Dr Jessica Pykett

Dr Jessica Pykett

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography

Contact details

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Jessica Pykett is a social and political geographer with research interests in citizenship, governance, and political subjectivities.  Her research to date has focused on affective and emotional techniques of governance, and the influence of neuroscience and behavioural science on public policy and economic theory. Current work is on the intersections of neuroscience and geography, concepts of urban stress and urban wellbeing, and political geographies of emotional regulation.


PhD, University of Bristol

MSc Society and Space, University of Bristol

BSc Geography, University of Bristol

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy


Before joining the University of Birmingham in September 2012, Jessica was a lecturer in Human Geography at Aberystwyth University. Here she worked on a Leverhulme funded grant on the ‘Time-Spaces of Soft-Paternalism’. Previously she was an ESRC research fellow at The Open University and has held research positions at the University of Bristol and Futurelab Education.


  • Year 1 Fieldcourse
  • Year 2 Social and Political Geography
  • Year 3 Welfare, Work and Wealth
  • Year 4 MSci Human Geography

Postgraduate supervision

I welcome prospective PhD students with research interests across social, cultural and political approaches to Human Geography and am especially interested to hear from students who might be interested to study themes such as: 

  • STS analysis of happiness economics, emotional regulation and mental health
  • Behavioural public policy 
  • Critical neuroscience approaches to education, architecture, built environment 
  • Geographies of welfare and/or wellbeing 
  • Psychological governance and citizenship
  • Urban wellbeing
  • Government advertising, communications, social marketing 

Current postgraduate students

  • Hannah Bailey (ESRC funded 2018-) “Nudging social tenants: effects, ethics and evaluation of behavioural insights in housing” CASE Studentship with Collaborative Change.
  • Alice Menzel (ESRC funded 2018-) ““Emotional geographies of expectant fathering”
  • Rita Gayle (AHRC funded 2017-) “The Collective Utopia: Black British Feminism in creative industries”
  • Shivani Singh (ESRC funded 2017-) The spatial politics of Islamophobia in the contemporary UK. The role of space in shaping emotional encounters with cultural difference and injustice”
  • Tessa Osborne (ESRC funded) (2015-) " Embodying heritage: a biosocial investigation into urban conservation areas"

Completed postgraduate students

  • Deyala Altarawneh (2013-2017) Landscape design in Amman Jordanian Government stipend.
  • David Bovell (ESRC funded) (2012-2016) "Mobility, immobility and empowerment: the importance of place in shaping the educational outcomes of children in care"
  • Forough Jafray: (2010-2016) ‘Adaptive participatory irrigation management in Iran’


Research groups

Research interests

  • Emotional politics and emotional regulation
  • Behavioural public policy and neuroscience informed public policy
  • Affective governance
  • Embodied geographies and critical social theories of the body, mind and emotions
  • Critical neuroscience approaches to urban design, architecture, built environment 
  • Geographies of welfare and/or wellbeing 
  • Psychological governance and citizenship
  • Urban wellbeing and urban stress
  • Government advertising, communications, social marketing 

Research funding

  • ESRC Collaborative Studentship award, 2018
  • ESRC Impact Acceleration Account Follow on Fund, 2015-16 (PI, “Mindfulness, Behaviour Change and Psychological Capital”)
  • ESRC ‘Transforming Social Science’ Research Grant, 2013-14 (Co-I, “Negotiating Neuroliberalism: Changing Behaviours, Values and Beliefs”): ES/L003082/1
  • ESRC Seminar Series, 2013-2015 (PI,“Behaviour Change and Psychological Governance”): ES/L000296/1
  • ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2008 (PI)
  • ESRC +3 Postgraduate studentship, 2003-2006
  • ESRC and ODPM Masters studentship, 2002

Other activities

I qualified as a generalist adviser with the Citizens Advice Bureau in 2006, and was social policy co-ordinator at Ceredigion CAB for some years, winning substantial funding to continue service provision. I have been co-chair of the Citizenship Working Group for the Geographical Association, organising several events to support school geography teachers. I am a member of the Royal Geographical Society - Institute for British Geographers. I have acted as peer reviewer for over 24 journals across many different disciplines. Member of ESRC peer-review college 2015-18, and reviewer for Freie Universität Berlin, Portuguese Research Council, and Carnegie Trust, Scotland.


