Pre-emptive Response: Controlling the Exceptional in the Interval Between the Capitalist Working Weeks

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

Belgian Police

Belgian Police. Photo Credit: Eddy Van 3000

In his recent article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Ben Anderson explores how emergencies are governed through a logic of response and a politics of delay (Anderson, 2015). Focussing on the inquest into the London bombings of 7 July 2005, Anderson shows how governing an exceptional event utilises response to ensure that sovereign power is maintained, and that a normality of capitalist life is re-established. Furthermore Anderson highlights the inquest’s final recommendations which focussed on ‘delays’ in future emergencies; delays in communication between agencies, and delays in declaring a major incident.

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, we have witnessed a logic of response in the immediate actions of the French authorities, the subsequent raids on properties around the capital, and the declaration of a 3-month ‘state of emergency’ by the government. However, it is not this specific response that I will make brief comment on. Instead it is the ‘non-event’ a week later on Saturday 21st November in Brussels, and the pre-emptive response (a necessary contradiction) of the Belgian state to an immanent emergency.

After the tragedy in Paris a week earlier, the Belgian government claimed to be in possession of intelligence that suggested that a major incident was immanent in their capital, Brussels. An emergency response was initiated; “public transport restricted, shops shut, shopping malls shuttered, professional football cancelled, concerts called off and music venues, museums, and galleries closed”, and “People were told to avoid rail stations and airports, shopping centres, concerts, and other public events where people congregate” (The Guardian). In addition, military personal were deployed onto the streets, fully clad in camouflage and balaclavas, carrying fully-automatic weapons. However the major difference of this logic of response was that is was not a response. Nothing had happened, or did happen that day.

What this ‘pre-emptive response’ shows, in agreement with Anderson, is that the logic of response employed by liberal governments requires a focus on reducing delays in gaining control under exceptional conditions. As such, the case in Belgium this weekend exemplifies this; the delay is reduced to such an extent that it is pre-emptive.

Anderson indicates however that there is a “twofold political status” in the focus on delay; firstly it “reflects anxiety about the fragility of government” and secondly it reinforces the belief that any emergency can be exited (Anderson, 2015: 11). By having armed soldiers on the street, and the Mayor advising all cafes and restaurants to be closed by 6pm (The Independent) the suggestion of an anxious government is verified. Additionally a delay, between normality and ‘returning to normality’, rapidly becomes the focus for believing whether an emergency can be exited or not. Indeed the Wall Street Journal commented that in Brussels the “big test will be whether the metro system starts running again Monday morning, when many of the capital’s more than one million inhabitants depend on public transport to get to work” (Wall Street Journal).

While the pre-emptive response to an immanent emergency serves to ‘de-exceptionalise’ future emergencies – through a display of logistical control with exceptional measures – such measures must be limited and exited in time to restore normal capitalist flows, i.e. when businesses start trading again. The problem is, what if the immanent threat persists? How long until the delay in returning-to-normal undermines the fragility of liberal governmentality?


books_icon Anderson, B., (2015) Governing emergency response: the politics of delay and the logic of response, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, doi: 10.1111/tran.12100

60-world2 The Guardian (2015) Brussels ‘very dangerous’ as several terror suspects remain at large, Online Article  (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)

60-world2 The Independent (2015) Paris Attack Suspect Salah Abdeslam could be in Brussels ‘ready to blow himself up’, says friend, Online Article (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)

60-world2 Wall Street Journal (2015) Brussels Remains on Lockdown Amid Terror-Attack Fears, Online Article (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)


The Geographical Imagination and Britain’s Entanglements ‘East of Suez’

By Benjamin Sacks, Princeton University

The phrase ‘East of Suez’ looms large in our geographical imagination. Long after the end of formal empire and even the Cold War, it embodies a particularly Orientalist conception of exotic peoples, vibrant Kiplingesque colours and untapped wild landscapes. Why does this term still conjure such emotional responses, and why is it back in the news?

In the midst of this month’s unsettling developments, from terrorists attacks in France, Mali, Egypt, and elsewhere, to the constant media frenzy surrounding the US presidential campaign, Britain quietly moved back ‘East of Suez’. On 1 November Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa ceremonially began the (re)construction of HMS Juffair (first erected in 1935) in Mina Salman Port, Britain’s first permanent military base east of the Suez Crisis since 1971. The new base will provide logistical, materiel, and offensive support for Royal Navy operations in the Middle East and South Asia. Rather more surreptitiously, Britain has also heavily invested in expanding Oman’s Duqm port, 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of Masirah Island, to accept Royal Navy vessels (including the forthcoming Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers). In both cases the war against ISIS, Yemeni militants, and bolstering defence, trade, and communications links have been cited as reasons for expansion.

In step with the British Empire’s dissolution, the Aden crisis, financial problems, and unstable domestic developments, in 1968 Harold Wilson decided to close all formal military bases east of Egypt’s Suez Canal, thereby reducing military costs and refocus Britain’s diminished post-War resources on NATO, Europe, and the North Atlantic theatre. While many commentators praised Wilson’s decision as opening a new, postcolonial chapter in Britain’s foreign policy, others believed that the move was a dangerous, short-sighted mistake. The 1982 Falklands War and 1991 and 2003 Iraq wars galvanised both supporters and opponents of the ‘East of Suez’ policy. As The Economist argued however, ‘In reality, Britain never left the Gulf’. Even after 1971 Britain maintained significant military and geopolitical influence in Oman, the Gulf States (Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar), Malaysia, and Brunei, as well as at Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory and at Hong Kong (until 1997). Arguably, it enjoyed greater success through so-called ‘soft-power’, maintaining strong economic and broadcasting relationships with Arabian and South Asian states.

Why does ‘East of Suez’ remain such an emotionally-charged phrase for contemporary audiences? A quick survey of British newspapers evidences how Labour, Conservative, and independent journalists all use the term to evoke particular political sentiments. The Independent used it to highlight anger from human rights campaigners. The BBC, while noting criticism of UK-Bahraini ties, also discussed the latter state’s longstanding relationship with Britain. The Telegraph simply described ‘East of Suez’ as a ‘welcome renewal of friendships in the Gulf’.

Irrespective of where one’s political beliefs lie on the spectrum, geography and geographical writing have played central roles in embedding ‘East of Suez’ in our collective conscious. The Royal Geographical Society’s extensive archives reveal how this phrase was used to promote particular imaginations and responses throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth century. Early, Orientalist-charged uses of ‘East of Suez’ underscored geography as an imperial discipline. Between the 1880s and the First World War, Suez expanded from the Canal and Peninsula, to a symbolic geostrategic marker, and finally to a border between ‘known’ and ‘unknown’, ‘us’ and ‘them’.

In an 1886 memorial, ‘East of Suez’ meant exactly that. The largely undocumented Sinai desert east of the Suez Canal. This reference nonetheless is important, for it provides us with evidence as to how the RGS conceived of the Suez Canal in the 1870s-1890s: as a geographical place. This narrow notion soon changed, however. In the Georgian period Ernest Young, a Belle Epoque travel writer on Siam (Thailand) and Finland, deliberately (and vaguely) described the geography in-between Europe and Russia and Southeast Asia as ‘Somewhere East of Suez’, conveying a romantic notion of uncharted mountains and pirate-laden waters. As the RGS reviewer laconically noted, Young’s Orientalist perspective was undoubtedly a function of his day job as a schoolmaster. The following year Rachael Humphreys, an early female FRGS, published Travels East of Suez, reiterating the term’s intensely imperial meanings. This time, ‘East of Suez’ referred not the Near East nor Fertile Crescent, but to the Indian Subcontinent. This broadness suggests the pre-First World War use of ‘East of Suez’ to describe a generalised, homogenous Asian ‘Other’, exoticising the grand adventure of Britain’s colonial exploits beyond the Canal. Belle Epoque literature, from Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1900-1901) to near-endless accounts of British explorers, undoubtedly influenced Humphreys’ selection of her title.

