Category Archives: Area

Climate Change: Politics and Perception in the United States

By Jillian Smith, University of Birmingham 

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Donald Trump. Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

It has been a battle worthy of Cervantes, had he been alive in this era of anthropogenic climate change.  Simply mentioning the terms ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ can elicit impassioned, often divisive, rejoinders from an audience.  Invariably, belief and cultural systems drive the discourse of climate change opinion and news reportage; it is a complex chicken and egg scenario.  There does, however, appear to be an esoteric climate change–political nexus that also, perhaps deplorably at times, influences public opinion.  Nowhere does this egregious unification seem more prevalent than in the United States.  How do the politics around climate change influence the narratives and public perception?

Astoundingly, when a group of researchers set out to examine seventy-four American public opinion polls between 2002 and 2010, they discovered that neither extreme weather events nor scientific stories affected public perception of climate change (Brulle et al., 2011).  News reports – but more importantly, the politicians framed in the reports – were the biggest influences (Brulle, et al., 2011).  The two strongest events driving public concern in the United States at the time were the Democratic Congressional action statements and the Republican roll-call votes (Brulle, et al., 2011).  Indeed, most studies indicate that American views of climate change are strongly influenced by partisan politics.  Worldwide, however, educational attainment is generally regarded as the single biggest predictor of climate change awareness.

Interestingly, while Americans and Canadians share a border and enjoy similar lifestyles, a 2010 cross-border poll revealed fewer Americans claim solid evidence of global warming “based on what they have read or heard” (Borick et al., 2011).  Remarkably, 58 percent of Americans and 80 percent of Canadians answered affirmatively to the evidence of global warming (Borick et al., 2011).  A more recent opinion poll suggests that while 70 percent of American adults believe global warming is happening, only 53 percent think it is caused by human activities (Marlon et al., 2016).

To delve into the cultural and worldview disparities between the United States and Canada would be an exhaustive endeavor.  Still, it remains striking that Canada, within reach of America’s massive media kingdom, consistently reports and frames anthropogenic climate change differently than the United States.  While American reports continue to debate the science behind global warming, Canadian reports tend to frame the mitigation of anthropogenic climate change  (Good, 2008).

Novelty, controversy, geographic proximity, and relevance are all important frames in scientific stories (Caravalho, 2007).  Experts employ frames to simplify technical jargon; journalists use frames to craft appealing news reports; and audiences rely on frames to envisage an issue (Nisbet, 2009).  When climate change basics are framed as scientifically tenable positions, audiences must choose to question or quarantine their comfortably held beliefs.  In documenting Arctic ice edge narratives, Veland and Lynch (2016) state that we tend to rely on narratives that provide comfort to us.  The authors add that ontological insecurity can be a major challenge in making sound environmental decisions.

Once upon a time, scientists were informers and people listened.  Today, because the average citizen does not read peer-reviewed scientific literature, many rely on media and opinion pieces to educate themselves on newsworthy science stories.  Disparagement between petulant politicians and scientists often overshadows the science.  But climate change is a science; it does not require belief.  In that sense, public opinion matters little.

Moreover, the post-modernist notion that all ideas are worthy of expression can become unfavorable in the realm of climate science.  Science is indeed stronger with scrutiny; but those scrutinizing it are often politicians, journalists, and bloggers, not scientists.  It is not difficult to weave scandalous narratives about anthropogenic climate change: one side includes ‘alarmists’ and ‘manipulators of science’ who say the earth is doomed; the other claims global warming is an ‘elaborate hoax’.  This ‘experts in conflict’ narrative is a popular practice used predominantly in the United States.  International research demonstrates this custom is not widely used outside of America (Young & Dugas, 2011).

Undoubtedly, the path to re-engineering society will require a reorganization of thought – perceptions without politics, notions detached from debates, narratives with new frames.  Veland and Lynch (2016) assert that the Anthropocene narrative warns that stories–and the networks that make them–must change.  As Cervantes said through Quixote, “he who walks much and reads much knows much and sees much.”  The path forward surely involves assembling this collective knowledge and having discussions, not debates.

