Nigel Thrift

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Nigel Thrift in 2011

Sir Nigel John Thrift, DL, FBA, FAcSS (born 12 October 1949 in Bath)[1][2] is a British academic and geographer. In 2016 he became Executive Director of the Schwarzman Scholars, a international leadership program based in Beijing.[3] He is the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick, having served in the position from 2006 to 2016, and a leading academic in the field of human geography.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in 1949, and educated at Nailsea School south west of Bristol, Thrift then studied geography at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and did his PhD at the University of Bristol. Thrift has held posts at numerous universities, including the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, the University of Wales, Lampeter, the University of Bristol, and the University of Oxford.

In 2005 he was appointed vice-chancellor of the University of Warwick, taking up the position in July 2006. He intended to retire at the end of the university’s 50th anniversary year in 2015, but extended by a month to the end of January 2016.[4]

Thrift was knighted in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to higher education.[5][6]

Contribution to geography[edit]

Thrift has been described as one of the world's leading human geographers[7] and social scientists, and is credited with coining the phrase soft capitalism as well as originating non-representational theory. Thrift sits on a number of advisory committees for the UK government and was a member of the ESRC Research Priorities Board. In 1982 he co-founded the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space[8] whilst serving as managing editor, since 1979, of Environment and Planning A.[9]

Thrift's early work was most readily associated with economic geography and the effects of capitalist mode of production on spatial relations, conceptions of time, and labour markets. Latterly, and controversially for early collaborators like Richard Peet, he moved towards poststructuralism with attention to subjectivity, representation, identity, and practice in Western societies. A book with Ash Amin published in 2013 was critical of 'left politics', and by this time he was managing an entrepreneurial university.[10] His work on time, language, power, representations, and the body has been influential, and it has been suggested that Thrift's career reflects and in some cases spurred substantial intellectual changes in human geography in the 1980s and 1990s.

Most recently he has written on what he terms non-representational theory, which stresses performative and embodied knowledges and is a radical attempt to wrench the social sciences and humanities out of an emphasis on representation and interpretation by moving away from contemplative models of thought and action to those based on practice. Thrift has claimed that non-representational theory addresses the "unprocessual" nature of much of social and cultural theory. Major themes within non-representational theory include subjectification, space as a verb, technologies of being, embodiment, and play and excess. Non-representational theory has provoked substantial debate within the field of human geography around the limits of the mediation of our world through language and how we might see, sense, and communicate beyond it.

Thrift has also edited and authored a number of textbooks, encyclopaedias, and primers in human geography.

University Leadership[edit]

At Oxford, Thrift served as head of the Life and Environmental Sciences Division before becoming Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research. In interviews, he hints that his time at Oxford was less than satisfying.[11]

Thrift's role as Vice Chancellor at Warwick saw him launch several new initiatives, boosting the University's presence in London (an expansion of the Business School in The Shard building) and overseas (through a strong partnership with Monash University, and with plans to develop a campus in California). Warwick is now ranked in the world's top 100 universities, and in the top 10 in the UK.[12] Thrift's keenness to improve Warwick's position in league tables and international rankings, had some negative implications for staffing and support to students, and led to protests and dissent. Job cuts to those without sufficient research income in the Medical School and Life Sciences were controversial and provoked protests.[13] He was the first Vice Chancellor at Warwick since 1970 to be the subject of a successful motion of no confidence at the Student Union, and the incongruity between his progressive writings and his corporatisation of the university has been noted by commentators [14]

Thrift was a chair of a section of the British Research Assessment Exercise (Main Panel H, 2005–07 and member, 2001 Panel for Geography), chaired the Industry Commission on on Higher Education (2012-) and the IPPR Commission on the Future of Higher Education.[15]


In the financial year 2011–12, Thrift's salary rose by £50,000 to £288,000, a 21% increase over the previous year.[16] Some students claimed that the pay raise was unjustified in light of Warwick's performance in international university league tables. Their protests were rebuffed and in June 2013 when a pay rise of £42,000 (to £316,000) was announced, a small number of students again protested. The grounds were again that the raise went against university cutbacks to staff and student support/bursaries.[17] A critic of authoritarian corporatisation of universities, Prof. Thomas Docherty, was suspended for some months for 'insubordination' in 2014 and efforts to outsource casual teaching contracts to a private company, Teach Higher, led to further dissatisfaction.[18]

Thrift's next pay increase of £16,000, announced in December 2014, was again met with protests.[19] On 3 December 2014 police used CS spray to tackle protests at the University of Warwick, after a security guard was allegedly assaulted[20] (two protestors, including a student were later prosecuted[21]). Thrift issued a written statement that denounced the alleged violence.[22] This was followed soon afterwards by a petition calling for Thrift's knighthood to be rescinded, with 663 signatures.[23][24] The university's registrar Ken Sloan stated that Thrift has been "targeted personally and directly" by students, including being spat on and verbally assaulted near his home.[25]

Recognition and Awards[edit]

  • Knighted, for services to higher education (2015)
  • Deputy Lieutenant for the West Midlands (2014)
  • Honorary LLD, Monash University (2013)
  • Honorary LLD, University of Bristol (2010)
  • Scottish Geographical Medal, Royal Scottish Geographical Society (2008)[26]
  • Distinguished Scholarship Honours, Association of American Geographers (2007)
  • Victoria Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.[27] (2003)
  • Fellow of the British Academy[28](2003)
  • Fellow, Academy of Learned Societies for the Social Sciences FAcSS (2000)
  • Fellow, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences (1999)
  • University of Helsinki Medal (1999)
  • Newbigin Prize, Royal Scottish Geographical Society (1998)
  • Fellow, Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study (1993)
  • Royal Geographical Society Heath Award (1988)

Selected bibliography[edit]

Selected books[edit]

Thrift has written several monographs and co-authored more than twenty books.[29]

  • Peet R & Thrift N (Eds.) (1989) New Models in Geography: The Political-Economy Perspective, Boston: Unwin-Hyman
  • Pile S & Thrift N (Eds.) (1995) Mapping the Subject: Geographies of Cultural Transformation, New York, NY: Routledge
  • Thrift N (1996) Spatial Formations, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
  • Corbridge S, Martin R & Thrift N(Eds.) (1997) Money, Power and Space, Oxford: Blackwell
  • Leyshon A & Thrift N (Eds.) (1997) Money/Space: Geographies of Monetary Transformation, London: Routledge
  • Miller D, Jackson P, Holbrook B, Thrift N and Rowlands, M (1998) Shopping, Place and Identity, London: Routledge
  • Pile S and Thrift N (Eds.) (2000)City A-Z: Urban Fragments. London: Routledge
  • Crang M and Thrift N (eds.) (2000) Thinking Space (Critical Geographies) London: Routledge
  • Amin A Massey D and Thrift N (2000) Cities for All the People Not the Few. Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Thrift N and May J (eds.) (2001) Timespace: Geographies of Temporality. London: Routledge.
  • Amin A and Thrift N (2002) Cities: Reimagining the Urban. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Amin A Massey D and Thrift N (2003) Decentring the Nation. A Radical Approach to the Regions. London: Catalyst.
  • Harrison S Pile S and Thrift N (eds.) (2004) Patterned Ground: Entanglements of Nature and Culture. London: Reaktion.
  • Thrift N (2005) Knowing Capitalism (Theory, Culture and Society). London: Sage.
  • Thrift N (2007) Non-Representational Theory. London: Routledge.
  • Glennie P & Thrift N (2009) Shaping The Day: A History of Timekeeping in England and Wales 1300 – 1800. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Kitchin R. & Thrift N. (2009). The International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, Oxford and Boston: Elsevier Publishing.
  • Amin A. and N. Thrift. (2013) Arts of the Political: New Openings For the Left. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Thrift N, A. Tickell, S. Woolgar, and W.H. Rupp (eds.). 2014. Globalisation in Practice. Oxofrd University Press.
  • Thrift N, A. Amin (fc) City 2050. Cambridge: Polity Press

Journal articles[edit]

  • Thrift N (1981) "Owners time and own time: The making of capitalist time consciousness, 1300–1880" in Pred A (Ed.) Space and Time in Geography: Essays dedicated to Torston Hagerstrand, Lund: Lund Studies in Geography Series B, No. 48
  • Thrift N (1983) "On the determination of social action in space and time", Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 1: pp. 23–57
  • Thrift N (1997) "The Rise of Soft Capitalism" in Cultural Values, Volume 1, Number 1, 1997, pp. 29–57
  • Thrift N (1999) "Steps to an Ecology of Place" in Massey D, Allen J & Sarre P (Eds.) Human Geography Today, Cambridge: Polity Press: pp. 295–323
  • Thrift N (2000a) "Performing cultures in the new economy", Annals of the Association of American Geographers 4: pp. 674–692
  • Thrift N (2000b) "Afterwords", Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18 (3): pp. 213–255
  • Thrift N & Olds K (1996) "Refiguring the economic in economic geography", Progress in Human Geography 20: pp. 311–337
  • Thrift N (2004) "Intensities of Feeling: Towards a Spatial Politics of Affect" in Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, Volume 86, Number 1, pp. 57–78
  • Thrift N (2005) "But malice aforethought: cities and the natural history of hatred" in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Volume 30, Number 2, pp. 133–150


  1. ^ Debrett's entry
  2. ^ Lucy Hodges (13 September 2007). "Going up in the world: Warwick's rank ambitions". The Independent on Sunday (London). Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Graeme Brown (13 February 2014). "University of Warwick boss to step down". Birmingham Post. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 61092. p. N2. 31 December 2014.
  6. ^ 2015 New Year Honours List
  7. ^ The Geographer Spring 2009 page 2
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  24. ^ "VC's knighthood a double-edged sword". The Australian. 
  25. ^ Grove, Jack (March 17, 2015). "Warwick v-c Nigel Thrift recorded calling student protesters ‘yobs’". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nigel Thrift". University of Warwick. Retrieved 26 June 2009. 
  28. ^ "THRIFT, Professor Nigel". British Academy Fellows. British Academy. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  29. ^ A full list of all of the books he has co-authored is available from Professor Thrift's website: Nigel Thrift's Books and Monographs –

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
David VandeLinde
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick
Succeeded by
Stuart Croft