Dr Alec Thornton

Senior Lecturer


Room 312 PEMS North (Bldg 22) School of Science, UNSW Canberra, PO Box 7916, Canberra BC ACT 2610, AUSTRALIA


Dr Alec Thornton is a Senior Lecturer in Geography in the School of Science at UNSW Canberra.

He is Academic Co-Lead for Africa, with the Institute for Global Development (IGD) at UNSW Sydney: http://www.international.unsw.edu.au/institute_global_development.

Alec is a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Humanities and the School of Tourism at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

For Future Research Students: Ph.D. scholarships ($35,000 per year) are available for high achieving students (with H1 /High Distinction in UG and/or Masters by Research) in Human Geography, Development Studies or Rural Sociology under my supervision. If you are interested contact me at a.thornton@unsw.edu.au 

Alec's research interests take a critical theory approach to issues in sustainable urban and rural development. He has a PhD in Development Studies (2007) from the University of Sussex, UK. He is currently involved in several research projects concerning sustainable urban and rural development. Specifically, these projects include exploring the role of ‘good urban governance’ (city-community partnerships) as the key for urban agriculture to gain credibility among policymakers, and make a positive impact on social cohesion and urban food policy. In rural development, my focus is capacity building for smallholders to strengthen the rural sector (food production and markets). In terms of international relevance in the field of Development Studies, Dr Thornton's research in urban and rural agriculture closely align with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) four-dimensions of food security, and also multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

He frequently collaborates with geographers, sociologists and economists from South Africa, Sierra Leone, Zambia, United Kingdom and New Zealand. He is Research Associate at the School of Tourism at the University of Johannesburg (South Africa). He was Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Geography, Archaeology and Earth Sciences (GAES) at the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa). Alec was vice president (2010-2017) of The African Studies Association of Australasia and the Pacific (AFSAAP). Alec is co-editor of the Australasian Review of African Studies (ARAS), and editorial board member for Urban Forum (2009-present) and Applied Geography (2009-2015).


Thornton A, 2018, Space and Food in the City Cultivating Social Justice and Urban Governance through Urban Agriculture, Springer, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89324-2

Thornton A, 2012, Urban Agriculture in South Africa: A Study of the Eastern Cape Province, First, Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, New York

Book Chapters

Dela Cruz I; Thornton A; Haase D, 2020, 'Smart food cities on the menu? integrating urban food systems into smart city policy making', in International Political Economy Series, pp. 71 - 84, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-17187-2_5

Thornton A; Lyons K; Sharpe S, 2018, 'Carving out space for community gardens in Australia: Exploring the potential of community gardens as social movements for urban change in Sydney and Canberra', in The Routledge Handbook of Community Development Research, pp. 223 - 235, http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781315612829

Thornton A, 2018, 'Food security in African cities: linking urban food production with good urban governance', in Binns T; Lynch K; Nel E (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of African Development, Routledge, pp. 454 - 464, http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781315712482-34

Cochrane L; Thornton A, 2017, 'Charity rankers: Who is defining effectiveness?', in Lentfer J; Cothran T (ed.), Smart Risks How Small Grants Are Helping to Solve Some of the World's Biggest Problems, Practical Action, Rugby, UK, pp. 108 - 113, http://dx.doi.org/10.3362/9781780449302

Thornton A; Ravuvu A, 2015, 'Beyond aid distribution: Aid effectiveness, neoliberal and neostructural reforms in Pacific Island Countries.', in Jakupec V; Kelly M (ed.), Assessing the Impact of Foreign Aid, Academic Press, pp. 79 - 94, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-803660-0.00006-4

Thornton A; Nel E, 2014, 'Agrarianism, Capitalism or Protectionism? Exploring economic restructuring and local responses amidst global change in Samoa', in Sakai M; Jurriens E; Zhang J; Thornton A (ed.), Disaster Relief in the Asia Pacific: Agency and Resilience, Routledge, London, pp. 171 - 188, http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781315884356

Sakai M; Fauzia A, 2014, 'Key factors for capacity-building of disaster relief operations: Indonesian examples', in Zhang J; Thornton A; Sakai M; Jurriens E (ed.), Agency in Asia Pacific Disaster Relief, Routledge, Abingdon and New York, pp. 35 - 51, http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781315884356

Sakai M, 2014, 'Fostering civil society oranizations for disaster relief in Japan: challenges and prospects for sustainable future operations', in Sakai M; Jurriens E; Zhang J; Thornton A (ed.), Agency in Asia Pacific Disaster Relief, Routledge, Oxton and New York, pp. 52 - 66, http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781315884356

Chand S, 2014, 'Responding to natural versus human-made disasters: lessons from Fiji', in Sakai M; Jurriens E; Zhang J; Thornton A (ed.), Disaster Relief in the Asia Pacific, Routledge, London, pp. 189 - 205, http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781315884356