Recently published:

Pykett, J. 2018. “Happiness is the metric of the future, but there are problems with how we measure it” The Conversation.  11th Sept 2018


Whitehead, M., Jones, R., Lilley, R., Pykett, J. and Howell, R. (2017) Neuroliberalism. Behavioural Government in the 21st century. Routledge, London.

Pykett, J. (2015)Brain Culture. Shaping policy through neuroscience. Policy Press, Bristol/University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Jones, R., Pykett, J. and Whitehead, M. (2013) Changing Behaviours: On the Rise of the Psychological State. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham. ISBN: 978 0 85793 687 5.

Edited Books

Pykett, J., Jones, R. and Whitehead, M. (Eds.) (2017) Psychological Governance and Public Policy. Governing the mind, brain and behaviour. Routledge, London.

Jupp, E., Pykett, J., and Smith, F. (Eds.) (2017) Emotional States. Sites and Spaces of Affective Governance. Routledge, London.

Pykett, J. (Ed.) (2012) Re-educating Citizens. Governing Through Pedagogy. Routledge, London. ISBN: 978-0-415-69621-0 (174 pages).

Peer-reviewed journal articles

Whitehead, M., Jones, R., Howell, R., Lilley, R. and Pykett, J. (2018) “Neuroliberalism Cognition, Context, and the Geographical Bounding of Rationality” Progress in Human Geography, online first, https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132518777624

Williamson, B., Pykett, J. and Nemorin, S. (2017) “Biosocial systems and neurocomputational governance: brain-based and brain-targeted technologies in education” invited article for special issue of Discourse¸ 39 (2), pp. 258-275. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01596306.2018.1394421

Pykett, J. (2017)Geography and Neuroscience: critical engagements with geography’s ‘neural turn’”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 43: 2, pp154-169. DOI: 10.1111/tran.12213

Pykett, J. and Enright, B. (2016) “Geographies of brain culture. optimism and optimisation in workplace training programmes” Cultural Geographies, 23 (1): 51-68. DOI

Pykett, J. (2015) “Reclaiming public action from theories of securitization”. Dialogues in Human Geography 5 (3): 284-286. DOI

Whitehead, M., Jones, R., Howell, R., Lilley, R. and Pykett, J. (2015) “(Re)Inhabiting Awareness: Geography and Mindfulness” Social and Cultural Geography. DOI 

Pykett, J. (2014) Representing Attitudes to Welfare Dependency: Relational Geographies of Welfare” Sociological Research Online, 19 (3): 23. DOI

Pykett, J., Jones, R., Whitehead, M. and Welsh, M. (2014) “The Art of Choosing and the Politics of Social Marketing” Political Studies 35 (2): 97-114. DOI

Jones, R., Pykett, J. and Whitehead, M. (2014) “The geographies of policy translation: how nudge became the default policy option”, Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 32 (1): 54 – 69. DOI

Jones, R., Pykett, J. and Whitehead, M. (2013) “Behaviour Change policies in the UK: an anthropological perspective”, Geoforum 48: 33-41. DOI

Jones, R., Pykett, J. and Whitehead, M. (2013) “Psychological governance and behaviour change”. Policy and Politics 41 (2): 159-182. DOI

Pykett, J. (2012) “Neurocapitalism and the new neuros: using neuroeconomics, behavioural economics and picoeconomics for public policy” Journal of Economic Geography 13 (5): 845-869. DOI

Whitehead, M., Jones, R., Pykett. J. and Welsh, M. (2012) “Geography, libertarian paternalism and neuro-politics in the UK” The Geographical Journal 178 (4): 302-307. DOI

Pykett, J. (2012) “The New Maternal State: the Gendered Politics of Governing through Behaviour Change” Antipode 44 (1): 217-238 DOI

Whitehead M, Jones R, Pykett J. (2011) "Governing irrationality, or a more than rational government? Reflections on the rescientisation of decision making in British public policy " Environment and Planning A 43 (12): 2819 – 2837 DOI

