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School of Geography

Dr Simon Reid-Henry


Reader in Geography

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7882 5416
Room Number: Geography Building, Room 109


Twitter: @sreidhenry

I am an historical and political geographer with interests in political philosophy and the history of ideas, political economy, and the international politics of the postwar era. I gained my first degree and PhD at the University of Cambridge and came to Queen Mary in 2004. At QMUL I helped establish and was the founding director (2009-2012) of the Centre for the study of Global Security and Development. More recently I am theme lead, as part of the Institute for Humanities and Social Science, for research on democracy. My work has been funded by the ESRC, the Smuts Memorial Fund, the Norwegian Research Council, the Yale MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, and the Leverhulme Trust. I have reviewed and commented on current affairs for The TimesThe Guardian, the New StatesmanThe Times Literary SupplementThe Times Higher and for national and international television and radio. Representative publications include:



I have taught, convened and contributed a wide range of undergraduate and masters courses during my time at Queen Mary, including MA Cities and Cultures, Geographical Ideas and Practice, and Global Worlds. I am also an active academic advisor to first, second and third year students on our core advising modules.

Recent teaching includes on the following courses.

  • GEG4112 Global Worlds (contributory lecturer)
  • GEG6130 Geopolitics Post-9/11: War, Security, Economy (convenor)
  • GEG7120 Geographical Thought and Practice (convenor)
  • GEG7133 Global Health Geographies (contributory lecturer)
  • GEG7134 Researching Global Health and Biomedicine (convenor)
  • GEG7135 Research Methods (convenor)


Research Interests:

My research has examined the making of particular forms of power/knowledge as these have shaped the modern world: development, global health, science, humanitarianism, welfare, security, and war. My approach to each of these topics is twofold. First, I am interested in the history of thought through which such assemblages emerge (as in recent work contrasting different theories of health justice). Second I am interested in the political struggles generated in and around these various efforts at world-making (be it the violence of revolutionary upheaval or the institutional transformation of democracy). In an effort to bring together these various lines of research from the past decade or so, I am currently developing a new programme of work that will focus on the trans-national history of political obligation. We have a rich history of human rights; why not a history of human duties also? Though as yet unpublished I have begun developing a series of writings around this (see also Political Minimalism, below).

Over recent years I have been engaged with five loosely intersecting research projects encompassing global health, humanitarianism, theories of economic development, global justice, and the post-Cold War travails of capitalist democracy.

Vital Geographies This is a long-term, interdisciplinary project examining how human lives are valued (and devalued) in different ways: be it due to lack of access to basic medicines like anti-retroviral drugs, or because of more basic geographical inequalities in the right to life itself. This work began with Professor Gerry Kearns (University of Cambridge/National University of Ireland Maynooth) and an ESRC-funded seminar series Vital Politics/Valuing Life that brought together global health scholars with medical and political geographers to examine some of the ways in which human rights and capacities are indexed geographically. A second stage in this project focused on an international seminar entitled Counter Vitalities [PDF 206KB], held at Yale in Spring 2014, which examined how “global health” has become both a powerful discursive domain and an ideological battlefield, replete with its own particular logics and power relations through which different visions of human health are enacted and secured, often by undermining the health of others. At present, a third phase of this project involves an examination of the Indian Supreme Court ruling in Novartis v. Union of India.

Humanitarianism in the 21st Century. This work is being carried out in collaboration with the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies and the Peace Research Institute, Oslo and encompasses the Norwegian Research Council funded project (Norwegian Research Council, 2012-15) Armed Violence in Urban Settings: New Challenges, New Humanitarianisms as well as contributions to the joint PRIO/NUPI/CMI project Protection of Civilians: from principle to practice. The work has to date involved partnering with the Norwegian Red Cross, the ICRC and World Vision International. The aims of the project are to understand how and why humanitarian organizations are ‘going urban’ and the ways in which this is challenging their existing values and function. A series of articles and reports are emerging from this, some of which can be found here.

Poverty and Power in an Age of Inequality. As part of my Philip Leverhulme Prize (2012-14) funded research leave I began looking at the intellectual history of international development since the Second World War. The work examines the writing of economists like AO Hirschmann, Gunnar Myrdal and Raul Prebisch in light of contemporary problems of the global political economy today. Can the historical experience of non ‘third world’ late-industrialising economies provide us – at a point when the Millennium Development Goals conclude in 2015 – with a different way of thinking about contemporary “global poverty” debates. Parallel to recent currents in political philosophy, the work questions in particular why it is a concern with global poverty and not global inequality that still dominates political debate in advanced industrial and newly emerging economies. Some of this work informs my most recent book, The Political Origins of Inequality.

