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School of Geography

Dr Sydney Calkin


Reader in Human Geography

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7882 3153
Room Number: Geography Building, Room 107
Office Hours: Tuesdays, 11-12 (in person) and 12-1 (online)


I am an interdisciplinary feminist social scientist with interests in political geography and International Relations. My research explores themes of gender, reproduction, inequality, and political boundaries.

I joined QMUL in September 2019 from the Geography Department at Durham University where I worked from 2015-2019. At QMUL, I am a Lecturer in Human Geography with an additional affiliation to the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences. From 2017-2020, I held a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship for a research project titled 'Abortion Beyond Borders'. 

My work addresses questions at the intersection of gender, political geography and political economy. I am currently working on a project about the geographies of cross-border abortion access, pro-choice activism and state reproductive control.

My research asks: if states are unable to control the flow of medication abortion pills across borders, while flows of these pills grow steadily, how can states continue to enforce restrictive abortion laws? Do they attempt to do so? How will political/ legal debates about abortion be transformed by growing access to safe self-managed abortion?

Before my current work on abortion geographies, I carried out research in feminist political economy and development studies. My doctoral research examined the 'Gender Equality as Smart Economics' agenda in the World Bank through interviews with Bank staff, textual analysis of Bank documents, and textual analysis of Bank public-private partnerships. 

I am motivated by an intellectual interest in the political and economic processes that sustain gender inequalities and a personal commitment to feminist political change and reproductive justice. 

I am the Careers and Employability Officer for the school. I also convene the MA in Global Development and MSc in Development and International Business. 


During the 2021-2022 year, I teach on the following modules:

  • GEG5135 Health Space Justice
  • GEG5128 Uneven Spaces of Development
  • GEG5103 Geographical Research in Practice 
  • GEG6000 Independent Geographical Study 
  • GEG7137 Retheorising Development
  • GEG7143 Global Health Geographies 
  • GEG7120 Geographical Thought and Practice 
  • GEG7139 MA Dissertation 

I am also the convenor for GEG7137 Retheorising Development.


Research Interests:

My current research looks at the political geographies of abortion access. This work has been supported by a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship (2017-2020) and a HSS Collaboration Fund grant (2020-2021). Control over fertility is an essential component of women’s equality in political, economic, and social domains. However, some 40% of the world’s women live in states with restrictive abortion laws. Even in states where abortion is technically legal, a variety of extra-legal obstacles mean that access is contingent on factors like wealth and mobility. As a Political Geographer, I ask questions about the power relations that govern abortion and the spatial dimensions of its access.
Political, technological, and medical changes at the state and global levels are currently transforming the ways that women can access abortion in states with restrictive laws. For my research, the most interesting technological change is the growing availability of safe abortion with pills. Self-managed abortion with pills, assisted by telemedical consultation, offers a spatial re-arrangement of abortion care and challenges the political/ legal structures that have historically been used to regulate abortion. It also creates the possibility that restrictive abortion laws will become effectively unenforceable. In countries with extremely restrictive laws activists are facilitating access to medication abortion pills that can move discretely across borders and provide a safe but clandestine abortion in diverse settings. In doing so, they are challenging state control over reproduction in innovative and potentially transformative ways, de-coupling abortion access from a woman’s place of residence and from national legal frameworks. My work investigates the efforts by activists to widen abortion access and de-link it from the state system, as well as the state responses that aim to re-assert territorial control over reproduction. This project is focused on four countries: the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Poland, and the USA.
My work on abortion access has recently been published in Political Geography; Social and Cultural Geography; Gender, Place & Culture; Feminist Review; and Territory Politics Governance. In 2020, I edited a book called After Repeal: Rethinking Abortion Politics that brought together social sciences and humanities scholars to analyse the Irish abortion referendum of 2018 and its broader implications. 
My doctoral research was in the field of feminist political economy. This research explored the ‘Gender Equality as Smart Economics’ in global development policy, specifically the World Bank and its gender-focused corporate partnerships. In an era of widespread government and private-sector interest in the economic empowerment of women, my research examined the intellectual roots of ‘Smart Economics’ discourse and its current policy implications. This work was published in a 2018 monograph, Human Capital in Gender and Development.



  • 2020. After Repeal: Rethinking Global Abortion Politics. Browne, K. and Calkin, S. (Editors). London: Zed Books.
  • 2018. Human Capital in Gender and Development. Routledge Studies in Gender and Global Politics. London: Routledge.

