‘Cabin Pressure’: Making Atmospheres?

Weiqiang Lin, University of Toronto

2014 was a year of reputational setback for aviation in Southeast Asia, seeing no less than three high-profile fatal crashes attributed to the region. In view of these events, commentators have been swift to question the ability of Southeast Asia’s airlines to safely sustain the kind of breakneck growth that they have been pursuing for years. In an industry where confidence can quickly dissipate, it would seem that the mood has soured for a market once thought to be a bright spot in aviation.

This is not a place to defend or impugn Southeast Asia’s aviation credentials. But suffice to say, public sentiments have turned their back on an (entire) region’s industry, now subtly coded with Orientalist undertones of incompetency, corner-cutting tendencies and technological ineptitude. An improved image needs to be tangibly sculpted by regional airlines to render their business trustworthy and viable again. In fact, this work has already begun with Malaysia Airlines, which has lately attempted to enshroud itself with an (abruptly different) atmosphere of resilience and conviviality.

Such image-boosting tactics are not new, and have in fact been enacted with great sophistry since the advent of aviation. This is exemplified by my recent contribution to Transactions, in which I examine the stresses—or ‘cabin pressures’—of providing the ‘correct’ atmospheres to instil confidence and a favourable impression among passengers by another Southeast Asian airline—Singapore Airlines (SIA). In attending to the ambiences SIA and its flight attendants sought to produce onboard its aircraft in its early years, I invite scholars and the public to be more circumspective of the kinds of pre-fabricated experiences and spaces that service providers often have us immerse in and buy into. More critically, I leave some food for thought concerning how the notion of ‘Orientalism’ can as much be harnessed as a resource and selling point by companies (if at the expense of some service workers), as it is denigrated by its detractors.

Making atmospheres. Image credit: the author

Making atmospheres. Image credit: the author

Such calculated use of mood-shifting atmospheres to persuade, entice and incite enthusiasm can actually be found in a whole gamut of other, non-aviation contexts, displays and social movements. Like their counterpart in the air, these spaces, too, should not be taken for granted as dwelling places where events simply take place. Rather, they should be exposed for the coded messages, emotional influences and political/commercial aims already inscribed into the ambiences they exude. Neglecting these subtleties in atmospheric design not only risks relegating daily encounters of the affective to the realm of the emergent and organic. Worse still, it can also allow the methods that corporations, governments and organisers use to move us all—including for a quick turnaround (justifiably or not)—to escape accountability.

About the author: Dr Weiqiang Lin is a postdoctoral researcher in geography at the University of Toronto, under National University of Singapore sponsorship. Weiqiang joined the University of Toronto after obtaining his PhD from the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research is primarily focused on aviation, mobilities and infrastructures.

books_icon Lin, W. (2015), ‘Cabin pressure’: designing affective atmospheres in airline travel. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12079

60-world2 Kurlantzick, J. (2014). Why Air Disasters Keep Happening in Southeast Asia Bloomberg Businessweek

Poaching of South Africa’s rhinos and the displacement of people from Limpopo National Park, Mozambique

By Joseph J. Bailey (@josephjbailey), University of Nottingham, UK.

Across the globe, nature faces an enormous array of pressures from human activities (e.g. land clearance, pollution, invasive species). These effects are often a by-product of development where societies are negatively affecting a species or ecosystem because of anthropocentric goals, within which consideration of the natural world is frequently deficient. However, some species face direct threats and are being specifically targeted for a product. Ivory is one of the prime examples of such a threat. Here, I outline the illegal ivory trade1 and go on to specifically discuss rhinos following record poaching levels in 2014 in South Africa. I then briefly consider this alongside a recent article in Area on the eviction of people from Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park, which borders Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Poaching of elephants and rhinos for ivory has been described as a “loss to humanity” by Prince William (details), who has done much to raise the profile of this catastrophe. It is an issue that threatens not only the animals themselves, but also many people, with profits frequently linked to terrorism, for example. Rhino and elephant populations are at the centre of an illegal trade driven by international criminal gangs to supply willing buyers who fuel the demand for ivory (e.g. to be ‘cool’, for decorative items, medicine etc). Much ivory has been seized in recent years (e.g. China, Kenya [going to Indonesia], Togo [going to Vietnam]) and famous faces (e.g. Yao Ming, a famous retired basketball player from China) continue to campaign, but the problems persist.

