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.

The Quest for No Man’s Land

By Noam Lesham, Durham University, UK, and Alasdair Pinkerton, Royal Holloway University of London, UK. 

A migrant camp on the Slovenia-Croatia border, September 2015. Photographer: Elliot Graves, FOXEP

A migrant camp on the Slovenia-Croatia border, September 2015. Photographer: Elliot Graves, FOXEP

Recent news reports of new ‘no man’s lands’ emerging across Europe conjure an image of migrants trapped in places that are considered to be somehow “in between”. Typically that means in between hastily erected border fences, such as those that have suddenly appeared on the Hungarian borders with Croatia, Serbia and Austria, or at reinstated border posts between Schengen-area countries.

This re-emergence of ‘no-man’s land’ in the popular vocabulary is just its latest incarnation. In Western cultural memory, ‘no-man’s land’ traditionally invokes the killing fields of the First World War. Disseminated and popularised through journalistic accounts from the Western Front, the no-man’s land became known as the ultimate locus of physical and corporeal destruction. However, in the latter half of the 20th century, no man’s lands have been associated with anywhere from “ungovernable territories” and the spatio-legal limbos of the ‘war on terror’, to plighted deindustrialised urban boroughs in North America.

This growing proliferation prompted us to ask the seemingly simple question that lies at the heart of our paper published by Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers: What is no-man’s land? The answers to this question seem intuitively obvious, yet bewilderingly broad.

At its core, our article sets out to rethink the significance of no man’s lands to the political and social challenges of the present. Revisiting over 1000 of the term’s history, we focus attention on the realities of life for individuals and communities who live, work in or travel through these space. Rather than empty sites or “dead zones”, we argue that no man’s lands are living spaces. While the withdrawal of traditional forms of power often results in material dilapidation and heightened vulnerability of populations, we find that no man’s lands often become sites of political activity and cultural creativity.

We recently completed a 6,000 mile journey in search of no-man’s lands past and present. This took us from the mediaeval Nomansland in Herefordshire, through the French villages decimated in WWI, the route of the Iron Curtain and the Cypriot Buffer Zone. We were hoping to reach Bir Tawil on the Egypt-Sudan border, the last unclaimed territory on earth, but this never transpired.

As we were crossing Europe, the Schengen Agreement was coming under immense pressure with old borders reinstated almost overnight. It was then that the media use of no man’s land began proliferating. However, the new no-man’s lands of Europe may be opening up along the lines of national borders, but also in spaces hundreds of miles from Europe’s ‘edges’. Pedestrian underpasses, train platforms, and even train carriages can and have become, however briefly, sites of restriction, enclosure and abandonment.

Second, these no-man’s lands are highly dynamic – they migrate, they move, they materialise and de-materialise with startling rapidity in response to shifting political decisions (perhaps especially so when there are differential political decisions across borders), police activity or the presence of NGOs and international humanitarian activity.

Rethinking no-man’s lands in the 21st century is a key challenge that will require a more rigorous engagement from historians, geographers and political scientists. At the same time, and as we are reminded daily, this is also task with concrete policy implications, one with immense social and political stakes.

About the authors: Noam Lesham is a lecturer in the Department of Geography at Durham University and Alasdair Pinkerton is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more about the Into no man’s land expedition, co-led by Noam and Alasdair, at  .

60-world2 Aronson G 2015 Egypt threatened by ‘ungoverned space’ on Libyan border AL-Monitor

60-world2 BBC 2015 Migrant crisis: Trapped in no-man’s land at the Croatia/Serbia border

books_icon Leshem, N. and Pinkerton, A. (2015), Re-inhabiting no-man’s land: genealogies, political life and critical agendas. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12102

60-world2 Raven B 2014 No man’s land: Unwanted land piles up in Jackson County  M Live Media Group

60-world2 Iyengar R 2015 Hungary reopens Budapest train station to stranded refugees after two days Time 

Geographies of youth work, volunteering and employment #YWW15

By Sarah Mills, Loughborough University

Today marks the start of ‘National Youth Work Week’ (2nd – 8th November 2015). This annual event is a celebration of youth work and its achievements, but is also a time to reflect on some of the challenges across the youth work landscape. Paul Miller, interim Chief Executive of the National Youth Agency, stated at the event’s launch that:

“Youth Work Week is a time when people from every part of the sector can come together to celebrate and promote what youth workers do and the transformative contribution they are making to young people’s lives.” (NYA, 2015)

This was the case at the Jewish Lads’ Brigade & Club in Manchester in the 1950s and 1960s, the focus of my recent article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. As part of a wider national post-war reconstruction effort for the organisation as a whole, one group in Manchester took a radical step of employing a professionally trained youth worker – Stanley Rowe (Figure 1). During his employment, Rowe completely revived and rejuvenated the Club and it became a crucially important space in the lives of hundreds of young people living in the city (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Stanley Rowe at the Jewish Lads’ Brigade & Club, Manchester With kind permission from the University of Southampton

Figure 1: Stanley Rowe at the Jewish Lads’ Brigade & Club, Manchester. With kind permission from the University of Southampton

Figure 2: Young people at the Jewish Lads’ Brigade & Club, Manchester With kind permission from the University of Southampton

Figure 2: Young people at the Jewish Lads’ Brigade & Club, Manchester. With kind permission from the University of Southampton

Rowe’s background in youth and community work inspired a new emphasis at the Club on young people’s ‘voice’ and they established their own Club Committee. Indeed, young people’s voice is a theme still very much on the political agenda, as both the theme for this year’s National Youth Work Week and the 2015 UN International Youth Day in relation to ‘youth civic engagement’.

In the article, I use the historical example of the JLB & C to make a series of wider arguments about youth work, volunteering and employment more broadly. Both Rowe and his voluntary base encouraged young people to volunteer in their local communities, both as a route to employment but also as a response to faith-based duty (although it is interesting to note that Rowe himself was non-Jewish). More importantly however, the paper considers some of the opportunities and tensions that arise between volunteers and employees when they work alongside one another, under the same remit here of providing a service to young people.

The current landscape of organised activities for young people outside of formal education in the UK is composed of diverse schemes funded and delivered by the state, voluntary organisations, charities, religious institutions, neighbourhoods, families or a combination thereof. Most of these spaces and schemes are sustained through a mix of paid and unpaid labour, with a complex relationship between volunteering and employment. Indeed, this dynamic has become increasingly politicised in the UK, for example in the provision of libraries and other public services. This paper emphasises some of the emotional challenges of volunteering and employment and the sheer volume of work involved in sustaining these types of spaces through holding them together in place.

Overall, this article explores the spatialities of informal education, drawing connections between the historical record and contemporary youth work practice.

About the Author:

Sarah Mills is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Loughborough University.


books_icon Mills, S. (2015) Geographies of youth work, volunteering and employment: the Jewish Lads’ Brigade and Club in post-war Manchester, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40 (4): 523-535

60-world2 National Youth Agency (2015) ‘NYA launches Youth Work Week 2015’ Available at:

60-world2 UN (2015) ‘2015 International Youth Day: Youth Civic Engagement’ Available at: