Sarah studied Geography and Anthropology at University College London and the University of Liverpool before holding a postdoctoral fellowship in Latin American Studies at Cambridge. She taught at Royal Holloway, University of London before returning to Cambridge in 1995 to the Department of Geography where she has been since.

Her research considers the interaction between development programmes, facets of social hierarchy (especially gender and race-ethnicity), and postcolonial statehood and citizenship. Her research takes place in Andean Latin America.