Author Archives: willandrews91

Collecting as Archiving

By Will Andrews, Aberystwyth University

In a recent article published in Transactions, Didier DeLyser (2015) explains the importance of the what she refers to as ‘archival autoethnography’ (p209) as a way to approach and analyse the intimate spatialities of social memory tied up in amateur collections.  The article explores DeLyser’s own collections of souvenirs related to Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel Ramona, whilst contextualising this within wider enthusiasm for the novel and its impacts.  Many of these souvenir items, such as written postcards are tied to certain geographical locations in Southern California, in this way they connect people to place as well fitting into broader narratives of collection and enthusiasm the postcards in particular providing clear and intimate accounts of social memory in place.

800px-Collection-of-cameras                                        A Collection of Old Soviet Cameras (Dzhepko, 2007)

April 7th saw the second series of BBC 2’s Collectaholics (BBC, 2015a), a popular culture lens on the personal collections and archives compiled by various individuals who have interests in subjects which do not always attract more mainstream archival attention. The programme details, “the weird and wonderful collections of some of Britain’s passionate and avid…collectors” (ibid). As DeLyser (2015) explains such collections transcend cultural capital or monetary value (p209) and have more to do with the personal experiences and memories of the collectors. Collections on the BBC series range from an archived collection of natural history items in the first episode to more performative archives as in the sixth episode when Mark Hill explores a home transformed by its owner into a recreated early twentieth century cottage (BBC, 2015a). Both collections can be seen as pertinent examples of DeLyser’s observations, that people collect items which connect them to certain places and broader narratives, preserving their own, ‘intimate spatialities of social memory” (p210).

p02nbbzz                                                 Episode 1. Collectaholics (BBC, 2015b)

Beyond the importance of collecting as a creative process or practice DeLyser (p209) argues the methodological importance of collecting as archiving. That by gathering texts and artefacts ourselves we can contribute to important alternative archives which through the scholarly realm may ultimately bring more attention and inquiry to their circumstances, as is true of Ramona as a result of DeLyser’s work. Furthermore by collecting souvenirs we can better understand the work these do in the lives of those who purchase them. Through my own autoethnographic research within modified car culture I have begun to see the building of the modified car as a sort of collection of parts and indeed many people collect parts in order to maintain a sort of archive. In this way I would argue that DeLyser and Greenstein’s (2014) account of rebuilding a classic Tatra car is itself another example of creating an alternative archive. Traditionally historical geographers have approached the archive as something separate from the domestic or professional spaces of their homes and offices instead we can and should turn to the collections which “reside with us in our homes and offices” (DeLyser, 2015: 209).

Cake_drums_-_Belgium                                               Cake Drums- Belgium (Spotter2, 2009)
To conclude, the current BBC series Collectaholics shows that there is a popular fascination with collecting and the subsequent informal and personal archives created, by watching these episodes through a lens informed by DeLyser’s (2015) article we can begin to see the geographical and intimate spatialities woven into the tales of these weird and wonderful collections.
References

globe4 BBC (2015a) ‘Collectaholics‘, BBC Two website

60-world2 BBC (2015b) ‘Episode 1. Collectaholics‘, BBC Two website

books_icon DeLyser, D. (2015) ‘Collecting, kitsch and the intimate geographies of social memory: a story of archival autoethnography‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40(2), 209-222

books_icon DeLyser, D. & Greenstein, P. (2015) ‘ “Follow that car!” Mobilities of Enthusiasm in a Rare Car’s Restoration’, The Professional Geographers, 67(2), 255-268

60-world2 Dzhepko, L. (2007) ‘A collection of old Soviet cameras on sale in the Vernisazh in Izmailovky Park, Moscow, Russia‘, Wikimedia Commons

60-world2 Spotter2 (2009) ‘Cake Drums- Belgium‘, Wikimedia Commons

Understanding the 2013/14 UK Winter Storms

By Will Andrews, Aberystwyth University

This time last year Britain was experiencing the first wave of flooding and destruction caused by a storm surge along the East Coast and North coast of Wales and the heavy rain which followed (Thorne, 2014: 297). As we were to find out this was just the beginning of some of the biggest storms the UK has seen for two decades (Jones et al., 2014) and as a student at Aberystwyth University I experienced some of the storm damage first hand, see Figure 1. A recent themed section within The Geographical Journal presented a number of articles arranged around the theme of the winter storms and flooding in order to give a better understanding of the dynamics and interrelations behind them. In particular this shows the way in which the journal promotes the roles of geography and geographers in public and policy debates (Dodds, 2014: 294).

Figure 1. Storm Damage on the Aberystwyth Promenade in January 2014  (Wikimedia Commons, 2014).

Figure 1. Storm Damage on the Aberystwyth Promenade in January 2014
(Wikimedia Commons, 2014a).

The flooding initiated a number of debates, as Colin Thorne (2014) explains there were debates about blame with fingers being pointed at farmers and politicians (BBC News, 2014a; Monbiot, 2014) and debates about whether the UK is now experiencing the results of climate change, both debates are inherently geographical as are the solutions (Thorne, 2014: 297). Thorne goes on to conclude that the solutions to these issues require joined up governance, action and policy underpinned by science and engineering research (p306). This means that the Government needs to work with local stakeholders, scientists and engineers to work out long term solutions to flooding in the UK (p307). One such area of scientific research explained in detail in this issue is concerned with floodplain generation, John Lewin (p317) explains that understanding these semi-natural systems and their response to extreme events is important in contributing to mitigation efforts. Similarly Elisabeth Stephens and Hannah Cloke (2014: 310) discuss scientific and organisational developments with reference to the Flood Forecasting Centre highlighting the improvements which were utilised during the winter floods but also the challenges that remain for flood forecasting to reach its full potential. One particular challenge is for flood forecasting to find a way, “to link forecast thresholds to flood impacts and…prompt organisations involved to operate within a probabilistic mindset (p314).

Figure 2. Flooding on the Somerset Levels, February 2014 (WikiMedia Commons, 2014)

Figure 2. Flooding on the Somerset Levels, February 2014
(Wikimedia Commons, 2014b)

One of the most widely documented areas affected by the flooding was the Somerset Levels  (BBC News, 2014b), see Figure 2. above. Hugh Clout situates this devastating flooding within a longer time frame through a re-examination of ‘The draining of the Somerset Levels’ by the late Michael Williams. Williams’ book explains the struggles of “landowners and farmers to manage floodwater and reclaim land from medieval times to the second half of the twentieth century” (p338). Similarly McEwen, Jones and Robertson provide a geographically grounded discussion drawing on arts and humanities and social science research projects alongside the physical and environmental sciences to discuss our disciplines wide and interconnected contribution to flooding on the Levels (p326). This themed section in the Geographical Journal is in itself an illustration of this interconnection, whilst John Lewin’s article presents a physical science explanation of floodplain development and subsequent flooding contextualises the winter events within a longer timescale, so too does Clout’s reading of Williams’ personal account of the changing landscape. All of the articles in this themed section draw together to show the dynamic and comprehensive geographical reading of the winter storms in a way that, “…inspire[s] wider geographical reflection about how flooding gets engineered, embodied, experienced and understood elsewhere” (Dodds, 2014: 296).

Figure 3. Flooding on the Somerset Levels, January 2009 (Wikimedia Commons, 2009)

Figure 3. Flooding on the Somerset Levels, January 2009
(Wikimedia Commons, 2009)

References

60-world2 BBC News (2014a) ‘Floods: Environment Minister Owen Paterson orders action plan’, BBC News, published online 27th January

60-world2 BBC News (2014b) ‘Somerset floods crisis: How the story unfolded‘, BBC News, published online 19th March 2014

books_icon Clout, H. (2014) ‘Reflections on The Draining of the Somerset Levels’, The Geographical Journal, 180(4), 338-341

books_icon Dodds, K. (2014) ‘Après le deluge: The UK winter storms of 2013-14’, The Geographical Journal, 180(4), 294-296

