Dr Mark Holton

Dr Mark Holton

Associate Professor in Human Geography

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)



I am an associate professor of human geography at the University of Plymouth. Within my role I am the Programme Lead for Geography programmes.

I lead the GGH3207 Sustainable Cities and GGH1202 Introducing Human Geography: Changing Places modules as well as contributing to other human geography modules at all undergraduate and postgraduate levels including residential fieldwork courses in the UK and overseas and dissertation and PhD supervision. 
I co-edit the cultural geography section of the journal Geography Compass.



  • 2013-14: University of Brighton - lecturer
  • 2013-13: University of Portsmouth - lecturer (part-time)
  • 2010-13: University of Portsmouth - PhD researcher


  • HEA Fellowship - University of Plymouth
  • PhD in Geography - University of Portsmouth
  • MA in Social Research Methods - University of Portsmouth
  • BA (Hons) in Human Geography - University of Portsmouth

Professional membership

  • Member of the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE).
  • Member of the American Association of Geographers (AAG).
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA).
  • Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (IBG).

Roles on external bodies

  • Editor (cultural geography) for Geography Compass journal (2020-to date)
  • External examiner for Edge Hill University (2019-2024)



Teaching interests

I am primarily a Social and Cultural Geographer, although my teaching interests spread into planning and urban studies.

I contribute towards the following programmes:

MSc Planning

  • PLG505 – Urban Design: theories, methodologies and practice
  • PLG503 – Environmental Knowledge: From Field to Stakeholder (planning)

MSc Human Geography

  • GEES522 – Research in Human Geography: Philosophies and Design

BA/BSc Geography (ALL)

  • GGX3200 – Dissertation in Geography
  • GGH3207 - Sustainable Cities (Module Leader)
  • GGX2204 – Fieldwork in Geography
  • GGX2201 – Principles and Applications in Geography 1
  • GGX2202 – Principles and Applications in Geography 2
  • GGH2208 - Planning, Place and Security
  • GGH2207 – Travel, Transport and Mobilities
  • GGX1205 – Geographical Journeys
  • GGX1206 – Sustainable Futures
  • GGH1202 - Changing Places (Module Leader)
  • GGH1203 – Culture, Society and Space

PhD Supervision

  • Hoayda Darkal completed 2022 (DoS)
  • Pearlin Teow 2018 - 2023 (DoS)
  • Kieran Green 2018 - 2022 (2nd Supervisor)

Staff serving as external examiners

External examiner for Edge Hill University (2019-2024)



Research interests

One of our most basic human needs is to belong. It is why we form relationships, communities and nations, and through these we collectively share experiences, triumphs and failures. As a social and cultural geographer, my research focuses on the unique ways in which belonging intersects with place, identity and wellbeing. My work attends to the critical geographies of young people and examines the challenges and opportunities faced by young people in developing and performing belonging in place. This relates to the significant societal challenges faced by young people in terms of community, identity and wellbeing. I am particularly interested in how young people’s everyday senses of belonging shapes, and is shaped by, the places in which they live and how this can influence the ways in which the spaces young people use are designed, managed and regulated.

I began my research exploring the unique ways in which belonging can be affected by mobility and place through an in-depth investigation on the challenges and opportunities for mobile and immobile university students. Through my PhD research in Portsmouth, UK, and subsequent funded projects in Plymouth, UK (Pedagogic Research and Teaching Innovation fund), and Perth, Australia (UWA - Institute of Advanced Studies) my research has examined how the everyday mobilities of, predominantly young, students shapes young people’s senses of place, belonging and identity. Moreover, this research has collectively explored the influence of belonging in shaping young people’s interactions with the spaces and communities in which universities are located. This responds directly to the ongoing global challenges faced by HE institutions, communities and planners in developing sustainable, mixed communities that can support the thousands of young people that migrate in and out of university locations each year.

My most recent research extends the debates of the sustainability of belonging by examining the formal and informal networks of care, support and wellbeing that young people rely on in their everyday communities. I have explored this through a variety on contexts including the support that mitigates the negative consequences of problem loneliness among young farmers (Seale Hayne Educational Trust); the agency of young people as key supporters of their local coastal environments (Royal Geographical Society); the role of temporary co-living in assisting young people to establish meaningful identities and belonging in mixed urban communities (British Academy) and the implications for young people in interpreting and navigating the Northern Irish border post-Brexit (AHRC). At the heart of all of my research is a sense that positive place-based belonging can promote social justice through the championing of young people’s voices under challenging contemporary circumstances.

