Tag Archives: Cultural Geography

Exploring “Militant Research” and how to research protest

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield

 

Occupy_London_-_Finsbury_Square

Banners at the moved Occupy London protest in Finsbury Square in the City of London: Image credit: Alan Denney 

This month sees the twentieth anniversary of ‘The Battle of Newbury’ when protesters were evicted from their camp to make way for a bypass. The BBC takes the opportunity to reflect on the long term impact of the anti-road campaign. Journalist Paul Clifton reported on events in 1996, suggesting that

“the protesters lost the battle. But perhaps they won the war. There is no doubt the tree climbers swayed public opinion and, later, political policy changed too. It virtually halted the construction of major new roads for a generation.”

In a recent article for Area, Sam Halvorsen discusses the challenges faced when trying to study social movements when the researcher has an involvement with the cause. He focuses specifically on the role of ‘militant research’ in his work with, and on, The Occupy Movement. Like Newbury, Occupy had a distinct geographical element to its fight against much bigger issues and it fought to physically claim space. Halverson states the ‘starting point for militant research is not an academic researcher seeking to further a particular strand of knowledge, but the context of political struggle’ (2015:467). He acknowledges many within those struggles are already engaged in theorising, but may have an antagonistic relationship with academic institutions.

Having a dual role as a scholar and activist is not new, but it remains problematic. Universities are labyrinthine structures, constantly reshaped by the students and staff within them. They can provide opportunities to support research, engage in discussion and offer practical help such as meeting spaces. They also have strict ethical codes which may, for example, complicate relationships with direct action campaigns. The militant researcher cannot claim to be neutral – indeed the rich understanding they offer springs directly from their commitment to the ethics and aims of the cause they are engaged in. Halvorsen also discusses his experience with ORC (The Occupy Research Collective) an attempt to re-imagine research and create opportunities outside the university. This became a valuable space for discussion but encountered its own problems.

Halvorsen concludes that militant research needs to constantly be ‘pushing against any form it takes, as it is only through negation (and simultaneous creation) that change becomes a reality’ (2015:469). He draws on Holloway (2002) and the idea of a dialectical relationship between protest and its wider context. This accounts for both the contradictory relationship between both universities and militant researchers and the researchers themselves who may criticise the movements they are studying. Social movements, and their struggles for justice, are key components of society. It would be disingenuous to claim researchers are, or can be, passive, objective onlookers. Taking a critical view of such movements, whilst remaining involved, is necessarily complicated but very worthwhile. Passion and an ethical commitment to a cause should not be a barrier to research, as surely scholarship should be aiming to make a positive difference to the wider world.

References:

60-world2 The BBC (2016) Did The Newbury Bypass Change Anything? Online article accessed 13.1.2016

books_icon Halvorsen, S.  (2015) Militant research against-and-beyond itself: critical perspectives from the university and Occupy London Area, 47:4 466-472 (open access)

books_icon Holloway, J (2002) Change the world without taking power: the meaning of revolution today. Pluto Press: London

 

 

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)

 

Collecting as Archiving

By Will Andrews, Aberystwyth University

In a recent article published in Transactions, Didier DeLyser (2015) explains the importance of the what she refers to as ‘archival autoethnography’ (p209) as a way to approach and analyse the intimate spatialities of social memory tied up in amateur collections.  The article explores DeLyser’s own collections of souvenirs related to Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel Ramona, whilst contextualising this within wider enthusiasm for the novel and its impacts.  Many of these souvenir items, such as written postcards are tied to certain geographical locations in Southern California, in this way they connect people to place as well fitting into broader narratives of collection and enthusiasm the postcards in particular providing clear and intimate accounts of social memory in place.

800px-Collection-of-cameras                                        A Collection of Old Soviet Cameras (Dzhepko, 2007)

April 7th saw the second series of BBC 2’s Collectaholics (BBC, 2015a), a popular culture lens on the personal collections and archives compiled by various individuals who have interests in subjects which do not always attract more mainstream archival attention. The programme details, “the weird and wonderful collections of some of Britain’s passionate and avid…collectors” (ibid). As DeLyser (2015) explains such collections transcend cultural capital or monetary value (p209) and have more to do with the personal experiences and memories of the collectors. Collections on the BBC series range from an archived collection of natural history items in the first episode to more performative archives as in the sixth episode when Mark Hill explores a home transformed by its owner into a recreated early twentieth century cottage (BBC, 2015a). Both collections can be seen as pertinent examples of DeLyser’s observations, that people collect items which connect them to certain places and broader narratives, preserving their own, ‘intimate spatialities of social memory” (p210).

p02nbbzz                                                 Episode 1. Collectaholics (BBC, 2015b)

Beyond the importance of collecting as a creative process or practice DeLyser (p209) argues the methodological importance of collecting as archiving. That by gathering texts and artefacts ourselves we can contribute to important alternative archives which through the scholarly realm may ultimately bring more attention and inquiry to their circumstances, as is true of Ramona as a result of DeLyser’s work. Furthermore by collecting souvenirs we can better understand the work these do in the lives of those who purchase them. Through my own autoethnographic research within modified car culture I have begun to see the building of the modified car as a sort of collection of parts and indeed many people collect parts in order to maintain a sort of archive. In this way I would argue that DeLyser and Greenstein’s (2014) account of rebuilding a classic Tatra car is itself another example of creating an alternative archive. Traditionally historical geographers have approached the archive as something separate from the domestic or professional spaces of their homes and offices instead we can and should turn to the collections which “reside with us in our homes and offices” (DeLyser, 2015: 209).

Cake_drums_-_Belgium                                               Cake Drums- Belgium (Spotter2, 2009)
To conclude, the current BBC series Collectaholics shows that there is a popular fascination with collecting and the subsequent informal and personal archives created, by watching these episodes through a lens informed by DeLyser’s (2015) article we can begin to see the geographical and intimate spatialities woven into the tales of these weird and wonderful collections.
References

globe4 BBC (2015a) ‘Collectaholics‘, BBC Two website

60-world2 BBC (2015b) ‘Episode 1. Collectaholics‘, BBC Two website

books_icon DeLyser, D. (2015) ‘Collecting, kitsch and the intimate geographies of social memory: a story of archival autoethnography‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40(2), 209-222

books_icon DeLyser, D. & Greenstein, P. (2015) ‘ “Follow that car!” Mobilities of Enthusiasm in a Rare Car’s Restoration’, The Professional Geographers, 67(2), 255-268

60-world2 Dzhepko, L. (2007) ‘A collection of old Soviet cameras on sale in the Vernisazh in Izmailovky Park, Moscow, Russia‘, Wikimedia Commons

60-world2 Spotter2 (2009) ‘Cake Drums- Belgium‘, Wikimedia Commons

Outsiders at the Seaside

By Mark Whitehead, Aberystwyth University

Aberystwyth, Image Credit: The Author

When you live in a coastal town, as I do, you become aware of the peculiar social geographies of seaside communities. The social geography of coastal communities is defined by two factors: the sea and the visitor. The sea always seems to define the gestalt of the coastal town: it is the reason why the community is where it is. The sea does, however, seem to limit the geography of the seaside town: removing a large portion of its potential surroundings and making the place feel that bit more isolated as a consequence. If the sea is the defining environmental feature of the seaside town, the visitor is its defining subject. It is the visitor who supports the local tourist economy, who swells the population of the community in the summer, and who connects the community to the outside world. The sense of isolation and the orientation towards the visitor common in coastal communities generates an at times troubling social dynamic. Consequently, while the respectable, well-behaved tourist is welcome, those on the margins of society are seen as being particularly problematic. In seaside towns the homeless, the drug addict, the mentally ill, and the alcoholic appear to be much more conspicuous than in larger communities and they are seen to represent a much greater threat to the socio-economic viability of the place. Coastal towns are communities that rely on the temporary migration of the outsider into the community, but are also places that are particularly sensitive to the presence of unwanted outsiders.

