Category Archives: Early View

Understanding the impact of austerity

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield

Closed_all_hours_-_geograph_org_uk_-_530913

Closed all hours This shop, now disused, located in the small village of Ballyroan: Image credit: (c) Liam Murphy Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

David Cameron recently announced plans to introduce  parenting classes, in part as way to combat poverty. Aside from valid criticisms of heteronormativity, troubling assumptions about what makes a “good” family, and a disregard for established support networks, this ignores the complex causes of poverty and impact of austerity.

Sarah M Hall has been conducting long term ethnographic research on families living with, and in, austerity. Much research focuses on large scale economic impacts but Hall works at the level of personal and intimate geographies. This reveals the complexity and diversity of individual lives; there is no one-size-fits-all austerity family experience. Hall is influenced by moral and Feminist geographies and has a deep concern for the ethical impact of her work. The ethnographer is necessarily entangled with the subject of her research and becomes part of their lives for the projects duration. Ethical research acknowledges power dynamics and is constantly aware of researcher positionality but this does not preclude empathy. Indeed Hall suggests research has a caring dimension as “by listening to and empathising with participants, or in providing companionship or intimacy one can provide a caring role” (2016:3).

Decisions on whether to offer financial compensation to research participants take on added weight in times of austerity. Hall did not pay her participants but offered small tokens of gratitude, which often made her part of an extended support network.  The impact of austerity on families can be devastating and Hall describes conversations which she found deeply affecting. However she stresses there is a distance in the research relationship, and differences of experience, which means the researcher must be mindful not to speak for, or steal the voice of, her participants.

Hall confirms JRF (2015) research that states welfare cuts disproportionately harm people already in difficult, precarious and marginalised positions. She also witnesses the unintended consequences of closing services such as libraries and the threat to community groups suffering grant cuts or loss of volunteers who need to find work. Hall treats her participants with the dignity they deserve, and implicitly challenges glib demonization.  It is hard to imagine how parenting classes will help tackle structural inequality or mitigate the very real impact austerity has on families.

References

books_icon Hall, S.M. (2016) Personal, relational and intimate geographies of austerity: ethical and empiral considerations Area 2015 DOI: 10.1111/area.12251 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/area.12251/abstract  (online accessed 15.1.16)

60-world2 JRF  (2015) The Cost of The Cuts: the Impact on Local Government and Poorer Communities Joseph Rowntree Foundation https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/cost-cuts-impact-local-government-and-poorer-communities (Online accessed 15.1.16)

60-world2 The Independent (2016) David Cameron Plans to Make Parenting Classes Normal http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/david-cameron-plans-to-make-parenting-classes-normal-a6804381.html (online accessed 15.1.16)

Colonial Memories Re-Ignited: In Producing the Streets and Rhodes, One Stone Remains Unturned

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

Oriel College bird’s eye view from University church. Image Credit: Arnaud Malon

Every day people walking past Oriel College on High Street in Oxford are confronted with a statue of Cecil Rhodes; a man heavily involved in the creation of enforced racial segregation in South Africa. As part of a global protest movement called ‘Rhodes Must Fall’, which began in South Africa in March 2015, a group of students at Oxford University have mobilised, calling for the statue to be removed. Toppling the stone Rhodes, they feel, would indicate that the seeds of progress are being sown in a battle against continuing racial inequality at Oxford university (The Guardian, 2015). However, despite this cause, on 29th January 2016 it was announced by Oxford University that the statue shall remain (The Guardian, 2016).

Benwell (2016), in his recent article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, turned his attention on how everyday memories form geopolitical subjectivity. His specific empirical case was young people living on the Falkland Islands, and their engagement with memories etched into the social and physical landscape. Using this discourse when looking at Oriel college, one is able to ponder the presence of the Cecil Rhodes statue and consider how it plays a continually evolving role in the geopolitical memories of those who encounter it.

