Author Archives: k8amongthepigeons

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   https://www.theguardian.com/open-days/2016/sep/05/halls-or-houses-where-will-you-live-at-university

Collaring domestication: human relationships with pets and pests

By Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

4 apr

Source: Author’s own photography

Pet-keeping in Britain is at an all-time high, so it hasn’t come as much of a surprise that The Secret Life of Pets, the latest animated film from the makers of Despicable Me, has proved so popular with the British public. Animal geographers often turn to domestication in order to understand human-animal relationships, the term, itself contested, serving to both separate and bind nature and culture, human and animal. From the turn of the twenty-first century, research in geography began to demonstrate the limitations of human control – in part due to animal agency – challenging the extent to which humans have control over domesticated animals. Whilst by no means a socio-cultural commentary on modern pet-keeping, The Secret Life of Pets reveals some of the key themes that challenge animal geographers today, most notably the idea of animal agency vs human control.

That age-old mystery of what our pets do when left alone in the house sparks excitement and imagination, in true Schrödinger’s Cat style. The Secret Life of Pets provides a rather comical answer to the puzzle; pets enjoying the freedom of the house getting up to all sorts of antics. The film shows pets watching TV, raiding the fridge, throwing house parties, and em-bark-ing on an even bigger adventure. Whilst these scenes are thought up for entertainment, many pet-owners can testify to having found the evidence of their pets’ mischiefs when left alone. Others have strapped GoPros to their animals in the hope of uncovering ground-breaking footage of their furry friends. Our apparently innocent intrigue, some argue, is underpinned by a desire for control, to be able to regulate our pets’ lives. An interesting piece in The Guardian has recently argued that being left alone often makes pets anxious or depressed, and, thus, the resultant (mis)behaviour is, in fact, caused by us, their owners (Pierce, 2016 [online]). Nevertheless, pet-owners, particularly dog-owners, often work hard at disciplining their pets, teaching them ‘good’ behaviour.

From a geographical point of view, Power’s (2012) study of pet dogs provides a framework for theorising this relationship. She states that pet dogs are created as ‘domestic’ bodies, disciplined to behave in ways deemed appropriate for the home. House training is a ritual for all new dog owners; dogs are taught to “modify their bodily rhythms”, such as toileting and sleeping, enabling them to be “integrated into household rhythms” (Power, 2012:376). Dogs, therefore, Power (2012) claims, are malleable and help their owners perform ideals of domesticity. However, our four-legged friends, of course, rarely fit with such an ideal. This leads dog-owners to make changes – conscious and unconscious – to their lives; they change their routines, they make decisions about house-layout, and they give special care to their companions’ individual peculiarities. Some cunning canines don’t even try to be subtle, manipulating us to give them treats or let them sit on the sofa! Whether consciously or not, people with pets allow themselves to be moulded by their cuddly companions, re-imagining and re-making their lives, their homes, and their relationships with their pets. Dogs, therefore, Power (2012) postulates, have agency to shape and control our everyday lives. In this way, through domestication, humans and animals are both (re)shaped. Domestication, therefore, is collaborative, humans working with their dogs, learning to understand each other.

This relationship can, of course, be juxtaposed with animals that do not conform to our expectations, such as feral animals, pests, or some wild animals. Such animals become marginalised by human society as their behaviour is deemed ‘out of place’ in the spaces that they share with us. Our reaction is to try to control them, either removing them entirely or limiting their spatial range. Whilst examples such as the grey squirrel, the feral pigeon, and the urban fox have been well-documented and hotly-contested, Ginn’s (2014) study of garden slugs proves that there is a huge range of animals that are not quite as lucky as our domestic companions. Living in close proximity with humans, their innocent slimy trails and taste for garden plants are behaviours with which we cannot live, ranking them highly in that imaginative category of ‘pest’, a category produced by humans to label – and simultaneously legitimise the exploitation of – any non-human whose behaviour does not fit with our own.

