Author Archives: slmills0

Geographies of Modern Piracy

Sarah Mills

In a recent article on modern piracy in The Guardian, Rose George expresses concerns at the changing dynamics of maritime security and hostage scenarios.  She draws on interviews with Indian seafarers, one of whom describes being “kept for eight months on his ship. When negotiations were ongoing, the worst he suffered was a slap. When negotiations stalled, he was tied in a stress position on a hot deck for several hours, and his captain was locked naked in a freezer.”  George explains how ransoms are getting higher, the negotiations more drawn out.  Indeed, the most high profile case in Britain of modern day piracy in recent years has been the experience of Paul and Rachel Chandler  – who spoke last month about their experience of being held hostage by Somali pirates for 13 months.    Overall, George reflects on David Cameron’s recent decision to allow armed guards on British-flagged ships and the incredibly complicated legal scenarios that both states and maritime security companies face due to shifting national and international legislation.

A recent review in Geography Compass by Elizabeth Nyman on ‘Modern Piracy and International Law’ specifically highlights the complex international problem of modern piracy, especially in terms of global shipping and maritime safety.  The political geographies of modern piracy are significant and Nyman reflects in more detail on the legislation surrounding piracy and the role of borders, territory and jurisdiction.  After a brief history of piracy, Nyman defines piracy in international law, examines the issue of jurisdiction and reflects on some proposed solutions to the piracy problem.  Overall, she states that “by considering questions of maritime piracy, geographers can both contribute to the growing literature on modern piracy, but also gain insights into uniquely geographical inquiries and concerns” (2011: 871).

 Read R. George ‘Piracy is no longer bloodless’ The Guardian 30th October 2011

 Read D. Aitkenhead ‘Paul and Rachel Chandler: How we survived being kidnapped by Somali pirates’ The Guardian 30th October 2011

 Read E. Nyman (2011) ‘Modern Piracy and International Law: Definitional Issues with the Law of the Sea’ Geography Compass 5 (11): 863-874

7 Billion, Climate Change & ‘Managing Trade-Offs’

Sarah Mills

According to forecasts, the seven billionth person will be born today.  Thomas Lovejoy uses this moment, in his article in The Guardian, as a way into discussing a sensitive topic related to stemming population growth in response to climate change.  He states that “The idea of living sustainably, of “going green”, has recently become a buzzword when talking about everything from energy to water to agriculture…. But in terms of our own numbers, we are anything but sustainable.”.  He points out the need for integrated solutions from governments, business and advocates, but continues that “doing any of that without also making efforts to slow population growth makes an uphill climb even more difficult.”  He admits “It’s unpopular to apply sustainability to the concept of population growth, as the word “population” evokes worries about state control and limits on reproductive freedom. But slower population growth can not only lessen vulnerability to climate change impacts, it also has the potential to significantly reduce future greenhouse gas emissions”.

What this debate highlights, amongst other things, is what geographer Jon Anderson has recently noted as “a growing trend to cast the individual as the source and solution to many contemporary environmental problems.”  In his article currently on earlyview in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Anderson argues that in ‘becoming green’, individuals “have to negotiate a range of trade-offs between their environmental aspirations and the realities of life in a developed, consumer-based society”.  Whilst he explores the specific space and identities related to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, UK, this article considers the ways in which tensions around environmental beliefs, practice and lifestyles have led to a ‘politics of pragmatism’.  Although Anderson’s paper is not centred on population growth, it does reflect on the individualisation of environmental challenges, notions of responsibility and tensions around ‘becoming green’ – issues that are being discussed on comments to Lovejoy’s article today…

 Read J. Anderson (2011) Managing trade-offs in ‘ecotopia’: becoming green at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers [currently earlyview]

 Read T. Lovejoy (2011) Stemming population growth is a cheap way to limit climate change, The Guardian 31st October 2011

Geographies of Occupation

Sarah Mills

Occupy Wall Street, a protest movement against corporate greed and social and economic inequality which began in September 2011, continues to grow and inspire occupations across the world.  The original occupation in New York describes itself as a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%”.  The claiming of space, whether St Paul’s Cathedral in London or in Madrid Square, has been central to the identity and nature of the demonstrations.   Furthermore, the role of social media and digital communications remains vital in organising and documenting the protests.  The complex geographies and demographics of the occupy movement are still unravelling and emerging, with mainstream media only recently focusing on events.

In their commentary in The Geographical Journal published online last week, Peter Hopkins, Liz Todd and Newcastle Occupation document the occupation at Newcastle University, UK that took place during November-December 2010 in response to government spending cuts and increased tuition fees.  Here, the authors discuss characteristics of the Newcastle Occupation (the claiming of space, alternative governance structure, cyberspace and social media) that are currently being played out in different contexts through this month’s global occupations.  This article gives an important insight into one example of occupation and the actions of students involved in the process and politics of protest.

 Read Hopkins, P., Todd, L. and Newcastle Occupation (2011) Occupying Newcastle University: student resistance to government spending cuts in England The Geographical Journal

 Read the latest news on the global Occupy movement via The Guardian website

 Follow the latest on Occupy Wall Street  / Occupy London / We are the 99% campaign

‘We Need You’: Geographies of Youth Voluntarism

 

Sarah Mills

Over the last month, many of the stands and activities available to new and returning students at University and College event fairs will have had a voluntary aspect. Most Universities run their own voluntary schemes/RAG and there are a host of corporate organisations looking to recruit student volunteers for a summer or year abroad, as well as local organisations and charities that try and recruit new students as volunteers. Volunteer recruitment and retention has been boosted this year by the 2011 European Year of Volunteering campaign.  However, in the UK, there remains a disjuncture between the role of voluntarism in the coalition government’s ‘big society’ vision and the realties of auserity cuts and their impact on communities and charities.  Indeed, these issues around voluntarism and the lifecourse have been highlighted in diverging opinions expressed at this week’s Conservative Party conference.

Two articles in October’s issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers reflect the increasing interest in the geographies of volunteering and youth voluntarism in particular. Volunteer tourism, gap years and charity work are playing a more central part in the student experience and geographers are examining these recent trends in terms of broader theorisations of youth identities, lifecourse transitions, globalisation and the ‘big society’.  In his Transactions paper, Andrew Jones (2011) draws on data with young people involved in a range of overseas volunteer placements as well as exploring how corporate recruiters understand “the value (or otherwise) of international volunteering” (p.530). Matt Baillie-Smith and Nina Laurie’s paper (2011) also examines the geographies of international volunteering but with a focus on citizenship, development imaginaries and neoliberal ideas of professionalisation. Indeed, their paper explores “discourses and practices of citizenship, professionalisation and partnership as they produce and are produced through contemporary international volunteering” (p.545). Both of these papers highlight how the complex spatialities of volunteering can illuminate broader economic and political processes, as well bringing young people firmly into the spotlight in a shifting landscape of voluntarism and philanthropy.

Read A. Jones (2011) Theorising international youth volunteering: training for global (corporate) work? Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36 (4): 530- 544

Read M. Baillie-Smith and N. Laurie (2011) International volunteering and development: global citizenship and neoliberal professionalisation today Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36 (4): 545-559

Read Conservative Party Conference 2011: Baby boom generation should do charity work says minister, Telegraph Online 4th October 2011

Explore European Year of Volunteering 2011

Street Performance and Video Methodology

Sarah Mills

The Edinburgh ‘Fringe’ Festival will soon be opening (5th-29th August) and host a range of acts including comedians, dancers, artists and musicians.  Alongside the ‘official’ shows and ticketed events will be a variety of street performers – each becoming part of the largest arts festival in the world that has been held in Scotland’s capital since 1947 (with the Festival Fringe Society established in 1959).  Their official website states that “In 2010 we enjoyed a record-breaking 2,453 different shows staging 40,254 performances in 259 venues by 21,148 performers.”  The Fringe prides itself on being an ‘open access’ arts festival, meaning that street performers in particular can put on a show as part of Fringe with no selection process and be part of a programme that is not curated.  This creates a unique environment and arena for ‘performance’, as well as a particular type of engagement with the audience(s).

In his recent article published in Area (currently on earlyview), Paul Simpson discusses the geographies of street performance and “the acts of audiencing that members undertake in relation to this” (2011: 1).  He uses street performance as an example through which to explore the role of video methodologies in contemporary geographic research.  The paper reflects on his research – during which he played guitar in Bath, UK and videoed the street performances – and focuses specifically on the giving and receiving of donations, linking these practices to debates on affect, embodiment and ethnography.  Whilst ultimately a paper that critically reflects on using video as a research method, Simpson’s research on street performance highlights debates on everyday and artistic practices, many of which can be seen at the Fringe Festival.

Read P. Simpson (2011) ‘So, as you can see . . .’: some reflections on the utility of video methodologies in the study of embodied practices Area [currently early view] 

Visit the Official Site of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Youthful Religiosities

By Sarah Mills

In their recent article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Hopkins et al (2011) explore the influence of intergenerationality on the development of young people’s religious identities.  They review current trends in new ways of ‘doing’ religion and argue that religious spaces of meaning are becoming increasingly diversified.  Drawing on research with young Christians in Glasgow and their guardians, they highlight the multiple influences on the religiosity of young people and discuss these through themes of correspondence, compliance, challenge and conflict.  They “propose a new conceptual framework for better understanding the complex interplay between intergenerationality and religious beliefs” (p.315) and demonstrate their argument through stressing the importance of “sites such as grandparents’ homes, the journey to and from church, experiences of schooling, youth group practices, peer group relationships and popular culture” in young people’s articulations of their religiosity (p.326).

A number of recent news stories and events highlight the need to take young people’s religiosities seriously and to reflect on the diverse sites, influences and relationships that play a part in developing young people’s religious identities.  Some of these relate to education, for example the recent campaign on the future of RE in schools and the English Baccalaureate.  Others can be seen as features of more formal sites of institutional religion and worship, such as this year’s celebrations marking the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible, many of which involve young people.  These short examples highlight how crucial it is to reflect on the range of influences in the formation of religious identities and the complexities of religious beliefs.

 Read Peter Hopkins, Elizabeth Olson, Rachel Pain and Giselle Vincett (2011) ‘Mapping intergenerationalities: the formation of youthful religiosities’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36 (2):314-327.

 Read ‘Campaign for the future of RE in schools’ on BBC Online

 View events during 2011 celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible

Déjà vu?

By Sarah Mills

Airline passengers in Scotland and parts of Northern England face delays and cancelled flights today due to Saturday’s ash eruption from Grímsvötn volcano in Iceland.  These scenes are similar to those in April 2010 when another Icelandic volcano – Eyjafjallajökull – erupted, prompting widespread travel chaos.  However, scientists and commentators expect the disruption to be far less than last year for a number of meteorological reasons and improved aviation regulations.  Transport Secretary Philip Hammond claims authorities have a “much better understanding” of the risks and that “the threshold for most aircraft is 20 times where it was last year…What we can’t promise is that there won’t be disruption when there is a major natural event like this.”

Amy Donovan and Clive Oppenheimer reflected on last year’s Eyjafjallajökull eruption in a recent article in The Geographical Journal.  They reviewed the scientific background of the eruption in the context of European volcanic activity and argued that “the apparent breakdown of communication between scientific research, policy makers and the public is a manifestation of a wider problem”.  Furthermore, they claimed that “transdisciplinary channels for the movement of knowledge beyond the academic community need to be enhanced” (2011: 4).  In light of this new eruption at Grímsvötn, and the supposed provisions and increased levels of governance in planning for such eventualities, the coming days and weeks will reveal to what extent lessons have already been learned.

Read ‘Volcanic ash cloud: thousands face flight delays and cancellations’ in The Guardian  

Read A. Donovan and C. Oppenheimer (2011) The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption and the reconstruction of geography. The Geographical Journal, 177: 4-11.