Assembling climate change: hotspots, livelihoods and liveability in the global south

This project will map and explore the diverse components – including metrics, diagrams, observations, computers, experts and narratives – that constitute major climate change ‘hotspots’ in the global south. The study will culminate in the production of an original research article for an international, peer-reviewed journal.

Department: Agri-Food Economics & Social Science

Supervised by: Dr Alex Arnall

The Placement Project

A major development that has occurred in the understanding of climate change effects in recent years is the idea of the climate change ‘hotspot’. This term is used to depict geographical regions of the world, such as the arctic or dryland sub-Saharan Africa, that are understood to be particularly vulnerable to climate change due to particular combinations of vulnerability factors. In the past ten years, there has been a proliferation of hotspot ‘mapping’ by researchers, advocacy groups and NGOs to vet data and methodologies, guides institutional strategies, and communicate climate change impacts. The aim of this standalone, pilot project will be to enhance understanding of climate change hotspots as particular heterogeneous associations of scientific practices, political efforts, and the complex and changing conditions of weather and climate itself, by mapping and exploring their diverse components. The research will engage with recent developments in ‘assemblage thinking’ to bring to bear new theoretical perspectives in generating a richer understanding of the climate change phenomenon, and what it means for different populations around the world.


With the support of the supervisor, the student will: 1) review the existing scientific literature on climate change hotspots (20%); 2) select 2-3 hotspots for in-depth analysis and develop a series of ‘maps’ or spider-diagrams showing what the main constituents of each hotspot are, and they relate to one another (30%); 3) conduct 5 key-informant interviews with meteorologists and other climate experts, either in person or via Skype (10%); 4) assist in the production of a two-page report summary based on a preliminary analysis of the maps and interviews (20%); 5) contribute to a co-authored paper for submission to a leading international development journal (such as ‘Area’ or ‘Climatic Change’) (20%).

Skills, knowledge and experience required

The supervisor welcomes applications from students within a range of disciplinary backgrounds including (but not limited to) environment studies, development studies, geography, economics, history and sociology. Essential candidate attributes are: a demonstrated interest in climate change studies; reliability, enthusiasm and an ability to work independently; good communication skills in spoken and written English; a basic understanding of Word.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The student will develop specific skills in the following areas: visual mapping and data management techniques; effective use of online databases (web of science; online journals); arranging and conducting semi-structured interviews; basic qualitative data analysis; critical thinking; organisational and time-management skills; IT skills (Word, PowerPoint, EndNote); and report/article-writing.

Place of Work

University of Reading: School of Agriculture, Policy and Development (SAPD)

Hours of Work

9-5, Mon-Fri

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Saturday 13 June 2015 - Wednesday 22 July 2015

How to Apply

Students should apply with a short CV, one-page covering letter and writing sample (e.g. term paper or written assignment) to Alex Arnall. Applications should be submitted via email to or in hard copy to Alex’s mailbox in the Postgraduate Student Office in the Agriculture Building. Interviews will be conducted either in person or over the phone after the close of the application deadline. The successful applicant will be selected based on their fit with the desired criteria listed above. All students who apply and are judged to meet these criteria will receive an interview, and feedback will be provided to successful and unsuccessful students.

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