Author Archives: Jen Turner

Jobs for Offenders: A Life Beyond the Prison ‘Home’

by Jen Turner

By Steve Woodmore (Flickr: DSCN0204) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Convicted criminals in the West Midlands are being paid to work in call centres for insurance firms. The inmates at HMP Oakwood, near Wolverhampton, and Drake Hall, in Staffordshire, are employed to carry out market research for insurance companies. Former Justice Minister Ken Clarke said in 2010 that prisoners should work 40-hour weeks while serving time. Prisoners work in a variety of jobs such as packing plastic cutlery and headphones for airline passengers, running printing presses and making window frames.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said: “We prepare offenders for work inside prison so they can get a job after release – this reduces the chances that they will reoffend in the future, meaning lower crime and fewer victims.”

In my recently published Area paper, available in Early View, I consider the ways in which the possession of a criminal record can be a fundamental barrier to reintegration into the community outside of prison. Although ex-offenders may idealise a return to the communities where they lived prior to incarceration, the ability to re-integrate is often limited by the transformations that individuals undergo while spending time in prison, such as the possession of a criminal record. The paper explores one scheme where offenders leaving prison are employed on a six-month ‘starter’ employment in groundworking and landscaping. The positive reference that completion of this contract would provide goes some way to counteract the difficulties this group of people have in securing post-prison employment.

Contributing to wider considerations of the tensions of carceral spaces, this paper therefore posits the prison as a kind of ‘homeland’ that continues to significantly shape one’s identity following their out-migration. Those leaving prison find themselves unable to display conventional attachments to the outside society, while performing a dystopian relationship with the prison homeland, allowing for a consideration of what I have termed the ‘prisoner dyspora’.

However, facilitating jobs for prisoners is a contentious issue. With unemployment at about 2.5 million people, some wonder whether these are jobs others can do. This is a tension that will no doubt continue, particularly in the face of Britain’s current economic crisis. As such, carceral geographers continue to examine this balance between the provision of rehabilitation programmes and responding to public opinion.

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Jennifer Turner (2013) Re-‘homing’ the ex-offender: constructing a ‘prisoner dyspora’Area, DOI: 10.1111/area.12053

60-world2Oakwood and Drake Hall inmates working in prison call centres, BBC News [ONLINE], 21 August 2013

Visibility and Crime: Doing More Than Just Looking

by Jen Turner

By Terry from uk (Clear up day uefa 15 May 2008 manchester) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A recent BBC report has revealed that, according to Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy, Greater Manchester Police does not investigate 60% of crimes. He said GMP followed a strategy also “adopted” by other forces and recorded crime had halved in 10 years. Data released in July showed that crimes recorded by police in England and Wales fell by 7% in the year to March 2013.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Sir Peter said “We look at every crime when it is reported, whether there is a line of inquiry – it might be around witnesses, house to house, forensic, CCTV, but if there is no reasonable line of inquiry, I don’t think the public would expect us to pursue that”. He added: “That’s a balance between of investigating crime after it has happened and targeting known offenders. Most crime is committed by a relatively small group of persistent offenders.” In April, Tom Winsor, the chief inspector of constabulary for England and Wales, said focusing on would-be offenders, likely victims and potential crime hotspots in future would save taxpayers’ money and keep more people safe. “We look at all crimes to identify patterns of offending and to build the picture of where we need to target police patrols. In many crimes there are no witnesses, no CCTV and no forensic opportunities.” Tony Lloyd, the force’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Let me be clear that I expect, and the chief constable expects, that with all serious crime no effort will be spared to bring the criminals to justice.

These thoughts are particularly interesting if they are considered in relation to a 2011 Geography Compass paper by Ian Cook and Mary Whowell. Their paper recognises that, from studies of ‘panoptic’ CCTV surveillance to accounts of undercover police officers, it is often mooted that visibility and invisibility are central to the policing of public space.  Yet, Cook and Whowell aimed to critically analyse this relationship. Drawing on the practices of a variety of policing providers and regulators, and the work of geographers, criminologists and other social scientists, their paper examines how and why visibility underpins the policing of public space. First, the paper considers the ways in which policing bodies and technologies seek to render themselves selectively visible and invisible in the landscape. Secondly, it explores the ways in which policing agents attempt to make ‘incongruous’ bodies, behaviours and signs variously visible and invisible in public space. The critique of this then calls for a more deeper understanding in two areas: (i) how other senses such as touch, smell and sound are socially constructed as in and out-of-place and ‘policed’ accordingly; and (ii) how the policing of undesirable bodies and practices is not simply about quantitative crime reduction, but conducted through qualitative, embodied performance. It is this point that takes us back to the figures provided by GMP and leads us to question whether police forces across the country should be doing much more than simply ‘looking for’ crime.

books_iconIan R. Cook and Mary Whowell (2011) Visibility and the Policing of Public Space. Geography Compass, 5: 610–622.

