Café nation? Growth and change in the UK café industry

Dr Jennifer Ferreira, Coventry University


Photo credit: Dr Jennifer Ferreira

Walk down any UK high street and you are likely to be faced with a suite of café options from a series of high street chains, independent cafes, to fast food outlets offering café beverages.

The café industry is one of the most successful retail sectors in the UK experiencing significant growth over the last decade, with over 20,000 outlets across the country and estimated to potentially rise to 27,000 by 2020. Visiting cafes has now become commonplace for many in the UK, and their presence on the high street is creating a range of dynamics in different urban spaces.

My paper titled ‘Café nation? Exploring the growth of the UK café industry’, recently published in the journal Area, examines why the café industry has grown so much and considers some of the implications this is having on UK urban spaces. While its main aim was to provide an overview of the café industry in the UK, more importantly it highlights why more research is needed on the many facets of the café industry as part of a new economic and social geography of urban spaces; from the impact they have on the communities in which they are located, to the plethora of business forms that are emerging as part of the industry.

The presence of cafes in the UK is not a new phenomenon, in fact the café has a much longer history going right back to the 17th century (Green 2013). Although, it wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s where the growth began to gain pace with the introduction of the high street chains with which we are all now so familiar. While the market may be dominated by the ‘big three’ Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero, the make-up of the café industry is actually very diverse and is made up of different types of organisations, networks and business models, particularly within the independent sector. This paper presents an illustrative typology of the different café types in the UK as a starting point for future work on the impact of cafés.

One of several drivers of the growth for the café industry has been a growing awareness of high quality coffee, and as a consequence, there has been an explosion of speciality coffee shops and roasters in recent years. With a wider range of expertly blended, or single origin coffees, combined with a suite of different brewing methods, from the aeropress to the syphon, there is now more on offer for the coffee connoisseur than ever before – as evidenced by a growing number of speciality coffee guides to different regions in the UK.

At the same time alternative business models have emerged, for example, an international chain that has a growing presence in the UK is Ziferblat, where customers pay for the time they spend, rather than the products they consume. Providing spaces for people to meet, work, socialise and so on, these café spaces are providing much more than a standard café, they offer a social space.

These are just two vignettes of activity that are taking place in the café industry in the UK, and while some are explored in my article, the paper very much acts as a starting point to argue that much more research is needed to explore the UK as a ‘café society’ (Tjora and Scambler 2014).

About the author: Dr Jennifer Ferreira is a Senior Research Assistant in the Centre for Business in Society at Coventry University. The research presented in Jennifer’s Area article is part of wider project on the role of cafes in urban spaces – Spaces of Community – you can find out more about this project on the research blog ‘Café Spaces’.

books_icon Ferreira J 2016 Café nation? Exploring the growth of the UK café industry Area doi:10.1111/area.12285

books_icon Allegra Strategies 2015 Project Café 2015, Allegra Strategies

60-world2 Green M 2013 The lost world of the London Coffee House.

60-world2 Brian’s Coffee Spot. Available at:

60-world2 The Independent Coffee Guide 


Cultivating the land of the concrete jungle: environmental and social security, but for whom?

By Amita Bhakta, Loughborough University 


There are many different aspects of daily life that symbolise wider environmental challenges in the world, some as close to us as the food we eat. Recent debates and discussions about reducing our environmental impact have often focused on the drive to ‘go local’ with our food, and in particular to grow our own in the face of rising food insecurity at a global scale. One particular potential solution to this has been to promote urban agriculture, however, moving the farm to the city is not without problems.

Neilson and Rickards (2016), in their paper published in The Geographical Journal, draw upon practices of urban agriculture in Melbourne, Australia, to highlight that longstanding tensions between what is seen as the ‘urban’ and what is understood as ‘rural’ continue to prevail. They suggest that the notion of growing food is often perceived to be a ‘rural’ practice that is ‘out of sight and out of mind’ for city dwellers and people who rely on supermarkets and shops to buy their food. Urban farms, therefore, can be seen as being out of place, and are sometimes perceived to be an invasive force that take over the land of the city. Neilson and Rickards (2016: 10) describe urban farms as ‘ecological colonisers’ that seek to be ‘green’ and inhibit the growth of the city through food production.

