Category Archives: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Why are English local authorities behaving like property companies?

By Brett Christophers, Uppsala University

Flickr user Balmain

In March 2019, Harrogate Borough Council in North Yorkshire launched an independent, arms-length housing company called Bracewell Homes to focus on ‘the purchase, development, sale and leasing of dwellings, as a commercial venture for the borough’. The same month, at the other end of the country, but in an equally leafy milieu, West Berkshire Council announced that it had spent £60 million of a planned total new investment of £100 million in commercial property, not for the purpose of delivering council services but rather to be let to tenants; the properties it had purchased included offices, a warehouse and two supermarkets, the latter located, ironically enough, in North Yorkshire.

Since the global financial crisis of 2007–08, a string of English local authorities (‘councils’) have pursued similar initiatives: over a third are believed to have invested in commercial property to earn rental income, and nearly half are estimated to have established a private housing company.

These ventures have elicited a barrage of criticism. Councils, it is said, should not be behaving like property companies – investment in commercial property is a risky business at the best of times, and if councils are going to build residential property then it should only be social housing on a not-for-profit basis.

The initiatives in question are the focus of my new Transactions article, which is targeted toward a general audience as well as a scholarly one. It tries to do four main things.

The first is to paint an overview picture of these initiatives. Drawing on a range of secondary sources, the article discusses how prevalent they are, the regulatory context within which they have evolved, and the different approaches used by different local authorities.

The second contribution of the article is to conceptualise the initiatives in terms of what has come to be termed the ‘financialisation’ of urban development, namely a set of processes whereby financial actors, markets and/or logics come to play an increasingly important role in the development of the urban built environment. Insofar as English local authorities have been establishing housing companies and investing in shopping centres and the like with a view specifically to earning financial returns, they can be said to be financialising both residential and commercial property.

The article’s third aim is to explain. It is to ask why local authorities are pursuing these initiatives. While there are numerous factors in play, I argue that the most important is a set of profoundly significant recent transformations in what I term local authorities’ financial ‘conjuncture’ – the nexus of circumstances and forces bearing directly on their financial wherewithal.

I highlight three such transformations: the post-financial crisis devolution of austerity from central to local government, which has seen the latter bear the brunt of public-sector funding cuts; the largely unsuccessful reform of local authority housing finance in 2012; and a progressive cheapening of council borrowing capacity, also occurring in the wake of the financial crisis.

These transformations have not so much caused local authorities’ new commercial and residential property ventures as encouraged and enabled them. They have impacted local authorities in such a way as to make those initiatives considerably more appealing and arguably, in some cases, even necessary. They have, in short, pre-disposed councils to act as they have done.

In the light of this explanatory argument the article asks, fourth and finally, whether the criticism that has greeted councils’ new property initiatives is justified and fair. My answer is that it may not be, or at least not entirely. While local authorities would not need to pursue such ventures in an ideal world – one where they were amply funded to provide the services that local communities require of them – that is not the world in which they currently find themselves. For councils desperate to maintain social care, homelessness and other key front-line services in the face of savage cuts in funding from central government, commercial and residential property ventures appear to be – and indeed, may well be – the least worst option, a more sustainable and strategic approach than say liquidating remaining assets or raising council tax.

If we are to criticise these ventures, our criticism is perhaps better targeted not at local authorities themselves, but at the central government that is primarily responsible for shaping councils’ constrained financial conjuncture and that, in the process, has motivated them to behave like property companies rather than the service-focused community caretakers that the public expects them to be.

About the Author: Brett Christophers is Professor at Department of Social and Economic Geography, Uppsala University

References

Christophers, B. Putting financialisation in its financial context: Transformations in local government‐led urban development in post‐financial crisis England. Trans Inst Br Geogr. 2019; 00: 1– 16. https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12305

Can lakes and rivers have rights?: Voters in Toledo, Ohio weigh in

By Eden Kinkaid, University of Arizona

2011 Toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie (Wikimedia.org)

In a recently passed ballot initiative, voters in Toledo, Ohio granted legal rights to Lake Erie, the 11th largest lake in the world. As The New York Times reports, Lake Erie has seen numerous environmental crises in the last several years, including a major algal bloom in 2014 that rendered water temporarily unfit for drinking and bathing. This incident, and others like it, have been linked to agricultural runoff from surrounding farms that fueled the rapid growth of the toxic algae.

