School of Geography

Dr James Brown


Lecturer in Human Geography

Telephone: +44 (0)202 7882 2749
Room Number: Geography Building, Room 221


I am interested in the interaction of labour, production and uneven development. I follow how workers act within and across different types of production, including manufacturing and agriculture, to improve their lives while also shaping the landscapes of capitalist development. This engages three intersecting themes. In my focus on labour geographies I have theoretically developed concepts of labour’s agency, with special attention to workers’ spatial mobility. I have also analysed how forms of territory are created to enable global production, and developed an empirical concern with special economic zones and borderlands. These themes both relate to an investigation of how global production networks are being restructured in mainland Southeast Asia and so contributing to regionalisation and new forms of uneven development across rural and urban, agrarian and industrial spaces.

Before coming to Queen Mary, I worked as a teaching fellow and research assistant in the Department of Development Studies and Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London.

Key Publications


I enjoy being in the classroom and I am enthusiastic about finding ways to share research with students. I previously taught in the Development Studies department at SOAS, University of London and was twice shortlisted for the SOAS Director’s Teaching Prize. I also have a background in teaching English as a Foreign Language to students from many different countries.


  • GEG5128 Spaces of Uneven Development (convenor)
  • GEG4112 Global Worlds (contributor)
  • GEG4106 Reinventing Britain (contributor)
  • GEG5103 Geographical Research in Practice (contributor)


  • GEG7132 Re-theorizing Development Futures (convenor)
  • GEG7131 Global Working Lives (contributor)
  • GEG7120 Geographical Thought and Practice (contributor)


Research Interests:

My research is organised around three key themes.

1. Labour geographies
My doctoral thesis at SOAS, University of London and funded by a SOAS Doctoral Scholarship made contributions to the concept of labour’s agency and the field of labour geography. I have developed theories of workers’ agency by emphasising the interaction of everyday forms of workers’ mobility and their ongoing embeddedness in particular places. I have used this to explain how labour affected the development of a manufacturing export processing zone in Savannakhet, Laos. My current work in this area is endeavouring to retheorize labour geography through critical development studies in order to give fuller accounts of the significance of workers’ agency within the specific socio-economic conditions and challenges of developing countries. This entails explaining how complex livelihoods involving multiple economic activities affect workers’ agency and following how workers’ agency is shaped by moving between countries and regions with different levels of economic development.

2. Territories of production
My research also seeks to understand how territory is transformed to enable economic production. Primarily this involves an ongoing focus on special economic zones (also known as export processing zones). This work seeks to understand how political and economic processes and actions contribute to creating zones as economic territories which allow connection with distant places, and thus enable significant transnational circuits of production and trade. I aim to understand how zones link with the global and macro-regional scales while remaining inextricably embedded within, and shaped by, their local contexts. Empirical work has focused on how a special economic zone operated within a borderland area of Laos. My current work in this area investigates how special economic zones, especially those concerned with manufacturing, are part of the geoeconomic strategies of powerful nation-states in the global political economy, and how this intersects with zones being used by developing countries as industrial policy.

3. The restructuring of production networks in mainland Southeast Asia
Global production is marked by ongoing spatial restructuring, and my works endeavours to explain the causes and consequences of such transformations as they occur in mainland Southeast Asia. This currently entails an empirical investigation of how electronics and automotive manufacturing networks are being extended from Thailand into Laos and Cambodia. This research takes a labour-centred view of network change with special attention on how labour’s agency affects restructuring, linking with my work on labour geographies. Of particular interest is manufacturing production networks’ interaction with agrarian and ecological change in rural areas from which labour is drawn. Other key and intersecting areas of investigation are how labour mobilities affect manufacturing networks, and how workers make claims on firms and governments. I am also interested in how network integration is a government development policy and its effects on poverty and inequality. Lastly, I also seek to understand the forms of macro-regionalisation in Southeast Asia which reorganized production networks are creating.