Exploring Cultural Geographies of Coastal Change

By Cormac Walsh, Hamburg University, and Martin Döring, Helmholtz-Zentrum Centrum Geesthacht


© Cormac Walsh, Wadden Sea coast, Northern Germany, looking towards Nordstrandischmoor (Hallig island).

Coasts are gaining increased attention worldwide as sites of dramatic and disruptive environmental change. Coastal settlements and ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise (Moser et al 2012). Exploitation of marine resources also contributes to coastal change, resulting in subsidence or loss of land at coastal locations, including at Louisiana and the Dutch Wadden Sea (Wernick 2014, Neslen 2017). Despite the evident interweaving of the natural and the social, the ecological, and the political at the coast, coastal geography has long been firmly positioned within the domain of physical geography with comparatively little input from human geographers. Indeed within the social sciences more generally, coastal and marine spaces have tended to be marginalised in favour of land-based narratives of societal development (e.g. Gillis 2012, Peters et al. 2018).

Physical, social, economic, and cultural processes come together at the coast, and meanings become enmeshed and intertwined. The power of the sea and the physical evidence of geomorphological change at the coast is a reminder of the materiality of place and the potential for dramatic and disruptive change. But coastal landscapes are also lived spaces, often embodying historical narratives of struggles against the sea, building coastal defences, reclaiming land, and learning to work with the daily and seasonal rhythms of a dynamic and fluid environment. In our recently published Special Section of Area on ‘Cultural Geographies of Coastal Change’ (Walsh & Döring 2018), we bring together diverse perspectives concerned with the cultural dimensions of understanding, interpreting and responding to processes of both environmental and socioeconomic change at the coast. In recognition of the need for a broad spectrum of diverse perspectives, we deliberately write of cultural geographies in the plural. Indeed our understanding of cultural geographies extends beyond the discipline of geography itself, to embrace related endeavours in the environmental humanities (Palsson et al. 2013) and the applied field of spatial planning (McElduff & Ritchie). The papers in the Special Section address issues of place attachment and climate change adaptation at the Wadden Sea coast of Germany and the Netherlands (Döring & Ratter, Van der Vaart et al, Walsh), conflicting perspectives on marine conservation in the Scottish Hebrides (Brennan), questions of land- and seascape designation in the UK (Leyshon) and pathways towards place-based coastal resilience in Ireland, North and South (McElduff and Ritchie).

Conceptually, the Special Section explores the concepts of ‘liminality’, ‘metageographies’, and the ‘coast-multiple’ in an effort to grasp the complexity of a multiplicity of ways of knowing the coast, and the potential for coastal places to occupy in-between-spaces of possibility and alterity at the boundary between the land and the sea. We emphasise the need for a reconceptualization of the coast which opens up possibilities for imagining alternative futures, of thinking the coast differently (Leyshon 2018, also Köpsel et al 2017). We thus seek to move beyond established categories of mutually exclusive land and sea spaces, natural and cultural landscapes and fixed, immovable coastlines in favour of a hybrid geography of fluid and dynamic spaces of hybrid nature-culture relations (also Ryan 2011, Satizabal & Batterbury 2017). Such spaces of possibility require inclusive processes of dialogue among a broad range of stakeholders and community interests, proactive, forward-looking leadership and informed input from the social sciences, humanities, and arts (McElduff & Ritchie 2018, van der Vaart et al 2018). It is hoped that the Special Section will provide a point of departure for future engagements with the complex geographies of socio-environmental change at the coast.

About the authors: Dr Cormac Walsh is an environmental geographer at Hamburg University, Institute for Geography. He is also co-editor of the recently launched Marine Coastal Cultures research blog. Dr. Martin Döring is an interdisciplinary researcher in the Human Dimensions of Coastal Areas Working Group at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Centrum Geesthacht. 


