The importance of studying innovation in complex systems: a case study of anaerobic digestion in the UK

By James Suckling, University of Surrey, Claire Hollohan, University of Manchester, and Iain Soutar, University of Exeter

Anaerobic Digestion Plant

GOC Weston-Bygrave 103: Bygrave Lodge anaerobic digestion plant. Photo Credit: Peter O’Connor. CC BY-SA 2.0


We are placing ever greater burdens upon the natural systems that underpin our societies, economies, and industries. While harvesting and consuming food, water and energy are crucial to satisfying our basic needs, it also has implications for our environment, our economy, and our societal well-being. Food waste, for example, is a hugely important issue, with roughly 30% of all food produce being wasted. This is not only an improper end for embedded water, energy, and land resources, but also a waste management challenge, and if landfilled contributes to climate change.

However, all too often systems are managed in isolation from one another meaning that focusing on, say, the energy system may mean that the resultant impacts on other systems (e.g. water, food) are in danger of being overlooked. Highlighting the need to consider the interdependencies between systems, the concept of the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus has been recognised as an important area for sustainability research. Our recent article in The Geographical Journal explores the process of innovation within the WEF nexus, taking anaerobic digestion (AD) as a case study. It is a processing technology which has a potentially bright future, operating across the WEF nexus to bring many benefits, but is one which is often hampered by siloed thinking.

AD is a natural biological process whereby organic matter is decomposed into methane, carbon dioxide and a nutrient-rich liquid called digestate. Harnessing this process in a controlled environment offers a sustainable alternative to producing gas or electricity by other means e.g. via burning fossil fuels. It also presents an attractive option to manage society’s increasing stream of organic wastes from food, farming, and wastewater treatment, while producing, in the digestate, a potentially-valuable alternative to energy intensive mineral based fertilisers.

Although the biological process is always the same, AD applications are hugely diverse, comprising a diversity of inputs (e.g. food waste, slurries, dedicated crops) and outputs (e.g. biogas, electricity, digestate). This also means that AD has the potential to interact with energy, food and water systems in a multitude of ways. In this study, we interviewed owners and operators of AD plants to better understand the nature of these interactions. We sampled a wide variety plants, encompassing micro-scale community enterprises to large commercial operations; those entirely focused on food waste disposal to those processing a range of feedstocks; those capitalising on energy incentives to those pursuing social and sustainability objectives; those based on farms, and those on dedicated sites; and those which are succeeding as viable enterprises, along with those which are not.

The breadth of AD as an innovation presents both opportunities and obstacles for accelerating its deployment. On one hand, its applicability towards processing a range of inputs and producing a range of products broadens its appeal beyond just energy production. That said, the chief driver of AD in the UK has, to date, been energy policy, particularly support for low carbon electricity and heat production. Though having created a supportive context for AD, the presence of energy subsidies has also constrained further innovation. For example, there are few incentives to explore AD as a tool for organic waste management, land management, social wellbeing, or the intended manufacture of digestate as a product in its own right. Indeed, those plants already operating are constructed to capitalise on the energy rewards, and opportunities may have already been missed, but for the lack of a more diverse support structure. Finally, with fluctuating levels of support from energy incentives, there is uncertainty within the AD industry and the businesses already operating, making new investment unlikely and limiting the scope for diversification of existing plants.

Taking a so-called ‘nexus’ approach is vital if we are interested in ensuring that sustainability transitions are truly sustainable. The nexus approach has emerged in response to calls for research and policy on complex systems to draw on whole-systems perspectives, that is, perspectives that consider the dynamics between multiple innovations and how they coevolve and impact on wider system goals. It demands that we integrate knowledge from multiple disciplines, maintain focus on multiple domains, and apply learning at multiple scales to emphasise the complex set of interconnections between systems. Our findings highlight that if the diverse and bright future envisaged, by some, for AD is to be realised, then its strengths and weaknesses across the WEF nexus must be understood and recognised in research, policy and experimentation, rather than just in terms of the energy sector against which it is currently judged.

About the authors: James Suckling is a Research Fellow at the University of Surrey, Claire Hoolohan is a Research Fellow within the Tyndall Centre for Climate at the University of Manchester, and Iain Soutar is Lecturer in Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Exeter.   

