Category Archives: Early View

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.

If only plants could talk

By Hannah Pitt, University of the West of England

What am I being shown? Image Credit: Hannah Pitt

What am I being shown? Image Credit: Hannah Pitt

Plant scientists at Virginia Tech recently reported their discovery of communication between a parasitic plant and its host. By exchanging genetic material the parasite seemed to be urging the host to lower defences to its invasion. The researchers described it as a form of dialogue between the two, with one communicating new information to the other. This revelation adds a further form of plant conversation to others previously recognised in which plants exchange messages in the form of chemicals or electrical signals.

These quite capable forms of floral communication come as a surprise to many because plants have long been seen as the least active or intelligent living beings. In a hierarchy with humans at the pinnacle, plants sit well beneath them and other animals. But human geographers are increasingly recognising that this portrayal is misguided. The more we know about what plants do, the harder it is to see them as unintelligent. And there is an ethical imperative pushing us to recognise plants’ abilities for the habit of regarding flora as passive and insentient has allowed humans to dominate and neglect it, with serious ecological repercussions.

This is a topic ripe for geographic investigation because plants are everywhere and make a significant difference to places. Human geographers have made interesting progress with research into human-plant interactions. In my contribution to Area I explore how they tackle this, and examine some of the ways social scientists like me learn what plants are doing. I invited gardeners to act as guides and encouraged them to show me what they do with plants. Their expertise taught me much about plants’ actions and capabilities because good gardeners have to understand how they grow. Techniques such as time-lapse photography helped to show plants growing and moving. By speeding up and zooming in on processes which are otherwise difficult to perceive it was possible to see plants as active and mobile.

These methods, guided by the intention of paying close attention to plants were helpful, and ensured that plants ‘showed up’ in the research. But, unlike the team at Virginia Tech I’m not very skilled in understanding what plants have to say. In the paper I conclude that the techniques I used were limited because plants speak a language social scientists don’t understand. To really research plants as independent active beings, human geographers will need to become skilled in communicating with them or look to experts such as botanists to act as interpreters. Because plants can talk, we just need to know how to listen.

About the author: Dr Hannah Pitt is a Research Associate within the Department of Health and Social Science at the University of the West of England. Hannah is currently working on research projects which evaluate programmes related to food, public health and sustainability. 

 Pitt, H. (2014), On showing and being shown plants – a guide to methods for more-than-human geography. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12145

60-world2 Maynard, G. (2014) Prince Charles was right all along: Plants really can talk to each other Express

Ethnic entrepreneurs in Seoul, South Korea: Who are they? And why are they important?

By Minkyung Koh and Ed Malecki, Ohio State University

For the past decade, Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, has witnessed the emergence of two groups of ethnic entrepreneurs: Nigerians and Pakistanis. Even though South Korea has experienced a rapid increase of immigrants from all over the world, their emergence is an unexpected phenomenon because most immigrants to the country are labor workers or spouses from less-developed countries, or elite foreigners from developed countries. Who are these entrepreneurs, why are they in Seoul, and what does their emergence mean for Seoul and other Asian cities?

Ethnic business in Itaewon, Seoul (photo by Minkyung Koh)

Ethnic business in Itaewon, Seoul (photo by Minkyung Koh)

Ethnic entrepreneurship studies have developed mostly in Europe and America which has relatively long history of immigration. In this literature, Ethnic entrepreneurs have been depicted as separated from the host country and depending on the coethnic community.  However, our case study (Koh and Malecki 2014) finds that ethnic entrepreneurship not only relies on their coethnic community but also can be not separated from the Korean host society. Pakistani entrepreneurs in Seoul, who mainly do import-oriented business from Pakistan, are similar to the traditional ethnic entrepreneurs who are largely independent of the host society. To purchase Pakistani goods, they transact with mostly Pakistani entrepreneurs throughout Korea and resell goods to the Pakistani community. In contrast, Nigerian entrepreneurs concentrate on exporting Korean goods to Nigeria so they are deeply connected to Nigerians as well as Koreans.

In a globalising era, why are these ethnic entrepreneurs important? How can we explain their transnational trading activities? As traders, their transnational activities cross borders and contribute to visibility in urban landscapes and the flows between home and host countries. Ethnic entrepreneurs in Seoul are spontaneous actors of contemporary globalisation. Their trade connections are an instance of ‘globalisation from below’, which represents the processes of global activities by voluntary actors (Mathews et al. 2012). The emergence of ethnic entrepreneurs in Seoul shows that immigrants are not passive agents who follow global economic or political power.