Brennan RE. 2018. The conservation “myths” we live by: Reimagining human–nature relationships within the Scottish marine policy contextArea50:159–168. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12420
Döring M, Ratter BMW. 2018. Coastal landscapes: The relevance of researching coastscapes for managing coastal change in North FrisiaArea. 50:169–176. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12382
Gillis, J. R. 2012. The Human Shore: Seascoasts in History, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Köpsel, V., Walsh, C., & Leyshon, C., 2017. Landscape narratives in practice: implications for climate change adaptation The Geographical Journal. 183: 175-186 https://doi.org/10.1111/geoj.12203
Leyshon C. 2018. Finding the coast: Environmental governance and the characterisation of land and seaArea50:150–158. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12436
McElduff L, Ritchie H. 2018. Fostering coastal community resilience: Mobilising people‐place relationshipsArea. 50:186–194. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12419
Moser, S. C., Williams, S. J., Boesch, D. F. 2012. Wicked Challenges at Land’s End: Managing Coastal Vulnerability under Climate Change Annual Review of Environmental Resources 37 51-78
Neslen, A. 2017. Gas grab and global warming could wipe out Wadden Sea heritage site, The Guardian, 16th June 2017.
Palsson, G., Szerszynski, B., Sörlin, S., Marks, J., Avril, B., Crumley, C., Hackmann, H., Holm, P., Ingram, J., Kirman, A., PardoBuendía, M., Weehuizen, R. 2013. Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: Integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research Environmental Science & Policy 28 4 3-13
Peters, K., 2010. Future Promises for Contemporary Social and Cultural Geographies of the Sea,  Geography Compass, 4, (9), 1260-1272.
Ryan, A. 2011. Where Land Meets Sea: Coastal Explorations of Landscape:  Representation and Spatial Experience Farnham: Ashgate
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
van der Vaart, G., van Hoven, B., Huigen, P.P.P.  2018. The role of the arts in coping with place change at the coastArea50:195–204. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12417
Walsh, C. 2018. Metageographies of coastal management: Negotiating spaces of nature and culture at the Wadden SeaArea50:177–185. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12404
Walsh, C., Döring, M. 2018. Cultural geographies of coastal changeArea50:146–149. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12434
Wernick, A. 2014. Louisiana’s coastline is disappearing at the rate of a football field an hour, Public Radio International, September 23rd 2014.




Coping with drought in Madagascar – a Role-Playing Game approach

By Maren Wesselow, University of Oldenburg and Susanne Stoll-Kleemann, University of Greifswald

Baobob tree on the Mahafaly Plateau © Jacques Rakotondranary

Baobob tree on the Mahafaly Plateau © Jacques Rakotondranary

The island nation of Madagascar is well known for its abundance of species and unique habitats. The potential loss of this impressive biodiversity, due in part to a combination of ongoing population growth and decreasing precipitation, is alarming for environmentalists and researchers. Threats to biodiversity in Madagascar have direct adverse effects on ecosystems and in turn on the people’s livelihoods, which largely depend on these diverse ecosystems.

In the Mahafaly Plateau (southwest Madagascar) periods of drought constitute a major threat to rural livelihoods, which are based around subsistence agriculture and rely on rainfall for irrigation and zebu husbandry. In face of the impacts of climate change, it is crucial that rural communities like those in the Mahafaly Plateau develop adaptation strategies. Generating knowledge about the existing adaptation strategies is essential for supporting local actors to achieve food security by safeguarding their livelihoods and the ecosystems they depend upon.

Community participation through Role-Playing Games

In transdisciplinary science, researchers integrate the knowledge of various scientific disciplines and stakeholders such as resource-users, decision-makers, and practitioners into the research process. This demand for integrative knowledge production calls for innovative and integrative methodologies. The so-called Role-Playing Game (RPG) methodology is presented in our recent publication in The Geographical Journal.

The method involves a number of stakeholders in a gaming situation where they act out (or role play) individual and collective decisions in response to particular scenarios. During the games, roles are assigned to the players, and, typically, a game board is used as a stylised representation of a real-life situation.

The Livelihood Game

A participatory role-playing game (RPG) was used to understand household strategies in Southwestern Madagascar in years where “normal” rainfall was observed and in periods of drought in. Since the thematic focus of the RPG was on the maintenance of a livelihood, the game was termed a “livelihood game”. The fictional duration of the game was four years, with each round representing one year. A satellite map of the village layout containing mapped plot boundaries was used to set the spatial and topographic context for the households’ activities.

Four household roles, ranging from relatively wealthy to relatively poor, were randomly assigned to players. To simulate the households’ decisions, players could locate their fields on the map and decide how to cultivate them. Moreover, a set of seven action cards illustrating activities like livestock farming, trade, making charcoal, and making handicrafts were also available to the players. Expenses and revenue were calculated for the end of each year and were symbolised by beans. We found that anonymisation, achieved through the random assignment of roles, encouraged participants to open up more in comparison to other forms of group workshops. Watch this video to find out more about the RPG methodology as applied in the Madagascar case https://vimeo.com/222374756. (WOCAT, Sulama).