FAO. (2018). SAVE FOOD: Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction. Key Facts on food loss and waste you should know! Retrieved from

Hoolohan C, Soutar I, Suckling J, Druckman A, Larkin A, McLachlan C. Stepping‐up innovations in the water–energy–food nexus: A case study of anaerobic digestion in the UKThe Geographical Journal2018;00:1–15.

Press Association. (2018). Food thrown out by House of Commons doubles in three years. Retrieved from

Watts, J. (2018). Earth’s resources consumed in ever greater destructive volumes. The Guardian, 23rd July 2018. Retrieved from 

How geography can help us think critically about disability hate crime

By Edward Hall, University of Dundee


Disability hate crime is a serious and increasing problem in the UK. Hate crime is ‘criminal behaviour where the perpetrator is motivated by hostility or demonstrates hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity’ (Crown Prosecution Service). For disabled people, it includes bullying, harassment, and sometimes physical assault, as well as financial exploitation. In England and Wales there were 5,558 hate crimes committed against disabled people in 2016/17, an increase of 58 percent on the previous year (Home Office, 2017); in Scotland in the same period, there were 188 recorded crimes, a small drop from 2015/16 (Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, 2017). Although constituting a small proportion of all recorded hate crimes (about 7%), it is widely acknowledged that there is significant underreporting of disability-related hate crimes. Disability hate crimes can have a devastating physical and psychological impact on the individual affected and can create fear amongst other disabled people in the community.

Despite the importance of the issue, and that disability hate crimes take place both in the public spaces of neighbourhoods, on city streets and on public transport, and in the private spaces of people’s homes, there has been little or no research undertaken by geographers (some research on religious beliefs and sexuality-related hate crimes, e.g. Listerborn, 2014; and Browne et al, 2011). In my recent Area article, I argue that geography has a significant contribution to make to the understanding of disability, and other forms of, hate crime.

The dominant way that disability hate crime is understood is perhaps the reason for the lack of attention by geographers. There have been a small number of high profile cases of disability hate crime which have arguably determined the way in which the issue is perceived. In 2007, after months of harassment by a group of young people in their street in a Leicestershire village, Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca, who had a learning disability, died in a car fire. In a number of reports by major disability charities, there were further accounts of abuse, violence, and deaths. Such events are traumatic for those affected and create fear and anxiety amongst many more disabled people.

It has been vital to record the violence perpetrated against disabled people and to widen the existing hate crime legislation to include disabled people. However, it can be argued that, at the same time, these dominant accounts of violence mean we do not pay sufficient attention to the far more numerous, everyday incidents of ‘low-level’ harassment, such as being shouted at and called names in the street, being pushed past in shops, and being taunted online. Whilst in most cases not resulting in violence, these experiences can create fear and affect disabled people’s confidence to get out and about in their communities.

Whilst a lot of attention has been, rightly, paid to the experiences of those affected by disability hate crime, I would argue that we also need to examine the reasons why such incidents occur. Why do people commit such crimes, and why do they occur in certain places? There has been almost no research on this, and so there is an opportunity for geographers to make a contribution. Some argue that people are motivated by a hatred of disabled people; others claim that it is the economic and social circumstances of the communities where the incidents happen that shapes people’s negative attitudes towards disabled people. A small survey (by Katherine Quarmby, 2015) of disabled people who had experienced a hate crime, found that their understanding of why they had been targeted was that it was mostly to do with perceptions of disabled people as benefit ‘scroungers’ or ‘jealousy of perceived “perks” of disability’, such as an adapted car or reserved parking space.

Evidence suggests that disability hate crimes happen anywhere that disabled people are present – in the home, the street, college, shops and on public transport. However, they do not always happen in these locations – so we need to shift our attention to the unfolding of such incidents, and the factors or ‘triggers’ that cause them to happen. In a study of ‘race’ hate crime, Iganski (2008) showed that most such hate crimes were opportunistic, the outcome of ‘random encounters’, and were more likely to happen in busy areas and/or when there is a dispute over access to services in a neighbourhood. There could be a similar explanation for the incidence of disability hate crime: widespread negative discourses of disability, and specific local and micro-scale sites, situations and social interactions, combine to make incidents of harassment and violence more likely. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (2011) identified designated disabled person parking spaces as sites where such negative attitudes and social interactions sometimes come together to generate incidents of hate crime.

This is where geographers should be focusing their attention. Talking to disabled people, and possibly perpetrators of disability hate crimes, could enable us to make maps of the specific spaces and social situations, and triggers, where and when disability hate crimes are likely to occur. Importantly, this would provide the police and other organisations with fresh insight into enhancing their responses to, and prevention of, disability hate crime.

Davies, K. 2017. Ten years after the death of Fiona Pilkington, have the police got better at tackling hate crime? The Independent. Available from 

Hamilton, F. 2016. Hate crime against disabled increases by 40 per cent in a year. The Times. 13 July 2016. Available from

Hall, E. 2017. Why disability hate crimes are woefully under-reported. The Conversation. Available  from

Hall E. A critical geography of disability hate crime. Area. 2018;00:1–8.

Quarmby, K. 2015. To combat disability hate crime, we must understand why people commit it. The Guardian. Available from


Stacking toilets across the seasons: providing sustainable sanitation for all?

By Amita Bhakta, University Loughborough

pit latrine Rod Shaw WEDC

Where do you go to pee? Is it hygienic? Can you access it all year round? These questions don’t often cross the minds of those of us using clean toilets in the comfort of our homes, schools, workplaces, and the other public places we visit. However, in  2015, 2.3 billion people across the world did not have access to a private toilet that safely takes away their… well, poo. This risks the spread of disease and ill-health as people have no choice but to go to the toilet outside in a field or a street.

The current Sustainable Development Agenda via the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has given us, as a global population, a target to provide sanitation which meets everyone’s needs by 2030 (see SDG6, to provide clean water and sanitation for all). At the same time, we’re also working towards combating climate change and take ‘climate action’ (SDG13), ensuring gender equality (SDG5), providing a quality education for all (SDG4 ), and, importantly, ensuring good health and wellbeing for everybody (SDG3). Access to safe, improved toilets that reduce disease spread all year round is a vital part of meeting these goals. Whilst global efforts are underway to provide sustainable sanitation for all, climate change brings with it an array of risks and threats to our ability to take care of our health (Batty, 2018) through access to toilets.

In their paper in The Geographical Journal, Jewitt et al (2018) discuss how despite the fact that communities in India are gaining improved ‘pukka’ latrines, ‘stacking’ different latrine systems is not sustainable in the long term. Climate change raises the need to consider seasonality in sanitation design more carefully to adapt to risks of seasonal flooding. Whilst we can design and build man-made structures such as toilets, they are still vulnerable to the forces of nature, which can ultimately dictate whether a toilet maintains its ‘improved’ status, and leads to ‘stacking’ where different types of sanitation are used in the absence of good infrastructure.

Sustainable sanitation for all needs to be able to withstand the seasons of the year, but it also needs to consider who it is there to cater for. In recent years, the water and sanitation sector has explored the needs of women and adolescent girls for menstrual hygiene, disabled people, incontinence sufferers, and, recently, women who are going through the menopause. Individuals have different needs for sanitation, and this needs to be carefully considered in the design of each facility in the longer term. Women and girls will always need good menstrual hygiene management in toilets that are safe and dignified. Disabled people will always need a toilet that they can use easily without barriers. And, ultimately, we will all always need to pee. Sanitation for all means for all – no matter what the weather.

About the author: Amita Bhakta is a PhD candidate at the Water, Engineering, and Development Centre (WEDC) at the University of Loughborough. 

Batty, M 2018 ‘Ways to step up the fight against global antimicrobial resistance’ The Guardian  29 March 2018 [accessed 24 April 2018]

Jewitt S, Mahanta A, Gaur K. Sanitation sustainability, seasonality and stacking: Improved facilities for how long, where and whom?Geogr J2018;00:1–14.

‘UNDP Goal 3 Good health and wellbeing’ [accessed 24 April 2018]

‘UNDP Goal 4 Quality education’ [accessed 24 April 2018]

‘UNDP Goal 5 Gender equality’ [accessed 24 April 2018]

‘UNDP Goal 6 Clean water and sanitation’ [accessed 24 April 2018]

‘UNDP Goal 13 Climate action’

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.






Alternative geographical traditions from the Global South

By Federico Ferretti, UCD, Dublin, and Breno Viotto Pedrosa, Federal University of Latin American Integration  


Envelop of a letter from Milton and Marie-Hélène Santos to Anne Buttimer (1938-2017), likewise a cosmopolite and transnational scholar, UCD, School of Geography, Anne Buttimer Papers, folder Latin America.

