Dr Tom Baker

PhD, BDevStud(Hons)

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Senior Lecturer


I joined the School of Environment as a Lecturer in Human Geography in 2015. Before coming to Auckland, I was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Geography at Simon Fraser University, Canada, and worked in national and local government. I received my PhD in 2014 from the University of Newcastle, Australia.

I am an Associate Editor of the International Journal of Housing Policy elected Councillor of Royal Society Te Apārangi and committee member of its Early Career Researcher Forum.

Research | Current

My research focuses on how public policies are made and implemented. Although policy-making can be technical—concerned with problems and solutions, efficiency and effectiveness—it is fundamentally a political process where the definitions of problem, solution, efficient and effective are made, contested and put to work in the world. To better understand the politics of policy, my research pays attention to:

  • Social dimensions—including the role of learning, communication and interpersonal networks
  • Institutional dimensions—including the role of local, national and inter/transnational agencies
  • Ideological dimensions—including the role of political value systems and frameworks of meaning
  • Spatial dimensions—including the role of particular places, scales and spaces

These interests have been explored through empirical research on policies and practices in a range of domains, including homelessness, housing, social security, and drug treatment.

Current major projects include:

  • Welfare capital and the new welfare state

Funded via the Marsden Fund

New models of privately financed welfare services are putting investors at the centre of formerly public welfare service provision. The recent international growth of privately financed welfare services means that one of the basic logics of the modern welfare state—that welfare services should be publicly financed and not left to the market—is being overturned. How and why have privately financed welfare services come about? What changes, challenges, and implications are unfolding as a result? The proposed project addresses these questions by investigating the growth of privately financed welfare service models, and their impact on welfare politics, policy, and practice. The project involves comprehensive analysis of documentary materials, interviews with key informants—including politicians, investment bankers, philanthropists, social service managers, and program evaluators—and participant observation of key sites of knowledge exchange and program delivery.

  • Innovating urban governance

Collaboration with Professor Pauline McGuirk (University of Wollongong), Professor Robyn Dowling (University of Sydney) and Dr Sophia Maalsen (University of Sydney)

Funded via the Australian Research Council

Across the world, innovations in urban governance are emerging as cities seek to address complex urban challenges. This project poses much needed critical questions of these innovations: who do they involve; how do they work; how do they intersect with longstanding practices of governing the city. It aims to build new understandings of urban governance by delineating the scope, mechanisms, limits and potentials of these innovations. Through integrating insights from Australian and international cases, project outcomes include new knowledge to inform urban governance innovation for the Australian context and enhanced capacity to facilitate the future prosperity, wellbeing and democratic inclusiveness of Australian cities.

  • Education debt and the frontiers of finance

Collaboration with Dr Emily Rosenman (Penn State University) and Dr Dan Cohen (Queen’s University, Canada)

Funded via UoA-PSU Seed Grant

Student debt has become a topic of much interest in recent years. Within government, education, business and civil society sectors, concerns are being raised about the escalating levels of debt associated with contemporary higher education. At the same time, many organisations within these sectors are developing new financial technologies that capitalise on student indebtedness. In the United States, Income Sharing Agreements have rapidly expanded in recent years. In return for covering educations costs, these agreements see investors receive a proportion of students’ incomes after graduation. Additionally, digital platforms are being developed that would see students work off their education debt by participating in short-term education ‘gig work’. This project aims to understand the ways in which new financial technologies are being developed around the servicing of education debt.

Teaching | Current

GEOG 104 - Cities and Urbanism (contributor)

GEOG 307 - Urban Geography (contributor)

GEOG 315 - Research Design and Methods in Human Geography (contributor)

GEOG 701 - Research in Practice (coordinator)

GEOG 737 - Geographies of Policy (coordinator)

Postgraduate supervision

Post-doctoral fellowship:

  • Financing sustainable futures? The construction of Green Bonds - Ryan Jones


  • The resurgence of the public library: An examination of the planning, construction and use of Tūranga - Salene Schloffel-Armstrong (co-supervised with Robin Kearns) (in progress)
  • Power and politics in social policy reform: The case of state housing in New Zealand - Jordan King (co-supervised with Louise Humpage) (in progress)


