Author Archives: sarahmillsaber


Sarah Mills

Thousands of new students will begin their degree studies at universities across the UK this month.  Freshers’ week is notorious for its associated drinking culture, but in reality it is just as much about getting to know new people, the details of your course and familiarising oneself with the campus.  Joanna Davies novel Freshers catalogues the experience of Freshers Week in Wales and her student days (see guardian blog).  However, these stereotypical images of the campus and all that is involved in starting University tend to cloud the complexities of the campus as a contested space.

In an article published this month on earlyview in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Peter Hopkins argues that “scholarship could usefully be extended to interrogate the complex ways in which different university campuses are constructed, contested and experienced”.  Specifically, Hopkins examines the “multiple constructions of the university campus through the narratives of 29 Muslim students attending a British higher education institution” and the “multiple and contradictory discourses that students utilise, which simultaneously construct the university campus as tolerant and diverse and as discriminatory and exclusionary”.  As well as a relevant addition to the geographies of religion literature, this article usefully highlights the contested geographies of the campus and offers us a timely reflection as the new term begins…

Read Peter Hopkins (2010) Towards critical geographies of the university campus: understanding the contested experiences of Muslim studentsTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers [Earlyview]

Read Joanna Davies’ blog ‘Freshers’ week and the school of life’ The Guardian

A borderless world?

Sarah Mills

The Home Office has recently announced a new passport design, to be issued from October 2010.  In an attempt to counter identity-theft and fraud, the passport is being marketed as “speeding up travellers’ passage through border controls” and includes enhanced security features such as holograms, two photographs and hiding the security chip from view.  The Chief Executive of the Identity and Passport Service states that “Through its combination of physical and electronic security features, the UK passport remains one of the most secure and trusted documents in the world, meeting rigorous international standards.”  Its use at border and immigration controls and the continual challenge of fighting fraud means that the passport and its associated (biometric) technologies reflect broader attitudes towards migration, security, belonging and citizenship.

In their paper in Geography Compass, Alexander Diener and Joshua Hagen (2009) examine how despite predictions of a borderless world, “state borders remain one of the most basic and visible features of the international system”.  They argue that although it is clear there is growing interaction between different places and that globalisation has clearly impacted flows of migration and international trade, “borders continue to play a central role in shaping, dividing, and uniting the world’s societies, economies, and ecosystems”.  The distinct political geographies of borders, territory and identity are reflected upon by Diener and Hagen, who use historical and contemporary examples of how ‘borders matter’.  This article is a useful summary of research on border studies and the benefits for geographers and others within the social sciences.  The continued improvement and re-configuration of passports and border security reflects wider ideas about the role of borders and the importance of territory in the international system.

Read ‘New UK passport design unveiled in fight against fraud’ on BBC Online

Read Diener, A. C. and Hagen, J. (2009), Theorizing Borders in a ‘Borderless World’: Globalization, Territory and Identity. Geography Compass, 3: 1196–1216.

Family Returns: Children Seeking Asylum

Sarah Mills

In the recent special section of Area on ‘Upscaling young people’s geographies’, Heaven Crawley examines the role of children in the UK asylum system.  She focuses specifically on the asylum interview, which she argues “not only indicates a basic lack of humanity and care in engaging with the experiences of separated asylum-seeking children, but also a particular conceptualisation of ‘childhood’ that undermines the ability of children to fully articulate their experiences and to secure access to the protection to which they are entitled.”  This research on the way in which children are positioned and framed within broader asylum practises is vital in understanding the varied and complex geographies of young people as well as creating a more complete picture of asylum and migration in the UK.  Crawley argues that “current understanding of the experiences of separated asylum-seeking children is dominated by adult explanations and rationalisations which fail to engage directly with children and young people themselves. Separated asylum-seeking children are acted upon but they do not act: they are assumed to have no agency.” (2010: 163).