The current issue of the journal Area contains a series of reflections on a classical article that is firmly grounded in the social geography of the seaside town. The paper in question is Chris Philo’s path breaking paper ‘Not at our seaside’: community opposition to a nineteenth century branch asylum, which was published in June 1987. ‘Not at our seaside’ neatly encapsulates geographical concerns about difference, inside/outside relations, and social justice. The paper recounts the story of the controversial decision (in 1856) by the Devonshire Public County Asylum to establish a temporary Branch Asylum in the seaside town of Exmouth, for those in mental distress. Drawing on the reports of the Commissioners in Lunacy, Philo considers the local tensions that were created by the establishment of this Branch Asylum. Although the paper does not delve into theoretical discussion per se, it prefaces and reflects the debates around mental health and moral geography that came to be a much more prominent part of the discipline during the 1990s. In this Classics Revisited section, Chris Philo provides some personal reflections on the background to the paper and his intentions in writing it. These authorial reflections are followed by two commentaries on paper by Tim Cresswell and myself, in which we discuss the broader significance of the paper and what it means personally to us.

Living, as I do, in the coastal community of Aberystwyth, Chris Philo’s groundbreaking paper resonated strongly with me. It also served to remind that the study of coastal communities has remained marginal within human geography. While I am sure that there are good reasons for, it is important to note that the socio-economic plight of coastal communities is now becoming s significant object of political debate. A recent article in Guardian newspaper, for example, reflected on a series of reports that showed that coastal communities (and not inner cities) are the main centres of social disadvantage limited opportunity and social isolation in the UK. Perhaps it is time to follow Chris Philo’s lead and to reconsider the geographies of the seaside town.

About the Author: Mark Whitehead is a Professor at Aberystwyth University.

 Whitehead, M. (2014), Editorial introduction: Revisiting Chris Philo’s ‘Not at our seaside’. Area, 46: 214. doi: 10.1111/area.12088

 Philo, C. (2014), Same, Other, NIMBY and an asylum by the sea: revisiting ‘Not at our seaside’. Area, 46: 215–218. doi: 10.1111/area.12089

 Cresswell, T. (2014), Around 1987: outline of a lesson in geographic thought. Area, 46: 219–221. doi: 10.1111/area.12090

 Whitehead, M. (2014), Proximity, acceptance and hopeful ontologies. Area, 46: 222–223. doi: 10.1111/area.12091

60-world2 Mc Veigh T 2014 Sun, sand and inequality: why the British Seaside towns are losing out The Guardian 22 June 2014

60-world2 RGS-IBG Society News, 27 years on: An academic classic is revisited

From “overstocking” to “overgrazing”: more livestock as a symbol of wealth?

By Yonten Nyima Sichuan University, China

Yaks in a summer pasture, eastern Nagchu, Tibet, July 2009 (Photography by Yonten Nyima)

Yaks in a summer pasture, eastern Nagchu, Tibet, July 2010
(Photograph by Yonten Nyima)

In 2011 China, which claims to have the world’s second largest grassland area after Australia, launched its largest grassland protection program literally known as the grassland ecological protection subsidy and reward mechanism in its pastoral region. The backbone of the program is to subsidise or reward pastoralists for not “overgrazing”. Nonetheless, it is hard to celebrate this new program as progress on grassland management and pastoralism because it is merely the latest example of an underlying assumption deeply embedded in state policy on grassland management and pastoralism in China.

In China overgrazing has long been assumed to be a direct or main cause of grassland degradation. Accordingly, adjusting livestock numbers to “carrying capacity” has been both a means and a goal of protecting grassland ecosystems. Pastoralists have often been accused of overstocking because they are believed to want to raise more livestock as a symbol of wealth.

Through a case study from Nagchu Prefecture, the largest pastoral prefecture on the Tibetan Plateau in terms of both grassland area and livestock numbers, in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is reported to have the largest grassland area in China, my Area paper raises the questions whether more livestock are a symbol of wealth for pastoralists and why pastoralists appear to raise more livestock than they currently appear to need. My research in Nagchu shows that pastoralists do not raise more livestock as a symbol of wealth. Instead, three overlapping reasons explain why pastoralists want to raise more livestock than they currently appear to need.

First, owing to biological, cultural and economic factors, current livestock numbers are not equivalent to actual livestock available for production. Second, pastoralists want to raise more livestock as a long-term strategy for livelihood security and flexibility. Third, pastoralists want to raise more livestock as a means for improving their standard of living. Therefore, for pastoralists raising more livestock is a means rather than an end. My Area paper also shows that in practice, labor power, grassland and economic status are three primary overlapping factors constraining pastoralists from raising more livestock.

A take-home message for policy advisors and policymakers from my Area paper is that pastoralism must be understood from the standpoint of pastoralists and in the socioeconomic, cultural and environmental context in which pastoralist live, rather than from outsider perspectives and values.

The author: Dr. Yonten Nyima is Associate Professor, Institute of Social Development and Western China Development Studies, Sichuan University, China

 Nyima, Y. (2014), A larger herd size as a symbol of wealth? The fallacy of the cattle complex theory in Tibetan pastoralism. Area, 46: 186–193. doi: 10.1111/area.12099

60-world2 China to susidize herdsmen to curb overgrazing, China Daily, 6 May 2011

The Canary Islands, a crossroads magnet in the Mid-Atlantic

by Rosalia Avila-Tàpies and Josefina Domínguez-Mujica

Port of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain). Photograph used with permission of Claudio Moreno Medina.

Port of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain). Photograph used with permission of Claudio Moreno Medina.

The geographic location of the Canary Islands has determined its historical importance in transcontinental trade and maritime traffic as a crossroads of routes in the Mid-Atlantic. For centuries, the close ties that were forged between the shores of Africa and Europe on the East and the Americas on the West ensured the position of the archipelago as a major Atlantic meeting point for different peoples and cultures from these three continents.

Moreover, due to their proximity to highly productive marine waters and their system of free ports, this location was also valued by the faraway Japanese. Therefore, as of the 1960s, the Canary Islands became the operational base of the Japanese fishing fleets in search of tuna. This gave rise to a small Japanese settlement made up of fishermen, ship repairers, traders and civil servants, who were supported by the Consulate General of Japan in Las Palmas and other institutions such as the Japanese School, the House of Japan, and even Japanese nurses at local hospitals. Despite the gradual decline in numbers, Japanese presence and social interaction left a positive impression on the islands, especially on Gran Canaria. Conversely, the migration of Japanese to the Canary Islands also has had some profound implications for them, as we have argued in our Area article. In this respect, and by using a biographical approach to the study of Japanese experiences of migration and cross-cultural processes, we confirm the acknowledgement of migration and mobility as transformative experiences that shape identities and have a deep impact on every aspect of the migrants’ lives.

During the past decades, however, the Canary Islands have become one of the most important Southern maritime borders of the European Union, a fault-line that delimits wealth and poverty. As a consequence, they have been acting as a powerful magnet for the hopes of young Africans, who enter into the territory in dramatic and vulnerable situations.

Concurrently, the Port of Las Palmas has become an important logistic platform for services for and cooperation with Africa, dispatching the most urgently needed humanitarian aid to disaster locations. In 2009, the Red Cross International Federation and Red Crescent Societies established one of their four world logistic centers in the port area of Las Palmas and the World Food Program (WFP) will create its sixth hub of the network of the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) inside the port precinct. Thus, the proximity with the African continent implies challenges and opportunities for the islands, stressing their border location as a place for the development of cooperation policies concerning migration flows and emergency responses to humanitarian crises.

The authors: Dr. Rosalia Avila-Tàpies is Researcher in Doshisha University-Japan and Dr. Josefina Domínguez-Mujica is Permanent Professor in the Department of Geography, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria-Spain.

books_icon Avila-Tàpies, R. and Domínguez-Mujica, J. (2014), Interpreting autobiographies in migration research: narratives of Japanese returnees from the Canary Islands (Spain). Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12081

books_icon Domínguez-Mujica J. and Avila-Tàpies R. (2013), The in-between lives of Japanese immigrants in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 20-7 896-913

books_icon Avila-Tàpies R. and Domínguez-Mujica J. (2011), Canarias en el imaginario japonés: el análisis de tres narrativas contemporáneas Anuario de Estudios Atlánticos 57 525- 62

60-world2 Red Cross to use Las Palmas as logistics base, IslandConnections.eu, 26 November 2008

60-world2 WFP Joins Forces With Spain In New Initiative To Fight Hunger Worldwide, World Food Programme – News19 July 2012

 

Academic Writing and Geography Narrated

by Fiona Ferbrache

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

Ruined_house_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1428145

House ruins (Source: Wikimedia Commons: Graham Horn)

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

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

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

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

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

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

60-world2  Stylish Academic Writing – a guide