Category Archives: Geography Compass

Silence of the Lambs? Farm animal subjectivity in welfare research

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Lambs: a typical Spring scene Source: Wikimedia Commons

Lambs: a typical Spring scene
Source: Wikimedia Commons

It’s that time of year; fields are bursting with prancing lambs, cows graze on the lush Spring grass, and cute chicks are as abundant in incubators as they are on Easter cards. What better time than to remind ourselves of the ongoing debates surrounding farm animal welfare that proliferate scientific, political, and public realms, and – more importantly to the geographers amongst us – the relevance of geography to these debates.

Johnston’s (2013) article in Geography Compass identifies two areas of geography that contribute theoretically to animal welfare research. Firstly, the geography of science, part of the broader field of Science and Technology Studies (STS), views scientific knowledge production as spatially, culturally, and historically grounded. That’s to say, research in animal welfare is constituted by spatial, cultural, and historical factors. Secondly, animal geography views animals as active political agents, and engages with animal subjectivity, the spaces they live in, and their moral rights.

This consideration of subjective well-being is a relatively new addition to the previously physiologically-orientated assessment of farm animal welfare. Animal subjectivity is not directly measurable, although it may be indirectly measured through an animal’s cognitive capacities. Animal scientists believe cognitive capacity to be linked to animals’ ability to suffer emotionally and to be consciously aware of their experiences. Needless to say, farm animals are cleverer than we think, not quite to the extent that George Orwell portrays in Animal Farm, but they still have mental and emotional capacities far greater than is accredited to them.

A recent article on Dairy Herd Management’s website discusses the practicalities of implementing this idea of farm animal subjectivity. According to the article, there are three main measures for evaluating dairy cow welfare; ‘biological functioning’ (animal health and productivity), ‘affective state’ (emotions), and ‘natural living’ (ability to behave naturally). Farmers strive to optimise the biological function of their dairy cows, whilst trying to avoid compromising their subjective welfare. A further farming article, this time on Farming UK’s website, has illustrated the subjective welfare of free range chickens. Farmers with chickens emphasise the welfare benefits of letting them roam free outdoors. ‘Natural living’ – interacting with other chickens and their environment – farmers argue, allows chickens to live happier, more ethical lives.

Productivity v subjectivity: dairy farming is not without its moral issues Source: Wikimedia Commons

Productivity v subjectivity: dairy farming is not without its moral issues
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Further emphasising geography’s relevance, Johnston also identifies and investigates three ‘spaces’ of knowledge production in farm animal welfare research. The first is geopolitical ‘space’; animal welfare is often part of the public agenda and parliamentary reform, meaning that farm animals are enrolled in human political systems. All farm animals are political subjects; in true Animal Farm style, they actively shape farm infrastructure, research agendas, and policies. The second ‘space’ is the research environment itself. Making use of Actor Network Theory (ANT), geographers have suggested that the production of knowledge in farm animal welfare research is tied up in networks of people, animals, and institutions. The third and final ‘space’ of knowledge production is the most complex; animals’ spaces, or the ‘location’ of their subjective experience. These spaces are two fold; animals’ bodies (in their nervous system) and animals’ environments (the spaces that they inhabit). Thus, farm animal subjectivity is relational, produced through their interactions with their environments. The production of knowledge in animal welfare research is, therefore, complexly linked to politics, science, and the animals themselves.

So next time you see farm animals blissfully frolicking in a farmer’s fields, remember that all is not as it seems in this typical Spring scene. The animals may seem passive and content, but they are, in fact, active political subjects with cognitive capacities strong enough to feel emotional and physical suffering, and to be consciously aware of their experiences. Along with scientists and activists, farm animals themselves are fighting an inherently geographical battle to improve farm animal welfare.

Cute and cuddly (and politically active!) Source: Wikimedia Commons

Cute and cuddly (and politically active!)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

books_icon Johnston, C.L. (2013). “Geography, Science, and Subjectivity: Farm Animal Welfare in the United States and Europe”, Geography Compass, 7(2):139-148.