Specifically, South African rhinos have been featured in the popular press recently following the worst year on record for rhino poaching, “despite what the government describes as intense efforts to stop poaching” (Voice of America). Kruger National Park’s (KNP) rhino population accounted for more than two-thirds of these deaths (BBC).

Rhinoceros_RSA

Attribution: By Wegmann (own work) [ CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) ], via Wikimedia Commons. Available at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rhinoceros_rsa.JPG?uselang=en-gb

A recent article in Area (Lunstrum, 2015) discusses the Mozambique government’s ongoing (since 2003) voluntary2 relocation of ~7,000 people from within the Limpopo National Park (LNP), described by Lunstrum as “one of the region’s most protracted contemporary conservation-related evictions”. As Lunstrum outlines, this process of ‘land and green grabs’ is an extraordinarily complicated issue, affected by processes within and beyond LNP’s borders, not least the establishment of transfrontier conservation areas (e.g. GLTP). Other socio-economic factors and competition for space are also discussed in detail (e.g. a ‘grab’ for an ethanol/sugarcane plantation adjacent to LNP, which was originally set aside for the displaced people).

Poaching accounts for a very small, but not insignificant, part of this article3. Along with threats to cattle and human well-being from wild animals, and disease spread (e.g. bovine tuberculosis and foot and mouth disease), a justification for displacing the residents of LNP is that many of Kruger’s rhino poachers emanate from Mozambique and, specifically, villages within LNP; removing people from LNP increases the distance required to travel to get to Kruger NP’s rhinos.

The displacement of people for conservation goals, in a move away from anthropocentric policy, is obviously a contentious issue and a delicate balancing act between culture and nature is required. However, Africa’s rhino population is suffering immensely and any steps towards preventing their demise should surely be taken.

NOTES

1 The illegal wildlife trade in elephant and rhino ivory and many other wildlife products is a deep and complicated issue that I cannot possible summarise in this post; an overview can be read here.

2While the park administration and its funders have promised all relocations are voluntary, many slated for relocation feel they are being forced to move especially given threats increasingly posed by wildlife. …” In Lunstrum (2015, p. 3).

3 I have related a very specific part of this long and complex article to the recent news story regarding rhino poaching and reading it in full is recommended if one wishes to understand the displacement process, and its consequences and opportunities, in full.

– – – – –

books_icon Lunstrum, E. (2015). Green grabs, land grabs and the spatiality of displacement: eviction from Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park. Area, early view, doi: 10.1111/area.12121.

Finding Geography’s place?

By Neil Roberts, Plymouth University and Tim Hall, University of Winchester

Despite UK geography’s high international research standing and continued success in attracting students, it is becoming less easy to identify geography and geographers within its universities.  A principal reason for the reduced disciplinary visibility is that only around half of all geographers are now located in traditional Departments. As we show in a current paper in Area, the proportion of single-discipline Geography departments in the UK declined from 55% to 37% between 1995 and 2010, largely at the expense of multidisciplinary “Schools”.

The naming of departments and what processes of change these new titles reflect are a concern way beyond geography. Eric Jaffe recently wrote about the case of Psychology departments in the US in the Association for Psychological Science’s Observer magazine. In many cases these departmental name changes were an attempt to address Psychology’s image problem or to more clearly convey the nature of the discipline and the work of faculty. However, Julie Winkler, the President of the Association of American Geographers, in her regular AAG Newsletter column reflected on concerns that changes in department names can also weaken disciplinary identity.