Zhang J; Jurriens E; Sakai M, 2014, 'Lessons from disaster relief in the Asia Pacific', in Sakai M; Jurriens E; Zhang J; Thornton A (ed.), Agency in Asia Pacific Disaster Relief, Routledge, Oxton and New York, pp. 209 - 216, http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781315884356

Sakai M; Jurriens E; Thornton A; Zhang J, 2014, 'Coping with disaster: Agency and resilience in the Asia-Pacific context', in Sakai M; Thornton A; Jurriens E; Zhang J (ed.), Agency in Asia Pacific Disaster Relief, Routledge, Oxton and New York, pp. 3 - 16, http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781315884356

Thornton A, 2011, 'Food for Thought? Linking Up Urban Agriculture and Local Food Production for Food Security and Development in the South Pacific', in Rosin C; Stock P; Campbell H (ed.), Food Systems failure -The Global Food Crisis and the Future of Agriculture, Earthscan, Taylor & Francis, UK, pp. 203 - 218, http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781849776820

Nel E; Davidson J; Thornton AC, 2007, 'Pandemic and panacea: urban agriculture as a community-based response to HIV/AIDS?', in Jones G; Leimgruber W; Nel E (ed.), Issues in Geographical Marginality: Papers presented during the Meetings of the Commission on Evolving Issues of Geographical Marginality in the Early 21st Century World, edn. Original, Rhodes University, Grahamstown

Edited Books

Thornton A, (ed.), 2020, Urban Food Democracy and governance in north and south, Palgrave Macmillan, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-17187-2

Jurriens EC; Sakai M; Zhang J; Thornton A, (eds.), 2014, Disaster Relief in the Asia Pacific: Agency and Resilience, Routledge, London and New York, https://www.routledge.com/Disaster-Relief-in-the-Asia-Pacific-Agency-and-Resilience/Sakai-Jurriens-Zhang-Thornton/p/book/9780415711777

Sakai M; Jurriens E; Zhang J; Thornton A, (eds.), 2014, Disaster Relief in the Asia Pacific: Agency and Resilience, Routledge, London, http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781315884356

Journal articles

Nop S; Thornton A, 2020, 'Community participation in contemporary urban planning in Cambodia: The examples of Khmuonh and Kouk Roka neighbourhoods in Phnom Penh', Cities, vol. 103, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2020.102770

Cochrane L; Lewis SC; Engdaw MM; Thornton A; Welbourne DJ, 2020, 'Using farmer-based metrics to analyze the amount, seasonality, variability and spatial patterns of rainfall amidst climate change in southern Ethiopia', Journal of Arid Environments, vol. 175, pp. 104084 - 104084, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaridenv.2019.104084

Thornton A, 2020, 'Introduction', International Political Economy Series, pp. 3 - 8, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-17187-2_1

Nop S; Thornton A, 2019, 'Urban resilience building in modern development: A case of phnom Penh city, Cambodia', Ecology and Society, vol. 24, http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-10860-240223

Cochrane L; Thornton A, 2018, 'The Geography of Development Studies: Leaving No One Behind', Forum for Development Studies, vol. 45, pp. 167 - 175, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08039410.2017.1345786

Gbanie SP; Griffin AL; Thornton A, 2018, 'Impacts on the urban environment: Land cover change trajectories and landscape fragmentation in post-war Western Area, Sierra Leone', Remote Sensing, vol. 10, http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/rs10010129

Thornton A; Cochrane L, 2018, 'The geography of development studies: Leaving no one behind', Forum for Development Studies, vol. 45, pp. 167 - 175, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08039410.2017.1345786

Thornton A, 2017, '“The Lucky country”? A critical exploration of community gardens and city–community relations in Australian cities', Local Environment, vol. 22, pp. 969 - 985, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2017.1317726

Cochrane L; Thornton A, 2017, 'A socio-cultural analysis of smallholder borrowing and debt in southern Ethiopia', Journal of Rural Studies, vol. 49, pp. 69 - 77, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2016.11.004

Thornton A, 2017, 'Pacific urbanisation: is landlessness a challenge to SDG11 in Samoa?', The Development Bulletin, pp. 1 - 101, https://crawford.anu.edu.au/rmap/devnet/dev-bulletin.php

Cochrane L; Thornton A, 2016, 'Charity Rankings: Delivering Development or Dehumanising Aid?', Journal of International Development, vol. 28, pp. 57 - 73, http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jid.3201

Gbanie SP; Thornton A; Griffin AL, 2015, '‘The Diamond of Western Area is Land’: Narratives of Land Use and Land Cover Change in Post-conflict Sierra Leone', The Australasian Review of African Studies, vol. 36, pp. 51 - 73, http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=640605682272647;res=IELIND

Lyons T; Marlowe J; Thornton A, 2015, 'Reflections on Africa and African Studies: in Memory of Cherry Gertzel', AUSTRALASIAN REVIEW OF AFRICAN STUDIES, vol. 36, pp. 8 - 21, http://gateway.webofknowledge.com/gateway/Gateway.cgi?GWVersion=2&SrcApp=PARTNER_APP&SrcAuth=LinksAMR&KeyUT=WOS:000374687300002&DestLinkType=FullRecord&DestApp=ALL_WOS&UsrCustomerID=891bb5ab6ba270e68a29b250adbe88d1