These ongoing threats to the health of the lake led a coalition of locals, Toledoans for Safe Water, to advocate for its protection. Working in partnership with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, an organization known for developing “rights of nature” legislation, advocates prepared a Lake Erie Bill of Rights that was included on the February 26 ballot. A majority of voters – 61% – voted in favor of the measure. While the success of the initiative is inspiring, the decision is already facing legal challenges on the grounds that it does not have legal standing and that it will negatively impact area farmers’ livelihoods.

In the last fifteen years, the geographical spread and success of “rights of nature” measures, like Lake Erie’s, has been quite remarkable. The first such measure, an ordinance in Tamaqua Borough designed to outlaw fracking, emerged in 2006. Since then, the concept of “rights of nature” has appeared in ordinances, laws, resolutions, and even national constitutions around the world. It has been used by indigenous groups, communities, cities, states, and nations to protect natural bodies, including rivers, ecosystems, and sacred territories. How are we to understand this new wave of environmental activism? Will the rights of nature stand? Will they be a solution to the myriad environmental issues facing populations across the globe?

In a recently published article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, I consider these questions through an analysis of another recent rights of nature ruling: a decision granting legal personhood to the Ganga (Ganges River) in India. Like the Lake Erie initiative, this case grants legal personhood to the Ganga to protect it from rampant pollution and development. The similarities between these cases, however, stop there. The rights of the Ganga were declared in a court ruling concerning illegal encroachment on river banks, whereas the Lake Erie decision was a ballot initiative. The Ganga case focused on the sacredness of the river to India’s Hindu majority rather than the more ecological concerns of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. Further, each case advocates for different ways to govern the natural bodies. In the case of the Ganga, governance strategies are based on legal precedents governing the personhood and trusteeship of religious idols in temples. Recognizing the central role of Hinduism in the ruling, critics worry that it may come with unintended consequences. Given the uneven history of environmental governance in India and the current religiously polarized political moment, the concern is that the ruling could be enforced selectively to police Muslims and other marginalized populations who live and work near the river.

It is clear, then, that these two decisions, like many rights of nature rulings, are born of radically different contexts and will likely have a variety of impacts and implications. To understand the significance and potential implications of these rulings, I argue we need to attend closely to the geographical, historical, and cultural contexts in which they occur. In my article, “Rights of nature’ in translation” I attempt to come to terms with the marked differences visible within rights of nature activism around the world. In some sense, “rights of nature” appears as a global movement to protect natural entities, yet these cases emerge from very specific and irreconcilable geographical and cultural contexts. They demonstrate understandings of the environment and governance that are clearly linked to specific places, yet they make use of a seemingly “universal” legal language and an international set of precedents. We might ask then, are the rights of the Ganga the same as the rights of Lake Erie? Given their vastly different historical and geographic contexts, does the rights of nature mean the same thing in each case?

In my article, I argue that this question should make us rethink the form of “global” social movements. Rights of nature discourse circulates transnationally, yet is not global in the sense of being “universal.” Indeed, I describe how the terms “rights” and “nature” become translated and contextualized in specific places and projects of governance. Rather than seeing “rights of nature” as a global movement then, I argue that we should see it as a “boundary object” (Leigh Star 2010), a shared term linking together different communities of interpretation and practice. This way, we can understand both the mobile, “global” moments of “rights of nature,” while still attending to the ways in which the concept is deployed and transformed in particular contexts. Indeed, this flexibility and multi-dimensional aspect of rights of nature discourse makes it a fascinating object of study for geographers, challenging us to rethink longstanding meanings of geographical boundaries and scales. Thinking the rights of nature “in translation” requires us to rethink the “local” and the “global” and to reimagine their various divergences and connections.

About the author: Eden Kinkaid is a doctoral student in Geography at the University of Arizona. Eden conducts field-based research in north India on issues of agriculture and environmental governance. More information about Eden’s work and other publications is available here.

Kinkaid, E. (2019). “Rights of nature” in translation: Assemblage geographies, boundary objects, and translocal social movements. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (0)0: 1-16.

Williams, T. (17 Feb. 2019). Legal rights for Lake Erie? Voters in Ohio city will decide.” The New York Times. Retrieved online 19 March 2019 from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/17/us/lake-erie-legal-rights.html.

