Author Archives: jclunn

French farmers and the fields of Paris

By Jenny Lunn

The Champs-Élysées, the most famous boulevard in Paris, has been silenced for a few days – by young farmers! Overnight, lorries brought in tonnes of soil and turned a one-mile stretch of the normally busy thoroughfare into an enormous green space. The aim of the event, which has been organised by the French Young Farmers (Jeunes Agriculteurs) union, is to reconnect the general public with agriculture. Consumer demand for lower food prices is causing financial problems for farmers so they hope to showcase the quality of their produce and demonstrate the effort that goes into producing it.

Reconnecting farmers and consumers is also discussed by Guy Robinson in his article ‘Towards Sustainable Agriculture: Current Debates’ (Geography Compass, September 2009). Since the Second World War, the relationship between farmers and consumers has distanced due to mass production techniques, supermarket-based retailing and government regulation. Gradually people have forgotten where the food they eat comes from and how it reaches them. The system is becoming ever-more unsustainable as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish are flown across the world to meet year-round consumer demand for exotic produce.

Moving towards more sustainable forms of production and consumption will not be easy. Although demand for organic and locally-produced produce is growing, it is still a relatively niche market in overall terms. Changing consumer behaviour – particularly when it requires them to spend more money – is not a simple task. The cows and sheep on the Champs-Élysées over the holiday weekend is a starting point, at least, for reminding people of the quality and diversity of their nation’s food.

Read about the event in Paris on the BBC website

Read Guy Robinson’s article in Geography Compass

The politics and power of buildings

By Jenny Lunn

Buildings are a part of our everyday lives. We live and work in buildings. We go to buildings for different activities – schools, hospitals, railways stations, supermarkets. Buildings host the machinery of our country – government ministries, banks, law courts. Buildings symbolise aspects of our culture – royal palaces, churches, cinemas, football stadia.

The geographical study of architecture has tended to be a small sub-field of cultural geography. Peter Kraftl’s article in Geography Compass (May 2010) gives an overview of scholarship on this topic, looking at the three main methodologies that have been used by geographers to study architecture and two prominent themes: interest in mobility and movement and the politics of architectural design and practice.

It is the latter that is particularly relevant in the light of the recent BBC documentary Building Africa: Architecture of a Continent (BBC Four, 27 April 2010, 11pm). Architect David Adjaye travelled through Africa looking at the continent’s architectural history and showed how buildings express the interplay between politics, economics and culture.

Whether Dutch colonial buildings in Church Square, Cape Town, such as the former Slave Lodge, or the Art Deco Cinema Impero in Asmara, Eritrea (see picture), which was part of Mussolini’s dream of a modernist city in Africa. Whether the concrete Central Business District in Nairobi – including the 30-storey Kenyatta International Conference Centre – built in 1960s and 1970s which expressed the hope and optimism of newly-independent nation, or recent developments such as the spectacular National Theatre in Accra, Ghana, built in collaboration with the Chinese government. The politics, power and symbolism in Africa’s built environment is a fascinating and worthy topic for geographical enquiry.

Read Peter Kraftl’s article in Geography Compass

Read about David Adjaye’s BBC documentary on African architecture

Global networks of Islamic finance

By Jenny Lunn

The Islamic financial services (IFS) sector is booming. Worth an estimated US$639 billion in 2008, the sector has proved to be remarkably resilient in the recent global financial crisis. One of the most interesting aspects of the growth of IFS over recent years has been its widespread expansion beyond the Gulf countries. This is occurring in two main ways: first through the opening of banks (either the formation of new Islamic banks outside the Gulf, such as the Islamic Bank of Britain, or the establishment of foreign branches of Gulf banks); second, through product differentiation within existing conventional banks, such as HSBC’s subsidiary HSBC Amanah, which is headquartered in London and offers Islamic products.

The paper by Bassens, Derudder and Witlox in Area (March 2010) examines the Islamic financial services sector from a geographical perspective. They apply the ‘interlocking world city network’ model developed by Taylor (2001, 2004) to examine the worldwide distribution of IFS. This model measures connectivity and flows between cities and identifies primary and secondary hubs of activity. Bassens et al analysed the location strategies of 28 leading IFS firms in 64 cities and found that the ‘Mecca’ of global Islamic finance is Manama in Bahrain. Tehran and London were ranked second and third in terms of overall connectivity, followed by Dubai, Amman and Beirut.

Perhaps a different proxy for measuring connectivity and global significance in terms of Islamic finance would be the hosting of major summits and conferences. There are a range of events this year, for example in February Euromoney held its Ninth Annual Islamic Finance Summit in London; at the beginning of May the Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB) is holding the Seventh Annual Summit in Manama; May also sees the 6th World Islamic Economic Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which expects 2,000 participants and the attendance of various Heads of State; whilst the 2nd Annual Islamic Finance Paris Summit is scheduled for September. These are just a very small selection of major events being held this year but mapping the location and frequency of events could be an alternative way of examining the hubs and networks of Islamic finance.

Read the paper by Bassens, Derudder and Witlox in Area

Read about the forthcoming 7th Islamic Financial Services Board Summit in Manama

Read about the forthcoming 6th World Islamic Economic Forum in Kuala Lumpur

A different spin on immigration

By Jenny Lunn

A migrant arrives in the country every minute and the UK population will pass 70 million by 2028. To keep the population of the UK below 70 million, immigration must be reduced by 70%. These are some of the basic facts on immigration in the UK, according to MigrationWatchUK.

Unsurprisingly, immigration is one of the hot topics in the current general election campaign. Each of the parties are trying to ‘talk tough’ with different approaches to tackling it – Labour with a points-based system and an extra charge on visa applications for non-EU migrants, the Conservatives with an annual cap on numbers and a tightening of the student visa system, the Liberal Democrats with the reintroduction of entry and exit checks and a stronger National Border Force.

The political canvassing and media coverage focuses our attention on the domestic aspects of immigration. Similarly, traditional theories of migration concentrate primarily on understanding the situation in destination countries, looking at the socio-economic impacts on a national or local scale. In contrast, Lusis and Bauder’s article in Geography Compass (January 2010) calls for a wider perspective. Rather than concentrating on the domestic impact, they look at transnational scale to consider how socio-economic processes that operate at the global scale also influence the employment trajectories of immigrants.

When we hear the speeches and spin over the coming weeks, which build on a sense of threat and fear that immigration poses to the nation, we would do well to think in a different light. Think about immigration from the immigrant’s point of view. Consider the country they have come from and the economic and educational status they held there. And consider how an immigrant feels when the only employment they can secure is dirty, dangerous or degrading jobs that no one else wants to do. Consider how migrants use networks of co-nationals for advice on finding employment and coping in a different culture. But equally, consider how migrants maintain connections with their home communities.

In reality then, migration is a complex web of transnational interactions. The domestic situation is only part of the picture; a full understanding comes from understanding the various linkages, flows and connections.

Visit the MigrationWatchUK website

Read Lusis and Bauder’s article in Geography Compass

Just get on with it: interviewing without hyper-reflexivity

By Jenny Lunn

Earlier this month, the BBC held its fourth School Report News Day, in which 50,000 children from more than 700 schools took part. The project aims to get youngsters interested in shaping the news and consider careers in journalism. Students from across the country were involved in researching, writing and broadcasting stories on the BBC’s television channels, radio services and website.

Many of the young reporters carried out interviews with high profile personalities and celebrities. Some of the more serious interviewers asked tough questions to the leaders of the main political parties and government ministers. Other reports focused on issues at a local level, including interviews with local MPs, the head of a county council, members of the fire service and police, and a soldier who has served in Iraq. The topic of some news items was commercial issues, featuring interviews with leading business people. Interviews with stars from the world of entertainment were the scoop for other schools, including two Eastenders actors, someone from Strictly Come Dancing and a top Radio 1 DJ. Others focused on sport, featuring interviews with England footballers training for the World Cup and British Olympians training for London 2010. In addition, there were interviews with student peers in Afghanistan and Haiti.

