Category Archives: The Geographical Journal

Climate change and human health: how COP21 has helped

By Joseph J. Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

The potential adverse impacts of climate change on natural and human environments are prominent in the media, but impacts on human health are seemingly discussed less often. In The Geographical Journal, Papworth et al. (2015) write about the multifaceted nature of climate change in relation to human health. Examples of health impacts include: heatstroke, injuries from disasters, infectious diseases (water-borne and vector-borne), malnutrition, food poisoning, lung diseases, and allergies (see their figure 3, which also lists required adaptations; p. 415). A key impact also listed therein is that of mental health, which reduces resilience of individuals and societies to the aforementioned health problems and environmental change. For example, links between mental health and climate change have been recently reported in Australian farmers.

Drought and flooding can have huge impacts on agricultural landscapes and, consequently, human health. Western Madagascar, author’s own (© Joseph J. Bailey).

Drought and flooding can have huge impacts on agricultural landscapes and, consequently, human health. Western Madagascar, author’s own (© Joseph J. Bailey).

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in December 2015, which, amongst much else, miraculously forged an emissions agreement between 187 countries, has helped to more prominently bring some of these issues surrounding human health to the public eye. The decisions made at COP21 may help us to mitigate, and adapt to, future impacts of climate change on human health. Indeed, a central aspect of the agreement is “the right to health” and the director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Maria Neira, said that the Paris agreement “pushes countries to develop adaptation plans that will protect human health from the worst impacts of climate change”. More broadly, WHO referred to COP21 as “a historic win for human health”.

The success of COP21 in relation to human health will not be measurable for some time, but it has hopefully put in place the infrastructure required to encourage adaptive approaches to climate change from local to international scales that will ultimately benefit human health, and the health of the wider environment. Some people are cynical of us actually preventing a temperature rise more than 2°C this century. However, I would argue that the fact that so many countries came together, spoke, and made a range of legally binding commitments is highly encouraging. It represents progress on a path towards greater use of renewable energy and more sustainable policies and practices, which can only be a good thing for human, and indeed the planet’s, health as we move forwards, even if the specific targets are not met.

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books_icon Papworth, A., Maslin, M. & Randalls, S. (2015) Is climate change the greatest threat to human health? The Geographical Journal, 181, 413–422. (View online).

60-world2 WHO report: “New climate change agreement a historic win for human health”. (Online, last accessed 15th Jan 2016)

What Does ‘Shared Responsibility’ mean in the Context of the Mérida Agreement?

By Carolyn Gallaher, School of International Service, American University, Washington DC

Protesting against repression in Mexico. Photo Credit: Marcel Oosterwijk

Protesting against repression in Mexico. Photo Credit: Marcel Oosterwijk

In 2008, the U.S. and Mexican governments established the Mérida Initiative, a bilateral security agreement in which the two countries agreed to ‘share responsibility’ for dismantling organized crime groups based in Mexico and operating in the U.S.  In October of this year, the U.S. State Department quietly decided to withhold some of its scheduled aid because of concerns over Mexico’s human rights record.

How did this agreement come to pass, and once it was established, why did it take so long for the U.S. government to respond to evidence that Mexican security forces were violating human rights?

On the first matter, in a paper recently published in The Geographical Journal, I argue that the notion of ‘shared responsibility’ underpinning the Mérida agreement helped thaw the long-frosty relationship between the two countries.

For its part, Mexico has been wary of U.S. motives since the U.S./Mexican War.  Mexico lost nearly a third of its territory in the war, so ‘yanqui imperialism’ continues to be seen as a real threat.  The U.S.’s fears are more recent, but no less trenchant.  On the matter of drugs, for example, the U.S. believes Mexican law enforcement is not a reliable partner because of its history of corruption.

The increase in drug-related violence in the early 2000s only complicated the relationship, and in fact prompted a new debate—were Mexico’s drug cartels terrorists, and if so, was Mexico in danger of failing?

The notion of ‘shared responsibility’ helped pave the way for cooperation on security issues, generally, and drug trafficking more specifically, by doing three things.  First, it clarified the formal position of both governments that Mexico’s drug cartels are criminals—specifically, transnational criminal organizations (TCOs)—instead of terrorists.  By casting the problem as transnational, the United State also agreed to accept some responsibility for it.  Finally, the agreement reaffirmed Mexican sovereignty by putting Mexico in charge of what Mérida money could be used for.