Is this globalization from below possible to only Pakistanis and Nigerians? We carefully answer ‘no’. Transnational trading activities in Seoul are also expanding beyond the Nigerians and Pakistanis. Other ethnic entrepreneurs such as Mongolians and Uzbekistanis run their businesses in Seoul, too. The rapid growth of ethnic communities and entrepreneurs demonstrates that Seoul facilitates – and is constructed by – the globalization from below by immigrants. The fact that the Korean government has released a set of measures to promote foreign entrepreneurs (Gov’t luring foreign entrepreneurs) reflects this new phenomenon. And it seems that this measure may contribute to the continuous growth of ethnic entrepreneurs.  The relationship between ethnic entrepreneurs (or immigrants) and cities has received little attention in urban studies. Research on world cities focuses mainly on economic and technological functions (GaWC 2014). Our article would be a first step to probe the relationship between migrants and cities.

Even though our article probes the globalisation from below by ethnic entrepreneurs in Seoul, we would like to expand its applicability. Already other cities such as Guangzhou in China or Hong Kong also have experienced African entrepreneurs (Mathews 2007; Mathews and Yang 2012). Asian cities have been considered to be accelerating a homogenizing globalisation mainly emulating Western global cities so that their actual localized globalisation has not been fully explored. In contrast to typical indices of global cities such as cross-border linkages initiated by transnational corporations and foreign direct investment, this globalisation from below by immigrants might be a footstep to understand grounded globalisation of Asian global cities.

About the authors: Minkyung Koh is a PhD student in the department of geography at the Ohio State University. Ed Malecki is a Professor of Geography at the same institution. 

60-world2 GaWC 2014 The world according to GaWC 2012 Accessed 11 May 2014

 Koh M and Malecki E J 2014 The emergence of ethnic entrepreneurs in Seoul, South Korea: globalisation from below The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geog.12111

 Mathews G 2007 Chungking Mansions: a center of “low-end globalization” Ethnology 46 169–83

 Mathews G, Ribeiro G L and Alba Vega C 2012 Globalization from below: the world’s other economy, Routledge, New York

 Mathews G and Yang Y 2012 How Africans pursue low-end globalization in Hong Kong and Mainland China Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 41 95–120

Beyond sub-disciplinary boundaries: geographers and the study of development

By Rory Horner, University of Manchester

The world economic, social and political map and consequent geographies of development are rapidly changing, as a result of such trends as the growing influence of rising powers and simultaneous forms of crisis in both global North and South.

Yet, among geographers, it can seem as if the study of development is often relatively separate to that of economic geography, which can be quite perplexing and challenging for postgraduate students and others keen to research at this interface.

In a recent paper in Area, I explore how this imbalance may be encountered and hopefully gradually overcome. Upon commencing my PhD research on India’s pharmaceutical industry, I initially focused on the economic characteristics of Indian pharmaceutical firms as emerging multinationals. However, I struggled to reconcile much of the conceptual work I was reading, initially in economic geography, with the empirical issues at hand.

Fieldwork beyond disciplinary boundaries

Particularly when conducting fieldwork in India and reading various India-published newspapers and journals (as well as some more development studies-oriented research), I was opened to a whole host of broader “development” debates around the industry – most notably around the public health issue of access to medicines. After my pilot fieldwork, I adapted my research to try to take a more inclusive focus:

Interviewing:

  • a wider range of small and medium-sized, as well as large, firms
  • civil society organisations as well as firms and policymakers
  • Asking a broader range of questions, going beyond firm-level concerns to a greater interest in access to medicines issues
Corporate Headquarters of Aurobino Pharma, Hyderabad Image Credit: Rory Horner

Corporate Headquarters of Aurobino Pharma, Hyderabad Image Credit: Rory Horner

A small-scale pharmaceutical company in Delhi (image credit: Rory Horner)

A small-scale pharmaceutical company in Delhi (image credit: Rory Horner)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Particularly for those at an early career stage who are perhaps less embedded in prior research divisions, fieldwork, and engagement with various stakeholders, can provide relative freedom from academic boundaries and be a crucial stage for challenging sub-disciplinary boundaries.

Richer geographies of development?

Ultimately, the scope of my PhD research shifted from understanding a growth industry, and its industrial reorganisation internationally, to research about global governance, specifically changing patent laws, the role of the state and development impacts. By playing a crucial role in the global access to medicines campaign and in contesting a Northern agenda on pharmaceutical patent laws. the Indian pharmaceutical industry has had global significance in a social as well as an economic context. Any analysis to separate the ‘economic’ aspects of the industry from the broader ‘development’ dimensions involving health would have been incomplete.

