Category Archives: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

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

60-world2 Alexandersen A, Juhl S, Munk Neilsen J 2017 Ocean grabs: fighting the ‘rights-based’ corporate take-over of fisheries governance The Ecologist 21 November 2016 http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2988355/ocean_grabs_fighting_the_rightsbased_corporate_takeover_of_fisheries_governance.html 

books_icon Bridge G 2001 Resource triumphalism Environment and Planning A 33 2149–2173.

60-world2 Jarvis R and Bennett N 2017 Ocean conservation needs a Hippocratic oath – we must do no harm The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/jun/28/ocean-conservation-needs-a-hippocratic-oath-we-must-do-no-harm 28 June 2017

books_icon Oslender U 2016 The geographies of social movements: Afro-Colombian mobilization and the aquatic space Duke University, United States.

60-world2 Ota Y and Cisneros-Montemayor A 2017 For indigenous communities, fish mean much more than food The Conversation https://theconversation.com/for-indigenous-communities-fish-mean-much-more-than-food-70129 30 January 2017 

books_icon Satizábal, P. and Batterbury, S. P. J. (2017), Fluid geographies: marine territorialisation and the scaling up of local aquatic epistemologies on the Pacific coast of Colombia. Trans Inst Br Geogr. doi:10.1111/tran.12199

60-world2 Silver Herrera J 2015 Los pescadores del Chocó que se empeñaron en cuidar su mar http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-15474539 (Spanish)

60-world2 Smiths M, Beal D, Lind F, Portafaiz A, Chaundry T 2017 The Economic Imperative to Revive Our Oceans Boston Consulting Group https://www.bcg.com/en-au/publications/2017/transformation-sustainability-economic-imperative-to-revive-our-oceans.aspx

Finding a Heiferlump and curing bovine Tuberculosis

By Gareth Enticott, Cardiff University, UK

P1180966

(c) Gareth Enticott

In April 2017, Brian May – the rock star turned badger conservationist – brought together policy makers, scientists, veterinarians and farmers to discuss the continuing problem of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in badgers and cattle. Whilst most media attention has focused on the controversy of badger culling, my recent paper in Transations of the the Institute of British Geographers, “Navigating veterinary borderlands: ‘heiferlumps’, epidemiological boundaries and the control of animal disease in New Zealand” (Enticott, 2017), examines a fundamental question: how do we even know what bovine tuberculosis is? And, is it the same everywhere, or do we need different ways of seeing disease to meet different local contexts?

Knowing Bovine Tuberculosis

Confronted with disease, most people want to be certain that a disease is present or not – that somehow disease can be routinely and easily diagnosed, and that this diagnosis would be the same anywhere. Such a belief in the universality of disease is popular amongst policy makers and epidemiologists too: it provides the basis for standardised responses to disease throughout an area or country. As my paper shows, though, in the field or on the farm, these universalities can be far from helpful. Rather, than relying on universal perspectives, the paper shows how accepting the mutability of disease by combining different knowledges and understandings can be central to its management.

Heiferlumps and Striking Farmers

The argument made in the paper comes from an historical analysis of attempts to eradicate bTB from New Zealand. Records of meetings held by the Department of Agriculture in New Zealand National Archives show that as the eradication programme was rolled out in the 1960s, the effects upon farmers’ businesses began to be felt, leading many to question the accuracy of the diagnostic tests. The problem was felt most on the West Coast of New Zealand. Farmers here refused to test: their strike causing political consternation. Local vets, too, had their doubts about the accuracy of the test. The problem seemed to be what was known locally as ‘Heiferlumps’ – young cattle testing positive to the skin test used to diagnose bTB, but which had no internal signs of disease at slaughter. One of these vets, Peter Malone, led pleas for a ‘lighter’ interpretation of the test results – what he called ‘reading light’ – but was ignored by senior government vets in the capital, Wellington.