While this trend has affected many disciplines, it is having particular consequences for Geography because the discipline straddles the divide between the social and natural sciences.  As a result, Geography is now paired up administratively with sharply contrasting subjects in different universities in the UK. Pairings are most common with environmental and earth sciences, but sociology, archaeology and politics are also frequent subject partners.  A similar divide applies to higher-level administration, with Geography split between Science and Social Science faculties (figure 1). These changes create new opportunities for cross-disciplinary dialogue, but they also risk cutting off some human geographers from fellow social scientists, and isolating some physical geographers from their natural science bedfellows.

Word cloud analysis of faculties within which geography units are located in the UK

Figure 1: Word cloud analysis of faculties within which geography units are located in the UK

The weakening of Geography’s administrative autonomy has doubtless made it easier for University senior managers to re-allocate geographers between REF sub-panels, or to re-brand environmental scientists as geographers for undergraduate teaching programmes (or vice-versa).   On the other hand, thus far there have been only limited moves in the UK towards splitting the discipline in two, as is the case in Sweden and the Netherlands where human and physical geographers are found in separate departments, a fragmentation trend that is currently affecting in several Australian Universities.  None the less, any weakening of disciplinary identity and loyalty will only make it harder to defend Geography’s integrity as a discipline in the UK in the coming years.

About the authors: Neil Roberts is Professor of Physical Geography at Plymouth University and Tim Hall is Professor of Interdisciplinary Social Studies/Head of Applied Social Studies at the University of Winchester. Neil and Tim’s Area paper was co-authored with Phillip Toms, Charlotte Parker (both University of Gloucestershire) and Mark McGuinness (Bath Spa University).

books_icon Hall, T., Toms, P., McGuinness, M., Parker, C. and Roberts, N. (2015), Where’s the Geography department? The changing administrative place of Geography in UK higher education. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12154

 Jaffe J  2011 Identity Shift Observer, Association for Psychological Science

 Winkler J 2014 ‘What’s in a Name? The Renaming and Rebranding of Geography Departments’ AAG News

 

 

CSR, Mining, and Culturally Articulated Neoliberalisation

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

According to this month’s Ethical Corporation report, the drop in commodity prices will put pressure on extractives companies to cut back in all areas, including Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  Sadler (2004: 852) describes CSR as “the notion that companies should accompany the pursuit of profit with good citizenship.”  Society’s increased demand for CSR in the mining industry is considered inevitable due to the sector’s impacts on the environment and people (Kepore and Imbun, 2011).

Mine in New Caledonia. Image credit: Fourrure via Wikimedia Commons.

A paper by Leah Horowitz in the January 2015 issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, entitled, “Culturally articulated neoliberalisation: corporate social responsibility and the capture of indigenous legitimacy in New Caledonia,” develops our understanding of CSR as roll-out neoliberalism.  It considers CSR as elements of a capitalist system actively working to create its own social regularization in order to secure a geographically specific socio-politico-economic context that supports (or at least, does not prevent) capitalist development.  CSR can thus re-legitimise market-led development and counter resistance.  Horowitz argues that processes of neoliberalisation must articulate with specific politico-economic conditions and also with cultural ideologies and local hegemonic relationships.

Horowitz’s ethnographic analysis of an indigenous protest group (Rhéébù Nùù, meaning ‘eye of the country’) that targeted a multinational mining project in New Caledonia describes how the company undercut and ultimately co-opted local resistance, through its ability to successfully capture culturally-based ideologies of customary and indigenous legitimacy.  Neoliberalisation’s articulations may therefore involve attempts to capture both formal and informal regulation or regulators, through direct benefits and indirectly by capturing culturally valued ideologies.  These ideologies then interact with culturally grounded hegemonic processes.

Horowitz goes on to explore different forms of hegemony, based in distinct cultural formations, and how they interact with each other as well as with counter-hegemonic forces. Through the company’s direct engagement with customary authorities, rather than exclusively with activists, it was able to delegitimise the activist opponents and reposition them as subordinates within their own culturally informed social hierarchy. Although some customary authorities were sympathetic to protestors’ aims, the privileged hegemonic status of customary authorities was re-instated, and the company re-legitimised itself.

Sources

60-world2 Ethical Corporation (2015) Commodity Prices Briefing: Building a CSR strategy during an era of low commodity prices.

60-world2 Sudip Kar-Gupta (2015). UK’s FTSE flops as fall in copper clobbers mining shares. Reuters UK. 14 January 2015

books_icon Kevin P. Kepore and Benedict Y. Imbun (2011). Mining and stakeholder engagement discourse in a Papua New Guinea mine. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management. 18(4) 220–233.

books_icon Leah S. Horowitz (2015). Culturally articulated neoliberalisation: Corporate social responsibility and the capture of indigenous legitimacy in New Caledonia. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 40(1) 88–101.

books_icon David Sadler (2004). Anti-corporate Campaigning and Corporate “Social” Responsibility: Towards Alternative Spaces of Citizenship? Antipode. 36(5) 851–870.

Cartography in Times of War & Peace

An c.1855 military map of the Crimean theatre, from Francis Herbert's personal collection. © 2015 The Author.

An c.1855 military map of the Crimean theatre, from Francis Herbert’s personal collection. © 2015 The Author.

By Benjamin Sacks

On 2-6 December 2014 an international group of leading scholars of historical geography – including a large Royal Geographical Society contingent – converged in Ghent, Belgium to mark the centenary of the First World War and cartography’s extraordinary role in it. Soetkin Vervust, a PhD candidate in the University of Ghent’s Department of Geography, successfully organised and directed this week-long summit critically examining armed conflict’s diverse impacts on cartography, surveying, geographical information collection and dissemination, spatial awareness, and culture.

Francis Herbert, the RGS’s retired research library director and Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries, exhibited well over one hundred maps, guidebooks and ephemera from his personal collection. The trove spanned from the Crimean War (1853-1856) to decolonisation, with an appropriate emphasis on the two world wars. As a whole, Herbert’s collections vividly demonstrated how globalisation and technological advances in communications and transport brought military mapping from the battlefield into the very heart of popular culture. The Herbert Collection is particularly interesting as the source of much of much of his extensive scholarship, including (amongst numerous examples) ‘The “London Atlas of University Geography” from John Arrowsmith to Edward Stanford’ (1989).

A number of presentations pursued this theme. James Akerman, director of the Newberry Library’s Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for Cartography, discussed the fascinating, and occasionally bizarre, proliferation of battlefield guidebooks circulated immediately following the First World War. While many volumes published between 1918 and the early 1920s were authored with due care, respect, and deference to the conflict’s nearly unimaginable horrors and extraordinary loss of life, some guides smacked of sensationalism and reductionism, pointing out the best restaurants and stage shows to enjoy following an afternoon jaunt to the still-fresh craters of Ypres. Ralph Ehrenberg, director of the Library of Congress’s Geography and Map Division, similarly recounted the War’s dynamic role in popularising military engineers and cartographers, pilots, and their maps in the rapidly-globalising United States. Ehrenberg’s work on cartography, cartographers, and aviation complements and extends Michael Heffernan’s 1996 Transactions article examining the RGS’s intelligence-gathering role(s) in the First World War, and provides a fascinating historical context to Alison Williams’ 2011 Transactions article on the ‘multiple spatialities of UK military airspace’.

Joel Radunzel, a veteran of the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a current graduate student of Mark Monmonier at Syracuse University, combined a technical expertise of military strategy with historical and contemporary cartography data to critically examine how and why British forces reacted in particularly ways before, during, and after the 3rd Battle of Gaza (1-2 November 1917). Radunzel shed important new light, unavailable from existing, non-geographical analyses, into the British military’s decision-making processes, identifying the extents and limitations of their battlefield knowledge, and geographically-pinpointing where and when their intelligence of allied and enemy movements was correct, incorrect, and by how much.

