Category Archives: Geography Compass

Boundaries, Borders, and… The Trump Wall?

By Jillian Smith, University of Birmingham 

800px-Mexican-American_border_at_Nogales

The towns of Nogales, Arizona, left, and Nogales, Mexico, stand separated by a high concrete and steel fence. Image Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde.

We have all heard it: “I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively – I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”  Trump’s words from 2015 are once again making headlines and the proposed wall is forcing society to pose some tough questions.  Are walls a knee-jerk protectionist response?  How is globalisation implicated?  Do walls work?

The Great Wall of China, the Western Wall, Hadrian’s Wall, and several more – there is a certain degree of romanticism invoked that somehow makes us believe that protectionist ‘walls’ are from a bygone era.  Nevertheless, it is certainly not difficult for many of us to remember the celebratory tone when East Germans reunited with West Germans as the Berlin Wall was joyously torn down.  Perhaps it is this nostalgia that makes so many reel in repulsion as they ponder Trump’s USA-Mexico border wall?

Romanticism and nostalgia aside, walls are not archaic.  Walls have actually become rather trendy.  Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia all announced new walls in 2015 (Jones, 2016).  Additionally, in 2016, Norway and Pakistan announced plans to fence off Russia and Afghanistan respectively (Jones, 2016).  In fact, there were 15 documented walls in the world in 1989; there were 70 in 2015 (Vallet, 2016).

But do they work? Certainly, walls and fences can serve a purpose: When refugees flood Europe, fences can provide temporary relief to host nations; when warring factions enter peace talks, fences can cordon off cease-fire zones.  In these cases, and others, fences are temporary and justifiable.  In other cases, walls can antagonize relations, stifle trade, and increase disruption along borders.  For example: the UN has declared that Israel’s construction of the West Bank Wall has illegally fuelled tensions with Palestine; a 717 percent increase in illegal arrivals was reported in Bulgaria despite Bulgaria-Turkey border fencing; Calais refugees are desperately jumping lorries in attempts to illegally enter the United Kingdom (Danish Refugee Council, 2016; United Nations, 2016).

Meanwhile, heavily-guarded walls and fencing have been successful in stopping movement between the USA and Mexico (as observed in the 1990s when the USA reinforced border security near San Diego and El Paso).  Many, however, would argue that these reinforcements have not stopped flow; rather, they have shifted flows, increased migrant deaths, and expanded tunnel systems (Cornelius, 2001; Meissner et al., 2013).  In this case, a border wall has, perhaps, managed perceptions more than migration.  In other words, barriers can stem the flow, but desperate people are persistent and resourceful; they will find other means.  The colloquial elephant in the room remains – as long as vast inequality exists in society, there will inevitably be a flow of people.  Until these bigger societal problems are addressed, migration and immigration will occur.

Once upon a time, it seemed that globalisation might spur somewhat of a border-less, wall-less world.  With the reality of Brexit and President Trump, however, we can expect more, not fewer, protectionist policies.  Notions of territorial organisation are becoming more and more relevant as 2017 unfolds.  While migration and trade highlight interdependence, borders still play a significant role in shaping societies and economies (Diener & Hagen, 2009).  History can not tell us to build up or tear down a wall, but history can teach us some valuable lessons.  In the meantime, the legacy of an impending USA-Mexico Wall remains to be seen – the world is waiting with bated breath.

References

books_icon Cornelius, W. (2001). Death at the border: Efficacy and unintended consequences of US immigration control policy. Population and Development Review, 27: 661–685. doi: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.2001.00661.x

60-world2 Danish Refugee Council. (2016). Tightening borders, dangerous journeys, and shifting routes to Europe: Summary of regional migration trends, Middle East. Retrieved from: https://drc.dk/media/2885691/drc-middle-east-regional-migration-trends-august-september.pdf

books_icon Diener, A. C., Hagen, J. (2009). Theorizing borders in a ‘Borderless World’: Globalization, territory and identity. Geography Compass, 3: 1196–1216. doi:10.1111/j.1749-8198.2009.00230.x

60-world2 Meissner, D., Kerwin, D., Chishti, M., & Bergeron, C. (2013). Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery. Retrieved from Migration Policy Institute: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/immigration-enforcement-united-states-rise-formidable-machinery