Whilst the title, The Secret Life of Pets, promises, and delivers, a film about domestic companions, the contrast with pests is pertinent. The stars of the film, pampered pets of all varieties, come face-to-face with a gang of abandoned pets, living in the sewers, going by the name of ‘Flushed Pets’. This vast army of human-hating, Pest Control-dodging animals includes dogs, stray cats, reptiles, rats, a tattooed pig, and, their leader, Snowball the rabbit. Their bitter hatred towards humans is extended towards domesticated animals, the simple collar seen by them as a tool for human control, defining pets as property or slaves. An exaggeration, yes, but perhaps something which should not be completely disregarded in an age when animal cruelty is worryingly common.

At the risk of giving away any spoilers, I’ll stop at that! A deep analysis of multi-species cohabitation, it is not, but The Secret Life of Pets can still help us reflect on our relationships with domestic and wild animals. The more geographers study human-animal relationships, the more they break down that once-rigid division between humans and animals that has underpinned the ways in which animals have been considered. Such studies of domestication show that the superiority and control over Nature, which mankind once thought was irrefutable, is being broken down, bit by bit, by every stray cat, every garden slug, and every mischievous pet.

 

books_iconGinn, F. (2014). “Sticky lives: slugs, detachment and more-than-human ethics in the garden”, Transactions of the IBG, 39(4): 532-544.

books_iconPower, E.R. (2012). “Domestication and the dog: embodying home”, Area, 44(3):371-378.

60-world2Pierce, J. (2016). “The Secret Life of Pets? Forget the movie, here’s what it’s really like”, The Guardian Online. Available at: www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/28/the-secret-life-of-pets-forget-the-movie-heres-what-its-really-like

 

The beautiful game? Violence, security and safety at Euro 2016

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of whether you have been following the football or not, you won’t have been able to escape the disappointing reports of crowd violence at this year’s Uefa European Championships in France. Since the turn of the century, sports mega-events like the Euros have come under the academic radar, with research drawing attention to issues surrounding surveillance, security, governance, and control (Foucault, eat your heart out!). Geographers in particular have been keen to kick off enquiries into the inherently spatial nature of both surveillance and violence across a variety of spaces. One such paper, published almost a year ago, is Fonio and Pisapia’s (2015) investigation into security and surveillance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Whilst this paper considered the approaches to surveillance – and their impacts on the community – in Johannesburg, a formerly hazardous city in a developing country, there are some striking comparisons which can be drawn with the disruption at this year’s Euros.

England fans were involved in some of the earliest instances of unruly behaviour in France. Before the tournament had even begun, fighting broke out between England fans and locals in Marseille, causing French riot police to step in. Furthermore, in the build-up to England’s first group game against Russia, Police were forced to use tear gas and a water-cannon, when English, French, and Russian supporters clashed. On the day of the much-anticipated game, the violence continued, this time inside the stadium. Russian fans set off flares during the game and, after scoring a last-minute equaliser, proceeded to charge at English supporters, forcing some to climb over fences to escape.

What is worrying is that this was not an isolated incident. Reports of violence at this year’s tournament have been disturbingly common; fans from Northern Ireland, Hungary, Turkey, Croatia, Belgium, and Portugal, just to name a few, have been charged for violent and racist behaviour. Uefa have tried to curb violence by fining the national football associations involved, and has also threatened clubs with expulsion from the tournament. But what is being done by the French authorities to deal with the violent scenes? And how does their approach relate to the precautions taken for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa which, despite concerns about the safety of fans and players, was praised for being a safe tournament for all involved?

The terror attacks in Paris in November, in which the Stade de France was one of the targets, meant that this year’s Euros had a heightened level of security. The French packed their defence, employing 90,000 security staff (42,000 national police officers, 30,000 local gendarmes, and 10,000 soldiers) and 12,000 stewards, and erecting 42km of temporary fences (26km of high fences and 16km low barriers). Security checks were undertaken on entry to every stadium, with a long list of prohibited items, and regular bomb sweeps and body checks in fan zones and stadiums were in operation. This year is the third time that France has hosted the Championships – ‘Le Rendez-Vous’ is the tournament’s very fitting slogan – and French Authorities were determined to make this year’s tournament a success.

Such a high level of surveillance is vital to ensuring the safety of everyone affected by such a major sporting event. However, preparation is just as important. Preparation, Fonio and Pisapia (2015) argue, is what contributed to the success of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The tournament, they state, represented a shift in FIFA’s approach to security, from reactive security provisions to more proactive policing. In preparation for the World Cup, South African officials visited the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece; the South Africans had done their homework. During the 2010 tournament, security and surveillance were practised by multiple parties; local police, people within the community, nationally-appointed security forces, and FIFA officials. Focussing on Johannesburg, Fonio and Pisapia (2015) identify two main approaches to security that were used, both of which emphasised the highly spatial – and visual – nature of security at major football tournaments. Firstly, Geographical Information System (GIS) technology proved vital to Johannesburg police, who compiled all the relevant event-information into geographical layers – facilities, transportation hubs and routes, security, traffic black spots, road closures – which could be laid over each other to identify high-risk areas for congregations of people. Such technology was also used to analyse physical and social disorder after the events, which was captured and recorded by policemen using GIS handheld devices. The second approach was to use surveillance cameras, South African authorities developing a network of CCTV systems across the host cities. The use of such surveillance technologies, Fonio and Pisapia (2015) claim, created institutional ‘knowledge networks’, in which knowledge about how to tackle disorderly behaviour was shared and transferred, helping the authorities to prepare.

So what went wrong in France? Whilst the French authorities were seemingly prepared, English eyewitnesses have identified gaps in their defence; they were simply not prepared enough. For fans inside the Marseille stadium watching a rather dull game, waiting for England to inevitably concede a last-minute equaliser, it was obvious that trouble was brewing. The perpetrators were renowned Russian ‘ultras’, hardened hooligans who plan and choreograph violent acts. They were wearing logos identifying their allegiance, well-known to the rest of the world, and, as a result, the French police have been heavily criticised for not being more on the ball. There was also a lack of crowd segregation within the stadium, something unheard of even in most English non-league grounds! It is really disappointing that ‘the beautiful game’ has taken such an ugly turn, but let’s hope that the continued work of geographers into understanding both the socio-spatial dynamics of violence and the use of surveillance technologies, will help turn the game around.

 

books_iconFonio, C. and Pisapia, G. (2015). “Security, surveillance and geographical patterns at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg”, The Geographical Journal, 181(3):242-248.

60-world2BBC Euro 2016: Who is to blame for the Marseille violence? BBC online. 14 June 2016

60-world2Nurse H 2016 Euro 2016: How is French security ensuring fan safety? BBC online. 14 June 2016

60-world2BBC Hungary fans clash with riot police inside Marseille stadium BBC online. 18 June 2016.

60-world2BBC Euro 2016: Hungary, Belgium and Portugal federations charged BBC online 19 June 2016.

 

 

Geographers and the ‘beepocalypse’

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Amidst the buzz of the Great British Bee Count, which is currently in full swing, a recent article in Geography Compass, by Watson and Stallins (2016), has looked at the process of knowledge production about honey bees, evaluating the various oppositional approaches to theorising honey bee decline. As animal geographers repeatedly reinforce, animals and plants are inextricably linked to human lives, the honey bee providing a good example of human-animal entanglement. By examining honey bee populations, it is also evident, as geographers have contended, that our attempts to define, categorise, and control the non-human are constantly defied by the contingent nature of the natural world. Human-insect and human-plant relationships, however, Watson and Stallins (2016) stress, have been neglected in geographical literature. It is, therefore, necessary to investigate the role of the ‘more-than-human’ in order to inform our use of anthropogenic spaces. In the example of the honey bee, it is vital that we understand the dynamics of bee populations in order to inform agricultural land-use, due to the implications for both agricultural sustainability and human health.

The western or European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is semi-domesticated, beekeeping being practised on a range of scales, from the hobby apiarist to industrial bee farmers. The honey bee, wild or otherwise, is an important constituent of our ecosystems, worldwide; it is the chief pollinator of more than a third of global produce, including many fruits, vegetables, nuts, and spices. In America, an estimated $12 billion of crop value is directly attributable to honey bees, generating $168 billion for the global economy (Watson and Stallins, 2016). Recent global decline in honey bee populations have variously been described as an ‘environmental crisis’, the ‘beepocalypse’, and a ‘planetary ethical catastrophe’ (Watson and Stallins, 2016). This has, therefore, caused concern in the media, as well as amongst the scientific community, agricultural businesses, and environmentalists.

