Engineering Meaningful Encounters Across Difference

By Ashley Crowson, king’s College London

Since the attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris last month and the killings in Denmark last week in which a Jihadist gunman targeted those attending Copenhagen’s main synagogue, interfaith and inter-community relations have inevitably been in the spotlight.

With much of the media often keen to portray the relationship between Muslim and Jewish communities as one of out-and-out hostility centred on an irresolvable religious conflict, heartening acts of inter-community solidarity can often be overlooked. In response to the shootings in Denmark, for instance, a group of young Norwegian Muslims organised a ‘ring of peace’ around Oslo’s main synagogue. More than 1,000 people attended, linking hands to offer symbolic protection and friendship to their Jewish neighbours.

A paper by Lucy Mayblin, Gill Valentine and Johan Andersson in The Geographical Journal takes a look at similar forms of ‘meaningful contact’: “contact which breaks down prejudices and translates beyond the moment to produce a more general respect for others.” The authors argue that banal chance encounters with ‘difference’ in the public spaces of Western society have come to be regarded as an “unremarkable feature of everyday life”. They question, however, whether these “fleeting, unintended encounters” really work to bring about mutual respect and understanding.

Turning their focus away from the fact of encounter and, instead, towards the nature of contact, the authors investigate an interfaith cricket programme in a UK city, designed to bring about purposeful and meaningful contact between Jewish and Muslim young people. They found that, at the outset, many of the young participants held negative, stereotypical views of the ‘other’ group. One Muslim participant, for example, said that the only thing he knew about Jewish people was ‘that they are stingy’. Many Jewish participants thought that the Muslims would not be interested in listening to different perspectives because of a narrow focus on their own faith.

In the environment of ‘meaningful contact’ bonds formed around shared interests:

“[I]t was through sharing common interests in sports, video games, TV and films, that they often made connections. These non-religious interests, then, formed the basis for friendships… when they were ‘hanging out’ at The Project… they spoke of those things in their life which bonded them as young men.”

While the authors judged the scheme to be a moderate success, one area of weakness identified was the reluctance to address the intersection of religious and ethnic identities with class. Understandably, the organisers’ nervousness around this topic stemmed from an association of the issue with anti-Semitic stereotypes about the wealth of Jewish communities.

Discussing socio-economic issues, two young Jewish participants told interviewers, “we live on opposite sides of [the city] and so I don’t know if any of them [the Muslim participants] are going on to university” and “we’ve had quite different upbringings”. When asked if they had ever been to the part of the City where the Muslim participants live, both replied that they hadn’t.

It was these “geographical and social differences in the material circumstances of the young people” that, according to the authors, “hinder the ability of young people to influence wider community social relations, limit the sustainability and scale-ability of such connections.” Friendships made did not endure beyond the project and the authors found little evidence of the benefits of the programme’s meaningful encounters being transferred to the communities.

The paper highlights the benefits of and need for ‘meaningful encounters’ with ‘difference’, and also the need for those engineering such encounters to be mindful of intersectional approaches, taking into account the racialized, gendered, generational, religious and class dynamics of the ‘difference’ in question.

 Lucy Mayblin, Gill Valentine and Johan Andersson, 2015, In the contact zone: engineering meaningful encounters across difference through an interfaith projectThe Geographical Journal, doi: 10.1111/geoj.12128.

Space and Violence in the American Jail

By Karen M. Morin, Bucknell University, USA

One of the greatest misconceptions about prisons and jails today is that the violence that occurs within their walls originates solely in the individual; that criminals are locked up because they are bad or unfortunate people, driven to crime and trouble from some indelible social or psychological cause, and that their criminal nature will follow them wherever they go, including inside the prison.