Writing up the research, making conference presentations and submitting to journals did provide somewhat of a re-encounter with disciplinary divides. Yet, some journals and senior scholars (and PhD supervisors) fortunately appeared interested in seeing early career researchers pursue research in new directions. I found new opportunities by drawing on economic geography literature to contribute to a development debate (around the impact of changes in patent law – and vice-versa (around integration into global production networks. In addition, India-focused social science publications, and a report for the interviewees involved in the research, provided opportunities to communicate my results relatively free of disciplinary boundaries.

The possibilities of any scholar being completely free of sub-disciplinary boundaries is doubtful, and some research may have greater resonance with one “side” (for me, with economic geography). Yet if we are to better understand major development debates that cross the economic, social and political, such as access to medicines issues in India as featured in a 2013 New York Times article, we need more integrated approaches. By engaging with the dynamics of extensive fieldwork and the integrated nature of social and economic development, a new generation of researchers can play a crucial role in breaking down the divides between the “economic” and “non-economic”, in geography and related fields, and ultimately produce richer geographies of development.

Recommendations for postgraduate students seeking to cross (sub-) disciplinary boundaries
  • Read beyond your (sub-)discipline and from multiple sources (e.g. academic, policy, media, international journals and local publications)
  • “Listen” to the data during fieldwork, following and even reconsidering the research question, relatively free of disciplinary boundaries
  • Inter-relate concepts, perspectives and literatures derived from global North and South, and different parts of each, to make new connections in journal publications
  • Write publications for stakeholders where the research was conducted, and other more “empirical” publications to communicate the work relatively free of disciplinary boundaries

books_icon Horner, R. (2014), Postgraduate encounters with sub-disciplinary divides: entering the economic/development geography trading zone. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12130

books_icon Horner R (2014) The Impact of Patents on Innovation, Technology Transfer and Health: A Pre- and Post-TRIPs Analysis of India’s Pharmaceutical Industry New Political Economy  19 384-406

books_icon Horner R (2013) Strategic decoupling, recoupling and global production networks: India’s pharmaceutical industry Journal of Economic Geography

60-world2 Harris G (2013) India’s efforts to aid poor worry drug makers The New York Times

About the Author: Dr Rory Horner is a lecturer in Globalisation at the University of Manchester.

 

 

 

Development Projects: Elite / Non-Elite Discourses

By Benjamin Sacks

Astana's futuristic city centre. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

Astana’s futuristic city centre. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

Civil projects constitute some of the most visible and symbolic actions of the state. Buildings, monuments, bridges, urban reorganisation, and dams, amongst nearly countless other programmes, can serve a wide array of functions: propaganda, potent displays of public resource allocation, political manipulation, civic pride, improvement of health, welfare, and education. Their development (usually) necessitates job growth, and their completion can do much to promote regional and national interests in the international community. Civil projects are also a near-universal behaviour. From Los Angeles’ expansion of its fledgling public transport system and the 2012 London Olympic Games, to Pyonyang’s infamous (and unfinished) Ryugyong Hotel, public projects can heavily influence local and global conceptions of national power, stability, priorities, and culture.

Who decides how a city – especially a national capital – is going to look? What image(s) of itself does the city want to project or obscure? Who gets a say, and who doesn’t? Natalie Koch (Syracuse University) tackled these questions in the most recent Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. In ‘Bordering on the modern: power, practice and exclusion in Astana’, Koch examined the remarkable creation and expansion of Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet capital, which creatively, is Kazakh for capital. Long-serving president Nursultan Nazarbayev’s flagship programme, Astana has come to at once symbolise Kazakhstan’s meteoric rise as a regional power and the country’s increased notoriety as a centre of cultural creativity and experimentation, as well as an enduring example of the problems of (even relatively benevolent) authoritarian rule.

Scholars have been fascinated by the ‘Astana phenomenon’ since construction began on top of the small Soviet-era city of Tselinograd in the mid-1990s. Most recently, Charles E Ziegler, Isabelle Facon, and Jean-Pierre Cabestan, writing in Asian Survey, identified Astana’s successful 2010 Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit as symbolically demonstrative of the city’s rising importance in Asian international affairs. But these specialists, by and large, have conceived of Astana in strictly ‘top-down’ terms, without examining how intricate sociopolitical negotiations between various factions continuously develop the city.

Koch’s approach is substantively different. In both ‘Bordering on the modern’ and a series of previous studies on Kazakhstan’s urban development, she has sought to recover the voices and desires of average Kazakhs, not just those who control the capital’s space age-looking skyscrapers and monuments (p. 433). To accomplish this goal, she identified and collected data from both elites and other urban actors to paint the most comprehensive image of Astana’s development culture we yet have.

