Category Archives: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Who lives, who dies, who cares?

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

Advances in healthcare technologies and pharmaceutical breakthroughs politicise and manipulate our lives.  An article in The Guardian last week describes how French doctors are challenging the patent of a new and highly expensive drug for hepatitis C in an attempt to bring down the price (the drug, Sofosbuvir, made by the pharmaceutical multinational Gilead Sciences, costs $1,000 (£650) a pill for a 10-week course).  It is a cure for the viral infection that can lead to liver cirrhosis, cancer and death.  The struggle against health inequality persists, with large numbers of people lacking access to healthcare.

A new biopolitical regime judges an individual’s ‘worth’ through their economic productivity

A new biopolitical regime judges an individual’s ‘worth’ through their economic productivity. Image credit: Elvert Xavier Barnes Photography via Wikimedia Commons.

Writing in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Emma Whyte Laurie’s article entitled, “Who lives, who dies, who cares? Valuing life through the disability-adjusted life year measurement” provides a critique of the disability-adjusted life year (DALY) measurement. The World Health Organization defines a DALY as one lost year of “healthy” life. It is a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.  Emma Whyte Laurie argues that DALYs have ‘become normative because many health policy makers and their funding partners use the DALY as their only measure of disease impact in programmatic analysis’ (King and Bertino 2008, 2). DALYs have supported the emergence of an epoch in global health governance whereby resource allocation is justified on the premise of ‘cost-effectiveness’, ‘value for money’ and ‘good return for investment,’ and this is compounded with the global financial climate which has negatively impacted the available budget for health interventions.

DALYs are established on the conceptualisation of individuals as exclusively economic beings, but individuals may fail to live up to the economically productive ‘ideal.’  DALYs may be partly responsible for the devaluation of the lives of certain individuals, by asserting the values of individualism in relation to wider economic gain where, individuals lose humanness when they become poor, and also unproductive.  Emma Whyte Laurie states that the problem may be less associated with DALYs as a measurement in itself, but rather with the faith that has been placed in them by mainstream institutions.

The question of who benefits from health interventions is heavily value-laden. Priority-setting is essentially a political and social process (rather than a scientific one), involving deliberation and public accountability. Through the exact numbers provided by the DALY measurement, important questions of ethics and politics are omitted, potentially hindering important and difficult discussions of setting priorities in the health sector.

Emma Whyte Laurie considers the question posed by Farmer: ‘[if health is a human right, who is considered human enough to have that right?’ (2005, 206). According to Agamben (1998), throughout history, the humanity of living man has been judged by each society, which has decided whose lives have value. Today, these judgements are increasingly based on economic productivity or the pursuit of capital accumulation where certain (wealthier) lives are considered more valuable than others. DALYs reflect this, capturing the ‘disease burden’ through economic loss, but also addressing Farmer’s question as to who is valuable, or who is human enough, to be afforded the right to health.

References

books_icon   Agamben G. (1998). Homo sacer: sovereign power and bare life. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA

60-world2   Boseley S. (2015). Doctors challenge hepatitis C drug patent in price protest. The Guardian, 10 February

books_icon   Farmer P. (2005). Pathologies of power: health, human rights and the new war on the poor. University of California Press, Berkeley CA

books_icon   King C. H. and Bertino A-M. (2008). Asymmetries of poverty: why global burden of disease valuations underestimate the burden of neglected tropical diseases. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 2 e209

books_icon   Laurie E.W. (2015). Who lives, who dies, who cares? Valuing life through the disability-adjusted life year measurement. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40:1 pp. 75–87.

60-world2   World Health Organization (WHO). Metrics: Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY).

Fox News ‘no-go zones’ and British Muslim negotiations of urban citizenship

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

Over the past month, the geography of Europe’s Muslim population has been greatly exciting the pundits invited to talk on the conservative Fox News channel. Furore was sparked when ‘terrorism expert’ Steven Emerson, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, told host ‘Judge Jeanine’ about the ‘hundreds’ of ‘no-go zones’ across Europe, in which non-Muslims are supposedly not welcome.

Emerson stated, “In Britain, it’s not just no-go zones, there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go… In parts of London, there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to religious Muslim attire.”

UKIP’s Nigel Farage even turned up to tell Sean Hannity about the ‘blind eye’ that has supposedly been turned towards the ‘Muslim ghettos’ where ‘the police and all the normal agents of the law have withdrawn’ and where ‘Sharia law has come in’.

These segments were widely mocked across social media and the station eventually issued an apology, stating that there was “no credible information to support the assertion”.

Despite the apology and the ridicule, this idea of ‘no-go zones’ has been seized by the far-right. Nationalist group Britain First has, according to The Independent, restarted its ‘Christian patrols’ in parts of east London, with the stated aim to make “our streets safe for our people”.

Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, has also jumped upon the ‘no-go zones’ theme, telling a neocon think tank that, in the West, there are areas in which “non-assimilationist Muslims establish enclaves and carry out as much of Sharia law as they can.”

An article by Deborah Phillips in January’s edition of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is critical of these kinds of popular and political representations of Muslim neighbourhoods, which typically portray Muslim communities as made up of “dubious citizens and unassimilable others”.

The paper seeks to “complicate understandings of British Muslim citizenship” by underscoring the “salience of the neighbourhood as a performative space implicated in citizenship formation and the sedimentation of feelings of belonging.” Philips’ work involved conducting interviews and focus groups with Muslims and newly arrived economic migrants from Eastern Europe in the UK city of Bradford.

Like the right-wing pundits, freedom of movement was foremost among the Muslim participants’ concerns; the freedom to travel into ‘white areas’ was widely perceived to be constrained, with many women stating that they feel uncomfortable about moving outside community spaces because of fear of hostility and violence. Female participants described the commercialised city centre as ‘not for the likes of us’, and ‘sort of out of bounds’.

The apparent ease with which their new Eastern European neighbours traversed the city, as seemingly ‘unmarked’ White Christian bodies, was identified as a source of tension. Muslim participants suggested that this stood in contrast to their own lack of freedom to “cross the boundaries of public space without surveillance and ‘all that hassle’… or to enter white residential spaces without fear of harassment.”

One idea mooted by Phillips is that the desire to appropriate city space may be, at least in part, motivated by feelings of restriction. The sense of empowerment gained when moving through a ‘Muslim neighbourhood’ goes a little way towards compensating for immobilities elsewhere.

These debates, involving issues of citizenship, identity and appropriation of space, are inherently geographical and have so far been largely dominated by actors seeking to capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment. Phillips’ paper is a timely contribution that works to inject some desperately needed nuance into these debates that show few signs of dissipating.

 Deborah Phillips, 2015, Claiming spaces: British Muslim negotiations of urban citizenship in an era of new migrationTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40(1) 62-74.

New Virtual Issue on Financial Geography in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers – free online

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers,  a Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), invites you to enjoy a new Virtual Issue on Financial Geography, guest edited by Manuel B Aalbers. This virtual issue is free to access online for 2015.

The guest editor, Manuel B Aalbers says:

This Virtual Issue traces the development of financial geography through 15 papers published in Transactions between 1976 and 2014. Although Transactions published a few earlier papers dealing with building societies and international lending, the birth of a distinctive literature on the geographies of money and finance can be traced back to the mid-1990s.  While British geographers originally dominated the debate, financial geography is increasingly internationalised, rescaled and decentred. Financial geography has established itself within geography and increasingly also within interdisciplinary and pluralistic political and cultural economy debates.

books_icon This Virtual Issue on Financial Geography is available free to access for 2015 online via the Transactions (of the IBG) website

books_icon Please visit the Transactions (of the IBG) Virtual Issue page to access other VIs: including Adrian J Bailey and Brenda S A Yeoh’s guest edited VI on “Migration, society and Globalisation”.

 

 

‘Cabin Pressure’: Making Atmospheres?