By the 1930s ‘East of Suez’ was firmly entrenched as the Empire’s dividing line between Europe and an occasionally mysterious Asia. In 1936 Kenneth Mason recalled the moment aviation came to India: ‘I look back with mixed feelings to twenty-five years ago, when in December 1910 the first plane seen east of Suez arrived at Allahabad and began what were optimistically called “joy-flights”‘ (5). Here ‘East of Suez’ enjoyed a physicality, the sense that it served as an actual obstacle for the advancement of British civilisation, a feat that must be traversed each time the Empire sought to impose a European convention onto the Orient.

The War changed all that. ‘East of Suez’, even to the RGS, became a byword for Britain’s need for oil. G M Lees’ 1940 article, for instance, defined ‘East of Suez’ as Arabia, and Arabia as a potential oil source for the British war effort.

By 1968, when the newly-published monograph Great Britain in the Indian Ocean 1810-1850 was reviewed in The Geographical Journal, the consequences of Britain’s Asian ‘adventure’ were very much on reviewer Antony Preston’s mind. ‘As Great Britain’s “East of Suez” commitments are under such heavy fire’, he wrote, ‘one may well wonder how we came to be saddled with so many treaty obligations and colonial responsibilities’. ‘East of Suez’ had ceased to be a term of imperial excitement. Instead, it succinctly described the weight of imperial fatigue, eating away at a post-War Britain eager to tighten its finances and responsibilities.

In the wake of the 1982 Falklands War and the RGS’s now-famed 1983 discussion of the islands’ environmental and political geography, such political geographers as John House (Oxford) used ‘East of Suez’ as a term to describe the expansion and limitation of Soviet naval operations in relation to British and American counterparts. ‘East of Suez’ no longer carried a clear imperial meaning; instead political geographers identified it as a fault line between Capitalism and Communism. Bizarrely, House declared that the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean ‘would be of little significance in the global nuclear balance’ (13), thereby forgetting two millennia of history. In the twenty-first century, ‘East of Suez’ conveys two distinct, but intertwined meanings: the return of formal British military bases to the Indian Ocean (see Blake 2009), and the expansion of British soft power in South and Southeast Asia.


books_icon (1886) Geographical Notes, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography8(5): 328-38.

books_icon C R M (1914) Review, From Russia to Siam, by Ernest YoungThe Geographical Journal 44(6): 586-87.

books_icon (1916) Review, Travels East of Suez, by Rachael HumphreysThe Geographical Journal 47(2): 138.

books_icon Mason K (1936) The Himalaya as a Barrier to Modern CommunicationsThe Geographical Journal 87(1): 1-13.

books_icon Lees G M (1940) The Search for OilThe Geographical Journal  95(1): 1-16.

books_icon Preston A (1968) Review, Great Britain in the Indian Ocean 1810-1850, by G S GrahamThe Geographical Journal 134(1): 134.

books_icon House J (1984) War, Peace and Conflict Resolution: Towards an Indian Ocean ModelTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 9(1): 3-21.

books_icon Blake R (2009) Airfield Closures and Air Defence Reorientation in Britain during the Cold War and its Immediate AftermathArea 41(3): 285-99.

60-world2 Lindsay I (2014) HM Ambassador’s speech to the Bahrain Business Forum, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, 10 December.

60-world2 (2015) British Secretary of State for Defence visits OmanBritish Embassy Muscat, 1 October.

60-world2 ONA (2015) British Secretary of State for Defence hails Sultanate’s efforts in solving regional crisisMuscat Daily, 1 October.

60-world2 (2014) We’re back: A new naval base in Bahrain is an echo of the pastThe Economist 13 December.

60-world2 Merrill J (2015) Royal Navy base construction begins in Bahrain as Britain seeks a return to ‘East of Suez’The Independent, 1 November.

60-world2 Gardner F (2015) UK builds first permanent Middle East base for 40 yearsBBC News, 1 November.

60-world2 More C (2015) A welcome renewal of friendships in the GulfThe Telegraph, 1 November.