Photo credit: JoshuaDavisPhotograpy CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo credit: JoshuaDavisPhotograpy CC BY-SA 2.0

Actually though, prison violence is most often a product of the carceral system, not an explanation for its need. Many methods of prison control – both physical structures and their related penal philosophies – have the perverse effect of increasing levels of fear, terror, and ultimately violence in prisons. The increasingly typical institutional response over the past several decades in the U.S. is to isolate, lock down, or crowd prisoners, which simply creates further stress, frustration, and fear. Many politicians and court officials, particularly those who advocate a “tough on crime” stance, often camouflage these kinds of institutional factors and seek instead to simply extend the prison sentences of offenders who commit crimes while incarcerated – and this in the name of keeping our streets and communities safer.

I work with a local nonprofit prisoner rights group that receives hundreds of letters each month from inmates experiencing intensive “crackdowns,” which led me to understand how ineffective they are at stemming prison violence and how urgent the need is to consider alternatives. Ultimately my curiosity took me inside one large U.S. county jail in Omaha, Nebraska, to study violence and safety within an alternative, ‘progressive’ jail design called direct supervision. This design features, among other things, open architecture and a philosophy of free movement of inmates and staff that proponents argue creates safe, stress-free environments for both inmates and staff. Approximately 350 of the 3,300 local jails in the U.S. incorporate design features and principles of direct supervision today.

As geographers we know that space and spatial design can impact social relations and practices in myriad ways, for better and for worse. Different kinds of spaces can enable and/or inhibit different kinds of experiences and interactions. Prisons in particular are fundamentally reliant on spatial tactics to confine and control people and their movements. My study of direct supervision (see my article in The Geographical Journal) showed just how complex and multi-layered the space and design question can be. Among other findings, most of the men in the study reported never feeling in danger at the facility, and approximately one-third related unit design and layout to these feelings. Yet of those, 17% felt this as a positive impact (feeling protected and safe) but 13% as a negative – that the open architecture actually increased their sense of vulnerability. Most significantly, 70% reported that the availability of open, interactive spaces allowed ample opportunities for them to share information and life experiences, and talk of their basic rights with one another.

Ultimately this design turn towards construction of direct supervision jails is a more civil, humane direction in corrections. But this should not seduce us into believing, as Swan argued, that we can ‘build our way out of the prison problem’.

About the author: Karen M. Morin is Professor of Geography and Associate Dean of Faculty at Bucknell University, Pennsylvania, USA. She is co-editor of Historical Geographies of Prisons: Unlocking the Usable Carceral Past (with Dominique Moran), due out in June 2015 (Routledge).

books_icon Morin, K.M. (2015) The Late-Modern American Jail: Epistemologies of Space and Violence. The Geographical Journal.

60-world2 Swan, R. (2013) Punishment by Design: The Power of Architecture Over the Human Mind. San Francisco Weekly, 21 August.

Measuring sustainability across scales

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

Sustainability, meeting present demands without degrading environments in such a way that we jeopardise their ability to meet the needs of future generations, has been a topic of interest for a great many years as the world’s environments are converted and degraded like never before. Here, I briefly discuss an article in Area, on quantifying global sustainability, alongside a recent sustainability assessment of the world’s fifty ‘most prominent cities’.

The recently-published ARCADIS Sustainable Cities Index has attracted much attention in global and national media outlets (e.g. National Geographic, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Gulf Times, and the Australian and US media). In the list of fifty, European cities performed well (the top three being Frankfurt, London, and Copenhagen; Manchester and Birmingham were in the top 20), with the relatively new metropolises of Asia-Pacific (not including Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore, which did rather well), the Middle-East and Central and South America lagging far behind. The USA’s cities generally fell in the middle of the list. This index combined three sub-indices of ‘sustainability’: social (‘people’), environmental (‘planet’), and economic (‘profit’). Cities’ positions sometimes changed quite a lot between these sub-indices.

Alexandra Park, London Borough of Haringey. Source: unedited from flickr; author: Ewan Munro. Click on the photograph to see the original.

Alexandra Park, London Borough of Haringey. Source: unedited from flickr (original). Author credit: Ewan Munro.

