Category Archives: Social Geography

The Canary Islands, a crossroads magnet in the Mid-Atlantic

by Rosalia Avila-Tàpies and Josefina Domínguez-Mujica

Port of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain). Photograph used with permission of Claudio Moreno Medina.

Port of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain). Photograph used with permission of Claudio Moreno Medina.

The geographic location of the Canary Islands has determined its historical importance in transcontinental trade and maritime traffic as a crossroads of routes in the Mid-Atlantic. For centuries, the close ties that were forged between the shores of Africa and Europe on the East and the Americas on the West ensured the position of the archipelago as a major Atlantic meeting point for different peoples and cultures from these three continents.

Moreover, due to their proximity to highly productive marine waters and their system of free ports, this location was also valued by the faraway Japanese. Therefore, as of the 1960s, the Canary Islands became the operational base of the Japanese fishing fleets in search of tuna. This gave rise to a small Japanese settlement made up of fishermen, ship repairers, traders and civil servants, who were supported by the Consulate General of Japan in Las Palmas and other institutions such as the Japanese School, the House of Japan, and even Japanese nurses at local hospitals. Despite the gradual decline in numbers, Japanese presence and social interaction left a positive impression on the islands, especially on Gran Canaria. Conversely, the migration of Japanese to the Canary Islands also has had some profound implications for them, as we have argued in our Area article. In this respect, and by using a biographical approach to the study of Japanese experiences of migration and cross-cultural processes, we confirm the acknowledgement of migration and mobility as transformative experiences that shape identities and have a deep impact on every aspect of the migrants’ lives.

During the past decades, however, the Canary Islands have become one of the most important Southern maritime borders of the European Union, a fault-line that delimits wealth and poverty. As a consequence, they have been acting as a powerful magnet for the hopes of young Africans, who enter into the territory in dramatic and vulnerable situations.

Concurrently, the Port of Las Palmas has become an important logistic platform for services for and cooperation with Africa, dispatching the most urgently needed humanitarian aid to disaster locations. In 2009, the Red Cross International Federation and Red Crescent Societies established one of their four world logistic centers in the port area of Las Palmas and the World Food Program (WFP) will create its sixth hub of the network of the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) inside the port precinct. Thus, the proximity with the African continent implies challenges and opportunities for the islands, stressing their border location as a place for the development of cooperation policies concerning migration flows and emergency responses to humanitarian crises.

The authors: Dr. Rosalia Avila-Tàpies is Researcher in Doshisha University-Japan and Dr. Josefina Domínguez-Mujica is Permanent Professor in the Department of Geography, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria-Spain.

books_icon Avila-Tàpies, R. and Domínguez-Mujica, J. (2014), Interpreting autobiographies in migration research: narratives of Japanese returnees from the Canary Islands (Spain). Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12081

books_icon Domínguez-Mujica J. and Avila-Tàpies R. (2013), The in-between lives of Japanese immigrants in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 20-7 896-913

books_icon Avila-Tàpies R. and Domínguez-Mujica J. (2011), Canarias en el imaginario japonés: el análisis de tres narrativas contemporáneas Anuario de Estudios Atlánticos 57 525- 62

60-world2 Red Cross to use Las Palmas as logistics base, IslandConnections.eu, 26 November 2008

60-world2 WFP Joins Forces With Spain In New Initiative To Fight Hunger Worldwide, World Food Programme – News19 July 2012

 

The Future of European Aviation?

by Benjamin Sacks

Proposed European FABs.

Proposed European FABs.

The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökul volcano on 20 March 2010 demonstrated the weaknesses in Europe’s diverse air traffic control network. As a massive ash cloud up to 8 kilometres high gradually extended across western Europe, forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights and stranding millions of passengers across the entire continent. Although European air controllers correctly prioritised passenger safety above all other factors, the scenario left many airline industry commentators and journalists frustrated with the European Union’s apparent inability to swiftly and effectively act on changing meteorological and airline information. With few exceptions, the maintenance of separate airspace quadrants by each EU member, each with different processes, response mechanisms, as well as external pressures from airlines and politicians, all contributed to delayed and even contradictory responses in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Oslo.