Second, although the Mérida Agreement can be characterized as a ‘paradigm shift’ inasmuch as the two countries now cooperate extensively on security issues—something that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago—it has simultaneously reinforced a militarized status quo in Mexico.

By defining ‘shared responsibility’ as an obligation between states, rather than between states and citizens, Mexican militarization can proceed apace, despite the litany of abuses ascribed to it in places such as Juarez, and Tlatlaya, among others) .

These abuses came to a symbolic head in October 2014 when 43 students from a rural teachers’ college in Iguala, a small town in Guerrero state, were forcibly abducted and disappeared at the hands of Mexican security forces.

When President Obama was asked about the students at a press conference during Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s state visit in early January 2015, he reaffirmed the notion of shared responsibility as between states, noting that the U.S.’s “commitment is to be a friend and supporter of Mexico in its efforts to eliminate the scourge of violence.”  It would take another ten months for the U.S. government to reconsider that responsibility.  The amount of aid withheld—a few million out of a $4.2 billion bucket—also gives reason for pause going forward.  The amount is probably not sufficient to stop state abuses.

About the author: Carloyn Gallaher is Associate Professor at the School of International Service, at the American University, Washington DC. She undertakes research in two distinct areas, organised violence by non-state actors, and urban politics. 

books_icon Gallaher, C. (2015), Mexico, the failed state debate, and the Mérida fix. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12166

60-world2 Human Rights Watch 2015 Mexico: Damning Report on Disappearances: Experts dispute official account of 2014 atrocity  

60-world2 Meyer M, Bewer S and Cepeda C 2010 Abused and Afraid in Ciudad Juarez: An analysis of human rights violations by the military in Mexico

60-world2 Partlow J 2015 U.S blocks some anti-drug funds for Mexico over human rights concernsThe Washington Post 

60-world2 WOLA 2015 In Mexico’s Tlatlaya massacre, soldiers were ordered to ‘take them out’ Press Release.

The Geographical Imagination and Britain’s Entanglements ‘East of Suez’

280px-SuezCanal-EO

The Suez Canal continues to loom large in the consciousness of British foreign policymakers. (c) 2015 Wikimedia Commons.

By Benjamin Sacks, Princeton University

The phrase ‘East of Suez’ looms large in our geographical imagination. Long after the end of formal empire and even the Cold War, it embodies a particularly Orientalist conception of exotic peoples, vibrant Kiplingesque colours and untapped wild landscapes. Why does this term still conjure such emotional responses, and why is it back in the news?

In the midst of this month’s unsettling developments, from terrorists attacks in France, Mali, Egypt, and elsewhere, to the constant media frenzy surrounding the US presidential campaign, Britain quietly moved back ‘East of Suez’. On 1 November Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa ceremonially began the (re)construction of HMS Juffair (first erected in 1935) in Mina Salman Port, Britain’s first permanent military base east of the Suez Crisis since 1971. The new base will provide logistical, materiel, and offensive support for Royal Navy operations in the Middle East and South Asia. Rather more surreptitiously, Britain has also heavily invested in expanding Oman’s Duqm port, 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of Masirah Island, to accept Royal Navy vessels (including the forthcoming Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers). In both cases the war against ISIS, Yemeni militants, and bolstering defence, trade, and communications links have been cited as reasons for expansion.

In step with the British Empire’s dissolution, the Aden crisis, financial problems, and unstable domestic developments, in 1968 Harold Wilson decided to close all formal military bases east of Egypt’s Suez Canal, thereby reducing military costs and refocus Britain’s diminished post-War resources on NATO, Europe, and the North Atlantic theatre. While many commentators praised Wilson’s decision as opening a new, postcolonial chapter in Britain’s foreign policy, others believed that the move was a dangerous, short-sighted mistake. The 1982 Falklands War and 1991 and 2003 Iraq wars galvanised both supporters and opponents of the ‘East of Suez’ policy. As The Economist argued however, ‘In reality, Britain never left the Gulf’. Even after 1971 Britain maintained significant military and geopolitical influence in Oman, the Gulf States (Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar), Malaysia, and Brunei, as well as at Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory and at Hong Kong (until 1997). Arguably, it enjoyed greater success through so-called ‘soft-power’, maintaining strong economic and broadcasting relationships with Arabian and South Asian states.

Why does ‘East of Suez’ remain such an emotionally-charged phrase for contemporary audiences? A quick survey of British newspapers evidences how Labour, Conservative, and independent journalists all use the term to evoke particular political sentiments. The Independent used it to highlight anger from human rights campaigners. The BBC, while noting criticism of UK-Bahraini ties, also discussed the latter state’s longstanding relationship with Britain. The Telegraph simply described ‘East of Suez’ as a ‘welcome renewal of friendships in the Gulf’.

Irrespective of where one’s political beliefs lie on the spectrum, geography and geographical writing have played central roles in embedding ‘East of Suez’ in our collective conscious. The Royal Geographical Society’s extensive archives reveal how this phrase was used to promote particular imaginations and responses throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth century. Early, Orientalist-charged uses of ‘East of Suez’ underscored geography as an imperial discipline. Between the 1880s and the First World War, Suez expanded from the Canal and Peninsula, to a symbolic geostrategic marker, and finally to a border between ‘known’ and ‘unknown’, ‘us’ and ‘them’.

In an 1886 memorial, ‘East of Suez’ meant exactly that. The largely undocumented Sinai desert east of the Suez Canal. This reference nonetheless is important, for it provides us with evidence as to how the RGS conceived of the Suez Canal in the 1870s-1890s: as a geographical place. This narrow notion soon changed, however. In the Georgian period Ernest Young, a Belle Epoque travel writer on Siam (Thailand) and Finland, deliberately (and vaguely) described the geography in-between Europe and Russia and Southeast Asia as ‘Somewhere East of Suez’, conveying a romantic notion of uncharted mountains and pirate-laden waters. As the RGS reviewer laconically noted, Young’s Orientalist perspective was undoubtedly a function of his day job as a schoolmaster. The following year Rachael Humphreys, an early female FRGS, published Travels East of Suez, reiterating the term’s intensely imperial meanings. This time, ‘East of Suez’ referred not the Near East nor Fertile Crescent, but to the Indian Subcontinent. This broadness suggests the pre-First World War use of ‘East of Suez’ to describe a generalised, homogenous Asian ‘Other’, exoticising the grand adventure of Britain’s colonial exploits beyond the Canal. Belle Epoque literature, from Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1900-1901) to near-endless accounts of British explorers, undoubtedly influenced Humphreys’ selection of her title.

By the 1930s ‘East of Suez’ was firmly entrenched as the Empire’s dividing line between Europe and an occasionally mysterious Asia. In 1936 Kenneth Mason recalled the moment aviation came to India: ‘I look back with mixed feelings to twenty-five years ago, when in December 1910 the first plane seen east of Suez arrived at Allahabad and began what were optimistically called “joy-flights”‘ (5). Here ‘East of Suez’ enjoyed a physicality, the sense that it served as an actual obstacle for the advancement of British civilisation, a feat that must be traversed each time the Empire sought to impose a European convention onto the Orient.

The War changed all that. ‘East of Suez’, even to the RGS, became a byword for Britain’s need for oil. G M Lees’ 1940 article, for instance, defined ‘East of Suez’ as Arabia, and Arabia as a potential oil source for the British war effort.

By 1968, when the newly-published monograph Great Britain in the Indian Ocean 1810-1850 was reviewed in The Geographical Journal, the consequences of Britain’s Asian ‘adventure’ were very much on reviewer Antony Preston’s mind. ‘As Great Britain’s “East of Suez” commitments are under such heavy fire’, he wrote, ‘one may well wonder how we came to be saddled with so many treaty obligations and colonial responsibilities’. ‘East of Suez’ had ceased to be a term of imperial excitement. Instead, it succinctly described the weight of imperial fatigue, eating away at a post-War Britain eager to tighten its finances and responsibilities.

In the wake of the 1982 Falklands War and the RGS’s now-famed 1983 discussion of the islands’ environmental and political geography, such political geographers as John House (Oxford) used ‘East of Suez’ as a term to describe the expansion and limitation of Soviet naval operations in relation to British and American counterparts. ‘East of Suez’ no longer carried a clear imperial meaning; instead political geographers identified it as a fault line between Capitalism and Communism. Bizarrely, House declared that the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean ‘would be of little significance in the global nuclear balance’ (13), thereby forgetting two millennia of history. In the twenty-first century, ‘East of Suez’ conveys two distinct, but intertwined meanings: the return of formal British military bases to the Indian Ocean (see Blake 2009), and the expansion of British soft power in South and Southeast Asia.

References

books_icon (1886) Geographical Notes, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography8(5): 328-38.

books_icon C R M (1914) Review, From Russia to Siam, by Ernest YoungThe Geographical Journal 44(6): 586-87.

books_icon (1916) Review, Travels East of Suez, by Rachael HumphreysThe Geographical Journal 47(2): 138.

books_icon Mason K (1936) The Himalaya as a Barrier to Modern CommunicationsThe Geographical Journal 87(1): 1-13.

books_icon Lees G M (1940) The Search for OilThe Geographical Journal  95(1): 1-16.

books_icon Preston A (1968) Review, Great Britain in the Indian Ocean 1810-1850, by G S GrahamThe Geographical Journal 134(1): 134.

books_icon House J (1984) War, Peace and Conflict Resolution: Towards an Indian Ocean ModelTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 9(1): 3-21.

books_icon Blake R (2009) Airfield Closures and Air Defence Reorientation in Britain during the Cold War and its Immediate AftermathArea 41(3): 285-99.

60-world2 Lindsay I (2014) HM Ambassador’s speech to the Bahrain Business Forum, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, 10 December.

60-world2 (2015) British Secretary of State for Defence visits OmanBritish Embassy Muscat, 1 October.

60-world2 ONA (2015) British Secretary of State for Defence hails Sultanate’s efforts in solving regional crisisMuscat Daily, 1 October.

60-world2 (2014) We’re back: A new naval base in Bahrain is an echo of the pastThe Economist 13 December.

60-world2 Merrill J (2015) Royal Navy base construction begins in Bahrain as Britain seeks a return to ‘East of Suez’The Independent, 1 November.

60-world2 Gardner F (2015) UK builds first permanent Middle East base for 40 yearsBBC News, 1 November.

60-world2 More C (2015) A welcome renewal of friendships in the GulfThe Telegraph, 1 November.

Can new remote sensing technologies improve diplomacy in shared river catchments?

By Joseph J. Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

Rivers are the arteries of the world, carrying life-giving water to the organs that are the natural habitats and human settlements. An increase or decrease in flow can have disastrous consequences through droughts and flooding, thus ensuring a sustainable water supply is seen as a priority by many states worldwide. Despite the vast number of environmental problems dams can (and do) cause, they allow people to not only control water flow to the population in times of low or high supply/demand, but also produce energy through hydroelectric technologies. Whether or not to build a dam, and when to remove a dam, is, or at least should be, decided by comparing the environmental impact with the benefits of energy and water provision. The accumulated impact of building multiple dams within a watershed should also be considered, because this can result in lower water quality for humans, alongside inflated environmental impacts.

It is not surprising then that dams are highly contentions across all scales, from the local to the global. Indeed, they are one of the most contentious geopolitical issues in the world today, with international debates surrounding the Nile in Africa and within-country debates over Brazil’s Belo Monte and Madeira dams, to take just two examples. Dams have even been considered ‘powerful weapons of war’ in the Middle East. To sum up, dams are amongst the most important structures in the world because they safeguard the most valuable resource in the world for whoever owns it. Dams therefore hold great political, as well as hydrological, power and are understandably at the centre of many international debates and discussions.

Brahmaputra River, Shigatse, Tibet

Brahmaputra River, Shigatse, Tibet (Boqiang Liao via Wikimedia Commons, available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brahmaputra_River,_Shigatse.jpg?uselang=en-gb)

Often in such debates and discussions, the owner of the upper reaches of a river, and any dams therein, holds vast amounts data about spatial and temporal water flow (discharge) in that region, and may closely guard those data from its neighbours, and from global data hubs. Those who hold the data have a political advantage when discussing the future for a particular river, and those downstream, who possess no or very little data on the upstream parts of the river flowing through their country, may struggle to apply any political pressure.

This issue of data sharing, or lack thereof, is discussed in a paper by Gleason and Hamdan (2015) in The Geographical Journal. They write how a novel remote sensing technique might be able to help with this using two case studies: the Brahmaputra and the Mekong (known as the Lancang in China). Both have featured in the news recently, with the opening of a Chinese dam in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra in Tibet (e.g. Reuters Africa, Voice of America) and with the Mekong because of the many dam constructions completed recently or in progress (map and details at International Rivers; also see Al Jazeera). Both of these situations are very complicated, affecting millions of people in the countries concerned, as well as attracting international attention.

The aforementioned technique highlighted by Gleason and Hamdan (2015), and initially developed by Gleason and Smith (2014), is called ‘at-many-stations hydraulic geometry’ (AMHG). It uses remotely sensed data (from satellites) and recent advancements in geomorphic theory and aims to address the data shortfall many countries experience in relation to inaccessible watersheds. These are usually in another country, but the technique may also be of use in hard-to-reach areas within a country. While the model produces noteworthy inaccuracies compared to in situ gauge measurements, these data are obtainable by anyone and may at least partially fill a knowledge gap for some countries.

Perhaps through enabling countries without direct access to flow rate information of river stretches outside of their borders, data from remote sensing technologies will benefit a nation’s diplomatic standing with their neighbours. Such technologies are also likely to improve in the future with dedicated satellites for measuring river properties (see Gleason and Hamdan, 2015). This will overcome inaccuracies seen with AMHG, which, at present, may be an argument that countries owning upper reaches can use against those further downstream; that the data being used are not accurate enough to make a valid case for more or less water to be released downstream, for example.

However, whilst these new technologies will no doubt be able to assist with hydrological monitoring into the future and probably help with these often tense cross-border situations by enabling downstream countries, the ultimate challenges, as is already the case in many places at the moment, will be political and rely on the relationship between the countries concerned. This is because one country will always control the dam that stops and releases the water, even if their neighbour knows absolutely everything about the watershed concerned through remote sensing. There are many discussions to be had about who really owns rivers, containing arguably the most valuable resource on the planet, when they start in one country and flow into another. As climate change continues, and populations grow, water resources are likely to be stretched ever further and it may be prudent to attempt to resolve the issues discussed here sooner rather than later.

References

books_icon Gleason C. J. and Smith L. C. (2014). Toward global mapping of river discharge using satellite images and at-many-stations hydraulic geometry. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111, 4788–91.

books_iconGleason, C. J. and Hamdan, A. N. (2015). Crossing the (Watershed) Divide: Satellite Data and the Changing Politics of International River Basins. The Geographical Journal (early view).

Building eco-homes for every body

By Amita Bhakta (Loughborough University) and Jenny Pickerill (University of Sheffield) 

Hockerton Housing Project

Hockerton Housing Project, Nottinghamshire, UK. Photo Credit: Richard Croft CC BY-SA 2.0

At the end of November 2015 Paris will be host to COP21 where leaders gather yet again to debate and discuss ways forward to tackle the multitude of climate challenges we face. COP21, or the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, will seek to find a renewed international agreement to limiting global warming to below a 2oC rise. The Guardian this week emphasised that despite the efforts being made by 140 nations around the world to reduce emissions, average temperatures are likely to rise to 2.7oC and lead to rising sea levels, floods, drought, and the extinction of species.

In response to such challenges, communities with eco-friendly housing, low running costs and shared facilities are being built across the world. These homes seek to minimise waste and use of resources, whilst promoting the use of renewable energy. Such eco-communities are part of a grassroots movement bringing people of diverse backgrounds together to live low impact lifestyles.

But at the same time with a continually ageing population, we must also consider our future selves, and how our needs will shift alongside these environmental challenges. Inaccessibility for disabled people has long been discussed as an endemic issue which typifies the British housing stock (see, for instance Imrie 2006, Hemingway, 2011).