In the last few years, a rich literature has addressed what might be defined as “alternative geographical traditions”, accounting for a plurality of views, in the history and philosophy of geography. Scholarship in anarchist geographies analyses the shared ‘roots’ of the anarchist tradition and the geographical one (Ferretti et al., 2017; White 2015; Springer 2016). Historical geographers also investigate labour history, anti-racism and global networks of solidarity beyond nationalistic views of the concept of anti-colonialism (Davies 2017, Featherstone 2012; Griffin 2017).

Recently, critical scholarship produced by political dissidents in Latin America during the second half of the twentieth century has been brought to the attention of Anglophone readers.  For example, Anglophone readers have engaged with the work of three Brazilians who were persecuted by the military dictatorship, which ran their country between 1964 and 1985: Josué De Castro (1908-1973); Milton Santos (1926-2001); and Manuel Correia de Andrade (1922-2007) (Ferretti 2018). These authors can be understood as exponents of alternative geographical traditions for three reasons: first, they criticised mainstream discourses on development, countering neo-colonialism and Malthusianism; second, the places and spaces of their work were alternative to the circulation of mainstream scholarship as they established scholarly and activist networks outside Europe and North America, including South-South relationships; and third, they represented a cultural alterity to the dominant discourses mentioned above, being multilingual scholars publishing in English but also (and especially) in Latin languages such as Spanish, Portuguese and French.

Important materials on the figure of Milton Santos have emerged, especially thanks to the work edited by Lucas Melgaço, Carolyn Prouse and Tim Hall, including translations of Santos’s work (Bernardes et al. 2017; Davies 2018; Melgaço 2017; Melgaço and Prouse 2017; Santos 2017) and an Antipode forum collecting interventions by Santos’s students and friends. Now, a paper by Federico Ferretti (UCD) and Breno Viotto Pedrosa (UNILA), published by TIBG, provides for the first time an analysis of Santos’s networks with critical and radical geographers of the ‘Global North’. It does so through archival research on Santos’s unpublished correspondence, which is held at the São Paulo IEB (Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros), a collection only recently opened to researchers and whose story is told via the Milton Santos’s website.

Other initiatives are recovering the memory of radical geographers of that generation. For example, the digitalization of the archives of the Union of Socialist Geographers Newsletter on the Antipode Foundation website.  Our paper explores unpublished correspondences between Santos and Neil Smith (1954-2012) on the initiatives of this association. The paper demonstrates that Santos played an influential, albeit still neglected, role in shaping the field of international critical and radical geographies in the 1960s and 1970s.

Born in Bahia, in the Nordeste region, one of the states with the most numerous Afro-Brazilian communities, Santos was a radical and transnational scholar aware of both anarchist and Marxist traditions. Showing the importance of Santos’s activism in both the French-speaking and the English-speaking circuits, which inaugurated key journals in the field such as Hérodote in France and Antipode in North America, contributes to a reassessment of the role played by the Global South in ‘theorising back’. At the same time, it exposes the importance of doing research on primary sources in different countries and different languages to reconstruct transnational and transcultural networks. In a nutshell, decolonising geographical knowledge.

About the authors: Federico Ferretti is a lecturer at the School of Geography at UCD Dublin. Breno Viotto Pedrosa is Professor at the Federal University of Latin American Integration. 


Bernardes A et al. 2017 The active role of geography: a manifesto Antipode 49, 4 952–958.

Davies Archie 2018 Milton Santos: The conceptual geographer and the philosophy of technics Progress in Human Geography [early view]

Davies Andy 2017 Exile in the homeland? Anti-colonialism, subaltern geographies and the politics of friendship in early twentieth century Pondicherry, India Environment and Planning D, Society and space 35, 3 457-474

Griffin P 2017 Making usable pasts: collaboration, labour and activism in the archive Area [early view:]

Featherstone D 2012 Solidarity: hidden histories and geographies of internationalism Zed, London.

Ferretti F Barrera G Ince A and Toro F 2017 Eds. Historical geographies of anarchism – Early critical geographers and present-day scientific challenges Routledge, Abingdon.

Ferretti F 2018 Geographies of internationalism: radical development and critical geopolitics from the Northeast of Brazil Political Geography 63 10-19

Ferretti F, Viotto Pedrosa B. Inventing critical development: A Brazilian geographer and his Northern networks. Trans Inst Br Geogr. 2018;00:1–15.