Reframing civil society through the everyday: from farms to toilets

By Amita Bhakta, Loughborough University

The evolving role of civil society in the development agenda is a critical point of discussion, as Peck (2015) rightly argues in her recent article in the Geography Compass. A key aspect of what is considered as ‘civil society’ builds on traditional notions of getting involved in development ‘from the outside’ separating the donors and those who are seen as providing support, and those receiving it. But when it comes to assessing and evaluating precisely the significance of civil society, it is important to look at the individuals who are getting involved as part of their everyday practices to bring about change, and the subsequent consequences for everyday lives. As reported in The Guardian, it is with the support of civil society organisations such as NGO’s that female farmers in the region of Samburu in Kenya can be empowered to provide for their families with the uncertainties of climate change through their existing roles. But, is it enough to look at livelihood practices alone as a way forward for civil society, or should we turn to the mundane, hidden yet significant elements of the ‘everyday’?


On the 19th November 2015, the UN held World Toilet Day which was marked across the globe. The Guardian provided a stark reminder of the fact that 774 million people in India alone still lack access to a toilet. Access to adequate sanitation is a human right for all, yet a place to find relief is still a critical issue for many. As the Sustainable Development Goals call for ‘availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’ (UN, 2015), the role of civil society in meeting these targets remains crucial. The Right to Pee movement in India provides an example of how women are being specifically targeted as a group who require a safe place for defecation, and often require toilets to deal with secretive issues such as menstruation. Therefore it can be said that paying attention to hidden stories of different groups of the everyday, including the use of toilets and livelihood practices, can truly be a significant way forward for development. In the bigger picture, it remains to be seen whether civil society is the only relevant actor in understandings of the everyday, or whether a global cooperation between civil society and governments is the way forward to nurture and focus the attention of the world onto the everyday. Finally, as Robert Chambers (1997) questioned, ‘Whose reality counts?’ and whose everyday, and which aspects of their everyday, will we look at?

60-world2 BBC 2015 100 Women 2015: India’s ‘right to pee’

books_icon Chambers, R (1997) Whose Reality Counts? Putting the first last London: Intermediate Technology Publications

60-world2 Kibet R 2015 On Kenya’s climate frontline, female farmers are building a secure future  The Guardian

books_icon Peck, S (2015) Civil Society, Everyday Life and the Possibilities for Development Studies  doi: 10.1111/gec3.12245.

Learning from guano: In search of a paleo-seabird proxy

Via the Geo: Geography and Environment blog, Jessica Conroy (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, USA) on seabirds, climate change, El Niño and the Galápagos.

Source: Learning from guano: In search of a paleo-seabird proxy


Geo: Geography and Environment is a fully open access journal which means that papers can be read, free of charge, by anyone with an internet connection immediately after they are published. Geo is a Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and Wiley journal.

Corruption in resource rich states and the question of citizenship

By Ryan McCarrel, University College Dublin

Construction workers at the Burj Dubai construction site in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Construction workers at the Burj Dubai construction site in Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Photo credit: LoverofDubai

A recent article in The Nation, by Ursula Lindsey, highlights the absurd double-standards confronting millions of migrant construction workers in the Gulf States, mostly from India and Nepal, and the predominantly western corporations and universities that stand to benefit from the completion of multi-billion dollar mega-projects they build (The Nation, 2015). As Ursula adroitly points out, one $27 billion geo-engineering project, in particular, is currently underway in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Abu Dhabi, where “the average monthly pay of one of the workers employed to build Saadiyat [the island] is $177,” while “the salary of Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong was nearly $760,000.” The Guggenheim Foundation is just one of many western beneficiaries of the project that, when completed in 2020, will feature a 322,917 square foot branch of the museum and a New York University Abu Dhabi campus.

Abu Dhabi is by no means alone when it comes to the exploitation of workers and the construction of major projects financed almost exclusively from oil wealth. Host of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar, is spending nearly $200 billion in preparation for the sporting event (Guardian, 2015). There too, predominantly foreign workers suffer from poor pay and living conditions. Yet, despite reports of abuses and increasing pressure from non-profits and human rights organizations, the international community continues to widely perceive oil financed mega-projects like these throughout the in the Gulf States as legitimate, or at the very least, legal (Andrew, 2015; Human Rights Watch, 2015). In contrast, similar construction projects that dot the capitals of Central Asia are regularly cited as examples of high-level corruption by abusive state-oligarchs that use the projects to launder oil money and buy off state elites.

