Relational Geographies: Sea – shore and the Super-rich

by Fiona Ferbrache

Super yachts at St Tropez (author's own image)

Super yachts at St Tropez (author’s own image)

In 2012, the Economist noted that even in troubling economic times it was still possible to discern rich people, alongside the poor. It then asked “will there also be the really rich, the super-rich?”.

There seems to be substantial evidence for the category ‘super-rich’. Geographer Danny Dorling notes that the (super-)richest 1% in Britain (“people with a pre-tax household income of at least £160,000″) are growing wealthier and that the gap is increasing between them and the remaining 99%. In 2013, “Geographies of the Super-rich” (authored by Professor Iain Hay) was introduced to bookshelves and identified a class of individuals with investable assets in excess of $1 million. In recent weeks, the British media have reported on the super-rich overseas buyers of prime London addresses who buy properties as investments and then leave them empty; drawing Kensington and Chelsea nearer the top of the ranking, alongside northern towns such as Blackpool and Bradford, of areas with the highest number of empty homes.  Another article reported that for those coming to visit their London investments, the most popular mode of travel is private jet.

As the above examples demonstrate, the lives and mobilities of the super-rich are being opened up to enquiry. Contributing to this trend, a paper by Spence, in Area, explores leisure activities of super-rich mobility along the Cote-d’Azur – “between sea, super-yacht and the shore” (and air, via private jets) (p.203). While examining the leisure activities of the super-rich on board luxury yachts, Spence also provides insight to the lives of the crew catering to them through a relational framework spanning sea, shore and ship. Spence uses this case study to argue for a more-than-sea approach to maritime geographies, which plays on the idea of more-than-human geographies and indeed captures the relationality of human and non-human materialities.  A more-than-sea geography aims to promote a perspective from the sea, to incorporate the land, rather than the other way around. Spence achieves this by discussing cabin fever, seasicknes and the meaning of going ashore. Here, the experiences of the super-rich (guests, tourists and yacht owners) and the necessary supporting and waiting crew, differ in a cyclical series of relations between sea, shore and ship, as the yachts move into and out of port.

Spence’s paper offers two key insights: a conceptual framework for exploring geographies of the sea, and which complements earlier works by authors such as Peters (2010) and Hasty and Peters (2012); and micro-geographies of the super-rich that help to flesh out media representations and existing geographical knowledge of this group.

books_iconSpence, E. 2014. Towards a more-than-sea geography: exploring the relational geographies of superrich mobility between sea, superyacht and shore in the Cote d’Azur. Area 46(2): pp.203-209
books_iconHasty, W. and Peters, K. 2012. The ship in geography and the geographies of ships. Geography Compass 6: pp.660-676
books_iconPeters, K. 2010. Future promises for contemporary social and cultural geographies of the sea. Geography Compass 4: pp.1260-1272

60-world2Danny Dorling on the super-rich

60-world2The super-rich will always be with us (and so will the repo man). The Economist

60-world2A passage to Mayfair: India’s super-rich elite are colonising the heart of the former British empire. The Economist
60-world2The ghost town of the super-rich: Kensington and Chelsea’s ‘buy-to-leave’ phenomenon. The Evening Standard

Workfare and the Unions

By Julie MacLeavy, University of Bristol

Worfare image

Workfare: doesn’t work and not fair. Photo by Howard Jones licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

The potential role of organised labour organisations in policy debates on and resistance to workfare programmes is a complex issue, as is broached in relation to the US context in the article accompanying this blog. Recent developments outside of the US might point to a more engaged role for unions in such debates. In the UK, the state’s largest union, Unite, responded to last fortnight’s launch of the Coalition government’s new ‘workfare’ programme with a plea to charity managers not to sign up for community work placements, which are by part of a set of measures aimed at helping jobless benefit claimants move from welfare into work. In a statement, Unite described the mandatory work placements as “nothing more than forced unpaid labour”.

Their opposition to the Help to Work programme, which aims to reduce unemployment by making the payment of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) dependent on individuals’ enrolment for a six months work placement, is threefold. First there is no evidence that workfare programmes get people into paid work in the long-term. Second, workfare programmes stigmatise job seekers by making them work for nothing, or face having their benefits docked. Third, workfare displaces existing workers and enslaves jobseekers and in doing so undermines collective bargaining.

Unite’s statement of opposition to the implementation of workfare is important. Given the quietude and ineffectiveness of progressive welfare politics over the past two decades as the welfare system has increasingly required work in exchange for time-limited assistance, the addition of this established organisation’s voice to the critique of workfare could help to forge a counter discourse about welfare that consciously recasts welfare struggles in terms of civil and economic rights. Unite’s opposition identifies the manner in which the reduction of welfare assistance/imposition of workfare ensures a steady supply of cheap labour to industry and in doing so narrows the distance between the concerns of unemployed and its union members.

Until now, those targeted by workfare have not had the necessary institutional resources to effectively dispute the received wisdom that welfare recipients are unemployed because of a lack of motivation, skills and a ‘work ethic’. There have been independently-organised campaigns against the Help to Work scheme and its predecessors – including the former Labour government’s suite of ‘New Deals’ for the unemployed (which similarly required unemployed persons to undertake education, training or work experience in return for JSA payments) – but these have produced little in terms of long term resistance. With further support from the unions, claimant-led campaigns could be horizontally linked, relationships between welfare activists and the trade unions developed, and a greater level of public debate about the government’s reforms fostered. These nascent developments might also provide a model for the organisation of counter-workfare coalitions in the US context, where workfare programmes have also proceeded apace along broadly comparable lines to that of the UK, and with similar degrees of quietude and ineffectiveness within progressive welfare politics (see article reference in The Geographical Journal below), albeit with important differences and national inflections.

About the author: Julie MacLeavy is a Senior Lecturer in political and economic geography at the School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, UK.

books_icon MacLeavy, J. (2014), Workfare and resistance in the US: the quietude and ineffectiveness of progressive welfare politics post 1996. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12092

60-world2 Guardian, The (2014) New Help to Work programme comes into force for long-term unemployed. 28 April

60-world2 Unite (2014) Charity bosses urged to shun ‘workfare’ scheme by Unite. 28 April

Maps as Politics

By Christine Leuenberger, Cornell University

Maps have long been used as tools to dispossess the colonized, establish sovereign control over territories and help make states. National maps are ‘logos’ – not unlike commercial logos that encourage people’s loyalty to the national brand.

Flag map of Israel (including Palestinian territories) Source: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“Flag map of Israel (including Palestinian territories)” Source: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

When map-making came into vogue with the rise of the nation-state in the 17th century, government officials and academic experts were tasked with mapping its lands. Yet, by the 1980s, map-making became transformed from a domain of experts to a ‘people’s cartography’. With access to new GIS technologies and web-based software, including Google Earth, anyone with a computer and Internet access can make and disseminate maps. Maps are no longer just ‘top-down’, but also ‘bottom-up’.

"Flag map of the land of Palestine" Source: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“Flag map of the land of Palestine” Source: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Not only states, but also NGOs, political parties, social activists, the media, and corporations have access to map-making technologies that can be used to make geopolitical claims. In a post-cold War era in which territorial and national disputes have again come to the forefront of public attention, whether in the Ukraine, in Congo, or in Israel-Palestine, we need to inquire what are maps, who makes them, and for what purpose?

We commonly assume that maps are objective, accurate, and representative of a world ‘out there’. Yet maps always omit as much as they include. They are subject to selection, classification, abstractions, and simplifications.

By emphasizing certain sites, yet deemphasizing others, colonizers may implant their geopolitical vision onto the land whilst cartographically eradicated the topography of the colonized. Such territorial battles can turn into what myself and co-author Schnell (2010) call ‘map wars’ with protagonists using different types of visual rhetoric to battle over ethno-territories.

Yet with the democratization of mappings, do their makers really have the power to persuade wider publics of geopolitical visions? Hardly. In our article in Transactions (Schnell and Leuenberger 2014) we point out that sociology matters. We investigate the rise of a people’s cartography in Israel that is fuelled by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, territorial disagreements provide map-makers with fodder for their cartographic warfare in the midst of the cold peace that prevails between the Palestinians and Israel.

While blanket assertions that the ‘other’ doesn’t recognize the latter’s territories and is erasing them from the map abound, Israel-Palestine exemplifies the diversity of maps. Like literary genres, maps follow different visual genres so as to engage with geopolitics. These maps differ in terms of their ‘authority’ and institutional legitimacy, their ‘substance’ and visual and textual complexity, and their ‘function’ for governance or navigation. In other words, state-sanctioned maps have an institutional legitimacy unmatched by cartographic geeks disseminating their maps via blogs. Both states and geeks, however, may incorporate cartographic conventions, but science is not immune to politics.

Maps hardly mirror an objective birds-eye view of the world. Rather, as maps omit as much as they include, they reflect the culture and politics that gave rise to them. In a post-Cold war era, in which geopolitical visions are shifting, and nationalism and territoriality have again become tools to forge identities, we have to remember that maps do not represent, but instead create geopolitical realities.

 About the author: Christine Leuenberger is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Science & Technology Studies,  Cornell University

books_icon Schnell, I. and Leuenberger, C. (2014), Mapping genres and geopolitics: the case of Israel. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12052

books_icon Leuenberger C. and I. Schnell (2010) “The Politics of Maps: Constructing National Territories in Israel”, Social Studies of Science 40/6: 803–842.

60-world2 Ruggeri, A Beyond the Headlines: The politics of making maps 05 June 2014 (available outside the UK)

60-world2 Covant, E. How Should Crimea Be Shown on National Geographic Maps? National Geographic 19.03.2014

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


Drones for wildlife: the securitization of conservation?

By Helen Pallett


Image credit: Flying Eye (CC SA-BY)

We have come to know drones as one of the newest technologies of warfare and surveillance, a weapon central to how the war on terror is now being fought: remotely and increasingly through the use of computerised devices or robots. But another perhaps surprising use for drones has been developing in parallel, perhaps explaining why the World Wildlife Fund has been a major supporter of drone research since 2012.

On the same day last week the Guardian newspaper published two separate reports on drone usage. The first described how drones are going to be used in Kenya’s national parks in an effort to prevent poaching, whilst the second reported that in Germany drones will be used to protect young deer from being injured by combine harvesters.

These developments raise challenging questions about the development of new technologies. Do the intended purposes of a new technology matter when it is used for something different? Should we be interested in who the funders of technological research and innovation are? Can we assess and understand the uses of drones in wildlife conservation and, increasingly, research without understanding the use of drones as a technology of violence and surveillance? Is this the latest step in what some have referred to as ‘the securitzation of the environment’?

A recent themed section of The Geographical Journal, edited by Michael Mason and Mark Zeitoun, focuses on the issue of environmental security, both as a driver and consequence of increasing anxiety and apocalyptic accounts of the environment. In their introduction the editors argue that such fears about dangerous climate change or species extinctions work rhetorically to justify certain actions as urgent or emergency measures, from solar radiation management to crack downs on human behaviour and liberties.

Whilst few would doubt the seriousness of the threat from poaching to elephant and rhino populations in Kenya, by treating recent population depletion as an emergency scenario or a matter of security the Kenyan Wildlife Service and other conservationists may be serving to legitimate the use of a highly questionable conservation method. The use of drones for surveillance in Kenyan national parks represents a new method for policing ways of acting and being in a national park. The appropriate usage of national parks has long been a matter of controversy, not least because during the creation of many national parks, human populations had to be forcibly removed or regulated. Drones will potentially collect data not only concerning suspected poaching, but also other activities within the national park; all national park users can now be watched and surveilled. This may result in the management not only of poaching in the national parks, but also much more ambiguous activities such as attempts at settlement or the use of other resources.

Whilst it may be convenient to tell a simplistic story about ‘evil’ poachers and ‘good’ conservationists, such narratives can mask the more complex realities and the many negative implications the creation of national parks had for affected communities. Individual poachers may often be acting out of desperation, for example the lack of an alternative source of livelihood. Furthermore, poachers rarely act alone but rather are part of often transnational networks of capital, connecting them to infrastructures and markets for the sale of goods such as elephant and rhino horn.  So surveillance may be unlikely to act as a deterrent on its own.

The Kenyan drones project has been jointly funded by the US, Netherlands, France, Canada and Kenya, and also includes supplies of other military equipment such as firearms, bulletproof vests and night vision equipment. In the Kenyan national parks, drones are to be used in areas considered too risky for surveillance by manned aircraft, already a common practice. In the context of such efforts to radically reduce the risks faced by wildlife rangers in the field and the increasing panic about the loss of elephants and rhinos, how long will it be before it is acceptable to shoot suspected poachers on sight? Furthermore, once the infrastructures for drone use are in place it would be relatively straight-forward to substitute surveillance drones for armed drones, and this could be justified as a further means of protecting national park employees.

As we have seen with the military uses of drones, robots can make mistakes and claim innocent lives. Photos too can frequently be ambiguous and misleading, without other supporting evidence. Furthermore, these potential developments would further circumvent the justice procedures upheld by all the countries financially supporting the drones programme. In the context of albeit justified hysteria about the fast depletion of certain endangered populations, do we risk sanctioning an equally unpalatable solution? Claims of 96% reductions in poaching in some of the Kenyan drone pilots, alongside the circulation of horrifying images and statistics about the effects of poaching, also mean that other potential methods for conservation and poaching management may increasingly be ruled out and foreclosed.

books_icon Michael Mason & Mark Zeitoun 2013 Questioning environmental security, The Geography Journal, 179 (4): 294-297 (Open Access)

60-world2 Google cash buys drones to watch endangered species, BBC News, 6 December 2012

60-world2 Kenya to deploy drones in all national parks in a bid to tackle poaching, The Guardian, 25 April 2014

60-world2 Germany deploys drones to protect young deer from combine harvesters, The Guardian, 25 April 2014

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.


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.


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.