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School of Geography

Robert Vanderbeck Robert Vanderbeck

Contact details

Room 10.101 Manton (please enter via 10.103)
School of Geography
University of Leeds
University Road
Leeds LS2 9JT   UK


+44 (0) 113 34 36753

Student hours:
Varies by semester. Please feel free to email me for an appointment.

Research overview

I am a social and urban geographer whose research focuses on understanding contemporary processes of social exclusion and inclusion.    I have particular (often intersecting) interests in sexualities; religion; childhood and youth; race and ethnicity; nomadic minorities; and urban public spaces.   My preferred research methods are qualitative in nature, with special emphases on participant observation in organisational / institutional contexts; in-depth interviewing; and the use of techniques of discourse analysis for understanding the power relations inherent in representations of social difference (such as in popular media, policy documents, and the process of law-making).  My research agenda is centred around the following themes:

Religion and Sexualities:  Much of my recent research activity has focused on a major collaborative project (‘Sexuality and Global Faith Networks’, AHRC Religion and Society Programme) exploring the transnational debate over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion, a major international Christian denomination claiming approximately 80 million members across both the global North and global South.  Drawing on fieldwork conducted in the UK, US, South Africa, Lesotho, and  Uganda, the project has examined how the churches of the Anglican Communion are responding to shifting public attitudes about homosexuality; how discourses about homosexuality in one context have been circulated, mobilized, or transformed with other contexts; how issues of homosexuality have exposed conflict about the nature of authority in Anglicanism; and how new transnational networks of religious actors are forming to respond to developments in the Communion related to homosexuality.  In addition to the work described above, I have a history of work in the geographies of sexualities, including an account of issues of masculinities and sexualities in relation to ethnographic fieldwork in geography (Gender, Place and Culture).  I have recently been involved in collaborative work with Paul Johnson University of York) on the construction of law and policing in relation to homophobic hate speech in the UK.  We recently completed a research monograph  entitled Law, Religion and Homosexuality which provides an original analysis of the role of religion in constructing law in relation to homosexuality in the UK and beyond. 

Childhood, Youth and Intergenerational Relations:   I have an enduring interest in the processes that marginalise children and young people in contemporary society, and how these processes  are related to constructions of social difference related not only to age (such as perceived differentials in competence and capability between 'children' and 'adults'), but also race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and other issues.  My interest in this area has been reflected in previous research studies on issues including young people's contested uses of urban public space in the US; the social exclusion of Gypsy-Traveller young people in the UK (including how racialized constructions of Gypsy-Traveller childhood make these young people targets for particular kinds of social policy interventions);  young people's social and environmental identities; and the narrative construction of the figure of the 'inner-city' child.  I have extensive practical experience working with children and young people in diverse research and applied contexts, including young people from inner-city neighbourhoods in the US; young Gypsy-Travellers in England; and LGBT young people in both the US and UK.  Theoretically, my research on childhood and youth draws from (while also critiquing) the new social studies of childhood (including work in so-called children's geographies), the sociology of social work and education, race theory, and other areas. In 2007 I published an agenda for research on ‘intergenerational geographies’, and I have also contributed to debates over the status and formation of ‘children’s geographies’ as a subfield, including a 2008 paper in Area which challenged some of the conceptual assumptions on which the subdiscipline had been built. 

Key outputs in this area include the completion of an edited collection entitled Intergenerational Space  involving 21 chapters from  international contributors, stemming in part from a conference on intergenerationality that I co-organised in 2012 at Leeds.

I am currentlyworking on a programme of research funded by the AHRC (Care for the Future Sustainability Highlight Notice) entitled INTERSECTION: Intergenerational Justice, Consumption and Sustainability in Cross-National Perspective.  I serve as Deputy PI in this collaboration between the University of Sheffield (Gill Valentine, PI) and Leeds.  The project involves fieldwork in the UK, China, and Uganda to explore notions of intergenerational solidarity and division within the context of changing consumption patterns.

