By Jillian Smith, University of Birmingham 

Lake Michigan (c) Jillian Smith

Lake Michigan (c) Jillian Smith

The Great Lakes–at the U.S. and Canadian international boundary–are the planet’s largest system of freshwater (Government of Canada, 2016). The five Great Lakes (Lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, Erie) represent more than twenty percent of the world’s freshwater supply (Canadian Geographic, n.d.). This oft-repeated axiom, however, is somewhat misleading. A mere one percent of the waters of the Great Lakes are renewed each year in rain and snow-melt (Government of Canada, 2016). This supply cannot be carelessly utilised without destroying the stock. Freshwater systems are not inherently sustainable; water abundance is a myth.

Recent record low levels in three of the five Great Lakes have leaders to lawmakers to environmentalists sharing the common interest of conservation and restoration in the basin (Boyce, 2016). Nevertheless, a small Wisconsin city narrowly outside the basin is thirsty for Great Lakes water. Waukesha’s 70,000 residents can no longer drink from the city’s depleted aquifer. What little water remains is contaminated with naturally occurring cancer-causing radium. Though Waukesha is outside of the Great Lakes watershed, the city’s engineers can almost taste Lake Michigan’s water – they just need a pipeline or two. Certainly, one small city’s request for water beyond the Great Lakes watershed does not seem significant, but is it? What does this mean for the Great Lakes basin? And perhaps more poignantly, what does this potential test case mean for other thirsty American cities in the context of a changing climate?

More than 35 million people rely on the five Great Lakes (NOAA, n.d). Another 70,000 people drinking from a straw (or rather, a pipeline) seems somewhat inconsequential. The concern, therefore, is not necessarily about Waukesha; the concern is about who might be next. Las Vegas? San Francisco? Nearly all states west of the Rockies have experienced “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought” conditions in recent years (USDA, 2017). It seems Waukesha could be poised to become a precedent-setting test case for moving water beyond the basin.

Water vaulting is nothing new – the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Qaraqum Canal, South-to-North Eastern, and South-to-North Central are just a few very large water diversions that immediately come to mind. Nonetheless, freshwater scarcity is a global problem just beginning to touch North America. Climate change impacts on freshwater supply and quality will undoubtedly intensify in coming years. Changes in precipitation patterns, increases in temperature, evaporation, and sea level rise will continue to threaten lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. While climate scientists are quick to point out that no single event can be attributed to climate change, extreme weather events are increasingly the norm and society will be forced to adapt to these altered patterns.

Understandably, adaptation is difficult. O’Neill and Graham (2016) note that adaptation decisions associated with climatic changes pose challenges to person-place bonds. In an era of changing climate and environmental quandaries, place attachments are at risk. While nobody wants to see Waukesha residents displaced due water travails, nobody wants to see the Great Lakes–one of the world’s most valuable resources–positioned for lackadaisical exploitation. To what degree have conservation efforts or alternate projects been considered in Waukesha?

Despite the deserved reverence for this remarkable resource, and our obvious dependence on it, modern society has proven to be a poor caretaker of the Great Lakes in the recent past. Pollutants, toxins, eutrophication, sewage, wetland loss, invasive species, climate change, and over-extraction are all threatening the Great Lakes and the species who depend on them. Is it fathomable that a large-scale diversion project could be a future threat? Waukesha is just one thirsty city beyond the Great Lakes basin, but it begs the question: who will be next? Waukesha could be precedent setting for water woes and climate travails throughout the parched United States.

References

books_icon Boyce, C. (2016). Protecting the integrity of the Great Lakes: Past, present, and future. Natural Resources & Environment, 31.2, 36-39.

60-world2 Canadian Geographic. (n.d.). The Great Lakes. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from http://www.canadiangeographic.com/atlas/themes.aspx?id=watersheds&sub=watersheds_flow_thegreatlakes&lang=En

60-world2 Government of Canada. (2016). Great Lakes quickfacts. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from Environment and Climate Change Canada https://www.ec.gc.ca/grandslacs-greatlakes/default.asp?lang=En&n=B4E65F6F-1

60-world2 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (n.d.). About our Great Lakes: Great Lakes basin facts. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from https://www.glerl.noaa.gov//education/ourlakes/facts.html

books_icon O’Neill, S. J., and Graham, S. (2016). (En)visioning place-based adaptation to sea-level rise. Geo: Geography and Environment, e00028, doi: 10.1002/geo2.28.

60-world2 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (2017). United States Drought Monitor. Retrieved February 26, 2017 from http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/RegionalDroughtMonitor.aspx?west

Towards a more ethical geographical praxis: western privilege and postcoloniality

By Mark Griffiths, Northumbria University

j-_vermeer_-_el_geografo_museo_stadel_francfort_del_meno_1669

Johannes Vermeer The Geographer (1669). Available via United States Public Domain license.

Geographers have never been more acutely aware of the historical and contemporary cleavages of which we – or so many of us – are often both critics and beneficiaries. This year’s RGS-IBG Conference carries the theme of ‘Decolonising Geographical Knowledges’, while the other large conference, the AAG Meeting, is currently reacting to the damage brought by President Trump’s recent anti-Islam Executive Orders. These are worrying times that lay bare the legacies of formal colonialism and the persistence of western privilege. Particularly worrying is that geographers from outside the publishing heartlands – whose work is invaluable if we are to know anything at all about diverse places and people – will, as always, feel the brunt of these neocolonial measures brought by the new Trump Administration.

There is then a renewed focus on the haves and have-nots of people across the globe, geographers very much included. In this heated moment it feels very new, but while it might be true that we have never seen anything like Donald Trump before, it is not novel to have privileges skewed across space. This is not at all to dismiss the deleterious acts we’ve seen recently (and the silent complicity of too many), but it does serve to recall that our discipline has grown out of a history of uneven power relations with post/colonial places and people. As I point out in my recently published paper in Area, part of the privilege of western geographers in terms of ‘mobilities, institutional prestige, access to publishing avenues and so forth’ is owed to the spoils of empire.

We can therefore understand the privilege of western academics and geographers as historically constituted, where, say, the ‘permission to narrate’ (as Edward Said put it) or the ability to cross borders is tied intimately with one’s ancestral position within colonial-era relations. Couple this with important feminist interventions on the situatedness of knowledge and positionality as relational, and the self-reflection (or ‘hyper-self-reflection’ as Gayatri Spivak calls for) incumbent on us all when we embark on fieldwork in a “postcolonial context” can reveal much about how the past bears on the present and the means to carry out research.

For me, a white, British man working at a UK institution, those means are great. I therefore must include myself in a loose category of ‘privileged western researcher’ that has – rightly – brought much introspection from that part of our research community involved in working towards a de- or post-colonial praxis for geography, a work that will continue at this year’s biggest conferences.

In my paper* I consider the label of ‘privileged western researcher’ from a postcolonial and historical perspective. I argue that if “our” (a collective term I seek to pick apart) positionality is historically contingent with colonial-era relations, then the attendant colonial histories within that might be (re)considered through their, following the work of Dipesh Chakrabarty, heterogeneity. More specifically, I seek to bring the politics of class to disrupt the assumption of equivalence between Britishness (or western-ness) and unvariegated privilege.

To this end I turn to positionality as relational and personal and consider my own relationship with Empire, making what I consider an important point: ‘I’m a working class boy from the Industrial North of England, my parents’ parents … did not study at any of our great public schools or prestigious universities … my forebears did not order the passage of knowledge from Africa and the Orient to Kensington Gore and Oxbridge’. The argument I make therefore is that colonial-era relations across space were and are multivalent and histories of domination cannot draw so clearly the contours of researcher privilege in postcolonial settings.

From here I propose an empirical potential for more a more ethical praxis in the field, making the argument that in the business of talking about the unfairness of unequal opportunities, of assigned societal positions and trajectories, to know what it is to be sometimes outside, a working-class background (finally) becomes an academic resource that may just make solidarity with less-privileged Others come that bit more readily. In the article I give a brief example of how I believe this played out in fieldwork in India.

What this brings to these turbulent times is something of nuance to the idea that western geographers always already carry with them the histories of colonial exploration and expansion; just as gender and race can give the lie to this assumption, so can class. I look forward to discussing this further at the RGS-IBG Conference this coming August. As for what this might mean in the context of the ongoing debate around the AAG and travelling to the US, if little else a painstaking process of (communal) introspection might help us better negotiate the dissonant positions of critic and beneficiary of empire and its spoils.

* Mark’s paper inaugurates Area‘s new regular feature, ‘Ethics in/of geographical research’. The Area Editors welcome submissions from across the geographical community that consider diverse, contemporary concerns that fall under the broad remit of ethics.

About the author: Mark Griffiths is a Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in the Centre for International Development at Northumbria University. His research is split between two sites: in Palestine he focuses on the political affects of the occupation in West Bank, tracking the embodied aspects of Palestinian activism and resistance. In India his work has focused on NGO and volunteer work on livelihood and sanitation projects in both urban and rural areas.

60-world2 AAG Council 2017 AAG Statement on President Trump’s Executive Order http://news.aag.org/2017/01/aag-statement-on-president-trumps-executive-order/ 

books_icon Chakrabarty D 2007 Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference  Princeton University Press

60-world2 Fenton S 2017 Theresa May ‘very happy’ to host Donald Trump on state visit, despite petition reaching 1m signatures The Independent 30 January 2017 

books_icon Griffiths M 2017 From heterogeneous worlds: western privilege, class and positionality in the South. Area, 49: 2–8. doi:10.1111/area.12277 (free to access)

books_icon Haraway D 1988 Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective Feminist Studies 14, 575-99

books_icon Rose G 1997 Situating knowledges: positionality, reflexivities and other tactics Progress in Human Geography 21, 305-320

books_icon Said E 1984 Permission to Narrate Journal of Palestine Studies 13, 27-48

books_icon Spivak G C 1999 A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present Harvard University Press

Multiple stressors and ecological surprises

Geo: Geography and Environment

The expanding global human population, now about 7.5 billion, is increasing the pressure that we as a species put on the environment.  2016 was the warmest year ever recorded, and temperature records continue to be exceeded. Each year, more natural ecosystems are lost to dam construction, deforestation and urbanisation. Rates of species invasion are increasing, and pollution events continue to pressure native wildlife. Many ecosystems are now threatened simultaneously by these multiple human-caused stressors, yet we still know very little about their combined interactive impacts.