Learning by doing and learning by failing

The results helped researchers understand the strategies different household types pursue in order to secure their livelihoods. Moreover, participants stated that they gained insights about how to improve their livelihood strategies from the in-game discussions. For example, they strategically accumulated starting capital to access more profitable livelihood activities. In times of drought, participants diversified their activities and increasingly opted to collect edible forest products or migrate temporarily.

The strength of the RPG method is that the close-to-real situations allow the creation of ‘safe, dangerous places’ (Lankford and Watson 2007, 426) where various courses of action can be tested and discussed. Furthermore, it constitutes a platform that helps to build trust, negotiate interests, and mediate conflicts between participants.

Jacques Rakotondranary2

Players discussing their livelihood decisions during the livelihood game © Jacques Rakotondranary

Power and empowerment

One problem associated with participatory methods is that power imbalances can arise between local research participants and non-local researchers. This means, for example, that the game, developed by non-local researchers, might be designed in a way that reflects the researchers’ prior assumptions about who holds power and who is to be empowered (Kothari 2001). In these situations, participatory approaches run the risk of reproducing such power disparities by providing a platform for those voices that are already most dominant (Mosse 2001), while marginalised groups such as women or the poorest members of the community might be sidelined.

The method requires a lot of preparation and communication skills. Therefore, it is crucial that facilitators have a good knowledge of the region and should pose critical questions when they suspect bias or distortion in participants’ answers. At the same time, they should act as neutral persons who allow all participants to contribute their knowledge and opinions. If applied in a thoughtful way, the method constitutes a powerful tool for observing players’ behaviour and eliciting their decisions in context, as well as providing a platform for the discussion of the consequences of their actions.

About the authors: Maren Wesselow is a PhD Candidate at the University of Oldenburg/ Germany, and Susanne Stoll-Kleemann is a Professor in Sustainability Geography at the University of Greifswald/ Germany.

BBC News 2016 Madagascar: 1.5m face hunger because of drought, UN says published on 27 October 2016 on BBC News (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-37792356), accessed 20 December 2017

Kothari U 2001 Power, knowledge and social control in participatory development in Cooke B and Kothari U eds Participation: The New Tyranny? Zed Books, London, United Kingdom

Lankford B A and Watson D 2007 Metaphor in natural resource gaming; insights from the River Basin Game Simulation & Gaming 38 421-442 doi:10.1177/1046878107300671

Mosse D 2001 ‘People’s Knowledge’, participation and patronge: operations and representations in rural development in Cooke B; Kothari U eds Participation: The New Tyranny? Zed Books, London, United Kingdom 16-35

Nadene Ghouri 2016 Climate changes plague Madagascar’s poor ‘The water rose so fast’ Published on 7 July 2016 on The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jul/07/madagascar-climate-change-plagues-poor-the-water-rose-so-fast), accessed 20 December 2017

Peter Lykke Lind 2016 Madagascar drought: 330,000 people ‘one step from famine’, UN warns. published on 25 November 2016 on The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/nov/25/madagascar-drought-330000-one-step-from-famine-un-food-and-agriculture-organisation), accessed 20 December 2017

Wesselow M and Stoll-Kleemann  2018 Role-playing games in natural resource management and research lessons learned from theory and practice. The Geographical Journal https://doi.org/10.1111/geoj.12248 



Exploring political-economic influences on official environmental reports

By Yonten Nyima, Sichuan University, China

A local government billboard that reads, “Implementing the policy of grassland ecological protection subsidy and reward, to restore natural grassland ecosystem functions”, Shentsa, Tibet, March 2017 (Photography by Yonten Nyima)


Not long ago, China’s state media, Xinhua News Agency, reported that grassland cover in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has increased by 2.5% since 2010 according to the regional Department of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (Liu, 2017; Xinhua News Agency, 2017). According to the report, the increase results from an ongoing grazing ban and a destocking policy implemented to prevent and reverse grassland degradation (Liu, 2017). Grazing has been banned on approximately 10% of the region’s total area of grassland and the number of livestock has been reduced to 18 million from 23 million in 2010, as per the report(Xinhua News Agency, 2017). The report does not detail how this increase in grassland cover was figured out. Nonetheless, my recently published Area paper suggests that it is sensible to be skeptical about the credibility of such reports as they are often influenced by political-economic factors (Nyima, 2018).

