Category Archives: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

High-flying research: Geographies of air transportation

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This weekend marked the fifty-eighth anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster, so what better time than to take a look at some of the work being done by human geographers into the social and cultural dimensions of air space and air transportation. February 6th 1958 was the darkest day in Manchester United F.C.’s history. Following their European Cup quarter final win in Belgrade, the ‘Busby Babes’ – so-called after their illustrious manager Matt Busby – were involved in one of the most documented plane crashes in history, in which twenty-three of the forty-four passengers were killed, including eight of the players, when their plane crashed after trying to take-off amidst a devastating snow storm in Munich. Memories of the victims are still today as poignant as ever, in an age when air transportation has been completely transformed, and has come to signify the complex networks of social, political, and economic relationships in our contemporary mobile world.

‘Aeromobilities’, as Adey (2008) calls it, started to become the subject of geographical enquiry in the twenty-first century, with geographers looking to trace the economic and political links that air transport creates between places. Adey’s (2008) paper provides a useful summary of some of the work within geography about air transportation, research which has drawn on the ‘mobile turn’, a shift towards investigating how spaces are travelled through.

‘Identity’ being a key theme in geography due to the influence of feminism, the airport and the airplane have themselves been unravelled as sites of identity creation and performance. Adey (2008) explains how both airports and airplanes have become important geographical sites for the formation and suppression of identities. For some, airports are sites of alienation and inequality, whilst for others they are happy, homely places, a stepping stone between important places in their lives. Nowhere better is this evidenced than the film ‘Terminal’, in which Tom Hanks plays an eastern immigrant whose country suffers from the collapse of its government whilst he is in the air, leaving his papers no longer valid when he lands in America. Forced to stay in the airport for weeks, he feels the brunt of the airport’s hostility and exclusive power, but starts to enjoy and embrace his time there, making many friends, as well as enemies. Today, Adey (2008) argues, borders are shifting even further, spatially and temporally, with your entry into a country being variously permitted or denied from a distance, before you have left your airport of departure. Thus, the ways in which we imagine our place in relation to the rest of the world have changed, air transportation building notions of national identity and citizenship, and variously connecting and disconnecting people and places.

Modern spaces of air travel, as spaces for international border-crossing as well as state and terrorist violence, have triggered increasing regulation of societies. As Adey (2008) states, air-travel has become one of the most closely-monitored and highly-segregated spaces in modern society. Security screening in airports today has reached very intense levels, which redefine both bodies and belongings as ‘threats’. Full-body searches and X-ray machines mean that it is not only international boundaries that are crossed at airports, but also, as Adey (2008) claims, our personal boundaries. All this is part of a new culture of ‘anticipation’, in which our vision has become so accelerated that it has overtaken time (Adey, 2008). The threat of terrorism is, today, pre-empted, an imaginative geography of disaster created before it has even happened, evoking fear and panic.

Air transportation has also had more fatal effects on societies, playing a major part in wars since the turn of the twentieth century. Aerial warfare has come a long way since the air raids of World War Two, with new unmanned aircraft causing terror and destruction to contemporary society. The aerial view – or as Adey (2008) calls it the ‘cosmic view’ – has, since the early days of landscape surveys and the invention of aerial photography, been associated with a powerful total gaze of the world, with limitless capacity for knowledge and control. This total observation is seen, for example, in Israeli-occupied Palestine, where Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are used for aerial surveillance of military and civilian targets (Adey, 2008).

The performance of gender relations within the space of the plane has also, Adey (2008) claims, captured the imaginations of geographers; cockpit and cabin gender roles being fascinating examples of gender relations. A recent paper by Lin (2015) has explored this in relation to air hostesses on a Singapore airline. Feminisation and sexualisation of air hostesses’ bodies on planes has been long been practised by most airlines. In Lin’s (2015) example in Singapore, the design of air hostesses’ uniforms was evocative yet graceful and traditional, whilst interview candidates were carefully screened for flaws or disfigurement, their body shape, beauty, and complexion being important. Even successful candidates underwent various aesthetic ‘corrections’, such as speech therapy, and were prescribed precise shades of make-up to make them appear uniformly ‘beautiful’. Lin (2015) frames the cabin – a ‘mobile atmosphere’, as she calls it – as an important social space, in which geographers have explored the multi-sensorial interactions between passengers and their environment. The plane and its crew provide a ‘service’, passengers’ bodies forming active consumers during their flight. Air hostesses create a comfortable and professional environment for passengers. These women perform a version of femininity whereby they are a friendly, affectionate, reassuring, approachable, helpful, polite, and glamorous aid to passengers’ journeys.

A lot has changed, therefore, in the fifty-eight years since the Munich Air Disaster. There is a vast range of research being done by geographers into the spaces of air travel, research which can help us better understand the social, cultural, and political experiences of airports and air transportation. The looming threat of terrorism means that geographers have a lot to contribute to understanding ways in which different nations engage with air space. However, it is a testament to the continual improvements to passenger safety being made that today geographers are talking about passenger ‘comfort’ rather threats to their ‘safety’.

 

books_icon Adey, P. (2008). “Aeromobilities: Geographies, Subjects and Vision”, Geography Compass, 2(5):1318-1336.

books_iconLin, W. (2015). “’Cabin pressure’: designing affective atmospheres in airline travel”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40:287-299.

60-world2http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/manchester-united/11394795/Manchester-United-Munich-Air-Disaster-anniversary-emphasises-the-magnitude-of-footballs-loss.html

60-world2http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/manchester-united-players-fans-remember-10826494

Colonial Memories Re-Ignited: In Producing the Streets and Rhodes, One Stone Remains Unturned

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

Oriel College bird’s eye view from University church. Image Credit: Arnaud Malon

Every day people walking past Oriel College on High Street in Oxford are confronted with a statue of Cecil Rhodes; a man heavily involved in the creation of enforced racial segregation in South Africa. As part of a global protest movement called ‘Rhodes Must Fall’, which began in South Africa in March 2015, a group of students at Oxford University have mobilised, calling for the statue to be removed. Toppling the stone Rhodes, they feel, would indicate that the seeds of progress are being sown in a battle against continuing racial inequality at Oxford university (The Guardian, 2015). However, despite this cause, on 29th January 2016 it was announced by Oxford University that the statue shall remain (The Guardian, 2016).

Benwell (2016), in his recent article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, turned his attention on how everyday memories form geopolitical subjectivity. His specific empirical case was young people living on the Falkland Islands, and their engagement with memories etched into the social and physical landscape. Using this discourse when looking at Oriel college, one is able to ponder the presence of the Cecil Rhodes statue and consider how it plays a continually evolving role in the geopolitical memories of those who encounter it.

The statue in Oriel College is not new; it was erected with the construction of the Rhodes Building in 1911 from funds left to the college by Cecil Rhodes himself. Therefore we can assume that in the past the statue was probably missed or completely ignored by the majority of people who passed it – indeed no one is claiming that until last year all people walking along High Street silently condoned the statue’s existence. However the success of the Rhodes Must Fall movement, bringing the issues of an ongoing racist colonial history to international consciousness, has meant that the presence of the statue has been elevated. This elevation has enabled the revival of memories of a horrific colonial past to be found; engaging new geopolitical subjectivities. But now that the University has made its decision to keep the statue, what does this mean for the Rhodes Must Fall movement?

Arguing about whether it was right or wrong for the University to keep the statue will not help develop this narrative. Instead we should consider; what is revealed by the decision of the University to keep it? Lefebvre (1991) indicated in his work The Production of Space that all spaces are always actively produced by those who either perceive, conceive, or live the space. Here we have, on one side, a University controlling the space through its decision to keep the statue – creating the representation of space – and on the other side a movement of students who are occupying this space on High Street – making it representational space. The inability of the Rhodes Must Fall movement to remove the statue, indicates that despite appearing in the space they are fundamentally alienated from the construction of this space. Those controlling the space on the other hand, are able to impose upon these users their own representations of the space. Lefebvre warns that such impositions, by the controlling force of the University, will make “permanent transgression inevitable” (Lefebvre, 1991: 23) if the lived enactment of the space continues to be occupied by those alienated from its control.

The question is therefore; what future transgressions will we witness in the ongoing narrative of this statue? And importantly, will these transgressions establish a spatial legacy for the Rhodes Must Fall movement? A legacy memorialised with a permanence equivalent to a statue maybe? Removing the statue was never seen as an end to the discussion by any side in the debate. The story of this space is not finished.