Cartography in Times of War and Peace highlighted the maturation of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) as a vital tool of historical analysis. Sandra Domingues and the Centre for Geographical Studies at the University of Lisbon brought the work, travels, and lives of the First World War’s Portuguese military postal service to life with a remarkable fusion of traditional maps and ArcGIS-based visualisations. Photographs and letters were georeferenced to their precise location in the trenches. Likewise, Utrecht University Library showcased how GIS digitisation revealed the city’s many fortresses and their centuries of influence on urban development.

The University of Ghent Conference Centre, host of 'Cartography in Times of War and Peace'. © 2015 The Author.

The University of Ghent Conference Centre, host of ‘Cartography in Times of War and Peace’. © 2015 The Author.

Napoleonic Iberia was a hotbed of cartographic experimentation and development. Pilar Chias and Tomas Abad (University of Alcala) elucidated the little-known world of Spanish military cartographers who operated alongside the Duke of Wellington’s forces against the French emperor. Spanish field surveyors incorporated their intimate knowledge of local geographies to create beautiful, highly useable, and secretive three-dimensional maps. These works of art provided allied armies with a level of battlefield intelligence the French could never hope to obtain, and undoubtedly played an important role in Napoleon’s eventual defeat in Spain. Kelly Henderson (Adelaide, Australia) reminded the audience that one British engineering surveyor active in the Iberian campaign was William Light (1786-1839), the ‘genius’ behind Adelaide’s equitable grid plan. The Light model subsequently became an important method in designing and administering nineteenth century Victorian colonial cities as far afield as Mumbai (Bombay) and Hong Kong. Henderson’s deep biographical and cartographical research articulated the global acquisition, production, and reproduction of planning knowledge from Britain and Spain to Australia. Their respective studies remind geographers from all fields of the very personal nature of maps, mapping, and exploration.

Belgium has been an importance centre of geographical discourse and cartographic advancement since at least the sixteenth century. Participants visited the Mercator Museum in Sint-Niklaas, where Gerard Mercator’s groundbreaking aardglobe (1541) and hemelglobe (1551) are carefully preserved and displayed. Jan de Graeve’s extensive personal collection of surveying instruments, another conference ‘treat’, also stressed Belgium’s historical position as a crossroads for geographers and cartographers. His collections include a rare copy of Roland and Duchesne’s Atlas-Manuel de Géographie, in effect, a cartographic proclamation of King Leopold’s global imperial ambitions.

On Saturday, 6 December the Brussels Map Circle hosted a one-day annual meeting celebrating the Ghent conference and highlighting ongoing major research in cartographic/geographic scholarship. Imre Demhardt (University of Texas, Arlington), a chair of the International Cartographic Association, updated audiences on his ongoing investigation into the diverse origins of the United States Corps of Engineers, and their efforts to survey, map, and rework the vast American landscape.

Suggested Sources

60-world2 ‘Cartography in Times of War and Peace‘, The University of Ghent (archived).

books_icon Herbert, F, ‘The “London Atlas of Universal Geography” from John Arrowsmith to Edward Stanford: Origin, Development and Dissolution of a British World Atlas from the 1830s to the 1930s‘, Imago Mundi 41 (1989).

books_icon Heffernan, M, ‘Geography, Cartography and Military Intelligence: The Royal Geographical Society and the First World War‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 21.3 (1996): 504-33.

books_icon Williams, A, ‘Reconceptualising Spaces of the Air: Performing the Multiple Spatialities of UK Airspaces‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 36.2 (Apr., 2011): 253-67.

Woolly geographies

By Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Mann’s (2014) recent article in Area focuses on the curious phenomenon of ‘yarn-bombing’, explaining how its unusual nature renders it inherently geographical, unpicking the micro-politics at play.

