Category Archives: Geography Compass

‘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 

izabeladelabre

September 24, 2014

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

People’s Climate March, New York City March 2014 (image credit: South Bend Voice Flickr)

On the eve of the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September, the city saw an estimated 400,000 people take to the streets in the largest climate change march in history. Marchers gathered in cities across the world to call for ambitious action on climate change policy: 40,000 in London, and 30,000 in Melbourne. In Tanzania, the Maasai marched across their traditional lands to draw attention to the protection of their homelands in the Serengeti from climate change impacts.

These marches indicated the public’s frustration of political failure to reach, and implement, effective climate deals, and this anxiety is compounded by stark warnings from the academic community.  In Nature Geoscience, Friedlingstein et al. (2014) write that global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production have, on average, grown by 2.5% per year over the past decade. Two thirds of the CO2 emission quota consistent with a 2°C temperature limit has already been used, and it is predicted that the total quota will likely be exhausted 30 years from now, using 2014 emissions rates. Friedlingstein et al. find that carbon intensity improvements of emerging economies have been lower than anticipated, and warn that without more strict mitigation measures, these trends will continue.  Therefore, they stress, a break in current emission trends is urgently needed in the short term, to keep within the 2°C temperature limit.

The Global Carbon Budget 2014 found the top five CO2 emitters to be China, USA, EU, India and the Russian Federation. In a BBC article, Professor Corinne Le Quéré from the University of East Anglia stated that a significant proportion of China’s emissions were driven by demand from consumers in Europe and the USA: “In China, about 20% of their emissions are for producing clothes, furniture even solar panels that are shipped to Europe and America.”  Writing in Geography Compass in 2008, Kaplinsky stated that the distribution of income in China moved from being one of the world’s most equal to one of the world’s most unequal economies in a couple of decades. Kaplinsky argued that China and other Asian emerging economies must be included in discussions of global governance.  Six years later, during this week’s Climate Summit, China for first time pledged to take action on climate, with the aim for reducing its emissions of carbon per unit of GDP by 45% by 2020.

Given the impacts of globalization on climate, poverty, and inequality, and considering the scale of the impacts of climate change, the report New Climate Economy: Better Growth, Better Climate puts forward areas in which international co-operation has the potential to make a significant impact on the prospects for low-carbon and climate-resilient growth, as well as a ten-point action plan. The report states that national economic policies will need to be significantly revised in the next 15 years, when the global economy is expected to grow by more than half. On the day of the report’s release, President Obama tweeted, “This study concludes that no one has to choose between fighting climate change and growing the economy”.

Writing for The Guardian Sustainable Business, Professor Tim Jackson argues that the report is framed around the “dubious claim that we can have our cake and eat it,” and highlights how improving our prosperity might not be at all synonymous with growing the economy. Lord Stern, one of the authors of the New Climate Economy report states that in order to prevent runaway climate change, we need to develop broader measures of success, widen our vision of prosperity and return to core values, but it is critical that growth is included as an objective. The two defining challenges of this century are poverty and climate change, and “if we fail on one, we fail on the other.”

 

60-world2P. FriedlingsteinR. M. AndrewJ. RogeljG. P. PetersJ. G. CanadellR. KnuttiG. LudererM. R. RaupachM. SchaefferD. P. van Vuuren and C. Le Quéré 2014. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targetsNature Geoscience. Advance online publication doi:10.1038/ngeo2248 

books_iconR. Kaplinsky 2008. Globalisation, Inequality and Climate Change: What Difference Does China Make? Geography Compass 2(1): 67–78.

60-world2C. Le Quéré, R. Moriarty, R. M. Andrew, G. P. Peters, P. Ciais, P. Friedlingstein, S. D. Jones, S. Sitch, P. Tans et al. 2014. Global carbon budget 2014 Earth Systems Science Data. Discussion Paper, 7: 521-610.

60-world2The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate 2014. Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report

60-world2China’s per capita carbon emissions overtake EU’s BBC News, September 21

60-world2Hundreds of Thousands Converge on New York to Demand Climate-Change Action Time, September 23

60-world2Lord Stern: global warming may create billions of climate refugees Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22

60-world2The dilemma of growth: prosperity v economic expansion Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22

60-world2UN climate summit: China pledges emissions action BBC News, September 24

(Im)mobile phone geographies

By Helen Pallett

A_Japanese_woman_with_a_mobile_phone

Image credit: Derek A. from Akishima, Japan

Mobile phones are, for many of us, an essential yet banal technology. Without them many of us would struggle to organise our lives, entertain ourselves and stay in contact with loved ones, yet we frequently take for granted this technology which was not widely in use, even 15 years ago.  The humble mobile phone however, is a central element in several of the biggest news stories of the past two weeks, including the trial of senior figures in the British press accused of hacking into the mobile phones of celebrities and other individuals, the revelation that the United State’s National Security Agency was tapping the calls of foreign prime ministers and presidents, and the story that the UK Border Agency had sent a text message to thousands of people accusing them of being illegal migrants.