In Britain alone, 20 species of bee have vanished entirely, and a further quarter are on the red list of threatened species (FoE, 2016a [online]). This concern about low bee numbers has led to the Great British Bee Count, an annual event which attempts to enlist the public in a national bee population survey. The campaign portrays the bee as our ‘friend’, as important to our ecosystems, and vital to the economy. The event, organised by Friends of the Earth, runs from May 19th to June 20th, and last year saw over 100,000 recorded sightings (FoE, 2016b [online]). However, surveys have indicated that only 33% of the British public can correctly identify the honey bee from a line-up of other bee species (FoE, 2016b [online])! It is, therefore, not surprising that environmentalists have got a bee in their bonnet about this subject.

Watson and Stallins’ (2016) article focuses on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – a little-understood cause of honey bee population decline – which has become sort of a ‘buzz word’ amongst scientists and agriculturalists. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), CCD is the formation of a ‘dead colony’, in which the queen is still alive but there are no adult bees to keep the colony going (USDA, 2016 [online]).  Whilst scientists have yet to agree on a cause of CCD, there are many suggested factors, involving both human and non-human actors. Amongst the anthropogenic causes are neonicotinoids (pesticides), climate change, pollution, changes in demand for certain luxury crops, and land-use changes associated with intensification of monocultures for industrial agriculture. The more-than-human is also partly to blame for bee population decline; pathogens, pests, viruses, and predation by other insects also pose threats to our black and yellow friends. The latter has, in fact, been in the news of late, the arrival of Asian hornets in Britain threatening bee populations (Boyle, 2016 [online]). A perhaps more discrete migrant than the people of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and Devon were expecting, the hornets, originally from the Far East, have made their way over from France. They can eat up to 50 honey bees per day, and are also potentially deadly to humans, causing both DEFRA and the National Bee Unit to express a desire for the hornets to buzz off (Boyle, 2016 [online]).

Knowledge about honey bee population decline, Watson and Stallins (2016) state, is produced by scientists, the agricultural industry, environmentalists, and the media. They identify three ‘narratives’ or claims made about the causes of CCD, which work in opposition to each other. The first approach, the “Ecological Conservation Narrative”, stresses the causal primacy of the influence of industrial agriculture causing the proliferation of monocultures at the expense of vegetation diversity. The second approach, the “Reductionist Regulatory Narrative”, prioritises isolating the main cause – which it claims is the use of pesticides – over any historical analysis, or use of historical trends to predict future populations. The third and final narrative is the “Socioecological Complexity Narrative”, which recognises the complex combination of social and ecological causes. Watson and Stallins (2016), advocate a pluralistic approach that combines all three narratives and recognises the continuum of social and ecological causality of bee population decline. It is also, they argue, important to be sensitive to variations over space and time; it is impossible to have a rigid approach to such a fluid and complex ecological phenomenon.

It is hard to understand the sheer importance of honey bees to our ecosystems and economies, these tiny little creatures appearing so mundane in our day-to-day encounters with nature. They really are busy little bees, more so than they are often given credit for, and they are so closely intertwined with our lives that it would be a real cause for concern if the ‘beepocalypse’ was to become a reality.

Wbooks_iconatson, K. and Stallins, J.A. (2016). “Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder: A Pluralistic Reframing”, Geography Compass, 10(5):222-236.

60-world2Boyle, D. (2016). “Deadly Asian Hornets that devour bees and can kill humans arrive”, The Telegraph Online, 18th May, 2016. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/18/deadly-asian-hornets-that-devour-bees-and-can-kill-humans-arrive/

60-world2FoE, (2016a). “About the Great British Bee Count”, Friends of the Earth. Available at: https://www.foe.co.uk/page/great-british-bee-count-about

60-world2FoE, (2016b). “Get involved with the Great British Bee Count”, 19th May, 2016. Available at: http://blueandgreentomorrow.com/2016/05/19/get-involved-great-british-bee-count/

60-world2USDA, (2016). “ARS Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder”, United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Available at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572

 

“I wanna be like you”: Animal geography and ‘The Jungle Book’ (2016)

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

The 'man cub'; not quite man, not quite wolf Source: Wikimedia Commons

The ‘man cub’; not quite man, not quite wolf
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Last month saw the release of Disney’s live action re-make of the well-loved classic, The Jungle Book.  Directed by Jon Favreau, the much-anticipated film has enjoyed tremendous early success in both the UK and America, topping the box office charts and breaking ticket-sales records. This modern twist on Rudyard Kipling’s iconic tale, is not only thoroughly entertaining, but also demonstrates some of the main themes explored by animal geographers, as well as those that Bear (2011) (yes, his name really is that apt!) has identified as being under-developed within the discipline.