If Donald would meet Fatima

By Karen Culcasi, West Virginia University

We live in a world today where 68.5 million people are forcibly displaced,[ which is almost 1% of the world’s population. Those statistics are alarming. In this context, it is deeply troubling that the system created to help refugees and asylum seekers has failed the people it is supposed to support. The sense of humanity and compassion that once guided refugee policies has waned. Refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants are all too often confronted with hostility, violence, and repression both at state borders and through deterritorialized bordering processes that happen away from physical borders (Gorman 2016).

The USA, where I live, has a long history of resettling refugees and asylum seekers; and the country has benefited immensely from these migrants. However, this trend of acceptance is changing. This is plainly evident through countless examples of the violent deterrence of asylum seekers at the USA’s southern border and debates over building a wall. Yet, what is less visible in public discussion is the quiet, slow violence (Coddington 2019) of deterrence that happens through bordering practices of policy, legal regulations, and nativist ideologies.

Syrians are currently the largest refugee group in the world, estimated at 13 million. In 2016, under the Obama administration, the US resettled 15,479 Syrian refugees. The election of Trump, and the mainstreaming of nativist anti-immigration and Islamophobic politics (Bail 2015 and Beydoun 2018) have had profound impacts on resettlement of Syrian refugees. More specifically, the implementation of travel bans targeted at several Muslim majority countries including Syria (Executive Order 13769, known colloquially as the ‘Muslim travel ban’) and the lowering of refugee ‘ceilings’ (the maximum number of refugees permitted to enter the country) in successive years under Trump’s presidency has resulted in a near stop to the resettlement of Syrians in the USA.

In 2017, the USA allowed in 3,024 Syrians, 12,455 less than the previous year. In the first 3 and a half months of 2018, only 11 Syrian refugees were admitted, compared to 790 during the same time period in 2017. In 2018, a total of 22,494 refugees were admitted into the US, which was not only well below the 45,000 ceiling, but also lowest number of admissions since the 1980 Refugee Act was passed.

I wonder if the policy makers of the world, if Donald Trump, would continue to enact such humanitarian violence if they knew some of the Syrian women refugees in Jordan whom I met and spent time with. These women have experienced immense trauma and countless struggles, things that are incomprehensible to most Americans. Yet they are amazingly productive citizens of their communities throughout Jordan and within their households. Many Syrian refugee women are working for an income to support their families; some have started businesses, while others are learning new skills and earning degrees; all while caring for their families and coping with the trauma of war and displacement.

Fatima, for example, was in her second year of college, pursuing a degree in education, when the Syrian war erupted. Her family fled to Jordan, living for a short time in an apartment in the city of Irbid. Due to lack of money, her family moved into the Za’atari refugee camp several months later. In the camp, there was no chance for Fatima to continue her studies. She explained that,

“I couldn’t continue my education here, so I suffer a lot. I am one of the people who care a lot about education… I had high hopes about college because I was excellent in certain subjects in school and I wanted to go into grad school and get my masters as well as my doctorate.”

Fatima, at age 19, had her first child in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. When her son was just a few months old her husband left Jordan and traveled to the UAE to work and send money back to support the family.  But Fatima could not wait for his financial support. So she got a job as a teacher’s assistant in Za’atari and was soon promoted to 2nd grade teacher. As a result, she became the primary income earner for her extended family, who were living together in the camp. Fatima is successful and proud. She is also full of humor and warmth. When she has free time, she often creates artwork to help the dire aesthetics of life in the camp. With the most meager of materials – dried beans and cigarette boxes typically – she has decorated her family’s caravan, as well as some of her neighbors’ walls, and small schoolrooms with designs like palm trees or sayings from the Quran.  

Cigarette Box Bean art/

I am humbled by the strength, resilience, ingenuity, humor and warmth of Fatima and the other Syrian women I met and interviewed. Though nearly all these women (and many other Syrians I spoke with) asserted without hesitation that they want to return to Syria and rebuild their lives, I believe that these women, and their families, would make wonderful neighbours, colleagues and friends; whether in northern, West Virginia, USA, where I live or elsewhere. Yet the slow violence of the bordering practices like the travel bans and the refugee ceiling are squelching any such chances.

References

Bail, Christopher. (2015). Terrified: How anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.

Beydoun, Khaled A. (2018). American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear. Berkeley, CA: University of California.