When we look at examples of urban farming, it’s clear that the tensions in these practices go deeper and further than the land itself, and are reflected within and between the groups of people who are meant to benefit from it. For example, The Guardian reports that a rise in urban farming in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is not a simple solution to issues of health and inequality in different areas of the city. Urban agricultural practices can be problematic in cities like Tulsa because urban farming is perceived to be a ‘white trend’ solution, which reveals and reinforces racial divides. For instance, longstanding issues with social security among ‘minority’ groups can make it difficult for urban agriculture to fully take off. Furthermore, the concept of agriculture brings connotations of slavery from the past for young Black Tulsans, who are among the target group for developing these farms. Black Tulsans tend to associate working on the land with of slavery, so the practice of urban agriculture can expose the influence of a dark past history upon the present generations. These divides unmask how particular sustainable practices, such as urban agriculture, are situated within longstanding historical racial tensions (Lieberman, 2016). Tulsa therefore shows that re-thinking frameworks in the context of urban/rural agricultural dichotomy is not sufficient. People who are practising urban agriculture and those who could benefit from doing so, but are left behind, should all be reached and included. For farms, both urban and rural, it’s essential to recognise not just the diversity of the places, but the world in which we live, to ensure a food-secure future for all.

60-world2 Lieberman A 2016 ‘Could urban farming provide a much needed oasis in the Tulsa food desert?’ The Guardian Online 25th August 2016

books_icon Neilson C and Rickards L 2016 The relational character of urban agriculture: competing perspectives on land, food, people, agriculture and the city The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12188

It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts.

By Kieran Phelan, University of Nottingham

It is remarkable that this summer marked four years since London played host to the world’s Olympians and Paralympians. ‘London 2012’ was arguably one of the most exciting opportunities in London’s recent history, to showcase to the world the very best of competitive sport. Whilst the opening ceremony’s fireworks, theatre and show-biz pizazz certainly laced the event with an almost-perfectly staged veneer, London’s Olympic Games were also politically, quite contentious. Despite providing the world’s avid sports fans with just under a month of high-quality sport, its mobilisation, organization and promised legacy have since been marred by questions of worth and value.  In times of austerity, some have argued that the London Olympic Games were a gigantic waste of time and money that not only excluded local residents, but stoked London’s rapidly gentrifying transformation. As Bridget Diamond-Welch aptly describes, with the thousands of hours and millions of words reported on the Olympics, we easily can forget just one thing. In the very location of the Olympic Games, not too long ago, were businesses, factories, residents and homes.

This summer’s Olympics and Paralympics were no different. In fact, it was memorably political. Just hours before the opening ceremony, thousands of activists marched along Copacabana seafront protesting the government’s decision to host the Olympics at a time when Rio’s government is cash-strapped. Local people seized the international limelight to publicly question the appropriateness of the Olympics, and mobilise around their shared grievances. By public disruption, protesters were scratching off the event’s polished façade to re-narrate the sporting mega-event. They wanted to air their frustrations with the way the Olympic Games were organised, which adversely affected poorer communities. Exclusion and eviction were the necessary costs of ‘getting ready’ for the Games.

Sporting mega-events such as the Olympic Games are really interesting. Not only do they provide opportunities to plug into great sport, but they also serve as a lens through which to find international commonality. Sport enables cultural exchange and establishes bonds of friendship. They are, importantly, not just about what happens on the field but what happens off it too. Of course, they are about professional competition, but often, they also seek to achieve broader goals; engagement, participation and legacy. In striving for these aspirations, it is important to ask not only who is engaged and taking part, and ultimately who isn’t. Susan Fitzpatrick’s recent article in Area directly attends to this issue, reviewing how the political subjectivity of local residents were shaped and influenced by another sporting mega-event; Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games.  Using the preparations for the Games as a starting point, Fitzpatrick prises open discussion about how political subjectivities are necessarily placed. Urban mega-events such as the Commonwealth Games are viewed as important catalysts for political articulation. They provide the impetus for communities to focus their opposition and articulate their anxieties, excluding and including in equal measure. Finding spaces for discussion and political organization are necessary parts of this process. Fitzpatrick goes on to discuss how Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games drew into view placed political struggles. Interestingly, the Games were also presented as their solution. Fitzpatrick draws upon the disconnection between ‘event time’ and political time; timescales that forever seem incongruous with one another. ‘Official’ opportunities for engagement can be, simultaneously, temporally-bound sites of dialogue, subversion, resistance and re-narration. Official discourses frame and contextualise resistance, and have real material effects on how people criticise and engage with sporting mega-events such as the Commonwealth Games.

When reflecting upon these ideas, I thought back just a few short weeks ago to the discussion surrounding the Rio Games. I asked myself what are the things that most of us will remember; the colour of the water in the diving pool? The outfits of the Olympians? The night-time antics in Copacabana? Unsurprisingly, the salient thoughts lack depth or substance. Whilst it’s exciting to plug into a month of sport, perhaps we all too easily plug-out, change channels and forget, once it’s all over? It’s just great sport for most of us. We must not forget however, the Games are also people lives and livelihoods too. Fitzpatrick’s (2016) article perfectly sums up the importance of inclusion, valuing the mega-event’s associated political questions that are too readily dismissed. It would seem, sporting mega-events are not always about the winning, but it truly is the taking part that counts.

books_icon Diamond-Welch B 2012, August 20. The Olympic Transformation: Regeneration or Gentrification. Sociology in Focus Retrieved October 7, 2016

books_icon Fitzpatrick S 2016. Who is taking part? Political Subjectivity and Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games. Area doi: 10.1111/area.12295

60-world2 Hunt E 2016, August 10. Why is the Olympic diving pool green? The good news is it’s not urine. The Guardian Online Retrieved October 10, 2016

60-world2 Morby A 2016, August 8. Fice of the best outfits sported by Rio 2016 Olympians during the opening ceremony. Dezeen Retrieved October 7, 2016

60-world2 NBC News 2016, August 5. Olympic Tourists, Athletes Enjoying Nightlife Ahead of Rio Opening Ceremonies. NBC News Retrieved October 7, 2016

60-world2 Watts J 2015, July 19. Rio 2016: ‘The Olympics has destroyed my home’. The Guardian Online Retrieved October 7, 2016

60-world2 Williams R 2016, July 22. Why the London Olympics were a gigantic waste of time and money. The Guardian Online  Retrieved October 7, 2016


Global social movements contest the militarisation of East Asia

By Sasha Davis, Keene State College, USA

The news out of East Asia is currently filled with stories of political rivalry, nationalist antagonisms and military stand-offs. Regional tensions run high as China extends claims in the seas around Asia, Japan considers a more assertive military stance, the USA shifts more of their military forces to the Pacific, and North Korea threatens stability with nuclear tests, missile launches and blustery rhetoric. Geographers have long studied these kinds issues – in Asia and elsewhere – and have produced many insights on the ways governments regulate spaces, deploy military power, and manoeuvre for geopolitical advantage. These understandings of political geography are useful for analysing the current situation in Asia, but it is also important to recognise that governments are not the only actors trying to shape the region.

A recent article published in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers examines a frequently overlooked group of political actors: social movements. Focusing on activists contesting the construction of new military bases on the island of Okinawa, the article examines how local protesters articulate with global social movements to affect local projects as well as the political landscape of the whole region. Activists in Okinawa are concerned about the potential damage a new base could bring to their community through the destruction of wildlife habitat, environmental contamination, danger from unexploded ordinance and live-fire training, increases in incidents of sexual violence by stationed troops, occupation of large tracts of lands, and continued colonial political relationships with Tokyo and Washington DC. In addition to these local concerns, however, these social movements are also attempting to affect the larger political scene in the Pacific by promoting an agenda of demilitarisation and forging links of solidarity with groups on other islands throughout the region.