Melgaço L 2017 Thinking outside the bubble of the Global North: introducing Milton Santos and ‘the active role of geography’ Antipode 49 4 946–951.

Melgaço L & Prouse C Eds. 2017 Milton Santos: Pioneer in Geography. London: Springer.

Santos M 2017 Toward a new globalisation Springer, London.

Springer S 2016 The anarchist roots of geography Minnesota University Press, Minneapolis.

White R 2015 Following in the footsteps of Elisée Reclus: disturbing places of inter-species violence that are hidden in plain sight in Nocella II A, White R and Cudworth E eds. Anarchism and animal liberation, essays on complementary elements of total liberation Jefferson, Mc Farland & Company, 212-230.



Urban Roma, segregation and place attachment in Szeged, Hungary

By György Málovics, University of Szeged, and Remus Crețan, West University of Timisoara


Photo 1: Housing conditions in one of Szeged’s segregated neighbourhoods

Romani people occupy a complex social position within Europe, due to the stigmatization and discrimination they have faced for centuries there. Numerous studies have shown a strong ‘Romaphobia’ in European contexts (van Baar, 2011), positioning the Roma as Europe’s dehumanized ‘outsiders’ (Powell and Lever, 2017). This literature highlights that ‘the trajectory of the Roma in Eastern Europe is towards ghettoization’ rather than towards integration thus limiting life opportunities in numerous ways for people living in those neighbourhoods, but also providing advantages like protection and solidarity (Wacquant, 2012). A significant amount of research and media news cover this marginalization and urban spatial segregation of Roma in Europe, but the experience of living in ‘Gypsy ghettos’ needs to be examined in a more structured way. Our recent publication in Area (Málovics et al. 2018) addresses this challenge by providing a bottom-up view of the complex phenomenon of place attachment among marginalized urban Roma in two ghettos in Szeged, Hungary.

Approximately 3% of the Hungarian population (300,000 Roma) reportedly live in segregated environments, of which at least 1,633 ethnicity-based segregated neighbourhoods are known (Domokos and Herczeg, 2010). Findings from Szeged activists’ six-year participatory action research (PAR) project demonstrate that characteristics of both place and community relations are key determinants of place attachment for segregated urban Roma. Social relations within marginalized Roma neighbourhoods are shaped by dual ties. Traditional relationships based on reciprocity still exist, representing not only significant material and emotional support for families but also strong expectations towards sharing and the lack of a private sphere. In addition, we observed a process of social and spatial disintegration: Roma communities are becoming more fragmented, members aid others only in times of great distress, and they exclude those on the margins. The physical characteristics of segregated Roma neighbourhoods exert a dual influence on place attachment: these are ‘beyond-the-pale’ areas for local and national authorities. Basic public services are thus often neglected, resulting in poor housing conditions and an untidy environment (Photo 1), but also the perceived benefits of cheap housing and the relatively unregulated use of open spaces.

The relationship of segregated Roma to their neighbourhoods is shaped by further factors that extend far beyond the neighbourhood. Being embedded in the surrounding area(s) might represent numerous advantages (including work opportunities). However, poverty, prejudices, discrimination and, stigmatization from mainstream society limit life opportunities in numerous ways, for example, the ability to use public spaces. Because of poverty and ethnic stigmatization, numerous Roma are unable to ‘appear in public (spaces) without shame’ (Sen 1999, p.71). The same applies to important social institutions, including even primary schools: Roma pupils either attend segregated schools or classes or are marginalized within integrated primary schools. Overall, place attachment among marginalized urban Roma is a contradictory phenomenon: it varies from one segregated neighbourhood to the other and is influenced by social relations, the physical characteristics of the neighbourhoods, and relations between neighbours and everyday processes within the wider society.

The desegregation of urban Roma ghettos has become an official goal of Hungarian local development policy but we found that numerous issues should be considered in this process. The most important issue is that Roma communities are marginalized and stigmatized at the micro-level of daily social relations. In order to understand marginalization we must look beyond merely policy-oriented approaches and consider wider (historical) social processes and power relations within society. The question for further research remains: how to effectively struggle against centuries of social and spatial exclusion and ‘political pragmatism’ (Marinaro, 2003) as regards the marginal position of Roma within European societies.

