Category Archives: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

New issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers now available online


by Fiona Nash, Managing Editor: Academic Publications RGS-IBG

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The latest issue of Transactions of the British Geographers is now available via the Wiley Online Library

 Transactions of the IBG Volume 39, issue 3 Pages 333–475, July 2014. 

 

Let’s get a proper grip on flooding

By Edmund Penning-Rowsell, Middlesex University, London

Flooded Riverside Worcester 2007. Photo Credit: Philip Haling under CC BY-SA 2.0

Flooded Riverside Worcester 2007. Photo Credit: Philip Haling under CC BY-SA 2.0

The floods in winter 2013 show the damage and disruption such events can cause. Spurred on by this flooding the government is moving to secure ‘affordable’ flood insurance arrangements, after a bruising ‘battle’ with the insurance industry and the prospect that the scheme will be vetoed in Europe. Flooding remains highly political!

But the total flood risk that England and Wales is facing has been exaggerated by the Environment Agency for over a decade, as this paper shows (Penning-Rowsell, 2014a). I am not saying that this country cannot suffer from serious flood events (as in 1947, 1953 and 2007). What I do say is that the average economic losses from fluvial and coastal flood are being exaggerated some 3-4 fold by the current national assessments, and that this is not a good basis for wise evidence-based decision making.

The annual average losses are not over £1bn as suggested by the Environment Agency (in NAFRA 2002), reaffirmed by Foresight in 2004, repeated again in the Agency’s Long Term Investment Strategy (LTIS, in 2009), cited in the National Audit Office report in 2011, and repeated once more in the Adaptation Sub-Committee’s 2012 report. The real annual average economic loss value is more like one quarter of that sum: my thinking is that flood depths are being exaggerated, as is the likelihood of existing flood defences being breached.

And the 2013/14 flooding supports this argument. Figure 1 shows that the years 2012 and 2013/14 are indeed above the average, but that the mean of £0.146 billion is actually lower than the mean for the years 1998 to 2010 (£0.147 billion). This is because the year 2011 saw relatively few floods, with a total flood insured loss of no more than £52 million (Penning-Rowsell, 2014b). Grossing up to total losses we get total annual average loss/compensation of c. £0.294bn. Again this is less than one quarter of the figure recently quoted in the Climate Change Risk Assessment.

Figure 1.  Insured flood losses to residential properties in England and Wales 1998-2014

Figure 1.
Insured flood losses to residential properties in England and Wales 1998-2014

The results of this research should help the Environment Agency improve its evidence base for the decisions that it has to make: better data equals better decisions. But for this we need a radical overhaul of the Agency’s methodology and data sources: what we have now is simply not good enough (as many involved privately admit). The results also need proper peer review – hitherto minimal – and a willingness to accept that risk may be much lower than those oft-quoted figures that appear now to have become embedded. We want flood risk to be taken seriously, but not at the expense of rigour and transparency.

About the author: Edmund Penning-Rowsell OBE is a Professor of Geography at the Flood Hazard Research Centre, Middlesex University, London. Edmund is currently Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at Middlesex University and is currently a member of the Defra/Environment Agency Research Sponsoring Board. He was awarded the O.B.E by the Queen for services to flood risk management in May 2006.

 Penning-Rowsell, E. C. (2014), A realistic assessment of fluvial and coastal flood risk in England and Wales. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12053

 Penning-Rowsell, E C 2014b The 2013/14 floods: what do they tell us about overall flood risk in England and Wales? Circulation. Forthcoming.

60-world2.jpg (15×15) DEFRA 2013 Water Bill Flood Insurance: Flood Re – Finance and Accountability (pdf)

60-world2.jpg (15×15) Ross, T New flood insurance tax ‘could breach EU law’ The Telegraph 26 August 2013

How corporations undermine resistance: The capture of culturally-valued ideologies

By Leah Horowitz

image credit: Leah Horowitz

Tuyau pipe,  image credit: Leah Horowitz

It’s no secret that corporations are not fans of regulations. They seek places with lax laws, lobby against government control, and ‘capture’ regulators through campaign donations. Beyond formal regulations, though, corporations face ‘informal regulation’: Civil society activism can impose costs through destruction of equipment, expensive court cases, or damage to corporate reputations. Recently, corporations have adopted discourses of ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR), which involves acquiring a ‘social license to operate’ by demonstrating community ‘acceptance’ of a project. Studies have shown that the strategies corporations use in attempting to achieve ‘community consent’ – or to capture informal regulation – vary according to political and economic contexts. I argue that social and cultural factors matter too.

I studied corporate strategies for addressing resistance in New Caledonia, a South Pacific archipelago and biodiversity ‘hotspot’. I examined the rise and fall of indigenous Kanak protest targeting a mining project run by the multinational Vale. Beginning in 2002 the protest group, called Rhéébù Nùù, expressed concerns about the project’s environmental impacts by lobbying politicians, taking the company to court, and destroying millions of dollars’ worth of equipment. In 2006, they began discussions with company representatives, but for two years no agreement was reached.

Cultural context played a crucial role. Rhéébù Nùù leaders, from clans low on the social hierarchy, had no customary right to decide land matters. Therefore, they claimed – successfully, at first – to represent customary authorities. By 2006, however, that relationship was eroding, partly due to the elders’ discomfort with the group’s increasingly violent tactics, and the customary authorities’ interest in jobs for local youth, despite a dearth of training programs and ongoing environmental concerns. In early 2008, Vale introduced a new negotiator. He realized the company needed to capture not the protestors, which wasn’t working, but their customary legitimacy. It needed to engage not the entire community, as many women and youth sympathised with the protestors, but just the customary authorities. The negotiator portrayed this strategy as ‘culturally sensitive’. By bringing customary authorities to the negotiating table, Vale silenced Rhéébù Nùù. In September 2008, all three groups signed a ‘Pact’: Vale pledged relatively small benefits, without addressing concerns about local employment and environmental impacts; in return, Rhéébù Nùù pledged no more violence.

This study illustrates the capture of cultural ideologies – here, customary legitimacy – in corporate attempts to avoid informal regulation (what I call ‘culturally articulated neoliberalisation’). In places like the U.S., something similar occurs when corporations oppose constraints by conjuring up Americans’ obsession with ‘freedom’. In observing grassroots resistance, such as to the Keystone XL pipeline, we might consider whether and how corporations are referencing cultural ideologies in pushing their agendas.

Cultures, though, are constantly evolving. Kanak women, youth and low-status clans, like marginalized groups in the global North, increasingly find opportunities within local politico-economic structures. From these higher social positions, they are better placed to pressure companies. Meanwhile, corporations’ national and international socio-cultural contexts are evolving too, as civil society grows more aware and less tolerant of the negative outcomes of corporate greed.

About the author: Dr Leah Horowitz is an Associate Professor of Geography at Hawai’i Pacific University.

books_icon Horowitz, L. S. (2014), Culturally articulated neoliberalisation: corporate social responsibility and the capture of indigenous legitimacy in New Caledonia. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12057

60-world2 Cowboys And Indians Descend on Washington to Protest Pipeline

60-world2 Hundreds of Students Arrested at White House Protesting Keystone XL

 

Spatial and Local Factors in Understanding Financial Crises

By Benjamin Sacks

Picturesque Pforzheim, Germany belies local and regional financial woes. (c) 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

Picturesque Pforzheim, Germany belies local and regional financial woes. (Image credit: Parlacre (CC 0)

Geography, economics, and finance are intimately linked disciplines, a relationship that is sometimes misunderstood or ignored entirely by contemporary media. Port access, weather, spatial and network relations between various tiers of government, private sector businesses, and third-party (e.g. academic) institutions, even the positioning of financial headquarters – as recent threats from Standard Life and Lloyds to relocate from Edinburgh to London in the event of Scottish independence demonstrate – can all drastically affect financial markets, long-term monetary stability, and the ability of particular precincts or sectors to recover from such recessions as the 2008-2010 global financial crisis.

In the most recent suite of articles in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Reijer P Hendrikse (University of Amsterdam) and James D Sidaway (National University of Singapore) undertook a focused study of Pforzheim, a German city of some 120,000 people in Baden-Württemberg, near the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. In ‘Financial wizardry and the Golden City’, Hendrikse and Sidaway critiqued the media’s focus on national-level bailouts, arguing that provincial- and city-level bailouts and financial negotiations were just as, if not more important to comprehending both the scale of the 2008-2010 crisis as well as possible solutions. Further, they recalled and adopted David Harvey’s 2011 argument criticising French and German media pundits and financial analysts alike who saw ‘the crisis in cultural or even nationalist terms'; as somehow a ‘distinctive Anglo-Saxon disease’ based in London and New York City.