Journal Articles

  • 2021. “Legal and non-legal barriers to abortion in Ireland and the UK”  co-authored with Ella Berny. Medicine Access @ Point of Care [open access].
  • 2020. “Transnational Abortion Pill Flows and the Political Geography of Abortion in Ireland” in press at Territory Politics Governance 9(2): 163-179.
  • 2020. “Persistence and Change in Morality Policy: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Politics of Abortion in Ireland and Poland”, co-authored with Monika Ewa Kaminska. Feminist Review no. 124 Special Issue on Abortion in Ireland (pages 86-102).
  • 2019. “Towards a Political Geography of Abortion.” Political Geography. 69: 22–9.
  • 2019. “Healthcare Not Airfare! Art, Abortion and Protest in Ireland.”  Gender, Place & Culture. 26(3): 338–361.
  • 2018. “Trails and Technology: Social and Cultural Geographies of Abortion Access”, co-authored with Cordelia Freeman. In press at Social and Cultural Geography
  • 2017. “’Disrupting’ Disempowerment: Neoliberal Feminism and the Private Governance of Gender and Development.” New Formations, special issue on ‘Righting Feminism’, 91: 69–86.
  • 2016. “Globalizing ‘Girl Power’: Corporate Social Responsibility and Transnational Business Initiatives for Gender Equality.” Globalizations 13(2): 158–172.
  • 2015. “’Tapping’ Women for Post-Crisis Development: Evidence from the 2012 World Development Report.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 17(4), 611–629.
  • 2015. “Feminism, Interrupted? Gender and Development in the Age of Smart Economics.” Progress in Development Studies 15(4), 295–307.
  • 2015. “Post-feminist spectatorship and the Girl Effect: ‘Go on, really imagine her.’” Third World Quarterly 36(4), 654–669.

Book Chapters

  • 2020. “Abortion pills in Ireland and beyond: what can the 8th Amendment referendum tell us about the future of self-managed abortion?” in After Repeal: Rethinking Global Abortion Politics. Browne, K. and Calkin, S. (Editors). London: Zed Books (pp.73-89).
  • Forthcoming, publication date TBC. “Human Capital Theory and Girlhoods in Development”. Chapter accepted with minor revisions for Girls in Global Development: Theoretical Contestations, Empirical Demands, Eds. Heather Switzer, Karishma Desai, and Emily Bent, Berghahn Press.
  • 2018. “The World Bank and the Challenge of Gender Mainstreaming for Feminist IPE” in Handbook on the International Political Economy of Gender. Eds. Juanita Elias and Adrienne Roberts, pp. 311–322. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.



I serve as PhD supervisor to Sam Moir-Smith (funded by the LISS DTP) and Ella Berny (funded by the LAHP DTA Collaborative Doctoral Award, supervised in conjunction with Amnesty International). 

I welcome prospective doctoral researchers who want to work on issues related to gender or feminist politics, reproductive rights and justice, political geography, and feminist science and technology studies.

I currently supervise two PhD candidates working on transgender health geographies and abortion access in Ireland/ Northern Ireland/ England. In previous years, I have supervised PhD candidates researching transgender young people's community spaces and indigenous Mapuche young women in Chile. 

I have helped student to win funding for PhD programmes from the ESRC (LISS DTP) and AHRC (LAHP DTP). I'm happy to help students develop proposals for these and other funding schemes.

If you're interested in working together, please contact me with a CV and short summary of your proposed PhD project.


Public Engagement

I write for The Conversation when I think I can inform media conversations with academic research and analysis. You can read my work on The Conversation about Ireland and Poland

I am regularly quoted in media coverage about abortion access and changes to abortion law, including recent pieces in The Independent (UK), The Telegraph (UK), and National Public Radio (USA/ Canada). 

I am a leader of two external research collaborations: Reproductive Geographies reseach group (QMUL-Exeter-Cambridge) and Mobile Medical Materials reading group. 

Thanks to support from the HSS Collaboration Fund, I have an ongoing research partnership with the Abortion Support Network (ASN). ASN is a UK registered charity who help people travel for abortions within Europe. As the result of our research collaboration, we have built AbortionFinder.EU. This is a web resource that provides information for abortion travellers in all European languages. It is a streamlined and user-focused resource that allows abortion-seekers from across Europe to get simple, clear and practical information about where they can travel for safe and legal abortion, which clinics they can visit, and which local support groups can help them. This website will launchin summer 2021. 

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