In our paper in Geo (Linking key environmental stressors with the delivery of provisioning ecosystem services in the freshwaters of southern Africa) we review the impacts of multiple stressors on ecosystem services in freshwater ecosystems in southern Africa (e.g. the Okavango Delta; see photo). We chose these systems because freshwaters contribute disproportionately to ecosystem services despite covering less than 1% of the earth’s…

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Boundaries, Borders, and… The Trump Wall?

By Jillian Smith, University of Birmingham 

800px-Mexican-American_border_at_Nogales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

How landscape managers think about local landscapes influences their approaches to climate change adaptation

By Vera Köpsel, Cormac Walsh and Catherine Leyshon 

kopsel

A sign warning visitors of coastal erosion at the protected landscape of Godrevy in Cornwall (UK) – Source: © Vera Köpsel 2016

Climate change is likely to alter the appearance of many rural and coastal landscapes, for example through extreme weather, river flooding or cliff erosion . A prominent example of such impacts, often connected to climate change, was the 2013/14 winter floods in the southwest of England . Inasmuch as the climate is changing, so are our responses to its impacts as we try to both adapt to new conditions and reduce future change through mitigation.

A suitable example for researching the connections between perceptions of landscape and place, and adaptation to climate change, is Cornwall in southwest England. Many of the region’s famous landscapes are under special designations such as the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) or the properties of the National Trust. As a peninsula stretching into the Atlantic Ocean, moreover, Cornwall is already experiencing an increase in extreme weather events, storminess, as well as river and sea flooding.

Cornwall’s coastal and rural areas are valued places of everyday life and cultural heritage. They are filled with personal attachments but coastal and rural areas are sometimes valued very differently by different groups within a society. This includes the staff of organisations responsible for managing these iconic landscapes (e.g. the National Trust, Natural England, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Cornwall Council) who bring different priorities and perspectives to their work. These subjective perceptions of places remain largely under-researched when it comes to understanding the dynamics that shape climate change adaptation processes. In our new paper, published in The Geographical Journal, we explored the different perceptions of Cornwall’s landscapes held by local landscape managers who are faced with dealing with the impacts of our changing climate. We asked how these perceptions influence their climate adaptation approaches.

The theoretical approach of our study was that of constructivist landscape research, a concept rooted deeply in human geography and focusing on subjective and collective perceptions of landscapes. By conducting qualitative interviews with local staff of organizations such as the National Trust, the AONB Partnership, Natural England and Cornwall Council, we uncovered four different narratives – in other words, storylines – about what Cornwall’s landscapes are, how they are affected by climate change, and how one should adapt to these changes. These four narratives conceptualise the Cornish landscapes as:

  • the region’s basis for economic growth
  • an intermediate result of an ongoing human-environment relationship
  • a mosaic of wildlife and habitats;
  • and a space for production, e.g. of agricultural goods.

By identifying these different narratives, we show that although superficially often understood as one and the same thing, the concept of landscape means very different things to different actors concerned with its management. These varying understandings of the landscapes have direct implications for how they should be managed in the context of a changing climate: from preserving the status quo and rejecting any built interventions through a focus on community-led action, to a call for hard engineering – different constructions of landscapes result in potentially conflicting demands for adaptation measures in Cornwall. Understanding which landscape perceptions underlie such differing approaches to adaptation becomes especially important when the adaptation activities of one group negatively impact on what another group values about a landscape.

Leaving unarticulated the taken-for-granted constructions that landscape management actors have of their local landscapes holds great potential for misunderstandings and can present an obstacle to sustainable climate adaptation. As climate change adaptation is a societal challenge which demands the transdisciplinary cooperation of many different organizations and actors on the local level, our research makes an important contribution to furthering constructive dialogue about how to adapt landscapes and places to the impacts of a changing climate. With ever greater emphasis on multi-agency working to achieve climate change adaptation in landscape management, it is important that future research investigates the diverse perceptions people have of the places they manage, to secure effective action at the local level.

About the author: Vera Köpsel and Cormac Walsh are both research associates at the University of Hamburg. Catherine Leyshon is Professor of Human Geography at the Univesity of Exeter. 

60-world2 Carrington D 2016 Study reveals huge acceleration in erosion of England’s white cliffsThe Guardian 7 November 2016.

60-world2 Herald Express 2016 South Devon beaches have ‘not recovered’ after ferocious storms of 2014. 27 Nov 2016.

books_icon Köpsel, V., Walsh, C. and Leyshon, C. 2016 Landscape narratives in practice: implications for climate change adaptation. Geogr J. doi:10.1111/geoj.12203

books_icon Radford T 2016 Stronger storms coming to Europe’s Atlantic seaboard The Ecologist 8 April 2016

60-world2 Vaughan A 2014 England and Wales hit by wettest winter in nearly 250 years The Guardian 27 February 2014. 

 

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