Other research

Bordered youth: analysing citizenship and identities in post-Brexit Northern Ireland (2022-24): This project analyses how young people negotiate the complex and overlapping identities and citizenships produced by living in borderland regions in times of fraught political change. Our geographical focus is the 'borderless border' between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, a physical, cultural, economic and emotional boundary that is being renegotiated in the aftermath of Brexit. This research builds an understanding of how border crossings and wider relationships with this unique place underpin young peoples' values and belief systems. More critically, it explores a) how these interactions may shape future constitutional change within Northern Ireland (and by extension the political makeup of the UK and/or the Republic of Ireland) and b) what this border could look like in future.

Encountering coastal youth citizenship: exploring young people’s engagements with coastal environments in the UK (2021-22): This project asks whether, and in what forms, the phenomenon of coastal youth citizenship exists. Little is known of how young people engage meaningfully with coastal environments, and at a time when coastal youth populations are declining, this new and original project seeks to explore the essential citizenship contributions young people can make in developing knowledge of, and providing stewardship for, coastal environments. Using a novel digital ethnography technique, and creatively drawing together theories of youth citizenship, coastal literacy and the geographies of encounter, this project examines how and why young people’s engagements with coastal environments might meaningfully shape space.

Curated communities: exploring co-living, community and identity among young mobile populations (2021-22): This project examines the challenges and opportunities for cities in situating young, mobile populations within balanced and sustainable communities. It uses co-living as a contemporary lens through which to question how young people understand and practice sharing, community, and identity in the spaces where they live. Co-living is a commercialised form of intentional community that provides shared accommodation for people with shared outlooks. This project questions if and how, as a housing context, co-living could provide the suitable conditions to facilitate more diverse and sustainable community interactions for young people. This objective is important as the increased precarity in the affordability and availability of secure housing and the normalisation of short-term employment contracts means that young people often experience difficulties accessing stable urban resources within cities. Through this research we hope to develop a framework that supports the integration of diverse demographics more sustainably into local communities.

Ploughing a Lonely Furrow: Investigating loneliness among young UK farmers (2020-2022): This project seeks to examine the growing issues surrounding loneliness among young farmers in UK agriculture. Evidence suggests that a combination of financial issues, Brexit uncertainty, the perceived ‘anti-meat agenda’, the effects of climate change, and now Covid-19 are compounding a sense of loneliness among farmers – specifically those who are younger – meaning young farmers may be particularly susceptible to the ill-effects of loneliness in terms of emotional stress. This research will therefore positively impact the agricultural communities the young farmers live and work in as well as informing local and national policy of the implications for loneliness on young farmers’ well-being. This project is funded by the Seale-Hayne Educational Trust and is led by researchers from the University of Plymouth and University of Liverpool.

The rise (and rise) of vertical studentification: exploring the drivers of studentification in Australia (2018-19): This project explored Australia as a new frontier for studentification research and how the rapid emergence of purpose built student accommodation in Australian cities impacts upon existing infrastructure. Specifically we explore issues surrounding generating sustainable and durable accommodation for seasonal young user groups. Outputs included: A paper for Urban Studies; a public lecture for UWA and the development of a new Australian studentification network.

Exploring the emotional geographies of UK university student halls of residences (2016-17): This project investigated how the morphology of shared halls of residences impact upon the wellbeing of students that reside in them. Using place-based interviewing, photo elicitation and cognitive mapping, this project revealed how communal space acts as a fundamental design feature for supporting students’ wellbeing and mental health. Outputs include: an academic paper for Emotion, Space and Society; five conference presentations, including two invited lectures in London and Germany; and a report for Residence Life.

Developing and evaluating ‘Plym-Tour’ a new mobile online educational resource for students on Plymouth’s people and places (2016-17). Plymouth University Research Innovation £6,000: My work covers not only studentification in terms of health and wellbeing, but also how students learn. This project examined how technology can assist with supporting undergraduates’ experiences of, and connections with, their term-time locations. Funded by the University of Plymouth: Pedagogic Research and Teaching Innovation Fund, we designed and implemented ‘PlymTour’, a digital walking tour of Plymouth that was housed in the University of Plymouth mobile app. Outputs include: academic papers for Mobilities and Area; four conference presentations – including the VC’s Teaching and Learning Conference in 2017 – and a teaching resource.

‘Men-scapes’ of care? Performing masculinities and wellbeing in the men’s hairdressing salon (2018-20): Building on my previous wellbeing work, some of my recent research extends the concept of wellbeing to examine the role of men’s hairdressing salons in providing interactive and effective spaces of care for men. Interviews and participant observation were used to explore how men’s interactions and behaviours, contribute towards fostering wellbeing and (self)care. Outputs included: a paper for Progress in Human Geography.  