China claims that, with a total grassland area of 400 million hectares (a total usable grassland area of 313 million hectares), which it says accounts for 13% of the world’s total area of grassland and 41.7% of China’s total area of land, it has the world’s second largest grassland area after Australia (Han, 2011). Within China, the TAR is believed to have the largest grassland area with 25% of China’s usable grassland area (Han, 2011; Zhaxi, 2016). In China, narratives of grassland degradation underlie ongoing state policy on grassland management and pastoralism. As it believes that there is pervasive rangeland degradation across the country due to overgrazing, China has launched two large grassland protection programs since 2003. The programs call for grazing restrictions and destocking through a reward mechanism.

My Area paper critically examines the credibility of official reports on grassland degradation through a case study from the TAR. It analyses the political-economic motivations behind official reports on grassland degradation over two decades, between 1992 and 2011, in the region. It reveals internally inconsistent or contradictory figures and statements regarding the magnitude and extent of grassland degradation and shows political-economic factors influencing official reports on rangeland degradation. Specifically, the government tends to play down the problem of grassland degradation when it responds to criticisms for its alleged environmentally damaging activities. The opposite is true of official reports on grassland degradation produced for economic motivation, i.e. government agencies tend to overstate the problem of grassland degradation in order to capture funding. The paper concludes that political-economic motivations behind official reports on grassland degradation may prevent alternative input about the actual condition of grassland, and alternative policies to be considered and adopted.

This finding is consistent with research elsewhere in the world; non-environmental factors play an important role in shaping environmental narratives. For example, Sayre’s review of the global history of grassland science shows that grassland science is guided more by capital and the agendas of state agencies (Sayre, 2017). Another example is Davis’s study of arid lands in North Africa, which shows that desertification assessment has been politically motivated and exaggerated, and yet such assessment still frequently informs policy (Davis, 2016). Lastly, it should be stressed that pointing out that non-environmental factors shape environmental narratives is not the same as denying environmental problems, but it is vital to have a more accurate understanding of environmental realities.

About the author: Dr. Yonten Nyima was Associate Professor, Institute of Social Development and Western China Development Studies, Sichuan University, China


Davis, D. (2016). The arid lands: History, power, knowledge. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Han, J. (2011). Survey on ecological issues of China’s grasslands (in Chinese). Shanghai, China: Shanghai Far East Publishing House.

Liu, H. M. (2017). Grassland cover in the Tibet Autonomous Region exceeds 45%; grassland ecosystems recover well (in Chinese). Xinhua News Agency 25 December. http:// www.xinhuanet.com/politics/2017-12/25/c_129774826.htm

Nyima Y. (2018). Political-economic factors in official reports on rangeland degradation: A critical case study from the Tibet Autonomous Region. Area. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12418

Sayre, N. (2017). The politics of scale: A history of rangeland science. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Xinhua News Agency. (2017). Tibet sees expanding grassland. 25 December. http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-12/25/c_136850815.htm

Zhaxi. (2016). The rangeland area of the TAR exceeds 1.3 billion mu (in Chinese). China Today

1 November. http://www.chinatoday.com.cn/chinese/society/xzrys/201611/


Trucking Transformations

Photo Credit: Tesla

Photo Credit: Tesla

“Smokey, old diesels” – this summarizes a long-held perception of the trucking industry.  It has been, perhaps, a valid perception. Nevertheless, with electric transports entering the industry, opinions may be poised to change. Where has the trucking industry been and where is it going? How is geography going to impact the emergence of electric trucks?

Diesel exhaust has choked cities for decades. Diesel-powered transports have traditionally spewed up to 30 percent of the particulate matter (PM) in polluted urban air (Toy, Graham, & Hammit, 2000). Particulate matter in the United States alone caused 15,000 premature deaths each year (Nel, 2005). Diesel PM has been tied to increases in emphysema, asthma, and heart disease. Moreover, long-term exposure to diesel exhaust particles also poses the highest cancer risk of any toxic air contaminant (American Lung Association, n.d.).

Likewise, trucks have conventionally comprised about 10 percent of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in America (Toy, Graham, & Hammit, 2000). Exposure to ground-level ozone – for which NOx is a precursor – has been linked to lung inflammation and decreased immunity (American Lung Association, n.d.). Furthermore, diesel exhaust is an irritant to mucosal membranes (eyes, nose, throat) and can precipitate coughs, headaches, lightheadedness, nausea, and allergies.

Air pollution and public health, however, are not the only concerns weighing heavy-duty vehicle transportation. Trucking accounts for approximately 20 percent of North America’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (U.S. Department of Transportation, n.d.).  The preponderant GHG’s include water vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). The primary GHG’s associated with trucking are CO2, CH4, N2O, and HC (US EPA, 2010).