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Greater Manchester Police does not investigate 60% of crimes, BBC News (ONLINE), 5 Sept 2013.

Railway Rejuvenation: A Geography of Restoration and Re-use

by Jen Turner

By Simon Pielow [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The owners of a former railway station in Powys are campaigning to raise £5,000 to turn a derelict steam train carriage from 1890 into an arts venue, which could be used as an indoor workshop and exhibition space. Since 1984 Erwood Station and two vintage carriages have already been restored for use as a craft centre. Erwood was on the former Mid Wales Railway (MWR) between Llanidloes and Brecon which closed in the 1960s. The line became part of the Cambrian Railway in 1901 but Erwood station eventually closed in 1962 as part of the Beeching cuts to the railway network. The derelict station was bought in 1984 by Alan and Erika Cunningham who opened a craft centre on the site. The centre, which claims to support more than 100 Wales-based artists and crafts people, is now run by their son, Michael, who is also chairman of Friends of Erwood Station.

Since 1984, two GWR train carriages and an old Victorian signal box have been restored. The friends’ organisation is appealing for money to restore the outside of a third piece of rolling stock – a former British-made 24m (78ft)-long six-compartment carriage. Michael Cunningham said the craft centre would pay for the interior to be made into an open-plan space. He said: “It’s been under covers for 15 years. The longer it spends idling, the more it will take to finish it. The time has come to restore it. It’s in everyone’s interest to see what the train carriage looks like. It would have had six compartments, each with two bench seats but we will keep it open otherwise it would have much less usable space.” The carriage would be static but placed on rails to give the impression it was still on a railway, said Mr Cunningham. The space would be made available to hire for private events but could be provided free of charge to certain groups and organisations.

Aside from enabling visitors to see how a carriage from 1890 might have looked to railway users of that time, the restoration of this carriage introduces us to some interesting politics surrounding its change of use from a vehicle to an arts venue. Restoration of and the alternative use of objects and former sites associated with transport infrastructure have been explored by geographers. In a 2000 Area paper, Nick Gallent, Joe Howe and Philip Bell examine the process of airfield re-use across rural England, highlighting the framework and realities of procedural planning control. In doing so, this paper illustrates how the re-use of airfield sites in the countryside raises issues of more general concern and mirrors wider debates within the sphere of development planning. In a similar way to the Erwood carriage renovations, this paper raises issues about both the opportunities of land and object re-cycling and the debates that may ensue because of this.

books_iconNick Gallent, Joe Howe and Philip Bell (2000) New uses for England’s old airfieldsArea 32 (4) 383-394.  

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 Railway carriage restoration bid by Erwood craft centreBBC News [ONLINE], 19 August 2013.

 

 

 

The Target of Tall Buildings: The Shard Climb Protest

by Jen Turner

278px-The_Shard

In a 2007 Area article Igal Charney explains the politics surrounding debates over the building of structures in London.  Challenging the well-established planning practices in central London,  a handful of very tall buildings were approved in the area after 2000.  Although conservation groups had their concerns, Charney reports how these were quickly dismissed by then London Mayor Ken Livingstone in an acknowledgement of the merits associated with iconic architecture and high-profile architects.   Stressing the significance of high-quality design and iconic architecture helped to wear down deep-rooted antagonism and to channel the debate to improving the aesthetic qualities of London, a goal that enjoys wide consensus.

However, these tall buildings have come to be seen as much more than simply aesthetic additions to the skyline. In many cases, they have become sites for political protest. Last week, six Greenpeace activists were arrested after climbing to the top of London’s Shard . The women were later arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass after their ascent on Thursday 11 July in protest against Arctic oil drilling.

The women evaded security guards to begin their climb in the early morning. Finally, upon reaching the summit of skyscraper after 16 hours of climbing, two of them unfurled a blue flag with Save the Arctic written on it. They said the protest was intended to put Shell and other oil companies in the spotlight and they live streamed the stunt. As the protesters reached the summit, Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “It is an honour to stand here at the foot of Europe’s highest building and witness this remarkable achievement by these women.

The actions of last week are emblematic of a wider discourse surrounding the significance of these sites of vertical magnitude as landscapes of power.  On August 7 1974, a young Frenchman named Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire illegally rigged between the twin towers of the World Trade Center – New York’s tallest buildings – and danced about on the tight-rope for over an hour to fulfil a long-standing desire to ‘conquer’ these tall buildings. More than this, no one can disregard the significance of the September 11 2001 attacks, which saw these buildings destroyed with terrorist motive.  Activities such as these, from the seemingly innocuous conquering of a building, to the horrific targeting of 9/11 illustrate the importance of tall buildings as aesthetic pleasures, but also landscapes of power.