Two recent articles – Gareth Rice in Area and William Harvey in Geography Compass – have discussed the matter of interviewing elites. Perhaps academic researchers can learn something from the young people who so confidently and articulately interviewed famous and influential people. Scholars are now hyper-sensitive to issues of positionality and are expected to engage in ever-increasing levels of self-reflexivity. I feel that this extreme navel-gazing can detract from the data collection and research process. Perhaps it is time to stop engaging in deep introspection and just get on with interviewing, just like the gung-ho students have done.

Link to the BBC News School Report website

Read about how young reporters questioned political leaders

Read Gareth Rice’s article in Area

Read William Harvey’s article in Geography Compass

Increasing relationships between India and Africa

By Jenny Lunn

Over the last two days, nearly 400 political and business leaders from 34 African countries have been in Delhi, India. They were attending the sixth India-Africa business conclave, which was organised jointly by the Export-Import Bank of India (EXIM BANK), the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of External Affairs.

India is increasing its presence in Africa year on year. India’s bilateral trade with 53 nations in Africa is currently around $39 billion and is expected to rise to $70 billion by 2015. At this week’s meeting, nearly 150 business projects worth at least $10 billion were discussed; these focus on capacity-building, training and private sector investments. The emphasis of India’s engagement with Africa is on equal relations, mutual benefits and cross-cultural understandings. In an oblique reference to the differences with China, India points out that its model of engagement is collaborative, empowering and not profit-seeking. Following a successful India-Africa Summit in 2008, a second is scheduled for 2011.

The issue of South-South engagement has been of increasing interest over recent years, not just to academics but also to governments, businesses and civil society organisations. In particular there has been a wealth of research documenting China’s relationship with Africa. Mawdsley and McCann’s article in Geography Compass (2010) seeks to redress this imbalance by examining India’s relationship with Africa. Their paper gives an overview of contemporary relations between India and Africa, in particular looking at changing geographical interest, trade and investment, development cooperation, and geopolitics and diplomacy. This timely review provides a useful background to the events taking place in India.

Read about the Sixth India-Africa business conclave

Read Mawdsley and McCann’s article in Geography Compass

The impact of natural disasters

By Jenny Lunn

The earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale that struck Chile last weekend affected two million people. It was more than 500 times more powerful than the earthquake that devastated Haiti a few weeks earlier, yet the human toll and infrastructural damage was on a much lesser scale. Chile has a long history of earthquakes and has implemented a range of measures to cope with the hazard. News reports are already claiming that the impact on the Chilean economy will be “limited and short-lived” because the country’s robust economic situation will facilitate a recovery without the need for foreign aid. This is, of course, quite different to Haiti which had no internal capacity to deal with the recent disaster and will be entirely dependent on outside help for many years to come.

The study of natural hazards is not just a matter of physical geography, as Katherine Donovan points out in her article in Area, entitled ‘Doing social volcanology’. She shows how cultural and socio-economic factors have influenced reactions to volcanic hazards in Java, Indonesia. In particular, she focuses on how local traditions and beliefs influence understandings of volcanoes and people’s reactions to eruptions. Disaster planning and mitigation activities need to take this into consideration alongside scientific knowledge and technological inputs. Thus she argues for hazard research to be interdisciplinary and for a range of methodologies to be used.

Thus, in comparing Chile and Haiti, it is not only the physical aspects of the earthquake such as magnitude and epicentre that need analysing in order to understand the different impacts of the disasters, but also factors such as collective social psyche, political capability, legal framework, economic capacity, infrastructural resilience and technological availability.

Read Katherine Donovan’s paper in Area

Read the BBC news article on the economic resilience of Chile