60-world2 United Nations. (2014). Ban says Israel’s construction of West Bank wall violates international law, fuels Mid-East tensions. Retrieved from UN News Centre: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48236#.WIu0ihiZMhu

books_icon Vallet, E. (Ed.). (2014). Borders, fences and walls: State of insecurity? Border Regions Series. Surrey, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing

Using spatial science and lightning to predict thunderstorms

By Joseph J. Bailey, University of Nottingham

Lightning, while visually stunning and often quite exciting, poses a very real threat to humans (e.g. Europe in May; increased deaths in the USA) and associated thunderstorms can endanger lives and livelihoods through high winds and intense rainfall. An improved ability to predict thunderstorms may help to mitigate their impacts. Using spatial science to study lightning patterns has the potential to assist in this area of research and ‘save lives rather than end them’ (p. 196), say the authors of a recent Geography Compass article (Ellis and Miller, 2016).

'Shocking Lightning!' by Darren Hsu via flickr. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/darren8221/9193099396/

‘Shocking Lightning!’ by Darren Hsu via flickr. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/darren8221/9193099396/

The behaviour of lightning can be reflective of a storm’s intensity. Short-term storm intensity is very difficult to predict, even when forecasters are confident in the coverage and direction of a storm. Indeed, a rapid increase in the frequency of lightning strikes may be observed before a storm that produces severe weather. With this in mind, spatial science might be able to help us analyse the vast spatial datasets of lightning strikes and contribute towards understanding these systems and predicting ‘imminent storm severity’ (Ellis and Miller, 2016). Specifically, this work addresses lightning jump algorithms (LJAs) and understanding storm-specific lightning trends and the importance of their spatial and temporal components. By doing this, lighting strikes can be clustered in space and time and the overall patterns understood and hopefully linked to short-term storm severity.

Increased quantity and quality of data nearly always assists with science, where the analytical skills and technology exist in parallel. As discussed in Ellis and Miller (2016) a new instrument called Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) will soon be integrated with NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (also see this NASA article). This will be able to monitor lightning from space, providing novel data and enhancing our ability to monitor and predict storms, complementing (and providing a backup for) existing, ground-based instruments such as radar.

Such an advancement seems all the more important when we consider that the number of lightning strikes (Romps et al., 2014) and overall storm intensity (NASA Earth Observatory) are expected to increase with global warming, as well as overall storm intensity. These are therefore very interesting times for understanding and predicting storm activity. Hopefully all of these efforts from spatial scientists, geographers, and meteorologists will lead to fewer losses and a reduced numbers of deaths and injuries from thunderstorm events and lightning strikes.

books_icon Ellis, A. and Miller, P. (2016). The Emergence of Lightning in Severe Thunderstorm Prediction and the Possible Contributions from Spatial Science. Geography Compass, 10, 192–206.

60-world2 Romps et al. (2014). Projected increase in lightning strikes in the United States due to global warming. Science, 346, 851–854.

Geographers and the ‘beepocalypse’

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Amidst the buzz of the Great British Bee Count, which is currently in full swing, a recent article in Geography Compass, by Watson and Stallins (2016), has looked at the process of knowledge production about honey bees, evaluating the various oppositional approaches to theorising honey bee decline. As animal geographers repeatedly reinforce, animals and plants are inextricably linked to human lives, the honey bee providing a good example of human-animal entanglement. By examining honey bee populations, it is also evident, as geographers have contended, that our attempts to define, categorise, and control the non-human are constantly defied by the contingent nature of the natural world. Human-insect and human-plant relationships, however, Watson and Stallins (2016) stress, have been neglected in geographical literature. It is, therefore, necessary to investigate the role of the ‘more-than-human’ in order to inform our use of anthropogenic spaces. In the example of the honey bee, it is vital that we understand the dynamics of bee populations in order to inform agricultural land-use, due to the implications for both agricultural sustainability and human health.

The western or European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is semi-domesticated, beekeeping being practised on a range of scales, from the hobby apiarist to industrial bee farmers. The honey bee, wild or otherwise, is an important constituent of our ecosystems, worldwide; it is the chief pollinator of more than a third of global produce, including many fruits, vegetables, nuts, and spices. In America, an estimated $12 billion of crop value is directly attributable to honey bees, generating $168 billion for the global economy (Watson and Stallins, 2016). Recent global decline in honey bee populations have variously been described as an ‘environmental crisis’, the ‘beepocalypse’, and a ‘planetary ethical catastrophe’ (Watson and Stallins, 2016). This has, therefore, caused concern in the media, as well as amongst the scientific community, agricultural businesses, and environmentalists.