In the interest of public health and environmental preservation, curtailing freight truck emissions is evidently prudent. In March of 2011, President Obama announced – with liquefied natural gas (LNG) trucks as a backdrop – a public-private partnership aimed at reducing gasoline and diesel consumption in large commercial fleets. Trucking companies throughout Canada and the United States began branding themselves “green” by embracing LNG engine technology. LNG, however, has its own issues. Though inherently cleaner burning than diesel, LNG is still a fossil fuel. While natural gas is touted as having an environmental advantage over diesel in terms of life cycle (Riva, D’Angelosante, & Trebeschi, 2006), the ability to extract copious volumes of natural gas from vast shale reserves in North America still poses problems, including aquifer contamination, water use, fracking fluid impacts, land industrialization, and fugitive emissions (Verrastro & Branch, 2010).  And although LNG has had a rather exemplary safety record, fears about attacks, vapour cloud fires, and accidental spills have been raised.

Electrics, hybrids, LNG’s, diesels with particulate filters/selective catalytic reduction – technology has always driven change in the trucking industry. Simpler solutions –reducing truck idling time, installing speed limiters, training “green” drivers, and improving service inefficiencies – also reduce fossil fuel consumption. Yet, an even more obvious answer exists: reduce vehicle miles driven! How senseless it seems to transport bottles of water thousands of miles when, for many, potable water is available from a kitchen faucet. How peculiar that we opt to move millions of pounds of food that could be grown in backyard gardens. Regardless, the foremost dilemma with solutions aimed at resolving these peculiarities is that it places the burden on humanity; it would encompass a difficult social paradigm shift.

Fortunately for humanity, technology marches on. The new year rolled in with big trucking news – the Tesla semi-truck. Though not the first electric semi-truck, the Tesla has an enviable range of up to 800 km (Clouthier, 2018). Ultimately, however, geography will determine any realized range. Temperature, wind, grade, payload, traffic, and topography will all influence actual range. Regardless, fewer fossil-fuel-powered trucks on the road is good news in terms of air quality and GHG emissions (assuming renewable electric generation). Again, this assumption is highly dependent upon geography; it obviously makes more sense to run electric trucks in areas where electricity is generated from renewable sources.

Even with consideration of all these existing variables, there is still one major hurdle electric trucks must overcome, one that that share with passenger vehicles – adequate recharging networks. In a recent paper that highlights strategies to increase electric vehicle uptake, the absence of recharging stations is earmarked as a key concern among potential customers. Surveys indicate that some drivers are more concerned about inadequate infrastructure than vehicle cost (Broadbent, Drozdzewski & Metternicht, 2017). The authors go on to state that faster transition to electric vehicle adoption should include appropriate legislation, sufficient recharging networks, procurement programs, and information programs. Adoption of electric semi-trucks would surely benefit from similar programs. Realizing these objectives will not be easy, but certainly worth it – for the health of the public and the planet.


American Lung Association. (n.d.). Health Effects of Diesel Exhaust. Retrieved 2018 from Air Toxicology and Epidemiology: http://www.oehha.ca.gov/public_info/facts/dieselfacts.html

Broadbent GH, Drozdzewski D, Metternicht G. (2017). Electric vehicle adoption: An analysis of best practice and pitfalls for policymaking from experiences of Europe and the US. Geography Compass. 2017;e12358. https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12358

Clouthier, D. (2018). Using electric trucks for what today’s technology allows. Retrieved 2018 from Truck News: https://www.trucknews.com/blogs/using-electric-trucks-todays-technology-allows/

Nel, A. (2005). Air Pollution – Related Illness: Effects of Particles. Science, 308, 804-806.

Riva, A., D’Angelosante, S., & Trebeschi, C. (2006). Natural gas and the environmental results of life cycle assessment. Energy, 31(1), 138-148.

Toy, E., Graham, J. D., & Hammit, J. K. (2000). Fueling Heavy Trucks: Diesel or Natural Gas? Retrieved 2017 from Harvard School of Public Health: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/Organizations/hcra/diesel/diesel.pdf

U.S. Department of Transportation. (2011). Transportation and Climate Change Clearinghouse. Retrieved 2017 from: http://climate.dot.gov/

U.S. EPA. (2010). Regulations and Standards: Heavy-Duty Regulations. Retrieved 2017 from Transportation & Climate: http://www.epa.gov/oms/climate/regulations/420f10901.htm#1

Verrastro, F., & Branch, C. (2010). Developing America’s Unconventional Gas Resources: Benefits and Challenges. CSIS Energy & National Security Program

Improving Learning and Applying GIS in Interdisciplinary Research

By Patrick Rickles, UCL

I guess I’m not alone in either struggling with GIS (Geographic Information System) technologies, or seeing colleagues struggle to effectively use it. When the GIS does not work, or when learning resources use jargon that the would-be GIS users do not understand, they tend to blame themselves. This should not be the case – though never intentional, badly designed systems, materials or practices should be held accountable and either improved or completely rethought. These problems exist, regardless of discipline, when using GIS.

