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Mary Murphy


Postdoc Researcher CW2GC, Research Associate EdTechHub

Data Champion, University of Cambridge

Wellbeing Advocate, University of Cambridge

E-mail Address


+ 44 (0)1223 767592


  • PhD in Environmental Education, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa
  • Master’s in international Relations, The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Peace Studies Honours, University of Ulster, Derry, Northern Ireland

Membership of Professional Bodies/Associations

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I started my academic career as a Peace Studies (Hons) undergraduate in Northern Ireland where my sense of social justice was activated through meetings with individuals across the political divide and international academics and activists, for example, Noam Chomsky and Donald Woods. I received a good grounding in sociology, political, international development and conflict resolution theory. I established an Amnesty International Chapter in Northern Ireland, trained and facilitated mediation sessions across divided societies. I was also active in the anti-apartheid movement. My academic, political and social interest in South Africa, and the challenges it faced, led me to a six-month internship at the Centre for Intergroup Studies (now the Centre for Conflict Resolution) in Cape Town where I spent time with gang members in an attempt to understand why gang violence was increasing just as South Africa was negotiating a way to its first democratic elections. It was this work that ignited my commitment and connection to the Global South. I have had the privilege of working at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which helped shape my values of justice and equality. My master’s in International Relations focused on primary research through interviews with key players in the negotiations process in South African and Northern Ireland, with some comparative insights from the Middle East.

I am presently working with Dr Elsa Lee on an emerging field of research called hydro-sociology, which has at its core an understanding of the hydrological system and the human system as inherently linked. The project opens up the possibility for a comparative view of how young people in South Africa and the UK access and develop their sense of citizenship through working connections with waterways. We are applying ethnographic tools to explore in-depth the ontological and epistemological position of young people and their understanding, relationship and development as global citizens. Relationships that are shaped by the global hydro-socio-political debates.

Education can empower, enrich and inspire active engagement. If access to education is denied due to economic, political or social constraints then societal transformation is impeded. My work on the EdTech Hub team with Dr Sara Hennessey and Dr Björn Haßler looks at how technology can increase access to education. EdTech’s main geographical focus is in lower-middle-income countries and particularly those within who are marginalised and excluded.

My doctoral research in environmental education arose out of many years as an environmental entrepreneur, activist and educator, primarily based in South Africa where I have lived for 24 years. I have a particular interest in structure and agency, environmental risk, and transformation and change. I have worked closely with Umberto Eco’s theory of semiotics, Ulrich Beck’s theory of Risk and Margaret Archer’s theories of reflexivity, in particular Archer’s theory of the Internal Conversation (IC).

Practical educational experiences include: designed and presented an environmental education course at the University of Cape Town for the PGCE; was a tutor in International Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand; and designed a curriculum based environmental education course, which I delivered with a team to over 12,000 South African learners over a seven-year period.

Social justice and environmental sustainability are the defining challenges of the 21st Century and it is at the heart of my work and passion demonstrated in the following examples:

  • Produced and presented a radio programme for two years on SAfm - the national broadcaster in South Africa – that engaged public understanding of and contribution to environmental action. It was called Environmental Matters.
  • Developed a TV pilot which aims at ‘teaching’ people how to reduce their environmental impact through food.
  • Founded and ran a company for fourteen years that enabled members of the public as well as corporates to convert food waste into usable/saleable resources. We gave public demonstrations in multiple sites in Southern Africa, UAE and Switzerland.
  • Worked on a public campaign to support previous South African Environment Affairs Minister Mohammed Valli Moosa’s legislation to ban the 17-micron plastic shopping bag in SA with a particular focus on how the legislation might affect people living in informal settlements and locations.
  • Developed, and trained a team of youth to deliver public and school education programmes at the WSSD Johannesburg.
  • Published two books: a children’s story; and a non-fiction work published by Penguin books.
  • Coordinated an international network of environmental educators called EEFriends for over three years in South Africa. After sixteen years the network continues to thrive, demonstrating my capacity for instituting sustained change initiatives.
  • My PhD is written in three textual forms one of which is a novel written from the imagined perspective of animals and how they view our impact on the environment. It aims to increase access to and knowledge of environmental issues beyond academia. The main character is POLO, a penguin from the Antarctica. It’s called: Come Home.

Academic Area/Links

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Research Topics

  • Education for Sustainable Development
  • Climate Change Education
  • Hydro-Sociology
  • Risk
  • Critical Realism and Reflexivity
  • Semiotics and Narrative Inquiry

Current Research Project(s)

  • Connecting Water to Global Citizenship via Education for Sustainable Development
  • EdTechHub
  • Global Challenges, Local Narratives: Assessing the Agential Role of Stories for Environmental Education

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  • Postgraduate
    • MPhil Supervision
    • ANW PPD Supervision

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Principal and Recent Publications


Murphy, M (Jan 2021), A Critical Realist’s reflections on coupling the hydrological and social systems during a global crisis. A Think Piece for SAJEE (under review)

Haßler, Björn (Author), Adam, Taskeen (Author),Brugha, Meaghan (Author), Damani, Kalifa (Author), Allier-Gagneur, Zoe (Author),Sara Hennessy (Author),David Hollow (Author)
Katy Jordan (Author),Kevin Martin (Author), Mary Murphy (Author),Hannah Walker (Author), Methodology for literature reviews undertaken by the EdTech Hub

Haßler, B., Adam, T., Brugha, M., Damani, K., Allier-Gagneur, Z., Hennessy, S., Hollow, D., Jordan, K., Martin, K., Murphy, M., & Walker, H. (2019). Keyword inventory (version 1) (EdTech Hub Research Instruments No. 1; EdTech Hub Research Instruments). EdTech Hub.

Haßler, B., Adam, T., Brugha, M., Damani, K., Allier-Gagneur, Z., Hennessy, S., Hollow, D., Jordan, K., Martin, K., Murphy, M., & Walker, H. (2019). Literature reviews of educational technology research in low and middle-income countries: an audit of the field (Working Paper No. 2). EdTech Hub.


Murphy, M (2021). Pop up Poems to soothe my Grief (not yet published)

Murphy, M. (2007). Alfie the Earthworm and his best friend Nellie. Poloandfriends, Cape Town

Murphy, M. (2010). Beginners Guide to Earthworm Farming, Simple Ideas for a Sustainable World, Penguin South Africa

Murphy, M. (2011). Worm Farming (Vermiculture) ( Article Type: Sustainable Development ) Enviropaedia

Murphy, M. (2002). Reflections on our footprints: A journey through South Africa. A report commissioned by Barloworld and the City of Cape Town.


Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation, The University of Cambridge Judge Business School, Murphy, M, The Social Ideas Podcast: the sustainable power of earthworms
Posted on 29 July 2020 by Pam Mungroo 

NBC News (April 21, 2020) by Sean Piccoli,  Best composting bins to buy in 2020, according to experts

Mnet Carte Blanche TV Clip | Eco-friendly worms

Video used with kind permission and courtesy of Intranews (M-Net Carte Blanche) - all rights reserved

The Politics of Power | Radio documentary on nuclear power SAfm

Independent News Online coverage of Plastic Ban Campaign

Citation in Environmental Policy Processes Surrounding South Africa's Plastic Bags

Wheelie Bin Awareness Walk

Associated Press 'Compilations-Natural World & Environment-Recycling'