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School of Geography

Martin Purvis Dr Martin Purvis

Contact details

School of Geography
University of Leeds
University Road
Leeds LS2 9JT   UK


+44 (0) 113 34 36751

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Work in progress

Geographies of retailing and consumption in interwar Britain

Work under this heading focuses upon two main themes. The first is the evolution of retail systems, paying particular attention to both the development of new forms of large-scale retailing and the impact of such developments upon other retailers. My work is distinctive in paying particular attention to co-operative retailing, a sector which made a more substantial and distinctive contribution to retail innovation than is often now recognised. The second theme reflects a desire to know more about the diverse circumstances in which interwar retailers operated. Although some evidence points to growing geographical uniformity in the range of products on sale and consumer tastes, the wider economic upheavals of the interwar period also resulted in considerable variations in consumer confidence and spending power. The unfolding evidence of the impact of today’s economic downturn upon the high street arguably reinforces the relevance of exploring the ways in which previous ‘hard times’ affected retailing and consumption.

Related publications and conference papers

  • Purvis, M. (2009) Retailing and economic uncertainty in interwar Britain: co-operative (mis)fortunes in north-west England, in Baigent, E. and Mayhew, R. J. (eds) English Geographies 1600-1950. Historical Essays on English Cultures, Customs and Communities in Honour of Jack Langton, SJC Research Centre, pp 127-43.
  • Purvis, M. (2009 forthcoming) Economic uncertainties and retail geographies in 1920s and 1930s Britain, 14th International Conference of Historical Geographers, Kyoto.
  • Purvis, M. (2008) The “curse” of democracy: co-operative reactions to the development of private multiples in interwar Britain, Conference of the Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution, Telford.

Political and urban geographies of the Upper Adriatic

Visits to the city of Trieste and to the surrounding region with undergraduate student field trips have sparked a research interest in themes relating to this fascinating and often contested region. The historical relationship between Trieste and its hinterland – both terrestrial and maritime – raises some important issues of wider relevance to current discussions about the relationships between cities and states. As a city close to the borders of the state within which it currently sits Trieste is also an appropriate site in which to explore the continuing resonances of historical memories of contest in today’s supposedly ‘borderless’ Europe. These themes are explored in my contributions to a special issue of Social and Cultural Geography focusing on Trieste and the upper Adriatic.

Related publications and conference papers

  • Purvis, M. (2009) Between late-lasting empire and late-developing nation-state: a Triestine perspective on city/state relations, Social and Cultural Geography 10: 305-23.
  • Purvis, M. and Atkinson, D. (2009) Performing wartime memories: ceremony as contest at the Risiera di San Sabba death camp, Trieste, Social and Cultural Geography 10: 343-62.
  • Purvis, M. (2008) Boundary identities and wartime remembrance in the Upper Adriatic, 7th European Urban and Regional Studies Conference, Istanbul.

Previous Projects

Business understanding of the causes and impacts of global atmospheric change

This was an ESRC-funded project exploring aspects of public understanding of the complicated science of global atmospheric change. The importance of business decisions in shaping humanity’s environmental impacts is widely appreciated, but attention amongst researchers and policy-makers often remains focused upon a minority of major companies. This tends to down-play the collective significance and impact – in both economic and environmental terms – of the multitude of smaller businesses. From this starting point the project explored responses to environmental challenges and concerns in specific economic sectors where small and medium-sized enterprises are common. Attention to the refrigeration industry also revealed the complexity of the challenges facing a sector in which attempts to address initial concerns about stratospheric ozone depletion raised fresh controversy in the light of subsequent anxiety about the industry’s contribution to climate change.

Selected publications

  • Drake, F., Purvis, M. and Hunt, J. (2004) Meeting the environmental challenge: a case of win-win or lose-win? A study of the UK baking and refrigeration industries, Business Strategy and the Environment 13: 172-86.
  • Purvis, M., Hunt, J. and Drake, F. (2001) Global atmospheric change and the UK refrigeration industry: redefining problems and contesting solutions, Geoforum 32: 143-56.
  • Drake, F., Purvis, M. and Hunt, J. (2001) Business appreciation of global atmospheric change: the United Kingdom refrigeration industry, Public Understanding of Science 10: 187-211.
  • Purvis, M., Drake, F. and Hunt, J. (2000) The manager, the company and the big wide world, in Fineman, S. (ed) The Business of Greening, Routledge.

Geographical perspectives upon sustainable development

This initiative brought together a series of colleagues, past and present, from the School of Geography at Leeds to explore sustainable development in ways that reflected geography’s core interests in space and place, as well as the discipline’s key role as a bridge between the social and the environmental sciences. These discussions were given tangible form by the production of an edited volume entitled Exploring Sustainable Development: Geographical Perspectives. The essays contained in this collection covered both key topics – including theories of sustainable development, urban sustainability, sustainable agriculture and business – and issues rooted in particular regions – including Arctic development and changing approaches to environmental management in Japan. Martin was co-editor of this book and author (or co-author) of several chapters.

Selected publications

  • Purvis, M., and Grainger, A. (eds) (2004) Exploring Sustainable Development: Geographical Perspectives, Earthscan.
  • Purvis, M. (2004) Business, capital and sustainable economic development, in Purvis and Grainger (eds) above.
  • Purvis, M. (2004) Climate change, energy and sustainable development, in Purvis and Grainger (eds) above.
  • Purvis, M. And Grainger, A. (2004) Future perspectives: developing sustainable development, in Purvis and Grainger (eds) above.

Co-operative retailing in Britain and Continental Europe C.1820-1914

The recent renewal of my interests in retailing and consumption outlined above has earlier echoes in my research on key developments in nineteenth-century Britain. The particular focus of this work was on the origins and development of the co-operative movement, both as an important dimension of the expansion and improvement of retail provision in industrialising Britain, and as a substantial expression of popular self-help. Several of my publications in this field, which also grew to embrace the exploration of retail co-operation in parts of continental Europe, have appeared in translation, or have been reprinted in collections of key papers on retailing and consumption. My expertise also resulted in the invitation to contribute a dozen essays on leading co-operators to one of Britain’s most respected reference works, the Dictionary of National Biography.

Selected publications

  • Purvis, M. (2004) The Rochdale Pioneers, in Matthew, H. C. G. and Harrison, B. (eds) Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.
  • Purvis, M. (1999) Crossing urban deserts: consumers, competitors and the protracted birth of metropolitan co-operative retailing, International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research 9(3): 225-43.
  • Purvis, M. (1998) Societies of consumers and consumer societies: co-operation, consumption and politics in Britain and continental Europe c.1850-1920, Journal of Historical Geography 24(2): 147-69. (Reprinted in Clarke, D. B., Doel, M. A. & Housiaux, K. M. L. (eds) (2003) The Consumption Reader, Routledge.)
  • Purvis, M (1992) Co-operative retailing in Britain, in Benson, J. & Shaw, G. (eds) The Evolution of Retail Systems, c.1800-1914, Leicester University Press.
  • Purvis, M. (1990) The development of co-operative retailing in England and Wales 1851-1901: a geographical study, Journal of Historical Geography, 16: 314-331. (Reprinted in Benson, J. and Shaw, G. (eds) (1999) The Retailing Industry, I B Taurus.)
  • Purvis, M. (1986) Co-operative retailing in England, 1835-1850: developments beyond Rochdale, Northern History 22: 198-215. (Reprinted in Benson, J and Shaw, G. (eds) (1999) The Retailing Industry, I B Taurus.)



  • Dr D. Phillips, Dr N. Majury, Dr M. Purvis and Dr P. Waley (1.10.98 to 30.9.2000)
    "Research leave: critical human geography group"
  • Dr M. Purvis and Dr F. Drake (1.4.96 to 30.6.98)
    'Global Environmental Change and European Business' ESRC Grant 440669