The relationship between vets and farmers on the West Coast and government officials in Wellington turned toxic when Malone admitted to ignoring heiferlumps when interpreting the results of bTB tests. The Department of Agriculture’s leading vet, a Scotsman called Sam Jamieson responsible for the eradication program, and known for his short temper and scientific approach, was outraged. Malone was forbidden from testing, only stoking an air of mutual mistrust between vets and farmers on the West Coast and distant government vets like Jamieson.

In the ensuing controversy, Jamieson turned to a field trial to establish the veracity of the bTB tests and rule out the possibility that there could be local variations in the nature of bTB. It had little effect: although the trial proved the test was good, no test is ever 100% accurate and farmers and vets continued to raise doubts. But rather than more science, what came to settle the dispute was a new kind of science: a version of epidemiology that was not confined to a particular discipline but crossed boundaries to combine different ways of knowing disease .

The paper refers to this new approach as ‘borderland epidemiology’ in which
government vets came to recognize during the 1970’s that bTB was as much a social and moral problem as an epidemiological one. Archive documents show that they began to dispense with the rule-book, and instead working with farmers, to modify and adapt how bTB should be diagnosed, and reflect unique geographical variations. Understanding that managing disease is a balancing act made from negotiations rather than universalisms has since become a principle on which New Zealand has been able to almost eradicate bTB

Lessons for the UK?

Could these experiences from New Zealand be relevant to the management of bTB in the UK? On the one hand, Defra – the government department responsible for managing bTB – look favourably upon the New Zealand approach to managing disease, their recent strategy mentioning them more than any other country (Defra, 2014). Yet, at the same time, there appears to be little room for manouvre to experiment and try new approaches to managing disease. In fact, as revealed at Brian May’s summit, attempts of the kind conducted in the 1970s in New Zealand, but by vets in England, have been ruled illegal and halted, despite their positive impacts upon disease and farmer engagement with disease management process.  In future, however, as my paper argues, adapting and adjusting diagnostics to local geographical variations by working with farmers to develop new kinds of veterinary knowledge may offer the best chance of dealing with disease.

About the author: Gareth Enticott is Reader in Human Geography in the School of Geography and Planning. His research focuses on biosecurity, practices of environmental regulation and governance, and scientific controversies in animal health. His main focus is on the ongoing controversy surrounding bovine Tuberculosis in the UK, as well as the management of the disease in New Zealand.  His work has helped inform policy on bovine Tuberculosis in England and Wales.

books_icon Defra (2014) The Strategy for Achieving Officially Bovine Tuberculosis Free Status for England, London: Defra. 

books_icon Enticott, G. (2017), Navigating veterinary borderlands: ‘heiferlumps’, epidemiological boundaries and the control of animal disease in New Zealand. Trans Inst Br Geogr, 42: 153–165. doi:10.1111/tran.12155

60-world2 Midley O (2017) Rock star Brian May hosts bovine TB debate https://www.fginsight.com/news/rock-star-brian-may-hosts-bovine-tb-debate-20023 FG Insight 

“The ice edge is lost” – but can it be mapped?

By Philip Steinberg, Professor of Political Geography, Durham University and Berit Kristoffersen, Associate Professor, Department of Social Sciences, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway

Stein&Krist

Photo courtesy of US National Snow and Ice Data Center, http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/files/2012/09/Figure4b.png

Drawing chaotic natures onto mobile seascapes

Amidst a steady stream of news stories announcing record-setting lows in sea ice extent, our recent publication in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers asks a question that is fundamental to efforts to understand and manage our changing planet: What is sea ice?

Sea ice is never simply frozen sea water. It exists amidst dynamic processes of freezing, melting, and brine rejection; it supports complex ecosystems of primary algal production; its edge (where sea ice extent meets open water) is never clearly defined; and because that edge is perpetually moving it can never easily be mapped. Yet in spite of, or perhaps because of, sea ice’s indeterminacy its appearances and disappearances are regularly enrolled to support one political project or another – oil drilling, sovereignty claims, environmental protection, etc.

