Dinosaur displays, talking teddy bears, and plotting pets: what the movies (don’t) teach us about human-animal relationships

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

As an animal geographer, the heading ‘Becoming Human’ in The Guardian’s g2 film supplement immediately caught my eye. The title rang true of Deleuze and Guatarri’s notion of becoming, a transformative process of identity formation, which has influenced so many who study animals, including Donna Haraway. The article by Steve Rose (2015), the Guardian’s film critic, is also available online, and pays homage to shifting attitudes towards animals in Hollywood. As anyone studying animals will tell you, animals help shed light on what it means to be human. The reinforcement of their ‘otherness’ through the human-animal binary highlights human superiority and helps to redefine the category of ‘human’ as opposed to ‘animal’.

Taking the new blockbuster, Jurassic World, as his starting point, Rose (2015) considers the radical new ways in which more recent films with animals in their starring roles are re-framing what it means to be human. The dinosaurs in Jurassic World are highly problematic; genetically-modified ‘creations’, they are ‘attractions’ for a human audience and live unnatural lives in captivity. However, this monster movie turns the argument around, leaving us instead pondering the animality of the human owners of the dino-resort; it is the humans who are presented as the real monsters. As fetishized cultural products, however, the dinosaurs in Jurassic World raise questions about animal rights, human-animal relationships, and the ontological differences between ‘human’ and ‘animal’. There are similarities that can be drawn with Holloway et al’s (2009) paper, which applies Foucauldian biopower to genetic technologies used in livestock breeding. Here, the use of new genetic technologies to (re)create and (re)define farm animals’ bodies serves to control and regulate animal bodies and behaviour. Intervention in these animal lives – similar to the human intervention into the lives of the dinosaurs in Jurassic World – produces particular truths and subsequently affects human-animal relationships.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Rose (2015), then, draws comparisons with another new film, Ted 2; a highly anthropomorphized story of a walking, talking teddy bear. This film presents an extreme illustration of changes in attitudes towards animal rights, tracing Ted’s battle to legally be recognised as a ‘person’ in order to adopt a child with his human partner.  Rose (2015) compares this rather surreal situation to changing animal rights attitudes. Citing examples in New York, the article suggests that animals are increasingly being given human legal rights. Animal rights activists, for example, are arguing that chimpanzees be given legal personhood, a decision that would redefine their imprisonment as illegal. Such examples of increasing animal rights refute the human-animal divide, blurring the boundary between ‘human’ and ‘animal’, and redefining animal subjectivity. Animals, it seems, have transgressed the species boundary; they are becoming human.

The re-definition of animal rights and subjectivity in films is by no means a new phenomenon. Take any Disney film with animals as its focus, and there are hidden geographical stories about animal rights, their daily struggles, and their identities. Bambi’s heart-breaking bereavement at the hands of a hunter; the objectification of Dumbo as a ‘performer'; the canine battle against a cruel, fur-crazed woman in 101 Dalmations; these are just a few of many examples in which Walt Disney has challenged us to re-think our treatment of, interactions with, and relationship to animals. Yes, any film written about animals is loaded with anthropomorphism, an approach to understanding animals that is heavily criticised in academia, but can such a device, in fact, help stress the importance of treating animals as our equals rather than an inferior ‘other’? Bear’s (2011) study of Angelica the octopus, after all, promotes the idea of ‘responsible anthropomorphism’ as a useful tool for understanding individual animals and increasing sensitivity towards their rights and subjectivities.

The recent release of the trailer for The Secret Life of Pets (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-80SGWfEjM), an animated film by Illuminated Entertainment, poses another extreme in animal-centric films. The film, due for release next June, challenges us to reconsider our views of pets, giving an insight into what they get up to while we’re out. Whilst obviously fiction (I’m not suggesting that our pets are forming rival gangs in the battle for human companionship!), the film will ask us to consider the extent to which our pets are, in fact, active agents with complex subjectivities and the ability for conscious, rational thought. This is a stark contrast in the light of recent controversy over dog meat in China. The annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival, in which 10,000 dogs are slaughtered for their meat, took place at the end of last month, and reminds us that we are still far from achieving equal rights for animals (BBC, 2015 [online]).

The films mentioned above may be little more than light-hearted distraction. The reality may be, as harsh as it seems, that any hint of our changing relationship with animals and their rights is, in fact, as real as Hollywood’s dinosaur displays, talking teddy bears, and plotting pets.

books_iconBear, C. (2011). “Being Angelica? Exploring individual animal geographies”, Area, 43(3):297-304.

books_iconHolloway, L., Morris, C., Gilna, B., and Gibbs, D. (2009). “Biopower, genetics and livestock breeding: (re)constituting animal populations and heterogeneous biosocial collectivities”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 34: 394-407.

60-world2BBC, (2015). “China Yulin dog meat festival under way despite outrage”, BBC News online, June 22nd 2015. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-33220235.

60-world2Rose, S. (2015). “Becoming Human”, The Guardian, g2. June, 2015. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jun/18/jurassic-world-ted-2-evolutionary-leap-animal-rights.

 

 

Islands make the city

By Adam Grydehøj, Lund University

New York, Lagos, Tokyo, Paris, Mexico City, Guangzhou, St Petersburg, Mumbai.

What do these cities have in common? What prompts major centres of population, trade, and political power to develop in some locations and not others? In his ‘How to build a city from scratch: the handy step-by-step DIY guide’ published in The Guardian, Stuart Jeffries mentions that, when it comes to finding a spot for your new city, “uninhabited islands are popular.” Jeffries has his tongue in cheek, yet the advice is more sound than he imagines, for the common attribute of all of the above cities and many more across the globe is that they had their decisive starts on small islands or archipelagos. Indeed, small islands and big cities coincide so frequently as to make it impossible to understand cities without also understanding island cities.

In an attempt to comprehend today’s global networks of urban processes, urban theorists have increasingly turned to abstract spatialised understandings of the city, at the risk of overlooking place-specific factors of urbanisation. One result has been that the link between islands and cities has gone largely unnoticed. It is time to redress the imbalance by investigating why major cities are so likely to form on small islands.

A new article in Area – ‘Island City Formation and Urban Island Studies’ (Grydehøj 2015) – argues that aspects of island spatiality encourage city formation. The article advances the theory that territoriality benefits help political and economic elites maintain local authority and project power outward, defence benefits help protect local powerholders from external military threat, and transport benefits make strategically located small islands ideal sites for port industries. Once urbanisation is underway on a small island, other aspects of island spatiality come into play: Lack of land due to the city’s water borders favours dense urban development, which in turn brings competitive advantages for local businesses.

'Hong Kong Island', Source: Adam Grydehøj.

‘Hong Kong Island’, Source: Adam Grydehøj.

Whatever the reasons, island factors seem to have a powerful impact on urban processes: Six of the world’s ten most populous cities; eight of the world’s ten busiest ports; the largest cities in the sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and the USA; and the capital cities of five European states have developed on or from small islands. However, the processes behind such island city development are diverse and are grounded in specific historical, political, and socioeconomic contexts (Pigou-Dennis & Grydehøj 2014). It is thus that different kinds of island cities have developed at different times in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It seems inescapable to study islands and cities in tandem.

The Island Cities and Urban Archipelagos research network and conference series as well as the open access journal Urban Island Studies have been established to explore the interaction between island and urban processes (Grydehøj et al. 2015). Following a successful conference in Copenhagen in 2014, University of Hong Kong will be hosting a new island cities conference in March 2016. There is thus reason to hope that the coming years will shed additional light on island city formation and development.

About the author:

Adam Grydehøj is a researcher based at the Department of Human Geography, Lund university. He is also Director of Island Dynamics (www.islanddynamics.org) and Chair of the Island Cities and Urban Archipelagos Research Network.