Capitalism, and Democracy in the contemporary era. With support from Norway’s Fritt Ord foundation and the Norsk Faaglitterær forfatter- og oversetterforening, this project sets out to explain the current political upheaval across liberal democratic west by going back to the crisis years of the 1970s. Rather than trying to explain what has happened to “the west” during this period by virtue of its performance relative to “the rest” (an analytical perspective which is all too often reductive in its recall and which tends to leave one society either rising or falling relative to everyone else) or as a function of neoliberalism (which tends to accord to a particular set of ideas and policy-regimes a trans-historical agency that obscures as much as it reveals) this project focuses on the interplay of political and economic ideas, institutions, and social and historical forces during a period of profound geographical dislocation. How has democracy been shaped by developments in central banking and finance during this period? By the turn to regionalisation and the judicialisation of politics? By the emergence of technologies such as smart borders and social media? Or by the shifting fortunes of political parties on both the left and right alike, amid the pressures of political and economic crises? Such an approach may be better positioned to make sense of the more pertinent changes in underlying values (such as freedom and equality) and the structures through which they are articulated (such as welfare states and markets). It certainly helps us to see the past half-century as a more or less coherent epoch: one from which we are only now just beginning to take our leave. The book follows this story through to the present complex of problems, from Europe’s crises of populism and the eurozone, to Brexit, Trump and the upheavals confronting liberal democracy itself.

A Genealogy of Global Justice. My most recent project, supported by a one-year Philip Leverhulme funded Fellowship (2016), peeks behind the veil of that liberal democratic edifice. Specifically, it focuses on political liberalism, and seeks to account for the “geographical imaginations” at work in Rawls’ Theory of Justice, along with those of his interlocutors, who have taken his ideas forward to the global scale (the likes of Charles Beitz, Jurgen Habermas, Thomas Pogge, Nancy Fraser). It contrasts the emergence and development of a liberal (Rawlsian) notion of “global justice” with alternative and overlapping ideas (such as the socialist thinking of GA Cohen). I am also interested here in the ‘problematic’ of Rawls own reluctant internationalism. In essence this means better accounting for exactly how ideas of fairness, equality, rights and responsibility and so on get baked into accounts of global justice. But the project as a whole underpins a more general interest of mine in the emergence and development of what I call “political minimalism”. See also:

  • “On Liberal Violence, Moral Law and the birth of political minimalism,” Seminar given at the School of Law, QMUL, October 2018.
  • “From Welfare World to Global Poverty: Gunnar Myrdal’s international egalitarianism and the broken history of social duties,” Seminar given at the School of Geography, University of Nottingham, September 2017.




Recent publications (past ten years) A full list of publications is available here


Articles and Book Chapters

  • “From Welfare World to Global Poverty,” Humanity Journal, (2017) Vol 8 (1): 207-226.
  • “Just Global Health?” (Forthcoming), Development and Change special issue, “Profiting from Inequality? The Political Economy of Global Public Health, Summer 2016.
  • “Genealogies of Liberal Violence: Human Rights, State Violence and the Police,” (2015) Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, August, 2015, Vol 33 (4): 626-641.
  • “The ‘Humanitarianization’ of Urban Violence,” (forthcoming) in Environment & Urbanization, (co-authored with Ole Jacob Sending) Vol 26 (2) October, 2014 pp.1–16. DOI: 10.1177/0956247814544616
  • “Geographies of HIV/AIDS” (2014) The Wily Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Wellbeing and Society.
  • “Humanitarianism as Liberal Diagnostic: the geography of humanitarian reason and the political rationalities of the liberal will-to-care,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (2013), Vol 39 (3), pp.418-431
  • “Immunity to TRIPS? The Cuban biotech sector and vaccine industry in a context of globalization,” in The New Political Economy of Pharmaceuticals in the Global South, (2013) by Owain Williams and Hans Lofgren, eds. (2013) (co-authored with Jens Plahte)
  • “An Incorporating Geopolitics: Frontex and the European Border Regime” (2013) Geopolitics 18(1) pp.198-224
  • “Vital Geography”, “Editorial Introduction” to e-issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, June, 2011
  • “Spaces of Security and Development: Towards a new mapping of the security-development nexus,” Security Dialogue (2011), 42(1), pp.97-104
  • “On Zizek on Wikileaks: Two Figures and a Point of Critique” (2011) Antipode 44(1) pp.1-4
  • “The Territorial Trap: Fifteen Years On” (2011) Geopolitics, Introduction to special issue, 15(4): pp.752-756
  • “Vital Geographies: Life, Luck and the Human Condition” (2009), Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 99(3): pp.554-574. (co-written with Gerry Kearns)
  • “Guantanamo Bay and the Re-colonial present,” (2007) Antipode, Volume 39(4) pp.627-648