Pykett, J., Jones, R., Whitehead, M., Huxley, M., Strauss, K., Gill, N., McGeevor, K.,  Thompson, L., and Newman, J. (2011) “Interventions in the Political Geography of ‘Libertarian Paternalism’” Political Geography 30 (6): 301-310 DOI

Long, H., Zou, J., Pykett, J. and Li, Y. (2011) “Analysis of rural transformation development in China since the turn of the new millennium”. Applied Geography 31: 1094-1105. DOI

Jones, R., Pykett, J. and Whitehead, M. (2011) “Governing Temptation: changing behaviour in an age of libertarian paternalism”, Progress in Human Geography, 35 (4): 483-501. DOI

Jones, R., Pykett, J. and Whitehead, M. (2011) “The Geographies of Soft Paternalism in the UK: The Rise of the Avuncular State and Changing Behaviour after Neoliberalism", Geography Compass 5 (1): 50-62. DOI

Pykett, J. (2011) “MINDSPACE: State knowledges and the new philosopher kings” Area. Response from Hallsworth, M., Institute for Government. 43 (3): 370–371.DOI.

Pykett, J., Saward, M. and Schafer, A. (2010) “Framing the good citizen”, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 12 (4): 523-538. DOI

Pykett, J. (2010) “Editorial: The Pedagogical State. Education, Citizenship, Governing” Citizenship Studies 14 (6): 617-619. DOI

Pykett, J. (2010) “Citizenship Education and narratives of pedagogy” Citizenship Studies 14 (6): 621-635 DOI

Pykett, J. (Ed.) (2010) “Designing Identity: exploring citizenship through geographies of identity” Geography 95 (3), online

Pykett, J, Cloke P, Barnett C, Clarke, N. and Malpass A. (2010). Learning to be global citizens: the rationalities of fair-trade education. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28 (3): 487-508 DOI

Pykett, J. (2009) “Personalisation and de-schooling: uncommon trajectories in contemporary education policy” Critical Social Policy 29 (3): 374-397. DOI

Pykett, J. (2009) “Pedagogical Power: lessons from school spaces”, Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 4 (2):103–117. DOI

Pykett, J. (2009) “Making Citizens in the Classroom.  An Urban Geography of Citizenship Education” Urban Studies 46 (4): 803–823. DOI

Anderson, J., Askins, K., Cook, I., Desforges, L., Evans, J., Fannin, M., Fuller, D., Griffiths, H., Lambert, D., Lee, R., MacLeavy, J.,  Mayblin, L., Morgan, J., Payne, B., Pykett, J., Roberts, D., and Skelton, T.  (2008) “What is Geography’s contribution to making citizens?” Geography 93 (1), pp34-39. here

Pykett, J. (2007) “Making Citizens Governable? The Crick Report as Governmental Technology” in Journal of Education Policy 22 (3), pp301-320. DOI.

Reproduced in Murphey, M. (2013) Social Theory and Education Research. SAGE Library of Educational Thought & Practice. SAGE, London.

Book chapters

In press: Pykett, J. “Neuroscientifically-informed public policy. A geographical critique.” In Ed: Adam Whitworth,  Spatial social policy: putting policy back in its place(s)”Policy Press, Bristol.

In press: “Healthy nations: behavioural approaches in public health policy.” In Eds: Kathrin Loer and Benjamin Ewert. Behavioural Policies for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN:978-3-319-98315-8.

In press: Whitehead, M., Jones, R. and Pykett, J. “Nudging around the world” in S.Beck and H. Strassheim (Eds.) Handbook of Behavioural Change and Public Policy, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham (under review).

Pykett, J. and Cromby, J. (2017) “Mapping Happiness, Measuring Urban Emotions” in V. Higgins and W.Larner (Eds.) Assembling Neoliberalism. Expertise, Practices, Subjects. PalgraveMacmillan, New York. Chapter 10, p195-216.

Pykett, J. (2018) “Forensic neuropsychology: social, cultural and political implications” in A Beech, A.Carter, R.Mann and P.Rotshtein (Eds.) The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Forensic Neuroscience. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford (in press

Pykett, J. (2016) “Changing Behaviour”, in P.Alcock, M.May, S. Wright, T. Haux (Eds.) Student’s Companion to Social Policy – Fifth Edition.  Wiley-Blackwell.