Elsewhere, in Area, Phillips (2015) recently described a “quantitative approach to … global ecological sustainability”, identifying the importance of population density at this national scale. The ten least ‘ecologically sustainable’ countries in this study had very high population densities (these are: the UK, Italy, Belgium, Trinidad & Tobago, Japan, India, Lebanon, Israel, Netherlands, and Singapore). Of these ten that are considered as ‘economically developed’ countries, the combination of high population density, high standard of living, and high GDP are thought to have caused negative environmental impacts that affect people in the present and will affect people into the future. The ‘economically developing’ countries in the list are highlighted as being so because of socio-economic (India) and environmental (Trinidad & Tobago) reasons, and a combination of environment and political instability (Lebanon and Israel).

We therefore see some cross-scale spatial mismatches between these independent studies, whereby countries with purportedly sustainable cities (top 20) have been ranked amongst the least sustainable countries (e.g. UK [London, Manchester, Birmingham], Belgium [Brussels], Netherlands [Amsterdam, Rotterdam], and Singapore). This highlights the importance of spatial scale in sustainability science, and translating this through to planning and management. Indeed, very different approaches will be required between city authorities and national governments to ensure sustainability.

Both of the focal publications in this blog post strive to advance our understanding of ‘sustainability’ by quantifying this concept and its many components, from environmental and ecological, to social and economic. Both studies are global in scope, but the approach, data, and scales of analysis differ, with one focussing on fifty cities and the other on countries. The results, in combination, demonstrate the complexities of sustainability science, especially those regarding geographic scale. They show that quantifying and understanding sustainability across all spatial scales (towns > cities > landscapes > regions > countries > globally) is vital for future planning, targeting of resources, and understanding what we need to do not only for the people of today, but also for the people of the near and distant future.

– – – – –

REFERENCES

books_icon Phillips, J. (2015). A quantitative approach to determine and evaluate the indicated level and nature of global ecological sustainability. Area, Early View. DOI: 10.1111/area.12174.

60-world2 ARCADIS (2015). Sustainability Cities Index. Available at: http://www.sustainablecitiesindex.com/.

Captive Bodies: Migrant kidnapping and deportation in Mexico

By Jeremy Slack, University of Texas, El Paso

The massacre of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico in 2014, and before that the massacre of 72 migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, have drawn attention to the tragedy of disappearances, mass murder and state/criminal collusion. Over the last eight years more than 22,000 disappearances have been registered in Mexico.  While theories abound, the question of what has been happening to these people and why remains unanswered. This tragedy quickly faded from international, and even national, debates about the cost of the war on drugs.

NGOs and activists dedicated to migrant’s rights, the freedom of information and uncovering stories behind this recent violence continue to press the issue. However, academics have had little to say on this topic. Why are migrants being kidnapped en masse? Is this purely about ransom, or are there other reasons to kidnap relatively poor individuals? My article, recently published in Area, uses data taken from interviews and surveys about deportees’ experiences of being kidnapped or held against their will. It takes seriously how people live through the policies and practices of a militarized U.S. Mexico border, and can help answer these questions.

Juanito*, a 21 year old from northern Mexico provides us with a little seen window into this horror. Agents from Grupos Beta, a migrant aid organization from the Mexican government, abducted him. As a deportee, they offered him a meal and half price bus ticket to his home, but in reality, they had other plans. They put a bag over his head and drove him and about 40 other people through the night. He was held for five months and subjected to torture, including sexual assault and electrocution. His family paid a $5,000 USD ransom but he was not released. No one was. Instead, they put him and the others to work, “cloning marijuana or packing it”. He explained that he was able to survive by being submissive. Those who got angry and fought back didn’t last.

Grupos Beta agents provide transportation for deportees in Nogales, Sonora. Photo Credit: Murphy Woodhouse

Grupos Beta agents provide transportation for deportees in Nogales, Sonora. Photo Credit: Murphy Woodhouse

Juanito’s case is an extreme one. However, surveys with 82 deportees who had been kidnapped reveal more questions than answers. Of these 82 surveys, 13 reported being let go and another ten escaped. Others were never asked for ransom. Some paid and were not let go. Only about half of them were freed after paying ransom. What does this tell us about the utility in taking control of people’s bodies? Moreover, why migrants? For Juanito it is the fact that they are out of place, dislocated from their homes, networks and support. He explained that if they were to do this to local residents, there would be a revolt.

