Category Archives: Geography Compass

Humanitarian mappers’ response to the Nepal earthquake

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

In the days since the earthquake in Nepal, thousands of humanitarian mappers have sprung into action to fill in gaps in the map in the affected area” (Mapbox article, dated 27th April 2015, two days after the Nepal earthquake).

The earthquake that occurred in Nepal on the 25th April 2015 is the largest quake to affect the region since 1934 and one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent memory, killing thousands of people. Aftershocks present an ongoing threat, including one on the 12th May killing over 100 people. Accessing the affected communities requires explicit and accurate knowledge of the area’s infrastructure.

The world’s population continues to grow, making natural disasters increasingly devastating. However, technology develops in parallel. Emerging technology can and is helping with disaster management. More people than ever across the world now carry in their pockets a very powerful tool; a smartphone connected to the internet and equipped with an inbuilt GPS unit. This can be used to quickly and accurately record spatial information not only on a day-to-day basis but also after a natural disaster where possible. Additionally, and often more realistically amidst the destruction where the event has occurred, people nowhere near the disaster itself can contribute towards mapping efforts using satellite information, providing an invaluable resource for those on the ground.

A recent paper in Geography Compass (Haworth and Bruce, 2015) reviewed volunteered geographic information (VGI) for disaster management (prevention, preparation, response, and recovery). VGI technologies allow for near-instant sharing of relevant geographic information for disaster management and the resource implications for generating these data are minimal. This article also assesses the associated challenges of these data, including: “lack of data quality assurance and issues surrounding data management, liability, security, and the digital divide” (p. 237), the latter referring to the lack of technology in some areas so that people can benefit from and contribute to VGI projects (this is improving every day, however). The authors stress the importance of VGI in disaster prevention as well as response, but response is the main subject of this post herein.

There are many examples of VGI, and one of the big projects where such data are used is OpenStreetMap, which I focus on here. Founded in 2004, driven by limits on access to spatial data and the dominance of proprietary software, and in response to the increase in affordable GPS and satellite navigation units, “OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world” (Wikipedia). It uses data contributions from volunteers all over the world (Wiki – OSM Map Production). Such an open, editable geographic information system (GIS) based on crowdsourced data is an incredible resource. It has huge potential from making lives easier day-to-day, to saving lives in extreme circumstances like during and after a natural disaster.

This image shows the burst of mapping by humanitarian mappers after the quake struck on April 25th 2015. Source: article by Eric Fischer on Mapbox, dated 27/04/2015, last accessed 17/05/2015, available at: https://www.mapbox.com/blog/nepal-earthquake-animation/).

This image shows the burst of mapping by humanitarian mappers after the quake struck on April 25th 2015.
Source: article by Eric Fischer on Mapbox, dated 27/04/2015, last accessed 17/05/2015, available at: https://www.mapbox.com/blog/nepal-earthquake-animation/).

In the context of the 2015 Nepal earthquake, OSM has been invaluable, providing accurate and up-to-date maps that are used by aid organisations and local disaster response teams. Indeed, according to an article on Mapbox (by Eric Fischer, 27th of April), just two days after the quake struck, “more than 2000 mappers … recorded 13,199 new miles of roads and 110,681 new buildings” (see the image below from the Mapbox article). Naturally, these figures will have increased substantially since this article as mapping efforts continue. The OSM volunteers rapidly digitised satellite images after the earthquake, providing much-needed maps and data to humanitarian organisations (OSM Nepal Earthquake Wiki). The process is coordinated by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), who communicate with relevant organisations to focus mapping efforts. Anyone can use the resultant maps and associated routing services for free.

The use of VGI will only grow alongside technological development and, importantly, so too will accessibility to this technology through projects such as OpenStreetMap. There are known issues of data quality and so on, as discussed by Haworth and Bruce (2015), but ultimately this technology can only be a good thing. Hopefully it will mean that populations at risk of large-scale natural disasters, like those in Nepal most recently, will be able to be helped more quickly and effectively, thus mitigating the impact.

books_icon Haworth, B. and Bruce, E. (2015). A Review of Volunteered Geographic Information for Disaster Management. Geography Compass, 9 (5), 237–250

60-world2 Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Wiki available at: http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/2015_Nepal_earthquake (last accessed 17th May)

60-world2 Mapbox article and animation image available at: https://www.mapbox.com/blog/nepal-earthquake-animation/ (dated 27th April 2015, last accessed 17th May)

An Uncomfortable Encounter for David Cameron in the ‘Auditory Space’ of Radio 1

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London.

The UK election campaign has, so far, been a rather dull, stage-managed affair, with political leaders tending to opt for speeches to the party faithful and heavily choreographed photo opportunities over grillings from well informed, forthright and inquisitorial journalists.

In this context, it was incredibly exciting to hear David Cameron subjected to a ‘mauling’ at the hands of a panel of young people during a Q&A for BBC Radio 1’s ‘live lounge’.

In what was arguably the toughest media appearance the Prime Minister has faced during this campaign, Radio 1’s young audience quizzed Cameron on, among other subjects, his record on homelessness, his refusal to rule out a coalition with homophobic political parties, and whether he would like to see the introduction of a living wage.

The PM’s handling of these questions does not make for comfortable listening.

