, 59-84. Written with Melanie Simms.
  • The geography of union organising in low paid service industries in the UK: lessons from the T&G’s campaign to unionise the Dorchester Hotel, London. Antipode, 2005, 37, 139-59.
  • Globalisation and Protest, in P. Cloke, P. Crang and M. Goodwin (eds) Introducing human geographies (second edition). London: Arnold. 2005, 573-587.
  • Networking for workers rights in the garment industry. Global Networks, 2007, 7, 3. Written with Angela Hale.
  • Making class politics possible: Organizing contract cleaners in London. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 2008, 32, 2, 305-24.

  • F aith in politics, Urban Studies, 2008, 45, 10, 2035-56. Written with Lina Jamoul.
  • The living wage. Soundings:  A journal of politics and culture, 2009, 42, 33-46.
  • The London Living Wage in A. Kumar, J. A. Scholte, M. Kaldor, M. Glasius, H. Seckinelgin and H. Anheier (eds) Global Civil Society Yearbook 2009: Poverty and activism. London: Sage.
  • Subcontracted employment and its challenge to labour. Labor Studies Journal, special issue on community unionism, 2009, 34, 4. Note: this paper was the most downloaded article in 2010 in this journal (of all articles published in 2009 and 2010).
  • Identity making for action: the example of London Citizens, in M. Wetherell (Ed) Theorizing Identities and Social Action. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, 157–76.
  • The multi-scalarity of trade union practice, in S. McGrath-Champ, A. Herod and A. Rainnie (eds) Handbook of employment and society: Working space. Edward Elgar, 2010, 383–97. Written with J. Anderson and P. Hamilton.
  • Academic agents for change. City, 2010, 14, 6, 616–18.
  • The geography of community and political organisation in London. Political Geography, 2012 , 31, 114–126.
  • London’s Olympics in 2012: The good, the bad and an organising opportunity. Political Geography, 2013, see early online publication:
  • Place and politics, in Featherstone, D and Painter, J. (eds) Spatial politics: Essays for Doreen Massey. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013, 135–145.
  • Wills, J. and Linneker, B. (2013) In-work poverty and the living wage in the UK: A geographical perspective. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 38.
  • Flint, E. Cummins, S and Wills, J. (2013) Investigating the effect of the London living wage on the psychological wellbeing of low-wage service sector employees: a feasibility study. Journal of Public Health.
  • Linneker, B. and Wills, J. (2016) The London living wage and in-work poverty reduction: Impacts on employers and workers [subscription required]. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy.
  • Harney, L. McCurry, J. Scott, J. and Wills, J. (2016) Developing 'process pragmatism' to underpin engaged research in Human Geography. Progress in Human Geography.

The following are all written with Kavita Datta, Yara Evans, Joanna Herbert, Jon May and Cathy McIlwaine, from ESRC-funded research called Global Cities at Work:

  • Keeping London working: Global cities, the British state, and London’s new migrant division of labour. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 2007, 32, 151–67.
  • Subcontracting by stealth in London’s hotels: impacts and implications for labour organising. Just Labor: A Canadian journal of work and society, 2007, 10, 85–97.
  • From coping strategies to tactics: London’s low pay economy and migrant labour. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 2007, 45, 2, 404–32.
  • The new development finance or exploiting migrant labour? Remittance sending among low-paid migrant workers in London, International Development Planning Review, 2007, 29, 1.
  • Multicultural living? Experiences of everyday racism among Ghanaian migrants in London. European Urban and Regional Studies, 15, 2, 103–117. London’s Migrant Division of Labour. European Urban and Regional Studies special issue on Regions and migration, 2009, 3: 257–271.
  • Religion at work: The role of faith-based organisations in living wage campaigns for immigrant workers in London. Special issue entitled Transforming Work, The Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 2009, 2, 3, 443–62.
  • Men on the move: narratives of migration and work among low-paid migrant men in London. Social & Cultural Geography, 10, Issue 8, 2009: 853–873.
  • Global Cities at Work: Migrant labour in low paid employment in London, The London Journal, 2010, 35, 1.
  • Migrant Workers and the Global City, Sociology Review, 2010, 13–16.
  • A migrant ethic of care? Negotiating care and caring among migrant workers in London's low pay economy, Feminist Review, 2010, 94, 1, 93–116.