References

books_icon Benwell, M. C., (2016) Encountering geopolitical pasts in the present: young people’s everyday engagements with memory in the Falkland Islands, Transaction of the Institute of British Geographers, Early View, DOI: 10.1111/tran.12109

books_icon Lefebvre, H., (1991) The Production of Space, London: Wiley-Blackwell

60-world2 The Guardian (2015) Oxford students step up campaign to remove Cecil Rhodes statue, Online Article (Accessed on 2nd February 2016)

60-world2 The Guardian (2016) Cecil Rhodes statue to remain at Oxford after ‘overwhelming support’, Online Article (Accessed on 2nd February 2016)

 

 

Whatever takes your fancy: pigeon shows as geographical inquiry

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

The British Homing World Show of the Year, 2015 Source: own photo

The main hall of pigeons at the British Homing World Show of the Year, 2015
Source: Own photo

The British Homing World Show of the Year; not heard of it? I’ll forgive you. This little-known affair is, for pigeon fanciers across the country, the event of the year. Taking place over the second weekend of January in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, it is the largest annual gathering of pigeon fanciers in the UK; on average, around 20,000 people flock from all over the world – as far away as China – to exhibit, buy, sell, and admire pigeons. The Show, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary (BBC News, 2012a [online]), is also becoming increasingly popular with the media, making the BBC News in past years and Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch just yesterday morning. Last year, it even made the news in America (NY Post, 2015 [online])! The weekend of the Show, during the bleak English winter, sees thousands of visitors descend upon Blackpool, contributing an estimated £10 million to Blackpool’s economy (BBC News, 2012b [online]).

‘But where’s the geography?’, I hear you say. Pigeon racing, with its careful calculations of distance, and vigilant observation of weather conditions may seem to lend itself more explicitly to the discipline. However, as an animal geographer, I want to bring to light a paper that, whilst over a decade old, is key in revealing how animal showing is inherently geographical. Having visited this and other pigeon shows – not as a fancier but as a researcher – I aim to highlight some of the striking similarities between the British Homing World Show and Anderson’s (2003) paper on Sydney’s Royal Agricultural Show.

More than 3,000 domestic pigeons will be on display at the British Homing World Show this coming weekend, which has been described as the ‘Crufts of the pigeon world’. The main attraction is the exhibition of racing pigeons. To the untrained eye they all look the same – well-groomed city-centre pigeons – but it is the subtleties of this hobby that make it so fascinating. The birds are judged on their aesthetic qualities denoting their ability to win races. The whole of the bird is scrutinised, from its wing feathers to its eye colouring. Also on display will be the perhaps lesser-known fancy pigeons. Whilst racing pigeons are athletes bred for functional reasons, fancy pigeons are bred for their aesthetics, many unable to fly long distances. These wonderful birds are all the same species, differing in appearance due to selective breeding and reinforcement of mutations (similar to different pedigree dog breeds). There are over 350 breeds of fancy pigeons, varying in characteristics such as beak, feathering, tail, and body. Is it any wonder that Charles Darwin chose this incredibly diverse bird to aid him in his study of inheritance and variation in The Origin of Species? Like animals on display at a zoo, or specimens in a museum, pigeons are displayed in rows of cages to be objectified, admired, and judged. Some are even removed from their cages, poked and prodded, or made to walk about in their cages, like models in a feathered catwalk.

A fancy pigeon Source: own photo

A successful fancy pigeon at last year’s Show
Source: own photo

In Anderson’s (2003) historical study of Sydney’s Royal Agricultural Show, she argues that the animals on display reflected human ingenuity and control over nature. The Show – which was deeply underpinned by colonialist thinking – was a celebration of human superiority and performance of civilisation and domestication, which reinforced the nature-culture and human-animal binaries. The same could be said of pigeon shows; the pigeons on display are products of careful selective breeding by fanciers. They emphasise the distinction between man and nature, but, they simultaneously blur it. Animal exhibits – in this case pigeons – become hybrids of human skill, scientific knowledge and ‘nature’. Such displays, Anderson (2003) argues, should be read as texts, in which a subject-object relationship is developed through an anthropocentric gaze. They also, she argues, can be seen as embodied performances. The pigeons on display at this weekend’s British Homing World Show will be both text and performance. The birds are cultural constructions, products of human intervention, but develop into much more than mere objects. Successful pigeon fanciers at this prestigious show win not only a rosettes, trophies, and money, but also prestige. For fanciers, their birds are a ticket to a better social standing among their peers, a reputation dependent on the aesthetic performances of their feathered co-workers.

A fancy pigeon Source: own photo

A successful fancy pigeon at last year’s Show
Source: Own photo

Of course, exhibitions and sales of machinery are also prominent features at agricultural shows. Anderson (2003) argues that those at the Sydney Agricultural Show reflected strong notions of modernity and advancement, further stressing human mastery over nature. The British Homing World Show of the Year also features exhibitions of pigeon appliances and trade stands. There are stands selling everything from £20,000 pigeon lofts and high-tech race timing technology, to nest boxes, food, and vitamin supplements. Birds are also on sale, transported rather indignantly in cardboard boxes marked ‘LIVE BIRDS’. Whilst there are stands selling birds at ‘affordable’ prices (maybe as much as £40 per bird), at the auction birds are sold for thousands of pounds! Both academic and activist would have a field day with the ethical and moral issues raised by such judgements of animal value.

Stalls at the British Homing World Show, 2015 Source: own photo

Stalls at the British Homing World Show, 2015
Source: Own photo

So that’s the British Homing World Show of the Year and a snapshot into the subculture of pigeon fancying. Yet more proof that geography is lurking in everything. If only more people knew about this fascinating pastime, it would surely go a long way towards alleviating that tiresome ‘rats with wings’ metaphor that burdens the domestic pigeon’s feral cousins.

 

books_iconAnderson, K. (2003). “White Natures: Sydney’s Royal Agricultural Show in Post-Humanist Perspective” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 28(4): 422-441.

60-world2BBC News (2012a) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-16665137

60-world2BBC News (2012b) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-16751398

60-world2NY Post (2015) http://nypost.com/2015/01/21/pigeon-enthusiasts-flock-to-england-for-international-homing-show/

60-world2http://www.rpra.org/bhw-show-of-the-year-2016/

Arsonists, Booing, and Blaming the Weather: Diversity and Revealing Everyday Behaviour

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

A sign for Gek Poh Ville in Yunnan, Jurong West, Singapore

A sign for Gek Poh Ville in Yunnan, Jurong West, Singapore: Photo Credit: Allkayloh.

The Independent recently published a story about a Christmas Eve arson attack on a hotel for asylum seekers in the German town of Schwäbisch Gmünd. The author implies that this attack highlights how the positive attitude of the German government to the ‘refugee crisis’, does not necessarily reflect the everyday reality of intolerance in many German suburbs. This violent legacy adds fuel to the continuing academic engagement with diverse communities and everyday multiculturalism.

Ye (2015) expands on such a discussion in her recent article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Turning her attention to the Jurong West neighbourhood of Singapore Ye explores “how everyday encounters in public reproduce spatialised principles of coexisting with diversity.” (Ye, 2015: 94). Ye focusses her engagement to the notion of ‘gui ju’, a kind of social code familiar to established citizens of Singapore. This code, Ye explains, is a behavioural and attitudinal norm promoted in part by state infrastructure and reinforced through everyday action (and inaction) in public spaces.

By turning to everyday interactions between people appropriating public spaces in Jurong West, Ye has created a narrative of the ‘gui ju’ social code in action. She uses extracts from interviews and her own observations to understand different behaviours of individuals familiar with the code – such as people’s silence when they are on public transport or their decorum when playing cards in the street. Uncovering such unwritten norms she is able to add clarity to the “messiness inherent in shared spaces” (ibid.: 91).

Furthermore, Ye elaborates how it is through adherence to ‘gui ju’ that locals in Jurong West can identify insiders and outsiders to the community. She explains that in Singapore, where a legacy of diverse ethnic communities are the norm, tropes like ethnicity or nationality cannot be used to define belonging. As such behaviours and attitudes in everyday interactions can be used instead to identify belonging.

However, to add complexity to her narrative Ye also states that “There are constant tensions, struggles and disquiet over how things ought to be in [public] spaces.” (ibid.: 96). In other words, the unwritten code of conduct applying to everyday life are not fixed, but are contingent and malleable: belonging requires active living in these spaces.

This compelling notion of a “social organising principle that prescribes proper codes of conduct” in public spaces (ibid.: 92), could also be applied to the UK. A quick glance at the national media following the start of the New Year can provide us with some examples. The Guardian has an article about the cultural valence of ‘booing’ in the UK during live performances of art and sport. Similarly The Telegraph discusses difficulties for British people returning to work after the winter break, including the author stating that she will “do what we Brits always do in times of low-level despond: blame the weather”. Additionally both The Guardian and The Independent imply a range of acceptable responses to the ‘artistic’ New Years Eve photograph of drunken and disorderly behaviour in Manchester. These examples highlight a complex and contradictory ‘gui ju’ of British everyday attitudes and behaviour; to boo or not, to condone or to condemn drunken disorder, and when in doubt: refer to the weather.

However, I feel it is necessary to exercise caution with Ye’s thoughts on social codes of conduct. While there may be some dominant codes and norms, such as ‘gui ju’, this does not negate the existence of multiple behavioural codes that remain hidden to each and every one of us. These can include behavioural and attitudinal codes associated with class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and all other tropes of identity. Maybe to help find these hidden codes we should adopt the approach of Mr Arnold, an inhabitant of the town of Schwäbisch Gmünd: we should invite outsiders into our private lives – the “Gmünder Weg” (The Independent). This could enable both insider and outsider to learn their different social codes, and mould them into new shared codes.

References

Ye, J., (2015) Spatialising the politics of coexistence: gui ju (规 矩) in Singapore, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 41: 91–103 doi: 10.1111/tran.12107

The Independent (2016) “Refugees in Germany: Arsonists destroy refugee hotel in ‘model’ migrant town Schwabisch Gmund” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Independent (2016) “The story behind the Manchester New Year’s Eve photograph likened to a Renaissance painting” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Guardian (2016) “I used to think booing was healthy. Now it’s out of control” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Telegraph (2016) “The January blues are bad enough without giving up booze too” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Guardian (2016) “’Like a beautiful painting’: image of New Year’s mayhem in Manchester goes viral” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

A zero-carbon life close to home: is a technological fix enough?

By Amita Bhakta, Loughborough University

16451794648_a4dde69226_o

Paris 2015 #COP21. Photo Credit: Ron Mader

If you have seen a television news report or read a paper in the past week, you will have likely been reminded of the significant COP21 meeting which was held in Paris. The Guardian hailed the COP21 agreement to limit global temperatures to a 2oC rise as ‘the world’s greatest diplomatic success’, as leaders came together to negotiate a way forward to deal with the vast and complex challenges brought on by climate change, representing each of their nations as a whole.

But, whilst our nations are represented on this significant global stage, what does this mean for you, me and each individual of each of these countries?

One way to assess the potentially relevance of the Paris Agreement to us as individuals, is to quite literally look closer to home. Walker et al (2015), in their Transactions article, outline one of the fundamental challenges which could hamper these efforts to reduce emissions: the belief that being zero-carbon in places such as the home is reliant predominantly on technology which can ‘do the job’, and that the social element of being, of living in the home has little relevance.

COP21 brings with it a mandate for changes which will affect humanity, along with the broader changes which are intended to be positive for the environment. Yet, to what extent will each of these nations be investing in ‘green’ infrastructure such as homes and commercial buildings, and what role will the users of this infrastructure have to play? You could look at it in the simple sense that an individual cannot get a machine to work unless they know its functions, and how they operate, and the same principles apply to zero-carbon homes.

The agreement this week should provide a reminder that each of us will have a role to play in meeting these targets, and that a change in technology also needs a change in our behaviour. As policies are written, however, it is important to remember that our everyday practices within the home from using less water, turning off lights and swapping the central heating for a jumper will be just as important as the solar panels on our roofs, if we are to progress towards a zero carbon future. And so begs the bigger question: will COP21 be seen as the wakeup call for us to change our living practices to curb the effects of climate change?

60-world2 Harvey F 2015 Paris climate change agreement: the world’s greatest diplomatic success The Guardian

books_icon Walker, G., Karvonen, A. and Guy, S. (2015), Zero carbon homes and zero carbon living: sociomaterial interdependencies in carbon governance. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 494–506. doi: 10.1111/tran.12090

Collecting the Archive: How eBay is Transforming Historical Geography

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Imagine a stereotypical historical geographer, waist deep in dusty old books and documents in the darkest depths of a library or museum. No food or drink is allowed within sniffing distance of the archive collection, no photography is permitted, and only pencils may be used. This common experience of archival research will be familiar to a lot of historical geographers, although DeLyser’s (2015) recent Transactions article suggests that a call for more creative approaches to archives is changing the ways in which geographers engage with historical research. DeLyser’s (2015) article considers the idea of collecting as a methodology, and identifies eBay as a tool for this. Such a modern approach to historical research transforms both the role of the researcher and the nature of the archive.

Collecting is a very popular pastime, and has long been the case. In the 16th Century, for instance, the wealthy aristocrats collected natural history, archaeological, and geological artefacts. These displays were called ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’, encyclopaedic collections designed to provide a microcosm of the world. Such collections expressed the status of their owners and reflected their wealth. Today, whether it’s Pokémon cards, football stickers, Star Wars memorabilia, stamps, or teddy bears, collecting is a practice to which most of us can relate. The process of collecting, and our passion for it, become part of our identity and can, at times, become almost an obsession. In short, the things we collect come to define us. In her article, DeLyser (2015) suggests that collecting can be a tool of nostalgia and a transformative practice. The idea, then, that geographers can use collecting as a tool for research, poses many interesting questions. This shift in methodology means archive collections are constantly growing, as researchers contribute more to them, but also creates some uncertainty about positionality.

DeLyser (2015) coins the term ‘autoethnography’ to refer to the process of geographers collecting and contributing to the archive themselves, creating an alternative archive. Any archive is already a ‘collection’, but the moment the researcher starts adding to it themselves, it is important that they critically reflect on their impact and positionality. Collecting involves passion and desire and, therefore, can never be separated from personal motivations. In DeLyser’s (2015) own research, for instance, she collected kitsch souvenirs of the novel Ramona. The items in her collection became embedded in her personal life; the collection lived in her house, she encountered it every day, and it reminded her of places, stories, people, and events.

Traditional archives are fixed, stored in an institution, and distinct from researchers’ personal lives. Access to them has to be requested, and there are often long lists of “dos” and “don’ts” policing researchers’ behaviour. The idea that researchers can collate their own archive through the process of collecting, and store it in their own home, starts to challenge and redefine the space of the archive. Oh how some archivists would shudder at the idea of researchers sat on their sofas reading items one hundred years old, coffee in hand! Heaven forbid that they should let their dog settle next to them! And don’t mention those chocolate biscuits…

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Internet has “transformed the spatialities of collecting” (DeLyser, 2015:212) and, indeed, researching, by providing us with new ways of accumulating items. Eradicating the need for human-to-human contact, the Internet proves a powerful tool for communication, and has the effect of compressing space. Previously unreachable people and unreachable items in unreachable places are all now accessible at the click of a button. Arguably the most influential website in this respect has been eBay, which recently celebrated its 20th birthday last month. Featured in a recent Telegraph article, eBay is now the best known online auction website in the world, and is available in more than 180 countries. As DeLyser (2015) states, eBay has become a useful tool for historical geographers in search of ‘one-of-a-kind’ items to add to their alternative archives.

The advent of online auction websites, such as eBay, has changed the ways in which people value items, and facilitated collecting. You can buy absolutely anything on eBay. Just last month, the Metro featured the story of a £5 note, chewed up by a 10-month old Labrador puppy, which was sold on the site for £3.70! Gaining 4,425 views, 111 watchers, and 10 bids, the item’s winning bidder claimed to have been interested in it because the accompanying photograph of the guilty dog had reminded him of his late dog. The new owner is hoping to submit the note for the Tate Gallery’s Turner Prize in 2017, claiming that the story behind the item gave it added value. Thus, the biographies of items on eBay – their history of ownership and anecdotal stories associated with them – affect their value. For researchers, however, this can pose challenges, as competitive bidding by dealers, hobbyists, and other interested parties can place a lot of historical items out of their financial reach. ‘Value’, then, is very subjective and problematic for researchers using online auctions to accumulate ‘alternative’ archive collections.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The use of eBay creates a personal space of collecting, changing researchers’ interactions with research materials and broadening the definition of ‘archive’. Searching for, bidding on, and taking ownership of items redefines them and the ways in which they are used in research. Could it be that the traditional historical geographer in the archive is becoming as rare and fragile as the dusty documents they seek, soon to be replaced by an unlikely new character who spends their time on-line shopping?

books_iconDeLyser, D. (2015). “Collecting, kitsch and the intimate geographies of social memory: a story of archival autoethnography”, Transactions of the                Institute of British Geographers. 40:  209-222. DOI: 10.1111/tran.12070

60-world2Bhatia S 2015 The History of Ebay The Telegraph 

60-world2Willis A 2015 Half eaten £5 note sold on ebay ‘to be entered for Turner Prize’ by new owner The Metro

 

Pre-emptive Response: Controlling the Exceptional in the Interval Between the Capitalist Working Weeks

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

Belgian Police

Belgian Police. Photo Credit: Eddy Van 3000

In his recent article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Ben Anderson explores how emergencies are governed through a logic of response and a politics of delay (Anderson, 2015). Focussing on the inquest into the London bombings of 7 July 2005, Anderson shows how governing an exceptional event utilises response to ensure that sovereign power is maintained, and that a normality of capitalist life is re-established. Furthermore Anderson highlights the inquest’s final recommendations which focussed on ‘delays’ in future emergencies; delays in communication between agencies, and delays in declaring a major incident.

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, we have witnessed a logic of response in the immediate actions of the French authorities, the subsequent raids on properties around the capital, and the declaration of a 3-month ‘state of emergency’ by the government. However, it is not this specific response that I will make brief comment on. Instead it is the ‘non-event’ a week later on Saturday 21st November in Brussels, and the pre-emptive response (a necessary contradiction) of the Belgian state to an immanent emergency.

After the tragedy in Paris a week earlier, the Belgian government claimed to be in possession of intelligence that suggested that a major incident was immanent in their capital, Brussels. An emergency response was initiated; “public transport restricted, shops shut, shopping malls shuttered, professional football cancelled, concerts called off and music venues, museums, and galleries closed”, and “People were told to avoid rail stations and airports, shopping centres, concerts, and other public events where people congregate” (The Guardian). In addition, military personal were deployed onto the streets, fully clad in camouflage and balaclavas, carrying fully-automatic weapons. However the major difference of this logic of response was that is was not a response. Nothing had happened, or did happen that day.

What this ‘pre-emptive response’ shows, in agreement with Anderson, is that the logic of response employed by liberal governments requires a focus on reducing delays in gaining control under exceptional conditions. As such, the case in Belgium this weekend exemplifies this; the delay is reduced to such an extent that it is pre-emptive.

Anderson indicates however that there is a “twofold political status” in the focus on delay; firstly it “reflects anxiety about the fragility of government” and secondly it reinforces the belief that any emergency can be exited (Anderson, 2015: 11). By having armed soldiers on the street, and the Mayor advising all cafes and restaurants to be closed by 6pm (The Independent) the suggestion of an anxious government is verified. Additionally a delay, between normality and ‘returning to normality’, rapidly becomes the focus for believing whether an emergency can be exited or not. Indeed the Wall Street Journal commented that in Brussels the “big test will be whether the metro system starts running again Monday morning, when many of the capital’s more than one million inhabitants depend on public transport to get to work” (Wall Street Journal).

While the pre-emptive response to an immanent emergency serves to ‘de-exceptionalise’ future emergencies – through a display of logistical control with exceptional measures – such measures must be limited and exited in time to restore normal capitalist flows, i.e. when businesses start trading again. The problem is, what if the immanent threat persists? How long until the delay in returning-to-normal undermines the fragility of liberal governmentality?

References

books_icon Anderson, B., (2015) Governing emergency response: the politics of delay and the logic of response, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, doi: 10.1111/tran.12100

60-world2 The Guardian (2015) Brussels ‘very dangerous’ as several terror suspects remain at large, Online Article  (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)

60-world2 The Independent (2015) Paris Attack Suspect Salah Abdeslam could be in Brussels ‘ready to blow himself up’, says friend, Online Article (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)

60-world2 Wall Street Journal (2015) Brussels Remains on Lockdown Amid Terror-Attack Fears, Online Article (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)