Further reading
books_icon Grydehøj, A. (2015) Island City Formation and Urban Island Studies. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12207.
books_icon Grydehøj, A., Pinya, X.B., Cooke, G., Doratlı, N., Elewa, A., Kelman, I., Pugh, J., Schick, L., & Swaminathan, R. (2015) Returning from the Horizon: Introducing Urban Island Studies, Urban Island Studies, 1(1), 1-19.
60-world2 Jeffries, S. (2015) How to build a city from scratch: the handy step-by-step DIY guide, The Guardian, 30 June.
books_icon Pigou-Dennis, E., & Grydehøj, A. (2014) Accidental and Ideal Island Cities: Islanding Processes and Urban Design in Belize City and the Urban Archipelagos of Europe, Island Studies Journal, 9(2), 259-276.

Austerity will increase the North South health divide

By Clare Bambra and Kayleigh Garthwaite, Durham University

We were told by the Coalition government that we are “all in it together” and that recession, austerity, cuts to welfare and the privatisation of the NHS are the necessary medicine to revitalise our broken country. This is a dangerous, neoliberal myth as the effects of austerity are not being shared equally across our country.

Northern England (commonly defined as the North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humber regions) has persistently had higher death rates than the South of England, with people in the North consistently found to be less healthy than those in the South – across all social classes and amongst both men and women. This is a longstanding historical divide that can be dated back to the early 19th century.

In our paper published by Area, we argue that since 2010, these health inequalities between the North and the South of England have increased. For example, suicide rates have increased across England – but at a greater rate in the North. Similarly, antidepressant prescription rates have risen, again with the highest increases in the North. Food bank use and malnutrition rates have also increased more in the North of England.

Boarded up houses in Stockton on Tees, North East, 2015. Photo Credit: Kayleigh Garthwaite.

Boarded up houses in Stockton on Tees, North East, 2015. Photo Credit: Kayleigh Garthwaite.

We argue that these increases in health inequalities between the North and the South are a result of the uneven geographies of “austerity”. Welfare reform and public service cuts have disproportionately impacted on the older industrial areas in the North, whilst the South (outside London) has escaped comparatively lightly. By way of example, Blackpool (North West), will experience twice the loss of income per person as a result of welfare reforms, whilst the worst-hit local authority budgets such as Middlesbrough (North East) will lose around four times as much as those least affected by the cuts – located exclusively in the South (such as Hart, South East).

So what can be done? Drawing on our involvement in the Public Health England (PHE) commissioned Due North: The Independent Inquiry into Health Equity in the North (2014). We argue that certain policy measures need to be urgently undertaken if we are to prevent the English health divide from widening: (1) increasing the value of welfare benefits; (2) improving welfare rights advice services; (3) making work pay by introducing a living wage; (4) implementing health-first active labour market policies to tackle health-related worklessness; and (5) decreasing debt by capping loan rates, supporting credit unions and regulating energy companies. Some of these policies are being taken forward by the opposition parties in their 2015 party election manifestos.

Partly as a result of the Due North Inquiry, and partly as an outcome of renewed debates about English devolution, there is now a “policy window” around the English health divide. This represents a prime opportunity for geographers to influence this important area of research, policy and practice.

About the authors:

Clare Bambra is Professor of Public Health Geography at Durham University. Her research examines how politics and politics impact on the social and spatial determinants of health and health inequalities. Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite is a Postdoctoral Research Associate within the Department of Geography at Durham University. Her research interests focus on health inequalities, welfare reform and austerity, with a focus on narratives and lived experience.

books_icon Inquiry Panel on Health Equity for the North of England (2014) Due North: The report of the Inquiry on Health Equity for the North (pdf). Inquiry Chair: Margaret Whitehead.

books_icon Bambra, C. and Garthwaite, K. (2015), Austerity, welfare reform and the English health divide. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12191