The public service remit of Radio 1 is to “engage a broad range of young listeners with a distinctive mix of contemporary music and speech” and to “reflect the lives and interests of 15-29 year olds”. In the March edition of Geography Compass, Catherine Wilkinson explores radio that fulfils a broadly similar role, arguing that it offers “crucial spaces of development for young people’s identities, and a space of creative learning outside of a more formal environment of school.” (p. 127)

Wilkinson’s focus is youth engagement with ‘community’ radio, i.e. radio with a public function serving geographic, ethnic, cultural or social communities. Reviewing literature dealing with community radio, Wilkinson contends that programming created both by and for young people in an urban context allows them to “listen to discussions by their peers about how they resist the social restraints erected for them by their families and the wider society. In this scenario, radio functions as an alternative space for those young urbanites who have limited public spaces to meet and share stories about their social and cultural interests” (p.131).

Such broadcasting creates “genuine potential for community radio stations to provide young people with a space for the exploration and exhibition of voice, and a space that has inclusionary potential.” As such, “community radio… is a means of agency for young people and of negotiating marginalisation, and… is affectively central to disenfranchised urban young people in attaining civic participation.” (p.135)

The Radio 1 Live Lounge encounter with David Cameron does appear to be an example of meaningful civic participation fostered by youth-centred radio. The panel of young people articulated a political vision attentive to LGBTQ rights, and the rights of migrants and society’s most vulnerable; priorities that have not always been so prominent in less youth-centric election coverage. This encounter, then, raises some interesting questions about the capacity of youth radio’s auditory space, in the absence of the availability of traditional public spaces for young people, to act as a catalyst in the formulation and projection of a distinctive ‘youth voice’.

More broadly, Wilkinson’s paper represents a small shift within geographical research from the visual to the aural. As Alasdair Pinkerton (2014) notes, “it is important to recall that prior to the development of textual communication, human experiences of space was largely conditioned through shared oral traditions.” (p.64)

 Catherine Wilkinson, 2015, Young People, Community Radio and Urban LifeGeography Compass, DOI: 10.1111/gec3.12197.

 Alasdair Pinkerton, 2014, ‘Radio‘ In: Paul Adams, Jim Craine and Jason Dittmer, eds. The Ashgate Research Companion to Media Geography. Ashgate, pp. 53-68.

Gridlock: GIS in transport planning

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

It is not hyperbole to state that we are witnessing a revolution in the human sciences … fuelled by a stunning advancement in capabilities to capture, store and process data, as well as communicate information and knowledge derived from these data” (Miller and Shaw, 2015; p. 180)

We have all been there, haven’t we? Powerlessly sitting in a vehicle amidst of a sea of pollutants. I am of course referring to the traffic jam. They are often the result of rapid urban expansion around city centres that were simply not designed with such volumes of traffic in mind. It is something that people the world over can relate to. Indeed, Statista (with TomTom data) recently released a graphic that identifies the world’s worst cities for gridlock (also see: IB Times, Forbes). Drivers on a thirty minute commute (with no traffic) in Istanbul, Mexico City, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Bucharest, and Recife (Brazil) could expect to spend more than 100 hours a year in gridlock; that’s over 4 days a year just sitting in a car stationary in traffic! The sheer volume of waste that traffic causes (fuel, money, time) has hugely negative effects on the environment, economy, and human wellbeing. Environmentally, of course, pollutants are also a significant problem, posing risks to both the natural world and human health.

‘GIS’, or ‘Geographic Information Systems’, is now ubiquitous in geographical research and beyond. It refers to an array of processing and analysis techniques that use spatial data and theory (see the QGIS introduction to GIS online). GIS can be used across an enormous range of research from natural disaster management and monitoring deforestation, to biodiversity science and geomorphology. This post considers GIS in transport planning.

Rgoogin at the English language Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons. Available at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:New_York_City_Gridlock.jpg

New York in Gridlock. Source: Rgoogin at the English language Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), from Wikimedia Commons. Available here.

Miller and Shaw (2015), writing in Geography Compass, recently discussed GIS-T (GIS for Transportation), providing an update update on their previous work from 2001. The quote at the top of this post says a great deal in itself and, while people referring to data volumes and computing power is so common it is bordering on a cliché, it really is true and we need intelligent systems to make both sense and use of it. The heart of GIS-T projects is identified as a georeferenced transportation database, probably using a spatial network in which locations, nodes (e.g. junctions), distances, and directions can all be represented in a model. With this spatial network in place, mobile objects (e.g. people, vehicles, freight) can then be incorporated and modelled. Terrain (e.g. if somewhere is very steep) and human-imposed features (e.g. congestion zones, toll roads) can also be considered where they may affect traffic flow and peoples’ decisions.

We are now comfortably into the 21st century, and new technologies can help provide information for GIS-T models. Most notably, GPS technology is widely available in most vehicles and on most individual people (via a phone or tablet). Such mobile tech means that “it is now feasible to collect large amounts of data from a wide range of mobile sensors in real-time or near-real-time at high spatial and temporal granularity” (Miller and Shaw, 2015; p. 185). A better understanding of how people move should help with urban planning, in terms of both policy making and infrastructure design, by allowing scenarios of certain decisions (e.g. creation of a congestion zone where people have to pay to drive into the city centre) to be incorporated into the GIS-T models.

GIS is a fantastic geographical analysis and problem-solving tool that needs to be fully harnessed and applied to a range of problems (from traffic management to conservation planning) if we are to cope in our increasingly busy and complicated world. As we have seen here, GIS-T has enormous potential in urban planning, utilising quantities of fine-scale data that we have never had at our disposal before. Hopefully this will be able to make for more efficient and sustainable cities, towards improved environments, economies, and human wellbeing.

 

books_icon Miller, H. J. and Shaw, S. (2015). Geographic Information Systems for Transportation in the 21st Century. Geography Compass, 9 (4), 180 – 189.

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