Through an analysis of the direct action ‘occupation’ style protests in Okinawa – and the way these kinds of tactics are circulated among activists from places as far away as Puerto Rico, Guam, Korea and Hawaii – this research suggests that protests like the ones seen in Okinawa are not ‘isolated’ or ‘local’ at all. Instead, they are supported and coordinated in quite complex ways across space. Drawing on perspectives from philosophers like Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, as well as insights from the burgeoning research on social movements in geography, sociology, women’s studies and anthropology – this article contends that these social movements behave across space, and try to manifest power in place, in much the same ways as governments. Even though their aims, ethical positions, and organising structures may be quite different, transnational social movements – like governments – use tactics of operating in networks across space and setting up ‘archipelagos’ of places were their ethics can hold sway. The significance of this is that social movement occupations should not be viewed as ineffective ‘small’ protests. Instead, the article encourages us to look for the hidden connections and the links of mutual aid that binds these groups together as they aim to change international politics.

About the author: Sasha Davis is Assistant Professor of Geography at Keene State College. 

books_icon Davis, S. 2016 Apparatuses of occupation: translocal social movements, states and the archipelagic spatialities of power. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi:10.1111/tran.12152

60-world2 McCurry J 2016 Thousands protest at US bases on Okinawa after Japanese woman’s murder The Guardian Online19 June 2016

60-world2 McCurry J 2016 Japan defence ministry seeks record budget to counter Chinese threat The Guardian Online 31 August 2016

60-world2 Reuters 2016 in Tokyo Japan warns China of deteriorating relations over Senkaku Islands The Guardian online 9 August 2016


Growing urban agriculture beyond the city limit

By Chenae Neilson, University of Melbourne, and Lauren Rickards, RMIT University

It is hard not to notice the rising interest and flourishing activity in cities around the world for growing food in innovative ways. Rooftop gardens, guerrilla gardens, urban apiaries, city farms, allotments, micro-livestock keeping, community and institutional gardens, as well as other evolving ways to interact with primary food production, are fast becoming a celebrated part of the contemporary city-scape.

‘Urban agriculture’ is a key term used when we talk about food production pursuits in cities and urban landscapes, wrapping together a range of models and practices – which are shaped by diverse motivations, for example improving local food security, greening cities and adapting to climate change, engaging the community and connecting to nature, to name a few.

While urban agriculture has certainly become a popular activity, it also seems surprisingly disconnected in many ways from wider agriculture established in surrounding rural hinterlands. And unlike many food production activities in the rural context, the value of urban agriculture can remain hard to pin down and articulate in the context of competing “normal” city land uses and activities, particularly in cities of the global north.

Is urban agriculture primarily about the production of food, like much of its rural counterpart? Or is it about something else, such as offering positive practices for urban communities or making a strategic claim on city space? Much research to date indicates that the answer to date largely depends on the context of where the activity is occurring and who is taking part  (Prove et al 2016). Research on urban agriculture is proliferating in geography and beyond, with many authors highlighting the multiplicity of benefits, limitations and opportunities urban agriculture generates (McClintock 2013, Mok 2013, Tornaghi 2014, Classen 2015, Weissman 2016) and the way it slips across multiple high level agendas (e.g. environment, social justice and health).

Looking at this literature and wider discourses about the topic circulating in media, policy and practitioners, we noted that, beyond agreement that urban agriculture means different things to different people, there is underlying ambiguity about how urban agriculture compares to “the rest of agriculture” and “the rest of the city”. Dealing with these questions seems to strongly shape how urban agriculture is understood in any particular context.

Our recent paper in The Geographical Journal explores this by closely examining five discourses about urban agriculture that we found at work in Melbourne, Australia, where a range of urban agriculture initiatives exist and more are underway. Through empirical analysis of these discourses about urban agriculture, the ambiguities of its relational position within both the city and the agricultural sector became apparent.

We believe that, as policy makers and practitioners vie to generate the diverse benefits and transformational opportunities urban agriculture potentially offers, recognising the common agricultural and urban context of all such initiatives may help clarify the stakes of the challenge.