About the authors: György Málovics is an associate professor of economics at the University of Szeged, Hungary. His academic interests are mainly dealing with local development, urban sustainability, marginalization and participatory action research. Remus Crețan is a professor of human geography at the West University of Timisoara, Romania. His recent research covers marginalization and stigmatization of Romani communities as well as (post)communist memory studies, political ecology, and social movements in Central and Eastern Europe. This blog post was written on behalf of our paper’s co-authors, Boglárka Méreiné-Berki and Janka Tóth.


Domokos, V., and Herczeg, B. 2010. Terra Incognita: magyarországi szegény- és cigánytelepek felmérése – első eredmények. Szociológiai Szemle 3: 82–99.

Málovics G, Creţan R, Méreiné Berki B, Tóth J. Urban Roma, segregation and place attachment in Szeged, HungaryArea2018;00:1–12.

Marinaro, C. I. 2003. Integration or marginalization? The failures of social policy for the Roma in Europe. Modern Italy 8: 203–18.

Powell, R., and Lever J. 2017. Europe’s perennial “outsiders”: A processual approach to Roma stigmatization and ghettoization. Current Sociology 65: 680–99.

Sen, A. K. 1999. Development as Freedom. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

van Baar, H. 2011. Europe’s Romaphobia: Problematization, securitization, nomadization. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29: 203–12.

Wacquant, L. 2012. A Janus-faced institution of ethnoracial closure: A sociological specification of the ghetto. In R. Hutchison and B. D. Haynes eds. The ghetto: Contemporary global issues and controversies. Westview, Boulder CO, 1–32.

Birds eye view of climate variability

By Anusha Sanjeev Mehta and Robert Wilby, Loughborough University 


(c) Anusha Sanjeev Mehta

The monsoons are the most important climate feature of India. They dictate the seasons and ultimately shape human well-being and livelihoods. But these dramatic transitions between hot/dry and cooler/wet conditions affect not just people but also the region’s flora and fauna.

Recently there has been a surge in nature-related recreational activities in India, particularly bird watching. Home to more than 1,000 species (of which about 45 are endemic), India is the ideal place for ornithologists. However, bird counts can vary a great deal between years, dropping markedly for example in 2015. Could there be a connection between climate conditions and birds in India?

Our new study, published in the journal Area, found that ocean-atmosphere patterns, such as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, could be affecting the number of bird species and counts of selected bird types in the states of Goa and Tamil Nadu. This is because ENSO and IOD patterns are linked to regional precipitation and temperature anomalies over large parts of the world, including India.

We pooled bird data for the years 1990 to 2015 by prevailing ENSO and/or IOD phases. They discovered that greater numbers of bird species occurred under El Niño and/or negative IOD events compared with La Niña and/or positive IOD events. In particular, bird diversity is higher when both Goa and Tamil Nadu experience locally wet conditions (under El Niño) compared to locally dry conditions experienced during La Niña. It was also found that temperature has a strong effect on the number of birds. Overall, bird communities were more abundant under warmer/wetter conditions.

The Brahminy Kite, Indian Pond Heron, and Lesser Whistling Duck were used as marker species to further detect the influence of ENSO and IOD. All three species were much more abundant in Goa during El Niño than La Niña events, while more Kites were found in Tamil Nadu during negative IOD than positive IOD events. Some seasonal and lagged impacts on bird communities were also observed. The picture could be further complicated by ENSO and IOD events operating in tandem, but datasets are generally too short to be sure.

The changes in bird species and individual bird numbers may be due to the indirect effect of ENSO on prey, habitats, nests, and migration. Wetter conditions during the winter and pre-monsoon period are favorable for birds due to the increase in food and water availability and reduced negative impacts on eggs and young birds caused by high temperatures. However, very wet weather and flooding can destroy breeding grounds, negatively affecting bird communities.

The study contributes to scientific knowledge by showing how ENSO and IOD signatures may be detected in the bird communities of India. The approach could be extended to other indicator species. This could deepen our understanding of the future climate vulnerability of one of the most ecologically vibrant areas of the planet.

About the authors: Anusha Sanjeev Mehta is Loughborough University graduate and Rob Wilby is Professor of Hydroclimatic Modelling at Loughborough University.

Kotteswaran, C. S., (2015) Vedanthangal bird sanctuary closes early. Deccan Chronical, 31st May 2015. Available at: [Access date 7 November 2017]

Mehta AS, Wilby RL. Modes of climate variability and associated bird communities in IndiaArea2018;00:1–13.