Category Archives: Geography Compass

(Im)mobile phone geographies

By Helen Pallett


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 (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-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


Visibility and Crime: Doing More Than Just Looking

by Jen Turner

By Terry from uk (Clear up day uefa 15 May 2008 manchester) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

A recent BBC report has revealed that, according to Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy, Greater Manchester Police does not investigate 60% of crimes. He said GMP followed a strategy also “adopted” by other forces and recorded crime had halved in 10 years. Data released in July showed that crimes recorded by police in England and Wales fell by 7% in the year to March 2013.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Sir Peter said “We look at every crime when it is reported, whether there is a line of inquiry – it might be around witnesses, house to house, forensic, CCTV, but if there is no reasonable line of inquiry, I don’t think the public would expect us to pursue that”. He added: “That’s a balance between of investigating crime after it has happened and targeting known offenders. Most crime is committed by a relatively small group of persistent offenders.” In April, Tom Winsor, the chief inspector of constabulary for England and Wales, said focusing on would-be offenders, likely victims and potential crime hotspots in future would save taxpayers’ money and keep more people safe. “We look at all crimes to identify patterns of offending and to build the picture of where we need to target police patrols. In many crimes there are no witnesses, no CCTV and no forensic opportunities.” Tony Lloyd, the force’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Let me be clear that I expect, and the chief constable expects, that with all serious crime no effort will be spared to bring the criminals to justice.

These thoughts are particularly interesting if they are considered in relation to a 2011 Geography Compass paper by Ian Cook and Mary Whowell. Their paper recognises that, from studies of ‘panoptic’ CCTV surveillance to accounts of undercover police officers, it is often mooted that visibility and invisibility are central to the policing of public space.  Yet, Cook and Whowell aimed to critically analyse this relationship. Drawing on the practices of a variety of policing providers and regulators, and the work of geographers, criminologists and other social scientists, their paper examines how and why visibility underpins the policing of public space. First, the paper considers the ways in which policing bodies and technologies seek to render themselves selectively visible and invisible in the landscape. Secondly, it explores the ways in which policing agents attempt to make ‘incongruous’ bodies, behaviours and signs variously visible and invisible in public space. The critique of this then calls for a more deeper understanding in two areas: (i) how other senses such as touch, smell and sound are socially constructed as in and out-of-place and ‘policed’ accordingly; and (ii) how the policing of undesirable bodies and practices is not simply about quantitative crime reduction, but conducted through qualitative, embodied performance. It is this point that takes us back to the figures provided by GMP and leads us to question whether police forces across the country should be doing much more than simply ‘looking for’ crime.

books_iconIan R. Cook and Mary Whowell (2011) Visibility and the Policing of Public Space. Geography Compass, 5: 610–622.


Greater Manchester Police does not investigate 60% of crimes, BBC News (ONLINE), 5 Sept 2013.

Regulating the internet: geographies of cyberspace

By Helen Pallett


Image credit: Gflores

From the threat of ‘cyber-bullying’ to misogynist abuse, to fears about the invasion of privacy and the accessibility of pornographic material, serious concerns have been expressed over recent weeks about the increasing incursion of the internet, and particularly social media, into our everyday lives. For many of us it is difficult to imagine conducting our social and professional lives without the daily use of sites like Twitter or Facebook, or other internet forums, but are they, as some commentators would have us believe, having negative impacts on our societies? And if so, what can be done with the humongous entity of ‘the internet’?

In response to high profile media coverage of several tragic suicides of teenagers who experienced bullying and abuse on social media and other sites, the British Prime Minister David Cameron called for a boycott of websites which failed to effectively deal with such abuse. Similarly, the social media platform Twitter has come under pressure to alter its reporting procedure for abuse after high profile female activists, writers and political figures were sent bomb and rape threats through the site. Following the discovery of child abuse images on the computers of individuals convicted of recent high profile child murders, David Cameron announced a plan to block pornographic content by default on all computers unless users asked to receive it and asked internet providers to make greater efforts to block images of child abuse.

So what can emerging geographical perspectives on ‘cyberspace’ and internet usage tell us about these challenges and the likely effectiveness of these initiatives? In a recent review article in Geography Compass, Sam Kinsley pointed out the tendency to slip into either naively utopian or bleakly dystopian meta-narratives when talking about the internet. Whilst the development of the internet undoubtedly has the potential to democratically connect and engage people just as much as it aid those seeking to terrorise and abuse, these narratives or imaginaries fall into a further trap: they tend to cast the internet as a monolithic entity. Often this singular entity is assigned moral characteristics and subject to demands for wholesale reforms. But what if the internet is not one entity at all? What if, as Kinsley suggests, there are actually multiple internets?

