University of St Andrews


Paula Duffy

Photo of Paula Duffy


Supervisors: Dr Timothy Stojanovic, Professor Nina Laurie, Dr Estelle Jones (Marine Scotland, The Scottish Government) & Professor Allan Findlay


Research Title

Understanding socio-demographic change and sustainability in Scotland’s coastal communities: A migration and mobility perspective


This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council +3 Award (Reference 1506438) Funded in partnership with Marine Scotland, The Scottish Government (Project Ref SG660920)


This research considers population and social change in Scottish coastal communities using a relational approach.  The study contributes to a growing field of coastal social research that seeks to inform marine planning policy.  A relational approach was implemented by deploying a mixed method research design in two phases.  Phase one, applies a traditional population geography approach to develop a geodemographic profile, in order to characterise 149 coastal localities in Scotland.  It builds on existing approaches by formulating a multi-level, dynamic typology. Phase two, employs a case study research design of three coastal localities (Banff, Cruden Bay and Peterhead) located on Scotland North East coast. The case study design focussed around the qualitative methods of in-depth interviews and ethnography, in order to explore the mobility practices influencing demographic change in the Scottish coastal context.  

The findings demonstrate the significance of local context, economy, opportunity and coastal identity to the socio-demographic sustainability of Scottish coastal populations, as shaped through the processes of mobility and immobility. The approach has created a working definition of the social coast that is applicable across localities in Scotland, and can be deployed to provide a taxonomic analysis for use in policy and planning more widely. The research also addresses a gap in the coastal geography literature, which has previously focussed on economic or cultural identity of coastal places, by considering the implications of population change to the construction of coastal places.

Finally, the thesis was responsive to the ways of knowing traditionally mobilised in population geography and was able to critically reflect on the limitations that underpin them within the research process. The relational, mixed methods approach taken enabled a greater understanding of the importance of context, and the internal relationship between the characteristics of place and a population’s capacity to ‘answer back’.


I have submitted the above thesis in partial fulfilment for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at the University of St Andrews on 12 March 2019. 

My research interests are broadly encapsulated as population geography with a focus on migration and mobilities. Including, but not limited to; demographic and social sustainability, residential moves, international migration, student migration, coastal geographies, marine social science, place-making, political and social inequalities, and relational approaches to geographical knowledge. 

During the course of my PhD, I have engaged in the delivery of undergraduate teaching and fieldwork for both Geography and Sustainable Development and I held the office of Academic Representative for PhD students in the School of Geography and Sustainable Development for 2015/2016.

In addition to my research, I have also completed a placement as a Marine Social Scientist with my funder at Marine Scotland, The Scottish Government in 2016, and a Research Impact Internship with Dr David McCollum at University of St Andrews, looking at international student migration in Scotland, in 2018. 

I previously studied for my undergraduate degree in Geography (MA) at the University of Dundee (2005 – 2009) where I graduate with first class honours. I perused my interest in international migration, urban and health geographies and my undergraduate thesis examined the discourse of therapeutic landscapes in mental health care, through a case study approach of Stratheden Hospital in Fife, Scotland. Progressing onto the MSc course of Applied Population and Welfare geographies (2009 – 2011), I completed advanced research skills training and further explored my interest in population geographies and mobilities. My research project looked to understand the mobility practices of backpacking in a South American context.  Primary qualitative fieldwork was complete for a case study of Bolivia, including the use of auto-ethnographic methods.

Research groups and affiliations:


McCollum, D., Duffy, P. & Barke, C. 2019. International students in Scotland, Brexit and beyond. UK in a Changing Europe [Online].

Duffy, P. & Stojanovic, T. 2018. The potential for assemblage thinking in population geography: Assembling population, space and place. Population, Space and Place, 24, e2097. DOI:

Stojanovic, T.A. & Duffy, P. (2017) Well-being Evidence for the Clyde Regional Marine Plan: Outline of Components for a Regional-Community Profile.  A report to the Clyde Marine Planning Partnership, June 2017.

Policy and Engagement

  • Scottish Marine Atlas – 2nd Edition; Marine Scotland Science, Scottish government; Publication Date: (Expected October 2019); ISBN: tbc. Contribution as part of ERSC 3+ Case funded PhD, Maps and output from PhD typology research as part of social evidence base in Marine Scotland Science.
  • Scottish Marine Protected Areas Socioeconomic Monitoring; Marine Scotland Science, Scottish Government; Publication Date: 06-Mar-2017; ISBN: 9781786528223. Contributor to report as part of ERSC 3+ Case funding placement includes citation to PhD typology research as applied to policy. 
  • Presentation to Rural Affairs Food and Environment (RAFE) Social Research Group ‘Reflections on a dynamic typology of Scottish Coastal Communities’, Scottish Government, Edinburgh UK, 6th July 2016
  • Presentation to Marine Analytical Unit at Marine Scotland ‘A Dynamic Typology of Scottish Coastal Localities’, Scottish Government, Edinburgh UK, 7th April 2016

Conference Presentations


  • 06.09.2018:  Roundtable symposium - International Students in Scotland; Brexit and Beyond, jointly hosted by University of St Andrews and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK


  • 15.09.2017:  ‘Social Science of Coasts: Challenges and benefits of using coastal typologies to understand the sustainability of coastal places’  at Tay Estuary Forum & Forth Estuary Forum (TEF/FEF) Annual Conference 2017: Preparing in Partnership for Marine Planning along Scotland’s East Coast, Dundee, UK
  • 08.04.2017: ‘Immobility and the practices of being ‘local’ in Scottish Coastal communities’ In Session - North Sea Nations: Changing Human Geographies at AAG 2017 Annual Meeting, Boston, USA
  • 26.01.2017: ‘Social and Population Change: Lessons from a dynamic typology of coastal towns’:  Centre for Population Change (CPC) Brown Bag Seminar, Ladywell house, Edinburgh, UK. 
  • 31.08.2016: ‘Assembling Population and Place: Social Theory and the on-going conversation for Early Career Population Geographers’ in Session: Contemporary and Future Debates for Postgraduate Population Geography, RGS-IBG 2016,  London , UK
  • 31.08.2016: ‘The Importance of demographic process in assembling coastal communities: Three case studies from North East Scotland.’ In Session: Human dimensions of the coast – new perspectives and nexus thinking, RGS-IBG 2016, London, UK
  • 14.07.2016: ‘Are the Tides changing for Scottish Coastal Localities – Evidence from the Census’ at Marine Spatial Planning Forum 2016, Edinburgh, UK 
  • 21.06.2016: ‘Are the tides changing for Scottish coastal communities?’ Scottish Government Seminar Series, Scottish Government, Edinburgh, UK 
  • 18.03.2016: ‘Assembling singularities in a Trans-scaler world: St-Andrews as a global-town’ at RGS-IBG Postgraduate Mid-term Conference 2016, Newcastle, UK 
  • 02.07.2015: ‘Assembling a Typology of Scottish Coastal Communities: Considering policy-making, statistical governance and Assemblage theory’ at International Conference of Population Geographies (ICPG) 2015, Brisbane, Australia