Our research plays a critical role in developing fresh approaches for understanding sustainability challenges.

Find out more about our research groups below.

Circular economy

There is currently a strong interest in business models and policy initiatives to close the material loops associated with production and consumption practices.

This strong interest resonates strongly with several of our key research areas, including consumption practices of reuse and sustainable transition pathways of systems of provision.

Within this working group, we acknowledge the potential contribution that the closing of material loops can have for sustainability - while taking a critical stance, arguing we should look at the plurality of circular economies rather than an abstract conception of circular economy.


We aim to develop research collaborations around questions of how circularity contributes to social and ecological sustainability.

Group leader

Group members

Cities and sustainability

The world's cities are growing rapidly - one estimate suggests that, by 2050, 70% of the planet's nine billion-strong population will live in an urban area.

The world’s most powerful cities make a significant contribution to global economic growth. However, this growth is uneven - and produces major challenges in social and environmental sustainability.

This working group was formed to engage with the sustainability challenges posed by urban growth in an academic and policy-relevant way.


  • To address the fundamental uncertainties and lack of knowledge about how to achieve this urban reconfiguration.
  • To contribute to debates on the future of urban sustainability.
  • To research attempts to sustainably reconfigure urban systems of provision.


The group undertakes work that is broadly organised around the governance of (post-) sustainable urban futures. We are concerned with both understanding the future of the sustainable city and in shaping what this looks like. We draw on a range of theoretical insights, methodological approaches, and empirical work in a variety of existing urban contexts. In doing this, we engage with a variety of different social interests through various media of knowledge exchange.

Our work is organised into three themes.

Urban knowledge

Our work contributes to debates on how urban knowledge is produced, exchanged, and mobilised and how this is used to shape more (un-)sustainable urban futures.

This addresses how future sustainable cities are envisioned, experimented with, can be understood, and achieved at a time when key concepts (‘city’, ‘sustainability’) are under stress.

Urban materiality

This theme of our work focuses on how transforming the urban built environment, infrastructure systems and service provision can contribute to their organisation in more (un-)sustainable ways.

Indicative activities include the following.

Indicative publications include the following.

The everyday urban

In times when urban contexts and the systems of provision that sustain urban life are being transformed, our research addresses what this means for understanding experiences of everyday urban living.

Indicative publications include the following.

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Collective action, social movements

Sustainability and consumption are intrinsically contentious domains, concerning the ongoing struggle between different visions of prosperity, justice, and the good life.

Political action and social movements shape policy agendas, public debates, and future arrangements around sustainable consumption. This is achieved, for example, through:

  • critiquing the dominant modes of consumption;
  • imagining and experimenting with alternative forms of provision and social organisation;
  • offering competing narratives about the environment and its future.


This working group draws on interests and concerns across our Institute and the wider University - particularly those of Movements@Manchester - about the origins, practices, and outcomes of collective contentious action, as well as what can be learned from thinking ‘with’ social movements and political critique.

Indicative publications include the following.

Alternative Futures and Popular Protest Conference

Since 2019 Movements@Manchester and members of the Collective Action and Social Movements Group have co-organised the major yearly conference Alternative Futures and Popular Protest, formerly held at Manchester Metropolitan University since 1995.

See Movements@Manchester for more details and how to participate.


Our group overlaps in topic and members with Movements@Manchester, one of the biggest concentrations of social scientists researching protest, movements, and political participation in the world.

Movements@Manchester meets regularly as a reading group and organises occasional seminars and international conferences such as Alternative Futures and Popular Protest.

For more details, email Simin Fadaee or Luke Yates.

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Sustainability and social inequalities

Researching how intersecting axes of inequality shape everyday provisioning.

Academic research tends to give insufficient attention to how social differences and inequalities shape the relations and practices of everyday consumption.

Our researchers are working to develop novel approaches to understanding how intersecting axes of inequality, along the lines of gender, race, culture, class, age and dis/ability, shape provisioning in households and communities, both locally and globally, and how they enable or constrain efforts to be environmentally sustainable.

This working group was established to provide a space for researchers to explore common interests in feminist theoretical perspectives on sustainability, environmental justice, and how an intersectionality approach can help us think more inclusively about processes of socio-environmental change.


We aim to develop research collaborations that advance theoretical knowledge about how social inequalities produce environmental problems and vice versa.

Our work pursues empirical questions about how interconnected and enduring social inequalities are connected to problems of unsustainability and how strategies for addressing these problems might work together.

Activities and publications

  • SCI Blog: Planet 50:50? Linking labour and environment this International Women’s Day by Sherilyn MacGregor (March 2016)
  • Sherilyn MacGregor is editor of The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Environment (2017) a widely-celebrated collection of chapters by top academics in this interdisciplinary field.
  • Helen Holmes and Sarah Marie Hall are co-editors of a special issue of The Journal of Consumer Ethics on gender and ethical consumption (vol 1, issue 2, 2017).
  • Sherilyn MacGregor and Lesley Head discuss ‘environmental justice, materiality and gender’ in a Keynote Conversation at the Environmental Justice: Looking Back, Looking Forward conference, Sydney Environment Institute, November 2017.
  • Blog: Environmental feminists taking up space at Conference of Parties (COP) by Joanna Wilson (January 2018).
  • Victims, villains or saviours? Catherine Walker discusses competing and sometimes conflicting ways imaginaries of children in climate change discourse in Discover Society (February 2019)
  • MacGregor, S., Walker, C., & Katz-Gerro, T. (2019) It’s What I’ve Always Done: Continuity and Change in the Household Sustainability Practices of Somali Immigrants in the UK, Geoforum, 107, 143-153.
  • Why’s Climate Justice a Feminist Issue? Annual Forum of the Women’s Environmental Network, 11 March 2020.
  • Towards a feminist green new deal for the UK by Maeve Cohen and Sherilyn MacGregor, policy paper for the Women’s Budget Group Commission on a Gender Equal Economy.