The politics of sea ice

The political utility of sea ice was driven home to us by the publication of two maps within months of each other in 2015: a Norwegian map that moved the sea ice edge 70 kilometers northward and a Canadian map that moved it 200 kilometers southward. In “’The ice edge is lost….nature moved it’: mapping ice as state practice in the Canadian and Norwegian North,” we research the genealogies of these maps to explore the pitfalls that emerge when sea ice is mobilized as a planning object.

Is the ice edge lost?

The title of our article is derived from two statements made about the Barents Sea ice edge. The first is from Nikolai Knipowitsch, a pioneer in sea ice research, who sent a telegram to his colleagues in 1930, proclaiming: “The ice edge is lost. Those who find it, please deliver it to the address: Longitude 81”. Knipowitsch was celebrating that he had correctly predicted that, due to higher temperatures and changes in the Gulf Stream, there would be an almost total absence of sea ice that summer in the Barents Sea. The title’s second quotation comes from a statement made 85 years later by Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg. Defending a map that, moved the ice edge northward and thereby lent support to efforts to open new areas of the Barents Sea to oil exploration, Solberg stated, “We are not moving the ice edge. It is actually nature that is currently moving the ice edge”.

Both statements can be contested. Knipowitsch knew very well that the ice edge was not mysteriously ‘lost’; indeed his research was devoted to uncovering the processes behind variation in its retreat and appearance. Solberg fails to share Knipowitsch’s sense of irony, but her statement can nonetheless be subjected to critique that resonates with the large body of geographic research that questions simplistic understandings of a unidirectional relationship where ‘nature’ influences ‘culture’. In this case, for instance, one could note that the ‘nature’ that Solberg blames for ‘moving’ the Barents ice edge is itself a product of carbon emissions from oil and gas extraction similar to that which would be facilitated by the map’s redrawing of sea ice extent.

But perhaps most profoundly, both quotations refer to the ice edge as an object that can be measured, mapped, and enrolled in economic development, state building, and a host of other projects. Our article suggests that whether the ice edge is said to be lost (as it was by Knipowitsch) or found (as it was by Solberg), the significance in both of these quotations – and in the Canadian and Norwegian maps that followed – is that the ice is said to exist as an object.

Toward a politics of probabilities and processes

In “’The ice edge is lost…nature moved it’” we urge that the retreat of sea ice should be incorporated into political discourse and conversation, not by drawing and reading lines on a map but by interpreting sea ice within a confluence of probabilities and processes: probabilities because sea ice cover is both spatially and temporally uneven and dynamic, and processes because the value of sea ice is less as an object with single purposes (e.g. to hinder ships, to support marine mammals and their hunters) than as an essential element of polar ecosystems and global circulations. Drawing a line on a map and calling it an ice edge smooths over insecurities, scientific knowledge gaps, and ecological risks involved in conducting economic activities above or below that line. It follows that sea ice management needs to be directed less toward protecting the places where sea ice was most recently located and more toward management of a zone where, amidst probabilities of its occurrence, environmental and social processes are preserved.

This presents a challenge for lawyers, legislators, and activists, as well as cartographers. New forms of mapping and legislating are required for a politics of probability and processes. We hope that geographers are up to this task.

About the authors: Philip Steinberg is Professor of Political Geography and Director of IBRU: the Centre for Borders Research at Durham University. Berit Kristoffersen is Associate Professor, Department of Social Sciences, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway.

books_icon Hjort J (1939) N. M. Knipovich. 1862–1939 ICES J Mar Sci 14 (3): 335-336. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/14.3.335
books_icon Steinberg, P. and Kristoffersen, B. (2017), ‘The ice edge is lost … nature moved it’: mapping ice as state practice in the Canadian and Norwegian North. Trans Inst Br Geogr. doi:10.1111/tran.12184

60-world2 Thompson A (2017) Sea Ice Hits Record Lows at Both Poles Scientific American https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sea-ice-hits-record-lows-at-both-poles/

Occupy and the dilemmas of social movements

By Sam Halvorsen, University of Cambridge

occupy.jpg

Occupy London, 16 October 2011, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Photo credit: Crispin Semmens (Flickr: assembly time) CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. 