References

Borick, C., Lachapelle, E., & Rabe, B. (2011, February 23). Climate Compared: Public Opinion on Climate Change in the United States and Canada. (The University of Michigan; The Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion) Retrieved from Public Policy Forum/Sustainable Prosperity: http://www.sustainableprosperity.ca/article911

Brulle, R. J., Carmichael, J., & Jenkins, J. C. (2011). Shifting public opinion on climate change: an empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the US, 2002-2010. Climatic Change.

Carvahlo, A. (2007). Ideological cultures and media discourses on scientific knowledge: re-reading news on climate change. (S. Publications, Producer) Retrieved from Public Understanding of Science: http://www.pus.sagepub.com

Good, J. E. (2008). The Framing of Climate Change in Canadian, American, and International Newspapers; A Media Propaganda Model Analysis. (C. J. Communication, Ed.) Retrieved from http://www.cjc-online.ca/index.php/journal/article/view/2017/2006

Marlon, J., Howe, P., Mildenberger, M., & Leiserowitz, A. (2016). Yale Climate Opinion Maps – U.S. 2016. Retrieved from http://www.climatecommunication.yale.edu

Nisbet, M. (2009). Communicating climate change: Why frames matter for public engagement. Environment, 51 (2).

Veland, S., & Lynch, A. (2016). Arctic ice edge narratives: scale, discourse and ontological security. Area, 49.1, 9–17 doi: 10.1111/area.12270

Young, N., & Dugas, E. (2011). (C. S. Association, Producer, & University of Ottawa) Representations of Climate Change in Canadian National Print Media: The Banalization of Global Warming: http://www.ebscohost.com

Mapping ICT-mediated food sharing initiatives in 100 cities around the world

By Anna Davies, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

sharing tomatoes

Sharing Tomatoes

It seems that not a week goes by without some media coverage of our unsustainable cities and unsustainable urban food systems, whether related to food waste or food poverty or indeed grappling with the challenges of connecting the two as a means to transform the abhorrent geographies of persistent waste and hunger in our urban areas. Technology is increasingly being seen as a solution to these problems, whether it’s open source mapping of public harvests or apps for food sharing, with information and communication technologies (ICT) increasingly being used as tools to help people in cities share their food with each other. However, little is known about the scale of such food sharing in cities and what impacts they have on key dimensions of unsustainable urban food systems, such as food waste, hunger, social connectivity and economic vitality. As a result, media coverage elevates a small number of high profile cases to illustrate an emergent phenomenon, but gives little indication of the extent or diversity of such activities. A broader landscape analysis is required.

In our recently published paper, Creative Construction, we document the trials and tribulations of developing the first international ICT-mediated food sharing database to try and overcome the data gaps that exist in our knowledge of ICT-mediation of urban food sharing activities. The paper outlines how food sharing activities utilizing online tools are an increasingly visible part of our everyday lives, providing new subjects, objects and relationships – essentially new landscapes – for research, as well as new conceptual and methodological challenges for researchers. It documents the co-design process and international crowdsourcing of data that was carried out in order to document more than 4000 ICT-mediated food sharing initiatives across 44 countries and 100 cities. The research was undertaken by an international team of researchers, including geographers, using a combination of coding and online collaboration with sharing initiatives and networks such as Shareable to develop a system for exploring the practice and performance of ICT-mediated food sharing in cities.

Full details of the project and the open access SHARECITY100 Database are freely available online or watch our video  (above) explaining the work of the database. With articles in Swiss media, public and community radio in the States and Australia, academic blogs, sharing networks, and European science communication organisations, the SHARECITY100 Database is beginning to leave its own mark on food sharing landscapes. In just three months the database had been viewed more than 1,800 times by people from 20 countries – from South Korea and Mexico to Brazil and Canada – and in 2017 the database was shortlisted as a finalist in a European food waste solution contest run by REFRESH. We are pleased to be able to share what we are learning in such diverse venues, and really look forward to watching the SHARECITY100 change and grow based on user submissions and feedback. Food sharing is happening now, not only in your homes and with your friends, but also in urban gardens, community kitchens and online fora. We invite you to join SHARECITY in this growing conversation about food sharing and its potential contribution to transitions towards more sustainable urban food systems.

About the author: Anna Davies is Professor of Geography, Environment and Society at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. Anna’s current research interests include smart and sustainable places, environmental governance, sustainable production and consumption. She is currently Principal Investigator of the SHARECITY project funded by the European Research Council, award number: ERC-2014-CoG – Step 2 – SH3 – 646883.

