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 and the practices of governing, the geographies of education, and the formation of neurological and psychological citizen-subjectivities.


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 Doing Human Geography

Postgraduate supervision

I would 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: 

  • Government advertising, communications, social marketing 
  • Personalisation strategies in public policy 
  • Spaces of financial capability and ‘debtogenic’ landscapes 
  • Critical neuroscience approaches to education, architecture, built environment 
  • Geographies of welfare and/or wellbeing 
  • Psychological governance and citizenship

Current postgraduate students

  • Tessa Osborne (ESRC funded) (2015-) "Visualising the emotional subject: Psychogeographical Investigation of the urban landscape" (Primary supervisor with Phil Jones and Peter Kraftl)
  • Deyala Altarawneh (2013-) Landscape design in Amman Jordanian Government stipend. Co-supervisors Phil Jones and Lauren Andres
  • David Bovell (ESRC funded) (2012-2016) "Mobility, immobility and empowerment: the importance of place in shaping the educational outcomes of children in care" (Primary supervisor with Jonathon Oldfield and Simon Pemberton, Keele)
  • Forough Jafray: (2010-2016) ‘Adaptive participatory irrigation management in Iran’ Co-supervisor Chris Bradley.
  • Yixin Li: (10/2011- ) Energy poverty and electrification in rural China. Funded by a Li Siguang scholarship. Co-supervisor Rosie Day


Research groups

Research interests

Power, Pedagogy and Public Policy

I am interested in the cultural practices of governing through pedagogical means, and the evolving pedagogical relationship between state and citizen. The idea of the pedagogical state can help us to examine the ‘schooling’ of citizen subjectivities, both within and outside of schools and new forms of active citizenship which have consequences for the ‘health’ of democracy. It can also help us to investigate the extension of ‘teacherly’ or pedagogic practices into social life and the wider public sphere and to theorise the politics and geographies of pedagogical forms of power, in spheres such as parenting education, health policy, community empowerment and welfare reform.

Citizenship and Governing

I have recently completed a research project with Rhys Jones and Mark Whitehead exploring how soft paternalism is currently being promoted in the policy areas of health, personal finance and environment. We examined the history of soft paternalism as a political philosophy, the particular way in which such policies are employed to reconfigure the spatial and temporal nature of state-citizen relations, and how citizens themselves accommodate or resist such interventions in their own governability. The project aimed to go beyond critiques of the ‘nanny state' in order to better understand the politics of soft paternalism in the UK.

See our project blog at http://governingtemptation.wordpress.com/

Locating the Subject

I am interested in the constitution or making up of citizen-subjects, publics and governing practices as historically and socially contingent, and thus open to political contestation and geographical difference. Related research publications have aimed to interrogate dominant narratives of the citizen in political discourse, educational practice, within insights from neuroscientfic knowledge, and in behaviouralist approaches to governing.

Research funding

  • 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 (PI)
  • ESRC and ODPM Masters studentship, 2002

Other activities

Jessica has qualified as a generalist adviser with the Citizens Advice Bureau and was social policy co-ordinator at Ceredigion CAB for some years. She has previously been co-chair of the Citizenship Working Group for the Geographical Association, and is an affiliate member of Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance, and OpenSpace research centre at The Open University.



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

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

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

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

Pykett, J. (ed.) (2011) Governing Through Pedagogy. Re-educating Citizens. Routledge, London. 


Peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and professional reports

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

Pykett, J. (in press) “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.

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

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

Pykett, J., Lilley, R., Whitehead, M., Howell, R. and Jones, R. (2016) “Mindfulness, Behaviour Change and Decision Making” Report presented in Houses of Parliament with the Mindfulness Initiative, London, Feb 2016

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.

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

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

Pykett, J. and Johnson S. (2015) “Silver Bullets Need a Careful Aim. Dilemmas in applying behavioural insights” Report presented at the RSA, London, 2015.

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

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

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

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. 

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

Pykett, J. (2013) “Neurocapitalism and the new neuros: using neuroeconomics, behavioural economics and picoeconomics for public policy” Journal of Economic Geography 13 (5), 845-869. DOI

Welsh, M., Jones, R. Pykett, J. and Whitehead, M. (forthcoming).” The ‘Problem Gambler’ And Socio-Spatial Vulnerability”. In Problem Gambling Research (Palgrave Macmillan)

Pykett, J. (2012) Re-educating Citizens. Governing Through Pedagogy.Routledge, London.

Whitehead, M., Jones, R., Pykett. J. and Welsh, M. (2012) Geography, libertarian paternalism and neuro-politics in the UK. The Geographical Journal. 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), p301-310 DOI

Pykett, J. (2012) “The New Maternal State: the Gendered Politics of Governing through Behaviour Change” Antipode 44 (1), p217-238 DOI

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.

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, p1094-1105.

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. Published 18 November 2010 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) “ Geography, Citizenship and Ethical citizens” in G.Butt (Ed.) Geography, Education and the Future. Contiuum, London, p225-239.

Pykett, J. (2011) “MINDSPACE: State knowledges and the new philosopher kings” Area. Response from Hallsworth, M., Institute for Government. 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, pp617-619. DOI

Pykett, J. (2010) “Citizenship Education and narratives of pedagogy” Citizenship Studies 14: 6, pp621-635 DOI

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

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. (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.

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. (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) pp103–117. DOI

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

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.

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. (forthcoming) Social Theory and Education Research. SAGE Library of Educational Thought & Practice. SAGE, London.. SAGE, London.

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.

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