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Professor Giles Mohan

Profile summary

Professional biography

I am a human geographer who gained his PhD from Liverpool University in 1993. My work concerns the politics of development, particularly the intermingling of territorial scales and transnational networks. I have taught at Liverpool University, the University of Central Lancashire, Portsmouth University and The Open University. I was a handling editor of the Review of African Political Economy and a member of the editorial boards of Political Geography, Antipode, Geography Compass, and the International Development Planning Review. I have also acted as consultant to Open University/BBC productions including African School, Indian School, Comic Relief, the Reith Lectures, Why Poverty? and Project17. Since October 2014, I have directed the Open University's Strategic Research Area (SRA) in International Development and Inclusive Innovation. This is a pan-university and inter-disciplinary endeavour to develop large, challenge-led bids. 

Research interests

I have had a number of research projects on China's internationalisation and the implications for global development. The latest is a European Research Council Advanced Grant entitled Re-orienting development: the dynamics and effects of Chinese infrastructure investment in Europe (REDEFINE) which builds on previous work on China-Africa relations. In 2007 I received an ESRC grant entitled The politics of Chinese engagement with African 'development': Case studies of Angola and Ghana. This was followed up in 2010 by another ESRC grant on Chinese migrants as agents of development and another as part of a network under the ESRC’s Rising Powers Programme. In 2015 I was awarded a DFID-ESRC project on Chinese National Oil Companies in Africa, which assesses the impacts of these firms on African development.

Previously I worked on the developmental impacts of the diaspora, based on both theoretical work and case studies of the Ghanaian diaspora in the UK and its linkages to Ghana. With my recent study of Chinese migrants in Africa I was keen to develop these insights around new migration trajectories and Africa’s development. This concern with the role of migrants in local development evolved out of my work on decentralised and participatory development, which is an on-going interest. I currently also have a GCRF project entitled Migration for Inclusive African Growth, which examines whether and how migration within and to Africa yields more inclusive forms of development.

Teaching interests

Together with colleagues in the Open University's International Development Office we have peoduced a series of short courses aimed at professionals working in international development and humanitarianism. These are available on FutureLearn, OpenLearn and OpenLearnCreate and have been co-produced with international NGOs and donors including UNICEF, Christain Aid, FCDO, and Oxfam.

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Centre for Citizenship, Identifies and Governance (CCIG)CentreFaculty of Social Sciences
OpenSpace Research CentreCentreFaculty of Social Sciences


Externally funded projects

Re-orienting development: the dynamics and effects of Chinese infrastructure investment in Europe (REDEFINE)
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 Nov 202031 Oct 2025EC (European Commission): FP (inc. Horizon Europe, H2020, ERC)

REDEFINE will examine what China’s rise means for how we understand global development and, specifically, Europe’s place in it. After 15 years of ‘going out’ to source raw materials and new markets, often in the global South, China is making assertive moves into more developed economies, which were boosted by the Belt and Road Initiative linking China to Europe. At the same time, many European economies stagnated following the 2008 financial crisis with governments cutting back on infrastructure investment and looking for new sources of finance. China now sees Europe as fertile ground for new infrastructure investment. The first wave of Chinese internationalisation into the global South has been analysed largely from the perspective of international Development Studies. In the current phase, China’s move westwards radically questions the meanings and loci of development. REDEFINE’s innovation is to use insights from international development to interrogate Chinese engagement in the heart of Europe and by doing so re-orient the Eurocentric debates in the social sciences around how we define and delimit development, who drives these processes, and what it means for societies and communities affected by such investments. REDEFINE’s aims require a disaggregated perspective to unpack project-by-project effects, which will be undertaken through an assemblage approach. Through comparative, ethnographic case studies across the UK, Germany, Greece and Hungary REDEFINE will produce fine-grained empirical analysis to understand the rationales for Chinese investment into Europe, the geopolitical dynamics surrounding these financing streams, the structuring of specific projects, and the ways in which these investments interface with national and local development policy. By better understanding how investment deals operate, REDEFINE will connect Chinese and European government and corporate actors in order to influence their strategies and practices.

Migration for Inclusive African Growth
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 Sep 201831 Jan 2022ESRC Economic and Social Research Council

A new wave of economic dynamism in Africa has created a pressing challenge of translating this elite-based, resource-driven growth into more inclusive growth. Africa’s growth has intensified contemporary migration within and to the continent, with important implications for sustainable and inclusive growth in both ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ contexts. Therefore, the aim of the project is to understand how and to what extent contemporary migrant communities are taking advantage of, and contributing to, sustainable and inclusive growth in Africa. Despite being an important channel for trade, investment and skills development, little is known about the nature and potentially transformative outcomes of these diverse migration flows. In addressing this, the novelty of this project is threefold: (1) in analysing the impacts of migration through the lens of inclusive growth, (2) in exploring internal, regional and intercontinental migration together and moving the study of migration and development beyond South-to-North flows, and (3) in co-designing policy responses and capacity-building resources for optimising the contribution of migration to inclusive African growth. This proposal arises out of an ESRC GCRF network grant that has identified, through a series of workshops hosted by the African partners, that our knowledge of the size, motivations, organisation and impacts of recent flows of migrants and their relations with host communities is largely anecdotal, while official data is fragmented, inaccurate or partial. This proposal will produce the first multi-country comparative study of these groups in Africa, with a focus on how and with what impact these groups operate in the manufacturing and service sectors of four African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Mozambique) that are all on the OECD DAC list.