Human Geography

PamirsA farmer in Ravmeddara, a village in the Western Pamir Region of Tajikistan, ploughing his field to cultivate local species of wheat and barley. (Photo Credit: Qobiljon Shokirov)

Research at the 'Human Geography' unit of the Department of Geography at the University of Zürich focuses on the processes of 'development' and change from the local to global level by applying a range of contemporary theoretical approaches from social and new cultural geography. Ongoing research projects take place in Asia, East Africa and Switzerland, and are engaged with

  • challenges to rural livelihoods and the politics of development,
  • migration, asylum seeking, multi-locality and development,
  • spatial appropriation, nature conservation, and
  • geographies of youth, and
  • geographies of education.

Regarding teaching, the unit is engaged at the Bachelor (B.Sc.), Master (M.Sc.), and doctoral (PhD) levels.

In collaboration with three institutions from two other Swiss universities, the unit has created a common doctoral programme on issues of global change, innovation, and sustainable development: the International Graduate School North-South.

New Publications

MRD June 2019

Müller, S., Backhaus, N., Nagabovanalli, P., & Abiven, S. (2019). A social-ecological system evaluation to implement sustainably a biochar system in South India. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 39 (4). Online

MRD June 2019

Miklian, J., Alluri, R.M., & Katsos, J.E. (Eds.). (2019). Business, peace building and sustainable development. London: Routledge. Online

MRD June 2019

Michel, A. H. & Bruggmann, A. (2019). Conflicting discourses: Understanding the rejection of a Swiss National Park Project using data analysis triangulation. Mountain Research and Development 39 (1), pp. 24–36. Online

Human dimensions of wildlife

Dinat, D., Echeverri, A., Chapman, M., Karp, D. S., & Satterfield, T. (2019). Eco-xenophobia among rural populations: The Great-tailed Grackle as a contested species in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 31, pp.1–17. Online

Land Use Policy

Chapman, M., Satterfield, T., & Chan, K. M. A. (2019). When value conflicts are barriers: Can relational values help explain farmer participation in conservation incentive programs? Land Use Policy, 82, pp. 464–475. Online

South Asian Diaspora

Thurairajah, T., Hollenbach, P. & Alluri, R. (2019). Vertical living: Transnational urbanisation and diasporic returns to Wellawatte/Colombo, Sri Lanka. South Asian Diaspora. Online


Truong, J., Labhart, F., Santani, D., Gatica-Perez, D., Kuntsche, E. & Landolt, S. (2019). The emotional entanglements of smartphones in the field: On emotional discomfort, power relations, and research ethics. Area. Online


Environmental values

Michel, A. H. & Backhaus, N. (2019). Unravelling reasons for the non-establishment of protected areas: Justification regimes and principles of worth in a Swiss national park project. Environmental Values, 28 (2), pp. 171–190. Online

Roger publication

Keller, R., Clivaz, M., Backhaus, N. & Reynard, E. (2019). Wertschätzung für Landschaftsleistungen steigern: Erkenntnisse eines Forschungsprojekts, Nature + Landscape Inside, (1), pp. 25–29. Online

Landscape research

Backhaus, N., & Flitsch, M. (2018). Zurich marroni roasters' stoves and Asian noodle carts: Street food between culinary skills, food heritage and the assertion of public space. In Malinar, A. & Müller, S. (Eds.) Asia and Europe interconnected: Agents, concepts and things. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, pp. 351–366.