In Eyjafjallajökull’s wake, the International Aviation Transportation Authority (IATA), in cooperation with the EU, proposed the establishment a single European air zone, divided into nine ‘functional airspace blocks’. Citing the current system’s woefully inefficiency – e.g., ‘With fewer air traffic controllers the United States FAA [Federal Aviation Authority] is able to deliver 70% more controlled flight hours than Europe]’ – the IATA / EU consortium called for a reorganisation, or ‘rationalisation’ of air traffic control hierarchies, technological modernisation, and substantially better (and more transparent) communication between national aviation authorities. Optimistically entitled ‘Single European Sky’ (SES), officials set a date of 4 December 2012 for its implementation.

But, as Dr Christopher Lawless (Durham University) reminds us in his March 2014 Geographical Journal commentary, 4 December 2012 came and went with little change. Only two of the nine blocks – Denmark-Sweden and UK-Ireland – had reached operational status. National-level aviation oversight bodies – intended to be the vanguard of transnational cooperation – had made little progress in communicating or facilitating with their neighbouring counterparts. Bickering, unsurprisingly, had early on replaced collaboration. At the EU Aviation Summit in Limassol, Cyprus, Siim Kallas, European Commission joint Vice President and Transport Commissioner, attacked EU states for ‘their “undue protection of national interests’” (Lawless p. 76).

Of the seven non-operational airspace blocks, two (Iberian Peninsula and Central Mediterranean) had not even progressed beyond the ‘definition stage’ (p. 77). Fearing the loss of their jobs and the complete overhaul of learned ATC procedures, French and German air traffic controllers repeatedly threatened strikes.

Lawless examined SES’s problematic history through Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim’s 2009 paradigm of ‘sociotechnical imaginary’. The European SES programme sought to mix technological requirements with larger political aspirations, inevitably leading to discord between various member states. Airlines, already struggling to break even financially, balked at restructuring costs (p.80). Spatially, air spaces were eventually designed along largely existing geographical and geopolitical lines, as the UK-Ireland, Denmark-Sweden, and Italy-Mediterranean sectors clearly demonstrate (p. 78). In reality, these geopolitically-influenced air spaces make little sense with the traffic patterns of most passenger flights:

[T]he highest density region of European air traffic…spans a corridor encompassing the airspace of the UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Under the current arrangement, this straddles four separate FABs…(p. 78).

Lawless concludes by calling for a comprehensive inquiry into sovereign states’ concerns, risk assessments, and considerations, and re-drawing the air space landscape in a more logical (and less state-specific) manner. Ultimately, he stressed that even such ‘apolitical’ projects as SES are unfortunately ridden with politics, negotiation, and self-interests.

The SES debate will continue to fascinate observers for some time. Agonising, protracted discussions over the future of London’s airspace – the world’s busiest – between Conservative officials, led by Boris Johnson, and Labour opponents seem unlikely to end amicably, or soon. This regional crisis, combined with Britain’s current national debate over its long-term role within the EU, will only further complicate the SES’s possible re-development and implementation.    

books_icon

Gertisser R, Eyjafjallajökull volcano causes widepread disruption to European air trafficGeology Today 26.3 (May-Jun.: 2010), 94-95.

books_icon IATA / EU, A Blueprint for the Single European Sky: Delivering on safety, environment, capacity and cost-effectiveness, 2011.

books_icon Lawless C, Commentary: Bounding the vision of a Single European SkyThe Geographical Journal, 180.1 (Mar., 2014): 76-82.

60-world2 Sacks B, Eyjafjallajökull: Geography’s Harsh ReminderGeography Directions, 18 February 2011.

60-world2 Q&A: EU response to Iceland volcano ashBBC News, 25 May 2011.

60-world2 Iceland volcano ash: German air traffic resumingBBC News, 25 May 2011.

60-world2 Hofmann K, French, German ATCs postpone strikes over Single European SkyAir Transport World, 24 January 2014.