Pykett, J. (2016) “From Global Economic Change to Neuromolecular Capitalism”. In J. DeVos and E.Pluth (Eds) Neuroscience and Critique. Routledge, London.

Pykett, J. and Disney, T. (2015) “Brain-Targeted Teaching and the Biopolitical Child” in Kallio, K. P. and Mills, S. (2015) (eds) Politics, Citizenship and Rights, Vol. 7 of Skelton, T. (ed.) Geographies of Children and Young People. Springer: Berlin.

Whitehead, M., Jones, R. and Pykett, J. (2014) ‘Neuroliberal Climatic Governmentalities’, in H. Bulkeley and J. Stripple (eds), Governing the Global Climate: Rationality, Power and Politics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Welsh, M., Jones, R. Pykett, J. and Whitehead, M.(2014) ”The ‘Problem Gambler’ And Socio-Spatial Vulnerability”, in F.Gobet and M. Schiller (Eds.) Problem Gambling Research. Cognition, Prevention and Treatment (Palgrave Macmillan).

Pykett, J. (2012) “Making youth publics and neuro-citizens: critical geographies of contemporary educational practice” in P.Kraftl, J.Horton and F.Tucker (Eds.) Youth Matters: critical geographies of children and youth: policy and practice. Policy Press, Bristol.

Pykett, J. (2011) “ Geography, Citizenship and Ethical citizens” in G.Butt (Ed.) Geography, Education and the Future. Contiuum, London, p225-239.

Pykett, J. (2010). Whose education? Disentangling publics, persons and citizens. In Mahony, N, Newman, J. and Barnett, C. (Eds.) Rethinking the public. Innovations in research, theory and politics. Sage, London, Ch 7, 91-106. here

Professional Publications and Media:

Pykett, J. 2018. “Happiness is the metric of the future, but there are problems with how we measure it” The Conversation.  11th Sept 2018

Pykett, J., Lilley, R., Whitehead, M., Howell, R. and Jones, R. (2016) Mindfulness, Decision Making and Behaviour Change. An experimental trial. University of Birmingham, Birmingham.

Pykett, J. (2015) “Is Ethical Nudging an Oxymoron? The ethics and science of behaviour change under scrutiny”.Psychology Today blog, 5th June 2015. At:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-psychological-state/

Pykett, J. and Johnson, S. (2015) Silver bullets need a careful aim. Dilemmas in applying behavioural insights. Collaborative Change, Preston and University of Birmingham.

Pykett, J. (2014) “Cerebral Cities. Psychological Spaces and Neuro-architecture. Psychology Today blog, 19th April 2014. At: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-psychological-state/

Whitehead, M., Howell, R., Lilley, R., Jones, R. and Pykett, J. (2014) “Nudging all over the World”. Report on the ESRC Transforming Behaviours project

Whitehead, M., Lilley, R., Howell, R., Jones, R. and Pykett, J. (2014) Mindfulness Intervention Evaluation Report to the Welsh Government.

Whitehead, M., Jones, R., Howell, R., Lilley, R. and Pykett, J. (2013) “Presumed consent organ donation: Why the authorities find it easier to nudge us toward their policies” Western Mail (WalesOnline) at: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/ 20th September 2013.

Jones, R., Pykett, J.  and Whitehead, M. (2010) “Big Society’s Little Nudges: The Changing Politics of Health Care in an Age of Austerity” Political Insight Magazine December 2010. DOI

Pykett, J. and Smith, M. (2009) “Rediscovering School Geographies: Connecting the distant worlds of school and academic geography” Teaching Geography 34(1), p35-38.

Facer, K. and Pykett, J. (2007) “Developing and Accrediting Personal Competencies and Skills”.  A report commissioned by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). Futurelab Education, Bristol. Available here.

Pykett, J. (2004) “Using Debate to Promote Critical Thinking in Citizenship Education”,. A report commissioned by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), available at: www.citized.info/pdf/commarticles/Jessica_Pykett.pdf

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