Yarn-bombing – also known as ‘yarn storming’, ’knit graffiti’, and ‘guerrilla knitting’ – merges street graffiti with knitting or crochet; knitted items, large and small, are added to the urban landscape in order to decorate it. Examples include scarves for trees, decorations added to lamp posts, and animals knitted onto benches. Emerging in America in 2005, this practice is both a form of political activism and a simple act of whimsical fun.

A tree in Quay Street, Bristol Source: Wikimedia Commons

Yarn-bombing on a tree in Quay Street, Bristol
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Whimsy is important to geographic research, Mann argues, yet occupies an uneasy position within the discipline due to its ambiguous nature. It is a woolly topic; difficult to represent, illogical, and unpredictable, three things seldom at the top of any academic’s wish list. Theorisations of whimsy generally come under the developing body of work called ‘ludic geographies’, which consider the everydayness of play. Whimsy, however, Mann suggests, can be considered ‘more-than-playful’, since it is highly political; it disrupts the everyday, often unintentionally, and alters the ways in which we experience and engage with the urban landscape.

So how can knitting be a political statement? Mann gives three explanations; feminism, vandalism, and activism. Firstly, the practice of yarn-bombing brings knitting, a traditionally feminine activity, out of the home and into the masculinised urban spaces, giving them a ‘feminine’ touch. Secondly, as a form of vandalism, yarn-bombing provides a stark contrast to street graffiti. Finally, as a form of activism, it transforms and re-appropriates space in a gentle way, re-affirming the ways in which bodies can be re-formed and disciplined. In her own experiment in which she yarn-bombed Bristol, Mann explains that the ‘out-of-placeness’ of knitted items in urban spaces causes humour and surprise, as well as confusion and anger. It brings to the foreground aspects of the urban landscape that may have previously been overlooked or taken for granted as ‘ordinary’ and ‘mundane’. These interruptions to everyday life show how the world that we think we ‘know’ can be easily changed from its seemingly stable state into something unusually marvellous.

Although you may not have noticed any woollen additions to your own surroundings, yarn-bombing has become relatively widespread across the UK. Reports of localised ‘yarn-storms’ from all corners of the country were rife during the festive period. In Essex over Christmas a group of knitters brightened up commuters’ journeys by topping post boxes near railway stations in South Essex with festive crocheted scenes (BBC News online, 2014). In a similar example, church volunteers brightened up Methodist churches across a very rainy Tynemouth in December, attaching 2,500 brightly-coloured woolly angels to surrounding railings (Chronicle Live online, 2014). Both examples show how yarn-bombing can change people’s everyday experiences of urban spaces. The practice can also help bring together communities. For instance, knitters at a School in Melksham in Wiltshire decorated the tree in front of the Town Hall in order to bring the community together for Christmas (Wiltshire Times online, 2014), whilst residents in Bradley Stoke in Gloucestershire were encouraged to ‘adopt a lamp post’ and decorate them with knitted items for the festive period (Bradley Stoke Journal online, 2014). In a further example, a wool shop owner in Stockport used yarn-bombing this Christmas to raise money for a church food bank, hanging knitted decorations on trees overnight to be discovered the next day and taken in return for a donation to the food bank (Manchester Evening News, 2014).

A Tardis added to a tree in Oxford Source: Wikimedia Commons

A Tardis added to a tree in Oxford
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Yarn bombing in Bassingham Source: Wikimedia Commons

Yarn bombing in Bassingham
Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thus, as in Mann’s article, the political potential of such woollen whimsy becomes clear. The fact that knitted scarves on trees have become subject of academic debate in geography shows the diversity and ubiquity of the discipline, but also its relevance to everyday life. Needles-s to say, the phenomenon of yarn-bombing is one of the most peculiar examples!

books_icon

Mann, J. (2014). “Towards a politics of whimsy: yarn bombing the city”, Area, 2014, doi:10.1111/area.12164.