 

Sochi and the spatialities of contentious politics

By Helen Pallett

2013_WSDC_Sochi_-_Zbigniew_Brodka_2

Image credit: Sacha Krotov

With the Winter Olympics drawing to a close at the weekend, global attention has moved away from Sochi, at least until March 7th when the Winter Paralympics begins. The Sochi Winter Olympics have been notable, not only for the achievements of the athletes involved, but for their politics. The site itself was heavily monitored and policed to curb the activities of ‘extremists’ out to disrupt and injure, and many activists were arrested or forcibly moved from the location. But Sochi itself also took on a broader political symbolism as an emblem of the struggle for LGBT rights. Some states such as the US deliberately sent prominent gay sports people to Sochi to head-up their delegations, whilst many news outlets, such as The Guardian, The New Statesman and Channel 4 in the UK, took the opportunity to highlight their support for the cause of equal rights, particularly through the use of the symbolic rainbow flag. President Putin meanwhile notoriously told gay people that they were very welcome in Sochi but that they should leave children alone.

The Sochi Winter Olympics then was a moment of contentious politics, created by the increasingly draconian laws being passed recently in Russia regarding LGBT rights, and the releasing of several prominent activists from prison, in the run up to when the world’s eyes would be on Sochi for the games. But there is also a complex spatiality to this contentious politics. In a study of the contentious politics of immigrant workers’ rights in the United States Helga Leitner, Eric Sheppard and Kristin Sziarto argued that it was important to understand the role of scale, place, networks, positionality and mobility in shaping and forming part of this politics.

Scale is important to understanding the contested politics of Sochi, as movements and debates occurred at multiple overlapping and interrelating scales. From the policing or transgression of the micro-spaces around the Olympic site, to the scale of Sochi as a city which became an emblem of the LGBT rights struggle, to the scale of Russia as a country and legal and political context of the Winter Olympics, to the global scale of the Olympics itself with the world’s attention on developments in Sochi. These different scales interacted with one another, influencing  other processes and producing new political effects, which in this case served to magnify the issue of LGBT rights beyond this one city.

The politics of place are also clearly at play in Sochi, with the city becoming so much of an emblem of broader struggles for LGBT rights, linked to its fleeting importance at a site for a major sporting event. Sochi’s reputation as a resort for Russia’s wealthy and extravagant elite only served to increase the controversy around the games. Like with many other social movements and instances of contentious politics the topology of networks was important to the visibility of the LGBT rights struggle around Sochi, connecting Russian and Sochi-based activists to other LGBT activists globally, and importantly, being passed through high profile media networks from Twitter to the international news outlets. The struggle for LGBT rights was also passed through significant sporting networks, reaching far beyond the pool of athletes involved in this Winter Olympics to the delegations sent by other countries to the games, or to other sportsmen and sportswomen who chose this particular moment to be open about their own sexuality or to affirm their support of LGBT rights.

The mobility of many members of these networks was also a significant factor in their success in making LGBT rights into such a significant issue around the games, whilst attempts to curb the mobility of activists’ and other individuals’ bodies around the Sochi site was an important way in which Russian authorities attempted to resist and undermine the struggle.

Finally, Leitner and colleagues assert that socio-spatial positionality is also an important component of such politics, bringing into focus difference and inequality. In this case, the difference in Russia’s stance on LGBT rights was an important vector of difference in comparison to significant moves towards the fulfillment of LGBT rights, such as gay marriage, in much of Western Europe and North America, which had important implications for how the political struggle played out and was resisted by the Russian Government. But equally the struggle for LGBT rights around the Sochi Winter Olympics was very successful at forging alliances between different groups of activists, different national LGBT rights movements, and between activists and sports people or sports fans. That prominent news outlets also felt the need to show their support to the cause shows the strength of such alliances.

Attention to the complex spatialities of social movements and contentious politics, such as the LGBT rights struggle, can illuminate the  interactions of different tactics, arenas, allegiances and oppositions in the movement, as well as highlighting the multiple locations or levers of the political struggle ‘on the ground’.

books_icon Helga Leitner, Eric Sheppard & Kristin Sziarto 2008 The spatialities of contentious politicsTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 33(2): 157-172

60-world2 Pussy Riot members among group of activists arrested in Sochi The Guardian, February 18

60-world2 5 reasons why Sochi’s Olympics may be the most controversial games yet The Guardian, January 31

60-world2 Channel 4 goes rainbow to wish “good luck to those out in sochi” Channel 4, February 6

60-world2 Putin cautions gay visitors to Sochi BBC News, January 17

Accommodating Students: recent trends and the University of the Channel Islands

by Fiona Ferbrache

Queen Margaret University Accommodation

Queen Margaret University Accommodation

Like many Channel Islanders, I attended university in the UK as there is no such establishment in the islands. Proposals are in place, however, to realise ‘The University of the Channel Islands in Guernsey’ – an institution that would eventually host up to 2,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students (from across the globe).