New in Transactions: Editor’s issue spotlights

Issue three of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is now available on line.
wordle

Editor’s issue spotlights include:

Forced migration in the United Kingdom: women’s journeys to escape domestic violence Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 307–320. doi: 10.1111/tran.12085, by Janet Christine Bowstead, London Metropolitan University (UK)

In search of ‘lost’ knowledge and outsourced expertise in flood risk management Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 375–386. doi: 10.1111/tran.12082, by Graham HaughtonUniversity of Manchester (UK), Greg Bankoff and Tom J Coulthard,  University of Hull (UK)

The distinctive capacities of plants: re-thinking difference via invasive species Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 399–413. doi: 10.1111/tran.12077, by Lesley Head and Jennifer Atchison, University of Wollongong (Australia), and Catherine Phillips, University of Queensland (Australia)

‘This restless enemy of all fertility’: exploring paradigms of coastal dune management in Western Europe over the last 700 years Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 414–429. doi: 10.1111/tran.12067, by Michèle L Clarke, University of Nottingham (UK), and Helen M Rendell, Loughborough University (UK)

Crowd-Sourced Maps: A Way Forward?

by Benjamin Sacks, Princeton University

OpenStreetMap is catalysing an open-sourced mapping revolution.

OpenStreetMap is catalysing an open-sourced mapping revolution.

In the mobile Internet age, nearly every individual has the capacity to create. Despite the rapid transformation of cartography from analogue to digital, elite to everyman, maps remain biased, nuanced, meaning-laden documents, much as J B Harley and David Woodward first argued in their respective late twentieth century scholarship. Joe Gerlach (University of Oxford) has sought to both connect existing studies of maps with open-sourced cartography, as well as investigate digital, crowd-sourced mapping on its own terms and merits. In ‘Editing worlds: participatory mapping and a minor geopolitics’ (Transactions April 2015) he examined what OpenStreetMap means for cartography as a geopolitical tool in international affairs.

According to Gerlach, the Cold War dominated twentieth century geopolitical cartography; he recalled Gearóid Ó’Tuathail’s weaved narrative imagining ‘Halford Mackinder and Henry Kissinger acting out manifold “belligerent dramas” over the spectre of a world map’ (273). This intimate association with realpolitik and its manifestations (war, trauma, Mutually Assured Destruction, colonisation, proxy conflict) might have provided geopolitics with a measure of ‘institutional rigour’ (borrowing from Edoardo Boria) but at the expense of cartography’s legitimacy. Grassroots, open source mapping moves to restore cartography’s geopolitical credentials by distancing itself from the Cold War’s more onerous legacies. Gerlach suggested that a ‘minor’ revolution in cartography is underway. Not minor in size or scale, but rather in its sociological and literary sense: ‘an examination of the non-representational aspects of this representational practice as a way of spotlighting the often unspoken, anticipatory politics of mapping’ (274). Or, in other words, the culture(s) and movement(s) of open-source, grassroots mapping.

This is a brave new world, at least from a scholarly standpoint. What does cartographic inclusiveness mean? How does mass-participatory, often non-moderated cartography influence geopolitics at the local, regional, or international levels? By its very nature, such mapping is ‘uncertain and experimental’, outside the bounds of traditional scholarly or political cartographic analysis. At its core, the maps are moved, influenced, and popularised by the crowd; subject to its rational and irrational drifts, pulls, and tendencies.

Programmes like OpenStreetMap seek to free the user from restrictions imposed by such official, controlled maps as Ordnance Survey and United States Geological Survey charts. In so doing, users become active authors in cartography and, by extension, the multi-dimensional geographical landscape. In Peru, for instance, a digitally-aware audience has effectively and efficiently subverted the military’s de facto monopoly on maps, identifying, creating, manipulating, and distributing their own cartographies via OpenStreetMap. Through social gatherings, group GPS expeditions, and checking each others’ work, contributors established themselves – however deliberately or accidentally – as a national cartographic force, competition to the military’s own carefully controlled maps.