The most prominent theme that runs throughout the film is the oft-debated, long-standing human-animal binary, placing nature in opposition to culture. Physically, the humans and animals are separated, the human village being distinct from the rest of the jungle. Each have their own place, geographically defined, keeping them separate rather than in constant competition for survival. The cognitive difference between humans and animals is much more heavily emphasised throughout the film. Man’s capacity for rational thought is widely cited as the main distinguishing feature between humans and animals. Let’s start with “man’s red flower”, the phrase used by the animals to describe ‘fire’. The ‘red flower’ stands for man’s superior intelligence and more civilised state; only humans know the secret of how to make it, and its devastating effects are feared by the animals, reinforcing human control over the jungle. Even King Louie, King of the Apes and “jungle V.I.P.”, is aware of the power this ability gives man. As he sings “I wanna be like you”, we are reminded, yet again, of the abyss that remains between man and beast, not only because he “desires man’s red fire”, but also because he wants to “walk like” and “talk like” humans too.

Mowgli’s character also serves to remind us of human-animal difference. His presence in the jungle, a boy living with the wolf pack, turns heads amongst the animals; he is, as geographers would put it, ‘out of place’. Even the wolves who raised Mowgli, and his trusty panther friend Bagheera, scorn some of his innately human ways of problem-solving, which they call ‘tricks’. Mowgli’s presence where he does not ‘belong’ is the reason that he becomes hunted by Shere Khan, and driven out of the jungle by the tiger. On his journey to the man village, Mowgli meets arguably the most loved animal in this story, Baloo the bear, who, after rescuing him from death by python (Kaa, to be precise), soon develops a close bond with him. Mowgli’s distinctly ‘human’ traits are further emphasised, Baloo exploiting his ‘tricks’ in order to help him harvest honey using a complex system of pulleys that only a man could make.

Mowgli and Baloo at Orlando Disney World Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mowgli and Baloo at Orlando Disney World
Source: Wikimedia Commons

After learning that Shere Khan was responsible for his father’s death, and that the tiger has also killed Akela, the leader of the wolf pack, taking charge of the jungle, Mowgli returns to confront Shere Kahn. Taking a burning branch with him from the man village, Mowgli pursues Shere Khan in order to save his wolf family and the rest of the jungle animals from his tyrannous reign. However, his act only further reinforces man’s superiority, as he inadvertently sets fire to the jungle, the fear in the animals’ eyes being a very poignant reminder that Mowgli is, despite his upbringing, a human. Even though, by slaying Shere Khan he helps the other animals, the film still emphasises that man – in this case, Mowgli – and animals are habitually in conflict, a conflict that is often resolved through hunting, slaughter, and the expression of human superiority.

Whilst Mowgli’s character creates a clear division between humans and animals, he also serves to blur the distinction, something which animal geographers argue is becoming more and more common. Being raised by wolves, Mowgli grows up to be one of the pack. He develops wolf-like behavioural traits and, as animal geographers would call it, undergoes a process of ‘becoming wolf’ through close cohabitation. This Deleuzian notion of ‘becoming’ is one which animal geographers have explored in order to explain close human-animal relationships that transcend the boundaries of ‘man’ and ‘beast’. Even the language used by the animals to describe Mowgli – ‘man cub’ – shows the ambiguous nature of his character, not quite man, but not quite wolf. Through living with the animals Mowgli learns to be sensitive to their needs, and develops a close understanding that animal geographers, such as Bear (2011), argue is so difficult to achieve.