Weiqiang Lin, University of Toronto

2014 was a year of reputational setback for aviation in Southeast Asia, seeing no less than three high-profile fatal crashes attributed to the region. In view of these events, commentators have been swift to question the ability of Southeast Asia’s airlines to safely sustain the kind of breakneck growth that they have been pursuing for years. In an industry where confidence can quickly dissipate, it would seem that the mood has soured for a market once thought to be a bright spot in aviation.

This is not a place to defend or impugn Southeast Asia’s aviation credentials. But suffice to say, public sentiments have turned their back on an (entire) region’s industry, now subtly coded with Orientalist undertones of incompetency, corner-cutting tendencies and technological ineptitude. An improved image needs to be tangibly sculpted by regional airlines to render their business trustworthy and viable again. In fact, this work has already begun with Malaysia Airlines, which has lately attempted to enshroud itself with an (abruptly different) atmosphere of resilience and conviviality.

Such image-boosting tactics are not new, and have in fact been enacted with great sophistry since the advent of aviation. This is exemplified by my recent contribution to Transactions, in which I examine the stresses—or ‘cabin pressures’—of providing the ‘correct’ atmospheres to instil confidence and a favourable impression among passengers by another Southeast Asian airline—Singapore Airlines (SIA). In attending to the ambiences SIA and its flight attendants sought to produce onboard its aircraft in its early years, I invite scholars and the public to be more circumspective of the kinds of pre-fabricated experiences and spaces that service providers often have us immerse in and buy into. More critically, I leave some food for thought concerning how the notion of ‘Orientalism’ can as much be harnessed as a resource and selling point by companies (if at the expense of some service workers), as it is denigrated by its detractors.

Making atmospheres. Image credit: the author

Making atmospheres. Image credit: the author

Such calculated use of mood-shifting atmospheres to persuade, entice and incite enthusiasm can actually be found in a whole gamut of other, non-aviation contexts, displays and social movements. Like their counterpart in the air, these spaces, too, should not be taken for granted as dwelling places where events simply take place. Rather, they should be exposed for the coded messages, emotional influences and political/commercial aims already inscribed into the ambiences they exude. Neglecting these subtleties in atmospheric design not only risks relegating daily encounters of the affective to the realm of the emergent and organic. Worse still, it can also allow the methods that corporations, governments and organisers use to move us all—including for a quick turnaround (justifiably or not)—to escape accountability.

About the author: Dr Weiqiang Lin is a postdoctoral researcher in geography at the University of Toronto, under National University of Singapore sponsorship. Weiqiang joined the University of Toronto after obtaining his PhD from the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research is primarily focused on aviation, mobilities and infrastructures.

books_icon Lin, W. (2015), ‘Cabin pressure’: designing affective atmospheres in airline travel. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12079

60-world2 Kurlantzick, J. (2014). Why Air Disasters Keep Happening in Southeast Asia Bloomberg Businessweek

CSR, Mining, and Culturally Articulated Neoliberalisation

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

According to this month’s Ethical Corporation report, the drop in commodity prices will put pressure on extractives companies to cut back in all areas, including Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  Sadler (2004: 852) describes CSR as “the notion that companies should accompany the pursuit of profit with good citizenship.”  Society’s increased demand for CSR in the mining industry is considered inevitable due to the sector’s impacts on the environment and people (Kepore and Imbun, 2011).

Mine in New Caledonia. Image credit: Fourrure via Wikimedia Commons.

A paper by Leah Horowitz in the January 2015 issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, entitled, “Culturally articulated neoliberalisation: corporate social responsibility and the capture of indigenous legitimacy in New Caledonia,” develops our understanding of CSR as roll-out neoliberalism.  It considers CSR as elements of a capitalist system actively working to create its own social regularization in order to secure a geographically specific socio-politico-economic context that supports (or at least, does not prevent) capitalist development.  CSR can thus re-legitimise market-led development and counter resistance.  Horowitz argues that processes of neoliberalisation must articulate with specific politico-economic conditions and also with cultural ideologies and local hegemonic relationships.

Horowitz’s ethnographic analysis of an indigenous protest group (Rhéébù Nùù, meaning ‘eye of the country’) that targeted a multinational mining project in New Caledonia describes how the company undercut and ultimately co-opted local resistance, through its ability to successfully capture culturally-based ideologies of customary and indigenous legitimacy.  Neoliberalisation’s articulations may therefore involve attempts to capture both formal and informal regulation or regulators, through direct benefits and indirectly by capturing culturally valued ideologies.  These ideologies then interact with culturally grounded hegemonic processes.

Horowitz goes on to explore different forms of hegemony, based in distinct cultural formations, and how they interact with each other as well as with counter-hegemonic forces. Through the company’s direct engagement with customary authorities, rather than exclusively with activists, it was able to delegitimise the activist opponents and reposition them as subordinates within their own culturally informed social hierarchy. Although some customary authorities were sympathetic to protestors’ aims, the privileged hegemonic status of customary authorities was re-instated, and the company re-legitimised itself.

Sources

60-world2 Ethical Corporation (2015) Commodity Prices Briefing: Building a CSR strategy during an era of low commodity prices.

60-world2 Sudip Kar-Gupta (2015). UK’s FTSE flops as fall in copper clobbers mining shares. Reuters UK. 14 January 2015

books_icon Kevin P. Kepore and Benedict Y. Imbun (2011). Mining and stakeholder engagement discourse in a Papua New Guinea mine. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management. 18(4) 220–233.

books_icon Leah S. Horowitz (2015). Culturally articulated neoliberalisation: Corporate social responsibility and the capture of indigenous legitimacy in New Caledonia. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 40(1) 88–101.

books_icon David Sadler (2004). Anti-corporate Campaigning and Corporate “Social” Responsibility: Towards Alternative Spaces of Citizenship? Antipode. 36(5) 851–870.

Cartography in Times of War & Peace

An c.1855 military map of the Crimean theatre, from Francis Herbert's personal collection. © 2015 The Author.

An c.1855 military map of the Crimean theatre, from Francis Herbert’s personal collection. © 2015 The Author.

By Benjamin Sacks

On 2-6 December 2014 an international group of leading scholars of historical geography – including a large Royal Geographical Society contingent – converged in Ghent, Belgium to mark the centenary of the First World War and cartography’s extraordinary role in it. Soetkin Vervust, a PhD candidate in the University of Ghent’s Department of Geography, successfully organised and directed this week-long summit critically examining armed conflict’s diverse impacts on cartography, surveying, geographical information collection and dissemination, spatial awareness, and culture.

Francis Herbert, the RGS’s retired research library director and Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries, exhibited well over one hundred maps, guidebooks and ephemera from his personal collection. The trove spanned from the Crimean War (1853-1856) to decolonisation, with an appropriate emphasis on the two world wars. As a whole, Herbert’s collections vividly demonstrated how globalisation and technological advances in communications and transport brought military mapping from the battlefield into the very heart of popular culture. The Herbert Collection is particularly interesting as the source of much of much of his extensive scholarship, including (amongst numerous examples) ‘The “London Atlas of University Geography” from John Arrowsmith to Edward Stanford’ (1989).

A number of presentations pursued this theme. James Akerman, director of the Newberry Library’s Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for Cartography, discussed the fascinating, and occasionally bizarre, proliferation of battlefield guidebooks circulated immediately following the First World War. While many volumes published between 1918 and the early 1920s were authored with due care, respect, and deference to the conflict’s nearly unimaginable horrors and extraordinary loss of life, some guides smacked of sensationalism and reductionism, pointing out the best restaurants and stage shows to enjoy following an afternoon jaunt to the still-fresh craters of Ypres. Ralph Ehrenberg, director of the Library of Congress’s Geography and Map Division, similarly recounted the War’s dynamic role in popularising military engineers and cartographers, pilots, and their maps in the rapidly-globalising United States. Ehrenberg’s work on cartography, cartographers, and aviation complements and extends Michael Heffernan’s 1996 Transactions article examining the RGS’s intelligence-gathering role(s) in the First World War, and provides a fascinating historical context to Alison Williams’ 2011 Transactions article on the ‘multiple spatialities of UK military airspace’.

Joel Radunzel, a veteran of the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a current graduate student of Mark Monmonier at Syracuse University, combined a technical expertise of military strategy with historical and contemporary cartography data to critically examine how and why British forces reacted in particularly ways before, during, and after the 3rd Battle of Gaza (1-2 November 1917). Radunzel shed important new light, unavailable from existing, non-geographical analyses, into the British military’s decision-making processes, identifying the extents and limitations of their battlefield knowledge, and geographically-pinpointing where and when their intelligence of allied and enemy movements was correct, incorrect, and by how much.

Cartography in Times of War and Peace highlighted the maturation of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) as a vital tool of historical analysis. Sandra Domingues and the Centre for Geographical Studies at the University of Lisbon brought the work, travels, and lives of the First World War’s Portuguese military postal service to life with a remarkable fusion of traditional maps and ArcGIS-based visualisations. Photographs and letters were georeferenced to their precise location in the trenches. Likewise, Utrecht University Library showcased how GIS digitisation revealed the city’s many fortresses and their centuries of influence on urban development.

The University of Ghent Conference Centre, host of 'Cartography in Times of War and Peace'. © 2015 The Author.

The University of Ghent Conference Centre, host of ‘Cartography in Times of War and Peace’. © 2015 The Author.

Napoleonic Iberia was a hotbed of cartographic experimentation and development. Pilar Chias and Tomas Abad (University of Alcala) elucidated the little-known world of Spanish military cartographers who operated alongside the Duke of Wellington’s forces against the French emperor. Spanish field surveyors incorporated their intimate knowledge of local geographies to create beautiful, highly useable, and secretive three-dimensional maps. These works of art provided allied armies with a level of battlefield intelligence the French could never hope to obtain, and undoubtedly played an important role in Napoleon’s eventual defeat in Spain. Kelly Henderson (Adelaide, Australia) reminded the audience that one British engineering surveyor active in the Iberian campaign was William Light (1786-1839), the ‘genius’ behind Adelaide’s equitable grid plan. The Light model subsequently became an important method in designing and administering nineteenth century Victorian colonial cities as far afield as Mumbai (Bombay) and Hong Kong. Henderson’s deep biographical and cartographical research articulated the global acquisition, production, and reproduction of planning knowledge from Britain and Spain to Australia. Their respective studies remind geographers from all fields of the very personal nature of maps, mapping, and exploration.

Belgium has been an importance centre of geographical discourse and cartographic advancement since at least the sixteenth century. Participants visited the Mercator Museum in Sint-Niklaas, where Gerard Mercator’s groundbreaking aardglobe (1541) and hemelglobe (1551) are carefully preserved and displayed. Jan de Graeve’s extensive personal collection of surveying instruments, another conference ‘treat’, also stressed Belgium’s historical position as a crossroads for geographers and cartographers. His collections include a rare copy of Roland and Duchesne’s Atlas-Manuel de Géographie, in effect, a cartographic proclamation of King Leopold’s global imperial ambitions.

On Saturday, 6 December the Brussels Map Circle hosted a one-day annual meeting celebrating the Ghent conference and highlighting ongoing major research in cartographic/geographic scholarship. Imre Demhardt (University of Texas, Arlington), a chair of the International Cartographic Association, updated audiences on his ongoing investigation into the diverse origins of the United States Corps of Engineers, and their efforts to survey, map, and rework the vast American landscape.

Suggested Sources

60-world2 ‘Cartography in Times of War and Peace‘, The University of Ghent (archived).

books_icon Herbert, F, ‘The “London Atlas of Universal Geography” from John Arrowsmith to Edward Stanford: Origin, Development and Dissolution of a British World Atlas from the 1830s to the 1930s‘, Imago Mundi 41 (1989).

books_icon Heffernan, M, ‘Geography, Cartography and Military Intelligence: The Royal Geographical Society and the First World War‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 21.3 (1996): 504-33.

books_icon Williams, A, ‘Reconceptualising Spaces of the Air: Performing the Multiple Spatialities of UK Airspaces‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 36.2 (Apr., 2011): 253-67.

Commodifying Christmas

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

It’s that time of year again; the decorations are up, Michael Bublé is on repeat, and there are mince pies coming out of our ears. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! But what does Christmas really look like? There are more definitions of what makes a ‘traditional’* English Christmas than there are children on Santa’s naughty list. One thing we appear to agree on, however, is what a German Christmas should look like. The romantic traditional German Christmas market has infiltrated English culture, becoming a staple of most cities’ festivities, and bringing with it Glühwein, beer, Bratwurst, sweet treats, and merriment (and, in the case of Birmingham’s market, a singing moose head!).

Standing in the middle of Birmingham’s German Christmas market, surrounded by crowds of people consuming German cuisine and buying gifts, I am reminded of a ‘classic’ paper by Peter Jackson (1999). Although 15 years old – not quite as old as the market itself – Jackson’s observations on commodification and consumption manifest in this commercial celebration of German culture. As Jackson (1999) argues, the commodification of Christmas, as well as the general globalisation of everyday life, have been strongly criticised, contributing to the somewhat marred reputation of ‘commodification’.

Since 1997, the market’s picturesque wooden stalls have spilled into Birmingham’s streets from its partner city, Frankfurt. Two recent articles on the BBC News website have, however, voiced a negative opinion of the city’s much-loved annual event. Writing for the BBC in November, Graham Young argues that despite the obvious boost to Birmingham’s economy, the city is ritually destroyed by the crowds, tourists, litter, and noise. He voices concern that in an attempt to recreate an authentic German Christmas, the traditional Nativity display is almost out of sight at the back of the Council House.

At Birmingham’s market, cultural difference is commodified, commercialized, celebrated, aestheticized, and fetishized. There is a strong visual and performative element to this; stalls are designed to ‘look German’ and stall owners shout and gesture enthusiastically, adding to the already excitable and festive atmosphere. However, in a further recent BBC article, the market is criticised for not being very ‘German’. Jackson’s (1999) article raises the question of authenticity, suggesting that it is sometimes produced rather than genuine. Birmingham’s market is clearly constructed and staged to create an ‘authentic’ experience, romanticising and exaggerating the appealing aspects of German culture. However, whilst many of the workers there are not German, the stalls are all German-owned and the products sold are the same as the ones found in Germany, creating an experience as authentic as possible almost 500 miles from home.

Birmingham's German Christmas Market captured last weekend!

Birmingham’s German Christmas Market captured last weekend whilst doing ‘research’

There is, however, one difference between German Christmas markets in England and the ‘real’ ones. In Germany, markets are more food-orientated, whilst in England the markets are altered for English taste, with a focus on alcohol and celebration. The market reinvents German culture, as Jackson (1999) would argue, tailoring and transforming it according to the ‘receiving’ (i.e. English) culture. Scrooge-like critics argue that adjusting the market to suit English taste makes it more enjoyable at the expense of ‘authenticity’, but is this necessarily a bad thing? Do we really want an ‘authentic’ experience, or do we just want to enjoy ourselves?  Geography clearly has an important role to play in addressing and challenging this notion of ‘authenticity’.

The market’s critics are, however, only a minority. Instead of saying ‘bah humbug’ to inauthentic German cuisine, Birmingham’s German Christmas market will be as busy as ever this year. And so it should be; after all, ‘tis the season to be jolly!

*I am aware this is a bit of a misnomer; many of our Christmas traditions – including the Christmas tree! – were, in fact, imported from Germany by Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert. Perhaps we already celebrate Christmas in an ‘authentic’ German way?

books_icon Jackson, P. (1999). Commodity cultures: the traffic in things, Transactions of the IBG, 24: 95-108.

60-world2 BBC 2014 Birmingham’s German Market: Singing moose and ‘ugly huts’

60-world2 BBC 2014 Birmingham Christmas Frankfurt Market: How German is it?

60-world2 BBC 2014 In Pictures: How does Birmingham’s Christmas market compare?