It cannot be ignored that the practices and policies of the U.S. government place people in these situations. Deportation practices such as the lateral movement of people from one region of the border to another directly violate issues of non—refoulment, the provision that you cannot return people to a country when there is a threat of torture. Deportees are being actively funneled into the region best known for migrant massacres. Juanito was lucky to escape with his life. When asked what should be done in light of his horrific ordeal, he responded, ““More than anything, I want the [US] government to understand that it’s not necessary to be dropping people off, deporting them to all these places. It’s possible to find a city, where it’s safe” –  so that others will not suffer the same fate.

* Juanito is a pseudonym used to safeguard his identity.

About the author: Jeremy Slack obtained his PhD from the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona and is currently a Visiting Assistant professor in the Sociology and Anthropology Department at the University of Texas, El Paso. Jeremy’s doctoral research explored the intersection of drug fuelled violence and undocumented migration on the U.S Mexico Border. He is also one of the Principal Investigators for a major project funded by the Ford Foundation to produce generalizable data about deportee’s experiences crossing the border. 

60-world2 Archibald R C 2010 Victims of massacre in Mexico said to be migrants New York Times 

60-world2 Lakhini N 2015 Students who survived Mexico’s night of bloody horror accuse army and police The Guardian 

60-world2 Servín F C 2014 Crítica, la situación de México por las desapariciones forzadas: ONU La Journada (in Spanish)

books_icon Slack, J. (2015), Captive bodies: migrant kidnapping and deportation in Mexico. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12151

Who lives, who dies, who cares?

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

Advances in healthcare technologies and pharmaceutical breakthroughs politicise and manipulate our lives.  An article in The Guardian last week describes how French doctors are challenging the patent of a new and highly expensive drug for hepatitis C in an attempt to bring down the price (the drug, Sofosbuvir, made by the pharmaceutical multinational Gilead Sciences, costs $1,000 (£650) a pill for a 10-week course).  It is a cure for the viral infection that can lead to liver cirrhosis, cancer and death.  The struggle against health inequality persists, with large numbers of people lacking access to healthcare.

A new biopolitical regime judges an individual’s ‘worth’ through their economic productivity

A new biopolitical regime judges an individual’s ‘worth’ through their economic productivity. Image credit: Elvert Xavier Barnes Photography via Wikimedia Commons.

Writing in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Emma Whyte Laurie’s article entitled, “Who lives, who dies, who cares? Valuing life through the disability-adjusted life year measurement” provides a critique of the disability-adjusted life year (DALY) measurement. The World Health Organization defines a DALY as one lost year of “healthy” life. It is a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.  Emma Whyte Laurie argues that DALYs have ‘become normative because many health policy makers and their funding partners use the DALY as their only measure of disease impact in programmatic analysis’ (King and Bertino 2008, 2). DALYs have supported the emergence of an epoch in global health governance whereby resource allocation is justified on the premise of ‘cost-effectiveness’, ‘value for money’ and ‘good return for investment,’ and this is compounded with the global financial climate which has negatively impacted the available budget for health interventions.

DALYs are established on the conceptualisation of individuals as exclusively economic beings, but individuals may fail to live up to the economically productive ‘ideal.’  DALYs may be partly responsible for the devaluation of the lives of certain individuals, by asserting the values of individualism in relation to wider economic gain where, individuals lose humanness when they become poor, and also unproductive.  Emma Whyte Laurie states that the problem may be less associated with DALYs as a measurement in itself, but rather with the faith that has been placed in them by mainstream institutions.