The authors chose to examine Germany, in part, because of that country’s apparent economic stability in the face of difficult industrial and economic issues in neighbouring Eurozone states. Berlin famously directed the bailout of several EU member states: Greece, Portugal, and Spain. But a closer examination revealed a significantly more complex and debt-ridden landscape. Various German cities were ‘like Greek islands within Germany’, Die Tageszeitung reported, ‘having slowly but surely drowned in their debts over recent years’ (p. 195). Pforzheim, following a trend blazoned by other cities in the Rhine heartland, bought a large series of Deutsche Bank interest-rate swaps. This speculative maneuvre, popular in the world of hedge funds and day-trading currency exchanges, permits institutions (e.g. a city) to obtain a more cost-efficient fixed-rate interest arrangement enjoyed by another corporation. Ideally, both parties benefit from reduced interest-rate-associated costs. However, the risks are highly variable, and dependent on the financial stability of both parties. As A R Sorkin described, and Hendrikse and Sidaway reiterated, German cities were ‘gambling that [their] costs would be would be lower and taking on the risk that they could be many times higher’ (p. 196).

Theoretically, Pforzheim should have been a model city. After enduring a horrific bombing campaign near the end of the Second World War, Pforzheim’s economic base recovered, thanks to longstanding jewelry and watchmaking industries in the city. But Pforzheim’s geographical location limited its growth. The city shares Baden-Württemberg with Stuttgart, Heidelberg, and Mannheim, each major cities with significant economic and political clout. These cities traditionally attracted major corporations away from such smaller, more specialised urban centres as Pforzheim. Although the financial stresses of the late-2000s put pressure on all German cities, smaller, less economically vibrant communities suffered significantly worse. A Pforzheim administrator summarised the city’s awkward geostrategic situation: ‘We are a jewelry- and watchmaking city that has brought a relatively mono-structured economy’, more sensitive to economic shifts than larger, more diverse cities as Frankfurt-am-Main and Cologne (pp. 198-99). In a dangerous game of financial roulette, Pforzheim and other small German cities engaged in increasingly complicated and risky collaborations with German and EU financial institutions – unaware of these banks’ own instabilities. Pforzheim’s recession, the authors concluded, was demonstrative of how integrated German and continental European financial markets are to Anglo-Saxon banking paradigms, even as they continue to assert a supposedly distinct, fiscally conservative methodology and culture.

60-world2Robert Peston, ‘EU Law may force RBS and Lloyds to become English‘, BBC News, 5 March 2014.

60-world2Robert Peston, ‘Is Standard Life alone?‘, BBC News, 27 February 2014.

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Reijer P Hendrikse and James D Sidaway, ‘Financial wizardry and the Golden City: tracking the financial crisis through Pforzheim, Germany‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39 (2014): 195-208.

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David Harvey, ‘Roepke lecture in economic geography – crises, geographical disruptions and the uneven development of political responses’, Economic Geography 87 (2011): 1-22.

books_iconA R Sorkin, ‘Towns in Europe learn about swaps the hard way’, The New York Times 16 April 2010.

Academic Writing and Geography Narrated

by Fiona Ferbrache

The ruins of Erskine Beveridge, is Fraser MacDonald’s (2013) narrative essay available as an early view article in Transactions. It tells the story of a house – Taigh Mòr, built by Erskine Beveridge on an intertidal island in the Outer Hebrides – and its inhabitants – the Beveridge family, who used the property as a summer retreat. It is also a first class piece of geographical writing.

Ruined_house_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1428145

House ruins (Source: Wikimedia Commons: Graham Horn)

MacDonald’s narrative non-fiction is unusual in style and form, and may at first appear unconventional for some geographers. This is not a style that appears frequently in published journals of our discipline, but may be situated within a renewed interest in literary geographies, including geographies of storytelling, and bio-geo-geography (see for example Lorimer and Wylie). In another way, the text reminded me of the personalised and enquiring travels made and recounted by Robert Macfarlane in The Old Ways. The style and methods are not dissimilar.

MacDonald’s aim in this piece is to “maintain a primary commitment to storytelling as an exemplar of geographical writing” (p.2). Yet, it goes further than this as it is inherently about (historical) geography. The deteriorating Taigh Mòr is situated at the centre of the tale, around which the lives of its inhabitants are explored and retold. The work touches at least three geographical themes: ruins, spaces of science and antiquarian knowledge, and fieldwork. The methods underpinning the ‘fieldwork’ included walking, interviewing, synthesising published sources, interpreting material remains in the landscape, and triangulating observations against other archives. Thus, the rich text is descriptive and analytical as it probes, explores and lays a thread for the reader to follow.

MacDonald argues that geographers “have some way to go before matters of form and style receive the same sort of attention currently given to methodology” (p.2). For young geographers, this commitment to storytelling, as an exemplar of geographical writing, will hopefully inspire creativity and originality, beyond geography’s more familiar writing conventions.

books_icon  MacDonald, F. 2013 The ruins of Erskine Beveridge. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.  DOI: 10.1111/tran.12042

books_icon  Lorimer, H. 2003 Telling small stories: spaces of knowledge and the practice of geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 28, pp.197-217

books_icon  Wiley, J. 2009 Landscape, absence and the geographies of love. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34, pp.275-289

60-world2  Stylish Academic Writing – a guide

Doing flood risk science differently?

By Helen Pallett

uk flooding 2007

The Summer 2007 UK foods. Image credit: Mat Fascione

A group of scientists at the University of Oxford have launched a new citizen science project to help them better understand the 2013-14 winter storms and flooding in the UK. Flooding events over the last decade have received increasing media attention and have been the object of controversies around the official responses. Debates have centred around the contribution of urbanisation to the increased frequency of flooding events, as well as the inadequacy of flood protection and flood response systems. But perhaps the most consistent topic of public debate has been the connection between (human induced) climate change and these extreme weather events.

The Oxford University project Weather@home 2014 asks whether and how much climate change has had an effect on the winter 2013-14 storms and floods and seeks to answer this question through the use of climate models. As the Guardian’s environment editor Damian Carrington explains here, running climate models can be time consuming but the more runs the team has to compare and plot, the clearer any trend will be. So the scientists invite anybody who is interested to sign up and help complete up to 30,000 climate model re-runs of winter 2013-14 with different assumptions about the influence of climate change on weather patterns.

This is an innovative citizen science project in that it expects its citizen scientists to contribute to the work of scientific analysis, rather than simply data collection (though the practice of climate modelling rather blurs this distinction). And it does seem an appropriate project in what has been labelled, ‘the year of the code’ (see for example, here). As with any citizen science project, however it has its limitations, especially in the role carved out for the citizen scientists. Assuming the participants are able to code (and clearly many people cannot), they are free to run as many model runs as they like, set within the scientific and technological framework provided by the Oxford University scientists. The participants, cannot for example, come up with competing models, do runs which seek to answer different questions about the floods, or draw on their own knowledge or experience of the winter floods in their engagement with the project. The scientific framing of this project is a highly contentious one within the climate science community, with many other scientists arguing that the task of attempting to attribute extreme weather events to climate change is impossible and unhelpful. Yet the participants have no say in this.

This shouldn’t surprise us of course, and does not prevent it from being a potentially productive and enriching experience for the both the scientists and citizen scientists involved. But another group of researchers has also been experimenting with involving non-scientists in flood-risk science in a very different way. The flood scientist Stuart Lane along with an interdisciplinary team of natural and social scientists attempted an experiment in flood management involving scientific experts and citizens with experience of flooding, but without giving them pre-defined roles. Natural and social scientists and citizens worked together to generate new knowledge about a flooding event, and to negotiate the different assumptions and commitments of each group, in order to inform public interventions in flood risk management. Thus all members of the group were seen to have relevant and useful knowledge, and efforts were made to develop collective understandings which were not differentiated between academics and non-academics. This research project contributed to scientific understandings of flood hydrology through the creation of new models for example, and also the collection of qualitative understandings and experiences of flooding. But it also helped to overcome an impasse in the management of floods in Pickering, the area under study, where no decision had been made about the appropriate use of resources for flood risk management, by helping to reconfigure relationships between the scientific ‘experts’ and local people.

These contrasting citizen science projects, both focussed on flooding, help to showcase the wide range of ways in which non-scientists can be involved in research projects. However, they also show the importance of aims and framing in determining the outcomes of the project and the ways in which non-scientists participate. The Oxford University project was framed as a conventional scientific study aiming to show how climate change had influenced recent extreme weather events, and co-opting citizen scientists as volunteers to help get the scientific work done more quickly. In the case of the Pickering flooding experiment, the researchers had no clear scientific aim, but rather were deliberately attempting to unsettle power relations between so-called experts and non-experts, and to see if this had an impact of the flood management plans people emerged with. Whilst many will claim that the scientific robustness of the knowledge and flood models generated by the latter project are undermined by the researcher’s determination to involve non-scientists at all stages, the project’s political and practical outcomes (and therefore the impacts on the citizen scientists) were overwhelmingly positive.

S N Lane, N Odoni, C Landstrom, S J Whatmore, N Ward & S Bradley 2011 Doing flood risk science differently: an experiment in radical scientific methodTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36(1): 15-36

Citizen scientists test influence of climate change on UK winter deluge: results poor in Guardian – Damian Carrington’s Environment Blog, March 24th

Weather@home 2014: the causes of the UK winter floods, climateprediction.net

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

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

Glocal Finance: bounded forms of global financial capitalism

By Fiona Ferbrache

Warehouses being built adjacent to airport runways may be used as 'freeports' to store valuable goods

Warehouses being built adjacent to airport runways may be used as ‘freeports’ to store valuable goods

Entrepôts, freeports, bonded warehouses… these terms refer to special economic zones in which regulations are relatively relaxed in comparison with those of surrounding jurisdictions.  Such spaces are often part of international trading networks and may be analysed to gain insight to financial relations across and within bounded spaces. 

Guernsey (Channel Islands) is one example of an historical entrepôt. During the 17th and 18th centuries, it developed a key role in Anglo-French trade in wine, spirits and tobacco. Not only was the island strategically located between France and England, but it was used by both countries, at different time, to reduce the costs of import/export. Today, Guernsey provides another example of a special economic zone through status as an offshore financial centre.  The attractions of such spaces (security, tax advantages (relative to mainland jurisdictions) and confidentiality) are also found in a growing number of  freeports.

Freeports refer to repositories at airports that are becoming increasingly popular places to store and trade valuable or luxury goods.  You can read about them in a recent article from The Economist (2013).  Goods may arrive by plane, be transported to freeport warehouse (literally alongside the runway), and then traded without incurring import or other taxation duties.  This occurs partly because goods in freeports can be considered ‘in transit’ – neither ‘here’ nor ‘there’ (another interesting link for geographers might be how this connects with ‘mobilities’). 

The Economist suggests that rising interest in freeports is entangled with global processes and regulations that have evolved since the start of the financial crisis.  It is here that I wish to make a link with a new TIBG paper by Hendrike and Sidaway (2013), and their exploration of how the global financial crisis was mediated in one very specific place: Pforzheim, southwest Germany. Pforzheim is  treated as a ‘glocal’ display of the crisis in which financial decisions were taken at the local level but complexly interlinked with broader processes and structures of financial capitalism. Through this study, Hendrike and Sidaway provide a symptomatic example of how the financial crisis was mediated through particular scales and polity. 

It is not the intention here to present these spaces as negative or deviant, but as localised or ‘bounded spaces’ in an interconnected world.  A commonality between entrepôts, freeports and Pforzheim, is the way in which global issues (such as the financial crisis or trade networks) are interpreted, negotiated and contested through bounded spaces; examination of which can inform out understanding or broader processes and structures.


books_icon
 Hendrikse, R.P. & Sidaway, J.D. 2013 Financial wizardry and the Golden City: tracking the financial crisis through Pforzheim, Germany. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. DOI: 10.1111/tran.12024

books_icon  Aalbers, M. (2009) Geographies of the financial crisis. Area. 41(1): 34-42

books_icon  Derudder, B., Hoyler, M. & Taylor, P. (2011) Goodbye Reykjavik: international banking centres and the global financial crisis. Area. 43(2): 173-182

60-world2 The Economist (2013) Freeports: Uber-warehouses for the ultra-rich.

60-world2  The New York Times (2012) Swiss Freeports are home for a growing treasury of art