60-world2 Barber D 2017 Home cooks can beat food waste. So where do we start? The Guardian Online https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/mar/09/food-waste-manifesto-dan-barber-opinion?CMP=share_btn_tw

60-world2 Butler P 2016 Trussell Trust to deliver more emergency food parcels than ever before The Guardian Online https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/nov/08/trussell-trust-to-deliver-more-emergency-food-parcels-than-ever-before

60-world2 Chemin A 2014 France remains faithful to food as meals continue to be a collective affair The Guardian Online https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/apr/07/france-food-ritual-meal-tradition

60-world2 Merrified R 2017 How can we cut down on food waste? The EU Research & Innovation Magazine https://horizon-magazine.eu/article/how-can-we-cut-down-food-waste_en.html

60-world2 Singh M 2016 Eat it, don’t leave it: How London became a leader in anti-food waste NPR  http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/11/22/502933703/eat-it-dont-leave-it-how-london-became-a-leader-in-anti-food-waste

60-world2 Smithers R 2017 Instagram generation is fuelling UK food waste mountain, study finds The Guardian Online https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/10/instagram-generation-fuelling-uk-food-waste-mountain-study-sainsburys

60-world2 Westbrook M 2016 A guide to urban fruit foraging in the East Bay Nosh: Dishing on the East Bay http://www.berkeleyside.com/2016/06/15/a-guide-to-urban-fruit-foraging-in-the-east-bay/

60-world2 What the experts say: how to make our cities more sustainable The Guardian Online 7 April 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/apr/17/how-to-make-our-cities-more-sustainable-expert-view

60-world2 Wang U 2017 Will 2017 be the year we get serious about sustainable food? The Guardian Online https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jan/03/challenges-sustainable-food-2017-organic-farming

60-world2 Wong K 2017 Tackling food waste around the world: our top 10 apps The Guardian Online https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/feb/06/food-waste-apps-global-technology-leftovers-landfill 

60-world2 van der Zee R 2016 Celebrating food and refugee chefs: ‘I’m happy you have come to eat my food!’ https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2016/dec/23/food-festival-celebrates-refugee-cultures-strasbourg

Written On The Body: Women, Migration and Borders

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield

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Singapore Airport. Image credit: Flikr user Zsoolt CC-BY-NC 2.0

 

 

Much current popular discourse on immigration is often dominated by tabloid hysteria and dangerous political games. Concern about this has been voiced by many, including my former Sunday Times colleague, Liz Gerard, “The press and immigration: reporting the news or fanning the flames of hatred?” This polemic tends to dehumanise individuals and ignore the complex economic, political, social and emotional drivers behind the movement of people.  In her recent article in Area, Lucy Jackson seeks to explore the emotional impact of immigration and how it shapes real lives.

Jackson takes the body as the territory she explores, following the work of Longhurst (1994) who describes the body as the “geography closest in”. Jackson works with two different sets of women in Singapore; western expatriates and foreign domestic workers (even these commonly used words are loaded with assumptions). The two different groups of women have contrasting experiences of stigma and exclusion within Singapore and effectively live “separate but parallel lives”. However, despite their differences, the women share many commonalities and can all be described as economic migrants.

Singapore has actively encouraged temporary migrants but the participants were often discriminated against as outsiders. Their autonomy is limited by a range of social forces which range from comments in the street to being unable to open their own bank account or feeling restricted to certain areas. They create their own distinct personal territories which are both geographical and emotional. Food and clothing become very important as markers of identity, memory and community.  Both groups suffer ill-effects as a result of stigma and stereotyping, although their experiences are very different.  Borders operate and impact at many different scales and Jackson concludes “the border of the body is porous and migrant women actively practice and perform aspects of ‘border maintenance’ as a reaction to being excluded emotionally and physically from the social and cultural territory of the host society” (Jackson, 2016 p297).

Jackson’s work is attentive to individual, embodied experience and humanises the impact of social policies based on exclusion and othering. I fear this is a task that becomes ever more necessary for academics, activists and anyone concerned with civil liberties and freedom of movement.