My professional experience includes working in private, public and academic sectors, across a variety of industries, and I have seen this same issue continually arise – enthusiasm turning to frustration when people cannot do what they want to do with the GIS, so they abandon the technology. As GIS professionals, I believe we have a duty to do better and promote the overall understanding of GIS and associated materials, to improve the likelihood of success and uptake. It is my hope that through my research, we can learn how to better support an increasingly diverse range of GIS users, foster that enthusiasm for GIS and create a better and more inclusive community of practice with and around GIS.


Patrick Rickles helping an interdisciplinary researcher learning GIS

My recently published article, published in Geo: Geography and Environment, titled “A suggested framework and guidelines for learning GIS in interdisciplinary research”, is based upon my PhD research and has been written with co-authorship and support from my supervisors, Claire Ellul and Muki Haklay. In the article, I share elements of my PhD work which focused on how people go about learning to use GIS, particularly in the context of interdisciplinary research. From this work, I make recommendations on how these results can be used, going forward, to improve the process of learning GIS for future learners.

To begin, I had to first understand what interdisciplinary researchers were doing with GIS and the issues they faced that might affect uptake. These preliminary findings were discussed in Rickles & Ellul (2015), which identified challenges and suggested solutions in interdisciplinary research, as well as a theoretical understanding of learning approaches. Based on an evaluation of prominent interdisciplinary studies using GIS, and observations of an interdisciplinary team’s use of GIS, the relevance of those challenges and suggested solutions were reviewed to support a learning approach. The knowledge gap and time constraints were the most common challenges, with building relationships and training often suggested as solutions.  Problem Based Learning (PBL) – where learners restructure their knowledge to solve real world problems as part of a collaborative process with other learners and/or educators – was put forward as a viable approach for learning GIS in interdisciplinary research.


Modified Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework for learning GIS in interdisciplinary research

This article provides updates to and further enriches that initial research. An online survey of interdisciplinary researchers provided verification of the issues uncovered in the first article, with interviews providing a more in-depth exploration of what those issues may mean in a practical sense. An overview of those findings shows that interdisciplinary researchers are using GIS to create, analyse and visualise information; that they are using ArcGIS and QGIS desktop platforms as well as web GIS platforms such as Google Maps/Earth and ArcGIS Online; and that they are using informal learning methods (e.g. internet searches, watching a video, asking a more experienced person). The findings also suggest a more structured learning approach may be supportive of the learner, but PBL can be time consuming for both the learner and educator. Therefore, Context Based Learning (CBL), which recognises the importance of the context of the problem domain for the learning activity, but allows for materials to be created in advance, may be a more appropriate approach. Combining these elements, which modify the Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework, guidelines and a specific framework are suggested for educators to use to support interdisciplinary researchers learning GIS. My further research has applied these in a practical setting using a learning resource titled “GIS Lessons for You” (www.patrickrickles.com/tutorial), to test the guidelines and framework. The results will be published as part of my PhD and potentially as a future article.

About the author: Patrick Rickles is a PhD student in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering at University College London, and is also an Implementation Analyst for the Department of Communities and Local Government.

[reblogged from Geo: Geography and Environment. Read the original: https://blog.geographyandenvironment.com/2018/01/08/improving-learning-and-applying-gis-in-interdisciplinary-research/]

Rickles, P. & Ellul, C. (2015). A preliminary investigation into the challenges of learning GIS in interdisciplinary research. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 39(2), 226-236

Rickles P., Ellul C., and Haklay M. A suggested framework and guidelines for learning GIS in interdisciplinary research. Geo: Geography and Environment, 2017; 4 (2), e00046 (open access)


Reappraising the place of geography textbooks

By Tim Hall, University of Winchester, and James D Sidaway, National University of Singapore.  


Trump praises health care of Nambia, a nonexistent African country. Image Credit: Marco Verch CC BY 2.0

US President Donald Trump recently attracted mocking headlines and social media comment from around the world for praising the health care system of a nonexistent African country. During a United Nations speech to African leaders in September 2017, Trump lavished praise on the imaginary nation’s health care system, arguing “Nambia’s health system is increasingly self-sufficient.” After presumably drawing blank looks from the assembled leaders, it was later clarified by the White House that Trump was actually referring to Namibia, although commentators have speculated that he might have just as well been referring to Zambia or Gambia.