These stakes include the uncertain position urban agriculture continues to occupy within both contexts. Many urban agriculture initiatives are conducted under the shadow of lingering questions about whether they will ever be regarded as more than liminal, temporary, decorative and optional activities and land uses. If urban agriculture is to step out of the margins and make a substantial and lasting difference, it will be need to appraise and manage its relationship with rural agriculture and the rest of the city.

About the authors: Chenae Neilson is a research assistant at RMIT University and a Geospatial Analyst at The Australian Bureau of Statistics. Lauren Rickards is a Senior Lecturer at RMIT University. 

books_icon Classens 2015 The nature of urban gardens: toward a political ecology of urban agriculture Agric. Hum. Values, 32 229–239

books_icon Mcclintock N 2013 Radical, reformist, and garden-variety neoliberal: coming to terms with urban agriculture’s contradictions Local Environment 19 147-171

60-world2 McMillan T 2016 Boom Time for Urban Farming National Geographic 

books_icon Neilson, C. and Rickards, L. 2016 The relational character of urban agriculture: competing perspectives on land, food, people, agriculture and the city. The Geographical  Journal. doi:10.1111/geoj.12188

60-world2 Nierenberg D, Nink E and Crelin J 2015 28 Inspiring Urban Agriculture Projects  Foodtank 

books_icon Mok H-F, Williamson V, Grove J, Burry K, Barker F and Hamilton A 2013, Strawberry fields forever? Urban agriculture in developed countries: a review, Agronomy for Sustainable Development 33 1-23

books_icon Prové C, Dessein J and Krom M 2016 Taking context into account in urban agriculture governance: Case studies of Warsaw (Poland) and Ghent (Belgium) Land Use Policy 56 16-26

books_icon Tornaghi, C 2014 Critical geography of urban agriculture Progress in Human Geography 38 51-567.

books_icon Weissman E 2015 Entrepreneurial endeavors: (re)producing neoliberalization through urban agriculture youth programming in Brooklyn, New York Environmental Education Research 21 351-364

60-world2 Winkless L 2016 Urban Farming: Fad Or Futureproof? Forbes, 9 March 2016

Marking the bicentenary of 1816, the ‘year without summer’, in the UK

By Lucy Veale and Georgina Endfield, University of Nottingham, UK 

Etheridge, Francis; Stonehenge, 2 May 1816

‘Stonehenge, 2 May 1816’ by Francis Etheridge. Collection of Wiltshire Museum, Devizes.

As many people in the UK have been enjoying a brief heat wave, they have also been remembering past summers, as this year marks 40 years since the summer of 1976 – perhaps the ‘UK’s best ever summer’.  Beyond living memory, this summer also marks the bicentenary of the ‘year without summer’. The summer of 1816 is famous for having been cold, wet and generally miserable in the UK (the July of that year being the coldest on record), and much worse in parts of Europe and North America. The bad weather of that summer has been associated with the eruption of Mount Tambora, Indonesia, in April 1815, the largest known volcanic eruption in recorded. An estimated 72,000 people in Indonesia lost their lives because of the eruption, either directly or through linked famine and disease. Longer term and further afield, the huge volume of sulphur that was injected into the atmosphere changed global climate over the succeeding years (Oppenheimer, 2003).

Volcano weather

The 200-year anniversary of the eruption has renewed scholarly and popular interest in the climatic consequences of eruptions and so-called super eruptions. Two centuries on, there is still much to learn about Tambora, particularly its effects on global climate and local weather, and associated consequences for human health and wellbeing.

As part of a broader project on the history of extreme weather in the UK, we have been considering what impact the eruption had on the weather of the UK, and in turn, the impact of that weather on the people who lived through it. In our paper, recently published in The Geographical Journal, we draw on diaries, correspondence, and other unpublished documents to revisit the weather of the summer of 1816, and the 1810s more broadly. All of our accounts are geographically referenced, and have allowed us to begin to trace the impacts of the cold and wet weather around the country. Our reconstruction demonstrates the importance of studying global phenomena at the local level, and of situating the summer of 1816 within wider weather and cultural contexts. The 1810s were a very cool decade with multiple localised extreme weather events, and the bad weather coincided a particularly challenging time of cultural upheaval following the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars.