Accommodating students can be challenging anywhere, but the issues are often intensified on an island where space and land are at a premium.  While there has been much positive feedback for the proposals, concerns have been raised over where students would live, and what impact they might have on the existing community. In a radio broadcast, Susan Jackson (Executive Project Director) commented: “we will be very careful about preserving Guernsey as it is now” and “we aim to insert ourselves delicately in all around existing structures”.  These intentions differ to current trends of UK studentification, identified by Smith & Hubbard (2014), but I argue that this might be a key marketing perspective for the Islands’ University.

Providing an overview of student housing markets since the 1990s, Smith and Hubbard identify a shift from the integration of students within socially mixed neighbourhoods, to concentrations of student accommodation in purpose-built blocks, often on the margins of other social groups. This trend towards segregated living has had considerable consequences on social relations between students and longer-term residents.

In the case of Guernsey, there seems little inclination (or scope to build at the margins) to construct purpose-built student accommodation.  Hence, it seems likely that students and existing populations will have to reside more closely. Although Smith and Hubbard note that students appear to like living apart, the opportunities for students to live among Islanders could be employed as a key marketing strategy for the University of the Channel Islands.  Rather than a life apart, it might be an opportunity for students to interact with longer-term residents through daily encounters, and to the benefit of both groups.

 60-world2 BBC Radio Guernsey: Plans for a Channel Island University in Guernsey

60-world2  Channel Island ‘well equipped’ for university students

60-world2  The University of the Channel Islands in Guernsey – Vision statement 

books_icon  Smith, D. P. & Hubbard, P. 2014 The segregation of educated youth and dynamic geographies of studentification. Area. DOI: 10.1111/area.1205

From the bedroom to the nation state: the geographies of welfare reform

By Helen Pallett

bedroom tax

Image credit: Brian McNeil

Debates about the UK welfare or ‘benefits’ system have been difficult to avoid in the media over the past weeks, from the furore surrounding the Channel 4 programme ‘Benefits Street’, to the reception of UN housing envoy Raquel Rolnik’s report on the impacts of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. These stories are also part of a larger shift in the machineries of the British welfare system and public attitudes to benefit claimants which have emerged during the reign of the coalition government, though which arguably began during previous administrations.

With around 70% of households in the UK receiving at least one kind of state benefit, the vast changes we are currently witnessing in the welfare system are likely to have wide-ranging impacts. Current and recent changes to the benefits system include; the introduction of a benefits cap of £26,000 per year, the withdrawal of child benefit from households with a single income greater than £60,000 per year, changes in modes of assessment and criteria for eligibility for disability living allowance, a reduction in housing benefit available to low income households with spare rooms (the ‘bedroom tax’), and a reduction in the number of benefits available to under 25s.

Geographers studying the benefits system have a particular interest in how the impacts of these changes are felt differently between different regions and local authorities. This concern with the distribution of harms and benefits is particularly apt given the rhetoric of ‘fairness’ which has been used by politicians to justify such changes. This is something which Chris Hamnett observes in a recent article in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 

Hamnett draws our attention to several aspects of the changes to the welfare system which are of particular geographical interest. Firstly, he considers the national impacts of the welfare changes in the light of austerity and spending cuts, with attempts to reduce overall welfare spending and to move towards a ‘workfare’ system which puts more emphasis on rewarding those in work and forces those out of work to be actively looking for work in order to receive benefits. These changes have also occurred alongside a hardening of public opinion towards those facing benefits – for example 80% of people supported the benefits cap – which will make any attempts to reverse these changes in future difficult.

Secondly, against a backdrop of contrasting regional welfare bills and huge differences in the mix of benefits claimed in different regions, Hamnett concludes that the impacts of many of the benefits cuts will be socially regressive. For example, in old ex-industrial areas, such as the former coal-mining regions of Wales and North East England, there are twice as many people claiming disability living allowance than in the South of England. Thus the restrictions in those eligible to claim disability living allowance have a disproportionate impact on the old ex-industrial regions, which also have a higher proportion of people out of work and on low incomes.

A third geographical trend that Hamnett observes at the local authority level, relates to the housing mix of certain inner city areas. Whilst the £26,000 benefit cap appears very generous, it has resulted in reductions in the amount of housing benefit available to low income households living in areas of very high rent, such as central London. Hamnett predicts that this, alongside the impacts of the ‘bedroom tax’ will make certain areas of London and elsewhere uninhabitable for low income families, leading to a pronounced zoning of high income and low income areas.

When considering the potential impacts of future changes to the welfare system it is important to think not only of individual stories of poverty or dependency, but to consider how they might effect the  already highly uneven geographical distribution of needs, benefits and incomes. Welfare changes are likely to have distinctly ‘spaced’ impacts and furthermore will be increasingly written into the fabric of these spaces – from the nation, to the de-instrustialised region, to the layout of the inner city, down the appropriate usage of the bedroom.

books_icon Chris Hamnett 2013 Shrinking the welfare state: the structure, geography and impact of British government benefit cuts Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Online first DOI: 10.1111/tran.12049

60-world2 Benefits street: the hard-working history that Channel 4 left out Guardian, 29 January

60-world2 Bedroom tax: Raquel Rolnik’s uncomfortable truths Guardian, 3 February

Conducting emotional subjects: neuroscience in schools

By Helen Pallett

Classroom

Image credit: Marlith

On January 7th it was announced that a new fund has been launched, backed by the Wellcome trust and the Education Endowment Foundation, to promote the use of neuroscience research and neuroscientific understandings of learning in classrooms in England. As Dr Hilary Leevers of the Wellcome trust put it, many are concerned with an apparent ‘evidence gap’ between advances in neuroscience and real classroom practices.

In an article in the Guardian Leevers described certain neuroscientific concepts currently used in schools, such as the idea of children being left-brained or right brained, or tests to work out whether children are visual, auditory or kinsaesthetic learners as little more than “neuromyths”. In the response to the prevalence of such apparently ill-conceived ideas, Leevers and colleagues have proposed that the new fund will seek to support partnerships between teachers and neuroscientists to develop and test evidence-based interventions in classrooms.

This development is part of a broader set of changes in actions and attitudes around education policy in England and Wales, related to calls for the use of more rigorously scientific methods and ideas in the implementation and evaluation of new policies and programmes. Alongside the importing of ideas from neuroscience into the classroom, such developments have also included attempts to monitor and evaluate changes in education policy through quasi experimental methods such as randomised controlled trials (for example, see here).

In a new paper in the journal Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Elizabeth Gagen describes a specific aspect of this emerging relationship between neuroscience and schools, namely the introduction of emotional literacy into the curriculum. Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) was introduced into schools in 2007, giving pupils resources to improve their self-awareness and anger management, amongst other moral virtues. Gagen analyses this new development not only as an instance of knowledge transfer allowing the productive use of recent neuroscientific ideas in the classroom, but she also sees SEAL as being linked to a broader citizenship agenda in English schools. 

The compulsory teaching of citizenship began in 2002, mostly focussed on the political aspects of citizenship in the hope that it would promote political engagement amongst young people and reduce anti social behaviour. For Gagen the later introduction of emotional literacy into this curriculum represents a re-imagining of the ideas of citizenship and subjectivity, which has been enabled through the development of new ideas in popular neuroscience. She argues that pupils are not simply being schooled in developments in neuroscience and emotional coping strategies, but rather they are being disciplined into a certain understanding of emotional conduct and citizenship, which has broader implications beyond the classroom.

In this new world of neuroscience-informed education practice, it is important not only to question the evidential and conceptual bases for new developments, but also to think more broadly about the kinds of citizens such initiatives imagine and seek to bring into being and what implications these modes of disciplining might have as school pupils develop.