Asylum in Britain is a controversial and complex issue.  In a recent segment on Radio Four’s Today Programme, Mike Lanchin reports on a new, alternative scheme to detention centres (see Crawley and Lester, 2005) where children of failed asylum applications were previously sent.  His report charts recent government moves towards schemes of accommodation instead of detention, focusing specifically on Glasgow and the ‘Family Returns’ project.  He interviews Robina, a failed asylum seeker with 3 children, awaiting removal from UK for the last four months, but currently living in a flat with her children.  Previously, the children would have been locked up in detention centre, and so whilst clearly an improvement, this situation and the constant moving around has taken its toll on the children; Robina’s five year old son has difficulties sleeping.  Damien Green, immigration minister, is also interviewed and states the success of the new government’s change in policy over the detention of children.  Lanchin concludes, however, that there are no easy solutions to asylum and we should not forget that vulnerable children are caught up in these debates.  There is also a need, however, to remember the agency of children and the pervasive adult framings and articulations of asylum that Crawley highlights in her recent article.

Read H. Crawley (2010) ‘No one gives you a chance to say what you are thinking’: finding space for children’s agency in the UK asylum system’, Area 42 (2): 162-169

Listen to Mike Lanchin‘s report ‘Glasgow’s alternative to child detention’ on the Today Programme, Radio Four, 6 August 2010.

Reference: H. Crawley and T. Lester (2005) No Place for a Child: Children in Immigration Detention in the UK – Impacts, Alternatives and Safeguards, London: Save the Children UK

Haptic Technologies and the Geographies of Touch

Sarah Mills

Touch-screen mobile phones and other electronic devices are increasingly part of our everyday business and leisure engagements.  However, the BBC recently reported on the commercial race to launch ‘new’ haptic technologies, where “for the first time, people will be actually be able to have a virtual feel of some of the images that are placed before them.”  This article reports on research at the Disney Laboratories in the US where technologies are being developed to let people ‘feel’ objects on screen by stroking them with their fingers.  A senior researcher states: “We do this by applying a high voltage to a transparent electrode on the glass plate – in this case people will feel a texture on the glass. By varying the frequency and amplitude of the signal we can create different sensations.”  Other examples of this type of technology include developments in localised tactile feedback – aimed to enhance haptic phones where “people feel them, stretch them, bend them and have them react to these interactions”.

In a recent issue of Geography Compass, Deborah Dixon and Elizabeth Straughan chart “recent efforts to place touch, touching and being touched within non-essentialist, human geographic analyses”.  They highlight how “Considerable attention within geography has been paid to the physiologies, knowledges and practices that give substance and import to the senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch – and the manner in which these work alone, or in concert, to facilitate particular forms of relations between and amongst people, other life forms and objects.”  Dixon and Straughan draw on examples of work that explores the “inter-play between the ‘interior’ psychologies of intimacy and indifference, acceptance and alienation (i.e. feelings of being in/losing/being out of touch) and the ‘exterior,’ corporeal work of texture and friction, push and feel.” In conclusion, they call for more critical attention to the work of touch.  The advent of haptic technologies reported in this BBC article demonstrates new ways in which various senses – in this case touch – frame our experiences and understandings of the world around us.

Read M. Fitzpatrick ‘Haptics brings a personal touch to technology’ on BBC Online

Read Deborah P. Dixon & Elizabeth Straughan (2010) ‘Geographies of Touch/Touched by Geography’ in Geography Compass 4 (5): 449-459

2010 Mercury Prize: London’s (Global) Music Industry

Sarah Mills

The nominees for the 2010 Mercury Prize were announced today, including Dizzee Rascal, Wild Beasts, Foals, Mumford and Sons, veteran Paul Weller and hotly-tipped indie trio the XX.  This annual music prize for the best album released in the last year traditionally boosts sales of all nominees, and the eventual winner, by massive margins.  The nominations are also used by critics and commentators to judge the current state and ‘health’ of the British music industry, as only artists from the UK and Ireland are eligible for the prize.  The winner will receive £20,000 and will be announced at a ceremony on 7th September in London.