References

60-world2 Gerard, L“The press and immigration: reporting the news or fanning the flames of hatred?” Subscribe Online

books_icon Jackson, L 2016  Experiencing Exclusion and Reacting to Stereotypes? Navigating Borders of the Migrant Body Area 2016 48.3 pp292-299 doi:10.1111/area.12146

books_icon Longhurst R 1994 The geography closest in – the body … the politics of pregnability Australian Geographical Studies 32214–223

Behaviour Mapping and Design of Small Urban Spaces

By Ensiyeh Ghavampour, AECOM Auckland, Mark Del Aguila, TAFE, SA and Brenda Vale, Victoria University of Wellington

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Behaviour mapping (c) Ensiyeh Ghavampour

In inner urban areas, where land values are high and city governments have limited budgets, designing successful public spaces and using resources wisely is essential. With the increasing need for more quality public spaces in cities, planning authorities usually prepare design guidelines based on international research to help ensure quality will be achieved. However, with design guidelines failing to create quality spaces with enduring success, placeless spaces continually need to be redeveloped. There are many successful public spaces around the world, however, the application of guidelines developed from observations and surveys of these spaces creates visionary spaces without connections to their context. With spaces lacking character and failing to fit with local use, there is an increasing demand for a rethinking of design methodology in public open space.

Our paper, ‘A GIS Mapping & Analysis of Behaviour in Small Urban Public Spaces’, recently published in Area, investigates links between behaviour and design in context. Using time interval still photography, activity in four small public spaces in Wellington CBD (New Zealand) was recorded and mapped with GIS. Comprehensive and detailed analyses of activity, age, gender, group size, and length of stay indicated that:

  •  Design elements can be successful in one space, yet under-utilised in a different context.
  • Functionality of a design is a result of the configuration of elements within the site with respect to the site’s location and orientation.
  • Guidelines should direct designers toward creation of spaces that afford opportunities for users rather than focusing on checklists of specific design elements
  • The process of defining and setting design guidelines for the physical environment should be re-conceptualised with an emphasis on planning for anticipated activities.

About the authors: Ensiyeh Ghavampour is an Urban Designer at AECOM, she has a PhD in Urban Design and Landscape Architecture from Victoria University of Wellington. Mark Del Aguila, Advanced Building Studies, TAFE SA, and Brenda Vale is a Professorial Research Fellow in the School of Architecture at Victoria University of Wellington. 

References

60-world2 Bliss, L. 2017 The High Line’s Next Balancing Act Citylab Online 7 Feb 7 2017

60-world2 Cathcart-Keays, A. 2015 Guardian ‘mayors for a day’ demand more public spaces in their cities The Guardian Online 29 January 2015

60-world2 Carrington, D. 2013 England’s parks and open spaces have lost £75m in cuts since 2010 The Guardian Online 19 November 2016

books_icon Ghavampour, E., Del Aguila, M. and Vale, B. (2017), GIS mapping and analysis of behaviour in small urban public spaces. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12323

60-world2 Hemmelgarn, S. 2017 Milk Plaza Redesign gets $500 K Bay Area Reporter Online Volume 7/ No. 7/ 16 February 2017

60-world2 Johnson C, 2016 Can Design Quality Be Regulated? Sourceable Online 18 October 2016

60-world2 Mccrary, L. 2016 Modernism, Food, and Public Space New Urbs Online 15 September 2016

60-world2 Persico, A. 2016 Rethinking Park Space Yorkregion Online 16 June 2016

60-world2 Waxmann, L. 2016 Troubled Public Plaza Will Be Fenced Off To Divert Homeless Mission Local Online 27 July 2016

Power (Solar Power) in Paradise

By Jillian Smith, University of Birmingham 

Island

Island of Kaua’i. (c) Jillian Smith

Popular culture portrays island living as a bucolic dream. For most, however, it is a dream fulfilled only during fleeting vacations. Island destinations often appeal to eco-tourists, and many islands are in a race to become desirable, sustainable, and carbon-neutral destinations. Nevertheless, Grydehoj and Kelman (2017) state that conspicuous sustainability as a development strategy, while strengthening ecotourism, can detract from islands’ more pressing environmental issues. The pair assert that it is not difficult to find ‘eco-islands’ that have invested in inefficient renewable energy projects. Hawai’i, however, and the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i in particular, is making headlines about the new future of renewables in island energy.

