Author Archives: rosamg

At the borders of ‘Fortress Europe’

Fylakio detention centre (Evros, Greece), 9th October 2010. Author: Georgios Giannopoulos

By Rosa Mas Giralt

The outer borders of the European Union and their ‘barrier’ structures are back in the news. Since FRONTEX, the EU’s agency for border security, started to reinforce the policing of unofficial migration routes through the Canary Islands in 2007, the course of these routes has turned towards the Eastern side of ‘Fortress Europe’. In these new trajectories, Malta, Greece and the Italian islands have become the major border spaces that undocumented immigrants attempt to negotiate. In recent reports, the BBC and The Telegraph have brought to the fore the situation on the border between Greece and Turkey, where an increasing number of undocumented immigrants are being stopped and held in detention centres. FRONTEX has also become active at this border, allegedly cutting the crossings from 350 to 60 people a day. Consequently, those would-be immigrants arrested (men, women and children) are held in detention centres, which human rights organizations have denounced as overcrowded and unhygienic. The image of crowds of people calling to journalists from behind the bars of these detention centres causes many to question the politics behind ‘Fortress Europe’.

Human geographers have long battled with trying to understand the decision-making processes of people who decide to leave their countries of origin for what, on many occasions, is an unknown future in an unknown land. A complex combination of macro and micro factors play a role in migrants’ decision-making processes; insecurity, natural disasters, poverty, family obligations, the wish for safety and a better future are all powerful factors that many contemporary migrants face. In a forthcoming article for Area, Van der Velde and Van Naerssen (2010) propose a geographical approach for analyzing cross-border mobility by using the case of the European Union. The EU’s policy is based on the premise that migration can be controlled by its outer border system so the authors consider whether these borders act as barriers to the potential mobility of people (from outside of the EU but also across European countries). Overall, they try to develop a model which can take into account all the factors influencing spatial behaviours in international migration, analyzing them through the basic components involved in human (im)mobility: people, borders and trajectories. Their approach brings to the fore, once more, not only the diversity of factors that play a role in people’s movement (or not) across borders but also the difficulty in developing models which can accommodate complex understandings of human agency, borders and trajectories.

 Read the BBC’s report by Razia Iqbal “Migrants at Greece-Turkey border face bleak future”

 Read The Telegraph‘s report “Sharp rise in illegal immigrants entering Europe through Greece”

 Read  Martin Van Der Velde and Ton Van Naerssen (2010) “People, borders, trajectories: an approach to cross-border mobility and immobility in and to the European Union”. Area. [Early View]

Revolting against inequality and discrimination

Burnt out car, 6th November 2005. Picture taken during the French suburb riots by François Schnell.

By Rosa Mas Giralt

The Guardian newspaper is currently publishing a series of reports looking at the increased political presence of anti-immigrant movements all across contemporary Europe. Within this series, yesterday’s article by Angelique Chrisafis entitled “Immigration: France sees tensions rise five years on from Paris riots”, focused on the current state of affairs in Clichy-sous-Bois, the neighbourhood at the edge of the French capital where the 2005 riots started. It made sad reading. Time has not transformed the social issues (e.g. poor housing, marginalization, joblessness, racism) that lay at the root of the revolts which were sparked after the death of two youngsters who were hiding from the police. Discrimination against young non-white French people and immigrants is rife and there have been no signs of convincing policy initiatives to address the situation. Unfortunately, in the current uncertain economic climate, right-wing anti-immigrant rhetoric continues to dominate the French debate on immigration and ethnic minorities. The riots could potentially reignite at any point.

In 2007, Geography Compass published an article by Mustafa Dikeç which focused on the 2005 riots in the banlieues of Paris. In it he argued that a geographical approach to analyzing these revolts can provide a better understanding of their recurrence. The article provides a historical perspective of the revolts, exploring similar incidents that have taken place in the country since the 1980s, and relating the creation of the banlieues to France’s post-war economic and political transformations and colonial past. Dikeç (2007: 1203) suggests that “geographies of revolts overlap with geographies of mass unemployment, discrimination and repression”, geographies which have been expanding in the last 30 years. From this perspective, revolts can be understood as resistance movements and not as ‘imitation’ incidents, based on the logic of ‘copycat effects’, which have dominated behavioural accounts.

Read The Guardian‘s series of reports “Europe: Immigrants under pressure”

Read article by Angelique Chrisafis “Immigration: France sees tensions rise five years on from Paris riots”. The Guardian. 16th Nov 2010

Read Mustafa Dikeç (2007) “Revolting geographies: urban unrest in France”. Geography Compass. 1(5): 1190-1206.

Using the gaze of the camera

By Rosa Mas Giralt

The British Documentary Awards (or “The Griersons”) have just announced that this year’s award for Most Entertaining Documentary has been presented to Banksy’s film Exit through the gift shop. In accepting this prize, the mysterious and increasingly famous graffiti artist has not renounced his usual anonymity but has provided instead a pre-filmed acceptance speech in which he appears disguised and shows a customized graffiti version of his award. When the film was originally released, he also made a disguised media appearance in order to explain the genesis and subject of the documentary. In this appearance he stated:“The film is the story of when this guy tried to make a documentary about me, where he was actually a lot more interesting than I am, and now the film is kind of about him” (extracted from Ian Burrell’s blog Banksy wins award for documentary). In this instance then, the gaze of the camera was turned and used to provide a vision of Banksy’s world and street art in which the supposed filmmaker (known as Thierry Guetta) became part of the story being told.

Engaging with the power of the visual has been extremely important for the discipline of geography. Developments in critical scholarship and research methods have brought to the fore the potential of using visual approaches to reach and empower the voices of those who have traditionally been absent from knowledge production. In an article for Area, Sara Kindon (2003) provides an overview of participatory video techniques and how they can enable a feminist gaze or, in her words, “a feminist practice of looking”. Importantly, she argues for the use of participatory video in a way that does not perpetuate hierarchical power relations but instead carefully negotiates research partnerships and develops practices of looking nearby and not looking at (Kindon, 2003: 149).

 Read Ian Burrell’s blog Banksy wins award for documentary (The Independent website)

 Watch the trailer of Exit through the gift shop in YouTube

 Read Melena Ryzik’s article Riddle? Yes. Enigma? Sure. Documentary? (13th April 2010) on The New York Times website about the release of Exit through the gift shop

 Read Sara Kindon (2003) “Participatory video in geographic research: a feminist practice of looking?”. Area. 35(2): 142-153.

It’s a car’s world…

By Rosa Mas Giralt

Motor cars have become one of the most common private means of transport in today’s world and have transformed our societies, lives and physical landscapes beyond recognition. However, our relationship with these mobility machines transcends the purely practical domain and transforms the way we feel about our im/mobilities and personal spatialities. The success of programmes such as Top Gear (BBC) is based on the complexity of emotions which are embroiled in our relationship with wheels and speed. Similarly, but in a negative way, there are continuous examples of ‘road rage’, accidents and other incidents which remind us of the potentially devastating impacts that automobiles can have on our lives.

The environmental impacts of our petrol consuming four-wheeled ‘friends’ are unsustainable and developing electric, low-carbon and other alternative forms of motor cars has become a pressing matter. Geography, among other social sciences, has a great deal to contribute to the understanding of the human relationship with automobiles, road space, driving practices, etc. For instance, Peter Merriman (2009) provides an in-depth overview of the research that has been conducted on geographies of the spaces and practices of driving, focusing especially on the UK. He shows the important role that this type of research has in providing “sophisticated understandings of the complexities of car use and people’s desire to travel in private, flexible vehicles [so] effective strategies can be developed to tackle increases in private, petrol-car use and increasing CO2 emissions” (2009: 594). We need to follow the road of sustainable motoring if we want to continue enjoying the mobility and independence that motor cars can provide.

Visit Top Gear‘s website (BBC2)

Visit the Green Car Website (UK)

Read Peter Merriman (2009) “Automobility and the geographies of the car”. Geography Compass. 3(2): 586-599.

The geographies of university campuses

By Rosa Mas Giralt

Two weeks ago a student of Reutgers University in the US jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. Allegedly, his privacy had been violated by his roommates, who had installed a hidden camera in his bedroom and filmed him having sex with another man. Afterwards, they posted the images on the Internet. Following this horrible event, several US Senators have proposed the passing of legislation aimed at protecting students from harassment and bullying in university campuses.

Cases such as this one highlight the importance of critically researching the experiences of minority groups in universities’ spaces. In a forthcoming article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Peter Hopkins (2010) calls for more research focusing on the social and spatial relations which characterize university campuses, and their geographies of power, discrimination, resistance and subversion. In this case, the author presents the findings of a project conducted with Muslim students in a UK university and discusses the different ways in which the participants constructed the university campus as both a tolerant and discriminatory place. This type of research is essential in order to inform the creation of more inclusive and non-discriminatory educational spaces, which can foster tolerance, respect and understanding.

Read Kristen Hamill’s report “Legislation targets harassment on campus in wake of Rutgers suicide” – CNN website

Read Peter Hopkins (2010) “Towards critical geographies of the university campus: understanding the contested experiences of Muslim students”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. [Early view]


The geographies of schools

By Rosa Mas Giralt

BBC2 is currently showing a number of documentaries and dramas under the banner of School Season. The programmes focus on the current education system in the UK and explore issues around schools, parents, teachers and pupils. So far, there have been very interesting contributions such as John Humphry’s documentary Unequal Opportunities examining the reasons why there continues to be great differences between the educational attainment of advantaged and disadvantaged pupils; although completely engaging and illuminating, the programme exposed once more that, without adequate resources and investment, improving the educational opportunities of children from disadvantaged backgrounds is very difficult to achieve. Another absorbing programme was the drama Excluded, which focused on an inner-city school and a pupil who faced exclusion for his disruptive behaviour, showing the complexity of issues that may affect a young person’s life and the difficult task of those in the teaching profession who need to make decisions which can be life-changing for pupils. The season continues and most of the programmes can be watched on the BBC website (for a limited number of days) or they can be downloaded from the BBC iPlayer.

The sub-discipline of children’s geographies has provided influential research aimed at deepening our understanding of the lives, experiences, identities and spaces/places of young people and has foregrounded their capabilities as social actors on their own right. A recent contribution to this scholarship is an article by Barker et al. (2010) in the current issue of Area. This paper explores a new internal space created in some schools in which pupils, who have been temporarily excluded (fix-term exclusions), can be confined, the so called “Seclusion Units”. Using a Foucauldian approach, the authors map these spaces, explore their surveillance and power structures and the possibilities for resistance which pupils have within them. Importantly, the authors find commonalities between the spatial practices of these units and those of other penal spaces such as prisons; this leads them to issue a call for a “moral debate about the desirability of these contemporary educational practices” (2010: 385), a debate which seems crucial.

 Visit the BBC’s School Season website to discover more about the programmes

 Read John Barker et al. (2010) “Pupils or prisoners? Institutional geographies and internal exclusion in UK secondary schools”. Area. 42(3): 378-386

The ‘buzzing’ of advertising

Photography by Colin Gregory Palmer (2005)

By Rosa Mas Giralt

This week has marked the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. Entrepreneur brothers Maurice and Charles Saatchi founded the firm, and under the slogan “Nothing is impossible”, produced some of the most famous advertising campaigns in recent history. Notably the brothers have not been in charge of the firm since 1994, when a rebellion among shareholders led them to leave and to create a new agency called M&C Saatchi; however, the fierce competition between the two firms has become legendary in the advertising world. Yet, the anniversary seems to have marked a truce in their ‘business war’ and both agencies will get together in the Saatchi Gallery for a celebratory party.

The importance of knowledge networks within advertising (and other creative industries) is the theme that Mould and Joel (2010) bring to the fore in a recent article for Area. The authors use the case-study of London’s advertising industry to argue that social network analysis (SNA) is a fruitful approach to research “the networks within a particular industry and locale” (2010:282); that is, the networks which constitute the “buzz” or “the information and communication ecology” (Bathelt et al. 2004: 38 quoted in Mould and Joel 2010: 282) of people and firms in a given industry. The analysis of these networks provides a quantitative representation of the importance of knowledge exchange for the economic success of a given business (in this case advertising) and establishes the framework to study the connections and key players that sustain and develop it.

Read Stephen Amstrong’s article “Saatchi brothers mark 40 years since the foundation of their ad agency”. The Guardian. 6 September 2010.

Read Oli Mould and Sian Joel (2010) “Knowledge networks of ‘buzz’ in London’s advertising industry: a social network analysis approach”. Area. 42 (3): 281-292.