In contrast to the media coverage of events around the Arab Spring in 2011, these stories highlight not the potential for mobile phone technologies to bolster personal freedom and popular movements, but rather their potential to act as more sinister technologies of surveillance and discrimination. This highlights how mobile phones can function as technologies of control, fixity and immobility in certain contexts, whilst they can increase mobility and connections across physical distance in others. These recent developments raise serious challenges for how we can live with and regulate such technologies, even in the context of supposedly liberal western societies.

A review of ‘Mobile Phone Geographies’ in the journal Geography Compass by Julia Pfaff in 2010, discusses how geographers are studying mobile technologies and engaging with these challenges. The tension between the potential for mobile phones to promote certain freedoms but also to enable forms of control and surveillance, is something which has been of particular interest to geographers. In particular, mobile technologies enable surveillance and control not only between nation states and large corporations – though the NSA revelations show that this form of surveillance is far from dead – but they allow surveillance between private citizens. So individual journalists were able to listen in to personal calls and access voice mail messages. In the case of the UKBA texts, the British state was able to connect up vast amounts of data about the residency status of private citizens to mobile phone records, in order to send out a mass text message to at least 39,000 people. The evidential basis of these text messages has been undermined by evidence that some of the recipients were British passport holders; yet, their impact as a tool of automated yet targeted intimidation was still keenly felt by the individuals concerned as a strategy of control and immobilisation.

This tension between freedom and control in analysis of mobile phone use is closely linked to the blurring it allows between private and public spaces. Mobile phones allow private conversations to be conducted in public spaces, whilst also enabling people to act publicly  – for example on the internet or as part of protest movements – when they are themselves in private spaces. The possibility of surveillance and control blurs these boundaries further. For  example, the UKBA’s texts represented a very public campaign conducted through a private, personal means of communication, whilst debates around phone-hacking and the regulation of the press hinge on how to balance notions of the public interest with the rights of individuals to privacy.

Geographers and other analysts need to be wary of technological determinism when discussing the societal effects and entanglements of important technologies like mobile phones. In tandem with the potential for mobile phone and smart phone technologies to promote greater mobility across space, and enable previously impossible or difficult interactions, there is also the potential for these same technologies to play into a politics of control which can have the effect of limiting or guiding the mobility of certain individuals and groups.

books_icon Julia Pfaff 2010 Mobile Phone Geographies Geography Compass 4 1433-1447

60-world2 Les Back You’ve got a text from UKBA: Technologies of control and connection Discover Society, 13 October

60-world2 Phone-hacking: trail of Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks to begin The Guardian, 28 October

60-world2 US spy leaks: how intelligence is gathered BBC News, 30 October 

Geography of Sport

By Catherine Waite

By Markbarnes (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Geography of Sport is a topic close to my heart as it is the theme of my PhD research. Despite sport being a central theme of research in sociology, economics and anthropology, it has subject to little geographical research. However today’s reports into the “State of the Game”, considering the composition of professional English football teams by nationality and the debates regarding how you define who can play for the England national football team, have clear geographical themes.

National identity has been widely discussed in the geographical literature in relation to migration (see, for example, Antonsich 2010 & Gilmartin 2008), and in this case the media and social media debates, have extended the discussion to migrant athletes.

The “State of the Game” report, can perhaps be more directly deemed to be geographical. The report maps the countries from which footballers, playing in England, come from. The most significant finding is that, whilst English players do still play the greatest percentage of minutes of Premier League football, their contribution only accounts for less than a third of the total minutes played. The maps demonstrate that the Premier League truly is a global league with players coming from across the world to play in England. Football is a widely recognised as “Global Game” both in general culture and in academia (see Giulianotti 1999). So does geography need to progress and carry out more research dedicated to sport?

books_iconAntonsich, M. (2010), Searching for Belonging – An Analytical Framework. Geography Compass, 4: 644–659

books_iconGilmartin, M. (2008), Migration, Identity and Belonging. Geography Compass, 2: 1837–1852

60-world2Arsene Wenger defends Jack Wilshere’s ‘English’ comments BBC Sport

60-world2Jack Wilshere says only English players should play for England BBC Sport

60-world2State of the Game: Premier League now less than one third English BBC Sport

60-world2 State of the Game: How UK’s world football map has changed BBC News