PhD students (current and completed)

  • Kristina Diprose: Youth Activist Structures (ESRC 1+3)
  • Alexandra Fanghanel: Towards a Genealogy of Street Wisdom  (University of Leeds scholarship)
  • Keerti Raghunandan: Religious Practices and Identity among Young Trinidadian Women (Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies, Leeds)
  • Nancy Worth: Visually Impaired Youth and Social Transitions (funded by an ORS award,)
  • Ying Nan: Modernity, tourism and religious change amongst Tibet Bon (Chinese Research Council)
  • Maxim Samson: Jewish faith schools and Jewish identity (ESRC)
  • Megan Waugh: Information rights and PFI (ESRC)
  • James Grave: Faith-based volunteer tourism in Uganda (ESRC)



  • City Children in the Country: Narratives of Racialized Childhood and the Reproduction of Whiteness. Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers. Chicago, Illinois. March 2006 [scheduled]
  • A Breath of Fresh Air? Narrating Childhood and Whiteness in Vermont. Emerging Issues in the Geographies of Childhood and Youth. Brunel University, UK. June 23-24, 2005.
  • Narratives of Race, Rurality and Childhood in Vermont, USA. Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers. Denver, Colorado. April 4-9, 2005.
  • Hispanic Population Change in the U.S. South, 1990-2003. Annual Meeting of the Southern Demographic Assocation. Hilton Head, South Carolina. October 14-16, 2004. [co-author, with James H. Johnson, Jr. and Karen D. Johnson-Webb. Presented by Karen D. Johnson-Webb]
  • The Whitest State? Contested Narratives of Race, Ethnicity, and Place in Vermont, USA. Race, Ethnicity, and Place [conference co-sponsored by the AAG, Binghamton University, and Howard University] Washington, D.C. September 16-18, 2004.
  • The Changing Geographies of ‘Race’ and Place in Vermont. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Philadelphia. March 2004.
  • Power and the Voluntary Sector: Reflections on Work with Young Gypsies and Travellers. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, New Orleans. March 2003.
  • Critical Perspectives on British Discourse and Practice in Relation to Young Gypsies and Travellers. 3rd International Conference on Critical Geography. Békéscsaba, Hungary. June 2002.
  • Gypsy and Traveller Young People and the “Underclass” in Contemporary British Discourse. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Los Angeles. March 2002.
  • Masculinities and Fieldwork: Widening the Discussion I. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, New York. February 2001. Panelist on Sexuality and Fieldwork panel.
  • The Discursive Construction of Gypsy-Traveller Young People’s Marginality and Exclusion: Implications for Policy and Practice. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, New York. February 2001.
  • Including Traveller Young People? : Discourses of Inclusion / Exclusion and the Construction of Logics of Intervention. Institute of British Geographers Annual Meeting, Plymouth, England. January 2001.
  • Traveller Young People, Social Exclusion, and the Spaces of Education. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Pittsburgh. April 2000.
  • Social Exclusion and the Contested Borders of Traveller Childhood. Presented at Geographies of Childhood, Liverpool Hope University College, Liverpool, England. November 1999.
  • Alternative Geographies of Traveller Education: Prospects and Problems. Presented at Sites of Learning: An Interdisciplinary Conference on Childhood, Centre for the Social Study of Childhood, University of Hull, September 1999.

Other presentations

  • City Children in the Country: Narrating Race, Nature and Childhood in the USA. Seminar Series, University of Reading, Department of Geography. February 2006 [scheduled]
  • The Racialization of Gypsies and Travelers in Contemporary Britain. Area and International Studies Brown Bag Lecture Series. University of Vermont, April 2002.
  • Geographies of Inclusion / Exclusion: Traveller Young People in England. Presented at Interdisciplinary Youth Research: New Approaches (Session Three: Social Inclusion and Exclusion), University of Birmingham, May 1999.
  • What’s space got to do with it? Ways that geography matters for international migration research. Presented to Summer Minority Dissertation Workshop on Migration to the United States, Social Science Research Council Committee on International Migration and Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, July 1997.
  • Feminist Media Review. hosted by Peggy Luhrs. Channel 17. Burlington, Vermont. [invited guest appearance]. 2005.