Coddington, Kate. (early view). The slow violence of life without cash: borders, state restrictions, and exclusion in the U.K. and Australia. Geographical Review doi: 10.1111/gere.12332

Culcasi, K. “We are women and men now”: Intimate spaces and coping labour for Syrian women refugees in Jordan. Trans Inst Br Geogr. 2019; 00: 1– 16. https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12292

Gorman, Cynthia. (2016). Containing Kassindja: detention, gendered threats and border control in the United States. Gender, Place and Culture, 23(7), 955-968.

Scaling-up climate action: a geographer’s primer

By Stefan Bouzarovski, University of Manchester & Håvard Haarstad, University of Bergen

energy-efficiency-154006_1280

‘World gets climate change ultimatum’ declared the UK Independent’s front page on the 8th of October 2018, following the publication of the International Panel for Climate Change’s (IPCC) long-awaited report on 1.5°C global warming. The IPCC report highlights the need for rapid and far-reaching changes in all aspects of society: land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Employing an unusually urgent tone, it places an emphasis on connections between climate action, on the one hand, and the work of non-state actors as well as policies on jobs, security, and technology, on the other. A call for scaling-up and intensifying the global response to climate change is evident throughout the report.

The IPCC’s message resonates with the findings of our recently-published paper in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers on the development of relational thinking around the upscaling of low-carbon urban mitigation strategies. The paper starts from the premise that mainstream understandings of sustainable energy transitions have, to date, lacked a significant engagement with core human geography debates on the production and articulation of spatial scale. We contend that dominant policies and theories on climate change mitigation have tended to think of scale as a linear and nested hierarchy of ‘levels’ – not too different from Russian ‘matryoshka’ stacking dolls – unfolding against the background of seemingly passive urban and regional landscape. There has been limited recognition of the non-hierarchical conceptions of scale that have been proposed and developed by numerous geographers over a period of several decades (e.g. Marston et al. 2005).

At the core of the paper lies a case study of the multi-sited ‘Reduce Energy Use and Change Habits’ (REACH) project. REACH was funded by the European Union and implemented by a coalition of non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups, think tanks, small businesses, and practitioners working across several Southeastern European countries. It aimed to address household-level energy inequities at both the ‘practical and structural level’ (Živčič et al. 2016, 789). REACH focused its attention on undertaking energy efficiency improvements, in homes via overlapping communities of place and interest. At the same time, REACH activists actively lobbied governments and companies to promote climate-friendly policy and legislation. Using informal exchanges and public announcements – press releases, conferences and publications – project members pointed to underpinning injustices in the privatization and regulation of the energy sector, as well as the continued political neglect of energy efficiency and affordability among low-income households (Bouzarovski and Thomson 2017).

In the paper, we argue that REACH’s ability to effect transformational change hinged upon its ability to enroll a variety of actors operating at different levels of governance, while exposing the power relations and inequalities that underpin the production of urban space. Through this example, REACH shows how low-carbon energy initiatives travel and expand across multiple spatial sites – in other words, ‘rescaling’ – via three sets of processes. First, this involves processes of politicization, expressed by the ability to challenge established power relations, ideological systems and logics of capitalist social reproduction beyond the territorial location of a given LCUI. Second, it requires enrolment: interaction, knowledge exchange and engagement with actors operating at multiple levels of governance, and involving state and non-state organizations alike. Third, we recognize a dynamic of hybridization, involving the entanglement of humans, technologies and nature in the provision and regulation of energy.

The combined effect of all three processes is the positioning of cities as active agents in the process of low-carbon development. However, environmentally and socially transformative change in the energy domain is both strategic and messy, involving alterations in household-level practices and the introduction of new governance configurations at the same time. Even if our paper starts from a critique of existing thinking and policy approaches, the framework that it develops – we hope – may provide the starting point for more explicit human geography engagements with the much-needed expansion of climate action across society and space.

About the authors: Stefan Bouzarovski is a Professor at the Department of Geography, University of Manchester, where he convenes the People and Energy Programme within the Manchester Urban Institute while chairing the EU Energy Poverty Observatory, and the COST ENGAGER network. Håvard Haarstad is a Professor of Human Geography and Director of the Centre for Climate and Energy Transformation at the University of Bergen.

