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Personal profile

Research interests

My research interests cover the geographies of sport and leisure. My doctoral research explored British cultures of adventure and the heroic masculinities associated with mountaineering. My more recent work is interested in the use, governance and regulation of public space for leisure and recreation, addressing issues such as access, property rights, citizenship and self-governance. Theoretically, my work cuts across human geography, sociology, politics, cultural studies, social history, sport studies and leisure theory. I employ a variety of theoretical tools to understand the spatial aspects of sport and leisure cultures - the spatial theories of Mikhail Bakhtin; Victor Turner's writings on liminality; gift theory; theories of affect; and, post-subcultural theories - and have contributed to the application of these approaches to empirical research in sport and leisure studies.

My current research interests include the social regulation of leisure in public space; countercultural sport; connecting people and communities through food and farming; and, the cultural heritage of waterscapes.

Methodologically, I specialise in qualitative and collaborative empirical methods and with Professor Neil Ravenscroft (University of Brighton) and Dr Niamh Moore (Edinburgh University) have developed the concept of ‘collaborative story spirals’ to describe a method of contextualised and situated biographical and narrative research; an approach that has been utilised in European heritage projects.

My research has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, British Academy, European Union (Interreg Programme), and Political Studies Association.

Supervisory Interests

I would be interested in supervising postgraduate students in the following areas:

- Geographies of sport and leisure
- Playful cities and urban everyday life
- Community-supported agriculture / community gardening

I also welcome discussions on other potential topics.

Scholarly biography

I was born and raised in Buckinghamshire and lived in a village in the Chiltern Hills that has been home to various branches of my family for nearly 100 years. We lived in a two bedroom semi-detached council house, purchased off the local authority in 1987. My dad worked at Iveco Ford's lorry factory in Langley, Slough, where he worked on the rolling road and was shop steward for the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers. He worked there until redundancy/retirement in 1990. Sadly he passed away in 2011, following a number of years as a gardener and cleaner. My mum has worked variously as a shop assistant, cleaner, care home worker, and laundrywoman, though is now retired.

My brother Gary and I had a good childhood, enjoying the village environs and our annual two week holidays to Ramsgate. From aged 12 I attended a local grammar school having passed the 12-plus entrance exam. I still consider this the most important exam I have sat in my life. It set me on a path of social mobility and social fracture from the working-class community I came from. Where once evenings were spent playing bingo down the British Legion or darts in the Catholic social club, now I attend evening lectures on political theory and have been known to patron art galleries and avant-garde piano recitals.

Following successful A Levels in government and politics, history and art – one of only six pupils in the school to get three As - I chose to do a gap year to defray the costs of university education.  Where the Tims and Stephanies of the world might travel to South East Asia and onto Australia for the year, I turned to bar work at a local hotel and conference centre, where for £3.50 an hour and working in excess of 60 hours a week I managed to save a decent amount to start my undergraduate studies.

I attended the University of Warwick in 1998, where I studied and gained a BA(Hons) Politics (first class). This was a heady time in British and world politics, where my time studying the subject at Warwick was bracketed by New Labour's landslide victory, to changes in international relations following the events of 9/11. At the University of Warwick I joined clubs out of familiarity with my working-class social life at home. I joined the darts club, becoming its social secretary in my second year and president in my final year, and organised some of the earliest intra-university darts matches (losing to Oxford University 10-0 on one occasion). I stayed at the Department of Politics and International Studies and undertook a MA in Sport, Politics and Society, having been inspired by my darts playing experiences and by Lincoln Allison and other staff at the Warwick Centre for the Study of Sport in Society, to think that sport and culture were not trivial, but vital to forms of social meaning and political identity. I gained a distinction. But more than that, in Lincoln Allison I found a lecturer who inspired me to think critically about sport and the environment, and who set up trains of thought that are still running in my mind about the human condition and its relationship to state, civil society and the market.

In 2003 I moved to the Chelsea School, University of Brighton, which possessed a world-leading research group for the critical study of sport in society. This was at a time of expansion in the Sport and Leisure Cultures research group and I was lucky to work alongside Alan Tomlinson, John Sugden, Ian McDonald, Belinda Wheaton, P. David Howe, Steve Redhead, Jayne Caudwell, Mark Perryman, Udo Merkel, Marc Keech, Gill Lines, Daniel Burdsey, Thomas F. Carter, Mark Doidge, Megan Chawansky, Rob Steen, Graham McFee, Jack Wilkinson and Neil Ravenscroft. This was an exhilarating environment in which to extend my research interests in the politics of sport, working with leading figures in the field. My initial role was a research assistant, though I was promoted through the ranks to Senior Research Fellow after a few years.