In an article published in Area in 2008, Allan Watson examines the role London plays in the global music industry.  Drawing on debates from economic geography, Watson highlights the characteristics of knowledge transfer in London’s recorded music industry through an examination of organisational connections on local and global scales”.  Watson argues that “knowledge transfer within the industry occurs simultaneously across multiple geographical scales, with certain organisational connections facilitating the transfer of tacit knowledge across organisational boundaries”.  The Mercury Prize is one small example of the ways in which London’s recorded music industry facilitates and promotes particular artists and labels, but is intimately tied to global markets and functions across multiple geographical sites and scales.

Read ‘Paul Weller heads up Mercury Prize nominations’ on BBC Online.

Read Allan Watson (2008) ‘Global music city: knowledge and geographical proximity in London’s recorded music industry’ Area 40 (1):12-23.

Hide&Seek: Geographies of Play, Gaming and Exploring the City

Sarah Mills

This weekend (9th-11th July) an annual games festival will be taking place in the urban landscapes of London, based at the National Theatre.  The ‘Hide&Seek Weekender’ invites participants to re-think what constitutes as gaming, play, the city and ‘reality’ through location-based gaming.  This involves real-life tasks combined with geo-location technologies.  Activities include ‘visible cities’, a hide and seek game around the South Bank, and ‘silent relay’ – involving a choreographed mp3 soundtrack linked up to players in Berlin.  This event brings together local knowledge and geographical investigations with fun, play and imagination, with the organisers describing themselves as “a studio of game designers and event organisers who want people to play more games in new ways”.

In the latest issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, James Ash examines the links between materiality, technology and spatiality through the concept of ‘teleplastic technologies’, specifically through the example of video-gaming.  In an analysis of the video-game ‘Lego Star Wars’, Ash highlights the role of involuntary memory, consciousness and ‘ethological markers’ in the game’s puzzle-solving tasks.  Ash also explores users’ notions of sensory stimulus, action, and pseudo-digital bodily movements in the video-game ‘Burnout 3’.  Although focusing on video-gaming technologies, Ash discusses the broader sensory and corporeal dimensions of play and gaming and what these mean for the “potential and possibilities for spatial sense”.  These connections and technological engagements are clearly demonstrated in the aims of the ‘Hide&Seek’ festival taking place this weekend.

Read James Ash (2010) ‘Teleplastic technologies: charting practices of orientation and navigation in video-gaming’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 (3): 414-430

Visit The Hide&Seek Festival:

Read ‘Come and Play Hide&Seek in London’ in The Guardian

Tough but fair?: The Emergency Budget

Sarah Mills

George Osborne announced his “tough but fair” Emergency Budget yesterday, aiming to tackle Britain’s record debt.  The coalitions first budget included an increase in VAT, personal income tax allowance and capital gains tax as well as freezes to child benefit for the next three years, new maximum limits on housing benefits and a two-year pay freeze on public sector pay.  A more detailed analysis of the budget and figures can be read here at the BBC’s website, but reaction to the announcement has been mixed and in some cases highly critical.  Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman described the budget as “a Tory budget that will throw people out of work, that will hold back economic growth and will harm vital public services”.  This budget has once again opened up debates about the growing economic and social inequalities in British society.

In The Geographical Journal, Danny Dorling examines the rising wealth gap in Britain.  In particular, he focuses on the relationships between inequality trends and changes in government.  Dorling maintains that “inequalities are now at unsustainable extremes” and muses at the prospective changes for a new government.  Written in April 2010, before the results of the general election the following month, he reflected that “it could be time for a change again? Which way will we go?”  Now the outcome of that election is known, and the policies of the new coalition government are emerging, geographers are well placed to contribute to the debates about how the budget will affect people’s lives and the growing wealth gap.

Go to ‘The Budget: June 2010’ mini site on BBC Online.

  Read Dorling, Danny.  (2010) ‘All connected? Geographies of race, death, wealth, votes and births’ in The Geographical Journal. [Early View], accepted for publication in April 2010