Landscape research

Keller, R. & Backhaus, N. (2019). Integrating landscape services into policy and practice – a case study from Switzerland, Landscape Research. Online


Himalaya Journal

Michel, A. H. (2019). How conceptions of equity and justice shape national park negotiations: The case of Parc Adula, Switzerland, eco.mont 11 (1): 25–31. Online


Himalaya Journal

Karki, D. & Speck, S. (2018). Review of White Sun (Seto Surya) by Deepak Rauniyar, Himalaya: The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, 38 (2). Online




Affolter, L., Miaz, J. & Poertner, E. (2019). Taking the ‘Just’ Decision: Caseworkers and Their Communities of Interpretation in the Swiss Asylum Office. In Gill, N. & Good, A. (eds) Asylum Determination in Europe: Ethnographic Perspectives. Palgrave Socio-Legal Studies. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. Online

Book chapter Norman

Backhaus, N. (2018). Landschaftswahrnehmung im Reisetagebuch von Adolf Traugott von Gersdorf. In Hug, V., Schmid, M. & Folkers, G. (eds) Adolf Traugott von Gersdorfs Schweizer Reise 1786. Zürich: Chronos, pp. 273–302. 



Book chapter Norman

Backhaus, N. (2018). Landschaft liegt im Auge des Betrachters: Warum jeder von uns etwas anderes unter Landschaft versteht, Szene Alpen: Das Themenheft der Cipra, (104), 7–8. Online (PDF, 118 KB)



Polar Geography

Ksenofontov, S., Backhaus, N. & Schaepman-Strub, G. (2018). ‘There are new species’: indigenous knowledge of biodiversity change in Arctic Yakutia, Polar Geography, 1-25. Online.




Müller-Böker, U. (2018). Frauen Power. In Wintzer, J. & Filep, B. (eds.) Geographie als Grenzüberschreitung. Festschrift für Prof. Dr. Doris Wastl-Walter. Jahrbuch der Geographischen Gesellschaft Bern (66), 215–220. Online (PDF, 38 KB)




Backhaus, N. & Hartmann, S. (2018). Das 100-Jahr-Jubiläum des Nationalparks in der Presse. In Haller, R., Rapp, M. & Hämmerle, A. (eds) Am Puls der Natur: Der Nationalpark und sein Direktor im Spannungsfeld zwischen Forschung, Management und Politik. Bern: Haupt, 134–151.




Backhaus, N. (2018). Berg, Der Architekt (4), 24-29. Online




Truong, J. (2018). Attending to others: How digital technologies direct young people's nightlife, Geographica Helvetica, 73 (2), 193–201. Online


Müller-Böker, U. (2018). Im Mittelraum Der Transnationalen Arbeitsmigration: Arbeitsvermittlungs-Agenturen und -agenten in Nepal, Nepal-i deutsch-nepali Magazin, 117, 2-9. Online (PDF, 14484 KB)


Graf, S. (2018). Politics of belonging and the Eritrean diaspora youth: Generational transmission of the decisive past, Geoforum, 92, 117-124. Online


Truong, J. (2018). Collapsing contexts: Social networking technologies in young people's nightlife, Children's Geographies. Online


Pelzelmayer, K. (2018). Bodies That Work, Discourses That Care: powerful narratives of elder care on the move, Gender, Place and Culture. Online


Keller, R. & Backhaus, N. (2018). Zentrale Landschaftsleistungen erkennen und in Politik und Praxis stärken. Erkenntnisse eines transdisziplinären Forschungsprojekts in der Schweiz, Naturschutz und Landschaftsplanung, 50 (3), 84–89. Online (PDF, 515 KB)

Bauer & Landolt

Bauer, I. & Landolt, S. (2018). Introduction to the special issue "Young People and New Geographies of Learning and Education"Geographica Helvetica, 73, 4348. Online

Landolt & Thieme

Landolt, S. & Thieme S. (2018). Highly skilled migrants entering the labour market: Experiences and strategies in the contested field of overqualification and skills mismatch, Geoforum, 90, 36-44. Online



Bauer, I. (2018). Framing, overflowing, and fuzzy logic in educational selection: Zurich as a case study, Geographica Helvetica, 73, 19-30. Online



Hess, M., Flores, S. R. & Gieser, U. (2017). Between grassroots expectations, political visions, and the contemporary local state – The everyday challenges of indigenous/peasant organisations in the Bolivian Andes. Journal of Latin American Geography, 16 (3), 135-158. Online 