The statue in Oriel College is not new; it was erected with the construction of the Rhodes Building in 1911 from funds left to the college by Cecil Rhodes himself. Therefore we can assume that in the past the statue was probably missed or completely ignored by the majority of people who passed it – indeed no one is claiming that until last year all people walking along High Street silently condoned the statue’s existence. However the success of the Rhodes Must Fall movement, bringing the issues of an ongoing racist colonial history to international consciousness, has meant that the presence of the statue has been elevated. This elevation has enabled the revival of memories of a horrific colonial past to be found; engaging new geopolitical subjectivities. But now that the University has made its decision to keep the statue, what does this mean for the Rhodes Must Fall movement?

Arguing about whether it was right or wrong for the University to keep the statue will not help develop this narrative. Instead we should consider; what is revealed by the decision of the University to keep it? Lefebvre (1991) indicated in his work The Production of Space that all spaces are always actively produced by those who either perceive, conceive, or live the space. Here we have, on one side, a University controlling the space through its decision to keep the statue – creating the representation of space – and on the other side a movement of students who are occupying this space on High Street – making it representational space. The inability of the Rhodes Must Fall movement to remove the statue, indicates that despite appearing in the space they are fundamentally alienated from the construction of this space. Those controlling the space on the other hand, are able to impose upon these users their own representations of the space. Lefebvre warns that such impositions, by the controlling force of the University, will make “permanent transgression inevitable” (Lefebvre, 1991: 23) if the lived enactment of the space continues to be occupied by those alienated from its control.

The question is therefore; what future transgressions will we witness in the ongoing narrative of this statue? And importantly, will these transgressions establish a spatial legacy for the Rhodes Must Fall movement? A legacy memorialised with a permanence equivalent to a statue maybe? Removing the statue was never seen as an end to the discussion by any side in the debate. The story of this space is not finished.

References

books_icon Benwell, M. C., (2016) Encountering geopolitical pasts in the present: young people’s everyday engagements with memory in the Falkland Islands, Transaction of the Institute of British Geographers, Early View, DOI: 10.1111/tran.12109

books_icon Lefebvre, H., (1991) The Production of Space, London: Wiley-Blackwell

60-world2 The Guardian (2015) Oxford students step up campaign to remove Cecil Rhodes statue, Online Article (Accessed on 2nd February 2016)

60-world2 The Guardian (2016) Cecil Rhodes statue to remain at Oxford after ‘overwhelming support’, Online Article (Accessed on 2nd February 2016)

 

 

Studying Abroad and the Neoliberal ‘Cult of Experience’ in the Youth Labour Market

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

Figures released this week have shown that more UK students than ever are travelling abroad as part of their degree programmes.

Last year, 15,566 UK students studied in another country as participants in the European Union’s Erasmus programme. This was a 115% increase in the number who took part in 2007, when the scheme was first extended to the UK. Large increases in students travelling to China, India and the USA have also been observed.

The figures were released ahead of the British Council’s annual ‘Going Global’ conference for leaders of international education. Professor Rebecca Hughes, British Council Director of Education, said, “This latest evidence confirms that a growing number of the UK’s students are recognising the huge value to be gained from international experience… The UK needs graduates who have the skills and confidence to compete globally, and can compete against foreign talent that may speak more languages, and have wider international experience.”

An Erasmus promotional video highlighting the professional benefits of studying abroad.

Clare Holdsworth addresses the seemingly uncontroversial nature of such statements in a recent article for Area. Holdsworth argues:

Young people are called upon to make themselves employable through engaging in a range of experiences that may include: volunteering, work experience, paid work, internships, travel, leisure and membership of organisations. This fetishizing of experience is becoming so normalised that it is rarely contested. It appears self-evident that in order to protect themselves against an absent future, young people need to not only complete more education and/or training, but they have to acquire experiences to stand out from the crowd.