In Britain alone, 20 species of bee have vanished entirely, and a further quarter are on the red list of threatened species (FoE, 2016a [online]). This concern about low bee numbers has led to the Great British Bee Count, an annual event which attempts to enlist the public in a national bee population survey. The campaign portrays the bee as our ‘friend’, as important to our ecosystems, and vital to the economy. The event, organised by Friends of the Earth, runs from May 19th to June 20th, and last year saw over 100,000 recorded sightings (FoE, 2016b [online]). However, surveys have indicated that only 33% of the British public can correctly identify the honey bee from a line-up of other bee species (FoE, 2016b [online])! It is, therefore, not surprising that environmentalists have got a bee in their bonnet about this subject.

Watson and Stallins’ (2016) article focuses on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – a little-understood cause of honey bee population decline – which has become sort of a ‘buzz word’ amongst scientists and agriculturalists. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), CCD is the formation of a ‘dead colony’, in which the queen is still alive but there are no adult bees to keep the colony going (USDA, 2016 [online]).  Whilst scientists have yet to agree on a cause of CCD, there are many suggested factors, involving both human and non-human actors. Amongst the anthropogenic causes are neonicotinoids (pesticides), climate change, pollution, changes in demand for certain luxury crops, and land-use changes associated with intensification of monocultures for industrial agriculture. The more-than-human is also partly to blame for bee population decline; pathogens, pests, viruses, and predation by other insects also pose threats to our black and yellow friends. The latter has, in fact, been in the news of late, the arrival of Asian hornets in Britain threatening bee populations (Boyle, 2016 [online]). A perhaps more discrete migrant than the people of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and Devon were expecting, the hornets, originally from the Far East, have made their way over from France. They can eat up to 50 honey bees per day, and are also potentially deadly to humans, causing both DEFRA and the National Bee Unit to express a desire for the hornets to buzz off (Boyle, 2016 [online]).

Knowledge about honey bee population decline, Watson and Stallins (2016) state, is produced by scientists, the agricultural industry, environmentalists, and the media. They identify three ‘narratives’ or claims made about the causes of CCD, which work in opposition to each other. The first approach, the “Ecological Conservation Narrative”, stresses the causal primacy of the influence of industrial agriculture causing the proliferation of monocultures at the expense of vegetation diversity. The second approach, the “Reductionist Regulatory Narrative”, prioritises isolating the main cause – which it claims is the use of pesticides – over any historical analysis, or use of historical trends to predict future populations. The third and final narrative is the “Socioecological Complexity Narrative”, which recognises the complex combination of social and ecological causes. Watson and Stallins (2016), advocate a pluralistic approach that combines all three narratives and recognises the continuum of social and ecological causality of bee population decline. It is also, they argue, important to be sensitive to variations over space and time; it is impossible to have a rigid approach to such a fluid and complex ecological phenomenon.

It is hard to understand the sheer importance of honey bees to our ecosystems and economies, these tiny little creatures appearing so mundane in our day-to-day encounters with nature. They really are busy little bees, more so than they are often given credit for, and they are so closely intertwined with our lives that it would be a real cause for concern if the ‘beepocalypse’ was to become a reality.

Wbooks_iconatson, K. and Stallins, J.A. (2016). “Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder: A Pluralistic Reframing”, Geography Compass, 10(5):222-236.

60-world2Boyle, D. (2016). “Deadly Asian Hornets that devour bees and can kill humans arrive”, The Telegraph Online, 18th May, 2016. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/18/deadly-asian-hornets-that-devour-bees-and-can-kill-humans-arrive/

60-world2FoE, (2016a). “About the Great British Bee Count”, Friends of the Earth. Available at: https://www.foe.co.uk/page/great-british-bee-count-about

60-world2FoE, (2016b). “Get involved with the Great British Bee Count”, 19th May, 2016. Available at: http://blueandgreentomorrow.com/2016/05/19/get-involved-great-british-bee-count/

60-world2USDA, (2016). “ARS Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder”, United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Available at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572

 

Climate change: adaptation, science, and the media

By Joseph J. Bailey,  University of Nottingham, UK.