Lyons T; Marlowe J; Mickler D; Thornton A, 2015, 'Denizens, Artivists, and Terrorists - Disarmament, Development and Diagnosis: Understanding Africa in Australasia and the Pacific.', AUSTRALASIAN REVIEW OF AFRICAN STUDIES, vol. 36, pp. 3 - 6, http://gateway.webofknowledge.com/gateway/Gateway.cgi?GWVersion=2&SrcApp=PARTNER_APP&SrcAuth=LinksAMR&KeyUT=WOS:000374687000001&DestLinkType=FullRecord&DestApp=ALL_WOS&UsrCustomerID=891bb5ab6ba270e68a

Thornton A; Rogerson CM, 2013, 'African cities and the millenium development goals: A case for applied geography', Applied Geography, vol. 36, pp. 1 - 2, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeog.2012.09.004

Thornton A; Tang MB, 2013, 'A level playing field? Improving market availability and access for small scale producers in Johannesburg, South Africa', Applied Geography, vol. 36, pp. 40 - 48, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeog.2012.04.004

Thornton A; Pearson S; Paull D; Joseph V, 2013, 'Occupational transitions in three coastal villages in Central Java, Indonesia, in the context of sea level rise: a case study', Natural Hazards, vol. on-line June 2013, pp. 675 - 694, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11069-013-0735-6

Thornton A; Binns T; Kerslake M, 2013, 'Hard times in Apia? Urban landlessness and the church in Samoa', Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, vol. 34, pp. 357 - 372, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/sjtg.12040

Thornton A; Sakai M; Hassall G, 2012, 'Givers and governance: the potential of faith-based development in the Asia Pacific', Development in Practice, vol. 22, pp. 779 - 791, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09614524.2012.685864

Thornton A; Momoh J; Tengbe P, 2012, 'Institutional Capacity Building for Urban Agriculture Research Using Participatory GIS in a Post-Conflict Context: A Case Study of Sierra Leone', Australasian Review of African Studies, vol. 33, pp. 165 - 176, http://search.informit.com.au/fullText;dn=274136515355648;res=IELNZC

Thornton A; Binns T; Kerslake M, 2010, 'Alienation and obligation: Religion and social change in Samoa', Asia Pacific Viewpoint, vol. 51, pp. 1 - 16, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8373.2010.01410.x

Thornton AC; Nel E; Hampwaye G, 2010, 'Cultivating Kaunda's plan for self-sufficiency: Is urban agriculture finally beginning to receive support in Zambia?', Development Southern Africa, vol. 27, pp. 613 - 625, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0376835X.2010.508604

Thornton A, 2010, 'Book Review: Sustainable Land Management in the Tropics: Explaining the Miracle.', Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, vol. 31, pp. 276 - 278, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9493.2010.00401.x

Thornton AC, 2009, 'Pastures of plenty?: Land rights and community-based agriculture in Peddie, a former homeland town in South Africa', Applied Geography, vol. 29, pp. 12 - 20, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeog.2008.06.001

Thornton AC, 2009, 'Garden of Eden?: The impact of resettlement on squatters’ ‘agri-hoods’ in Fiji', Development in Practice, vol. 19, pp. 884 - 894, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09614520903122311

Thornton AC, 2008, 'Beyond the Metropolis: Small Town Case Studies of Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture in South Africa', Urban Forum, vol. 19, pp. 243 - 262, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12132-008-9036-7

Thornton AC; Nel E, 2007, 'The significance of urban and peri-urban agriculture in Peddie, in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa', Africanus: Journal of Development Studies, vol. 37, pp. 13 - 20

Thornton AC, 2006, 'The potential for multi-functional urban land use in a small former homeland town in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa', Urban Agriculture Magazine, vol. 16, pp. 58 - 59

Conference Papers

Thornton AC, 2008, 'Mixing methods and methodologies in urban agriculture research: a case study of South Africa', in Southern Perspectives on Development: Dialogue or Division? Proceedings of the Fifth Biennial Conference of the Aotearoa / New Zealand International Development Studies Network (DevNet), University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, 01 January 2008

Conference Presentations

Thornton AC, 2009, 'Institutional capacity building for urban agriculture in Southern Africa', presented at 3rd European Conference on African Studies (ECAS), Leipzig, Germany, 04 June 2009 - 07 June 2009

Thornton AC, 2008, 'The church and development in Samoa', presented at New Zealand Geographical Society 24th Conference 2008, University of Victoria, Wellington, 02 July 2008 - 05 July 2008

Thornton AC, 2008, 'Kinship & Church Obligations and the Emergence of Landlessness in Samoa', presented at 31st International Geographical Congress, Tunis, Tunisia, 12 August 2008 - 15 August 2008

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