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Igal Charney (2007) The politics of design: architecture, tall buildings and the skyline of central London Area 39 2 195-205.

Filling University Places: The Demand for Contextual Data

By Jen Turner

By Ralph Daily from Birmingham, United States (Graduated!) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsFollowing on from my colleague Fiona Ferbrache’s previous posting on funding in higher education, it is clear that the future of Universities is a hot press topic this week.  Today, the BBC reported how recent findings from research by the the Social Mobility Commission has made some significant claims that the UK’s top universities have become less socially representative in the past decade. The report, Higher Education: The fair access challenge, focuses on 24 leading universities, members of the Russell Group universities, which are among the most competitive to get into. It illustrates how the proportion of students from state schools who started a full-time course in one of the top 24 universities fell slightly between 2002-3 and 2011-12.

A separate measure of how many students came from disadvantaged backgrounds also saw a fall of 0.9 percentage points, the  report said. The government said applications from poor youngsters were at a record high. Led by former Labour minister, Alan Milburn, the commission found that in contrast to the overall university sector, which has become more “socially representative” since 2002-3, these most selective universities have become more “socially exclusive”. It argues that although the estimated number of state school pupils entering these universities increased by 1,464 over the period, there was still a slight fall in the overall proportion. Although some universities in the group had managed to increase their percentage of students from state schools, including Edinburgh (by 4.6 percentage points), Oxford (by 2.3) and Cambridge (by 0.3), Durham saw a fall of 9.9 percentage points in their state-educated students and Newcastle and Warwick each had drops of around 4.5.

The commission also pointed out that the intake of the most selective universities was more socially advantaged than would be expected given the social background of those with the necessary A-level grades to get a place. One possible explanation, the report says, is that many students who have the right grades simply do not apply to the most selective institutions.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said getting a university education should be based on ability, not where you come from. “To ensure worries about finance are not putting off students we have increased grants to help with living costs, introduced a more progressive student loans system, and extended help to part-time students. We are committed to improving social mobility, and are pleased that this year the level of university applications from the most disadvantaged 18-year-olds are at their highest proportion ever.” Chief executive of Universities UK Nicola Dandridge said: “Widening participation requires ‘a genuine national effort’ with sustained support from schools, colleges and universities, as well as continued investment by government.”

These issues are just a small example of much wider discourse surrounding the contemporary university system. Furthermore, it is interesting to question how these emerging demographic patterns might influence individual subjects within the university context.  An excellent position paper addressing similar themes is provided by Kevin Stannard in his 2003 Area commentary. Stannard particularly notes the demands for geography departments to take account of changing pedagogic patterns in GCSE and A-Level teaching, as well as the need to consider how students fund themselves and how the proliferation of certain types of media should be considered in drawing up course plans for current students. In view of the Social Mobility Commission’s findings, there is a clear call for universities to be set clear statistical targets for progress on widening participation which should be a top priority. And it calls for universities to make greater use of contextual data when offering places. This means that they might make a lower offer to a pupil from a state school who shows academic promise. It seems that geography departments across the UK will likely now have to move beyond considering how students learn and what they demand for their money, into further debates surrounding the type of students that they now find within their lecture halls.

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Kevin Stannard (2003) Earth to academia: on the need to reconnect university and school geographyArea, 35(3) 316–322.

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Hannah Richardson, Top universities ‘have become less representative’, BBC News (ONLINE), 17 June 2013

Junction JD Wetherspoon: The Changing Space of Britain’s Motorways

by Jen Turner

By Alexj2002 (Own Work based on work by User:Erath) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The BBC announced today that JD Wetherspoon will open its first motorway pub at Extra services on the M40 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. After a successful application to the local council, the company has said the bar and restaurant will be licensed to serve alcohol between 08:00 and 01:00. The firm met with Thames Valley Police and South Bucks District Council to outline its plans and Wetherspoon said the application received “no representations”. It is anticipated the £2m development will create 50 jobs. Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: “The company has always been innovative and this is an exciting new development for us. Hopefully it will be the first of many Wetherspoon’s on the motorway.” The pub is expected to be open by Christmas.

However, road safety charity Brake said as the firm was “putting temptation in front of drivers”, it should make its drink-drive warnings “extra clear”. A spokeswoman for Brake said: “The opening of a pub on the motorway could be of real concern unless safeguards are put in place with strong messages to warn about the dangers of drink-driving … it is putting temptation there in front of drivers. The charity says each month in Great Britain 23 people are killed and 108 people are seriously injured by drivers over the drink-drive limit.

Whether these actions are endorsed by the road safety charity or not, the opening of a public house at a motorway service station will no doubt change the way the space is utilised – perhaps becoming a destination for coach trips or those seeking a particular type of meal. This may not be disimilar to the appeal of the service station as a tourist space, when the first motorways (and their rest areas) opened in Britain.