Finally, The Jungle Book, also provides an insight into, what animal geographers argue, is an under-developed theme in animal geography, the individuality of animals. Bear (2011) stresses that most animal geography studies focus on groups of animals or whole species, rather than the individual. In his study of Angelica the octopus and her affective relationships with visitors to her aquarium, he poses that more can be learnt about human-animal relationships by studying individual animals, studies of groups of animals homogenising and concealing the individual. In The Jungle Book, whilst we still have groups of animals – such as the pack of wolves and the almost mythical herd of elephants – there are many characters who tell their own individual stories. Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther, Shere Khan the tiger, and King Louie the gigantopithecus, each express their individuality and have different relationships with Mowgli and the other animals. This, in turn, affects the audience’s response to them; Baloo appears comical yet kind, Bagheera is brave and loyal, Shere Khan is cruel yet vulnerable, and King Louie is powerful and greedy. Interpret them as you will, but, whilst fictional and highly anthropomorphised, it is through these individual stories that the audience form an understanding of the human-animal relationships at play in the film.

Both as a thrilling piece of cinema, and as a demonstration of animal geography’s wider relevance, The Jungle Book is well-worth a watch!

 

books_iconBear, C. (2011) “Being Angelica? Exploring individual animal geographies”, Area, 43(3):297-304.

60-world2The Jungle Book 2016 IMDB listing http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3040964/

The Rhythm of the Night: Nocturnal Geographies

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The clocks have gone forward, the nights are getting lighter, and, as ever, there’s geography to be found in it all! Shaw’s (2015) paper considers the ways in which geographers and social scientists have engaged with the night as a ‘space-time’, illuminating some interesting approaches that geographers have used to theorise the ways in which we use the night.

This year is actually the 100th anniversary of ‘Daylight Saving Time’ (DST). DST was originally proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, who argued the economic benefits of reducing the need for artificial lighting – then by candles – and making increased use of natural light. This idea was proposed in Britain by William Willett in 1907, who suggested moving the clocks forwards 20 minutes on each of the four Sundays in April and backwards on Sundays in September (Macphail, 2016 [online]). The first official clock-changing plan was introduced in Germany, in April 1916, and Britain followed suit, in May that year, passing the Summer Time Act of 1916. The first official day of British Summer Time was May 21st 1916 (Macphail, 2016 [online]). At the height of World War One, it was believed that by changing the clocks it would take the pressure off the economy and reduce domestic coal consumption (Macphail, 2016 [online]). However, in 1940, during World War Two, the clocks in Britain were not put back at the end of Summer and, until July 1945, Britain was two hours ahead of GMT, operating on British Double Summer Time (Telegraph, 2016 [online]).

 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

There are strong arguments both for and against DST. As well as suggesting that it saves energy and money, others argue that it increases tourism and encourages people to exercise outdoors (Staufenberg, 2016 [online]). From a geographer’s point of view, therefore, it changes the ways in which we use space and time, leading to a more ‘productive’ use of natural daylight. Critics, however, argue that there is no conclusive proof that DST saves energy; whilst reducing lighting use, it may, in fact, increase our use of other electrical appliances and fuel. Thus, from an environmental point of view, Daylight Saving Time remains enigmatic.

Particular opposition to DST comes from Scotland and parts of northern England. In 2011, year-round daylight savings was suggested in Parliament but was not taken up (Telegraph, 2016 [online]). A YouGov poll that year showed that 53% of people in Britain supported permanently moving the clocks forward an hour (Telegraph, 2016 [online]). The Scottish, however, complained that they would be plunged into darkness in the mornings and, indeed, so would anyone north of Manchester (Telegraph, 2016 [online]). Others have suggested the clocks change at Hadrian’s Wall and not at Calais (Telegraph, 2016 [online]), showing the highly geographical nature of this debate.

As well as causing mild confusion and tiredness, some anti-DST arguments concentrate on potential negative impacts on the ways in which we use time and space. For instance, it has been suggested that darker mornings pose dangers to children walking to school, along with increasing car accidents and crime rates (Staufenberg, 2016 [online]). Farmers are also largely against the darker mornings, having less daylight to get their morning tasks completed.