Bouzarovski S, Haarstad H. Rescaling low‐carbon transformations: Towards a relational ontologyTrans Inst Br Geogr2018;00:1–14. https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12275

Elephants as Political Actors

By Lauren A. Evans, Space for GiantsNanyuki, Kenya, and Williams M. Adams, University of Cambridge, UK

This video clip was caught by a camera trap positioned along an electric fence built to keep wild elephants away from smallholder farms in Kenya.  It shows a group of male African elephants, banded together to break the fence to raid farmers’ fields. It shows a distinct leader who breaks the fence while the others follow. In such raids, this elephant is often bigger, older and takes more risks.  In our Transactions of the British Institute of Geographers paper we show that these elephants are powerful and influential actors in human-elephant conflict (especially crop-raiding) and in shaping the politics that surrounds their conservation.

Our study site was a human-elephant conflict hotspot – Laikipia in northern Kenya – and a hotbed of diverse human actors (smallholder farmers, large-scale landowners, pastoralists, conservationists, national wildlife department the Kenya Wildlife Service) with different and often conflicting politics relating to land and elephants. We worked closely with the NGO Space for Giants.

The major challenge of bringing elephants to life as actors is that they can’t speak. We needed a creative methodology to understand the elephant experience as much as the human. We used infrared camera traps and GPS collars to directly observe elephant movement across landscapes and behaviour at fences. An elephant tracker observed crop-raiding elephants on a motorbike equipped with a camera and GPS. A network of local scouts collected information on the timing location and nature of fence-breaks and crop-raids.  We used interviews, questionnaires, and focus groups to understand human ideas about and responses to elephants, crop-raiding and fences.

Laikipia’s colonial and post-colonial land polices created a mosaic of land use. The British colonial government evicted Maasai pastoralists and settled Europeans on large-scale ranches. After independence some settlers sold their ranches and they were divided into small plots and bought by smallholder farmers.  Agriculture was hard here: land was dry and rocky so many plots were abandoned, leaving scattered subsistence farms.

Elephants were post-colonial arrivals to Laikipia in the 1970s, driven by insecurity and ivory poaching to the north. Ranches provided ideal ‘elephant spaces’ – contiguous habitat where elephants thrived. They arrived as powerful actors, protected by legislation to reduce poaching and ivory trade.  Yet elephants created a major problem for smallholder farmers. Subsistence farms with ripe crops, lay right next to ranches. When elephants raid crops, they impose their own interests on a landscape intensively used by people, and transform farmland into a “beastly place”.  Despite simple defenses have little capacity to defend their ripening crops against raids by elephants at night. Elephants hold the balance of power.

Data from GPS collars worn by crop-raiding elephants indicate an awareness and avoidance of risk. Elephants leave spaces where they feel safe and enter farmland only when the risk of injury to them from people is low (at night, when few people are around), and they raid crops where farms are scattered rather than concentrated and lie near to elephant habitat. They move faster when they leave the safety of ranches and move into farms, reflecting their awareness of heightened risk.  An electric fence was built along the boundaries of ranches to separate Laikipia into space for elephants and for farming. But elephants frequently break this fence and resisted the human ordering of the landscape, again at night, where it had a low voltage and gave a low shock, and where it was situated close to crops. Elephants impose cost and risk on farmers, and do so in a way that minimises risk and maximises opportunity for themselves.

We found distinct individual behaviour among the elephants we studied. Groups of male elephants break fences (average six, maximum 12). But three bulls – aptly known as Ismael, Nelson, Ananais to Space for Giants – carried out over 70% of fence-breaks in one year. All three were between 35 and 40 years old.  By watching breaks directly and through camera traps we found that these bulls were “breakers” – they physically broke the fence, while a group of younger smaller “follower” bulls waited to cross once the fence had been broken by the breaker. Groups of elephants always had one “breaker” in it, often with the same followers, and young adolescent bulls that would come and go.

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Fence-breaking behaviour, therefore, seems to be “learned” and “taught” among bull elephant society. Young bulls associate with more experienced bulls and learn risky behaviour. “Breaker” bulls represented a frontline of risk-taking bulls – elephants willing to face the risk of injury/mortality posed by humans to raid crops.  In Laikipia, it was the behaviour of these “breakers” in space and time that ultimately shaped the human–elephant relationship with smallholders.

To reduce crop raiding, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) de-tusked some “breaker” elephants – removing part of the tusk to make it harder to break electric fences. Yet elephants invented new ways to break the fence with their stumped tusks and with their feet, body and trunks. KWS then anesthetized 12 of the most prolific breakers and translocated them some 200km away to Meru National Park. After a year, the fence was broken as frequently as before, now by three former – “follower” elephants. Meanwhile, the translocated animals had introduced fence-breaking to Meru National Park, where the fence had never been broken before.

As a species and as individuals, elephants are powerful, political actors, determined to maintain landscapes as a shared space whatever the wishes of their human neighbours.  To accommodate the individuality, vibrancy, and adaptability of elephants in human occupied landscapes, the management of human-elephant conflict needs to become more dynamic. Protected areas are too small and rigidly conceived to accommodate the needs of elephants to move, and their capacity to enforce this movement by crossing barriers erected to stop them.  Human-elephant conflict needs to be understood as emerging from interactions of individual elephants and people in specific landscapes, rather than as a standard problem likely to be tackled effectively by a standard solution. It needs to pay close attention to the individual behaviours, social dynamics and associations of elephants as actors, their predilection for crops and their tolerance of risk.

Evans L. A., Adams W. M. Elephants as actors in the political ecology of human–elephant conflict. Trans Inst Br Geogr. 2018;00:1–16. https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12242

 

 

 

 

 

More Than Pedestrian: The Magic of Walking

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield

Abandoned Buildings Project 2: Image (c) Jane Samuels, used with permission

Abandoned Buildings Project 2: Image (c) Jane Samuels, used with permission

Public Health England has launched a new campaign “Active 10” to encourage adults to go for a brisk walk for just 10 minutes a day to help improve health and well being. Living Streets have been campaigning for walking cities and encouraging safe walks to school, and Chris Boardman has recently been appointed to become Greater Manchester’s first ever cycling and walking commissioner.

Walking is good for you and the environment. It can also be fun but “pedestrian” has a double meaning, and can be seen to be a bit, well, dull. In a recent article for Transactions, Alastair Bonnett shows us walking can also be magical. He follows an “enchanted path” to explore the work of psycheographers. Psychogeographers use walking to explore and critically engage with the urban landscape; psychogeography provides opportunities for “an uncovering of the city’s possibilities and a desire to listen to its occulded knowledge” (Bonnett 2017: 478).

A psychogeographer does not take the simple route from A to B. They wander, drift and derive. They may use playful techniques to choose the direction of their walk, for example throwing dice or following a line drawn on a map. Their journey began with the radical avant-garde of twentieth century Europe; The Situationist, Surrealists and Lettrists. Bonnett describes their walking as going “against the grain, avoiding and confronting routines and creating new patterns and situations” (2017:474). Psychogeographers concentrate on where they are walking to uncover hidden voices, and power structures that shape modern cities.

Bonnett paints a picture of psychogeographers casting spells and changing the landscape as they walk. He concentrates on three different writers who employ magic in different ways to remap and rewrite London. Nick Papadimitriou has a close, personal, mystical relationship with the Scarp in North West London. John Rogers often uses humour to uncover his alternative city whilst the work of Gareth Rees conjures poetic phantasmagoria from wasteland and evokes the ghostly in the everyday. His dreamwork is an activism, magic with a political intent.

The writers Bonnett focuses on are all doing fascinating and excellent work. However it is also worth noting that contemporary British psychogeography is more diverse than a focus on three men walking in London might suggest. In her excellent overview Tina Richardson identifies what she calls an emerging “new psychogeography” which is, amongst other things, heterogeneous, critical, strategic, and somantic. It can be seen in the work of Jane Samuels, whose work illustrates this blog, Phil Smith a mythogeographer and counter-tourist, and many members of The Walking Artists Network. If you fancy finding out more The Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography convenes in Huddersfield this September for three days of talking and walking. You would also be very welcome to join me and The Loiterers Resistance Movement in
Manchester as we embark on a psychogeographical wander on the first Sunday of every month, celebrating creative mischief and search for magic in the Mancunian rain.

As Bonnett shows us, Psychogeography is a practice that combines art, activism, academia, and more. Magical modernism takes many enchanting paths and I encourage you to explore them.