Reviews, Review Essays and Responses

  • “On the politics of our humanitarian present” (2013) Review Essay (forthcoming, 2013) Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 31(4) 753 – 760
  • “Geography and Metaphors: a response to writing on the land” (2012) Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37(3) pp.365-369
  • “Cuban Landscapes: heritage, memory and place,” by Jo Scarpacci and Armando Portela (2010), Bulletin of Latin American Research 30(3), pp.393-4, June, 2010
  • “No Dig, No Fly, no Go”, by Mark Monmonier, Times Literary Supplement, September, 2010
  • “Spaces of Security and (In)security: Spaces of the War on Terror,” by Alan Ingram and Klaus Dodds, Times Higher Education, September, 2009
  • “The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, power, and subjectivity in the 21st Century”, by Nikolas Rose, Cultural Geographies, Vol. 15, pp.525-6, 2008
  • “ Machine to Make a Future”, by Paul Rabinow and Talia Dan-Cohen, Social Anthropology, 15(1) pp.123-5, 2007
  • “Foucault in Latin America,” by Benigno Trigo, Bulletin of Latin American Studies, 24(1) pp.151-3, 2004

Op Eds and Commentary

  • What the End of Sweden’s ‘togetherness’ reveals about our post-democratic age, The New Statesman, September 2018
  • Europe’s Empire of Democracy, Eutopia Magazine, August, 2014
  • When Years Are Celebrities, Intelligent Life Magazine, March/April, 2014
  • A History of Development: 5-part series in The Guardian, Global Development section, October-November 2012
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis through the Prism of Self-Serving Myth, The Guardian Comment is Free, October 2012
  • Pharmaceutical Companies Putting Health of World’s Poor at Risk, The Guardian, Global Development section, August 2012
  • Beyond Madness, The London Review of Books Blog, August 2012
  • Novartis vs. India: the showdown approaches, New Internationalist, February 2012
  • Arven Etter Thatcher/The Thatcher Legacy Dagbladet, January 2011 [in Norwegian]
  • This is England, Klassekampen, August 2011 [in Norwegian]
  • Still Small Voice of Calm, New Statesman, August 2011
  • Bistandsarbeid i Skudlinjen/Development in the Firing Line, Bistandsaktuelt, June 2011 [in Norwegian]
  • How Big is it Really? New Statesman, September 2010
  • The Assault on the Humanities, New Statesman, April 2010
  • Bold Brasilia at 50, The Guardian Comment is Free, April 2010
  • Obama stops thinking positive, New Statesman, January 2010
  • The Last Revolutionary, New Statesman (Cover Story) October 2009
  • Living On: 5 years after Derrida, New Statesman, October 2009
  • To Brush Aside Torture is to Condone it, Independent on Sunday, May 2009
  • The Age of Expeditions is Over, The Guardian Comment Is Free, May 15, 2009

Interviews and Podcasts

  •  An interview outlining some of my current work is available at Exploring Geopolitics: “Simon Reid-Henry: Global Science, Development Ethics, Humanitarianism, Guantanamo” (December 2012)
  •  An interview on BBC4 about my earlier work on Cuban science is available here: “Cuban Cure – Moral Panics”
  • An interview on Fidel and Che is available here: “An Interview with the Author”, People’s World (November 2009)


I welcome PhD students interested in working in any of the above research areas.

Current Students

  • Danai Avgeri, Illiberal Governmentality and the Securitisation of Migration in the Context of the Greek Crisis
  • Shereen Fernandez, Securitising Britishness - the impacts of the promotion of fundamental British values and the Prevent strategy on schools, teachers and Muslim communities in London
  • Ida Birkvad, Hindu and Western reactionary thought: a mutually constitutive relationship?

Public Engagement