Cities, by their very nature, are constructed of borders and bordering. These borders are not the traditional rigid, red-coloured lines we usually see in atlases, but rather active, discursive, processes of inclusion and exclusion, acceptance and ‘othering’. When particular (group)s press for change, redevelopment, expansion, or shifts, they are attempting to redefine who and what gets accepted or othered. When Nazarbayev’s engineers set out to erect a new capital for a newly-independent state, they didn’t entirely know what they wanted to achieve. They did know, however, what they wanted to ‘other': Astana would not be a Soviet city. Ironically, the elites who designed and funded the first, new wave of capital construction drew on Soviet-influenced models to establish a distinctly non-Soviet city:

[T]he Astana project draws on similar visions and has been an important site for enacting Nazarbayev’s vision of Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet modernity. And yet, these elites are heavily influences by a distinctly Soviet-era understanding of the ‘city’ – in terms of both its function and its symbolism (p. 434).

With that in mind, however, Kazakh elites also used this opportunity to raze thousands of poor Kazakhs’ samannyi, or mud-brick buildings that had been built on Tselinograd’s periphery. Both Soviet practices of architectural standardisation and low-income housing were deemed incompatable with Nazarbayev’s vision of a culturally representative, deliberately eclectic urban aesthetic. This development would suggest that elites have simply imposed a top-down reinvention of Kazakhstan’s capital, but the truth is more complex and interesting than that. Even as Kazakhstan deals with the many problems of capitalism without significant democratic liberalisation – a conundrum that promotes a rich, powerful oligarchy at the expense of relatively poor masses – many city spaces are being designed with the collective public in mind. Malls, in particular, serve as a popular social rendezvous, even for those without sufficient means to purchase many of the higher-end products sold in their stores. Architects are gradually accepting this social phenomenon, creating indoor/outdoor fixtures that promote social interaction.

Nevertheless, much of Astana’s middle- and poorer-classes increasingly resent the iinordinatecontrol of Astana’s elite over the city’s future political and cultural directions. Fault lines divide Astana between ‘northerners’ (traditional, ‘Russified’ urbanites), and ‘southerners’ (rural and recently urbanised Kazakhs), who wrangle for political and financial power, redistributing funds to their own, respective urban projects and political balances shift (p. 438).

books_icon

See special issue of Asian Survey 53.3 (May-Jun., 2013).

books_icon Koch N, ‘Bordering on the modern: power, practice and exclusion in Astana‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 39 432-43.

Frontiers as Dilemma

By Po-Yi Hung, National Taiwan University

Ancient Tea Forest, Image Credit: Po-Yi Hung

Ancient Tea Forest, Image Credit: Po-Yi Hung

From relative obscurity a few decades ago, tea from Yunnan, especially Pu’er, has become a fashionable, must-have variety in the tea shops of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. Surging demand for Pu’er — often advertised as wild tea even if it is from the plantations has made farmers here rich and encouraged entrepreneurs to carve out more plantations from jungle-covered hillsides…Tea from Pu’er was popular around the region in ancient times: historians describe “horse tea trails” that radiated from Pu’er, the main trading center for the tea, into northern and eastern China, Tibet and beyond…The recent surge in popularity is attributed to newly affluent, health-conscious Chinese who believe that Pu’er tea lowers cholesterol, cures hangovers, helps fortify teeth and trims away fat.”

Above is an excerpt from the article,  A Tea From the Jungle Enriches a Placid Village, by Thomas Fuller of The New York Times. It discloses a juxtaposition of both “ancientness” and “fashion” of Pu’er tea, a tea produced on China’s southwest frontier. This juxtaposition, in fact, conveys current dilemma regarding development on the frontier.

Frontier (bianjiang) carries the connotation of ‘backwardness’ (luohou) in China. On China’s frontier, including southwest China, this connotation of ‘backwardness’ applies not only to the physical frontier landscape, but also to the people, especially China’s ‘minority nationalities’ (shaoshu minzu). China’s southwest frontier, paradoxically, also denotes a place where pristine nature is well-preserved due to its lack of modern development. As a result, frontier landscape becomes the material form of ‘unpolluted’ nature, where the minority nationalities live harmoniously with their ‘primitive’ lifestyles without damaging their environment. The paradoxical meanings of landscape on China’s southwest frontier, being ‘backward’ as well as being ‘natural,’ have situated development on China’s southwest frontier in dilemma. On one hand, development seems imperative to counter the prevalent ‘backwardness’ in southwest China. On the other hand, development seems threatening in terms of its potential to destroy the landscape of pristine nature on the frontier. Primitive nature and modernized development become two incompatible desires coexisting on China’s southwest frontier.

In a paper published in Area, I use tea production on China’s southwest frontier as an example to demonstrate that dilemma is not an end result, but a mechanism to rearticulate the relationship among frontier, the state, and the market economy. Data are based on ethnographic research in the village of Mangjing. Mangjing is located in Jingmai Mountain (Jingmaishan), a renowned tea mountain in Yunnan, a province on China’s southwest frontier. Most of the villagers in Mangjing are one of the minority nationalities of China, Bulang (or Blang). Specifically, I discuss the state-led project in transforming the modern tea plantation to “restore” a landscape deemed as “ancient tea forest” (guchalin) or “ancient tea arboretum” (guchayuan). In Mangjing, the ancient tea forest was considered by the state as form of backward culture and lagging-behind economy. As a result, many ancient tea trees were clear-cut for planting either the “modern” terrace tea (taidi cha) or other crops. Nowadays, the growing market of ancient tree tea, in turn, has substantially created new economic, cultural, and political values of ancient tea forest. In consequence, the state, ironically, has launched a restoration project to bring back the missing ancient tea forest.

Looking into the tea story in Mangjing, I found that dilemmas on China’s southwest frontier have been forged by the Chinese state with its incompatible desires between “modernization” and “primitiveness” of the tea landscapes in Yunnan. Meanwhile, the incompatible desires and the resulting dilemmas on China’s southwest frontier have further mobilized the state to flexibly rework its power to reconstruct the frontier to meet contingent market demand. Based on the shifting meanings of tea landscapes, the state has flexibly “shuttled through” the dilemmas between development of modernization and preservation of primitiveness on the frontier.

About the author: Po-Yi Hung is an Assistant Professor in Geography at the National Taiwan University. 

 Hung, P.-Y. (2014), Frontiers as dilemma: the incompatible desires for tea production in southwest China. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12120

60-world2 Fuller, T. (2008) A Tea From the Jungle Enriches a Placid Village. New York Times. Last accessed 9 September 2014

How to educate about sustainable cities?

By Yvonne Rydin, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London

Image credit: UCL Media Services - University College London.

Image credit: UCL Media Services – University College London.

It is the time of year for A-level and GCSE results to be announced. Geography students at both levels will have learnt about sustainable cities and case studies will have featured prominently in their studies. The BBC Bitesize website, for example, provides a profile of Masdar City in Abu Dhabi as an exemplar of how cities can be developed to have a lower carbon footprint, zero waste generation, prioritise pedestrian movement in the city centre, and so on.

The idea is clear – there are concrete examples of ‘best practice’ that students can learn about. As educational programme moves into the graduate and postgraduate levels, this learning is increasingly linked to potential professional practice – learning about best practice in order to implement more of it in the real world.

But in our article in Area, we raise some fundamental questions about this approach. We see an important tension between, on the one hand, the desire to teach skills and knowledge that is mobile and able to travel and, on the other, the realisation that implementing sustainability can only occur in specific sites and will inevitably be shaped by local features. Higher education institutions have a strong commercial and perhaps ideological imperative to emphasise the global transferability of their knowledge; we draw associations here with the policy mobilities literature that analyses the way that policy ideas circulate around the world.

But pedagogy should recognise that local implementation will always involve the re-use of knowledge in new contexts, not its simple transfer. Do universities currently stress this enough, problematising rather than recycling the idea of best practice? We also raise the question of whether students are sufficiently involved in the overt co-production of sustainable city knowledge by reflecting on how it is reframed in new contexts. Should they perhaps confront the results of research ‘back home’ or on fieldtrips more directly with the learning in the classroom, querying where principles-based learning does not work actually in practice?

Finally we urge the prioritisation of education over the marketing of qualifications although we recognise that the harsh financial realities facing many universities makes this seem somewhat idealistic. But if sustainable cities are to become a reality, perhaps one should be allowed to dream.

About the authors: Yvonne Rydin is a Professor of Planning, Environment and Public Policy at the The Bartlett School of Planning, University College London. Yvonne co-authored her Area paper with Dr Susan Moore, who is a lecturer at the Bartlett School of Planning, and Brian Garcia who is a PhD candidate at the same institution. 

 Moore, S., Rydin, Y. and Garcia, B. (2014), Sustainable city education: the pedagogical challenge of mobile knowledge and situated learning. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12127

60-world2 BBC Bitesize Case Study: Masdar City in Abu Dhabi