Category Archives: The Geographical Journal

Après le deluge: the UK winter storms of 2013–14

By Klaus Dodds, Royal Holloway University of London

Spurn Head on the Humber being broken by the December 2013 Storm Surge Photo Credit: Environment Agency (reproduced with permission)

Spurn Head on the Humber being broken by the December 2013 Storm Surge Photo Credit: Environment Agency (reproduced with permission)

The UK winter floods of 2013-14 were unquestionably severe caused by winter storms that brought with them record levels of rainfall and long standing flooding to southern England, most notably the Somerset Levels. Other parts of the UK were also affected, coastal towns in Wales were battered by stormy weather and parts of the Scotland also recorded some of the highest levels of rainfall ever recorded. Political leaders of all the main parties were swift to visit affected areas, and the government organization responsible for flood management the Environment Agency and its embattled chief Lord Smith endured a barrage of criticism for late and or inadequate flood preparation, warnings and responsiveness. For weeks, stories and images of the flood and its impact on communities and infrastructure filled the airwaves. Some communities were affectively cut off while others lost their homes and possessions. The insurance industry estimated that the cost of the flooding exceeded £1 billion but it was lower than the estimated cost of the 2007 summer floods, which were put at over £3 billion.

As a recent themed section on the UK winter floods 2013-4 published in The Geographical Journal argues, there is a great deal more analytical work to be done in terms of how we make sense of such extreme events and what we might learn in the aftermath. One noticeable element in the 2013-4 winter storms was the presence of social media and the role that tweeting and Facebook played in raising flood awareness (#floodaware #thinkdontsink) and the sharing of images and stories relating to the flooding. This autumn the Environment Agency has taken again to social media to warn audiences about flood risk and prevention measures. Citizens, in potentially affected areas, are encouraged to check the real time mapping and monitoring of rivers and coastlines.

Combining historical and cultural geographers with fluvial geographers and hydrological modellers, the themed section ruminates on the social, economic, political and physical geographies of the flooding and the storm surges. It poses questions not only about how flooding is understood (both scientifically and culturally) but also how it impacts on communities and landscapes, some of whom enjoyed greater publicity than others. Campaigners for the affected Somerset Levels were particularly successful in generating media attention, as were home-owners and businesses along the River Thames. Flood geographers, as we might term it, are also in the thick of things when it comes to flood forecasting and advising agencies on how government and communities should prepare in the future for such extreme events. Preparedness combined with individual and communal resilience have been championed as indispensable and perhaps social media provided a resource of sorts for such resilience as people shared advice and experiences of flooding.

But as our themed section also shows that rivers including flood plains are complex and lively spaces. They vary in terms of flood risk vulnerability and this is as much to do with their materiality as it is due to historic and contemporary patterns of human occupation. For centuries, humans have intervened in such environments and introduced flood embanking, channel dredging, and manipulated the volume and flow speed of rivers. Moreover coastal environments have experienced a patchwork of interventions from hard to soft forms of coastal engineering. We have, over the years, sought to intervene in order to mitigate, and even prevent unwelcome futures.

Lets hope if severe winter storms affect the UK again in 2014-5 we will be able to conclude that we are somewhat wiser as a consequence of our experiences in the winter of 2013-4.

About the author: Klaus Dodds is a Professor of Geopolitics within the Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London. Klaus is also the Editor of The Geography Journal.

The Geographical Journal themed section in full:

books_icon Dodds, K. (2014), Après le deluge: the UK winter storms of 2013–14. The Geographical Journal, 180: 294–296. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12126

books_icon Thorne, C. (2014), Geographies of UK flooding in 2013/4. The Geographical Journal, 180: 297–309. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12122 (open access)

books_icon Stephens, E. and Cloke, H. (2014), Improving flood forecasts for better flood preparedness in the UK (and beyond). The Geographical Journal, 180: 310–316. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12103

books_icon Lewin, J. (2014), The English floodplain. The Geographical Journal, 180: 317–325. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12093

books_icon McEwen, L., Jones, O. and Robertson, I. (2014), ‘A glorious time?’ Some reflections on flooding in the Somerset Levels. The Geographical Journal, 180: 326–337. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12125

books_icon Clout, H. (2014), Reflections on The draining of the Somerset Levels. The Geographical Journal, 180: 338–341. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12088

Other references:

60-world2 Ugwumandu J (2014) Severe winter weather to cost UK insurers £1.1bn, says ABI The Actuary, 13 March 2014

60-world2 Gov.uk (2014) Check flood warnings and river levels  

Another Islamic State? The Shifting Tactics of Boko Haram

By Stuart Elden, University of Warwick and Monash University

Military Presence in Maitama, Abuja (image credit: Stuart Elden)

Military Presence in Maitama, Abuja (image credit: Stuart Elden)

The Sunni Islamic group known as ‘Boko Haram’, active in the northeast of the country since at least 2007, came to much wider Western attention in April 2014 with the kidnapping of the school girls at Chibok in Borno state. It then somewhat slipped off the radar with events in Ukraine and the rise of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and Iraq. The ‘Islamic State’ was formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, and then as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Al-Sham is frequently translated as either the ‘Levant’ or Syria, but part of the point is to encompass a much wider geographical area, and the group has been explicit about its aim of dissolving colonial-era boundaries between states. Foremost among these is the much-hated ‘Sykes-Picot line’ between Iraq and Syria, the result of the 1915-16 agreement between the French and British about how they would divide the lands of the Ottoman Empire if they were to defeat them in the First World War. The peace of Paris, following the end of that war, did indeed set many of these divisions, though it took two treaties for this region: the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, which never came into force because of the Turkish war of independence, and then the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. The borders of Syria, Lebanon, Mandate Palestine, Iraq and Turkey all result from these agreements.

In West Africa, the territories of states are also determined by their inheritance of colonial-era boundaries. Many boundaries run north-south, whereas Muslim-Christian divisions tend to run east-west. What this means, in Nigeria especially, is a seemingly stark division in the country. All of the northern states that have implemented Sharia legal codes voted for Muhammadu Buhari in the last presidential elections, whereas all the southern states except Osun voted for Goodluck Jonathan. When Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died in office in 2010, Jonathan, as his vice-president, succeeded him. Jonathan has since won an election in his own right, and has recently declared he will run again in 2015. To win, he wants to stabilize the situation with Boko Haram, something that seems increasingly out of reach.

Nigeria has seen political violence and challenges to its territorial integrity before, with the Biafran war of independence between 1967 and 1970, and there has been a long-running challenge to the oil industry in the Niger Delta. Boko Haram has to be seen within Nigeria’s political-geographical context, as a group challenging Christian rule, the inequitable distribution of resources within the country, with an aspiration of a stricter form of Islamic law.

But it can also be seen in a wider regional context. Africa has long been seen as a focus of a wider ‘war on terror’, though most attention was paid to the Horn of Africa. But the stationing of a drone base in Niger, the French-led intervention in Mali, and the challenge of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), especially since the fall of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, has brought more attention to this region. Many claims for Boko Haram’s links to AQIM or to al-Shabaab in Somalia have been made, though these are likely looser than generally suggested.

In the past few weeks Boko Haram has been back in the news, after the Nigerian government announced a ceasefire had been agreed and the release of the Chibok girls was imminent. Unfortunately this turned out not to be the case. Some days later Boko Haram’s leader, Abubaker Shekau, gave an announcement stating that no such agreement had been made, and there have been a series of bombings, kidnappings and battles with the Nigerian military. But alongside these all-too-familiar attacks, Boko Haram have also shifted tactics, seeking to take over territory rather than just launch short raids. Several towns and villages in the northeast have been taken over, including, most recently, Chibok itself. The major town of Mubi was seized and the retaken by the state. Boko Haram have also declared themselves an ‘Islamic State’ and, on some reports, a Caliphate, though by this they likely meant simply an area ruled by Islamic law. While Boko Haram has long worked as more than a military operation, earlier this month former US ambassador John Campbell has suggested they are in the process of ‘moving toward governance’ (2014). Just as Iraq, Nigeria faces a profound challenge to its territorial integrity.

About the author: Stuart Elden is Professor of Political Theory and Geography at the University of Warwick, in the Politics and International Studies department. In this role Stuart spends two months a year at the Centre for Urban Science and Progress at New York University, and at Monash University where he holds an adjunct appointment as Monash Warwick Professor in the Faculty of Arts.

books_icon Campbell, J (2014) ‘Nigeria’s Boko Haram Moving Toward Governance?’, Africa in Transition: Council for Foreign Relations, November 7

books_icon Elden, S. (2009) Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

60-world2 Elden, S. (2014a) Boko Haram: An Annotated Bibliography. Progressive Geographies [open access]

books_icon Elden, S. (2014b) The Geopolitics of Boko Haram and Nigeria’s ‘War on Terror’, The Geographical Journal 180 (4), 414-25

60-world2 International Crisis Group (2014) Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency, Africa Report 216 [open access]

60-world2 Mantzikos, Ioannis ed. (2013) Boko Haram: Anatomy of a Crisis, Bristol: e-International Relations [open access]

60-world2 Walker, Andrew (2012) “What is Boko Haram?”, United States Institute of Peace Special Report [open access]

 

Italy: A Tale of Popular Geographic Circulation

by Benjamin Sacks

Italy: designed by geography. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

Italy: designed by geography. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

In 2002 Harvard historian David Armitage advanced his groundbreaking ‘Three Concepts of the Atlantic World’, a part-historiographical, part-theoretical attempt to describe the transnational movement of peoples, goods, and ideas in the early modern era. Admitting, of course, that the Atlantic Ocean cannot be conceived of in isolation to the Pacific, Mediterranean, or Indian oceans, or indeed to non-Atlantic continents (an point since strenuously articulated by Peter Coclanis), Armitage proposed three, intertwined paradigms: Circum-Atlantic, or ‘a transnational history’; Trans-Atlantic, or ‘an international history’; and Cis-Atlantic, or a ‘national or regional history within an Atlantic context’ (15). In sum, Armitage argued that we could not analyse or articulate national histories without critically accounting for time, context, and space. A study of Cadiz, Spain, for instance, historically one of the Atlantic’s most important and dynamic ports, cannot be comprehensively accomplished without: identifying its particular relationship(s) with other ports, nations, peoples, and ideas, its geography; or how ideas, groups, goods, and communications circumnavigate the sea (and the world) before returning in often exotic, repackaged forms.

While still a relatively recent phenomenon in historical study, geographers have long practised precisely the same analytical methods. Federico Ferretti’s recent Geographical Journal article is an excellent case-in-point. In ‘Inventing Italy – Geography, Risorgimento and National Imagination’, Ferretti documents and critiques how politicians, geographers, journalists, and merchants united – both consciously and unconsciously – to promote a modern worldview of ‘Italy’ from 1861, following Giuseppe Garibaldi’s successful efforts to merge the various Italian peninsular states. As their discussions and depictions of a unified Italy spread, so to did global conceptions of ‘Italy’ as a singular national identity, gradually erasing centuries-old perceptions of Italy as a squabbling cornucopia of city-states. From a narrowly topographical standpoint, Austrian chancellor Klemens von Metternich famously dispelled any notion of a united Italy as ‘a mere geographical expression’; a collection of micro-states connected only by their shared space on a geographically ideal and compact peninsula with convenient physical boundaries (403). But the coterie of writers, politicals, cartographers, and populists who tasked themselves with promoting post-1861 Italy swiftly dispelled this gross misconception.

Recalling Derek Gregory’s conception of ‘geographic imaginations’, Ferretti supports the view that political “realities” are often entire or partial geographical constructs, products of sociocultural and economic belief shifts. Or, to put another way, if they believe it, it is real. Italy had to market itself to become a legitimate force.

In the three decades prior to Italian unification, Count Annibal Ranuzzi devoted his life to the promotion of a serious, unified Italian geographic discourse. He and colleagues developed sophisticated correspondence networks with such established organisations as the Royal Geographical Society and l’Académie des sciences. Apart from his extraordinary technical and networking abilities, Ranuzzi was also an adept political strategist. In 1840, observing the rapid growth of formal geographic study throughout Europe and North America, the Count declared that a vital ‘shift’ must soon occur in the discipline’s maturation: ‘Critical geography, comparative geography, is just being born, and much time will be needed before it penetrates and prevails over the entire field of geographical studies’ (409). Geography, as Ranuzzi and a mélange of progressive European experts realised, could be promoted as a potent political tool – the active, engaged study of people, power, and states.

Geography is a remarkably natural means of political persuasion. Maps, as Ranuzzi depicted, beautifully lend themselves to manipulation, self-interest, and national celebration, á la J B Harley and David Woodward’s scholarship. The printed word – journal articles, journalism, literary accounts, and travel writing – on Italy too promoted a sense of ‘the nation’ both before and after Italian unification. Although Ranuzzi was sadly marginalised following unification for his complex political relationships, his efforts – as well as that of his contemporaries – strongly influenced the establishment of national, pan-Italian learned geographical societies and even, in the mould of the Royal Geographical Society and the National Geographic Society, Italian imperial expeditions serving dual academic-political goals.

books_icon Armitage, D, ‘Three Concepts of the Atlantic World‘, in Armitage, D and Braddick, M, eds., The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800 (London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).

books_icon Coclanis, P, ‘Drang Nach Osten: Bernard Bailyn, the World-Island, and the Idea of Atlantic History‘, Journal of World History 13.1 (Spring, 2002): 169-82.

books_icon Ferretti, F, ‘Inventing Italy. Geography, Risorgimento and Natiional Imagination: The International Circulation of Geographical Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century‘, The Geographical Journal 180.4 (Dec., 2014): 402-13.

The UK’s response to a rapidly-changing Arctic

By Richard Hodgkins, Loughborough University

Brøggerbreen: Photo credit: Richard Hodgkins

Brøggerbreen: Photo credit: Richard Hodgkins

The House of Lords has established an Arctic Committee, with a remit to “consider recent and expected changes in the Arctic and their implications for the UK and its international relations”. The Committee has already started taking evidence, and has just issued a call for written submissions. The UK has more of a natural claim to be interested in the Arctic than many probably realise: it is the northernmost country outside of the eight Arctic States, with the northern tip of the Shetland Islands being only 400km south of the Arctic Circle. The House of Lords’ interest largely stems from the rapid environmental changes evident in high northern latitudes, which are warming at least twice as quickly as the global average (Jeffries et al., 2013). In fact, as I argue in my recent commentary published in The Geographical Journal, the Arctic is almost uniquely susceptible to rapid change brought about through climate warming, mostly as a result of strong, positive feedbacks driven by the loss of snow and ice (Hodgkins, 2014). A greatly more accessible, ice-free Arctic Ocean particularly holds out the prospect of significant geopolitical change in the high North in the coming decades. Given current tensions between Russia and the west, this change may not necessarily be achieved harmoniously.

Our response to a changing Arctic should of course be informed by thorough understanding, free from assumptions, misconceptions or fallacies. It should not therefore be assumed that warming, by ameliorating the Arctic, will necessarily “improve” its environment or ecosystem. For instance, sea ice loss, warmer sea-surface temperatures and greater accumulation of freshwater are likely to stratify the ocean, preventing the free cycling of nutrients from shallow to deep and actually limiting biological productivity: “A warming Arctic… will simply be an ice-free version of the desert it already is” (Economist, 2013). Furthermore, the strong, positive feedbacks of “Arctic amplification” ensure that the actual atmospheric temperature increase in high northern latitudes will be much greater than the global average. Under a business-as-usual scenario, a mean 3.7°C global average temperature increase is likely by the 2090s. This implies a warming of 9°C over large parts the Arctic (IPCC, 2013). This rate of warming – which is not a worst-case scenario – exceeds anything previously encountered during human occupation of the Arctic. Terra incognita et mare incognitum, our response to the changing Arctic cannot be anything other than unprecedented; it’s to be hoped that it’s also wise.

About the author: Dr Richard Hodgkins is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography at the University of Loughborough. 

60-world2 The Economist. 2013. Tequila Sunset.

books_icon Hodgkins, R. 2014. The 21st-century Arctic environment: accelerating change in the atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial spheres. The Geographical Journal, in press.

books_icon IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). 2013. Summary for Policymakers. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

books_icon Jeffries, M., Overland, J., Perovich, D. 2013 The Arctic shifts to a new normal. Physics Today 66, 35‒40.

Ethnic entrepreneurs in Seoul, South Korea: Who are they? And why are they important?

By Minkyung Koh and Ed Malecki, Ohio State University

For the past decade, Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, has witnessed the emergence of two groups of ethnic entrepreneurs: Nigerians and Pakistanis. Even though South Korea has experienced a rapid increase of immigrants from all over the world, their emergence is an unexpected phenomenon because most immigrants to the country are labor workers or spouses from less-developed countries, or elite foreigners from developed countries. Who are these entrepreneurs, why are they in Seoul, and what does their emergence mean for Seoul and other Asian cities?

Ethnic business in Itaewon, Seoul (photo by Minkyung Koh)

Ethnic business in Itaewon, Seoul (photo by Minkyung Koh)

Ethnic entrepreneurship studies have developed mostly in Europe and America which has relatively long history of immigration. In this literature, Ethnic entrepreneurs have been depicted as separated from the host country and depending on the coethnic community.  However, our case study (Koh and Malecki 2014) finds that ethnic entrepreneurship not only relies on their coethnic community but also can be not separated from the Korean host society. Pakistani entrepreneurs in Seoul, who mainly do import-oriented business from Pakistan, are similar to the traditional ethnic entrepreneurs who are largely independent of the host society. To purchase Pakistani goods, they transact with mostly Pakistani entrepreneurs throughout Korea and resell goods to the Pakistani community. In contrast, Nigerian entrepreneurs concentrate on exporting Korean goods to Nigeria so they are deeply connected to Nigerians as well as Koreans.

In a globalising era, why are these ethnic entrepreneurs important? How can we explain their transnational trading activities? As traders, their transnational activities cross borders and contribute to visibility in urban landscapes and the flows between home and host countries. Ethnic entrepreneurs in Seoul are spontaneous actors of contemporary globalisation. Their trade connections are an instance of ‘globalisation from below’, which represents the processes of global activities by voluntary actors (Mathews et al. 2012). The emergence of ethnic entrepreneurs in Seoul shows that immigrants are not passive agents who follow global economic or political power.

Is this globalization from below possible to only Pakistanis and Nigerians? We carefully answer ‘no’. Transnational trading activities in Seoul are also expanding beyond the Nigerians and Pakistanis. Other ethnic entrepreneurs such as Mongolians and Uzbekistanis run their businesses in Seoul, too. The rapid growth of ethnic communities and entrepreneurs demonstrates that Seoul facilitates – and is constructed by – the globalization from below by immigrants. The fact that the Korean government has released a set of measures to promote foreign entrepreneurs (Gov’t luring foreign entrepreneurs) reflects this new phenomenon. And it seems that this measure may contribute to the continuous growth of ethnic entrepreneurs.  The relationship between ethnic entrepreneurs (or immigrants) and cities has received little attention in urban studies. Research on world cities focuses mainly on economic and technological functions (GaWC 2014). Our article would be a first step to probe the relationship between migrants and cities.

Even though our article probes the globalisation from below by ethnic entrepreneurs in Seoul, we would like to expand its applicability. Already other cities such as Guangzhou in China or Hong Kong also have experienced African entrepreneurs (Mathews 2007; Mathews and Yang 2012). Asian cities have been considered to be accelerating a homogenizing globalisation mainly emulating Western global cities so that their actual localized globalisation has not been fully explored. In contrast to typical indices of global cities such as cross-border linkages initiated by transnational corporations and foreign direct investment, this globalisation from below by immigrants might be a footstep to understand grounded globalisation of Asian global cities.

About the authors: Minkyung Koh is a PhD student in the department of geography at the Ohio State University. Ed Malecki is a Professor of Geography at the same institution. 

60-world2 GaWC 2014 The world according to GaWC 2012 Accessed 11 May 2014

 Koh M and Malecki E J 2014 The emergence of ethnic entrepreneurs in Seoul, South Korea: globalisation from below The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geog.12111

 Mathews G 2007 Chungking Mansions: a center of “low-end globalization” Ethnology 46 169–83

 Mathews G, Ribeiro G L and Alba Vega C 2012 Globalization from below: the world’s other economy, Routledge, New York

 Mathews G and Yang Y 2012 How Africans pursue low-end globalization in Hong Kong and Mainland China Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 41 95–120

New free to access virtual issue on ‘Devolution and the Geographies of Policy’ in The Geographical Journal

In two weeks time Scottish people will be taking to the polls to answer the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes/No”

"Scotland decides" Image credit: Scottish Government (CC BY-NC 2.0)

“Scotland decides” Image credit: Scottish Government (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Geographical Journal has published a new virtual issue on ‘Devolution and the Geographies of Policy‘. Papers will be free to access for a limited period.

Ben Clifford, the editor of the virtual issue, says:

“On 18th September, the Scottish people will vote in a referendum whether to become an independent nation-state or not. Whatever the result, the political geography of the United Kingdom will never be the same again. The referendum is, however, just part of a broader process of change to the UK’s political geography ongoing ever since the implementation of devolution under the Blair government. The collection of papers in this virtual issue form a special issue of the Geographical Journal on ‘devolution and the geographies of policy’ due to be published in 2015. Devolution has created a changed policy landscape in the UK, with new spaces of policy-making and questions emerging as to the relationships between these new (and existing) spaces. Many of the issues raised, such as the future of the nation-state, the influence of supra-national institutions such as the European Union, the role of state actors (and others) in mobilising policy, and the drivers/inhibitors of policy divergence, are of great relevance not just with regards to Scotland’s future but in light of devolutionary processes seen across the world”.

The Devolution and the Geographies of Policy Virtual Issue contains six papers which are free to access for a limited period:

 Clifford, B. and Morphet, J. (2014), Introduction to devolution and the geographies of policy. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12113

 Pemberton, S., Peel, D. and Lloyd, G. (2014), The ‘filling in’ of community-based planning in the devolved UK?. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12075

 Clifford, B. and Morphet, J. (2014), A policy on the move? Spatial planning and State Actors in the post-devolutionary UK and Ireland. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12064

 McGuinness, D., Greenhalgh, P. and Pugalis, L. (2014), Is the grass always greener? Making sense of convergence and divergence in regeneration policies in England and Scotland. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12090

 Woolvin, M., Mills, S., Hardill, I. and Rutherford, A. (2014), Divergent geographies of policy and practice? Voluntarism and devolution in England, Scotland and Wales. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.1206

 MacKinnon, D. (2013), Devolution, state restructuring and policy divergence in the UK. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12057

60-world2 For more information about the Scottish referendum see the Electoral Commission’s website.

Searching for Justice in Palestine’s Geography

By Benjamin Sacks

Gaza Strip. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

Gaza Strip. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

The State of Israel and Gaza militants are currently engaged in yet another violent struggle. As I write, the Israeli military is announcing that Hadar Goldin, a 23 year-old soldier captured by Hamas, had died. Separately, United Nations officials in Gaza report that a ‘health disaster of widespread proportions is rapidly unfolding’ there as the three week-old conflict rages on without any ceasefire or even serious negotiations in sight. This most recent flare is little different from previous struggles between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, and unfortunately will not likely be the last time the two sides will clash.

It is now well understood that decisions made in the years leading up to Israel’s creation set in motion many of the current divisions between the Israelis and Palestinians. The infamous secret Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916 split the post-war Middle East into French and British administrative sectors, formalized in the subsequent League of Nations mandates of 1922. In the Second World War’s aftermath, Britain experienced considerable, often violent strife from Israeli settlers in their mutual efforts to negotiate the timetable and terms for the establishment of an independent Jewish state. Writing in a 1951 Geographical Journal article, Sir Clarmont Skrine recalled that the State of Israel was born on 15 May 1948 in the ‘midst of [tremendous] strife between Jew and Arab [factions]‘ over what lands each would take ‘on the margin between “the desert and the sown” [the Fertile Crescent]‘ (p. 308).

In the most recent issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Reecia Orzeck (Illinois State University) examines one of the most contentious aspects of the Second World War period in Palestine. Heeding long-standing calls both within and outside of academic geography to ‘engage more closely with the normative’ (p. 345), Orzeck explored the British implementation of the Land Transfer Regulation scheme in 1940. She accomplished this through an erudite and exacting investigation into how British, Jewish, and Palestinians understood ‘justice’ and concrete, albeit differing notions of ‘geographical imaginaries’.

Justice in a geographical sense, according to Orzeck, is the incorporation of moral, ethical, or judicial concerns and theory into geographical knowledge and analysis. In essence, this means that spatial study should incorporate legal and moral concerns as much as economic or political perspectives. Although renowned geographers Andrew Sayer, Michael Storper, and David M Smith all noted the coming trend as early as the late 1990s, the shift failed to occur and the geopolitical world radically changed in the first decade of the 2000s. Concerning Palestine, she argues that historical, contemporary, and social ‘geographical imaginaries’, or culturally-accepted paradigms about the world’s physical and cultural space,

[C]an play an important role in popular assessments of the justness of particular policies and practices, and that assessments of what constitutes a just policy can change as a result of changing geographical imaginaries (p. 348).

Both Britain and the League of Nations had promised Palestinians and Jews their own states in the McMahon-Hussein correspondence (1916) and the Balfour Declaration (1917), respectively. But increasingly complex legal promises and confusion led to outbreaks of violence between Palestinians and Jews in the late 1930s and during the Second World War. Ultimately, in 1940 the British divided the Mandate into three land-available zones: ‘A’, for transfer to Palestinians; ‘B’, for transfer from Palestinians to Palestinians; and ‘C’, unrestricted land transfers. According to British geographical imaginations, this would permit Palestinians the opportunity to maintain control over traditionally Arab lands and properties, while allowing Jews to right to purchase and transfer lands in other sectors. But, as Orzeck explains, the Jewish community understood this agreement different. In their geographical, or spatial imagination,

In zone A, Jews could not purchase land; in zone B, Jews could purchase land but not from Palestinians; and in zone C, Jewish land purchases were unrestricted (p. 349).

This, of course, soon resulted in a significant clash between British officials seeking to organise two states, the Jewish Agency, who believed that they had been promised opportunities to obtain Palestinian land, and the Palestinians themselves, who saw their newly-approved gains being immediately threatened.

60-world2Israel says missing soldier is dead‘, BBC News, 2 August 2014.

books_iconClarmont Skrine, ‘Economic Development in Israel’, The Geographical Journal 117.3 (Sep., 1951): 307-26.

books_icon

Reecia Orzeck, ‘Normative geographies and the 1940 Land Transfer Regulations in Palestine‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39 (Jul., 2014): 345-59.