The state of Hawai’i plans to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 – the most aggressive target in the United States (HEI, 2016). Kaua’i – Hawai’i’s fourth largest island with a population of 67,000 – has an even more aggressive energy policy. The Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) has the goal to reach 50 percent clean energy by 2023; it is well on its way (Fehrenbacher, 2017). Tesla recently completed a solar-plus-battery storage system on the island. Storage has always been the challenge with renewables – the niggling question of how to keep the lights on when the sun does not shine or when the wind does not blow. Tesla’s battery packs solve this conundrum and will assuredly keep Kauai’s lights on after dark.

The island’s new solar plant is comprised of 54,978 solar panels, 13 megawatts of solar generation capacity, alongside Tesla’s large commercial 52 MWh Powerpack batteries (KIUC, 2017). Tesla is contracted to sell the energy to KIUC for 13.9 cents a kilowatt-hour over the next 20 years (KIUC, 2017). Importantly, this price is below the island’s current energy cost, which tends to be very high due to reliance of fossil fuels shipped and stored from the mainland. This dependence has also kept the island vulnerable to outages during shipping interruptions.

While Tesla’s solar plant will reduce fossil fuel use on the island (thereby reducing carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions) greenhouse gases emitted in transporting eco-tourists to and from these destinations may preclude them from ever becoming true ‘eco-destinations’. Nevertheless, residents are excited about no longer paying the highest utility prices in the nation, and visitors and residents alike have one less concern – secure energy. Though island destinations may still form an elusive dream in our collective psyche, renewable island energy is swiftly catapulting from dream to reality.

References

60-world2 Fahrenbacher, K. (2016). An exclusive look at Tesla & SolarCity’s battery solar farm in paradise. Fortune. Retrieved March, 2017, from http://fortune.com/tesla-solarcity-battery-solar-farm/

books_icon Grydehøj, A. and Kelman, I. (2017), The eco-island trap: climate change mitigation and conspicuous sustainability. Area, 49: 106–113. doi:10.1111/area.12300

60-world2 Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI). (2017). Our Vision. Retrieved March, 2017, from https://www.hawaiianelectric.com/about-us/our-vision/100-percent-renewable-energy

60-world2 Kaua’i Island Utilities Cooperative (KIUC). (2017). Hawai’i’s first utility scale solar-plus-battery storgage system is energized on Kaui’i. Retrieved March, 2017, from http://kiuc.coopwebbuilder2.com/sites/kiuc/files/PDF/pr/pr2017-0308-KIUC%20Tesla%20plant%20energized.pdf

 

 

Only connect – the linked lives of the researcher and the researched in a walled village in Hong Kong

By Isabella Ng, The Education University of Hong Kong

In a village in the southernmost province of Hainan, China, women were not compensated when the government decided to remove some of the houses for tourism development; only the men were compensated for the loss. What is more, a new law passed in China in 2011 allowed no split in properties during divorce, but rather the property would be awarded to the person named within the deeds. In another part of China, Hong Kong the former British colony which was returned to China two decades ago, walled village women who lived in the territory were treated unfairly until 2004 when a law was passed that allowed women to have equal inheritance rights as their male counterparts. I was interested to find out how they fared after the old law was revoked and to find out more about gender dynamics in the walled villages. When I entered the field to conduct fieldwork, I soon discovered that studying a group intensively as a researcher is a journey that I needed to walk with the researched in order to produce ethical and fruitful research.

As a nascent ethnographer venturing into the field during my second year of PhD study, I felt anxious but thrilled about my initial pursuit in fieldwork. It seemed ‘cool’ to be an ethnographer—at least that’s what I thought initially—and I liked introducing myself to informants as an ethnographer. That feeling of excitement ended when one of my supervisors reminded me about my field notes, and how I should go about writing them. My notes should not just contain factual accounts and observations, but also my reflections and my state of mind. I should reflect upon the day’s event(s) and how I felt at the time. One important aspect that I failed to consider at that time was my role as an ethnographer. I had the naivety to believe that my work (research) and my personal life were, and could, remain completely separated. I thought that as long as I stayed away from personal involvement (meaning, keeping my private life to myself when conducting my fieldwork), then I could remain professional and avoid being too subjective.

However, it was not until I began my fieldwork that I realised that conducting fieldwork is more complicated than I had thought. Over time, I discovered that field experience is reciprocal, and that the lives of researchers are linked with the lives of the researched. I realised that my multiple positionality, the nuances in my life, and my personal experiences affected my day-to-day interactions with my informants. The way that things evolved in my life during my fieldwork, the way that prolonged interactions and connections with people and the environment intertwined with my personal life, and all the knowledge I acquired through this, could enrich my research and make it multi-dimensional.

