Tag Archives: childhood

‘Fun gifts for boys’ and the geographies of ‘aww’, ‘umph’, ‘wow’ and ‘cool’

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

As manufacturers and retailers prepare to sell huge quantities of toys and gadgets in the run up to Christmas, at least one seven-year-old girl has protested this week at the marketing of such products according to gender.

Karen Cole tweeted a photo of her daughter, Maggie, next to a sign for Marvel Comics merchandise in a branch of Tesco that read ‘Fun gifts for boys’.

7-year-old Maggie not impressed with 'fun girts for boys' sign

Maggie, who is a big fan of Spider Man, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Doctor Who, spotted the sign and told her mother that Tesco was “being stupid” as “anybody can like superheroes”. The photo was retweeted more than ten thousand times, forcing an apology and the removal of the signs from all Tesco stores.

These superhero characters and toys are clearly important to lots of children like Maggie; it is this relationship, alongside the role played by popular culture characters and products in children’s lives, that John Horton seeks to examine in a recent edition of Geography Compass. The paper calls for “more direct, careful, sustained research on geographies of children, young people and popular culture.”

Horton outlines ‘classic’ works from cultural and media studies, which, he contends, have been “centrally concerned with meanings of popular culture designed for children and young people”. The likes of Barbie and GI Joe, Horton argues, have often been central to such discussions, with Barbie being widely critiqued as “a ‘condensed’ representation of normative ideals of ‘emphasised femininity’ and female body image”.

While Horton recognises the value and importance of this kind of work, he argues that “if one jumps to write about meanings of popular culture, it is all too easy to overlook how popular cultural texts, objects and phenomena matter in practice within people’s everyday geographies.”

Horton presents an analysis of ‘Toys ‘Я’ Us’ brochures old and new, but reflects that in attempting to write about their meanings and representations “I have suppressed (or at least distanced myself from) what I felt as I browsed the 1975 Toys ‘Я’ Us catalogue and other decades-old toy catalogues: feelings of ‘aww’, ‘umph’, ‘wow’, ‘cool’, ‘I remember that’, that are not easy to put into words.”

Geography, then, has an important role to play in addressing questions of both meaning and Mattering in this context. This involves examining the more-than-representational ways in which popular cultural texts, objects and phenomena are encountered and experienced by children in a diverse range of everyday spaces.

As Horton acknowledges, this raises important questions of how to conduct research attentive to both the political-representational concerns of the sort quite rightly raised by superhero-loving Maggie, and to the complex nonrepresentational materialities that constitute young people’s geographies – the ‘awws’, ‘wows’ and ‘cools’ evoked by the bodily practices of play, the meanings of which may not be sayable or may simply not exist.

 Girl, 7, gets Tesco to remove ‘stupid’ sign suggesting superheroes are ‘for boys’ The Independent, 25 November 2014

 John horton, 2014, For Geographies of Children, Young People and Popular CultureGeography Compass 726-738

“are We Whistling in the Wind?”

By Briony Turner

MEC's green roof among others by sookie (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This was the question posed by Dr Bob Bloomfield, Head of Innovation at the Natural History Museum, whilst chairing a discussion at the IHDC 2012 conference, on designing ecosystem services into the built environment.

Our connection with nature is at times, and certain locations, tenuous to say the least.  The National Trust has documented the children of Britain’s declining connection with nature and the external environment.   Stephen Moss, who reviewed the findings, diagnosed a “Nature Deficit Disorder”.  This report, “Natural Childhood”, marked the National Trust’s launching of an inquiry to determine the barriers and the solutions for children’s connection with nature.   The inquiry found that children’s love of nature is best started in the home. If we are to avoid creating a generation cut off from the natural world, we need to look not only at the role of parents and authorities, as recommended in the findings, but also at that the built environment practitioners can play by designing in nature to the places we call home.  This call for greater practitioner attention to nature-based assets within metropolitan boundaries is mirrored in the recently published UNEP “Cities and Biodiversity Outlook” report and in research by Luca Salvati and colleagues on the link between urban planning and land degradation.

Our connectivity with nature is not just a childhood concern.  Some may recall the 2009 flood of Victoria Station that brought transport chaos to London and the greater South East.  Well it also served as a spark to rethink growth plans in the Victoria Business Improvement District (BID).  The event served as a stark reminder that economic growth of an area is vulnerable to nature, that there is work needed to improve the climatic reliance of local businesses and that nature can play a vital role in doing so.  The Landscape Institute case study explains the actions of the Victoria BID, including conducting a green infrastructure audit which identified a phenomenal 25ha suitable for green roofs capable of intercepting 80,000m3 of rain water each year.  This now ties in with the new London Plan and its All London Green Grid Supplementary Planning Guidance, which formalises consideration of design and management of green infrastructure within London.  The Mayor of London has recently teamed up with the Landscape Institute and the Garden Museum to run a High Line for London competition, which made for some interesting visions of London, and commentary in the London Evening Standard.

Whilst the rhetoric; urban greening, green infrastructure, ecosystem services make nature seem like a distant planet, manageable only by institutions and an abundance  of bureaucratic processes, this is not the case.  Any patch of ground, free of tarmac, even that hidden under decking/concrete slabs, has the potential to help intercept heavy rainfall.  The Guerrilla Gardening movement is hot on the case with their ‘pimp your pavement’ campaign and a number of water companies have teamed up with the Environment Agency and other organisations to produce a free ‘UK Rain Garden Guide’ for household action.