These internets both shape and are involved in shaping the actions of their users, and are mediated through multiple devices from spam filters to smart phones, to social media platforms and webcams. Mark Graham has also made a similar argument in a recent commentary in the Geographical Journal about the use of the metaphor of cyberspace as a monolithic imaginary of the multiple interactions which exist between people, codes, information and machineries. Thus there is not just one lived experience of the internet or even any given websites or platforms, but many, and there are multiple ways for internets to enable empowerment and abuse. This raises questions about any one government policy or attempt to promote reform of a particular website or platform can fully account for this diversity of experience or be sure to protect against potential ills.

A further development which Sam Kinsley draws attention to, is the increasing blurring between the states of ‘online’ and ‘offline’. Particularly following the sharp growth in smart phone usage in recent years it has become difficult to separate the times and spaces in which people are connected to the internet to when they are disconnected. Furthermore, activities such as socialising, entertainment, working and relaxing increasingly incorporate a complex of both online and offline elements which are hard to distentangle. This means that, for example, in the case of ‘cyberbullying’, whilst abuse may start online or be enabled by a particular website or internet platform, it may also impinge on the offline parts of an individual’s life through technologies like text messaging or through face to face contact. How then can such challenges be ameliorated through internet regulation alone?

As has been pointed out in some of the media coverage of the recent surge in favour for internet regulation (for example, see here), the problem is always more complex and multifaceted than we would like to believe and needs to be understood as situated within a broader set of societal developments and changes.

books_icon Samuel Kinsely, 2013, Beyond the Screen: Methods for Investigating Geographies of Life ‘Online’Geography Compass 540-555

books_icon Mark Graham, 2013, Geography/internet: ethereal alternate dimensions of cyberspace or grounded augmented realities?The Geographical Journal 179 177-182

60-world2 Boycott websites which don’t tackle abuse, says Cameron BBC News, 8 August 2013

60-world2 Twitter ‘report abuse’ button calls after rape threats BBC News, 27 July 2013

60-world2 David Cameron urges internet firms to block child abuse images BBC News, 21 July 2013

60-world2 Online pornography to be blocked by default, PM announces BBC News, 22 July 2013

60-world2 When politicians get the internet wrong, the internet can be ruthless The Guardian, 16 August 2013

Junction JD Wetherspoon: The Changing Space of Britain’s Motorways

by Jen Turner

By Alexj2002 (Own Work based on work by User:Erath) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The BBC announced today that JD Wetherspoon will open its first motorway pub at Extra services on the M40 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. After a successful application to the local council, the company has said the bar and restaurant will be licensed to serve alcohol between 08:00 and 01:00. The firm met with Thames Valley Police and South Bucks District Council to outline its plans and Wetherspoon said the application received “no representations”. It is anticipated the £2m development will create 50 jobs. Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: “The company has always been innovative and this is an exciting new development for us. Hopefully it will be the first of many Wetherspoon’s on the motorway.” The pub is expected to be open by Christmas.

However, road safety charity Brake said as the firm was “putting temptation in front of drivers”, it should make its drink-drive warnings “extra clear”. A spokeswoman for Brake said: “The opening of a pub on the motorway could be of real concern unless safeguards are put in place with strong messages to warn about the dangers of drink-driving … it is putting temptation there in front of drivers. The charity says each month in Great Britain 23 people are killed and 108 people are seriously injured by drivers over the drink-drive limit.

Whether these actions are endorsed by the road safety charity or not, the opening of a public house at a motorway service station will no doubt change the way the space is utilised – perhaps becoming a destination for coach trips or those seeking a particular type of meal. This may not be disimilar to the appeal of the service station as a tourist space, when the first motorways (and their rest areas) opened in Britain.

A 2009 Geography Compass paper by Peter Merriman outlines some of the research which has been undertaken on the geographies and sociologies of the spaces and practices of driving, focusing in particular on the UK. Merriman notes that the motor car or automobile has had a profound impact on global mobility, settlement patterns, the global economy, and the environment. In this article, he examines how motor roads have shaped our experience of space and place, and outlines studies of their design, inhabitation, and regulation. Second, this article discusses embodied inhabitations of the spaces of the car: how motor cars have been consumed; how they have shaped our embodied apprehensions of our surroundings; and how they facilitate social and cultural relations. Finally, this article concludes by examining the innovative methods which are increasingly being utilised and developed by social scientists to explore the socialities of automotive spaces. The opening of JD Wetherspoon at a motorway service station is just one such example of how the motorcar and driving practices have become a concern to geographers and those studying the resonance of driving spaces.

books_iconPeter Merriman (2009) Automobility and the Geographies of the CarGeography Compass 3(2) 586-599.

60-world2JD Wetherspoon to open first motorway pub on M40, BBC News (online) 3 June 2013.

Avenues (The World School): the road to a global geography of education?

by Fiona Ferbrache

learningAs I walk by my former primary school on a Tuesday early morning, the current pupils must be gathered in assembly for I can hear the School hymn.  Schooled in Guernsey, I studied the Bailiwick of Guernsey’s Curriculum and my education was embedded, to a large extent, in local Island (one might say national) context.

‘National’ or ‘state’ level schools tend to be considered as mainstream organisations for learning (Kraftl 2012).  They teach about the world beyond their state borders, but rarely embed themselves internationally.  This point is made by the team behind Avenues: an alternative educational establishment based in New York.

Avenues, subtitled ‘The World School’, opened its first campus in September 2012.  It is envisaged that this international school will expand to include more than 20 campuses around the globe, in places such as Singapore, London, Paris, Mumbai and São Paulo.  When this integrated global learning community is established, students will be able to take advantage of a singular leaning system to spend short periods at different campuses around the world.  This physical mobility is part of the essential criteria through which Avenues aims to “prepare students for global life”.

With its global philosophy, perhaps Avenues could be conceived as a form of education beyond the mainstream (this is not an unusual perspective in current media articles on the school).  If so, then it contributes to what Kraftl (2012:1) calls “geographies of ‘alternative’ education”.  While Kraftl’s focus remains on UK-based homeschooling, and draws upon themes of emotion and affect, and family and home, his article clearly demonstrates some of the political, social and academic values associated with alternative sites for learning.

Could we see Avenues and its potential global networks analysed in geographies of education at some point in the future?

60-world2  Avenues: The World School

60-world2  Education: Move Over Dalton. The Economist (online). 01 September 2012

books_icon  Collins D and Coleman T (2008) Social geographies of education: looking within, and beyond, school boundaries Geography Compass 2 281–99

books_icon  Kraftl, P. (2012) Towards geographies of ‘alternative’ education: a case study of UK home schooling families. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00536.x

60-world2  World class: a superschool for the global age. The Telegraph (online). 04 February 2013

New Geographies of Animal Subjectivity

By Martin Mahony

Rat, Mole, Toad and Badger from Wind in the Willows by Paul Bransom (Image:Wind in the Willows (1913).djvu, page 326) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The identity, experiences and and behaviour of animals – in short, their subjectivity – has been a topic of great media interest of late. The scandal over the discovery of horse meat throughout the European food chain has raised serious questions not only about the seeming opacity of the meat industry, but also about our cultural relations to particular species. The illicit substitution of meat from one herbivorous quadruped for that of another has produced outrage of both a political and ethical kind, pointing towards particular culturally-embedded understandings of animal subjectivities. Likewise, the debate about the culling of badgers to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis in the UK has often proceeded through contrasting framings of badgers as vicious pests and as lovable woodland critters. These framings, in turn, can be traced back to literary presentations of badgers of works such as The Wind in the Willows – as the BBC’s Roger Harrabin reports in his interview with Angela Cassidy of Imperial College, London.

These themes of human-animal relationships have long been of interest to geographers. Agriculture and the food industry are interesting spaces where human-nature relationships are played out in a variety of material, economic, scientific and ethical ways. The field of ‘animal geographies’ has interrogated the networks which tie humans and animals together in ways which transcend conventional dualisms of ‘human’ and ‘nature’ and which pose challenging questions to the distinction between animals as economic or scientific objects, and animals as conscious, feeling subjects.

As reported by Connie Johnston in a new paper in Geography Compass, the recent evolution of the question of animal subjectivity has been an important feature of the farm animal welfare debate. Animal welfare has become an object of state regulation in the EU and US, with new branches of regulatory science interacting with forms of animal rights activism to construct new categories of animal subjectivity and emotion. Drawing on the geography of science literature, Johnston suggests that we need to trace the knowledges and norms of animal welfare through various spaces of knowledge production – from geopolitical units such as the EU, through the immediate living environments of farm animals, to the very ‘location’ of animal subjectivity, such as neuronal architectures. Johnston hints at sources of difference in how animal welfare is governed in the EU and US, such as different legal landscapes and economic priorities, and argues for further research to clarify and explain the different ways in which animal subjectivity is constructed in different places.

As the recent cases of badgers and horses show, animal subjectivities – or rather, human constructions of them – are deeply cultural affairs. Attempts to determine an absolute ‘essence’ of animal subjectivity often founder, and thus geographical scholarship has the potential to contribute to our understandings of how such categories are constructed, and the political and ethical work they do for us in highly charged debates about our food and about our relationship with the nonhuman.

world_icon Horsemeat scandal: the essential guideThe Guardian, 15th February 2013

world_icon Badgers: Splitting opinion for more than 200 yearsBBC News, 11th October 2012

books_icon Connie L. Johnston, 2013, Geography, Science, and Subjectivity: Farm Animal Welfare in the United States and EuropeGeography Compass 7 139-148