In my recent paper, ‘When [Inter-]Personal is Transformational: [Re]examining Life Course Emotion in PhD Research’, recently published in Area, I explore the ways in which different life events I experienced between 2008 and 2013 affected my research as a PhD student. By examining the relationship between these events and my development as a researcher, I consider how the complexity of emotions and affect helped me understand my research participants and helped me produce multi-dimensional, ethical research.

Drawing upon a series of life events that happened to me during the research period—such as my divorce and then a new romance—I examine how these events affected not only my research perspective when looking into gender dynamics in the indigenous villages in Hong Kong, but how they also affected my interactions and connections with my research subjects. I discovered how research is an interactive and dynamic activity. The researchers and the researched are walking through a journey to mutual understanding. The lives of the researcher and those researched are connected, and they affect each other. In this auto-ethnographic account of my fieldwork, I demonstrate how life events happening to the researcher during the research period can affect the researcher’s emotional and affectual state, and how this in turn can enrich a researcher’s study of the subject.

Emotion and affect here play a critical part in my research. As Rose (1997) points out, emotions of researchers are affected by events preceding the fieldwork and during the research process. This alters the researcher’s positionality—defined in terms of gender, age, race, social status, economic status, and marital status. In geography, studies on emotions and affect have examined conscious and expressive factors. These factors are generally understood as emotion—as well as non-cognitive, non-linguistic, and non-representational factors—involving affect (Pile 2010; Thrift 2004). During the research process the discursive, conscious, and cognitive parts work in coordination with the non-cognitive, non-discursive aspects that affect how subjects and objects perceive the world and their relations with the world (Bondi 2005; Narvaro-Yashin 2009; Thrift 2004). In my case, these aspects affected how we saw each other.

In this paper, I argue that as researchers, we need to realise that research is an ongoing, interactive, ever-changing process. Also, we need to recognise the reciprocal relationship between researchers and the researched subjects during the research process in order to create a better understanding of one’s own work and the ways in which the research itself fits within one’s broader life goals.

About the author: Isabella Ng received her doctorate from SOAS, University of London. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Asian and Policy Studies, The Education University of Hong Kong.

books_icon Bondi L 2005 Making connections and thinking through emotions: between geography
and psychotherapy Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 30 433-48

60-world2 Branigan T 2015 For richer, for poorer: how China’s laws put women second The Guardian Online https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/24/chinese-women-equality-laws-land-housing 24 February 2015

books_icon Burton L M and Bengtson V L 1985 Black grandmothers: issues of timing and
continuity of roles in Bengtson V L and Robertson J F eds Grandparenthood Sage, Beverly Hills CA 61-77

books_icon Elder Jr. G H, Johnson M K and Crosnoe R 2004 The emergence and development
of life course theory in Mortimer J T and Shanahan M J eds Handbook of the life course Springer Science + Business Media, New York 3-19

books_icon Haraway D 1988 Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the
privilege of partial perspective Feminist studies 14 575-599

books_icon Navaro-Yashin Y 2009 Affective spaces, melancholic objects: ruination and the
production of anthropological knowledge Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15 1-18

books_icon Ng, I. (2017), When [inter]personal becomes transformational: [re-]examining life course-related emotions in PhD research. Area. doi:10.1111/area.12325

books_icon Pile S 2010 Intimate distance: the unconscious dimensions of the rapport between
researcher and researched The Professional Geographer 62 483-95

books_icon Rose G 1997 Situating knowledges: positionality, reflexivities and other tactics
Progress in Human Geography 21 305-20

books_icon Thrift N 2004 Intensities of feeling: towards a spatial politics of affect Geografiska
Annaler: Series B, Human Geography 86 57-78

Towards a more ethical geographical praxis: western privilege and postcoloniality

By Mark Griffiths, Northumbria University

j-_vermeer_-_el_geografo_museo_stadel_francfort_del_meno_1669

Johannes Vermeer The Geographer (1669). Available via United States Public Domain license.