Holdsworth takes issue with the commodification of experience, suggesting that experiences gained in order to guarantee a better future are ‘conventional and passive’, and have little to do with experimentation, creativity, exploration or learning. Holdworth’s main focus, however, is with the popular notion that the acquisition of experience is a solution to the difficulties of the current youth labour market:

The prevailing popular discourse of youth is one of failure against the need to do better. Thus if academic grades increase, this is because of grade inflation; if more young people are out of work, this is because they do not have the correct skills; if graduates cannot get jobs, this is because they have not acquired the right ‘experiences’… This failure to see beyond the supply side of the labour market is having profound effects on young people’s lives… Not only are young people still faced with the difficulty of finding a job, they are having to do so in direct competition with their peers in a ever-growing globalised labour supply… Thus programmes for work experience, placements, volunteering, internships etc. are rolled out in order to compel young people to invest in their own futures…The cult of experience reinforces this charging of responsibility and passes over other solutions that target the demand side of the youth labour market.

The article highlights the arms race-like nature of the neoliberal youth employment market: as experience is seen as increasingly necessary in order to compete with one’s peers, young people are compelled to engage in more and more homogenised ‘experiences’, effectively ‘running faster in order to stand still’. Invariably, those who win this experience arms race are those with the greatest financial means.

This article also raises important questions for university geography departments; fieldwork has long been seen as a crucial part of a geography degree, but how, in a neoliberal educational establishment, can the experience of fieldwork be elevated above that of a CV-enhancing commodity and turned into a ‘genuine’ learning experience, encouraging students to explore, experiment and consider their own subjectivity?

 Clare Holdsworth, 2015, The cult of experience: standing out from the crowd in an era of austerityArea, DOI: 10.1111/area.12201.

Engineering Meaningful Encounters Across Difference

By Ashley Crowson, king’s College London

Since the attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris last month and the killings in Denmark last week in which a Jihadist gunman targeted those attending Copenhagen’s main synagogue, interfaith and inter-community relations have inevitably been in the spotlight.

With much of the media often keen to portray the relationship between Muslim and Jewish communities as one of out-and-out hostility centred on an irresolvable religious conflict, heartening acts of inter-community solidarity can often be overlooked. In response to the shootings in Denmark, for instance, a group of young Norwegian Muslims organised a ‘ring of peace’ around Oslo’s main synagogue. More than 1,000 people attended, linking hands to offer symbolic protection and friendship to their Jewish neighbours.

A paper by Lucy Mayblin, Gill Valentine and Johan Andersson in The Geographical Journal takes a look at similar forms of ‘meaningful contact’: “contact which breaks down prejudices and translates beyond the moment to produce a more general respect for others.” The authors argue that banal chance encounters with ‘difference’ in the public spaces of Western society have come to be regarded as an “unremarkable feature of everyday life”. They question, however, whether these “fleeting, unintended encounters” really work to bring about mutual respect and understanding.

Turning their focus away from the fact of encounter and, instead, towards the nature of contact, the authors investigate an interfaith cricket programme in a UK city, designed to bring about purposeful and meaningful contact between Jewish and Muslim young people. They found that, at the outset, many of the young participants held negative, stereotypical views of the ‘other’ group. One Muslim participant, for example, said that the only thing he knew about Jewish people was ‘that they are stingy’. Many Jewish participants thought that the Muslims would not be interested in listening to different perspectives because of a narrow focus on their own faith.

In the environment of ‘meaningful contact’ bonds formed around shared interests:

“[I]t was through sharing common interests in sports, video games, TV and films, that they often made connections. These non-religious interests, then, formed the basis for friendships… when they were ‘hanging out’ at The Project… they spoke of those things in their life which bonded them as young men.”

While the authors judged the scheme to be a moderate success, one area of weakness identified was the reluctance to address the intersection of religious and ethnic identities with class. Understandably, the organisers’ nervousness around this topic stemmed from an association of the issue with anti-Semitic stereotypes about the wealth of Jewish communities.