References

60-world2 Bainbridge-Man (2017) Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman is announced as Greater Manchester’s new cycling and walking commissioner Manchester Evening News 28 July 2017 http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/olympic-cyclist-chris-boardman-announced-13397128

books_icon Bonnett A (2017) The Enchanted Path: Magic and Modernism in Psychogeographical Walking Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 42 pp 472-484. doi:10.1111/tran.12177

books_icon Richardson T (2015) ed Walking Inside Out; Contemporary British Psychogeography London: Rowman and Littlefield

The fluid geographies of marine territorialisation processes

By Paula Satizábal, University of Melbourne, and Simon P J Batterbury, Lancaster University.

Image

(c) Photo by Paula Satizábal, small-scale fishers on the Gulf of Tribugá.

Empty-yet-full imaginaries

Oceans are framed by policy makers and governments as being empty of people and full of resources available for capital accumulation (Bridge 2001). They are portrayed as containers of open access public goods (e.g. the Exclusive Economic Zones prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). These images are used to facilitate the privatisation of fishing grounds and other productive areas, as well as to justify the overexploitation of marine resources, which are generally under very limited state control. People who live near coasts are often excluded from conversations about how marine territory is negotiated.

People living at the intersection of land and sea have not been passive observers of these processes of accumulation by dispossession. Despite an absence of institutional instruments that recognise peoples’ marine territorial rights, several groups and communities have relied on marine conservation enclosures as the only legal tool available to legitimise their authority over the sea. However, for many, this is not a long-term solution; once a marine protected area has been established coastal peoples are often excluded from decision-making arenas.

Previous research has highlighted the key role played by state and non-state actors in negotiating land-based territorialisation. However, the role played by socio-cultural dynamics on guiding and informing marine territorialisation processes has been largely overlooked. Our recent publication in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, entitled ‘Fluid geographies: marine territorialisation and the scaling up of local aquatic epistemologies on the Pacific Coast of Colombia’ (Satizábal & Batterbury 2017), addresses this gap. We examine the participatory process undertaken by coastal Afro-descendant communities along the Gulf of Tribugá on the northern Pacific coast of Colombia, which enabled them to take part in the state production of territory at sea through the creation of a marine protected area.

Local aquatic epistemologies

Ulrich Oslender (2016) coined the concept of ‘local aquatic epistemologies’ to denote the ways of knowing that result from the entanglements of humans in aquatic environments. We argue that coastal dwellers in the Gulf of Tribugá hold ‘local aquatic epistemologies’, which is where knowledge has been produced through the individual and collective experiences of people entangled in the fluid dynamics of rain, rivers, and sea, as well as through their interactions with indigenous and expert knowledge.

Coastal people along the Gulf generally conceived the sea as a lived space, where territory is constructed through everyday practices, moving beyond marine/riverine/coastal divides. However, the collective territorial rights granted to Afro-descendant communities in Colombia since 1993 only recognised their rights over the land, reproducing the spatial logics of the colonial period. Conflicts between coastal communities and the deep-water shrimp and tuna industrial fisheries have escalated since the 1990s due to the impacts of overfishing and excessive bycatch. These conflicts cannot be reduced to threats to coastal food security or access to fishing resources; they are an important part of coastal dwellers’ efforts to defend their marine social spaces and authority over the sea.

The marine protected area

With the support from conservation NGOs, and informed by their local aquatic epistemologies, these communities are navigating the state institutional apparatus. They have used formal institutional mechanisms to claim their marine rights through the creation of a marine protected area. The process has been centred on the conservation of fishing resources, relegating the socio-cultural dimensions of their marine claims to the background.

The creation of the marine protected area on the Gulf of Tribugá involved the scaling up of local aquatic epistemologies. This has enabled Afro-descendant territorial struggles to reach national negotiation arenas, transforming relations of authority at sea. The marine protected area emerges as a space of resistance that subverts the lack of legal mechanisms to assert the marine territorial rights of coastal people. These spaces are, however, still dominated by the interests of the fishing industry.

Although this process contests marine empty-yet-full imaginaries, the creation of marine protected areas remains centred on access and control over fishing resources. We emphasise the importance of developing legal instruments that overcome marine coastal divides and recognise the relevance of marine social spaces as part of indigenous and afro-descendant peoples’ territorial rights.

About the authors: Paula Satizábal is a PhD Candidate at the School of Geography, University of Melbourne, and Simon P J Batterbury is Professor of Political Ecology at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University.

References

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