One question to ask, is what makes projects like those in the Gulf States seemingly legitimate in the eyes of the international community, while other projects in the capital cities of Central Asian states like Baku in Azerbaijan and Astana in Kazakhstan, are widely perceived as illegal and corrupt? This is precisely what Natalie Koch asks in a new article published in the journal Area, titled ‘Exploring divergences in comparative research: citizenship regimes and the spectacular cities if Central Asia and the GCC’ (Koch, 2015). In the article, she hypothesizes that the “discrepancy…can only be explained by considering the differences between Central Asian and the Gulf States’ demographic, territorial and political-economic configurations” and in particular, how “the concept of citizenship and its escorts, legality and illegality” influence the perception of legitimacy in the international community (Koch, 2015: 439).

Koch argues that the large influx of migrant workers in the Gulf States has led to the development of a clear class structure. One where a proportionally small number of citizens handsomely benefit resource wealth that oil has begot, while the same redistribution of wealth is explicitly denied to foreign workers through a variety of legal and social mechanisms – most important of which is citizenship itself. In contrast, citizens in Central Asian states with abundant oil wealth do not necessarily share in the spoils of natural resource abundance. Rather, in theses states, elites capture the wealth, only redistributing it to a select few through construction projects and monopolies, and do so only in order to maintain power.

“The most important point, though” is that the way the Gulf States redistribute oil rents is “deemed legal and appropriate because of the way they understand who is legally entitled to state resources on the basis of the official citizenship regime,” while, because access to wealth for citizens in Central Asian states is limited, there rents are deemed corrupt (Koch, 439). Koch concludes, that in resource-rich states, it is “of central importance to ask who is understood to have a legitimate and legal claim to natural resource revenues – and who is excluded” (Koch 2015: 441).

Questions like theses take on greater significance as resource rich states continue to seek international legitimacy by billing themselves as attractive tourist destinations and by hosting major world sporting events, like Azerbaijan’s European Games in 2015, the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 and the upcoming World Cups in 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar. It would seem that understanding wealth redistribution regimes  as ‘ legitimate’ or not based on citizenship alone is one way of exploiting workers while conspicuously avoiding international scrutiny.

60-world2 Qatar: New Reforms Won’t Protect Migrant Workers. Retrieved November 16, 2015.

60-world2 Booth, R. (2015, November 14). “We will be ready, inshallah”: inside Qatar’s $200bn World Cup. The Guardian.

books_icon Koch, N. (2015). Exploring divergences in comparative research: citizenship regimes and the spectacular cities of Central Asia and the GCC: Exploring divergences in comparative research. Area, 47(4), 436–442.

60-world2 Ross, A., & Gulf Labor Artist Coalition. (2015). The Gulf: high culture, hard labor.

60-world2 Standing Up for Migrant Workers in the Gulf, 1 Installation at a Time. (n.d.). The Nation.


‘Feeling Fat’: Understanding Experiences of Body Size

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Last month, model Charli Howard spoke out about the “ridiculously, unobtainable beauty standards” in the modelling industry. The size 6 model, weighing 7.5 stone, was told by her agency she was “too fat”. To put this irrationality into context, the average female in the UK weighs 11 stone and is a size 14-16! Whilst the modelling industry promotes their deluded ideals of body size, more than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by eating disorders, the majority of whom are females aged 15-25. It’s not just the modelling industry, however; billboards, films, and magazines constantly bombard us with images of tall, slender, ‘perfect’ bodies. It is clear that body size is a serious concern; although two thirds of the UK’s population are allegedly overweight, almost just as many try dieting each year, and the majority of people, particularly females, are unhappy with the way they look.

Body size is not a new area of research in geography, but approaches to studying it are changing. Lloyd and Hopkins’ (2015) recent article in Area considers the ways in which geographers are approaching body size as an inherently geographical phenomenon. Formerly, qualitative methods have dominated this area of research, producing disembodied accounts that tried to quantify the body. Geographers have used rudimentary statistics such as BMI and waist-to-hip ratio in order to map obesity, but this has produced crude links between population statistics and demographic information. Such deterministic understandings of human health based on body size wrongly assume a separation between the mind and the body.