Discussing socio-economic issues, two young Jewish participants told interviewers, “we live on opposite sides of [the city] and so I don’t know if any of them [the Muslim participants] are going on to university” and “we’ve had quite different upbringings”. When asked if they had ever been to the part of the City where the Muslim participants live, both replied that they hadn’t.

It was these “geographical and social differences in the material circumstances of the young people” that, according to the authors, “hinder the ability of young people to influence wider community social relations, limit the sustainability and scale-ability of such connections.” Friendships made did not endure beyond the project and the authors found little evidence of the benefits of the programme’s meaningful encounters being transferred to the communities.

The paper highlights the benefits of and need for ‘meaningful encounters’ with ‘difference’, and also the need for those engineering such encounters to be mindful of intersectional approaches, taking into account the racialized, gendered, generational, religious and class dynamics of the ‘difference’ in question.

 Lucy Mayblin, Gill Valentine and Johan Andersson, 2015, In the contact zone: engineering meaningful encounters across difference through an interfaith projectThe Geographical Journal, doi: 10.1111/geoj.12128.

Space and Violence in the American Jail

By Karen M. Morin, Bucknell University, USA

One of the greatest misconceptions about prisons and jails today is that the violence that occurs within their walls originates solely in the individual; that criminals are locked up because they are bad or unfortunate people, driven to crime and trouble from some indelible social or psychological cause, and that their criminal nature will follow them wherever they go, including inside the prison.

Photo credit: JoshuaDavisPhotograpy CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo credit: JoshuaDavisPhotograpy CC BY-SA 2.0

Actually though, prison violence is most often a product of the carceral system, not an explanation for its need. Many methods of prison control – both physical structures and their related penal philosophies – have the perverse effect of increasing levels of fear, terror, and ultimately violence in prisons. The increasingly typical institutional response over the past several decades in the U.S. is to isolate, lock down, or crowd prisoners, which simply creates further stress, frustration, and fear. Many politicians and court officials, particularly those who advocate a “tough on crime” stance, often camouflage these kinds of institutional factors and seek instead to simply extend the prison sentences of offenders who commit crimes while incarcerated – and this in the name of keeping our streets and communities safer.

I work with a local nonprofit prisoner rights group that receives hundreds of letters each month from inmates experiencing intensive “crackdowns,” which led me to understand how ineffective they are at stemming prison violence and how urgent the need is to consider alternatives. Ultimately my curiosity took me inside one large U.S. county jail in Omaha, Nebraska, to study violence and safety within an alternative, ‘progressive’ jail design called direct supervision. This design features, among other things, open architecture and a philosophy of free movement of inmates and staff that proponents argue creates safe, stress-free environments for both inmates and staff. Approximately 350 of the 3,300 local jails in the U.S. incorporate design features and principles of direct supervision today.

As geographers we know that space and spatial design can impact social relations and practices in myriad ways, for better and for worse. Different kinds of spaces can enable and/or inhibit different kinds of experiences and interactions. Prisons in particular are fundamentally reliant on spatial tactics to confine and control people and their movements. My study of direct supervision (see my article in The Geographical Journal) showed just how complex and multi-layered the space and design question can be. Among other findings, most of the men in the study reported never feeling in danger at the facility, and approximately one-third related unit design and layout to these feelings. Yet of those, 17% felt this as a positive impact (feeling protected and safe) but 13% as a negative – that the open architecture actually increased their sense of vulnerability. Most significantly, 70% reported that the availability of open, interactive spaces allowed ample opportunities for them to share information and life experiences, and talk of their basic rights with one another.

Ultimately this design turn towards construction of direct supervision jails is a more civil, humane direction in corrections. But this should not seduce us into believing, as Swan argued, that we can ‘build our way out of the prison problem’.

