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Professor Allan Cochrane

Profile summary

  • Visiting Informal Academic
  • Emeritus Professor
  • Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
  • School of Polis, Phil, Econ, Dev, Geog
  • Geography
  • allan.cochrane

Professional biography

I worked in the Faculty of Social Sciences at The Open University for more than thirty years and at various times I was a student, associate lecturer, Dean, Pro-Vice Chancellor, and Head of Department.  I was just beginning to understand how the place worked when I retired. And now the Faculty no longer exists and I am an Emeritus Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Across my time at The Open University I contributed to a wide range of interdisciplinary courses as well as courses in geography, urban studies and social policy. My teaching and research interests lie at the junction of geography, social and public policy. As well as teaching on these subjects, I have published widely, and also enjoyed supervising a range of PhD students.

As Emeritus Professor, I now have rather less direct involvement with the teaching side of the University, and still less with the management side. However, I continue to contribute where I can. I Chair the Advisory Board of the ESRC funded project Smart Cities in the Making, Learning from Milton Keynes and in 2018 an open course that I prepared – From Brexit to the Break-up of Britain? – was launched on-line.

Research interests

I am particularly interested in understanding and exploring the ways in which the spaces of politics and policy are made up in practice, in ways that reflect relations of power within and beyond the state. It is in this broader context that my research has focused on a series of, mainly urban, sites through which it is possible to consider the workings of power, the possibilities of politics and changing forms of policy intervention. I continue to undertake research in dialogue and collaboration with others within and beyond the Open University, as reflected in the range of co-authors with whom I have published.

Across the years (stretching back even before the publication of my book Whatever happened to Local Government?) I have retained an interest in local politics, local government and the local state, most recently in the context of austerity. And this interest has led me into wider debates about the ways in which urban and regional politics need to be understood as an active and continuing process of negotiation, defined through relations across space, rather than being straightforwardly captured in bounded territorial institutions (reflected, for example, in work jointly authored over the years with John Allen). It seems to me that some of the most significant trajectories of contemporary political possibility cut across these sites.

It is in that context, that much of my work has been undertaken. So, for example, exploring the changing shape (regular rebirth and renewal) of British urban policy since its birth the 1960s (as I did in my book Understanding Urban Policy), made it possible to explore some of the ways in which new political and economic settlements were being achieved or imagined for the state after the welfare state. The aim of my research is not to argue about the effectiveness (or lack of effectiveness) of different anti-poverty strategies or different forms of urban policy. Instead, it seeks to understand why particular clusters become identified as specifically urban problems suitable for intervention through urban policies and spatial targeting at one time while they may be understood quite differently at different times and in different places.

In recent years, I have been involved a series of funded research projects, in each of which I have sought to identify and interrogate the new political geographies of economic and social change in the UK and beyond.

  • I was Principal Investigator (working with Bob Colenutt as Co-Investigator) on Tensions and Prospects for Sustainable Housing Growth on the edge of the South East of England, in the wake of the financial crisis (funded by the ESRC, 2012-2013). I built on this with a Leverhulme emeritus fellowship on Governing a Suburban Growth Region: Living on the Edge of the Greater South East, which I held between 2014-2016. The South-East of England is a particularly interesting case, as a 'city region' that resolutely refuses to allow its boundaries to be defined, while equally confidently claiming not only national economic and political hegemony but also a global role.

  • I was Co-Investigator (working with Sarah Neal as PI and Katy Bennett and Giles Mohan as Co-Is) on Living Multiculture: the new geographies of ethnicity and the changing formations of multiculture in England (funded by the ESRC, 2012-2014). The project focused on the extent to which and ways in which new spaces of multiculture may be emerging in towns and cities which draw on the practices of everyday interaction rather than top down policies or institutionalised diversity. Its results (summarised in a book published in 2018 - Lived Experiences of Multiculture) highlight the need actively to explore the politics of everyday life in place, and always connected to elsewhere.

  • I am currently working as an academic consultant (with Jennifer Robinson as PI and Fulong Wu and Philip Harrison as CoIs) on Governing the Future City: A comparative analysis of governance innovations in large scale urban developments in Shanghai, London, Johannesburg (funded by the ESRC 2016-2018). Looking at London through the lenses of Shanghai and Johannesburg is a powerful corrective to the dominant view out from what is all too easily assumed to be the metropolitan financial core.





Teaching interests

I am no longer actively involved on the teaching side of the Open University, and I very much miss the process of working with others to develop ideas and teaching strategies. The course team is a remarkable invention which forces its members to move outside their comfort zones and to think differently, accepting and responding to others, rather than simply pursuing an individual obsession. At their best OU course teams have the potential both to find ways of engaging effectively and thoughtfully with students and also to shape intellectual agendas within and beyond the institution.

Teaching at the OU is unusual because of the extent to which it requires academics to work with colleagues across disciplinary and sub-disciplinary divides. And the nature of the teaching process, when it works well, requires them to think explicitly about the teaching process, to think about students and how they will respond to and engage with the material they receive. I miss that discipline, too. And, of course, I miss the involvement I was privileged to have with some very special students and Associate Lecturers, all committed to a wider educational endeavour.

My own most recent contribution to developing an open course (From Brexit to the Break-up of Britain?) which was launched in February 2018 did not bring me back into the world of the course team. However it is worth recording the extent to which I was supported not only by academic colleagues, but also by others outside the Faculty, who reminded me of the need to communicate clearly (something that it is all too easy to forget) and helped me into the arcane world of on-line quizzes.

Research Activity

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC)CentreFaculty of Social Sciences
OpenSpace Research CentreCentreFaculty of Social Sciences

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