The question of who benefits from health interventions is heavily value-laden. Priority-setting is essentially a political and social process (rather than a scientific one), involving deliberation and public accountability. Through the exact numbers provided by the DALY measurement, important questions of ethics and politics are omitted, potentially hindering important and difficult discussions of setting priorities in the health sector.

Emma Whyte Laurie considers the question posed by Farmer: ‘[if health is a human right, who is considered human enough to have that right?’ (2005, 206). According to Agamben (1998), throughout history, the humanity of living man has been judged by each society, which has decided whose lives have value. Today, these judgements are increasingly based on economic productivity or the pursuit of capital accumulation where certain (wealthier) lives are considered more valuable than others. DALYs reflect this, capturing the ‘disease burden’ through economic loss, but also addressing Farmer’s question as to who is valuable, or who is human enough, to be afforded the right to health.

References

books_icon   Agamben G. (1998). Homo sacer: sovereign power and bare life. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA

60-world2   Boseley S. (2015). Doctors challenge hepatitis C drug patent in price protest. The Guardian, 10 February

books_icon   Farmer P. (2005). Pathologies of power: health, human rights and the new war on the poor. University of California Press, Berkeley CA

books_icon   King C. H. and Bertino A-M. (2008). Asymmetries of poverty: why global burden of disease valuations underestimate the burden of neglected tropical diseases. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 2 e209

books_icon   Laurie E.W. (2015). Who lives, who dies, who cares? Valuing life through the disability-adjusted life year measurement. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40:1 pp. 75–87.

60-world2   World Health Organization (WHO). Metrics: Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY).

Man’s best friend?

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

In an article recently published in Area, Remus Creţan’s (2015) study of dog culling in Romania provides a splendid example of a practical application of animal geography to a situation that will be familiar to academics and non-academics alike.

An aggressive dog Source: Wikimedia Commons

An aggressive dog
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Creţan (2015) takes a more-than-human approach – that is, considering the ways in which humans and animals interact and  co-habit in particular spaces – to the relatively recent debate surrounding the culling of stray dogs in Romania in 2013. In September that year, a 4-year old child was mauled to death in Bucharest by a stray dog. The ensuing government proposal for a dog culling policy was met with vigorous protest from both the public and animal rights activists, on ethical grounds. Stray dogs were abundant on the streets of Bucharest, and overcrowding led to poor conditions in dog shelters, so it became necessary for some form of action to be taken. Following considerable debate, the puppy dog eyes of anti-culling protesters prevailed; euthanasia of stray dogs is, for the moment, banned in Bucharest.

Dogs are valuable military team members Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dogs are valuable military team members
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Human-dog relationships span across the spectrum, from pampered pets and trusted work colleagues, to pesky pests and feared beasts. A lot of work in animal geography is based around the notion that humans create imaginative and physical spatial categories in which animals are deemed ‘in place’. Any resistance against these spatial placings, or transgression from them, and animals are considered ‘out of place’. This is when they may become ‘pests’, threats to human order.This explains, for example, why your beloved family pet or the endangered giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo are loved and treasured, whilst animals such as urban foxes or feral pigeons can provoke World War 3.

The issue of stray dogs, thus, becomes inherently geographical; dogs in western society belong in the home, and those that live on the street, therefore, become a risk to human society. There is also a moral argument underpinning this problem; do humans have the right to cull animals? Animals are, after all, sentient beings, making the line between euthanasia and murder increasingly blurred. The culling of animals has been against EU legislation on animal welfare since the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997. However, there have been occasions in the not so distant past when the British government has had to consider the culling of various animals; the foot and mouth crisis in 2001, for example, or the more recent debates about badgers.

The Dangerous Dogs Act was enacted by the British government in 1991, and outlines certain particularly troublesome breeds that it is illegal to breed or sell. Whilst dangerous dogs are not as prevalent in this country as they are in Romania, there are still more cases of dogs mauling humans than there should be. The difference in Britain is, however, that most of these are caused by pet dogs, often uncharacteristically, but also, sadly, sometimes by dogs that have been mistreated and misled by their owners. This raises a further ethical question that must be considered when the lives of dogs are being as freely tossed about and fought over as their chew toys. Whilst many look to blame dogs, should we not, in fact, be penalising the people who lead them astray? Surely aggression is something a dog learns, not a trait it is born with? Far from foe, dogs are, after all, ‘man’s best friend’.