A 2009 Geography Compass paper by Peter Merriman outlines some of the research which has been undertaken on the geographies and sociologies of the spaces and practices of driving, focusing in particular on the UK. Merriman notes that the motor car or automobile has had a profound impact on global mobility, settlement patterns, the global economy, and the environment. In this article, he examines how motor roads have shaped our experience of space and place, and outlines studies of their design, inhabitation, and regulation. Second, this article discusses embodied inhabitations of the spaces of the car: how motor cars have been consumed; how they have shaped our embodied apprehensions of our surroundings; and how they facilitate social and cultural relations. Finally, this article concludes by examining the innovative methods which are increasingly being utilised and developed by social scientists to explore the socialities of automotive spaces. The opening of JD Wetherspoon at a motorway service station is just one such example of how the motorcar and driving practices have become a concern to geographers and those studying the resonance of driving spaces.

books_iconPeter Merriman (2009) Automobility and the Geographies of the CarGeography Compass 3(2) 586-599.

60-world2JD Wetherspoon to open first motorway pub on M40, BBC News (online) 3 June 2013.

Converging Body and Technology: The Case of Google Glass

by Jen Turner

By Antonio Zugaldia (http://www.flickr.com/photos/azugaldia/7457645618) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

“It’s either the most exciting technology product of recent years, or the 21st Century equivalent of the Sinclair C5” (Cellan-Jones, 2013, n.p.).  Google Glass (styled as “Google GLΛSS”) is a wearable computer with a head-mounted display (HMD) that is being developed by Google with the mission of producing a mass-market ubiquitous computer.  Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format, that can interact with the Internet via voice commands.  While the frames do not currently have lenses fitted to them, Google is considering partnering with sunglass retailers such as Ray-Ban, and may also open retail stores to allow customers to try on the device.

When BBC News Technology journalist Rory Cellan-Jones took Glass for a stroll on the beach overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, the elderly dog walkers there were more amused about a strange Brit talking to himself than anxious about their privacy, although the majority felt the whole idea was rather more creepy than cool.

According to the report, where Google’s big idea impresses most is as a camera.  The video footage is reportedly also much steadier than what you would gain from a shaky camera phone.  Its strength lies in its ability to capture exactly what you see.  The results are the kind of pictures you often miss with a camera you have to ready for action. And it is this head-mounted technology, combined with the voice commands that raise interesting points for geographers studying the inter-relationship between humans and technology.

It is widely accepted that new technology “increasingly affects/infects the minutiae of everyday life and corporeal existence” (Grosz 1994, 48), and that operating as assemblages, or with co-agents, bodily abilities are altered (Michael 2009).  In his 2012 Area paper, Paul Barrett comments on the use of technology in a very different scenario: climbing.  This paper adds to debates on bodies and materiality concerning how we experience places not only as bodies but as complex assemblages. It engages with the relations between climbers, their kit and the places in which they climb to explore how during the situated practice of climbing, climbers and material artefacts co-evolve resulting in a diverse array of synergies that co-enable the climb. In particular, Barrett focuses upon the use of ‘Cams’.  Cams are spring loaded devices that are placed into parallel cracks in rock faces used to secure the climber’s ascent.  Differing roles and functions emerge and are negotiated between climber, crag and kit. These roles and functions go beyond those detailed by manufacturer-ascribed use-values that define their ‘proposed’ or ‘proper’ role/s and limits within the climber’s safety assemblage. Drawing upon semi-structured interviews with climbers, Barrett uses Actor Network Theory to explore the enabling, situated, contingent and co-emergent relations between climbers and their kit and show how more-than-representational dimensions of their environmental engagements are dependent upon entering into symbolic and synergistic relationships with material others.

In a similar way, Google Glass uses technology to extend both the corporal being of the body and its capabilities of purpose.  It promises to reshape our relationship with the online world – or turn us all into Donna Haraway’s infamous cyborgs.  What is more, the ability to record others discretely in any given space leads us to questions surrounding how these human/technology relationships further invading each other’s privacy with careless abandon.  But that’s another blog post….

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Paul Barrett (2012) ‘My magic cam’: a more-than-representational account of the climbing assemblageArea 44(1) pp. 46-53.

60-world2Rory Cellan-Jones, Google Glass – cool or creepy? BBC News Technology, 15 May 2013.

books_iconElizabeth Grosz (1994) Volatile bodies: toward a corporeal feminism, Allen and Unwin, London.

books_iconMike Michael (2009) The cellphone-in-the-countryside: on some of the ironic spatialities of technonatures. In White, D. and Wilbert, C. eds. Technonatures: environments, technologies, spaces, and places in the twenty-first century, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo, pp. 85–104.