Whilst these arguments consider the ways in which we use daylight, Shaw’s (2015) paper discusses our conception of the night as a time-space, and how this affects our use of it. He argues that ways in which geographers understand the night are changing. Previously conceptualised as a frontier, creating a binary between night and day, or light and dark, the night used to be an empty unknown, inhabited by people looking to escape surveillance. The frontier metaphor, therefore, has often framed the night as dangerous and alluring, difficult to control, but providing possibilities for adventure. In contrast, Shaw (2015) argues that the frontier metaphor is being broken down. Capitalist society, he argues, has gradually expanded spatially and temporally, with diurnal activities expanding into the night. Nocturnal capitalism, Shaw (2015) states, has spread globally, with 24/7 opening, next-day delivery services, online shopping, and international business juggling with time-zones. For some, the night is a ‘contact zone’, a space of interaction, characterised by hybrid spaces such as 24-hour supermarkets and night clubs (Shaw, 2015). Such ‘twentyfoursevening’, therefore, blurs day and night, leading geographers to suggest that they are no longer binary opposites. The night, therefore, is a complex and fragmented time-space (Shaw, 2015).

Nocturnal infrastructure has also been at the centre of geographical concerns, interest being in the electrification and lighting of urban areas, and the ways in which light and dark affect the exploration, creation, and experience of space (Shaw, 2015). The use of artificial lighting, it was originally hoped, would counter forms of alienation, reduce crime, and increase safety. Micro-scale lighting of individual houses and communities is a further example of this, although there is limited evidence that street lighting does, in fact, have these intended consequences. As Shaw (2015) indicates, many alternative lifestyles have arisen that are lived and performed during night time, including graffiti artists, protestors, and political radicals. The contact-zone, thus, becomes a space for source of resistance. However, with the proliferation of sexual violence, prostitution, crime, drug-taking, and drinking culture during the night, the contact-zone is also a time-space to be survived, but also considered by some as a space of freedom.

The night, then, is far from black and white. Geographers have begun to approach it as a multifaceted space-time, rather than the binary opposite of daytime. By only studying daytime activities, we can only ever understand half of humanity, especially in a time when nocturnal capitalism is booming. As a subject of geographical research in its own right, it is hoped that by studying our use of the night, geographers can shed new light on the ways in which we use time and space.

 

books_iconShaw, R. (2015). “Night as Fragmenting Frontier: Understanding the Night that Remains in an era of 24/7”, Geography Compass, 9(12):637-647.

60-world2Macphail, C. (2016). “When do the clocks go forward in 2016? And why do we change to BST and should we?” The Telegraph Online. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12174975/When-do-the-clocks-go-forward-A-countdown-to-BST-and-Daylight-Saving-Time-March-2016.html

60-world2Staufenberg, J. (2016). “Daylight Saving Time: What is it and why do we have it?”, The Independent Online. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/daylight-saving-time-what-is-it-and-why-do-we-have-it-a6907621.html

60-world2The Telegraph. (2016). “Who uses Daylight Saving Time?”, The Telegraph Online. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12174975/When-do-the-clocks-go-forward-A-countdown-to-BST-and-Daylight-Saving-Time-March-2016.html

‘A woman’s place is in the kitchen’: Changing culinary culture

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In a recent article, Meah (2016) discusses the space of the kitchen – seemingly mundane and neglected by geographical study – and the ways in which it has evolved through time to become more than just a food preparation area for the confinement of women.

“A woman’s place is in the kitchen” is a well-known, oft-used phrase. Last month, BT Sport presenter Lynsey Hipgrave was subjected to this type of misogynistic abuse on social media following her criticism of Lionel Messi’s controversial un-sportsmanlike penalty. Amongst the sexist replies she received were; “we need sandwiches not opinions” and “somewhere there’s a kitchen and it’s missing something”.  Whilst there are some who still rigidly live by this sexist mantra, there is lots of evidence that such marginalisation of women using sexist delineations of space is starting to be dispelled. Whilst Nigella Lawson’s heavily sexualised cookery programmes do women’s cause no favours, the proliferation of successful male chefs on The Great British Bake Off, in reputable restaurants, and as celebrity chefs, suggest that kitchen culture is changing. In a recent article in the Independent, French Chef Alain Ducasse, owner of 23 Michelin-star restaurants in seven countries, suggested that the changing ‘macho kitchen culture’ was displacing the old sexist stereotype. Ducasse even highlighted a lack of female chefs in France, leading him to establish the ‘Femmes en Avenir’ (Women of the Future) programme in association with the French government in 2011. The programme encourages women in the outskirts of Paris to gain culinary qualifications, in order to pursue a career in cooking.

