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Dr Gemma Catney

Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, School of Natural and Built Environment

Dr Gemma Catney is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography in the School of Natural and Built Environment.

Tell us about your research

I am a Population and Social Geographer with research expertise in ethnic and racial diversity, residential segregation, inequalities, and internal migration. My research focuses mainly on the UK context, particularly England and Wales. I have recently been awarded a large (£1m) grant by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), for the project Geographies of Ethnic Diversity and Inequalities (GEDI). GEDI is using UK Census data to provide timely and impactful evidence on the ways in which ethnic diversity has grown, and the nature of the differing – and persistently unequal – neighbourhood experiences of people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. I am really excited to lead this important project, working with a fantastic team of researchers from the UK and USA.

What first attracted you to your research field?

I knew I wanted to study Geography from the age of 12! I loved everything about it at school and was inspired by some wonderful teachers who were passionate about the discipline. When I undertook my BSc in Geography, I developed a particular interest in the ways in which people and places interact, and in particular how neighbourhoods shape, and are shaped by, the people who live in them. This inspired a PhD on internal migration in NI, and then my first postdoctoral position at the University of Manchester, which focused on ethnic inequalities and demographic change in Great Britain. I have been researching the changing geographies of ethnic diversity and inequalities ever since.

What impact is your research having on people's lives?

Geographers offer crucial insights into how and why our society is changing. A core part of my own research has been to make careful and critical use of statistics to generate new evidence and better inform policy, political and public debate.

Where we live has a hugely important influence on our life chances and opportunities. Yet we know surprisingly little about the ways in which ethnic and racial inequalities in, for example, housing, employment, and education differ between areas. My research aims to help fill this evidence gap. I have developed strong working relationships with a variety of organisations to ensure that my research is useful to, and used by, analysts and policymakers in central government in Whitehall, local government, and community organisations and charities.

In addition, my research helps to better inform the public about population and neighbourhood change, and to challenge potentially damaging myths. Our ESRC GEDI project team recently published the first academic analysis of 2021 Census data. Our paper used ethnic group data to show how neighbourhoods across England and Wales are becoming increasingly mixed and diverse, while residential segregation is declining. This research received a lot of media coverage (some examples include the BBC News channel, Guardian, BBC online), and has already informed the work of several local authorities in England.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

I try to never take for granted the privilege academics have in the freedom to pose interesting research questions and set about finding answers to them. This is a joyous scholarly pursuit, but for me it is made even richer by the opportunities I have had to engage with various organisations outside of academia. I also love working with (and learning from!) the next generation of Population Geography researchers, via research-led undergraduate teaching, and PhD and Postdoctoral researcher supervision.


About Gemma

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Have fun with our five-year-old daughter! We love to get out and about as a family on day trips and vacations – she has definitely inherited our travel bug!

What are you currently reading?

I’ve just started reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith. I really enjoyed White Teeth and NW, so I’m looking forward to this.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without?

Our Quooker tap, which enables making endless cups of coffee far too easy!

What are you most proud of?

That’s an easy one! Our daughter Phoebe, who amazes me and my husband every day.


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