One is never short of media coverage on climate change, but there has been a flurry recently in relation to its purported role in the ‘sinking’ of several islands in the Solomon Islands, following a publication by Australian researchers (Albert et al., 2016). Dramatic headlines included: “Five Pacific islands lost to rising seas as climate change hits” (The Guardian, 2016a) and “After the Pacific Ocean swallows villages and five Solomon Islands, a study blames climate change” (The Washington Post, 2016), to list just two. Such headlines would lead anyone to think that climate change had solely caused the sea levels to rise and destroy these islands and, therefore, that climate change sank the islands. Perhaps not, though.

The Guardian was quick to release a subsequent article: “Headlines ‘exaggerated’ climate link to sinking of Pacific islands” (The Guardian, 2016b) after they spoke to the paper’s lead author, who identified that many headlines were “certainly pushing things a bit towards the ‘climate change has made islands vanish’ angle”. The Solomon Islands’ sea level rise is above average because of a range of factors, including natural climatic cycles and increases in the strength of the trade winds. These changes are operating alongside global warming which does indeed increase average global sea levels but also increases the intensity of these trade winds, as outlined in the article. It is a complicated climatic system that has been simplified and widely misrepresented in the media to varying extents.

Taking the line ashore. A villager in his canoe takes the line ashore at Halavo, Nggela (Florida) Island, Solomon Islands. Source: This photograph, which has not been edited, was taken by Jenny Scott and downloaded from Flickr (link to photograph) for non-commercial use on this blog under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.

Interestingly, all of this happened about one week after Lord Krebs wrote an article for The Conversation about media responsibility in reporting climate change, and the need for scientists to engage with the media to support more accurate reporting (Krebs, 2016). The issues discussed and articles referenced by Lord Krebs are potentially of a more serious nature than the case of sea level rise affecting the Solomon Islands. However, despite differences in the seriousness of the misrepresentation and simplification of the science between Lord Krebs’ examples and the more recent reports surrounding the Solomon Islands, there is overlap in the associated issues and questions raised. Namely: how can the public and politicians fully understand the science and respond to it in the face of inaccurate and pervasive media reports? Furthermore, if people are not clear on the science of climate change, how does this affect our resilience and willingness to adapt to probable changes in the future?

A recent article in Geography Compass explores climate change adaptation in much detail (Eisenhauer, 2016). Climate change adaptation describes the process whereby people seek to decrease the risks and impacts of climate change through societal and economic strategies, for example (details). The paper focusses on pathways, which describe “alternative trajectories of development” (p. 209), in the context of climate change adaptation because such adaptations are part of continual change towards desirable socio-ecological conditions. Four approaches to pathways are proposed and discussed. They aim to fill the current gap between usable knowledge and action that the paper identifies. In particular, these actions generally relate to governance or development. The importance of local people in adaptation planning is also highlighted.

Discussion of this gap between usable knowledge and action, and attempts to address it, is important because the creation of knowledge is one thing, but identifying which aspects of it are of the greatest relevance and usefulness for the task at hand is another. Subsequent dissemination to stakeholders must then follow, and is it here that the media has great potential. But, as we have seen time and time again, including only this month, knowledge can be misrepresented or simplified to the point where it is no longer presents what the authors intended. Some simplification is necessary to create readable news articles and, as the lead author of the Solomon Islands paper, Dr Simon Albert, told The Guardian, ‘dramatic’,  eye-catching headlines can attract readers and raise the profile of important issues. However, caution is required and a balance between a headline’s accuracy and ability to draw in readers must be struck.

Climate change is one of the most geographical issues, covering all aspects of the human, natural, and physical world, and the connections and interactions therein. The ability of communities to adapt will play a large role in determining its impacts in the future. It is vital that scientific findings are made to be usable and relevant for policy-makers and stakeholders so that effective strategies can be instigated. We have seen here the presentation of science and of geographic phenomena in the media can be inappropriate at times. This makes it difficult for people to be properly informed and make sound decisions about climate-related environmental changes. Additionally, the Solomon Islands coverage should be used as a cautionary example that not all environmental changes are because of climate change: the world is complicated. Communication between scientists and the media and, subsequently, between the media and observers to disseminate accurate and useful knowledge will no doubt be a key ingredient in the initiation of positive action.

 

REFERENCES

Albert, S. et al. (2016). Interactions between sea-level rise and wave exposure on reef island dynamics in the Solomon Islands. Environmental Research Letters, 11 (5).

Eisenhauer, D. C. (2016). Pathways to Climate Change Adaptation: Making Climate Change Action Political. Geography Compass, 10 (5), 207 – 221.