Elizabeth A. Gagen, 2014, Governing emotions: citizenship, neuroscience and the education of youth Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers DOI: 10.1111/tran.12048

Myths about how the brain works have no place in the classroom The Guardian, 7 January

Brain Scientists to work with schools on how to learn BBC News, 7 January

On universities as border sites

by Matt Jenkins

The UKBA enforcing the border in a non-educational workplace (UK Home Office, used under a Creative Commons share-alike agreement; from http://www.flickr.com/photos/49956354@N04/5413187108/)

The UKBA enforcing the border in a non-educational workplace
Source: UK Home Office, used under a Creative Commons share-alike agreement, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/49956354@N04/5413187108/

In August 2012, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) revoked London Metropolitan University’s status as a visa sponsor under Tier 4 of the points-based system of immigration. As a result, over a thousand students found themselves with 60 days to find a new university at which to study or face deportation. The university was faced with the possibility of losing a key source of income and possibly shutting down as a result. Universities across the country took note: the UKBA have the power to seriously impair the ability of universities to carry on operating and their instructions must be followed.

This incident may seem like a little local administrative difficulty, but it illustrates a new role for educational institutions in the UK. We have become border sites, places where individuals are sorted into those permitted to be in the country and those who are not on behalf of the UKBA. This sorting is largely done by teaching staff, who are not paid for it and are often unaware that they are doing it. It forces students to study in approved ways, decided for them not by themselves or their institution but by the state border agency. It forces institutions to maintain systems of surveillance, removing from them their ability to decide what constitutes appropriate student behaviour. The implications of this new role, for students, for staff and for the structure and the ethos of educational establishments, are far-reaching and under-examined. Geographers, with our body of literature on borders and their effects, are well placed to undertake such an examination.

About the author: Matt Jenkins is an ESRC-funded doctoral candidate at the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies, and is a Postgraduate Fellow of the RGS-IBG. His commentary, ‘On the effects and implications of UK Border Agency involvement in higher education‘ is published in The Geographical Journal.

books_iconJenkins M 2014 On the effects and implications of UK Border Agency involvement in higher education The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12066 [open access]

60-world2BBC News 2013 London Met: How many non-EU students had to leave? 2 December

60-world2Grove J 2012 Home Office ‘to strip’ London Met of highly trusted status Times Higher Education 23 August

60-world2Collini S 2013 Sold Out London Review of Books 35 2 3-12

Shock of the Global: Post-War Britain and Globalisation

A 'make do and mend' poster, c.1942.

A ‘make do and mend’ poster, c.1942.

by Benjamin Sacks

The Second World War permanently altered Britain’s relationship with the rest of the globe. Before 1939 the empire, particularly India and the settler colonies, dominated Britons’ conceptions of international affairs. But nearly six years of global conflict incontrovertibly changed this mindset. Isolated from its dominions by Axis submarines, ‘austerity’ Britain quickly adopted severe rationing and a ‘make do and mend’ approach. Gardening, raising small animals, and comprehensive recycling and reusing of countless household items became part-and-parcel of daily life. The British government and various civil organisations promoted the ‘local’, not the ‘global’ (to borrow sociologists George Ritzer’s and Roland Robinson’s terminology), prioritising national entrepreneurship and ingenuity over importing and exporting of goods.

This radically – and painfully – changed after 1945. India and Pakistan’s independence in 1947 catalyzed the empire’s irreversible (but relatively ordered) disintegration. The United States and the Soviet Union emerged as fierce economic competitors, with considerably greater physical resource assets. At home, voters ousted Winston Churchill in favour of Labour Party leader Clement Atlee, who promised to refocus government policies on domestic social welfare. Internationally, Britain was forced to contend with a radically-changing marketplace. By the 1950s, it was increasingly evident that it could no longer solely rely on domestic production and inter-Commonwealth trade to both satisfy consumer demand and maintain the state’s strong international profile.

In ‘Fill the ships and we shall fill the shops: the making of geographies of manufacturing’, Thomas Birtchnell (University of Wollongong) skillfully demonstrates how – in short order – the Board of Trade, private businesses, and public organisations sought to re-educate consumers and producers alike of the global marketplace. They widely circulated such advertisements as ‘how can cycles sent to Africa fetch us cotton from U.S.A.?’ (1947) (p. 437). Officials popularised a “container-ship culture” in schools, trade and commercial magazines, and businesses in an effort to ramp up exports and imports of both raw materials and finished goods. Birtchnell recalled how social economist Karl Polanyi’s 1944 study, The Great Transformation, was trumpeted to promote Britain’s long history of international trade alongside other ‘economic propaganda’ campaigns (pp. 437-438).