  • Informal waste management in Phnom Penh - Sreyrith Phan (in progress)
  • Wastewater-based epidemiology as a method to explore spatial, temporal and sociodemographic patterns of drug use: A New Zealand case study - Mackay Price (co-supervised with Sam Trowsdale)
  • Dealing with sentient surplus: Exploring greyhound rehoming in New Zealand - Emily Stevens (co-supervised with Nick Lewis)
  • Mobilising the market in social services: Social impact bonds, fast policy and neoliberalised policymaking in New Zealand - Rebecca Grimwood (co-supervised with Louise Humpage)
  • Getting the crowd to care: An examination of health-related crowdfunding in Aotearoa New Zealand - Caitlin Neuwelt-Kearns (co-supervised with Octavia Calder-Dawe and Ann E. Bartos)
  • Home-makers: Investigating the experiences of self-employed women working from home - Brittany Goodwin (co-supervised with Ann E. Bartos)
  • 'For me it was super easy, but for other people ...': Investigating assisted inclusion and the privelege to move 'freely' between New Zealand and Australia - Thomas Bayliss (co-supervised with Francis Collins)
  • The legitimation of centralised water infrastructure: A case study of Auckland's Central Interceptor - Polly Holland (co-supervised with Sam Trowsdale)
  • The New Zealand universal basic income fund: A public equity project - Daniel Kwon (co-supervised with Julie MacArthur)
  • Social entrepreneurial subject formation within collective affects: An analysis of hope at the 2017 Social Enterprise World Forum - Michael Mann
  • Imagining suburbia: Imaginative production of traditional and post-suburban forms in Auckland - Cameron Johnson (co-supervised with Francis Collins)
  • Solidarity, selectivity, security: The management of New Zealand migrants in Australia - Ryan Krebs (co-supervised with Nick Lewis)

Recent honours research topics:

  • Mental health coaching and digital technologies
  • FinTech, micro-investment and asset-based welfare
  • Temporary urbanism and publicness
  • Local responses to street-based sex work
  • Social media and the destigmatisation of welfare beneficiaries
  • Housing-led approaches to homelessness
  • Welfare beneficiary advocacy and everyday resistance
  • Real-estate advertisements and the production of suburban space

Areas of expertise

Public policy, welfare state, social services, cities, urban politics, urban planning

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Jones, R., Baker, T., Huet, K., Murphy, L., & Lewis, N. (2020). Treating ecological deficit with debt: The practical and political concerns with green bonds. GEOFORUM, 114, 49-58. 10.1016/j.geoforum.2020.05.014
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Laurence Murphy, Nicolas Lewis
  • Ey, M., Mee, K., Allison, J., Caves, S., Crosbie, E., Hughes, A., ... Jones, R. (2020). Becoming Reading Group: reflections on assembling a collegiate, caring collective. AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHER, 51 (3), 283-305. 10.1080/00049182.2020.1759181
  • Neuwelt-Kearns, C., Baker, T., & Calder-Dawe, O. (2020). Informal governance and the spatial management of street-based sex work in Aotearoa New Zealand. Political Geography, 7910.1016/j.polgeo.2020.102154
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/50293
  • Trowsdale, S., Boyle, K., & Baker, T. (2020). Politics, water management and infrastructure. Philosophical Transactions: Series A, 378 (2168)10.1098/rsta.2019.0208
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Sam Trowsdale
  • Baker, T., Meese, H., & Sisson, A. (2020). #WeAreBeneficiaries: Contesting poverty stigma through social media. Antipode, online first10.1111/anti.12617
  • Baker, T., & McGuirk, P. (2019). 'He came back a changed man': The popularity and influence of policy tourism. Area, 51 (3), 561-569. 10.1111/area.12505
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/46329
  • Turner, A., Mann, M., & Baker, T. (2019). Property advertising and the representational production of suburbia: “Functional suburbs” and “lifestyle suburbs” in Auckland. New Zealand Geographer, 75 (2), 74-84. 10.1111/nzg.12217
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/47190
  • Baker, T., McCann, E., & Temenos, C. (2019). Into the ordinary: Non-elite actors and the mobility of harm reduction policies. Policy and Society10.1080/14494035.2019.1626079


Contact details

Primary office location

SCIENCE CENTRE 302 - Bldg 302
Level 4, Room 459
New Zealand

Social links

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