Summer 1816 in the UK

At the end of July 1816, continuous rains set in for 6 to 8 weeks. ‘On 31 July [in Norfolk] the rain descended in such torrents as to prostrate the heavy crops in many places, & by the violent effects of a water spout, acres of turnips were washed away, & in some villages the ditches & lanes were so full of water that boats might have been rowed in them’ (Matchett, 1822: 146). Abbot Upcher in Sheringham, Norfolk, reflected later, ‘During this year there was no summer whatsoever. Incessant rains during June, July & August, and tremendous gales’ (Norfolk Record Office, UPC 155).

Weather observers in 1816 were also clearly aware of human distress across the country. At Tissington, Derbyshire, bailiff James Hardy suggested that if not for the kindness of Sir Henry Fitzherbert, ‘more than two thirds of the Tissington labourers would want relief at this time’ (Derbyshire Record Office, D239/M/E/4535), whilst Reverend William Alderson feared the winter would produce ‘disturbances throu’out the country’ (Derbyshire Record Office, D239/M/F/8395). Discussion in the Farmer’s Magazine centred on farmers’ inability to pay rents, and many landlords were unwilling to offer abatement. W. Palethorpe of Kirton in Holland included a postscript to his letter to his landlord that ‘we have had extreme bad weather for the harvest and most shocking complaints of poverty’ (Nottinghamshire Archives, DD/1461/212).

Contextualising the ‘year without summer’

It is very difficult to discriminate between weather effects linked to volcanic events, and the natural variability of the climate. Disentangling the event-related socio-economic and ecological implications from ongoing changes in the historical record is no less problematic. Our sources help us to explore the anatomy of general crisis in this period and points to 1816 being a difficult year for many people across the UK. The material suggests that extreme weather recorded in the in the spring, summer and autumn months of 1816 conditions may have been ‘truly exceptional’ and ‘of a degree for which it is reasonable to invoke an external forcing mechanism’ (Sadler and Grattan, 1999: 187).

Although some parts of the UK have enjoyed further sunshine this week, and hope to enjoy more, some it seems can’t wait for autumn! Good riddance to summer, a thoroughly un-British season .

About the authors: Lucy is a Research Fellow and Georgina is Professor of Environmental History. They are both working on the AHRC funded project ‘Spaces of experience and horizons of expectation’: Extreme weather in the UK, past, present and future, and are based in the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham.

60-world2 BBC Radio 4 High Explosive: The Tambora Story  Fri 3 Arpil 2015.

60-world2 Groskop V 2016 Was the summer of 1976 the best Britain ever had? The Guardian July 2016

60-world2 Hambling D 2016 The outlook:perceptual freezing darkness The Guardian July 2016. 

books_icon Matchett J 1822 The Norfolk and Norwich Remembrancer and Vade-Mecus 2nd edition Matchett and Stevenson, Norwich

60-world2 Mitchell T 2016 Good riddance to summer, a thoroughly un-British season The Guardian 2016

books_icon Oppenheimer, C. 2003. Climatic, environmental and human consequences of the largest known historical eruption: Tambora volcano (Indonesia) 1815. 27: 230-259 doi: 10.1191/0309133303pp379ra

books_icon Sadler J P and Grattan J P 1999 Volcanoes as agents of past environmental change Global and Planetary Change 21 181-96 doi:10.1016/S0921-8181(99)00014-4

books_iconVeale, L. and Endfield, G. 2016. Situating 1816, the ‘year without summer’, in the UK. The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12191

Moving home? The social and spatial (re)configuration of student accommodation

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

University campuses up and down the country are looking rather bare at the moment, but at the end of the month the students will descend once again, moving into halls of residence and shared houses or flats. This important rite of passage into adulthood is seen as a means of teaching young adults domestic skills. However, Holton’s (2016) paper in the most recent issue of Area suggests that shared student accommodation is perhaps not the best environment in which these skills can be learnt, providing some thought-provoking findings that may be of interest to students this autumn as they prepare to move.

