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Vanessa Burns

Staff picture: Vanessa Burns
Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences
Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences
Human Geographer
+44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Aberdeen AB15 8QH
Scotland UK


Vanessa Burns joined the James Hutton Institute in September 2018, having previously held a lecturing position in human environmental geography at Stanford University. Vanessa has a DPhil in Geography and the Environment from the University of Oxford, an MA from the University of New South Wales, and a BA (1st Class Hons and University Medal) from the University of Technology Sydney.

Vanessa is interested in the epistemologies and politics of Nature, in particular the ways in which these inform the conceptualisation and development of environmental law and governance frameworks and practices. Her recent research has concentrated on traditional human-environment relations and geographies of climate change adaptation in the Pacific region. Vanessa employs qualitative, ethnographic and historical methods. She has conducted extensive periods of fieldwork in Australia, Indonesia. Timor Leste, and the UK.

Current research interests

Vanessa is currently working on a number of projects across regions in Europe and Africa. Her work includes analysis of emergent governance forms in small-scale and subsistance agriculture as part of the  EU H2020 funded SALSA project on small farms and food security. She is also researching local resistance to adaptation technologies in water catchment areas in Scotland as part of a collaboration of scientists and stakeholders led by the Hutton Institute (PESLES). Vanessa has recently started work on the EU H2020 funded AgriLink project, investigating the role of farm advisory regimes in Europe. She is also co-leading an initiative to coordinate and promote climate change research across the James Hutton Institute.

Past research

Vanessa's past research has been interdisciplinary, conducting geographically informed research across the fields of environmental law and governance, legal history, environmental anthropology,  oceanography, marine biology and climate science. Past research projects have spanned a broad range of topics, including the political ecology of pastural landscapes in Australia, Indigenous human-environment relations, nonhuman rights in historic and emergent legal frameworks, and boundary-making practices in environmental science and governance. While diverse, these topics are tied together through an interest in disciplinary, local, and institutional epistemologies of Nature and the ways in which these faciliate or obstruct effective governance of environmental change.


  • Burns, V. (2011) Climate and agency: Post-humanist geographies and environmental change., In: Cotton, M. & Heisler Motta, B. (ed.). Engaging with Environmental Justice: Governance, Education and Citizenship, Inter-Disciplinary Press, Oxford, UK, Part VI.
  • Burns, V. (2010) Latour's "Parliament of things": the problem of anthropocentrism in global climate change governance., International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, 6, 81-88.

Printed from /staff/vanessa-burns on 22/10/19 06:53:40 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.