Qualitative approaches – such as interviews, focus groups, and diaries – on the other hand, reveal the lived realities of body size; the feelings, emotions, and embodied experiences of living with our bodies. Body size is, after all, experienced in multiple ways; emotionally, physically, economically, socially, privately, and publicly.

Lloyd and Hopkins (2015) argue that geographical studies of body size have often overlooked the role of emotions. The embodied subjectivities of people – the ways in which our bodies affect our identities – can only be understood by uncovering the private emotional experiences of body size, as well as its public performance. There is a difference between being overweight and feeling overweight; so many people are unhappy with their body size, weight, proportions, and appearance, regardless of whether they are physically ‘overweight’. The subjective, emotionally-loaded nature of the term ‘overweight’ means many people believe themselves to fit into this category even if they are perfectly healthy. This is an issue facing many people in the UK with eating disorders and those who hate the way they look. So pertinent is this problem, that earlier this year a petition with more than 26,000 signatures was successful in forcing Facebook to remove its ‘feeling fat’ emoji, protesters arguing “fat is not a feeling!”

A lot of how we experience our bodies is, as Lloyd and Hopkins (2015) claim, to do with societal norms and the stigma associated with being ‘overweight’. The cultural and social benefits associated with body size have become part of our everyday, and have been coined ‘thin privilege’; being a smaller size affords many benefits, such as being able to buy designer clothes, feeling comfortable in public places, or avoiding being bullied at school. The modelling industry in the UK is, without doubt, upholding worryingly distorted images of body size. In the modelling world, women’s ‘plus-size’ begins at UK size 10, which is at least one size smaller than the average woman, and is three sizes smaller than the smallest plus-size clothes sold in shops.

There is, however, some headway being made. MPs this September, led by Caroline Nokes, started to consider the need to ban super skinny models on British catwalks, following a petition, 30,000 signatures strong, to introduce health checks during London’s Fashion Week. The petition was started by Rosie Nelson, a size 8 model. Regular health checks would protect young models who, like Charli and Rosie, are undoubtedly pressured to attain unreasonably small body sizes.

Furthermore, in September this year, London hosted ‘Plus Size Fashion Week’, a celebration of women with curves. Such an event is a real step forward in trying to dispel the physical and emotional othering of plus-size women. An article in The Guardian told the ‘confessions of a plus sized model’, Olivia Campbell, a UK size 18-20 model. Speaking of how she had vastly improved in self-confidence, she wisely states; “you cannot determine a person’s health just by looking at them”. Whilst plus size modelling is growing in the UK, there is a lack of plus-size male models. We shouldn’t forget that, whilst a lot of media attention has focused on women, men also suffer from anxiety about the way they look.

Body size is, then, a contentious topic and a real-life concern. By turning to qualitative methods, geographers can contribute to understandings of the ways in which people experience body size. However, as Lloyd and Hopkins (2015) point out, the stigma associated with being ‘overweight’ means research on body size is fraught with methodological obstacles, most notably participant recruitment. Furthermore, the inherently emotional and subjective nature of body size, as well as the researcher’s own body size, can have significant impacts on research findings.

Our bodies – and our understandings of them – are mutable, changing over space and time, and dependent upon similarly fluid social norms. Body-shaming is all too common in today’s society. The sooner the stigma is removed, and the sooner the social, emotional, and physical othering of people based on their bodies is eradicated, the sooner we can start to improve our understanding of bodily experience.

books_iconLloyd, J. and Hopkins, P. (2015). “Using interviews to research body size: methodological and ethical considerations”, Area, 47(3):305-310.


Howard C 2015 Size 6 model: ‘Why I told my agency to f*** off for calling me fat’ The Telegraph


Sanghani Radhika 2015 Facebook removes its ‘feeling fat’ emoji after thousands complain The Telegraph

60-world2Elgot J 2015 Body image: MPs to consider ban on ultra-thin catwalk models The Guardian

60-world2Marriott H 2015 Plus size fashion week: confessions of a plus sized model The Guardian

60-world2Ferrier M 2015 Where are all the plus-size male models?  The Guardian

Airshow Geographies

By Benjamin Sacks, Princeton University

Airbus wide-body aircraft display, 2006 Farnborough Airshow. Courtesy MilborneOne/Wikimedia Commons.