60-world2 Jones, S., Mason R. & McDonald H. (2014) ‘Weather: UK’s worst winter storms for two decades set to continue‘, The Guardian, published online 5th January 2014

books_icon Lewin, J. (2014) ‘The English Floodplain’, The Geographical Journal, 180(4), 317-325

books_icon McEwen, L., Jones, O. & Robertson, I. (2014) ‘‘A glorious time?’ Some reflections on flooding in the Somerset Levels’, The Geographical Journal, 180(4), 326-337

60-world2 Monbiot, G. (2014) ‘How we ended up paying farmers to flood our homes’, The Guardian, published online 18th February 2014

books_icon Stephens, E. & Cloke, H. (2014) ‘Improving flood forecasts for better flood preparedness in the UK (and beyond)’, The Geographical Journal, 180(4), 310-316

books_icon Thorne, C. (2014) ‘Geographies of UK Flooding in 2013/4’, The Geographical Journal, 180(4), 297-309

60-world2 Wikimedia Commons (2009) Flooding on the Somerset Levels in January 2009

60-world2 Wikimedia Commons (2014a) Aberystwyth Promenade Winter Storm Damage 

60-world2 Wikimedia Commons (2014b) Flooding on the Somerset Levels in February 2014

 

Cosmopolitan Elephants: Conservation Publics & The Ivory Trade

By Will Andrews, Aberystwyth University

A recent article in Transactions by Maan Barua (2014) discusses the positioning of elephants as non-human participants of cosmopolitanism. Through a multi-sited ethnography of elephant conservation in the UK based around the Elephant Family organised London Elephant Parade in 2010 and Mark Shand’s (1992) journey by elephant across India. Barua (p569) explains that the Indian elephant can be understood by following Ulrich Beck’s (2004) explanation of a global public arena, transnational processes and banal consumption as constitutive features of being cosmopolitan. However Barua’s article positions the elephant, a non-human actor as participant in each of these and as such develops a convincing argument for the understanding of non-human cosmopolitanism. Importantly he concludes that presenting Asian elephants in a certain way can, “evoke global ecological responsibilities and concerns for creatures far removed from the worlds of city publics” (p567).

By understanding elephants as cosmopolitan and interrogating and re-harnessing this circulation, conservation practices can be mobilised to protect endangered non-human actors such as the Indian elephant and other endangered species. This article was published shortly before a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (hereafter, EIA), titled Vanishing Point’, the findings of which showed the importance of such a reading of non-human cosmopolitanism particularly when it comes to African elephants (EIA, 2014). The report’s major findings are related to the transnational trade in illegal ivory, in particular allegations of a Chinese market for illegal purchases made in Tanzania (Kaiman & Vaughan, 2014; Russo, 2014).

800px-Elephant_near_ndutu

African Elephant (Wikimedia Commons, 2007).

Ivory as a transnational product can be understood by some as the commoditisation of the elephant and in this way the ivory trade of both Indian and African elephants is a very different example of elephant circulation through banal consumption and transnational processes (Beck, 2004). In this way the elephant is co-constituted as cosmopolitan by way of its ivory. This cosmopolitan understanding is something which Barua discusses in very different terms with Indian elephant conservation, however viewing the elephant as cosmopolitan also offers a way to redress this.  By presenting the Indian elephant in a certain anthropomorphised way, for example the 2010 London Elephant Parade (p564) it is possible to draw attention to elephants’ distant transnational plight and to garner support to combat this. “It is through rhizomatic becomings-with a plethora of non-human bodies that notions of cosmopolitan connections across difference are co-constituted” (p571).  It is these cosmopolitan connections which surround both the ivory trade and which can help in to promote ecological responsibility.

Elephant_Parade,_Green_Park,_London_(4655933530)

Elephant Parade, Green Park, London (Wikimedia Commons, 2010).

This article has wider implications both within the development of ethnographic research of more-than-human actors and for mobilising conservation of endangered species (p 569) such as Indian and African elephants.

References
books_icon Barua, M. (2014) ‘Circulating elephants: unpacking the geographies of a cosmopolitan animal’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 39(4), 559-573

books_icon Beck, U. (2004) ‘Cosmopolitical realism: on the distinction between cosmopolitanism in philosophy and the social sciences’, Global Networks, 4, 131-156

60-world2 EIA (2014) ‘Vanishing Point- Criminality, Corruption & the Devastation of Tanzania’s Elephants’, Published online 6th Nov 2014

60-world2 Kaiman, J. & Vaughan, A. (2014) ‘Elephant ivory price ‘spiked as VIPs snapped up thousands of kilos’ ‘,The Guardian,  Published online 6th Nov 2014

60-world2 Russo, C. (2014) ‘Q&A: Report Alleges Governments’ Complicity in Tanzanian Elephant Poaching’, National Geographic, Published online 6th Nov 2014

books_icon Shand, M. (1992) Travels on my elephant, Penguin, London.

60-world2 Wikimedia Commons (2007) ‘Elephant near ndutu’

60-world2 Wikimedia Commons (2010) ‘Elephant Parade, Green Park, London’

Researching In Post-Conflict Areas: Thinking Reflexively About Nationality

By Will Andrews, Aberystwyth University

A recent article in the journal Area, written by Matthew Benwell (2014) discusses the challenges of conducting research on different sides of a socio-political conflict and is based on his fieldwork experiences in Argentina and the Falkland Islands. Recently post-conflict tensions between Britain and Argentina have been highlighted by an incident involving the motoring programme Top Gear. During filming for the programme’s Christmas special in Argentina one of the three cars used was seen to have the number plate H982 FKL. This was believed by many Argentinians to be a distasteful reference to the 1982 Falklands conflict (BBC News, 2014). However a spokesperson for the BBC denied that the number plate was chosen deliberately and that it was “…a very unfortunate coincidence.” (BBC News, 2014). The programme’s film crew were forced to flee the country by protesters who threw stones at the car involved and at the film crew’s vehicles. Whilst this incident is unlike anything that might happen during fieldwork it shows that there are underlying tensions in fieldwork spaces which may remain many years after a conflict. In particular when the person present, be they motoring journalist or academic researcher, identifies with a nationality previously involved in said conflict. The tensions which this incident revealed are well known to British researcher Benwell, who found that his being from the UK raised suspicions with some Argentinian participants however largely they were curious about his presence in remote Argentina where being British was seen as ‘exotic’ (p167).

A British Map of the Falkland Islands (Wikimedia Commons)

A British Map of the Falkland Islands (Wikimedia Commons)

Benwell (p164) argues that those working in areas of socio-political conflict or with post-conflict tensions should think more self-reflexively about their nationality and the performativity of this in the field. As geographers we should think about our positionality in the field and think reflexively about factors such as, “class, gender, ‘race’, sexuality, ableness, age and education, whether we are a parent or not” (Skelton, 2001: 89). Yet often, as Benwell (p164) argues, we do not think about our nationality as one such factor. Furthermore Benwell argues that as geographer’s we understand that national identity is dynamic and can be performed differently depending on a range of factors and influences, in his case these were gender, age and class. Nationality is performed relationally rather than being predetermined (p167). In actuality Benwell’s positionality as a British researcher did not lead to conflict in the field although he notes that it may have restricted him as participants spoke variously of following a certain official line in answering his questions (p165). Participants had a chance to give Argentine arguments about the sovereignty dispute to a British researcher with an ultimately British audience. Furthermore Benwell’s ability to speak Argentinian Spanish (p167) was helpful in gaining the trust and confidence of participants. Whilst this article provides a detailed reading of how performing nationality can play out in the post-conflict field it also acts as a call for more methodological writing on nationality as a part of researcher positionality, particularly in geopolitical research contexts.

 Benwell, M. C. (2014) ‘Considering nationality and performativity: undertaking research across the geopolitical divide in the Falkland Islands and Argentina’, Area, 46(2), 163-169

60-world2 ‘Protests cut short Top gear shoot’ BBC News 4th October 2014

 Skelton, H. (2001) ‘Cross-cultural research: issues of power, positionality and ‘race’ ‘, In Limb, M. & Dwyer C. (eds.) Qualitative methodologies for geographers: issues and debates, Arnold, London, 87-100