You don’t have to look far in 2017 to see people taking to the streets. The election of Donald Trump led to global protests, with January’s “Women’s March” reported as the biggest day of protest in the history of the USA. In March, International Women’s Day saw marches and strikes around the world. While it is too early to say how these protests will unfold and what spatial forms they will take it is likely that they will come up against many of the challenges faced by activists in the past. Learning from the lessons of previous social movements is a useful task.

My recently published paper seeks to draw attention to and understand some of the more challenging and problematic aspects of social movements. It does so not with the intention of undermining them, but in the belief that it is important not to romanticise social movements as inherently good things and to directly confront the internal dilemmas they face.

From my research with Occupy London, part of a global wave of protests that spread across hundreds of cities worldwide in 2011 (see here for a report 5 years on), I argue that decisions that activists make about where to mobilise (e.g. in what places or at which scales) present particular dilemmas that can, at worst, lead to demobilisation. The research was based on my own active involvement and commitment to Occupy London, something I have written about elsewhere (Halvorsen, 2015) and has been explored in a previous blog post on this page.

As geographers have demonstrated for some years now (see Routledge, 1993), social movements don’t just appear ‘on the head of a pin’ (Miller and Martin, 2000) but mobilise in and across space. In this paper I aim to add to recent conversations about how and why geography matters to social movements (e.g. Nicholls et al, 2013) by focusing on the dilemmas and contradictions that arise when mobilising particular spatial strategies: decisions to prioritise spatialities such as the place of the protest camp or a global network of solidarity.

I argue that in the pursuit of particular spatial strategies activists tend to create tensions that, at times, undermine the original aims and goals of a movement. For example, decisions by Occupy London activists to prioritise the building and maintenance of a protest camp meant that less energy was available for building international alliances or solidarity campaigns, creating tensions with Occupy London’s stated aims of building a global movement. This led both to the demobilisation of some activists, concerned with the “fetishisation” of camp, and later to new spatial strategies following eviction.

In making this argument I develop a dialectical analytical framework, an approach that understands change as the result of constantly resolving contradictions, which I integrate with a spatial analysis of social movements. Specifically, I outline spatial dialectics as a means of grappling with the unfolding of contradictions both historically, over time, and geographically, across different moments of space (what Henri Lefebvre referred to as the moments of perceived, conceived and lived space).

Social movements have great potential for social change as history has taught us. Yet social movements, like any other part of society, are not free from contradictions and internal tensions and it is important to both acknowledge and make sense of why this is the case.

This is important because the work of doing activism is unevenly experienced by differently placed people. In Occupy London, for example, I demonstrate divisions of labour based around class and gender, features that are all too common in seemingly “radical” movements.

Grappling with contractions is also important, crucial in fact, for supporting and pushing social movements forward. Exposing and explaining why geography is central to the unfolding of contradictions is thus an important task.

About the author: Dr Sam Halvorsen is a Leverhulme/Newton Trust Early Career Research Fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. 

References

60-world2 Broomfield M 2017 Women’s March against Donald Trump is the largest day of protests in US history, say political scientists The Independent Online 23 January 2017

books_icon  Halvorsen S 2015 Creating space for militant research within- against-and-beyond the university: reflections from Occupy London Area 47 466–72

books_icon  Halvorsen S 2017 Spatial dialectics and the geography of social movements: the case of Occupy London. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12179

60-world2 Jamieson A 2016 Occupy Wall Street reunites five years later: ‘I never ended for most of us’ The Guardian Online 18 September 2016

books_icon  Miller BA and Martin BG 2000 ‘Missing Geography’ In Miller BA 2000 Geography and Social Movements: Comparing Antinuclear Activism in the Boston Area University of Minnesota Press, London

books_icon  Nicholls W, Miller B and Beaumont J eds 2013. Spaces of Contention: Spatialities and Social Movements Farnham, Ashgate