60-world2

http://knitthecity.com/

60-world2

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-30327928

60-world2

http://www.wiltshiretimes.co.uk/news/inyourtown/melkshamnews/ 11661930.Yarn_bombed_tree_knits_community_together/

60-world2

http://www.bradleystokejournal.co.uk/2014/12/12/yarn-bombers-call-residents-adopt-lamp-post-christmas/

60-world2

http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/yarn-bomb-sees-residents-tynemouth-wake-8341066

60-world2

http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/in-your-area/knitter-uses-yarn-bombing-raise-8342000

Radio Geopolitics

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

Last month saw the release of the final episode of the podcasting sensation that is ‘Serial’. The true crime podcast, a spin off from long-running radio show ‘This American Life’, has experienced record-breaking download numbers, spawned a number of fan podcasts, and encouraged feverish debate on a lively subreddit devoted to the show. The same month also saw the horrific massacre of 141 students and teachers in their school in Peshawar, Pakistan. The man responsible for ordering the attack has been named by the press as Taliban commander Umar Mansoor, known locally as ‘Mullah Radio’. He gained this nickname from his popular pirate radio broadcasts in Swat Valley that apparently earned him legions of followers and convinced many to join and fight for the Taliban.

radio

Image Via Wikimedia Commons

Radio, then, remains a medium with the capacity to entertain, engage and enthrall audiences with simple yet captivating storytelling techniques. It also remains a potent tool for the dissemination of ideologies, manipulation and indoctrination; it is a tool that has been used to this end on countless occasions, in the course of numerous conflicts, by both state and non-state actors.

An article by Patrick Weir in the December edition of Geography Compass seeks to review geographical approaches to the conceptualisation of radio’s role in geopolitics, an area of study that has often overlooked this medium, tending to focus instead on visual culture and visual representations.

Weir suggests that ideas of assemblage, which emphasise non-human objects, infrastructures and forces, as well as the linkages between the material and the discursive, “can provide a new frame of understanding for the geopolitics of radio”. Weir argues that just as no meaningful distinctions can be made between the material and the cultural components of, for instance, treaty negotiations, which, he suggests, consist of “a shifting landscape of technical, diplomatic and bureaucratic objects, regulations and directives, and vehicles, bodies and buildings”, no worthwhile separation of radio into its material and non-material constituent parts can take place.

As an example of the geopolitical agency of radio, Weir points to what he calls the ‘radio war’ that took place within the Algerian war of independence during the late 1950s. He cites Franz Fanon’s description of liberationist radio station The Voice of Fighting Algeria in A Dying Colonialism:

The French authorities… began to realize the importance of this progress of the people in the technique of news dissemination. After a few months of hesitancy legal measures appeared. The sale of radios was now prohibited, except on presentation of a voucher issued by the military security or police services… The highly trained French services… were quick to detect the wavelengths of the broadcasting stations. The programmes were then systematically jammed… The listener, enrolled in the battle of the waves, had to figure out the tactics of the enemy, and in an almost physical way circumvent the strategy of the adversary.

Weir cites this passage as, he claims, it ‘perfectly illustrates’ how radio’s assemblage “includes material components (batteries, transistors, aerials) interact with legalistic structures (taxes, vouchers) and ideological concepts (colonialism, sovereignty, peoples).”

As Martin Müller notes, engaging in this type of geopolitical analysis of organisations and institutions means “tracing the ways in which the non-human and the human become bound up with each other and constitute organizations as geopolitical actors”. With media and popular culture playing ever more important roles in the conduct and construction of geopolitics, the incorporation of notions of assemblage is likely to become something of a priority in geopolitical analysis.

 Patrick Weir, 2014, Radio GeopoliticsGeography Compass 8(12) 849-859.

 Martin Müller, 2012, Opening the black box of the organization: Socio-material practices of geopolitical orderingPolitical Geography 31(6) 379–388.

 Franz Fanon, 1967, A Dying Colonialism. Monthly Review Press: New York.