Of greatest importance is the sheer excitement open source mapping brings to cartography. Like Wikipedia of the 2000s, OpenStreetMap is still in its childhood, subject to referee issues, inaccuracies, and end-user problems. Regardless, by providing free-to-use, easily manipulated cartographic tools to the public on desktop and mobile devices, geographic knowledge can reach an audience few twentieth century geographers – and especially those of a Cold War persuasion – could have foreseen.

books_iconBoria E (2008) Geopolitical maps: a sketch history of a neglected trend in cartography Geopolitics 13 278-308.

books_iconGerlach, J. (2015), Editing worlds: participatory mapping and a minor geopolitics. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers,                         40: 273–286. doi: 10.1111/tran.12075

books_iconÓ’Tuathail G, Dalby S and Routledge P eds (2006) The geopolitics reader 2nd edn Routledge, London 237-54.

You are what you eat: fresh food provisioning and food markets

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The traditional fresh food market; how modest it seems, spreading into high streets and town squares, drawing in consumers with its array of colours and smells. This familiar scene, however, is at the centre of ongoing debates about fresh food provisioning in England, highlighting a complex relationship between economics and culture.

In the wake of last month’s BBC Food and Farming awards, Smith et al’s (2014) Area paper on fresh food provisioning and markets gives an insight into the socio-spatial dynamics of fresh food markets in England. The paper investigates the connective spaces that link markets and consumers, and the ways in which fresh food moves through the marketplace. Food provisioning by traditional food markets, it argues, is affected by political, economic, cultural, and material concerns.

In England, traditional food markets were long considered places where low-income shoppers could buy affordable fresh food. How things have changed! Some markets have been, what Smith et al (2014:122) call, “(re)gentrified”, becoming places where more wealthy shoppers can buy high-quality, fashionable food. Food markets are therefore placed in a precarious position between the traditional and the modern. Furthermore, due to the external influence of powerful multi-national supermarket chains, some fresh food markets are under threat, whilst others are being forced to adapt to changing demands.

Some people do, of course, resist the increasingly dominant supermarket. Last month’s BBC Food and Farming awards marked its 15th culinary celebration and provided, perhaps, a bit more optimism about the state of fresh food provisioning in this country. Amongst the awards were ‘best food market’ (for the best regular market that brings together the local community and provides “fresh, quality, affordable food”), ‘best food producer’ and ‘best drinks producer’ (for producers using quality ingredients to create a quality, fairly-priced products). There was a clear emphasis on quality, sustainability, and affordability of local products.

Smith et al stress that traditional markets illustrate how place and culture are entwined with food sourcing. Demand for food depends on locals’ tastes for organic, local, seasonal, or ‘exotic’ produce. Thus, the type of food provided by food markets varies according to the changing socio-demographics of the market’s consumers; markets must adapt to changing shopping habits. Smith et al argue that food markets as socio-economic spaces all behave differently, adapting to change based on their geography and history. Every town or city reacts differently to effects of retail restructuring, market systems, and consumption practices. Equally, for some places, local food markets are vital to maintaining their distinct identity and local pride. Thus, the popular idiom ‘you are what you eat’ could be extended to link food consumption with local identity. Fresh food, therefore, takes on a very cultural form; cultural meaning and economic value become complexly linked.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The importance of the cultural meaning imbued in food was evident amongst the winners at the BBC Food and Farming awards.  Doncaster market was crowned ‘best food market’. It is the largest market in the North with over 400 stalls providing quality, good-value local and imported goods. Likewise, the winners of ‘best food producer’ and ‘best drinks producer’ were commended for their skill in hand-making locally-sourced products. Here the importance of hand-made produce further shows the conscious decision of some to boycott mass-produced supermarket goods. A particularly interesting award from a geographical point of view was the ‘best food initiative’; an award for the initiative that is making a positive difference to our relationships with food. Stressing the importance of producer-consumer relationships, the ‘best food initiative’ went to a scheme that brings together producers and consumers at a pop-up market, where consumers collect pre-ordered local produce from their neighbouring producers. This fits perfectly with Smith et al’s argument that fresh food moves through connective spaces – such as food markets – between producers and consumers.

It is clear that the fresh food market is an important feature of the economic, social, and cultural landscape of many English towns. It is also a vital actor in both local and national concerns about food consumption, identity, health, politics, and economics. With so much hidden complexity in such humble spaces, it is certainly some interesting food for thought.

books_iconSmith, J., Maye, D., and Ilbery , B. (2014). “The traditional food market and place: new insights into fresh food provisioning in England”, Area, 46(2):122-128.

60-world2http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zxv3j

 

Studying Abroad and the Neoliberal ‘Cult of Experience’ in the Youth Labour Market

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

Figures released this week have shown that more UK students than ever are travelling abroad as part of their degree programmes.

Last year, 15,566 UK students studied in another country as participants in the European Union’s Erasmus programme. This was a 115% increase in the number who took part in 2007, when the scheme was first extended to the UK. Large increases in students travelling to China, India and the USA have also been observed.

The figures were released ahead of the British Council’s annual ‘Going Global’ conference for leaders of international education. Professor Rebecca Hughes, British Council Director of Education, said, “This latest evidence confirms that a growing number of the UK’s students are recognising the huge value to be gained from international experience… The UK needs graduates who have the skills and confidence to compete globally, and can compete against foreign talent that may speak more languages, and have wider international experience.”

An Erasmus promotional video highlighting the professional benefits of studying abroad.

Clare Holdsworth addresses the seemingly uncontroversial nature of such statements in a recent article for Area. Holdsworth argues:

Young people are called upon to make themselves employable through engaging in a range of experiences that may include: volunteering, work experience, paid work, internships, travel, leisure and membership of organisations. This fetishizing of experience is becoming so normalised that it is rarely contested. It appears self-evident that in order to protect themselves against an absent future, young people need to not only complete more education and/or training, but they have to acquire experiences to stand out from the crowd.

Holdsworth takes issue with the commodification of experience, suggesting that experiences gained in order to guarantee a better future are ‘conventional and passive’, and have little to do with experimentation, creativity, exploration or learning. Holdworth’s main focus, however, is with the popular notion that the acquisition of experience is a solution to the difficulties of the current youth labour market:

The prevailing popular discourse of youth is one of failure against the need to do better. Thus if academic grades increase, this is because of grade inflation; if more young people are out of work, this is because they do not have the correct skills; if graduates cannot get jobs, this is because they have not acquired the right ‘experiences’… This failure to see beyond the supply side of the labour market is having profound effects on young people’s lives… Not only are young people still faced with the difficulty of finding a job, they are having to do so in direct competition with their peers in a ever-growing globalised labour supply… Thus programmes for work experience, placements, volunteering, internships etc. are rolled out in order to compel young people to invest in their own futures…The cult of experience reinforces this charging of responsibility and passes over other solutions that target the demand side of the youth labour market.

The article highlights the arms race-like nature of the neoliberal youth employment market: as experience is seen as increasingly necessary in order to compete with one’s peers, young people are compelled to engage in more and more homogenised ‘experiences’, effectively ‘running faster in order to stand still’. Invariably, those who win this experience arms race are those with the greatest financial means.

This article also raises important questions for university geography departments; fieldwork has long been seen as a crucial part of a geography degree, but how, in a neoliberal educational establishment, can the experience of fieldwork be elevated above that of a CV-enhancing commodity and turned into a ‘genuine’ learning experience, encouraging students to explore, experiment and consider their own subjectivity?

 Clare Holdsworth, 2015, The cult of experience: standing out from the crowd in an era of austerityArea, DOI: 10.1111/area.12201.