60-world2 Rose M 2016 Exploring “Militant Research” and how to research protest protest Geography Directions

books_icon  Routledge P 1993. Terrains of Resistance: Nonviolent social movements and the contestation of place in India Praeger, Westport CT

60-world2 Topping A and Redden M 2017 ‘We are international, we are everywhere’: women unite in global strike The Guardian Online  7 March 2017

 

Mobilising affinity ties for humanitarianism at the war-torn China-Myanmar border

By Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho, National University of Singapore

idp-camp-at-china-myanmar-border

Figure 1. An IDP camp at the China-Myanmar border. Source: Author’s own, 2012.

A few days after Christmas 2016, a social media post caught my eye. It stated,

‘Dear Humanitarian Agencies, [the] IDPs regret to let you know that all the humanitarian assistance you provided […] has been abandoned again last night due to the offensive war of [the] Govt Military’.

The IDPs referred to internally displaced persons at the border of China and Myanmar, while the ‘Govt Military’ in question was the military arm of the Myanmar government.

On 8 November 2015, international news agencies had reported the landslide victory of the political party led by Aung San Suu Kyi. It appeared to herald a new era of democracy in Myanmar. But the civilian government has no oversight over the military, which retains the right to a quarter of the seats in parliament, and power over key ministries to do with defence, home affairs and border affairs. As the Washington Post reports on 28 December 2016, fighting at the border areas of Myanmar has escalated as the Myanmar military intensifies its attacks on ethnic groups it considers insurgents.

The IDPs mentioned in the social media post were displaced from their homes in Kachin state (henceforth Kachin IDPs) as a result of armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin state of northern Myanmar. The breakdown of a ceasefire agreement (1994-2011) between the two parties renewed a civil war in Kachin state. Regional newspapers such as The Irrawaddy provide fuller coverage of the hostilities happening in Kachin state, Myanmar.

IDPs who fled further north to the border area that Myanmar shares with China were barred from crossing the border into Chinese territory. This act of refusal in turn prevents the IDPs from being recognised as refugees who have crossed an international border and thereby entitled to protection under international law. For several years following the renewed conflict, local humanitarian workers faced challenges channelling humanitarian aid to the IDP camps at the China-Myanmar border. The remote location of camps at the border area meant the supplies could be delivered only via routes controlled by the military in Myanmar or the government in China.

However, both parties denied international humanitarian agencies access to the camps citing sovereignty reasons or concerns over the safety of international personnel in the conflict zone. Only in recent years has advocacy by humanitarian workers succeeded in pressuring the Myanmar military to provide safe passage for the international humanitarian agencies to assess the IDP camps and the needs of the IDPs. Even so, as the social media post above informs us, the humanitarian supplies remain at risk of being destroyed through ongoing conflict.

Considering these humanitarian challenges is an article published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers which examines the geographical and geopolitical constraints that deter international humanitarian assistance, yet provide opportunities to engage a different set of humanitarian actors at the China-Myanmar border.

The paper first argues that the Kachin IDPs are treated as surplus populations by the sovereign states in both Myanmar and China. Surplus populations come into existence when nation-states impose punitive measures that compromise the survivability of populations that are considered threatening to national sovereignty. Second, the paper examines how mobilising affinity ties enables Kachin humanitarian workers to leverage the citizenship resources of empathetic Chinese nationals across the China-Myanmar border for negotiating humanitarianism constraints.

Overall, the paper considers how physical and cognitive borders establish taxonomies of social difference but also provide opportunities for identifying connections and forging transversal dialogues (henceforth transversal webs of connections) to bridge people of different social positionings. The paper argues that transversal webs of connections engender affinity ties that can be mobilised towards nurturing empathetic identification and caring relationships in societies characterised by cultural diversity and social complexity. This approach provides a potential ethical stance and productive analytical lens for advancing wider migration and citizenship debates.