Krebs, J. (2016). Lord Krebs: scientists must challenge poor media reporting on climate change (online). The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/lord-krebs-scientists-must-challenge-poor-media-reporting-on-climate-change-58621 (last accessed 12th May 2016).

The Guardian (2016a). Five Pacific islands lost to rising seas as climate change hits (online). Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/10/five-pacific-islands-lost-rising-seas-climate-change (last accessed 12th May 2016).

The Guardian (2016b). Headlines ‘exaggerated’ climate link to sinking of Pacific islands (online). Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/10/headlines-exaggerated-climate-link-to-sinking-of-pacific-islands (last accessed 12th May 2016).

The Washington Post (2016). After the Pacific Ocean swallows villages and five Solomon Islands, a study blames climate change (online). Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/05/09/after-the-pacific-ocean-swallows-villages-and-five-solomon-islands-a-study-blames-climate-change/ (last accessed 12th May 2016).

The Rhythm of the Night: Nocturnal Geographies

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The clocks have gone forward, the nights are getting lighter, and, as ever, there’s geography to be found in it all! Shaw’s (2015) paper considers the ways in which geographers and social scientists have engaged with the night as a ‘space-time’, illuminating some interesting approaches that geographers have used to theorise the ways in which we use the night.

This year is actually the 100th anniversary of ‘Daylight Saving Time’ (DST). DST was originally proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, who argued the economic benefits of reducing the need for artificial lighting – then by candles – and making increased use of natural light. This idea was proposed in Britain by William Willett in 1907, who suggested moving the clocks forwards 20 minutes on each of the four Sundays in April and backwards on Sundays in September (Macphail, 2016 [online]). The first official clock-changing plan was introduced in Germany, in April 1916, and Britain followed suit, in May that year, passing the Summer Time Act of 1916. The first official day of British Summer Time was May 21st 1916 (Macphail, 2016 [online]). At the height of World War One, it was believed that by changing the clocks it would take the pressure off the economy and reduce domestic coal consumption (Macphail, 2016 [online]). However, in 1940, during World War Two, the clocks in Britain were not put back at the end of Summer and, until July 1945, Britain was two hours ahead of GMT, operating on British Double Summer Time (Telegraph, 2016 [online]).

 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

There are strong arguments both for and against DST. As well as suggesting that it saves energy and money, others argue that it increases tourism and encourages people to exercise outdoors (Staufenberg, 2016 [online]). From a geographer’s point of view, therefore, it changes the ways in which we use space and time, leading to a more ‘productive’ use of natural daylight. Critics, however, argue that there is no conclusive proof that DST saves energy; whilst reducing lighting use, it may, in fact, increase our use of other electrical appliances and fuel. Thus, from an environmental point of view, Daylight Saving Time remains enigmatic.

Particular opposition to DST comes from Scotland and parts of northern England. In 2011, year-round daylight savings was suggested in Parliament but was not taken up (Telegraph, 2016 [online]). A YouGov poll that year showed that 53% of people in Britain supported permanently moving the clocks forward an hour (Telegraph, 2016 [online]). The Scottish, however, complained that they would be plunged into darkness in the mornings and, indeed, so would anyone north of Manchester (Telegraph, 2016 [online]). Others have suggested the clocks change at Hadrian’s Wall and not at Calais (Telegraph, 2016 [online]), showing the highly geographical nature of this debate.

As well as causing mild confusion and tiredness, some anti-DST arguments concentrate on potential negative impacts on the ways in which we use time and space. For instance, it has been suggested that darker mornings pose dangers to children walking to school, along with increasing car accidents and crime rates (Staufenberg, 2016 [online]). Farmers are also largely against the darker mornings, having less daylight to get their morning tasks completed.

Whilst these arguments consider the ways in which we use daylight, Shaw’s (2015) paper discusses our conception of the night as a time-space, and how this affects our use of it. He argues that ways in which geographers understand the night are changing. Previously conceptualised as a frontier, creating a binary between night and day, or light and dark, the night used to be an empty unknown, inhabited by people looking to escape surveillance. The frontier metaphor, therefore, has often framed the night as dangerous and alluring, difficult to control, but providing possibilities for adventure. In contrast, Shaw (2015) argues that the frontier metaphor is being broken down. Capitalist society, he argues, has gradually expanded spatially and temporally, with diurnal activities expanding into the night. Nocturnal capitalism, Shaw (2015) states, has spread globally, with 24/7 opening, next-day delivery services, online shopping, and international business juggling with time-zones. For some, the night is a ‘contact zone’, a space of interaction, characterised by hybrid spaces such as 24-hour supermarkets and night clubs (Shaw, 2015). Such ‘twentyfoursevening’, therefore, blurs day and night, leading geographers to suggest that they are no longer binary opposites. The night, therefore, is a complex and fragmented time-space (Shaw, 2015).

Nocturnal infrastructure has also been at the centre of geographical concerns, interest being in the electrification and lighting of urban areas, and the ways in which light and dark affect the exploration, creation, and experience of space (Shaw, 2015). The use of artificial lighting, it was originally hoped, would counter forms of alienation, reduce crime, and increase safety. Micro-scale lighting of individual houses and communities is a further example of this, although there is limited evidence that street lighting does, in fact, have these intended consequences. As Shaw (2015) indicates, many alternative lifestyles have arisen that are lived and performed during night time, including graffiti artists, protestors, and political radicals. The contact-zone, thus, becomes a space for source of resistance. However, with the proliferation of sexual violence, prostitution, crime, drug-taking, and drinking culture during the night, the contact-zone is also a time-space to be survived, but also considered by some as a space of freedom.

The night, then, is far from black and white. Geographers have begun to approach it as a multifaceted space-time, rather than the binary opposite of daytime. By only studying daytime activities, we can only ever understand half of humanity, especially in a time when nocturnal capitalism is booming. As a subject of geographical research in its own right, it is hoped that by studying our use of the night, geographers can shed new light on the ways in which we use time and space.

 

books_iconShaw, R. (2015). “Night as Fragmenting Frontier: Understanding the Night that Remains in an era of 24/7”, Geography Compass, 9(12):637-647.

60-world2Macphail, C. (2016). “When do the clocks go forward in 2016? And why do we change to BST and should we?” The Telegraph Online. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12174975/When-do-the-clocks-go-forward-A-countdown-to-BST-and-Daylight-Saving-Time-March-2016.html

60-world2Staufenberg, J. (2016). “Daylight Saving Time: What is it and why do we have it?”, The Independent Online. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/daylight-saving-time-what-is-it-and-why-do-we-have-it-a6907621.html

60-world2The Telegraph. (2016). “Who uses Daylight Saving Time?”, The Telegraph Online. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12174975/When-do-the-clocks-go-forward-A-countdown-to-BST-and-Daylight-Saving-Time-March-2016.html

‘A woman’s place is in the kitchen’: Changing culinary culture

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In a recent article, Meah (2016) discusses the space of the kitchen – seemingly mundane and neglected by geographical study – and the ways in which it has evolved through time to become more than just a food preparation area for the confinement of women.

“A woman’s place is in the kitchen” is a well-known, oft-used phrase. Last month, BT Sport presenter Lynsey Hipgrave was subjected to this type of misogynistic abuse on social media following her criticism of Lionel Messi’s controversial un-sportsmanlike penalty. Amongst the sexist replies she received were; “we need sandwiches not opinions” and “somewhere there’s a kitchen and it’s missing something”.  Whilst there are some who still rigidly live by this sexist mantra, there is lots of evidence that such marginalisation of women using sexist delineations of space is starting to be dispelled. Whilst Nigella Lawson’s heavily sexualised cookery programmes do women’s cause no favours, the proliferation of successful male chefs on The Great British Bake Off, in reputable restaurants, and as celebrity chefs, suggest that kitchen culture is changing. In a recent article in the Independent, French Chef Alain Ducasse, owner of 23 Michelin-star restaurants in seven countries, suggested that the changing ‘macho kitchen culture’ was displacing the old sexist stereotype. Ducasse even highlighted a lack of female chefs in France, leading him to establish the ‘Femmes en Avenir’ (Women of the Future) programme in association with the French government in 2011. The programme encourages women in the outskirts of Paris to gain culinary qualifications, in order to pursue a career in cooking.