Speck, S. (2017). "They Moved to City Areas, Abroad”: Views of the Elderly on the Implications of Outmigration for the Middle Hills of Western Nepal. Mountain Research and Development, 37 (4), 425–435. Online


Keller, R. und Backhaus, N. (2017). Landschaft zwischen Wertschätzung und Wertschöpfung - Erkenntnisse eines transdisziplinären Forschungsprojekts, Natur + Landschaft Inside, 4/17, S. 32–36. Online


Geiser, U. (2017). Understanding Poverty, Defining Interventions: Why Social Relations Need More Attention in Livelihoods Analyses and Why This Complicates Development Practice. In de Haan, L. (ed) Livelihoods and Development: New Perspectives. Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden, The Netherlands, 13–43. Online


Keller, R. & Backhaus, N. (2017). Landschaft zwischen Wertschöpfung und Wertschätzung - wie sich zentrale Landschaftsleistungen stärker in Politik und Praxis verankern lassen. Bericht im Auftrag des Bundesamts für Umwelt BAFU. Zürich, Universität Zürich. Online (PDF, 3864 KB)


Keller, R., Keune, H. & Maynard, S. (2017). Where do IPBES delegates in Europe see challenges, needs, gaps and opportunities in policy uptake of “Nature’s contributions to people”?", Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, 1-9. Online


Crate, S., Ulrich, M., Ksenofontov, S. et al (2017). Permafrost livelihoods: A transdisciplinary review and analysis of thermokarst-based systems of indigenous land use, Anthropocene, 18, 89104. Online


Bitzi, B. & Landolt, S. (2017). Unaccompanied minor asylum seekers – processes of subject formation and feelings of belonging in the context of educational experiences in Switzerland, Geographica Helvetica, 72, 217226. Online


Ksenofontov, S., Backhaus, N. & Schaepman-Strub, G. (2017). 'To fish or not to fish': fishing communities of Arctic Yakutia in the face of environmental change and political transformations, Polar Record. Online


Hatcher, C. (2017). Making Property in Kyrgyzstan: Bishkek’s Urban Periphery as Redistributive Space, Central Asian Affairs, 4(2), 173-196. Online


Wenner, M. (2017). Vulnerability, food aid, and dependency: Views from development geography, Hermeneutische Blätter, 1/2017, 158-170. Online


Graf, S. (2016). Diaspora tourism and the negotiation of belonging: journeys of young second-generation Eritreans to Eritrea, Ethnic and Racial Studies. Online


Graf, S. & Thieme, S. (2016). "We look similar and have the same geographical origin": translocal encounters of second-generation Eritreans with a new generation of refugees from Eritrea, Geographica Helvetica, 71, 331-340. Online


Poertner, E. (2017). Governing asylum through configurations of productivity and deterrence: Effects on the spatiotemporal trajectories of cases in Switzerland. Geoforum, 78, 12–21, in press. Online

Ökosystemdienstleistungen in der Schweiz

Keller, R. (2016). Ökosystemleistungen in der Schweiz. Chancen, Risiken und Nebenwirkungen bei der praktischen Anwendung. Bern, Haupt, 149 S. Weitere Infos & Bestellung


Lund, J. F., Sungusia, E., Mabele, M. B. & Scheba, A. (2016). Promising Change, Delivering Continuity: REDD+ as Conservation Fad, World Development. In: World Development, in press. Online


Wartmann, F., Haller, T. & Backhaus, N. (2016). Institutional Shopping for Natural Resource Management. In: Human Organization, 75(3): 218-229. Online


Mathieu, J., Backhaus, N., Hürlimann, K. & Bürgi, M. (Hrsg.) (2016). Geschichte der Landschaft in der Schweiz. Zürich: Orell Füssli. Publisher's Page and therein Backhaus, N., Hammer, T. & Siegrist, D. (2016). Wissenschaft, Politik, Planung. In: Mathieu, J., Backhaus, N., Hürlimann, K. & Bürgi, M. (Hrsg.) Geschichte der Landschaft in der Schweiz. Zürich: Orell Füssli, pp. 240–253.