To accomplish this goal, the Board of Trade and its allies tapped into a culture of consumerism and luxury that had persisted despite the war’s enormous pressures. At partial odds with Guy de la Bédoyère’s 2005 study The Home Front, Birtchnell proposes that Britons were at first exorted to produce and export advanced luxury items (e.g. radios, clothing, automobiles) in exchange for essentials. But this found little favour with British audiences, who had quietly clamoured for higher-end goods during the war, and now demanded their availability in the post-war environment. From 1947 the language changed: the Board of Trade instead promoted the export of British goods in exchange for foreign luxuries – silks, perfumes, electronics, foodstuffs. Such historians as Llewellyn Woodward promoted this programme via their writings; in 1947 he pronounced that ‘An English housewife finds it odd that English china to match a tea-set shattered in the Blitz can be bought in New York but is not on sale in London’ (p. 439). Birtchnell’s study is a fascinating contribution to our knowledge of Britain’s immediate post-war recovery, and hints as well at how Britain’s manufacturing base gradually switched from mass production to luxury, bespoke goods.

books_icon Thomas Birtchnell 2013 Fill the ships and we shall fill the shops: the making of geographies of manufacturingArea 45.4: 436-42.

Also see:

books_icon George Ritzer 2004 The Globalization of Nothing (Thousand Oaks, CA and London: Pine Forge Press).

books_icon Llewellyn Woodward 1947 Middle EnglandForeign Affairs 25.3, 378-87.

 

 

How new is the new openness?

By Helen Pallett

Neon_Open_Sign

Image credit: By Aaron Pruzaniec

It seems that openness is in the air. Open access and open data have been the hot topics of the last few years in conversations in academia and are increasingly the subjects of broader societal debate, and open government and open policy have recently moved swiftly up the political agenda in the UK. From October 31st to November 1st the British Government hosted the annual summit of the Open Government Partnership, an international platform supporting reformers aiming to make governments more open and accountable to their citizens. The London summit was significant in that it demonstrated commitment to the principles of openness from some parts of the higher echelons of the Government, and some international actors such as the chief innovation officer for the World Bank. Most notably, Cabinet Office minister Frances Maude has been at particular pains to emphasise the ambition and sincerity of his message of transparency and openness (for example see this video).

There is also a distinctly geographical aspect to this new openness as Sarah Elwood and Agnieszka Leszczynski have argued in a recent paper in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Elwood and Leszczynski highlight the diversity of new spatial media available – from Google Earth, to twitter’s GeoAPI and location based social network apps like Foursquare. These media combine open and crowd sourced data with geographic information techniques and technologies, with the potential to enhance the abilities of activities, civic, grassroots, indigenous and other marginalised groups to challenge government actors and hold them to account. Far from being add-ons to a plethora of existing techniques available to activists and others, the authors argue that spatial media have the potential to advance alternative strategies for establishing the authority of knowledge claims, through for example, structuring visual experience, providing immediate and experiential cartographic representations, and through asserting credibility through mutual witnessing between peers and transparency of methods.

But an earlier paper from the same journal exploring a different kind of democratic innovation counsels us to be more cautious in our heralding of the success and potential of the ‘new openness’. In 1999 Rob Imrie and Mike Raco examined the promise of and assumptions around what was then being called the new local government in the UK. The conventional wisdom around these developments at the time, with powers being increasingly being moved from local government to the central government, was that the older form of governance with a stronger local government had been more open and democratically accountable, whilst increasingly geographically centralised governance sought to close off debate. Through an exploration of how these governance changes were playing out in two UK cities, Imrie and Raco actually found a diversity of democratic practices at play, many of which showed strong continuities with what was characterised as the old governance. Their point, something which I think is more broadly applicable to other changes in democratic practice, was not to take announcements of change and newness at face value; not to be swept away by the hype and discursive contestation around a new policy initiative without first taking a closer look at the tapestry of democratic and policy practices being enacted around it.