Meah’s (2016) article provides the historical background that explains why women have long been associated with the kitchen. Historically, the kitchen was a space occupied by working class women, either as maids or cooks for the wealthy, or in their own kitchens. The kitchen was at the rear of the house, out of public view; gendered labour concealed from the rest of society. This is similar to Erving Goffman’s (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, in which he explains how our identities are performed sometimes less explicitly, hidden from others, in what he calls the ‘back stage’. The kitchen became the symbolic heart of domesticity and the women that produced this sense of domesticity were often marginalised.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Meah (2016), however, argues that the kitchen was transformed from a space of production to a space of consumption, with the evolution of modern kitchen design in the twentieth century, the kitchen becoming an ideological battle ground. Mass housing projects during the inter-war period, she argues, favoured standardised, modernist kitchen spaces, designed to be efficient and functional. By scientifically arranging space within the kitchen to make it more productive, daily life and behaviour were also changed. Functionalist designers of the 1930s saw the repetitive and productive model of factory assembly lines as the ideal method for both easing the housewife’s work and making it more efficient. By reducing the housewife’s need to move around the kitchen, making everything within reaching distance, the routinisation of her work meant cooking was less of a pleasure and more of a practical task. Moving into the 1940s, Meah (2016) traces the emergence of the kitchen-living room arrangement, a space which enabled families to eat their meals in a separate space to the food preparation area, but a low-partition wall meant that the housewife was not isolated whilst at work in the kitchen. Open-plan living spaces, therefore, further redefined the kitchen, showing the resistance of both women and kitchen spaces.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Meah (2016) identifies another societal change, still seen today, which further changed the culture of kitchens. By the 1950s, she argues, women were engaged in paid employment outside the home, becoming increasingly independent and industrious. We see this today to an even greater extent, with the employment of women in some really prominent positions such as merchant bankers, lawyers, doctors, or business owners. The emergence of the career-orientated woman has further led to the separation of women from the kitchen, as they no longer have the time or the inclination to slave away in the kitchen for hours preparing food whilst their husbands work all day. Societal transformations in work, leisure, and gender roles have transformed the kitchen into, what Meah (2016), calls an ‘orchestrating concept’. Kitchens have become spaces where numerous practices and elements are structured and held together, making it both material and symbolic. They are arenas for the performance of everyday life; be it food preparation and eating, playing out relationships with family members and hosting parties, or many non-food activities such as watching TV, reading the paper, and caring for pets.

The personalisation, and sometimes feminisation, of the kitchen space has altered the ways in which kitchens are experienced and consumed. Most notably, the aesthetic of the kitchen is used as an expression of identity. Meah (2016) argues that the space of the kitchen has become a site of memory, a sort of private museum, in which personal objects are kept and displayed which tell personal stories. Collectible silverware, wedding china, and other gifts are often displayed in the kitchen, prized possessions that each have their own story to tell. Fridges and notice boards display collages of mementos and snapshots of lives; fridge-magnet souvenirs, postcards, children’s drawings, photographs, appointment cards, party invitations, and ticket stubs are just a few of the items that may make up such an eclectic archive of family history. This not only shows the portability of memory, but also transforms the kitchen from a space, used and lived in, to a meaningful place of personal importance.

The kitchen has therefore undergone many changes through history, becoming more than just a space for women to make food. Women have also been transformed; from passive consumers and oppressed labourers to active participants in a meaningful and constantly changing space.

books_iconMeah, A. (2016). “Extending the Contested Spaces of the Modern Kitchen”, Geography Compass, 10(2):41-55.

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Guardian Sport (2016) Lynsey Hipgrave hits out at sexist abuse after criticising Lionel Messi

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Casey, L. (2016) Alain Ducasse interview: The French chef on women in the kitchen, and life in Paris after the attacks The Independent

High-flying research: Geographies of air transportation

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This weekend marked the fifty-eighth anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster, so what better time than to take a look at some of the work being done by human geographers into the social and cultural dimensions of air space and air transportation. February 6th 1958 was the darkest day in Manchester United F.C.’s history. Following their European Cup quarter final win in Belgrade, the ‘Busby Babes’ – so-called after their illustrious manager Matt Busby – were involved in one of the most documented plane crashes in history, in which twenty-three of the forty-four passengers were killed, including eight of the players, when their plane crashed after trying to take-off amidst a devastating snow storm in Munich. Memories of the victims are still today as poignant as ever, in an age when air transportation has been completely transformed, and has come to signify the complex networks of social, political, and economic relationships in our contemporary mobile world.

‘Aeromobilities’, as Adey (2008) calls it, started to become the subject of geographical enquiry in the twenty-first century, with geographers looking to trace the economic and political links that air transport creates between places. Adey’s (2008) paper provides a useful summary of some of the work within geography about air transportation, research which has drawn on the ‘mobile turn’, a shift towards investigating how spaces are travelled through.