Meah’s (2016) article provides the historical background that explains why women have long been associated with the kitchen. Historically, the kitchen was a space occupied by working class women, either as maids or cooks for the wealthy, or in their own kitchens. The kitchen was at the rear of the house, out of public view; gendered labour concealed from the rest of society. This is similar to Erving Goffman’s (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, in which he explains how our identities are performed sometimes less explicitly, hidden from others, in what he calls the ‘back stage’. The kitchen became the symbolic heart of domesticity and the women that produced this sense of domesticity were often marginalised.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Meah (2016), however, argues that the kitchen was transformed from a space of production to a space of consumption, with the evolution of modern kitchen design in the twentieth century, the kitchen becoming an ideological battle ground. Mass housing projects during the inter-war period, she argues, favoured standardised, modernist kitchen spaces, designed to be efficient and functional. By scientifically arranging space within the kitchen to make it more productive, daily life and behaviour were also changed. Functionalist designers of the 1930s saw the repetitive and productive model of factory assembly lines as the ideal method for both easing the housewife’s work and making it more efficient. By reducing the housewife’s need to move around the kitchen, making everything within reaching distance, the routinisation of her work meant cooking was less of a pleasure and more of a practical task. Moving into the 1940s, Meah (2016) traces the emergence of the kitchen-living room arrangement, a space which enabled families to eat their meals in a separate space to the food preparation area, but a low-partition wall meant that the housewife was not isolated whilst at work in the kitchen. Open-plan living spaces, therefore, further redefined the kitchen, showing the resistance of both women and kitchen spaces.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Meah (2016) identifies another societal change, still seen today, which further changed the culture of kitchens. By the 1950s, she argues, women were engaged in paid employment outside the home, becoming increasingly independent and industrious. We see this today to an even greater extent, with the employment of women in some really prominent positions such as merchant bankers, lawyers, doctors, or business owners. The emergence of the career-orientated woman has further led to the separation of women from the kitchen, as they no longer have the time or the inclination to slave away in the kitchen for hours preparing food whilst their husbands work all day. Societal transformations in work, leisure, and gender roles have transformed the kitchen into, what Meah (2016), calls an ‘orchestrating concept’. Kitchens have become spaces where numerous practices and elements are structured and held together, making it both material and symbolic. They are arenas for the performance of everyday life; be it food preparation and eating, playing out relationships with family members and hosting parties, or many non-food activities such as watching TV, reading the paper, and caring for pets.

The personalisation, and sometimes feminisation, of the kitchen space has altered the ways in which kitchens are experienced and consumed. Most notably, the aesthetic of the kitchen is used as an expression of identity. Meah (2016) argues that the space of the kitchen has become a site of memory, a sort of private museum, in which personal objects are kept and displayed which tell personal stories. Collectible silverware, wedding china, and other gifts are often displayed in the kitchen, prized possessions that each have their own story to tell. Fridges and notice boards display collages of mementos and snapshots of lives; fridge-magnet souvenirs, postcards, children’s drawings, photographs, appointment cards, party invitations, and ticket stubs are just a few of the items that may make up such an eclectic archive of family history. This not only shows the portability of memory, but also transforms the kitchen from a space, used and lived in, to a meaningful place of personal importance.

The kitchen has therefore undergone many changes through history, becoming more than just a space for women to make food. Women have also been transformed; from passive consumers and oppressed labourers to active participants in a meaningful and constantly changing space.

books_iconMeah, A. (2016). “Extending the Contested Spaces of the Modern Kitchen”, Geography Compass, 10(2):41-55.

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Guardian Sport (2016) Lynsey Hipgrave hits out at sexist abuse after criticising Lionel Messi

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Casey, L. (2016) Alain Ducasse interview: The French chef on women in the kitchen, and life in Paris after the attacks The Independent