Donald Trump’s shaky grasp of the geography of Africa suggested he spent little of his time as a student at the University of Pennsylvania with his nose buried in an atlas or geography textbook. Geography textbooks though are far more than just crib sheets of basic geographical knowledge. They play important roles in shaping the discipline, student’s world views and the visibility of their authors, themes explored in our recently published Area paper and the subsequent collection on the production and utilisation of geography textbooks, for which it acts as an introduction.

Geography textbooks have undoubtedly played key roles in the evolution of the discipline, through the codification and communication of new perspectives and the education of geographers in the making (at school, college and university), for example. However, despite this they have been relatively little discussed within the literature on Geography’s histories. In our paper we mention Dorothy Preece’s (1938) textbook, The foundations of geography, written whilst she was a teacher at Crewe County Secondary School in north west England, which sold around 100,000 copies a year, a figure unimaginable today. Despite this though, it is a text largely forgotten by disciplinary historians. Similarly we point to the key role of Richard Chorley and Peter Haggett’s (1967) Models in Geography in disseminating geography’s quantitative revolution. Recognising changing technologies, pedagogies and modes of publishing now we argue that addressing this lack of critical debate on textbooks in geography is a timely endeavour.

The essays in the collection that follow our paper, all of which are authored by experienced textbook authors and editors from the UK, USA, Aotearoa / New Zealand and Singapore, explore these themes in the contexts of their own engagement in the processes of textbook production. The collection offers a series of highly personal perspectives but ones that connect with a range of wider disciplinary themes and debates.

Geographical illiteracy is a point picked up in Barney Warf’s paper ‘textbooks in human geography: an American perspective’. The essay was produced prior to Trump’s Nambia gaff. However, Nambia serves to remind us of the enduring importance of geographical knowledge and the vehicles through which it is produced, disseminated and consumed. Geography textbooks have changed radically since Dorothy Preece was writing in the 1930s and continue to evolve today, in an age of online delivery and proliferating fonts of opinion and demands on student attention. They are an enduring part of geography’s history, mirror to its present and will be keys to its future, and as this collection of papers shows, one that continues to deserve serious critical attention.

About the authors: Tim Hall is Professor of Interdisciplinary Social Studies and Head of Applied Social Sciences at the University of Winchester and James D Sidaway is Professor of Political Geography at the National University of Singapore. 

The associated papers are available in Early View, and are free-to-access until Feb 2018. The collection will be published in a issue of Area in 2018.


books_icon Sidaway, J. D. and Hall, T. (2017), Geography textbooks, pedagogy and disciplinary traditions. Area. doi:10.1111/area.12397

books_icon Couper, P. (2017), Visibility and invisibility in, of and through textbook publication. Area. doi:10.1111/area.12398

books_icon Inkpen, R. (2017), The ‘smugness’ of geographers: dismantling the caricatures of philosophies in Human and Physical Geography. Area. doi:10.1111/area.12399

books_icon Ramdas, K., Ho, E. L.-E. and Woon, C. Y. (2017), Changing landscapes as text: Geography and national education in Singapore. Area. doi:10.1111/area.12400

books_icon Warf, B. (2017), Textbooks in Human Geography: an American perspective. Area. doi:10.1111/area.12401

books_icon Sparke, M. (2017), Textbooks as opportunities for interdisciplinarity and planetarity. Area. doi:10.1111/area.12402

books_icon Murray, W. E. and Overton, J. (2017), Globalisation is not spelt with a zed: Geography texts for and from Oceania. Area. doi:10.1111/area.12403

60-world2  Karimi F 2017 Trump praises health care of Nambia, a nonexistent African country CCN  21  September 2017

60-world2  Zilber A 2017 ‘It was the world’s largest exporter of covfefe’: Trump is slammed on social media for referring to non-existent country ‘Nambia’ during his lunch with African leaders Daily Mail 21 September 2017



Exploring a relational approach to water management

By Liz Charpleix, University of New England, Australia


Whanganui River at Pipiriki, December 2014 © Liz Charpleix

The recent election of Labour politician Jacinda Ardern as Aotearoa/New Zealand’s youngest Prime Minister since 1856 has caught the world’s attention, for reasons ranging from the personal to the political. One of the planks in her party’s policy platform is ‘Clean rivers for future generations’, an appropriate goal for a nation that markets itself as ‘100% Pure’ and ‘the home of Middle Earth’. In pursuing this policy, the party has declared that they intend to ‘work with iwi [people who share a common ancestor] to resolve [Waitangi] Treaty water claims in a manner that respects iwi’s mana [authority], and restores the mauri [life force] of our rivers and lakes’ (Labour, nd).