About the author: Karen M. Morin is Professor of Geography and Associate Dean of Faculty at Bucknell University, Pennsylvania, USA. She is co-editor of Historical Geographies of Prisons: Unlocking the Usable Carceral Past (with Dominique Moran), due out in June 2015 (Routledge).

books_icon Morin, K.M. (2015) The Late-Modern American Jail: Epistemologies of Space and Violence. The Geographical Journal.

60-world2 Swan, R. (2013) Punishment by Design: The Power of Architecture Over the Human Mind. San Francisco Weekly, 21 August.

Measuring sustainability across scales

By Joseph J. Bailey (@josephjbailey), University of Nottingham, UK.

Sustainability, meeting present demands without degrading environments in such a way that we jeopardise their ability to meet the needs of future generations, has been a topic of interest for a great many years as the world’s environments are converted and degraded like never before. Here, I briefly discuss an article in Area, on quantifying global sustainability, alongside a recent sustainability assessment of the world’s fifty ‘most prominent cities’.

The recently-published ARCADIS Sustainable Cities Index has attracted much attention in global and national media outlets (e.g. National Geographic, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Gulf Times, and the Australian and US media). In the list of fifty, European cities performed well (the top three being Frankfurt, London, and Copenhagen; Manchester and Birmingham were in the top 20), with the relatively new metropolises of Asia-Pacific (not including Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore, which did rather well), the Middle-East and Central and South America lagging far behind. The USA’s cities generally fell in the middle of the list. This index combined three sub-indices of ‘sustainability’: social (‘people’), environmental (‘planet’), and economic (‘profit’). Cities’ positions sometimes changed quite a lot between these sub-indices.

Alexandra Park, London Borough of Haringey. Source: unedited from flickr; author: Ewan Munro. Click on the photograph to see the original.

Alexandra Park, London Borough of Haringey. Source: unedited from flickr (original). Author credit: Ewan Munro.

Elsewhere, in Area, Phillips (2015) recently described a “quantitative approach to … global ecological sustainability”, identifying the importance of population density at this national scale. The ten least ‘ecologically sustainable’ countries in this study had very high population densities (these are: the UK, Italy, Belgium, Trinidad & Tobago, Japan, India, Lebanon, Israel, Netherlands, and Singapore). Of these ten that are considered as ‘economically developed’ countries, the combination of high population density, high standard of living, and high GDP are thought to have caused negative environmental impacts that affect people in the present and will affect people into the future. The ‘economically developing’ countries in the list are highlighted as being so because of socio-economic (India) and environmental (Trinidad & Tobago) reasons, and a combination of environment and political instability (Lebanon and Israel).

We therefore see some cross-scale spatial mismatches between these independent studies, whereby countries with purportedly sustainable cities (top 20) have been ranked amongst the least sustainable countries (e.g. UK [London, Manchester, Birmingham], Belgium [Brussels], Netherlands [Amsterdam, Rotterdam], and Singapore). This highlights the importance of spatial scale in sustainability science, and translating this through to planning and management. Indeed, very different approaches will be required between city authorities and national governments to ensure sustainability.

Both of the focal publications in this blog post strive to advance our understanding of ‘sustainability’ by quantifying this concept and its many components, from environmental and ecological, to social and economic. Both studies are global in scope, but the approach, data, and scales of analysis differ, with one focussing on fifty cities and the other on countries. The results, in combination, demonstrate the complexities of sustainability science, especially those regarding geographic scale. They show that quantifying and understanding sustainability across all spatial scales (towns > cities > landscapes > regions > countries > globally) is vital for future planning, targeting of resources, and understanding what we need to do not only for the people of today, but also for the people of the near and distant future.

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REFERENCES

books_icon Phillips, J. (2015). A quantitative approach to determine and evaluate the indicated level and nature of global ecological sustainability. Area, Early View. DOI: 10.1111/area.12174.

60-world2 ARCADIS (2015). Sustainability Cities Index. Available at: http://www.sustainablecitiesindex.com/.