About the author: Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore. Elaine’s current research interests include China-Myanmar borderland migrations, Chinese diaspora and transnationalism, Asian forced migration, and urban aspirations of new immigrants in China. 

books_icon  Ho, E. L-E. 2016 Mobilising affinity ties: Kachin internal displacement and the geographies of humanitarianism at the China–Myanmar border. Trans Inst Br Geogr. doi:10.1111/tran.12148

60-world2  Htusan E 2016 Kachin rebels see more Myanmar attacks, no hope for peace The Washington Post online Dec 28 2016

60-world2  The Irrawaddy http://www.irrawaddy.com/

The power of quiet activism in troubled times

By Eimear Kelly, Queen Mary University of London

29099724245_c42e833c96_b

Public protests are not the only way to effect change. Image credit: Flickr user Fibonacci Blue CC-By 2.0

The rise of nationalism and far-right political parties across Europe and America shocked many in 2016. In June, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union after a leave campaign, which was partly based on stirring up fears of immigration. In November, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States after a disturbing campaign in which he made outrageous racist, misogynistic and xenophobic claims. Following both of these events there was a significant increase in race and religious hate crimes in both the US and the UK, with the latter having a staggering 41% increase.

Within the media and social media there have been a wealth of opinion pieces, blog posts, tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts expressing anger, sadness, or confusion over how these events could have possibly occurred and what to do now. Out on the streets, thousands have marched and protested against Brexit, Trump’s win, and denounced racism, xenophobia and sexism.

While these public and vocal forms of protest and activism are vital and significant, it is important not to overlook the value of more quiet forms of activism, which can bring about change through everyday acts of kindness and subversion. Laura Pottinger’s recently published research in Area argues for the power of ‘quiet activism’ which she describes as small and embodied acts of doing and making that are either implicitly or explicitly political.

A pertinent example of quiet activism would be a befriending scheme between asylum seekers, refugees and settled residents in Newcastle, England described in Kye Askins’ research paper in Transactions. During this scheme, partners would often have to work through unfamiliar, confusing and exclusionary bureaucracy together. Through working together, talking, sharing experiences and emotions, the pairs’ relationships developed and this enabled greater understandings of each other as multi-faceted individuals. Those taking part in the programme noted that their involvement led to conversations with family, friends and co-workers where they have challenged prejudice, potentially changing views of those close to them. Kye argues that this type of programme is important not just at the local level but beyond, encouraging policy makers and academics to pay attention to the emotions of intercultural engagements as these are key for drawing connections between people. However, Kye recognises that more research is required to explore how the emotional citizenry she calls for is applicable across wider scales.

For those struggling to determine what to do to in the current social and political climate, it is worth considering what everyday smaller acts one could engage in to create change even just within a local scale.  That is not to lay the burden of change on the shoulders of people and absolve the wider institutions and governments of their responsibilities, nor is it an argument against vocal protest and activism, but it is useful to consider all ways to effect positive change.

books_icon Askins, K. (2016) ‘Emotional citizenry: everyday geographies of befriending, belonging, and intercultural encounterTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers doi: 10.1111/tran.12135

world_icon BBC (2016) ‘Brexit protest: March for Europe rallies held across UKBBC. Retrieved 19 December 2016

world_icon BBC (2016) ‘Race and religious hate crimes rose 41% after EU voteBBC. Retrieved 19 December 2016

world_icon Foster, P. (2016) ‘The rise of the far-Right in Europe is not a false alarmThe Telegraph. Retrieved 19 December 2016

world_icon Okeowo, A. (2016) ‘Hate on the rise after Trump’s election‘ The New Yorker. Retrieved 19 December 2016

world_icon Osnos, E. (2016) ‘The gathering storm of protest against TrumpThe New Yorker. Retrieved 19 December 2016

books_icon Pottinger, L. (2016) ‘Planting the seeds of a quiet activismArea doi:10.1111/area.12318

world_icon Toynbee, P. (2016) ‘Vote Leave’s fear-the-foreigner campaign will cause lasting divisionsThe Guardian. Retrieved 19 December 2016