With respect to the ‘new openness’ of open government, open policy and the rest, this suggests that geographers need not only to be aware of opportunities to support such initiatives by contributing to debates and refining practices, as Elwood and Leszczynski argue, but also to empirically investigate these claims to newness. Which previous democratic practices do these approaches to open government transform or uphold? Alongside high profile demonstrations of openness in government, can we also find examples where opportunities for openness are ignored, or even actively obscured? Does a focus purely on openness risk eclipsing existing practices which are being exploited by civil society actors and others for democratic ends? Through this we can create a richer picture of democratic change and continuity in the UK, and also help to hold government actors to account.

books_icon Rob Imrie & Mike Raco 1999 How New is the New Local Governance? Lessons from the United KingdomTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24: 45-63

books_icon Sarah Elwood & Agnieska Leszczynski 2012 New spatial media, new knowledge politicsTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 38: 544-559

60-world2 Open government: a chance to revolutionise the relationship between citizens and their leaders Guardian, November 7

60-world2 Francis Maude: ‘Transparency is not a feelgood accessory’ (video) Guardian, November 5

Spatial exclusivity and anxiety: on and beyond our planet

by Tijo Salverda and Iain Hay

A view on Tamarin, a seaside village with a substantial portion of Franco-Mauritian inhabitants. Photograph by Tijo Salverda.

A view on Tamarin, a seaside village with a substantial portion of Franco-Mauritian inhabitants. Photograph by Tijo Salverda.

Mauritius may not the first thing that comes to mind when watching Elysium, a 2013 Hollywood sci-fi movie. However, in our understandings of elite geographies the film makes an interesting allegory for the Indian Ocean island known for its pristine beaches.

In the film, the wealthy have abandoned planet Earth and settled down on Elysium, an exclusive and luxurious space habitat. Elite symbolism is displayed nicely: Elysium appears as a large, shiny piece of jewellery, with its inhabitants living in luxurious villas and (some) speaking the ‘ultimate’ elite language, French! Evocative of contemporary exclusive elite gated communities, the residents of Elysium are surrounded with likeminded people and shielded from unwanted visitors and residents, notably the have-nots who are forced to remain on an overpopulated and chaotic Earth. In short, the wealthy have shaped a perfect elite life, yet they remain anxious to prevent the Earth’s poor inhabitants entering their exclusive space.

As with many allegories, some of the similarities to Mauritius may be a little farfetched. Nevertheless, the comparison highlights a matter that tends to be overlooked in much of the literature on elite geographies. In our article ‘Change, anxiety and exclusion in the postcolonial reconfiguration of Franco-Mauritian elite geographies’ in The Geographical Journal we make the point that the role of anxiety in shaping elite geographies is not something that exists only in the fantasies of Hollywood producers. In the (re)shaping of their elite geographies, Franco-Mauritians – the white former colonial elite of the island of Mauritius – are to a large extent driven by worries about others entering their exclusive spaces: their residential areas, their schools, and their clubs. Most of the newly emerging literature examining geographies of the super-rich and elites overlooks this matter of anxiety, focusing instead on how elites and the super-rich tend to have the upper hand in shaping residential and other social geographies. The Franco-Mauritian case, especially in the period since Mauritius’ independence, helps to illustrate how elite geographies are also shaped in response to external changes. Feelings of anxiety and consequential desires to regain some measure of control over their milieux have influenced Franco-Mauritians’ shaping of exclusive cultural, educational, recreational, and residential enclaves in ways that create new patterns of exclusion and segregation. As we illustrate, such enclaves on Earth – and perhaps even in Elysium-like futures beyond our planet – are simultaneously and paradoxically a root of anxiety and the foundation of continued exclusivity.

About the authors: Tijo Salverda is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Human Economy Programme, Faculty of Humanities, University of Pretoria, South Africa; Iain Hay is Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor of Human Geography at the School of the Environment, Flinders University, Australia.

books_icon Salverda T and Hay I 2013 Change, anxiety and exclusion in the post-colonial reconfiguration of Franco-Mauritian elite geographies The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12041

globe42Mohn T 2012 America’s Most Exclusive Gated Communities Forbes 3 July

60-world2Elysium official movie site 2013