‘Identity’ being a key theme in geography due to the influence of feminism, the airport and the airplane have themselves been unravelled as sites of identity creation and performance. Adey (2008) explains how both airports and airplanes have become important geographical sites for the formation and suppression of identities. For some, airports are sites of alienation and inequality, whilst for others they are happy, homely places, a stepping stone between important places in their lives. Nowhere better is this evidenced than the film ‘Terminal’, in which Tom Hanks plays an eastern immigrant whose country suffers from the collapse of its government whilst he is in the air, leaving his papers no longer valid when he lands in America. Forced to stay in the airport for weeks, he feels the brunt of the airport’s hostility and exclusive power, but starts to enjoy and embrace his time there, making many friends, as well as enemies. Today, Adey (2008) argues, borders are shifting even further, spatially and temporally, with your entry into a country being variously permitted or denied from a distance, before you have left your airport of departure. Thus, the ways in which we imagine our place in relation to the rest of the world have changed, air transportation building notions of national identity and citizenship, and variously connecting and disconnecting people and places.

Modern spaces of air travel, as spaces for international border-crossing as well as state and terrorist violence, have triggered increasing regulation of societies. As Adey (2008) states, air-travel has become one of the most closely-monitored and highly-segregated spaces in modern society. Security screening in airports today has reached very intense levels, which redefine both bodies and belongings as ‘threats’. Full-body searches and X-ray machines mean that it is not only international boundaries that are crossed at airports, but also, as Adey (2008) claims, our personal boundaries. All this is part of a new culture of ‘anticipation’, in which our vision has become so accelerated that it has overtaken time (Adey, 2008). The threat of terrorism is, today, pre-empted, an imaginative geography of disaster created before it has even happened, evoking fear and panic.

Air transportation has also had more fatal effects on societies, playing a major part in wars since the turn of the twentieth century. Aerial warfare has come a long way since the air raids of World War Two, with new unmanned aircraft causing terror and destruction to contemporary society. The aerial view – or as Adey (2008) calls it the ‘cosmic view’ – has, since the early days of landscape surveys and the invention of aerial photography, been associated with a powerful total gaze of the world, with limitless capacity for knowledge and control. This total observation is seen, for example, in Israeli-occupied Palestine, where Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are used for aerial surveillance of military and civilian targets (Adey, 2008).

The performance of gender relations within the space of the plane has also, Adey (2008) claims, captured the imaginations of geographers; cockpit and cabin gender roles being fascinating examples of gender relations. A recent paper by Lin (2015) has explored this in relation to air hostesses on a Singapore airline. Feminisation and sexualisation of air hostesses’ bodies on planes has been long been practised by most airlines. In Lin’s (2015) example in Singapore, the design of air hostesses’ uniforms was evocative yet graceful and traditional, whilst interview candidates were carefully screened for flaws or disfigurement, their body shape, beauty, and complexion being important. Even successful candidates underwent various aesthetic ‘corrections’, such as speech therapy, and were prescribed precise shades of make-up to make them appear uniformly ‘beautiful’. Lin (2015) frames the cabin – a ‘mobile atmosphere’, as she calls it – as an important social space, in which geographers have explored the multi-sensorial interactions between passengers and their environment. The plane and its crew provide a ‘service’, passengers’ bodies forming active consumers during their flight. Air hostesses create a comfortable and professional environment for passengers. These women perform a version of femininity whereby they are a friendly, affectionate, reassuring, approachable, helpful, polite, and glamorous aid to passengers’ journeys.

A lot has changed, therefore, in the fifty-eight years since the Munich Air Disaster. There is a vast range of research being done by geographers into the spaces of air travel, research which can help us better understand the social, cultural, and political experiences of airports and air transportation. The looming threat of terrorism means that geographers have a lot to contribute to understanding ways in which different nations engage with air space. However, it is a testament to the continual improvements to passenger safety being made that today geographers are talking about passenger ‘comfort’ rather threats to their ‘safety’.

 

books_icon Adey, P. (2008). “Aeromobilities: Geographies, Subjects and Vision”, Geography Compass, 2(5):1318-1336.

books_iconLin, W. (2015). “’Cabin pressure’: designing affective atmospheres in airline travel”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40:287-299.

60-world2http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/manchester-united/11394795/Manchester-United-Munich-Air-Disaster-anniversary-emphasises-the-magnitude-of-footballs-loss.html

60-world2http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/manchester-united-players-fans-remember-10826494