There are subtle differences between ‘house’ and ‘home’, although we almost invariably use them interchangeably. In general, a house is simply a building, a space which is bought, occupied, and sold. Its foundations make it a permanent space, but its use is transient and ever-changing. A home, then, is more than just bricks and mortar; it is a house with meaning, a space in which we can express identity, a tool for fashioning familial relationships, and a means of fostering a sense of belonging. Houses become homes when they become lived spaces, spaces which define us and mean something to us. That is what makes a house a home.

With this definition in mind, then, students moving away to university leave their homes and move into houses (or flats). This, as Holton’s (2016) work suggests, raises the question; can students really call their student house a ‘home’? He considers the micro-scale geographies of student interactions in shared accommodation, interactions which are spatially mediated. Shared student houses, he argues, are dynamic spaces in which multiple, fragmented identities are performed and different versions of ‘home’ are embodied.

In moving into shared accommodation, students are thrown into hybridised spaces, very different to their home environments. They try to make their new abode a ‘home from home’, taking with them things from their home life; a few photographs, clothes, and books, but also, more importantly, Holton (2016) contends, taking preconceptions of how ‘home’ should be lived. All of a sudden, the ways in which they behaved in various spaces at home are challenged in the new environment of student accommodation. In their new residence, students have to renegotiate their time-space routines, changing the ways in which they use space, the habits that they have acquired, and the norms in which they believe.

With each student having their own individualised behavioural norms, house-sharing inevitably involves compromise. Whilst a lot of students who live together get on like a house on fire, tensions arise when conflicting norms clash and compromise is unheeded. Such tension, Holton (2016) identifies, is spatialised, arguments invariably being caused by the (mis-)use of space; leaving dirty dishes on the kitchen side, not taking the bins out, or being inconsiderate and noisy whilst others are studying. These are just a few clichéd examples, the point being that space has an important role to play in student relationships. Appropriate behaviour is judged based on its spatial location, variously deemed ‘in place’ or ‘out of place’. For instance, it may be acceptable to be untidy in your bedroom, but, relocate this behaviour to the living room, and it becomes a misdemeanour.

Thus, in student accommodation, it is the shared spaces in which most problems occur. Holton (2016) refers to these spaces as ’24-hour spaces’, flexible and communal, facilitating constant interaction and socialisation. In the lounge, for instance, students watch TV, play video games, drink, and chat. In the kitchen, they may cook or eat together and, when hosting house parties, the whole house can become a space for social interaction and general merriment. These shared spaces are a contrast to the relative privacy of students’ bedrooms; very individual spaces. Bedrooms become personalised with posters, photographs, and other keepsakes reminding students of home, but they also personalise these spaces with their behaviour, the only space in which they can do as they please. Nonetheless, this is all within reason, an inconsiderate use of these personal spaces also causing many arguments in student houses, where walls are thin and noise can travel.

So how do students resolve the conflicts that seem so inevitable? It is quite possible that the reason behind students being untidy and inconsiderate is not that they behave like that at home but, rather, because in their shared accommodation there is no authority figure to map out and implement domestic norms. Thus, Holton (2016) identifies that some student houses create house rules or rotas, in an attempt to keep order. In other student houses, Holton (2016) states, students adopt almost familial roles, some becoming ‘parents’ in order to enforce behavioural norms, in the formation of an albeit fragile hierarchy. Other houses still may resort to, what Holton (2016) has termed, ‘boundary-making’, students locking themselves away in their rooms and dodging shared spaces to avoid confrontation.

The student house, then, is a complex space, simultaneously facilitating and thwarting social interaction through the use of space within it. It is, thus, a halfway house, not quite home, but more complicated than most houses. Holton’s (2016) article hammers home just how vital compromise is to inter-student relationships. Thus, whilst not a true reflection of domestic life, living in shared accommodation teaches some very important life-lessons of its own.

books_iconHolton M 2016 Living together in student accommodation: performances, boundaries and homemaking Area  48 57-63.

60-world2Cahalane C 2016 Halls or Houses: where will you live at university? The