During my time at the Chelsea School I worked closely alongside Neil Ravenscroft on research and consultancy projects in the politics of outdoor recreation and workforce development in the creative industries. I was a co-author of significant national studies relating to countryside access for water-related recreation, which are known by the UK canoe and kayaking community as the ‘Brighton reports’. In 2008 I was a lead researcher on a report for DEFRA on the pollution risks relating to water-based recreation in England and Wales to support the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive.

I registered in 2003 for a part-time PhD, which was supervised by Professor Alan Tomlinson and (Visiting Prof) Lincoln Allison, which continued a theme of my masters dissertation on the idea of the sporting hero. I completed the PhD in 2009: The Cultural Politics of Heroism in British Mountaineering, 1921-1995, which was successfully defended in an examination with two eminent professors of sport and leisure: Jeffrey Hill and Garry Whannel. I have published regularly on the culture of mountaineering, editing the first collection on climbing to be published in an Anglophone sport history journal.

In 2013 I moved to the School of Environment and Technology to develop and deepen my knowledge and interests in the spatial and environmental aspects of sport, leisure and popular culture. I lead a specialist third year option on the Geographies of Sport and Leisure and supervise dissertation projects and PhD theses in this area.

My interests in the politics and geographies of sport and leisure have broadened and now include the exploration of leisure practices in different settings. I have successfully obtained research funding from the British Academy to explore the institutionalisation of parkour, and have been a Co-Investigator on two AHRC-funded projects on the co-production of research through different environmental settings, in particular gardening and food growing, and riverine heritage. The next phase of my research will be research grant applications to explore the legal and regulatory histories of street sport and leisure, and the cultural heritage and public histories of European waterways.

My academic network extends beyond the University of Brighton. In 2005 I established the Political Studies Association’s Sport and Politics Specialist Study Group, which has now grown into a leading annual forum for the social science of sport. I am also an elected Executive Member and Publications Officer of the Leisure Studies Association. At the University of Brighton, I lead the Space, Society and Environment Research Group within the School of Environment and Technology.

Approach to teaching

My teaching style is underpinned by a commitment to critical social research, which seeks to interrogate and expose relations of social power inherent in people-environment relations. This approach allows students to conceive of their learning not just as a disinterested exercise, but as part of a project of social transformation. Modules taught include ‘urban geography’, 'social and cultural geography’, ‘geographies of sport and leisure', 'practising geography, environmental sciences and archaeology', and 'research design and analysis with dissertation planning'.  I also supervise undergraduate and Master’s level dissertations.

I have over a decade of experience in teaching research methods and I emphasise the importance of scholarly integrity and precise technique in designing and implementing research projects. Materials drawn from my personal experiences and involvement in funded research are used as a matter of course to expose the judgements made in research design as well as problems encountered in administering specific data collection techniques. Through these reflections I weave a path between the published orthodoxies and real-world ‘messiness’ of social research.

My strengths are in qualitative research techniques, particularly historical analysis, which is frequently utilised in lectures to contextualise cultural and environmental phenomena, through the deep reading and analysis of texts and use of archive materials. Workshop-style exercises delivered in research training modules encourage students to critically reflect upon the practice of research, the nature of knowledge construction, and the authority of scientific knowledge and its contribution to the public good.

Education/Academic qualification

Bachelor, University of Warwick

PhD, University of Brighton

Master, University of Warwick

External positions

Executive Committee, Leisure Studies Association

Jul 2013 → …


  • GV Recreation Leisure
  • G Geography (General)

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Research Output

Clarifying street culture: Integrating a diversity of opinions and voices

Ross, J. I., Daichendt, G. J., Kurtenbach, S., Gilchrist, P., Charles, M. & Wicks, J., 22 Jun 2019, In : Urban Research & Practice. p. 1-16 16 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Embodied causes: climbing, charity and 'celanthropy'

    Gilchrist, P., 13 Oct 2019, (Accepted/In press) In : The International Journal of the History of Sport.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Roses and castles: Competing visions of canal heritage and the making of place

    Wincott, A., Ravenscroft, N. & Gilchrist, P., 3 Dec 2019, In : International Journal of Heritage Studies.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Davis, Ian Gordon McNaught -

    Gilchrist, P., 15 Feb 2018, Oxford, UK : Oxford University Press.

    Research output: Other contribution