Geographers have never been more acutely aware of the historical and contemporary cleavages of which we – or so many of us – are often both critics and beneficiaries. This year’s RGS-IBG Conference carries the theme of ‘Decolonising Geographical Knowledges’, while the other large conference, the AAG Meeting, is currently reacting to the damage brought by President Trump’s recent anti-Islam Executive Orders. These are worrying times that lay bare the legacies of formal colonialism and the persistence of western privilege. Particularly worrying is that geographers from outside the publishing heartlands – whose work is invaluable if we are to know anything at all about diverse places and people – will, as always, feel the brunt of these neocolonial measures brought by the new Trump Administration.

There is then a renewed focus on the haves and have-nots of people across the globe, geographers very much included. In this heated moment it feels very new, but while it might be true that we have never seen anything like Donald Trump before, it is not novel to have privileges skewed across space. This is not at all to dismiss the deleterious acts we’ve seen recently (and the silent complicity of too many), but it does serve to recall that our discipline has grown out of a history of uneven power relations with post/colonial places and people. As I point out in my recently published paper in Area, part of the privilege of western geographers in terms of ‘mobilities, institutional prestige, access to publishing avenues and so forth’ is owed to the spoils of empire.

We can therefore understand the privilege of western academics and geographers as historically constituted, where, say, the ‘permission to narrate’ (as Edward Said put it) or the ability to cross borders is tied intimately with one’s ancestral position within colonial-era relations. Couple this with important feminist interventions on the situatedness of knowledge and positionality as relational, and the self-reflection (or ‘hyper-self-reflection’ as Gayatri Spivak calls for) incumbent on us all when we embark on fieldwork in a “postcolonial context” can reveal much about how the past bears on the present and the means to carry out research.

For me, a white, British man working at a UK institution, those means are great. I therefore must include myself in a loose category of ‘privileged western researcher’ that has – rightly – brought much introspection from that part of our research community involved in working towards a de- or post-colonial praxis for geography, a work that will continue at this year’s biggest conferences.

In my paper* I consider the label of ‘privileged western researcher’ from a postcolonial and historical perspective. I argue that if “our” (a collective term I seek to pick apart) positionality is historically contingent with colonial-era relations, then the attendant colonial histories within that might be (re)considered through their, following the work of Dipesh Chakrabarty, heterogeneity. More specifically, I seek to bring the politics of class to disrupt the assumption of equivalence between Britishness (or western-ness) and unvariegated privilege.

To this end I turn to positionality as relational and personal and consider my own relationship with Empire, making what I consider an important point: ‘I’m a working class boy from the Industrial North of England, my parents’ parents … did not study at any of our great public schools or prestigious universities … my forebears did not order the passage of knowledge from Africa and the Orient to Kensington Gore and Oxbridge’. The argument I make therefore is that colonial-era relations across space were and are multivalent and histories of domination cannot draw so clearly the contours of researcher privilege in postcolonial settings.

From here I propose an empirical potential for more a more ethical praxis in the field, making the argument that in the business of talking about the unfairness of unequal opportunities, of assigned societal positions and trajectories, to know what it is to be sometimes outside, a working-class background (finally) becomes an academic resource that may just make solidarity with less-privileged Others come that bit more readily. In the article I give a brief example of how I believe this played out in fieldwork in India.

What this brings to these turbulent times is something of nuance to the idea that western geographers always already carry with them the histories of colonial exploration and expansion; just as gender and race can give the lie to this assumption, so can class. I look forward to discussing this further at the RGS-IBG Conference this coming August. As for what this might mean in the context of the ongoing debate around the AAG and travelling to the US, if little else a painstaking process of (communal) introspection might help us better negotiate the dissonant positions of critic and beneficiary of empire and its spoils.

* Mark’s paper inaugurates Area‘s new regular feature, ‘Ethics in/of geographical research’. The Area Editors welcome submissions from across the geographical community that consider diverse, contemporary concerns that fall under the broad remit of ethics.

About the author: Mark Griffiths is a Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in the Centre for International Development at Northumbria University. His research is split between two sites: in Palestine he focuses on the political affects of the occupation in West Bank, tracking the embodied aspects of Palestinian activism and resistance. In India his work has focused on NGO and volunteer work on livelihood and sanitation projects in both urban and rural areas.

60-world2 AAG Council 2017 AAG Statement on President Trump’s Executive Order http://news.aag.org/2017/01/aag-statement-on-president-trumps-executive-order/ 

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