Grants & contracts

2022 Bordered youth: analysing citizenship and identities in post-Brexit Northern Ireland (£375,000). Co-I alongside Susanne Beech (PI) and Sara McDowell.

2021 Encountering coastal youth citizenship: exploring young people’s engagements with coastal environments in the UK. Royal Geographical Society (£3,000). PI.

2021 Curated communities: exploring co-living, community and identity among young mobile populations. British Academy (£10,000). PI along with Stephen Essex.

2020 Ploughing a lonely furrow?: Investigating loneliness, isolation and mental ill-health among young farmers in Devon and Cornwall. Seale Hayne Educational Trust (£3,000). PI along with Mark Riley.

2019 Institute of Advanced Studies Visiting Fellowship Programme (University of Western Australia). (AUD $3,000). Supported by Clare Mouat – UWA.

2016-2017 Developing and evaluating ‘PlymTour’ a new mobile online educational resource for students on Plymouth’s people and places. University of Plymouth: Pedagogic Research and Teaching Innovation Fund (£6,000) PI along with Nichola Harmer and Rebecca Vickerstaff.

2015-2016 The mobilities of geography: examining the trajectories of geography through the UK education system. University of Plymouth: Teaching and Learning Fund – supported by RGS (£18,000). Co-I along with Dr Alison Stokes and Dr Ruth Weaver (PI).




von Benzon, N., Holton, M., Wilkinson, C., and Wilkinson, S. (2021) Creative methods for human geographers. SAGE: London.

Finn,K., and Holton, M. (2019). Everyday Mobile Belonging: Theorising Higher Education Student Mobilities for a New Century. Bloomsbury Academic: Understanding Student Experiences of Higher Education. Bloomsbury: London.


Finn, K., and Holton, M. (2020). Dynamic Qualitative Methods: Attending to Place, Space and Time in Higher Education. In, Ward, M. R. M., and Delamont, S. (Eds) Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education (2nd ed). Edward Elgar: Cheltenham.

Glass, C., and Holton, M. (2020). College Student Development. In Ogden, A., Streitwieser, B., and Van Mol, C. (Eds). Education Abroad: Bridging Scholarship and Practice. Routledge: London.

Holton, M. (2020). Accommodation. In Amey, M. J., and David, M. E. (Eds). The SAGE Encyclopaedia of Higher Education. SAGE: London.

Holton, M. (2017). Geographic Methods: Interviews In Ward, B. (Ed) Oxford Bibliographies in Geography. Oxford University Press: New York.


Holton, M., Riley, M., & Kallis, G. (2022). Towards the geographies of loneliness: interpreting the spaces of loneliness in farming contexts. Social & Cultural Geography, 1-19.
Holton, M., and Mouat, C. M. (2021). The rise (and rise) of vertical studentification: Exploring the drivers of studentification in Australia. Urban Studies, 58(9), 1866-1884.
Holton, M. (2020). On the geographies of hair: exploring the entangled margins of the bordered body. Progress in Human Geography, 44(3), 555-571.

Holton, M., and Finn, K. (2020). Belonging, pausing, feeling: a framework of “mobile dwelling” for UK university students that live at home. Applied Mobilities, 5(1), 6-20.

Cheng, Y. E., and Holton, M. (2019). Geographies of citizenship in higher education: An introduction. Area, 51(4), 613-617. 

 Holton, M. (2019). Debating the geographies of contemporary higher education students: diversity, resilience, resistance? Children’s Geographies, 17(1), 13-16.

Holton, M. (2019). Walking with technology: understanding mobility-technology assemblages. Mobilities, 14(4), 435-451.

Holton, M., and Harmer, N. (2019). “You don't want to peer over people's shoulders, it feels too rude!” The moral geographies of using participants’ personal smartphones in research. Area, 51(1), 134-141.

Holton, M. (2018). Traditional or non-traditional students?: incorporating UK students’ living arrangements into decisions about going to university. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 42(4), 556-569.  

Holton, M., and Finn, K. (2018). Being-in-motion: The everyday (gendered and classed) embodied mobilities for UK university students who commute. Mobilities, 13(3), 426-440.

Holton, M. (2017). A place for sharing: The emotional geographies of peer-sharing in UK University halls of residences. Emotion, Space and Society, 22, 4-12.

Holton, M. (2017). Examining students’ night‐time activity spaces: identities, performances, and transformations. Geographical Research, 55(1), 70-79.

Holton, M. (2017). “It was amazing to see our projects come to life!” Developing affective learning during geography fieldwork through tropophilia. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 41(2), 198-212.