Given that Aotearoa/New Zealand was colonised on the basis of a treaty signed by Māori chiefs and the English Lieutenant-Governor at Waitangi in 1840, a declaration of respect for Māori culture and law by the nation’s ruling government should not need explicit expression today. However, due to the mistranslation of the treaty from English into Māori at the time of signing, the rights and obligations of each party were different in each language. Disputes ensued as a result of the mistranslation and, finally, in 1975, the Waitangi Tribunal was set up to settle such disputes; the declaration by the Labour Party emphasises its support for the corrective process set in train by the tribunal.

One Waitangi Treaty claim that sought to restore respect for an iwi’s mana and a river’s mauri was Wai 167, which resulted in the recognition of the legal personhood of the Whanganui River. The enacting legislation, passed in March 2017, brought to a conclusion more than a century of legal and direct actions by Te Atihaunui-a-Paparangi, the Māori who live along the river and have long disputed the removal of its management and control from their hands by the European colonists (known as Pākehā ). I have described this case, and discussed its contributions to decolonising a legal system shaped within a colonial context, in a paper recently published in The Geographical Journal. Although place-specific, the claim demonstrates the potential for environmental management to be enhanced by drawing upon relational ontologies with less anthropocentric visions than the dominant Western model.

Inherent in the relational ontology of the Māori is the concept that ‘it is not possessions that most count but how we relate to, and respect the mana of each other and the environment’ (Waitangi Tribunal 1999, xix). Throughout their long dispute, Te Atihaunui battled a range of issues that demonstrated the colonisers’ lack of respect for the Māori and the standing held by the river in their culture. These issues predominately stemmed from the treatment of the river as an economic resource by the Pākehā, such as water abstraction for the Tongariro power scheme, damage to in-river fishing structures, and removal of gravel from the river for commercial reasons. Compounding the disrespect is the fact that for the Māori, a river comprises much more than a stream of water: ‘… it include[s] all things related to the river: the tributaries, the land catchment area… the silt once deposited on what is now dry land’ (Waitangi Tribunal 1999, 39). If the river is damaged, then it is not only the water that has lost mauri; the harm seeps into the earth beneath and beyond.

By contrast, Western hierarchical ontologies locate rivers as one thing and land as another, with humans overseeing them all. From this anthropocentric point of view, environmental features are resources to be used in support of, but never as an equal participant in, the human economy. The idea, as demonstrated by the outcome of Wai 167, that a river can be a person in its own right  supports the egalitarian perspective that a river has the right to stand up for its own health. It has the right to demand back its mauri, to expect a restoration of its mana, to require, in conjunction with the iwi that live upon and by it, respect.

Imagine the river and its surrounding environment, including the Māori and other residents and visitors to the river, as an interconnected network, radiating its mauri outwards along pulsing riparian arteries. The end result, which hopefully wouldn’t take another 150 years to achieve, would be much more than clean rivers and lakes. It would be a healthy vibrancy that permeates the entire nation, infusing humans, flora, fauna, air, water and earth alike with a prospect of a positive future.

About the author: Liz Charpleix is PhD candidate at the University of New England, Australia. 


60-world2 100% Pure New Zealand nd Home of Middle-Earth (https://www.newzealand.com/au/home-of-middle-earth/) Accessed 13 November 2017

books_icon Charpleix L 2017 The Whanganui River as Te Awa Tupua: place-based law in a legally pluralistic society The Geographical Journal doi/10.1111/geoj.12238

60-world2 Jones A 2017 Jacinda Ardern: ‘Stardust’ ousts experience in New Zealand BBC News October 19 (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41226232) Accessed 10 November 2017

60-world2 Labour nd Clean rivers for future generations (http://www.labour.org.nz/water) Accessed 6 November 2017

60-world2 New Zealand Parliament 2017, March 28 Innovative bill protects Whanganui River with legal personhood (https://www.parliament.nz/en/get-involved/features/innovative-bill-protects-whanganui-river-with-legal-personhood/) Accessed 10 November 2017

books_icon Waitangi Tribunal 1999 The Whanganui river report: WAI 167 GP Publications, Wellington