60-world2  http://www.dairyherd.com/news/successful-animal-welfare-planning-your-farm

60-world2  http://www.farminguk.com/News/Egg-producers-promote-a-million-reasons-to-choose-free-range-_30965.html

Geographies of Human Rights and Responsibility

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

As Hillary Clinton stated in the 1995 United Nation (UN) Fourth World Conference on Women, “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” Twenty years later, this message remains critical.  Commemorating International Women’s Day, on 8th March 2015, President Barack Obama stated, “in too many places, women are treated as second-class citizens. Their abilities are undervalued. And their human rights – the right to learn, to express themselves, to live free from violence, to choose whether and whom to marry – are routinely violated.”

Writing in Geography Compass (2015), Nicole Laliberté explores the contribution that Geography can make in the critical study of human rights. She describes the language of “human rights” as emerging from relative obscurity in the 1940s, to being incorporated into the humanitarian and development industries in the 1980s. Today, human rights is the contemporary common language of justice claims (Cmiel, 2004). In the article, entitled “Geographies of Human Rights: Mapping Responsibility,” Laliberté identifies a gap in the critical geographic scholarship on questions of responsibility, including the multiple and conflicting claims of responsibility tied to spatial variations in the understandings, experiences, and deployments of human rights.

Human rights has become the contemporary lingua franca of justice claims

Helsinki Pride 2013: Human rights has become the contemporary lingua franca of justice claims (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Early geographic engagements with theories of responsibility were challenged for emphasizing a “top–down” approach. This view perceived richer countries as being responsible for less affluent countries and individuals, rather than interrogating how the rich are implicated in unequal distribution of resources. Critical geographers have used geographic theories of place, space, and scale to demonstrate how responsibility is not restricted by proximity and can function as a means of tracing and shaping social relations between distant individuals.

Laliberité finds that critical geographic analysis, when applied to the politics of human rights and the relations of responsibility associated with them, can provide a means of mapping injustice, analyzing landscapes of power, and practicing emancipatory politics. A number of feminist scholars argue that human rights are a modern form of masculinist and imperialist mediation that maintains injustice. Laliberté, however, recognizes the potential value in using human rights in specific contexts to fight injustice. She challenges the assumption that promoting human rights equates to promoting social justice, and argues against a singular normative meaning of either human rights or social justice.

References

60-world2   Clinton, H.R. (2015). First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton Remarks for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. Beijing, China. September 5th, 1995.

books_icon   Cmiel, K. (2004). The recent history of human rights. The American Historical Review 109 (1), pp. 117–135. doi: 10.1086/ahr/ 109.1.117.

books_icon   Laliberté, N. (2015). Geographies of Human Rights: Mapping Responsibility. Geography Compass 9 (2) pp. 57-67. doi: 10.1111/gec3.12196.

60-world2  The White House (2015). Statement of President Barack Obama Commemorating International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2015.

Radio Geopolitics

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

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

radio

Image Via Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Fun gifts for boys’ and the geographies of ‘aww’, ‘umph’, ‘wow’ and ‘cool’

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

As manufacturers and retailers prepare to sell huge quantities of toys and gadgets in the run up to Christmas, at least one seven-year-old girl has protested this week at the marketing of such products according to gender.

Karen Cole tweeted a photo of her daughter, Maggie, next to a sign for Marvel Comics merchandise in a branch of Tesco that read ‘Fun gifts for boys’.

7-year-old Maggie not impressed with 'fun girts for boys' sign

Maggie, who is a big fan of Spider Man, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Doctor Who, spotted the sign and told her mother that Tesco was “being stupid” as “anybody can like superheroes”. The photo was retweeted more than ten thousand times, forcing an apology and the removal of the signs from all Tesco stores.

These superhero characters and toys are clearly important to lots of children like Maggie; it is this relationship, alongside the role played by popular culture characters and products in children’s lives, that John Horton seeks to examine in a recent edition of Geography Compass. The paper calls for “more direct, careful, sustained research on geographies of children, young people and popular culture.”

Horton outlines ‘classic’ works from cultural and media studies, which, he contends, have been “centrally concerned with meanings of popular culture designed for children and young people”. The likes of Barbie and GI Joe, Horton argues, have often been central to such discussions, with Barbie being widely critiqued as “a ‘condensed’ representation of normative ideals of ‘emphasised femininity’ and female body image”.

While Horton recognises the value and importance of this kind of work, he argues that “if one jumps to write about meanings of popular culture, it is all too easy to overlook how popular cultural texts, objects and phenomena matter in practice within people’s everyday geographies.”

Horton presents an analysis of ‘Toys ‘Я’ Us’ brochures old and new, but reflects that in attempting to write about their meanings and representations “I have suppressed (or at least distanced myself from) what I felt as I browsed the 1975 Toys ‘Я’ Us catalogue and other decades-old toy catalogues: feelings of ‘aww’, ‘umph’, ‘wow’, ‘cool’, ‘I remember that’, that are not easy to put into words.”

Geography, then, has an important role to play in addressing questions of both meaning and Mattering in this context. This involves examining the more-than-representational ways in which popular cultural texts, objects and phenomena are encountered and experienced by children in a diverse range of everyday spaces.

As Horton acknowledges, this raises important questions of how to conduct research attentive to both the political-representational concerns of the sort quite rightly raised by superhero-loving Maggie, and to the complex nonrepresentational materialities that constitute young people’s geographies – the ‘awws’, ‘wows’ and ‘cools’ evoked by the bodily practices of play, the meanings of which may not be sayable or may simply not exist.

 Girl, 7, gets Tesco to remove ‘stupid’ sign suggesting superheroes are ‘for boys’ The Independent, 25 November 2014

 John horton, 2014, For Geographies of Children, Young People and Popular CultureGeography Compass 726-738

Moving towards a living wage in the UK

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

4.9 million people in the UK earn less than the living wage (image credit: By George Hodan, via Wikimedia Commons)

On 18th October 2014, thousands of people took to the streets of London for a mass demonstration, arguing that “Britain Needs a Pay Rise” (BBC News, 2014). In their 2008 report for the Institute for Public Policy Research, Working out of Poverty, Lawton and Cooke found that, for the first time, more people in work are below the poverty line than those out of work. A report by The Resolution Foundation, Low Pay Britain 2014, states that as many as 1 in 5 workers or 5.2 million people earn less than than £7.70 an hour. Last year, the number of people in low-paid work (defined as less than two thirds of median hourly pay) rose by 250,000.

Wills and Linneker, writing in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers in 2014,  describe a living wage as one that reflects the local cost of living and the real cost of life. It is an instrument of pre-distribution, rather than using the state’s mechanisms to re-distribute wealth as a way of alleviating in-work poverty. Wilkinson and Pickett (2010) argue that Governments would be better advised to minimise the production of inequality to start with, rather than spending billions of pounds in welfare initiatives to ‘mop-up’ after the party.

Wills and Linneker write that in the UK, the living wage campaign has targeted both private and public sector employers, and the campaign is gaining pace. The Greater London Authority (GLA) has applied the living wage across its own supply chain to include the Metropolitan Police Authority, the London Fire Brigade and Transport for London. The Living Wage Foundation has been pivotal in deepening the impact and spreading the demand of the campaign through the participation of a wide coalition of champions, including Trust for London, Save the Children, Queen Mary, University of London, KPMG and Linklaters.  Flint et al. (2014), writing in the Journal of Public Health, find significant differences in psychological wellbeing between those who did, and didn’t, work for London Living Wage employers.  Recent figures show that the campaign has a long way to go.

Wills and Linneker argue that, “in the context of a Conservative-led coalition government, along with on-going economic malaise and a weak trade union movement, the demand for a living wage probably represents the best route to reducing the extent and impact of in-work poverty, and ultimately, the degree of inequality within the UK” (2014: 187-188).  By taking on a geographical perspective, the authors find that the living wage is a spatial intervention, which attempts to set a new moral minimum for wages across a labour market in a particular locality. They highlight how the impact of the living wage at one scale is very different to that experienced at other dimensions, and this shapes the arguments to be used in its defence. The living wage also raises important questions for geographers seeking to understand poverty and its potential solutions, as it can “put the scourge of economic injustice and inequality at the heart of political campaigning at all spatial scales” (2014: 192).

60-world2Low paid Britons now number five million, think tank concludes BBC News, September 27

60-world2A. Corlett and M. Whittaker 2014. Low Pay Britain 2014. The Resolution Foundation

books_iconE. Flint, S. Cummins and J. Wills 2012. Investigating the effect of the London living wage on the psychological wellbeing of low-wage service sector employees: a feasibility study. Journal of Public Health. 36 (2):187-193. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdt093

60-world2K. Lawton and G. Cooke 2008. Working Out of Poverty: A study of the low-paid and the ‘working poor.’ Institute for Public Policy Research.

books_icon

R. Wilkinson and K. Pickett K 2010. The spirit level: why equality is better for everyone Penguin, London

books_iconJ. Wills and B. Linneker 2014. In-work poverty and the living wage in the United Kingdom: a geographical perspective. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers39 (2): 182–194. doi: 10.1111/tran.12020. 

The Funny Side of Geography

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

Comedian Russell Brand. Via Wikimedia Commons

Comedian Russell Brand. Via Wikimedia Commons

If you have been anywhere near a television or radio this week it can hardly have escaped your attention that Russell Brand has a new book out. In place of the politicians, CEOs and commentators who are usually grilled in the studios of ‘Newsnight’ and the ‘Today’ programme, the stand-up comedian and actor has been quizzed about his plans for a global revolution based on spiritual enlightenment and radical economic restructuring. In roughly equal measure, Brand’s foray into politics has been dismissed as ‘pseudo-revolutionary blather’ and praised for engaging his mostly young and presumed apathetic fans.

In the United States another British comedian, satirist John Oliver, has been inundating print and broadcast media. He was recently featured on the front page of Rolling Stone magazine and his HBO show ‘Last Week Tonight’ continues to grow in popularity. The show, which is comprised mainly of comedy monologues on topical issues, has, in recent weeks, dealt with topics such as Special Immigrant Visas for translators, gay rights in Uganda, the US embargo against Cuba, and Argentinian debt restructuring. A number of surveys have pointed to the influence of this kind of satirical show; the Pew Research Centre found that during the 2000 US presidential campaign 21% of 18-29 year-olds cited comedy shows as a primary source of information about the election. A poll by the same organisation in 2007, placed Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s ‘The Daily Show’, fourth in a list of most trusted people in the media.

It is perhaps this prevalence of funny men and women in political and geopolitical discourse that is fuelling interest in geographical studies of humour. The most recent issue of Geography Compass features a review of such studies by Juha Ridanpää. The article illustrates:

[H]ow practices of popular media are geopolitically charged, how humor is intertwined with issues of social marginalization, how humor operates as an important element in the construction of group cohesion, how humor works as a non-cognitive element of human actions, feelings, and emotions, as well as how it represents a useful tool for educational and economic purposes, and how all of this has been studied by scholars of geography. (p. 701)

Ridanpää’s review suggests that the subfield of popular geopolitics is taking the lead in geography’s engagement with humour. Popular geopolitics, according to Dittmer (2010), ‘refers to the everyday geopolitical discourse that citizens are immersed in every day’ (p. 14). These ‘everyday discourses’ are important as ‘the general manners of perceiving political issues and their spatial nature are learned and assimilated through popular culture’ (Ridanpää, 2014, p. 702).

Ridanpää argues:

In many cases, humor makes complicated or sensitive issues easier to comprehend and digest. In popular culture, geopolitical questions are often intentionally forged in the form of a caricature, easily approachable stereotypes are used for the purposes of narrative-building, and complex issues become (overtly) simplified. (p. 702)

A skilled and witty satirist, then, such as John Oliver, adept at synthesising and caricaturing complex political and geopolitical issues, arguably holds a highly influential position in shaping the crucial ‘everyday geopolitical discourse’ that scholars of popular geopolitics are interested in.

Drawing on studies from geography education literature (Alderman and Popke, 2002; Hammett and Mather, 2011), Ridanpää argues that ‘by processing harsh social reality through laughter… the legitimacy of established ways of seeing the world can be questioned… [S]atire… can be used to raise consciousness about global forms of social inequality, politics of difference, and otherness.’ (p. 706) While the prospect of a Russell Brand headed global revolution hardly appears imminent, perhaps his phrase ‘The revolution cannot be boring’ will prove prophetic.

Although investigation into the geographical aspects of humour remain relatively limited, as Ridanpää suggests:

If we think how important a part humor plays in people’s everyday lives, for instance, how people form their conceptions of the modern world through media in which humor is constantly present, it is obvious that some need or even imperative for further study exists. (p. 707)

 ‘Russell Brand’s Revolution: panel verdict‘, The Guardian, 23 October 2014.

 Juha Ridanpää, 2014, Geographical Studies of HumorGeography Compass 8 701-709

 Jason Dittmer, 2010,  Popular culture, geopolitics, & identity. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

 Alderman, D. and Popke, E. J., 2002, Humor and film in the geography classroom: learning from Michael Moore’s TV Nation, Journal of Geography 101 228–239.

 Hammett, D. and Mather, C., 2011, Beyond decoding: political cartoons in the classroom, Journal of Geography in Higher Education 35 103–119.

Promoting Feminism, Opposing Inequality

By Jessica Hope, University of Manchester

Image credit: Jessica Hope

Image credit: Jessica Hope

Last week UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson launched the HeForShe campaign, a solidarity movement for gender equality that calls upon men to stand up against the inequalities and discrimination faced by women. This week is the 69th session of the Un General Assembly, held in New York between September 24th and 30th.  During this assembly, UN Women will help deliberate a post 2015 development framework, new sustainable development goals and an appraisal of the Beijing Declaration.

As debates about gender inequalities are once again hitting the headlines, with a view to implementing new policies and practice, critical analysis of current practice is vital.  In August this year, Lata Narayanaswamy published a review article in Geography Compass Journal titled ‘NGOs and Feminisms in Development: Interrogating the ‘Southern Women’s NGO’. In this article, Narayanaswamy advocates firstly for more nuanced understandings of the diversity Southern Women’s NGOs and their relationship to wider NGO networks and secondly, for recognition of the contested politics of gender and its entanglements with broader identity politics. The article unpacks  how Southern women are represented, categorised and treated by development discourse and shows that too often, ‘Southern Women’s NGO’ is used as a short hand for subaltern, grassroots, collective action – without recognition of the power dynamics and diversity within the category. Moreover, working with Southern Women’s NGOs is too often viewed as synonymous with working with the most marginalised – ignoring the multiplicity of voices that cannot be heard.

As gender inequalities are debated in global platforms, it is vital that geography contributes to these discussions and helps to illuminate the common assumptions and representations that underpin development practice and shape development impacts.

 Narayanaswamy, L (2014) NGOs and Feminisms in Development: Interrogating the ‘Southern Women’s NGO’ Geography Compass 8 (8), pp 576–589

60-world2 United Nations Women (2014) HeForShe