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Dr Rachel Colls

Associate Professor

AffiliationRoom numberTelephone
Associate Professor in the Department of Geography214+44 (0) 191 33 41827
Associate Professor , Economy and Culture214+44 (0) 191 33 41827
Associate Professor , Geographies of Life214+44 (0) 191 33 41827
Associate Professor , Urban Worlds214+44 (0) 191 33 41827


Academic Employment:

October 2013 -
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography
Department of Geography, Durham University

September 2005 - September 2013
Lecturer in Human Geography
Department of Geography, Durham University

September 2002 - September 2005
Lecturer in Human Geography,
Department of Geography, University of Liverpool

PhD (2003) and MA (1999)
Department of Geography, University of Sheffield

Research Interests

1) Geographies of 'the body'
My interest in 'the body' is grounded in a commitment to theorising and researching the specificities of female embodied and emotional experiences. My work draws upon feminist theories of 'the body' including the work of, Elisabeth Grosz, Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, Mariam Fraser, Moria Gatens and Elspeth Probyn. My doctoral work utilised the context of clothing consumption for eliciting the multiplicities of female embodied experience as produced through clothing and focused on the modalities of bodies that are engaged in slimming practices, that are sized, that are zoned and that look at their own and other bodies. This work has led to an interrogation of the concept of 'body image' and an exploration of the means through which women 'manage' their emotions when developing relationships with their bodies.

I am also interested in exploring the potential of this feminist work on the body for contributing to non-representational work in human geography. This involves using 'sexual difference' theory in order to make space for a 'sexed' and differentiated subject within such work.

2) Fat Bodies and Critical Approaches to Obesity
I situate my interest in obesity within recent critical interventions (Gard and Wright 2004; Le Besco 2004) which acknowledge the problematic and discriminatory practices of measuring (for example through the Body Mass Index) and moralising about fat bodies. Instead I am interested in uncovering the very nature of fat subjectivities through the narratives and practices of self-defined fat men and women, for example through the size acceptance movement in the UK and USA and through a theoretical interrogation of what constitutes bodily matter or ‘flab’.I am currently conducting a project on size friendly on-line and real life spaces in a British context. I also contextualise this interest within recent public health debates in Britain concerning children's health and childhood obesity. I have carried out research which considered the ways through which supermarkets place responsibility for children’s healthy eating through the production of children's healthy food ranges and in store health education initiatives. I have also been involved in two projects which developed a critical account of children's experiences of being weighed and measured as part of the British govenments Body Mass Index (BMI) surveillance programme involving reception (aged five) and year six (aged 10-11) students.

Research interests

  • geographies of 'the body', feminist theories of embodiment, emotions, obesity, consumption, clothing

Research Projects

  • Fat Studies and Health at Every Size

Awarded Grants

  • 2007: ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN GEOGRAPHERS(£500.00 from The British Academy)
  • 2007: BMI SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMME(£4042.00 from North East Public Health Observatory)


Chapter in book

  • Colls, R. (2012). Intra-body touching and the over-life sized paintings of Jenny Saville. In Touching Space, Placing Touch. Paterson, M. & Dodge, M. Ashgate.
  • Evans, B. & Colls, R. (2010). ‘Doing more good than harm’? The absent presence of children’s bodies in (anti)obesity policy'. In The Obesity Debate. Monaghan, L. Rich, E. & Aphramor, L. Palgrave.

Edited book

  • Monaghan, L., Colls, R. & Evans, B. (2014). Obesity Discourse and Fat Politics: Research, Critique and Interventions. Routledge.
  • Hörschelmann, K. & Colls, R. (2009). Contested Bodies of Childhood and Youth. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Edited Journal

  • Pollard, T.M., Rousham, E.K. & Colls, R. (2011). Intergenerational and familial approaches to obesity and related conditions. Annals of Human Biology, 38 (4): Informa Healthcare.

Journal Article


  • Shucksmith, J., Colls, R., McNaughton, R., Ells, L. & Wilkinson, J. (2007). A pilot study to examine school-based aspects of the BMI surveillance programme in NE England.
  • Colls, R, Featherstone, D, O’Brien, M & Sadler, D (2005). Transformations: changing careers, meanings and experiences of women’s political activism. A report commissioned from The University of Liverpool by UNISON North West. Liverpool.

Supervision students