Other publications available here:

Research into the Development of Job Rotation in London, funded by the European Social Fund (2001-2)

PhD Supervision

I welcome enquiries from students wanting to explore topics related to my research and particularly, the areas of community organising, localism and the living wage.

Students can find further information about the process of application here.

Current students:

  • Erica Pani (ESRC-funded, main supervisor with Roger Lee) Emerging economic geographies of higher education: a complex negotiation of value(s) in the face of market hegemony
  • James Scott (ESRC-funded, main supervisor with Jon May) The future of social democracy: The British Labour Party and community organising
  • Liam Harney (ESRC-funded, second supervisor with Jon May) Expanding the commons of the Big Society
  • Jenny McCurry (ESRC-funded, joint supervisor with Cathy McIlwaine) An examination of the transnational dimensions of trade union activity in the context of migrant worker activism: A comparative case study of trade unions in Britain and Germany
  • Amy Horton (ESRC-funded, second supervisor Kavita Datta) Exploring the effect of inequality and the contribution to be made by the living wage campaign in reducing emotional distance.

Previous students:

  • Simon Bills (Southampton University Scholarship) New retailing spaces PhD awarded September 1998 
  • David Wright (Southampton University Scholarship) Geography and sexuality PhD awarded Autumn 1999
  • Andrew Lincoln (ESRC) The geography of employee-ownership PhD awarded November 1999
  • Jane Holgate (ESRC CASE with the TUC) Organising black and minority ethnic workers in the UK PhD awarded June 2004
  • Carolyn Gaskell (ESRC) Youth, Violence and Citizenship in East London PhD awarded 2005
  • Anibel Ferus-Comelo (Queen Mary Scholarship, Antipode Scholar and supported by grant from the Developing Areas Research Group of the RGS-IBG) Globalisation and Labour: Electronics manufacturing PhD awarded February 2005
  • Lina Jamoul (ESRC CASE with the Citizens Organising Foundation (COF) supported by additional grant from the ESRC to study in the USA for 10 weeks) The art of politics: Broad-based organising in Britain PhD awarded July 2006
  • Jeremy Anderson (New Zealand Government Top Achievers Scholarship) Lines of flight in transnational labour organisation PhD awarded 2009
  • Antony Ince (ESRC-funded) Anarchism and geography PhD awarded 2010
  • Ann-Cecilie Bergene (Department of Geography, University of Oslo) Labour internationalism PhD awarded 2010
  • Kate Hardy (ESRC-funded) Sex worker organising in Argentina PhD awarded 2010
  • Paula Hamilton (ESRC CASE with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), main supervisor with Adrian Smith) Lubricating Globalisation: Transnational Corporations, Labour and the Logistics Revolution PhD awarded 2014
  • Francisco Salvini (QMUL Scholarship, second supervisor with Jon May) Struggles for the Right to the City: Assembling politics on the streets of Barcelona PhD awarded 2014

Students have gone on to work in academic posts (Holgate, Hardy), to trade union research departments (Hamilton, Anderson), to freelance research work (Ferus-Comelo), to research posts in the civil service (Lincoln) and to work as a community organiser (Jamoul).

Public engagement

My research into London’s Migrant Division of Labour and on-going research into the progress and impact of the living wage has helped to underpin the work of Citizens UK’s living wage campaign. It has made a number of contributions by providing:

  1. intelligence to underpin the successful campaign for the living wage;
  2. evidence of the business case for the living wage;
  3. support for the new Living Wage Foundation;
  4. calculations of the impact of the living wage campaign (in relation to employers, jobs and the redistribution of money);
  5. dissemination of the living wage as a public policy response to the growing problem of in-work poverty in the UK.

This work has been widely cited in television, radio and press coverage in the UK but has also been picked up by journalists and activists in Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States of America. For examples, please see my living wage website and these articles give you a flavour of this work:

Our School has a long-term collaborative relationship with Citizens UK that shapes both research and teaching. Our undergraduate students are taught research methods through working with local organisers and member community groups. Students have contributed to on-going campaigns to ensure a sustainable legacy from the 2012 Olympic games; to hold our Mayors (Livingstone and Johnson) accountable to the people; and to win the living wage for low waged workers in London. Between 2010 and 2015 we taught a masters course (MA Community Organising) in partnership with Citizens UK and students had placements to work as a community organiser as part of their training. They did a wide variety of projects and some of them made films of their work, available on Youtube.

I sit on the policy committee of the Living Wage Foundation. I am also a member of Queen Mary’s Centre for Public Engagement.

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