Poaching of South Africa’s rhinos and the displacement of people from Limpopo National Park, Mozambique

By Joseph J. Bailey (@josephjbailey), University of Nottingham, UK.

Across the globe, nature faces an enormous array of pressures from human activities (e.g. land clearance, pollution, invasive species). These effects are often a by-product of development where societies are negatively affecting a species or ecosystem because of anthropocentric goals, within which consideration of the natural world is frequently deficient. However, some species face direct threats and are being specifically targeted for a product. Ivory is one of the prime examples of such a threat. Here, I outline the illegal ivory trade1 and go on to specifically discuss rhinos following record poaching levels in 2014 in South Africa. I then briefly consider this alongside a recent article in Area on the eviction of people from Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park, which borders Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Poaching of elephants and rhinos for ivory has been described as a “loss to humanity” by Prince William (details), who has done much to raise the profile of this catastrophe. It is an issue that threatens not only the animals themselves, but also many people, with profits frequently linked to terrorism, for example. Rhino and elephant populations are at the centre of an illegal trade driven by international criminal gangs to supply willing buyers who fuel the demand for ivory (e.g. to be ‘cool’, for decorative items, medicine etc). Much ivory has been seized in recent years (e.g. China, Kenya [going to Indonesia], Togo [going to Vietnam]) and famous faces (e.g. Yao Ming, a famous retired basketball player from China) continue to campaign, but the problems persist.

Specifically, South African rhinos have been featured in the popular press recently following the worst year on record for rhino poaching, “despite what the government describes as intense efforts to stop poaching” (Voice of America). Kruger National Park’s (KNP) rhino population accounted for more than two-thirds of these deaths (BBC).

Rhinoceros_RSA

Attribution: By Wegmann (own work) [ CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) ], via Wikimedia Commons. Available at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rhinoceros_rsa.JPG?uselang=en-gb

A recent article in Area (Lunstrum, 2015) discusses the Mozambique government’s ongoing (since 2003) voluntary2 relocation of ~7,000 people from within the Limpopo National Park (LNP), described by Lunstrum as “one of the region’s most protracted contemporary conservation-related evictions”. As Lunstrum outlines, this process of ‘land and green grabs’ is an extraordinarily complicated issue, affected by processes within and beyond LNP’s borders, not least the establishment of transfrontier conservation areas (e.g. GLTP). Other socio-economic factors and competition for space are also discussed in detail (e.g. a ‘grab’ for an ethanol/sugarcane plantation adjacent to LNP, which was originally set aside for the displaced people).

Poaching accounts for a very small, but not insignificant, part of this article3. Along with threats to cattle and human well-being from wild animals, and disease spread (e.g. bovine tuberculosis and foot and mouth disease), a justification for displacing the residents of LNP is that many of Kruger’s rhino poachers emanate from Mozambique and, specifically, villages within LNP; removing people from LNP increases the distance required to travel to get to Kruger NP’s rhinos.

The displacement of people for conservation goals, in a move away from anthropocentric policy, is obviously a contentious issue and a delicate balancing act between culture and nature is required. However, Africa’s rhino population is suffering immensely and any steps towards preventing their demise should surely be taken.

NOTES

1 The illegal wildlife trade in elephant and rhino ivory and many other wildlife products is a deep and complicated issue that I cannot possible summarise in this post; an overview can be read here.

2While the park administration and its funders have promised all relocations are voluntary, many slated for relocation feel they are being forced to move especially given threats increasingly posed by wildlife. …” In Lunstrum (2015, p. 3).

3 I have related a very specific part of this long and complex article to the recent news story regarding rhino poaching and reading it in full is recommended if one wishes to understand the displacement process, and its consequences and opportunities, in full.

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books_icon Lunstrum, E. (2015). Green grabs, land grabs and the spatiality of displacement: eviction from Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park. Area, early view, doi: 10.1111/area.12121.