About Me

Rileys I am Professor of Political Geography at Durham University, where I began working in September 2013. Prior to Durham, I taught for sixteen years at Florida State University (1997-2013), punctuated by one-year interludes at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers (2002-2003), the University of California, Santa Cruz’ Center for Cultural Studies (2005-2006), and Royal Holloway, University of London (2012-2013). I received my PhD from Clark University in 1996.

My research focuses on the historical, ongoing, and, at times, imaginary projection of social power onto spaces whose geophysical and geographic characteristics make them resistant to state territorialisation.  In particular, I have studied the world-ocean, the internet, and the Arctic.  Within these spaces, I study everything from cartographic and artistic depictions to governance institutions and international law, as well as researching the lifeways of the individuals who inhabit (or cross) their expanses.

In addition to numerous book chapters and articles, I have authored or edited six books:

oceancover       infospherecover       katrinacover

PiP      9781780761480      cover

For more details on past research, please see my c.v.

Current Projects

Although my research has, at times, crossed into areas as diverse as development studies, urban planning politics, industrial history, and cartographic theory, the ocean has always dominated my research agenda. The ocean and, more recently, the Arctic maritime region, continue to shape most of my research. Current projects include:

Wet Ontologies

Through a series of interventions, Kimberley Peters and I have been exploring how the ocean — in its liquid mobility but also in its other states (sea ice, mist, etc.) and in its depths and volumes — challenges the notion of ‘territory’ as it is typically conceptualised on land.

The ICE Llogo copyAW Project

I direct the Project on Indeterminate and Changing Environments: Law, the Anthropocene, and the World (The ICE LAW Project). The Project is an international network investigating the potential for a legal framework that acknowledges the complex geophysical environment in the world’s frozen regions and that explores the impact that an ice-sensitive legal system would have on topics ranging from the everyday activities of Arctic residents to the territorial foundations of the modern state.

Figure 4 (2015 p37)

Sea Ice Mapping, the Marginal Ice Zone, and Norwegian Ocean Management

Through a series of related projects with Berit Kristoffersen, I am researching how ideas of the ocean as a controlled, bounded, and divided space, with a materiality that exceeds a simple notion of a liquid, two-dimensional surface, is mobilised by planners envisioning Norway’s post-petroleum maritime future.



I direct the Leverhulme Trust-funded Durham Arctic Research Centre for Training and Interdisciplinary Collaboration (DurhamARCTIC). Through 2023, DurhamARCTIC is training 15 PhD students with expertise in Arctic humanities, sciences, and social sciences.

logoSeabed Governance

Together with Kimberley Peters, I co-direct the Seabed Resources working group of the European Commission’s OceanGov (Ocean Governance for Sustainability) COST Action.

IBRU-new-webIBRU: Durham University’s Centre for Borders Research

Since 2013, I have been directing IBRU. Through research, consultancy, and training, IBRU seeks to facilitate enhanced understanding of border areas, contribute to the peaceful resolution of boundary disputes, and engage with broader geographic questions concerning the changing nature of sovereignty, territory, citizenship, and the political organisation of space.

For more on each of these projects, please see the Current Projects section of this website.

Future Projects

I  have three projects that I hope to launch in the near future:

  • Anticipatory seas, anticipatory states. This project will examine the ways in which various social movements seeking sovereign statehood integrate visions of the sea — its cultural meaning, its resource potential, and the distance that it constructs as a “border” — into their plans for political autonomy.
  • Cities and the stories they tell about the sea. This project will explore how coastal cities and their official and semi-official communicators of culture (museums, school curricula, etc.) employ past, present, and future relations with the sea to construct identities that are both rooted in place and explicitly cosmopolitan.
  • Deep. At some magical point in the future, when all my other responsibilities go away, I would like to revisit my 2001 book The Social Construction of the Ocean, replacing that book’s primarily historical framework with one informed by geographic layers, descending from the atmosphere to the seabed.
%d bloggers like this: