Tag Archives: Social Geography

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

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

Spatial and Local Factors in Understanding Financial Crises

By Benjamin Sacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Future of European Aviation?

by Benjamin Sacks

Proposed European FABs.

Proposed European FABs.

The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökul volcano on 20 March 2010 demonstrated the weaknesses in Europe’s diverse air traffic control network. As a massive ash cloud up to 8 kilometres high gradually extended across western Europe, forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights and stranding millions of passengers across the entire continent. Although European air controllers correctly prioritised passenger safety above all other factors, the scenario left many airline industry commentators and journalists frustrated with the European Union’s apparent inability to swiftly and effectively act on changing meteorological and airline information. With few exceptions, the maintenance of separate airspace quadrants by each EU member, each with different processes, response mechanisms, as well as external pressures from airlines and politicians, all contributed to delayed and even contradictory responses in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Oslo.

In Eyjafjallajökull’s wake, the International Aviation Transportation Authority (IATA), in cooperation with the EU, proposed the establishment a single European air zone, divided into nine ‘functional airspace blocks’. Citing the current system’s woefully inefficiency – e.g., ‘With fewer air traffic controllers the United States FAA [Federal Aviation Authority] is able to deliver 70% more controlled flight hours than Europe]’ – the IATA / EU consortium called for a reorganisation, or ‘rationalisation’ of air traffic control hierarchies, technological modernisation, and substantially better (and more transparent) communication between national aviation authorities. Optimistically entitled ‘Single European Sky’ (SES), officials set a date of 4 December 2012 for its implementation.

But, as Dr Christopher Lawless (Durham University) reminds us in his March 2014 Geographical Journal commentary, 4 December 2012 came and went with little change. Only two of the nine blocks – Denmark-Sweden and UK-Ireland – had reached operational status. National-level aviation oversight bodies – intended to be the vanguard of transnational cooperation – had made little progress in communicating or facilitating with their neighbouring counterparts. Bickering, unsurprisingly, had early on replaced collaboration. At the EU Aviation Summit in Limassol, Cyprus, Siim Kallas, European Commission joint Vice President and Transport Commissioner, attacked EU states for ‘their “undue protection of national interests’” (Lawless p. 76).

Of the seven non-operational airspace blocks, two (Iberian Peninsula and Central Mediterranean) had not even progressed beyond the ‘definition stage’ (p. 77). Fearing the loss of their jobs and the complete overhaul of learned ATC procedures, French and German air traffic controllers repeatedly threatened strikes.

Lawless examined SES’s problematic history through Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim’s 2009 paradigm of ‘sociotechnical imaginary’. The European SES programme sought to mix technological requirements with larger political aspirations, inevitably leading to discord between various member states. Airlines, already struggling to break even financially, balked at restructuring costs (p.80). Spatially, air spaces were eventually designed along largely existing geographical and geopolitical lines, as the UK-Ireland, Denmark-Sweden, and Italy-Mediterranean sectors clearly demonstrate (p. 78). In reality, these geopolitically-influenced air spaces make little sense with the traffic patterns of most passenger flights:

[T]he highest density region of European air traffic…spans a corridor encompassing the airspace of the UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Under the current arrangement, this straddles four separate FABs…(p. 78).

Lawless concludes by calling for a comprehensive inquiry into sovereign states’ concerns, risk assessments, and considerations, and re-drawing the air space landscape in a more logical (and less state-specific) manner. Ultimately, he stressed that even such ‘apolitical’ projects as SES are unfortunately ridden with politics, negotiation, and self-interests.

The SES debate will continue to fascinate observers for some time. Agonising, protracted discussions over the future of London’s airspace – the world’s busiest – between Conservative officials, led by Boris Johnson, and Labour opponents seem unlikely to end amicably, or soon. This regional crisis, combined with Britain’s current national debate over its long-term role within the EU, will only further complicate the SES’s possible re-development and implementation.    

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Gertisser R, Eyjafjallajökull volcano causes widepread disruption to European air trafficGeology Today 26.3 (May-Jun.: 2010), 94-95.

books_icon IATA / EU, A Blueprint for the Single European Sky: Delivering on safety, environment, capacity and cost-effectiveness, 2011.

books_icon Lawless C, Commentary: Bounding the vision of a Single European SkyThe Geographical Journal, 180.1 (Mar., 2014): 76-82.

60-world2 Sacks B, Eyjafjallajökull: Geography’s Harsh ReminderGeography Directions, 18 February 2011.

60-world2 Q&A: EU response to Iceland volcano ashBBC News, 25 May 2011.

60-world2 Iceland volcano ash: German air traffic resumingBBC News, 25 May 2011.

60-world2 Hofmann K, French, German ATCs postpone strikes over Single European SkyAir Transport World, 24 January 2014.

 

Sochi and the spatialities of contentious politics

By Helen Pallett

2013_WSDC_Sochi_-_Zbigniew_Brodka_2

Image credit: Sacha Krotov

With the Winter Olympics drawing to a close at the weekend, global attention has moved away from Sochi, at least until March 7th when the Winter Paralympics begins. The Sochi Winter Olympics have been notable, not only for the achievements of the athletes involved, but for their politics. The site itself was heavily monitored and policed to curb the activities of ‘extremists’ out to disrupt and injure, and many activists were arrested or forcibly moved from the location. But Sochi itself also took on a broader political symbolism as an emblem of the struggle for LGBT rights. Some states such as the US deliberately sent prominent gay sports people to Sochi to head-up their delegations, whilst many news outlets, such as The Guardian, The New Statesman and Channel 4 in the UK, took the opportunity to highlight their support for the cause of equal rights, particularly through the use of the symbolic rainbow flag. President Putin meanwhile notoriously told gay people that they were very welcome in Sochi but that they should leave children alone.

The Sochi Winter Olympics then was a moment of contentious politics, created by the increasingly draconian laws being passed recently in Russia regarding LGBT rights, and the releasing of several prominent activists from prison, in the run up to when the world’s eyes would be on Sochi for the games. But there is also a complex spatiality to this contentious politics. In a study of the contentious politics of immigrant workers’ rights in the United States Helga Leitner, Eric Sheppard and Kristin Sziarto argued that it was important to understand the role of scale, place, networks, positionality and mobility in shaping and forming part of this politics.

Scale is important to understanding the contested politics of Sochi, as movements and debates occurred at multiple overlapping and interrelating scales. From the policing or transgression of the micro-spaces around the Olympic site, to the scale of Sochi as a city which became an emblem of the LGBT rights struggle, to the scale of Russia as a country and legal and political context of the Winter Olympics, to the global scale of the Olympics itself with the world’s attention on developments in Sochi. These different scales interacted with one another, influencing  other processes and producing new political effects, which in this case served to magnify the issue of LGBT rights beyond this one city.

The politics of place are also clearly at play in Sochi, with the city becoming so much of an emblem of broader struggles for LGBT rights, linked to its fleeting importance at a site for a major sporting event. Sochi’s reputation as a resort for Russia’s wealthy and extravagant elite only served to increase the controversy around the games. Like with many other social movements and instances of contentious politics the topology of networks was important to the visibility of the LGBT rights struggle around Sochi, connecting Russian and Sochi-based activists to other LGBT activists globally, and importantly, being passed through high profile media networks from Twitter to the international news outlets. The struggle for LGBT rights was also passed through significant sporting networks, reaching far beyond the pool of athletes involved in this Winter Olympics to the delegations sent by other countries to the games, or to other sportsmen and sportswomen who chose this particular moment to be open about their own sexuality or to affirm their support of LGBT rights.

The mobility of many members of these networks was also a significant factor in their success in making LGBT rights into such a significant issue around the games, whilst attempts to curb the mobility of activists’ and other individuals’ bodies around the Sochi site was an important way in which Russian authorities attempted to resist and undermine the struggle.