The author's own pampered pet pooches, Mitch (left) and Monty (right)

The author’s own pampered pet pooches, Mitch (left) and Monty (right)

books_iconCreţan, R. (2015). “Mapping protests against dog culling in post-communist Romania”, Area, doi: 10.1111/area.12155.

60-world2Clej P 2013 Bucharest dog cull plan divides Romanians  BBC

60-world2Wensley S 2013 Viewpoints: What can be don about dangerous dogs? BBC

 

Fox News ‘no-go zones’ and British Muslim negotiations of urban citizenship

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

Over the past month, the geography of Europe’s Muslim population has been greatly exciting the pundits invited to talk on the conservative Fox News channel. Furore was sparked when ‘terrorism expert’ Steven Emerson, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, told host ‘Judge Jeanine’ about the ‘hundreds’ of ‘no-go zones’ across Europe, in which non-Muslims are supposedly not welcome.

Emerson stated, “In Britain, it’s not just no-go zones, there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go… In parts of London, there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to religious Muslim attire.”

UKIP’s Nigel Farage even turned up to tell Sean Hannity about the ‘blind eye’ that has supposedly been turned towards the ‘Muslim ghettos’ where ‘the police and all the normal agents of the law have withdrawn’ and where ‘Sharia law has come in’.

These segments were widely mocked across social media and the station eventually issued an apology, stating that there was “no credible information to support the assertion”.

Despite the apology and the ridicule, this idea of ‘no-go zones’ has been seized by the far-right. Nationalist group Britain First has, according to The Independent, restarted its ‘Christian patrols’ in parts of east London, with the stated aim to make “our streets safe for our people”.

Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, has also jumped upon the ‘no-go zones’ theme, telling a neocon think tank that, in the West, there are areas in which “non-assimilationist Muslims establish enclaves and carry out as much of Sharia law as they can.”

An article by Deborah Phillips in January’s edition of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is critical of these kinds of popular and political representations of Muslim neighbourhoods, which typically portray Muslim communities as made up of “dubious citizens and unassimilable others”.

The paper seeks to “complicate understandings of British Muslim citizenship” by underscoring the “salience of the neighbourhood as a performative space implicated in citizenship formation and the sedimentation of feelings of belonging.” Philips’ work involved conducting interviews and focus groups with Muslims and newly arrived economic migrants from Eastern Europe in the UK city of Bradford.

Like the right-wing pundits, freedom of movement was foremost among the Muslim participants’ concerns; the freedom to travel into ‘white areas’ was widely perceived to be constrained, with many women stating that they feel uncomfortable about moving outside community spaces because of fear of hostility and violence. Female participants described the commercialised city centre as ‘not for the likes of us’, and ‘sort of out of bounds’.

The apparent ease with which their new Eastern European neighbours traversed the city, as seemingly ‘unmarked’ White Christian bodies, was identified as a source of tension. Muslim participants suggested that this stood in contrast to their own lack of freedom to “cross the boundaries of public space without surveillance and ‘all that hassle’… or to enter white residential spaces without fear of harassment.”

One idea mooted by Phillips is that the desire to appropriate city space may be, at least in part, motivated by feelings of restriction. The sense of empowerment gained when moving through a ‘Muslim neighbourhood’ goes a little way towards compensating for immobilities elsewhere.

These debates, involving issues of citizenship, identity and appropriation of space, are inherently geographical and have so far been largely dominated by actors seeking to capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment. Phillips’ paper is a timely contribution that works to inject some desperately needed nuance into these debates that show few signs of dissipating.

 Deborah Phillips, 2015, Claiming spaces: British Muslim negotiations of urban citizenship in an era of new migrationTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40(1) 62-74.