Airbus wide-body aircraft display, 2006 Farnborough Airshow. Courtesy MilborneOne/Wikimedia Commons.

Every two years the world’s most important defence and civilian aerospace manufacturers decend onto a rural Hampshire airport to show of their latest, greatest, and (in some cases) most lethal hardware. At the 2014 Farnborough Airshow Boeing and Airbus competed for orders of their next-generation 787 and A350 wide-body long-haul aircraft; Boeing went so far as to fly its aircraft through a stunt routine to convince potential buyers of the 787’s manoeuvring capabilities. Wifi manufacturers announced roll-out of their flight-based technologies on major airlines. Bombadier and Embraer announced new regional jetliners, and the British, French, and American air forces announced orders and program extensions. In June 2015 Farnborough International, the show’s organisers, publicised plans to begin a new airshow in September 2017, in Chengdu, Sichuan, China. But the Shoreham airshow crash on 22 August 2015 – in which 11 people died – serves to remind us of the inherent dangers of bringing low-flying aircraft, often still undergoing flight tests, so close to crowded audiences.

Airshows, like airspace, constitute contested geographies, spaces of performance, politics, power, and technology. Despite their prominent place in aviation history, few geographers have critically examined the airshow as contested space. In a 2001 Area article, Heather Nicholson (Leeds) recounted the importance of such specific sites as airshows in childhood geographies; the airshow, like zoos and carnivals, become privileged spatial memories; important markers in a child’s expanding world (p. 134).

Matthew Rech (Newcastle) has redressed this gap in his 2015 Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers study, ‘A critical geopolitics of observant practice at British military airshows’. Approaching airshows through what Fraser Macdonald termed ‘observant practice’, or how “types” of seeing (e.g., ‘gazing’, ‘glancing’, staring) can manipulate — and be manipulated by — show controllers through dazzling demonstrations, fly-bys, and promotion or suppression of particular images and narratives (p. 537). Site selection for instance can play important subliminal roles, the selection of a “country site” as Farnborough, intended to evoke a timeless England, or Brize Norton, a famed RAF base with barriers, signs, and other symbols of ‘secrecy, security, and safety’ (p. 538). Such images convey strength, ‘prowess’, ‘an architecture of control’, and nationalism, as well as more child-like wonder, amazement, curiosity, and sheer excitement. The consequences — particularly from a fiscal standpoint — can be huge.

Rech’s argument has a strong historical foundation, lending additional credence to his contemporary, sociological observation. From the 1910s, airshows conveyed the ‘rhetorical force of flight’: a host of metaphorical meaning ranging from the airman, who seemingly took on superhuman qualities wherever he (or she, from the 1930s) went, to the ‘futurist aesthetic’ of the aircraft themselves: their glistening fuselages, engines, the triumph of metal over nature. Rech is careful, however, to also stress what is not displayed: the most secret, most advanced, most important aircraft. This balance between display and intimidation, and secrecy and the threats of the unknown, remains central to any airshow geared toward military hardware.

The audience undergoes a physiological and psychological process when attending an airshow, particularly one with air force equipment. In what Rech refers to as ‘technofetishism’, the moral barriers between casual weekend observer and the lethal equipment on the other side of the tape blur; internal questions concerning the aircraft’s or system’s purpose is clouded in excitement and pride in the nation-state (pp. 541-42).

60-world2 Aviation Week (2014) Farnborough airshow accessed 6 November 2015.

60-world2 Tovey A (2015) Farnborough flying high as it lands China air show deal The Telegraph.

60-world2 Johnston C and Jenkins L (2015), Shoreham plane crash: seven dead after fighter jet hits cars during airshow 22 August.

books_icon Nicholson HN (2001) Seeing how it was? Childhood geographies and memories of home movies Area 33(2): 128-40.

books_icon Rech MF (2015) A critical geopolitics of observant practice at British military airshows Transactions of The Institute of British Geographers 40(4): 536-48.