Finally, Leitner and colleagues assert that socio-spatial positionality is also an important component of such politics, bringing into focus difference and inequality. In this case, the difference in Russia’s stance on LGBT rights was an important vector of difference in comparison to significant moves towards the fulfillment of LGBT rights, such as gay marriage, in much of Western Europe and North America, which had important implications for how the political struggle played out and was resisted by the Russian Government. But equally the struggle for LGBT rights around the Sochi Winter Olympics was very successful at forging alliances between different groups of activists, different national LGBT rights movements, and between activists and sports people or sports fans. That prominent news outlets also felt the need to show their support to the cause shows the strength of such alliances.

Attention to the complex spatialities of social movements and contentious politics, such as the LGBT rights struggle, can illuminate the  interactions of different tactics, arenas, allegiances and oppositions in the movement, as well as highlighting the multiple locations or levers of the political struggle ‘on the ground’.

books_icon Helga Leitner, Eric Sheppard & Kristin Sziarto 2008 The spatialities of contentious politicsTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 33(2): 157-172

60-world2 Pussy Riot members among group of activists arrested in Sochi The Guardian, February 18

60-world2 5 reasons why Sochi’s Olympics may be the most controversial games yet The Guardian, January 31

60-world2 Channel 4 goes rainbow to wish “good luck to those out in sochi” Channel 4, February 6

60-world2 Putin cautions gay visitors to Sochi BBC News, January 17

Accommodating Students: recent trends and the University of the Channel Islands

by Fiona Ferbrache

Queen Margaret University Accommodation

Queen Margaret University Accommodation

Like many Channel Islanders, I attended university in the UK as there is no such establishment in the islands. Proposals are in place, however, to realise ‘The University of the Channel Islands in Guernsey’ – an institution that would eventually host up to 2,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students (from across the globe).

Accommodating students can be challenging anywhere, but the issues are often intensified on an island where space and land are at a premium.  While there has been much positive feedback for the proposals, concerns have been raised over where students would live, and what impact they might have on the existing community. In a radio broadcast, Susan Jackson (Executive Project Director) commented: “we will be very careful about preserving Guernsey as it is now” and “we aim to insert ourselves delicately in all around existing structures”.  These intentions differ to current trends of UK studentification, identified by Smith & Hubbard (2014), but I argue that this might be a key marketing perspective for the Islands’ University.

Providing an overview of student housing markets since the 1990s, Smith and Hubbard identify a shift from the integration of students within socially mixed neighbourhoods, to concentrations of student accommodation in purpose-built blocks, often on the margins of other social groups. This trend towards segregated living has had considerable consequences on social relations between students and longer-term residents.

In the case of Guernsey, there seems little inclination (or scope to build at the margins) to construct purpose-built student accommodation.  Hence, it seems likely that students and existing populations will have to reside more closely. Although Smith and Hubbard note that students appear to like living apart, the opportunities for students to live among Islanders could be employed as a key marketing strategy for the University of the Channel Islands.  Rather than a life apart, it might be an opportunity for students to interact with longer-term residents through daily encounters, and to the benefit of both groups.

 60-world2 BBC Radio Guernsey: Plans for a Channel Island University in Guernsey

60-world2  Channel Island ‘well equipped’ for university students

60-world2  The University of the Channel Islands in Guernsey – Vision statement 

books_icon  Smith, D. P. & Hubbard, P. 2014 The segregation of educated youth and dynamic geographies of studentification. Area. DOI: 10.1111/area.1205

From the bedroom to the nation state: the geographies of welfare reform

By Helen Pallett

bedroom tax

Image credit: Brian McNeil

Debates about the UK welfare or ‘benefits’ system have been difficult to avoid in the media over the past weeks, from the furore surrounding the Channel 4 programme ‘Benefits Street’, to the reception of UN housing envoy Raquel Rolnik’s report on the impacts of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. These stories are also part of a larger shift in the machineries of the British welfare system and public attitudes to benefit claimants which have emerged during the reign of the coalition government, though which arguably began during previous administrations.

With around 70% of households in the UK receiving at least one kind of state benefit, the vast changes we are currently witnessing in the welfare system are likely to have wide-ranging impacts. Current and recent changes to the benefits system include; the introduction of a benefits cap of £26,000 per year, the withdrawal of child benefit from households with a single income greater than £60,000 per year, changes in modes of assessment and criteria for eligibility for disability living allowance, a reduction in housing benefit available to low income households with spare rooms (the ‘bedroom tax’), and a reduction in the number of benefits available to under 25s.

Geographers studying the benefits system have a particular interest in how the impacts of these changes are felt differently between different regions and local authorities. This concern with the distribution of harms and benefits is particularly apt given the rhetoric of ‘fairness’ which has been used by politicians to justify such changes. This is something which Chris Hamnett observes in a recent article in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 

Hamnett draws our attention to several aspects of the changes to the welfare system which are of particular geographical interest. Firstly, he considers the national impacts of the welfare changes in the light of austerity and spending cuts, with attempts to reduce overall welfare spending and to move towards a ‘workfare’ system which puts more emphasis on rewarding those in work and forces those out of work to be actively looking for work in order to receive benefits. These changes have also occurred alongside a hardening of public opinion towards those facing benefits – for example 80% of people supported the benefits cap – which will make any attempts to reverse these changes in future difficult.

Secondly, against a backdrop of contrasting regional welfare bills and huge differences in the mix of benefits claimed in different regions, Hamnett concludes that the impacts of many of the benefits cuts will be socially regressive. For example, in old ex-industrial areas, such as the former coal-mining regions of Wales and North East England, there are twice as many people claiming disability living allowance than in the South of England. Thus the restrictions in those eligible to claim disability living allowance have a disproportionate impact on the old ex-industrial regions, which also have a higher proportion of people out of work and on low incomes.

A third geographical trend that Hamnett observes at the local authority level, relates to the housing mix of certain inner city areas. Whilst the £26,000 benefit cap appears very generous, it has resulted in reductions in the amount of housing benefit available to low income households living in areas of very high rent, such as central London. Hamnett predicts that this, alongside the impacts of the ‘bedroom tax’ will make certain areas of London and elsewhere uninhabitable for low income families, leading to a pronounced zoning of high income and low income areas.

When considering the potential impacts of future changes to the welfare system it is important to think not only of individual stories of poverty or dependency, but to consider how they might effect the  already highly uneven geographical distribution of needs, benefits and incomes. Welfare changes are likely to have distinctly ‘spaced’ impacts and furthermore will be increasingly written into the fabric of these spaces – from the nation, to the de-instrustialised region, to the layout of the inner city, down the appropriate usage of the bedroom.

books_icon Chris Hamnett 2013 Shrinking the welfare state: the structure, geography and impact of British government benefit cuts Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Online first DOI: 10.1111/tran.12049

60-world2 Benefits street: the hard-working history that Channel 4 left out Guardian, 29 January

60-world2 Bedroom tax: Raquel Rolnik’s uncomfortable truths Guardian, 3 February

Conducting emotional subjects: neuroscience in schools

By Helen Pallett

Classroom

Image credit: Marlith

On January 7th it was announced that a new fund has been launched, backed by the Wellcome trust and the Education Endowment Foundation, to promote the use of neuroscience research and neuroscientific understandings of learning in classrooms in England. As Dr Hilary Leevers of the Wellcome trust put it, many are concerned with an apparent ‘evidence gap’ between advances in neuroscience and real classroom practices.

In an article in the Guardian Leevers described certain neuroscientific concepts currently used in schools, such as the idea of children being left-brained or right brained, or tests to work out whether children are visual, auditory or kinsaesthetic learners as little more than “neuromyths”. In the response to the prevalence of such apparently ill-conceived ideas, Leevers and colleagues have proposed that the new fund will seek to support partnerships between teachers and neuroscientists to develop and test evidence-based interventions in classrooms.

This development is part of a broader set of changes in actions and attitudes around education policy in England and Wales, related to calls for the use of more rigorously scientific methods and ideas in the implementation and evaluation of new policies and programmes. Alongside the importing of ideas from neuroscience into the classroom, such developments have also included attempts to monitor and evaluate changes in education policy through quasi experimental methods such as randomised controlled trials (for example, see here).

In a new paper in the journal Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Elizabeth Gagen describes a specific aspect of this emerging relationship between neuroscience and schools, namely the introduction of emotional literacy into the curriculum. Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) was introduced into schools in 2007, giving pupils resources to improve their self-awareness and anger management, amongst other moral virtues. Gagen analyses this new development not only as an instance of knowledge transfer allowing the productive use of recent neuroscientific ideas in the classroom, but she also sees SEAL as being linked to a broader citizenship agenda in English schools. 

The compulsory teaching of citizenship began in 2002, mostly focussed on the political aspects of citizenship in the hope that it would promote political engagement amongst young people and reduce anti social behaviour. For Gagen the later introduction of emotional literacy into this curriculum represents a re-imagining of the ideas of citizenship and subjectivity, which has been enabled through the development of new ideas in popular neuroscience. She argues that pupils are not simply being schooled in developments in neuroscience and emotional coping strategies, but rather they are being disciplined into a certain understanding of emotional conduct and citizenship, which has broader implications beyond the classroom.

In this new world of neuroscience-informed education practice, it is important not only to question the evidential and conceptual bases for new developments, but also to think more broadly about the kinds of citizens such initiatives imagine and seek to bring into being and what implications these modes of disciplining might have as school pupils develop.

Elizabeth A. Gagen, 2014, Governing emotions: citizenship, neuroscience and the education of youth Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers DOI: 10.1111/tran.12048

Myths about how the brain works have no place in the classroom The Guardian, 7 January

Brain Scientists to work with schools on how to learn BBC News, 7 January

On universities as border sites

by Matt Jenkins

The UKBA enforcing the border in a non-educational workplace (UK Home Office, used under a Creative Commons share-alike agreement; from http://www.flickr.com/photos/49956354@N04/5413187108/)

The UKBA enforcing the border in a non-educational workplace
Source: UK Home Office, used under a Creative Commons share-alike agreement, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/49956354@N04/5413187108/

In August 2012, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) revoked London Metropolitan University’s status as a visa sponsor under Tier 4 of the points-based system of immigration. As a result, over a thousand students found themselves with 60 days to find a new university at which to study or face deportation. The university was faced with the possibility of losing a key source of income and possibly shutting down as a result. Universities across the country took note: the UKBA have the power to seriously impair the ability of universities to carry on operating and their instructions must be followed.

This incident may seem like a little local administrative difficulty, but it illustrates a new role for educational institutions in the UK. We have become border sites, places where individuals are sorted into those permitted to be in the country and those who are not on behalf of the UKBA. This sorting is largely done by teaching staff, who are not paid for it and are often unaware that they are doing it. It forces students to study in approved ways, decided for them not by themselves or their institution but by the state border agency. It forces institutions to maintain systems of surveillance, removing from them their ability to decide what constitutes appropriate student behaviour. The implications of this new role, for students, for staff and for the structure and the ethos of educational establishments, are far-reaching and under-examined. Geographers, with our body of literature on borders and their effects, are well placed to undertake such an examination.

About the author: Matt Jenkins is an ESRC-funded doctoral candidate at the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies, and is a Postgraduate Fellow of the RGS-IBG. His commentary, ‘On the effects and implications of UK Border Agency involvement in higher education‘ is published in The Geographical Journal.

books_iconJenkins M 2014 On the effects and implications of UK Border Agency involvement in higher education The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12066 [open access]

60-world2BBC News 2013 London Met: How many non-EU students had to leave? 2 December

60-world2Grove J 2012 Home Office ‘to strip’ London Met of highly trusted status Times Higher Education 23 August

60-world2Collini S 2013 Sold Out London Review of Books 35 2 3-12