Holton, M. (2016). The geographies of UK university halls of residence: examining students’ embodiment of social capital. Children’s Geographies, 14(1), 63-76.

Holton, M. (2016). Living together in student accommodation: performances, boundaries and homemaking. Area, 48(1), 57-63.

Holton, M., and Riley, M. (2016) Student geographies and homemaking: personal belonging(s) and identities. Social and Cultural Geography. 17(5), 623-645.

Holton, M. (2015). Adapting relationships with place: investigating the evolving place attachment and ‘sense of place’ of UK higher education students during a period of intense transition. Geoforum, 59, 21-29.

Holton, M. (2015). ‘I already know the city, I don't have to explore it’: adjustments to ‘sense of place’ for ‘local’ UK university students. Population, Space and Place. 21(8), 820-831.

Holton, M. (2015). Learning the rules of the ‘student game’: transforming the ‘student habitus’ through [im]mobility. Environment and Planning A. 47(11), 2373-2388.

Holton, M. (2015). Youth transitions, international student mobility and spatial reflexivity: being mobile?; Intra-European student mobility in international higher education circuits: Europe on the move. Children's Geographies, 1-3.

Holton, M., and Riley, M. (2014). Talking on the move: place-based interviewing with undergraduate students. Area, 46(1), 59-65.

Holton, M., and Riley, M. (2013). Student geographies: exploring the diverse geographies of students and higher education. Geography Compass, 7(1), 61-74.

Special Issues

Cheng, Y.,and Holton, M. (2019). Theorizing citizenship in higher education: students as agents for change? Special Issue for Area.

Internet Publications

Finn, K., and Holton, M. (2021). Disrupted mobilities: COVID-ising the university student experience, Geography Directions: https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/blog.geographydirections.com/2020/10/05/disrupted-mobilities-covid-ising-the-university-student-experience/amp/

Riley, M., and Holton, M. (2016). Place-based interviewing: creating and conducting walking interviews. SAGE Research Methods. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/978144627305015595386


Holton, M. (2016). Examining Provisions for Communal Space in Plymouth University Halls of Residences. Residence Life: Plymouth University.



Reports & invited lectures

30 November 2021. Diversifying representation in the geosciences curriculum. University of Plymouth.Plymouth, UK

29 April 2021. It’s Just Farming’: Investigating loneliness among young UK farmers Loneliness in Lockdown. Manchester Metropolitan University. Manchester, UK.

23 October 2020. Situated identities: The varied geographies of identity. Geographical Association, West Country Schools conference.

30 April 2019. UniverCities: investigating the influence of student accommodation on global cities. University of Western Australia. Perth, Australia

26 July 2018. Beyond the Pedestrian: Walking in Research, Theory, Practice and Performance. University of Liverpool. Liverpool, UK

20-22 March, 2018. Performing Studentification: homemaking and place-making in shared student accommodation. Education-led gentrification in global contexts. Jiaotong University. Xi’an, China

7-8 December, 2017. Constructing global ‘spaces’ of student friendship: the socio-spatial co-production of friendship in UK university halls of residences. Global Students: Mapping the Field of University Lives. Bielefeld, Germany

25-27 September, 2017. Youth-full Geographies panel session. 5th International Conference on Geographies of Children, Youth and Families. Loughborough, UK

9 June 2017. Constructing ‘spaces’ of student friendship: understanding the socio-spatial co-production of friendship in UK university halls of residences. Society for Research in Higher Education. London, UK

9 Dec 2015. Investigating the emotional geographies of UK University student halls of residences. University of Portsmouth Seminar Series. Portsmouth, UK 

20 Nov, 2015. The Inclusive Campus: Exploring the Social Capital of International Students in UK University Campuses. Society for Research into Higher Education. London, UK

Conferences organised

Conference organisation:

28-30 August 2019. Hypersurfaces: exploring the geographies of multi-dimensional bodies. RGB-IBG Annual Conference. London, UK

29-31 August 2018. The Super-Diverse University?: Changing Landscapes of the Geographies of Higher Education. RGS-IBG Annual Conference. Cardiff, UK

12-13 July 2018. 2nd International Conference on Mobilities and Migration. Plymouth, UK

5-9 April 2017. Theorizing Citizenship in Higher Education: Students as Agents for Change? AAG Annual Meeting. Boston, USA

2-4 Sept 2015 Exploring methodologies and critical geographies of education RGS-IBG Annual Conference. Exeter, UK

26-29 Aug 2014. Educational transitions: changes, contexts and geographies RGS-IBG Annual Conference. London, UK