If we are to manipulate ecosystems to provide enhanced service to our cities, then we perhaps need to ponder the “banal violence of configuring spaces exclusively around human proclivities” (p. 580) as highlighted by Kathryn Yusoff in her paper on the “Aesthetics of loss”.  Perhaps, before we get carried away with the services and quantification rhetoric, we should ask ourselves does nature have to have a function for us to have it in our urban areas?  How depressing if the answer is yes.

Whilst some would argue that there’s an inherent tension between the built environment and nature, others might argue that urban ecosystems themselves show the wonderment of nature, its adaptability, and how many other species put us to shame.  You can make your own judgement at the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum –there’s a category for urban wildlife, defined as images that focus on nature’s occupation of the man-made environment.

Ecosystem Services Come to Town; Adapting to climate change by working with Nature,  IHDC 2012 Conference, 15 October 2012, Natural History Museum, London.

We’ll take the high road: off the streets and into the sky could be the future for London bikes, London Evening Standard, 11 October 2012

Case Study: Greening for Growth in Victoria, Landscape Institute 2012

Natural Childhood, National Trust, London

Reconnecting children with nature, National Trust, London

Pimp your Pavement, campaign from GuerrillaGardening.org

Luca Salvati, Roberta Gemmiti and Luigi Perini, Land degradation in Mediterranean urban areas: an unexplored link with planning?Area 44, 317-325.

Cities and Biodiversity Outlook, UNEP

Victoria Business Improvement District (2012)

KathrynYusoff, Aesthetics of loss:  biodiversity, banal violence and biotic subjects, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37, 578-592.

The Geographies of Childhood Obesity

Sarah Mills

The recent criticism Jamie Oliver received for his attempts to combat obesity in the US highlight how emotive the issue of childhood obesity can be.  The American backlash to Oliver’s latest show – Food Revolutions – has been widely reported and analysed in British newspapers.  Some commentators have remarked it is merely a response to ‘pushy’ Brits and demonstrative of the dwindling ‘special’ relationship between US and Britain.  It has, however, raised the issue of childhood obesity and policies regarding school dinners once more.  This latest venture by Oliver follows on from Jamie’s School Dinners, which aired in the UK in 2005 and focused on improving healthy-eating in British schools.  Whilst his approach received criticism from some quarters, it has had a marked effect on the approach and policies of the UK Government towards school meals.  Indeed, recently published research has shown an overall improvement in children’s health and performance at schools that participated in Oliver’s ‘Feed Me Better’ campaign.  It is yet to be seen how successful Oliver’s campaign in the US will be, yet I would argue his programmes and the debates they raise clearly demonstrates the need for a critical geography of obesity.

Geographer Bethan Evans has focused specifically on childhood obesity and UK policies in her recent article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.  She explores geographical work on obesity and pre-emptive biopolitics, before examining the “dystopian production of the future nation in obesity policy” (2010:21).  She argues how “children are central to the production and pre-emption of obese futures because of the affective potential of childhood and the paradoxical position of children’s bodies both as children in the present and adults of the future” (2010:21).  Though focusing on the spatiotemporalities of obesity policies, Evans speaks to broader debates about the role of young people in pre-emptive politics and the geographies of ‘globesity’.

Read Toby Young in The Guardian on Jamie Oliver’s US criticism

  Read the BBC Online Story on Oliver’s successful ‘Feed Me Better’ Campaign

  Read Evans, B. (2010) ‘Anticipating fatness: childhood, affect and the pre-emptive ‘war on obesity’’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 (1): 21-38

Our fat future?

Measuring obesity: normal, overweight and obese

Model sizes: 'normal' - 'overweight' - 'obese'

By William Hasty

The world’s heaviest human being lives in the UK – Ipswich to be more specific. He weighs 70 stone and, as of this week, requires highly specialised medical care to keep him alive. His case, the Observer reports, has rekindled the ongoing debate surrounding the apparent “obesity epidemic” that lies in wait not only in the US – ‘the junk food capital of the world’ – but also in the UK. For policy-makers, attempting to mitigate the impending disaster that this trend represents, children are at the centre of the debate – they are, the report insists, “far more likely to grow up into fat adults with all the health problems that extra weight brings if they are fat as children”.

Bethan Evans, in a recent paper entitled Anticipating fatness: childhood, affect and the pre-emptive ‘war on obesity’, questions the “spatiotemporalities of obesity policy in the UK”, focusing particularly on “the role of childhood and children’s bodies within such policy”. In what is an engaging and informative article, Evans, drawing upon the work of Foucault and Massumi, details the emergence of obesity as a biopolitical problem and positions the response of UK policy-makers as a “form of pre-emptive politics”. The paper concludes by arguing for “[C]ritical engagements with the spatiotemporalities of obesity policy”, or “geography risks becoming the discipline associated with the perpetuation of this immensely problematic discourse”. ‘Our fat future’, if we are to adopt the lexicon employed by those treating the subject in both the media and policy, obviously demands attention, and Evans has done much in this paper to indicate the productive ways in which geographers can contribute,  and perhaps even steer, this concern.

60% world

Observer Read full news story: Who’s to blame for Britain’s obesity episemic?, Observer, Sunday 25th October 2009

60% world  Read full paper: Bethan Evans (forthcoming) Anticipating fatness: childhood, affect and the pre-emptive ‘war on obesity’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers