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Dr Jon Swords

Senior Lecturer

Department: Geography and Environmental Sciences

Dr Jon Swords studied for his undergraduate at the University of Portsmouth where he gained a BA (Hons) Geography degree, in 2012 he became Programme Leader for the BA (Hons) Geography degree.

Jon was born in London, and grew up in Norwich. He did his undergraduate studies at the University of Portsmouth where he gained a BA (Hons) Geography degree and a love for Portsmouth FC. He moved to the other end of the country in 2003 to do an MA in Human Geography Research at Newcastle University. For his masters dissertation Jon examined the working practices of freelancers in the London television industry.

Jon remained at Newcastle University to study a PhD (ESRC CASE award) on the organisation of heritage organisations in Northumberland at the Centre for Urban and Regional Development: ‘Public Sector Led Development in the Northumberland Heritage Cluster’.

 Jon’s research focuses on two broad areas: the creative and cultural industries, and visual methodologies. He recently completed a project examining the evolution of film and television production in North East England. Using a mixed methods approach including social network analysis, archival research and interviews, Jon traced the growth and success of the region’s TV in the 1980s and 1990s, the impact of Hollywood coming to the North East, and the more recent decline of production in the region to something akin to a branch plant site for programming originated elsewhere. This work contributes to debates about creative industry growth narratives, and evolutionary ideas within economic geography. To read more about this see here.

 Jon’s interest in visual methodologies comes in the form of his own use of infographics to communicate economic issues, and using participatory mapping to uncover narratives about the city. Since 2010 Jon has been working with Mike Jeffries (Department of Geography) and Sebastian Messer (Department of Architecture and Built Environment) to understand how skaterboarders, freerunners and other urban sportists appropriate and re-make the city. A dedicated website detailing this project, including the exhibitions curated from the research and work by participants, can be found here.

 Jon has recently edited a special issue of Environment and Planning A (with Xingjian Liu) which examines how urban and regional worlds are visualised. It is due out in 2015 and focuses on the politics, practices and power of using visuals to depict the places we live.

 In 2014 Jon was awarded a British Academy/Leverhulme research grant to research new geographies of patronage. It runs from January 2015 to December 2016. For more details see here.

Campus Address

Room D213, Ellison Building
Ellison Place
Newcastle upon Tyne

0191 243 7942


PhD in Geography, MA Human Geography Research

Research Themes and Scholarly Interests

Economic geography; cultural and creative industries; visualisation; cartography

Professional Activity

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Current/Recent Projects

  • Mapping young people’s place in the city [2015-2017]. Jon Swords, Sebestian Messer and Mike Jeffries. Funded by Juice Festival.
  • Cyberpatronage – geographies of crowdfunding and the arts in the digital age [2015-2016]. Jon Swords (PI). Funded by British Academy/Leverhulme Trust, £6500
  • Creative de-industrialisation – the decline of film and TV production in North East England [2011-2014]. Jon Swords (PI). Supported by Northumbria University, £3000
  • Geographic visualisation: photography, graphics and comic books for learning and teaching. [2013] Workshop funded by the Higher Education Academy, £750
  • Teaching geographic visualisation – evaluating student understandings of visualising geographic knowledge [2011-12]. Jon Swords (PI), Kye Askins and Michael Jeffries. Funded by GEES, £4000
  • North East England’s food heritage. [2010-11] Michael Barke and Jon Swords (Co-Is). Funded by Northumbria Larder, £6500
  • Bellingham All Acoustic Festival evaluation for Northumberland National Park Authority. [2010] Jon Swords (PI). Funded by Northumberland National Park Authority, £3000
  • Play:space Newcastle – geographies of skateboarding on Tyneside. [2009-10] Michael Jeffries, Adam Jenson and Jon Swords (Co-Is). Supported by Northern Architecture and Northern Stage, funding in-kind
  • The institutional architecture of the north east’s commercial creative industries. [2009] Jon Swords and Felicity Wray (Co-Is). Funded by Northern Film and Media, £4000

PGR Supervision

Adam Jenson (2014-present] Local authority use of visualisation. Supervised by Jon Swords, Helen King and Peter Taylor.

We’re living in an increasingly data driven age. Data is crowd sourced, ‘big’, user generated, and open. It is changing the way decisions are made across the private and public sectors and creating a political economy of data. At the same time public bodies are under pressure to be transparent in their decision making and to make their data public. In the UK this is happening in the context of austerity spending which has seen council budgets greatly reduced. These trends present new challenges to local authorities: how should they use data in their operational and strategic planning? In what form should data be made available? Whose data should they use? What skills do local authorities require to get the most from data? The aim of this PhD is to evaluate the role of visualisation techniques in meeting these challenges. Visualisations are produced for analysis and to communicate information that attempts to persuade, seduce and coerce audiences to their way of thinking. This PhD will engage with recent developments in critical geography and visualities to unpick the power relations of depicting information within a political economy of data. This will be done through a mixed qualitative and quantitative methodology, including case studies of local authorities in the UK.

Key Publications

Jeffries, M., Swords, J. and Messer, S. (Forthcoming) “He Catches Things in Flight: Scopic Regimes, Visuality and Skateboarding in Tyneside, England” in Lombard, K-J (ed) Skateboarding: Scenes, Sites and Shifts. Routledge: Abington

Pugalis, L., Swords, J., Jeffries, M. and Giddings, B. (forthcoming) “Toonsformation: renegotiating city rights and city roles” chapter in Davoudi, S. and Bell, D. (eds) Justice and Fairness in the City 

Swords, J. and Jeffries, M. (2015, forthcoming) "Tracing Post-Representational Visions of the City – Representing the Unrepresentable Skateworlds of Tyneside." Environment and Planning A, 47 

Swords, J. and Liu, X. (2015, forthcoming) "Guest Editorial: Visualizing urban and regional worlds: power, politics and practices." Environment and Planning A, 47

Swords, J. (2013). “Michael Porter’s Cluster Theory as a Local and Regional Development Tool – The Rise and Fall of Cluster Policy in the UK.” Local Economy, 28 (4), 369-383  

Jenson, A., Swords, J. and Jeffries, M. (2012) “The Accidental Youth Club: Skateboarding in NewcastleGateshead.” Journal of Urban Design, 17 (3), 371-388

Swords, J. and Wray, F. (2010) “The Connectivity of the Creative Industries in North East England - The Problems of Physical and Relational Distance” Local Economy, 25 (4), 305 – 318

My Northumbria Research Link can be found here


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