Yet, what remains clear is that whilst eco-housing is being built as a part of the responses to environmental challenges, it is not being developed to be inclusive of all needs and abilities. In our recent article in The Geographical Journal (Bhakta and Pickerill 2015) we discuss how despite a growing recognition of the necessity to build for diverse abilities, with a need to understand the complexity of disability and the consequences of this for engaging with the built environment, eco-communities have failed to provide physical accessibility for disabled people. Such failure has arisen from not just barriers to implementing accessible features in homes (such as high perceived costs, changes in regulations over time and a notable prioritisation of being ecological over being accessible), but also the ignorance of bodily differences, manifested through barriers in both eco-homes and their surrounding community environments. As such, lessons from the past on inaccessibility in British housing have not been drawn upon in new eco-house construction.

Our paper uses the example of eco-communities to illustrate that disabled people are in effect excluded physically and socially from ecological lifestyles and practices. And so, begs the question: is inclusivity on the agenda at the COP21 summit? Where does disability ‘fit’ in sustainable practice more broadly? Through bringing attention back to the (disabled) body, our article provides a reminder that whilst we strive to mitigate the effects of climate change we still remain part of the future. In seeking to make space for differences such as disability, in a future older population, our research highlights the need to consider how to not only sustain our planet, but also to sustain our individual selves and bodies as well.

About the authors: 

Amita Bhakta is a PhD candidate within the Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) at Loughborough University. Jenny Pickerill is Professor of Environmental Geography at the University of Sheffield.

References

books_icon Bhakta, A. and Pickerill, J. (2015), Making space for disability in eco-homes and eco-communities. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12157

60-world2 The Guardian 2015 Climate pledges by 140 countries will limit global warming – but not enough 

Housing Refugees: Prejudice and the Potentials of Encounter

By Julian Shaw (King’s College London)

Syrian Refugees at Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

Syrian Refugees at Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary
Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

This summer the British media opened its eyes, cleared its collective throat, and eventually gave voice to a global refugee crisis that has been growing for years. Initially the tragedy traversed the narratives of public and political figures, then it made its way into the private discussions of British families (via TV news and online petitions). Now the tragedy’s spatial journey appears to have followed suit – moving from the public spaces of train stations and border checkpoints, it is now poised to enter private space. In The Independent it was revealed that “one in 14 people – the equivalent of almost two million UK households – said they would be prepared to offer a room or space in their home to a refugee” (The Independent, 2015); what an amazing thought.

Concurrently in September’s issue of The Geographical Journal, Valentine et al. published the latest instalment in their investigation of the geography of encounter; looking in this article at “encounters…within the context of family life” (Valentine et al., 2015: 280). Their article specifically turns the significance of everyday intimate encounters with diversity in the home, and how these may have the potential to challenge wider prejudices evident in public life.

Turning to the cities of Leeds and Warsaw, Valentine et al. surveyed over 3,000 social attitudes and made in-depth qualitative explorations with 60 of these respondents. Their findings revealed that indeed “intra-familial diversity does produce more positive attitudes in public life” (ibid.: 291). Should such a result be consistent across the UK, this has made me wonder about the wider positive implications that could occur if British families were to house refugees in their spare rooms, as was suggested in The Independent.

Of course, housing someone does not necessarily make them family – or at least not in the traditional sense. However, Valentine et al. acknowledge in their study that the intimate encounters they explore do not presume the traditional sense of family – in the modern world family structures are much more malleable and changeable than they used to be. Instead they extend their investigation of families to the wider spatial setting of “the home and associated spaces of family life” (Valentine et al., 2005: 281). In this case, I suggest that their findings could be directly relevant to UK families welcoming refugees into their homes.

However, the obvious caveat here is that likely volunteers to house refugees are those already holding positive views towards them. I guess the challenge is – if intimate encounters can break prejudice – enabling intimate encounters with refugees to enter into the homes of those harbouring intolerance? Yet, don’t most of us have some distant or extended family members that we might reluctantly describe as being intolerant, even while we hold broad and accepting views ourselves? If this is the case then the intimate encounters described by Valentine et al. (2015) could indeed happen in the families of those offering to house refugees. Let’s hope the offer becomes reality.

References:

60-world2 The Independent (2015) Online article: “Revealed: the extraordinary response to the Syrian refugee crisis – and how it shames David Cameron”, by Adam Withnall and Matt Dathan on 23rd September 2015, Accessed online at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-crisis-the-true-extent-of-the-british-publics-extraordinary-response-revealed-10514341.html (Accessed on 23rd September 2015)

books_icon Valentine, G., Piekut, A., and Harris, C., (2015) Intimate encounters: the negotiation of difference within the family and its implications for social relations in public space, The Geographical Journal, 181(3): pp.280-294 (open access).

‘Beach body ready’: Fitness holidays and the ‘natural’ body

By Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

It’s that time of year again; the holiday season is in full swing and many of us will be taking some much-needed time off for rest and recuperation during the summer. But instead of lazing about on the beach, drinking cocktails, and eating ice cream, increasing numbers of Brits will, in fact, embark on ‘fitness holidays’. Instead of crash-dieting in order to get ‘beach body ready’ pre-holiday, fitness holidays aim to have you ‘beach body ready’ post-holiday, having made some lasting changes to your habits and mind-set. Little’s (2015) paper in The Geographical Journal approaches this relatively new phenomenon from a geographical point of view, considering the intrinsic links to nature and the body.

‘Fitness holidays’ represent a large and varied market, which has expanded over the past decade. Offering exercise and fitness training, combined with health and well-being programmes, fitness holidays help relieve stress, improve diet, and promote fitness. The emphasis is on enjoyment and lasting health benefits; such holidays are transformative, encouraging sustainable lifestyle changes.

Sarah Knapton (2015), Science Editor for The Telegraph, wrote in March about the increasing popularity of fitness holidays amongst Brits, attributing this trend to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, at work and at home. She contrasts the active nature of fitness holidays to what she terms ‘fly-and-flop’ holidays, characterised by idleness and excess. Citing a recent travel survey, Knapton (2015) states that one third of Brits want to ‘tone up’ whilst on holiday, and one quarter want to lose weight. In January this year, the Telegraph listed the top 10 fitness retreats for 2015. From a detox holiday in Italy (£5,249 for seven nights), to trail running in the Alps (£1,145 for seven nights), to tennis in Cyrpus (£945 for seven nights), to sea swimming in the Mediterranean (£815 for seven nights); the options for fitness holidays are not cheap, but, nevertheless, are increasing as their popularity also booms.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Little (2015) conceptualises fitness tourism using a Foucauldian approach, arguing that underlying these holidays are important questions about the management of healthy bodies. Fitness holidays are, Little (2015) argues, a response to modern pressures to conform to the ‘ideal’ body image, including aesthetic norms in relation to size, weight, and appearance. According to prevailing discourses, the ‘natural’ body, a body in its ‘natural’ state, is fit and healthy. We are increasingly encouraged to take responsibility for our own fitness, disciplining and regulating – in Foucauldian terms – our own bodies, and learning more about our corporeal ‘needs’. Fitness holidays combine all of these elements, providing a way of (self-)regulating health and fitness.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The importance of nature to health is well-known. Natural landscapes are widely recognised as therapeutic spaces, having healing and relaxation effects. Nature has become an active agent in shaping our well-being. Throughout history, due to our increasing disconnection with nature following extensive urbanisation and industrialisation, access to the countryside has been linked with a better quality of life, the clean air and pleasant surroundings acting as natural medicine. ‘Untouched’ nature is deemed to provide a more ‘authentic’ engagement with the natural landscape and, therefore, is better for human health. Thus, fitness holidays, as a means of getting people out in the fresh air and into the natural environment, have perceived beneficial qualities for health and well-being. Simultaneously reinforcing and blurring the nature-culture binary, fitness holidays emphasise the exceptional qualities of nature, whilst highlighting the ways in which nature and culture combine to produce our bodies.

So how will you be spending your summer holiday? Indulging in ice cream and cocktails whilst acquiring some unfortunate tan lines, or making a real difference to your health and well-being?

 

books_iconLittle, J. (2015), Nature, wellbeing and the transformational self. The Geographical Journal, 181: 121–128. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12083

60-world2Knapton, S. (2015). “Britons ditch fly-and-flop holidays for fitness retreats”, The Telegraph Online. March 22nd 2015. Available at: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11488447/Britons-ditch-fly-and-flop-holidays-for-fitness-retreats.html.

60-world2www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/spaholidays/11307791/Best-health-and-fitness-retreats.html