University of St Andrews


Hebe Nicholson

Photo of Hebe Nicholson


Supervisors:  Professor Allan Findlay & Dr David McCollum


Research Title

Immobility in the face of environmental change: the mobility challenges facing rural populations in East Africa


This project is funded by the ESRC and plans to examine the complex role of environmental change in mobility decisions. Environmental change is happening and may potentially have an impact on mobility patterns, which have an impact on the financial wellbeing of households. This research hopes to examine various contextual factors involved in mobility decisions and behaviour, such as gender, societal norms, life course perspectives and land management practices.

The project will take place in Malawi. A country heavily reliant on the physical environment, rural food systems, and that is landlocked, with food security issues and faces environmental challenges.

The four research questions are: What are the effects of gender and societal norms on household decision-making in relation to mobility? How is the life-course perceived in East Africa, and how does this relate to household strategies and experiences of mobility? How significant is the impact of environmentally induced (im)mobility on rural livelihoods? What is the impact of land management practices on mobility?

Interviews shall be conducted with the local population in villages and those who have migrated to the city.  Then a discourse analysis on the websites of 6 NGOs involved in food systems in Malawi (Action Aid Malawi; Africare; Concern Universal; One Acre Fund; Oxfam and Self Help Africa) shall be undertaken.

The research hopes to develop a relevant tool-kit to help develop an impact strategy for government organisations involved in overseas development, such as DFID and UK-based and local Malawian NGOs.


I received my undergraduate degree BSc (HONS) from the University of St Andrews in June 2015. Where I specialised in Migration studies and the geographies of detention. My undergraduate dissertation took a foucauldian approach to detention centres in the UK to examine whether they were used as a particular government strategy. This was done through interviews with stakeholders in various relevant charities and House of Lords Peers.

I am currently undertaking an MRes in human geography as the ‘1’ part of my ‘1+3’ program. So far in this course I am building up my repertoire of research techniques, gaining a solid grounding of the epistemologies involved in population geography and focusing in on Malawi.