Tag Archives: communication

Listening to Nature

By Paul C. Adams (University of Texas)

The current geological era has been dubbed the Anthropocene. This term is meant to signify that humans now ‘have a decisive influence on the state, dynamics and future of the Earth system’. We are affecting so many systems simultaneously—atmospheric, terrestrial and aquatic—that earth scientists are at a loss to understand exactly how human actions are entangled in many of the processes of environmental disturbance they are observing. Are things changing because we’ve added something (like pollution), taken something away (like the animals we fish and hunt) or transformed something (like the rivers we have rerouted and channelized) or all three? The engineering mindset that got us into this situation may be the wrong approach to get us out. It might help to think in a radically different way, developing a respect for nature as a host of interdependent, intercommunicating organisms, and thinking of each place as what I call an ‘enviro-organism’. To see why I move in this direction, we have to take a step back and reflect for a moment on what people mean by ‘nature.’

Nature confronts us with impressions of the unbelievably large and the incredibly small. The New Horizons spacecraft departed from the earth at a whopping 58,000 kilometres an hour but it took nine years for it to reach Pluto.  The length of the voyage merely to the edge of our solar system reminds us that our planet is a mere speck in the universe. Meanwhile, the physicists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, are stretching our understanding down to the very smallest scale phenomena. The particles they study cannot really be thought of as things in a conventional sense, but they are necessary for the existence of more thing-like things such as atoms and molecules. And the scales of time taken into account by physicists and astronomers are equally alienating. Nature pushes us to our limits, extending human awareness to scales that are too large or too small to feel a sense of involvement. There is something awe-inspiring about imaginatively voyaging from the microscopic to the macroscopic, from the interior of atoms to the far edge of the universe, but these elements of nature seem to have no place for humanity as we know it.


adams-blogpic-Geological-time-spiral. Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Geological Time Spiral. Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

There is of course another side to nature. When a dentist from Minnesota shot a lion named Cecil in 2014, there was international outrage. When sea stars (‘starfish’) began to tear themselves to pieces off the west coast of North America there was widespread concern. There is now a new concern about 12,000 square kilometres of coral that is expected to die over the next year because of climate change. It is more than a bit disturbing to many nature-lovers that hundreds of frog species are predicted to go extinct by the end of the century. In these cases, ‘nature’ appears as something fragile, something to care about, and something we should be taking care of. Nature’s middle scales are more easily embraced within human concern than the scalar extremes studied by astronomers and physicists.

Nature means radically different things and this raises questions. If the nature around us has all been humanized in some way, if it is not entirely wild like Pluto or entirely strange like subatomic particles (some of which are technically classified as ‘strange’), and furthermore if it is frequently unruly—unpredictable and occasionally dangerous, then why should we care about it? How can we make sense of our passion to save lions, frogs, corals, or starfish? Are our caring feelings misguided? Do they betray emotionalism more than our capacity for rational thought?

I would argue that a beginning of an answer lies in thinking of nature in a fundamentally different way—not as strange (like elementary particles and galaxies) or tragically compromised (like endangered species and ecosystems), but as a collection of beings that have things to say to us, beings we have only started to attend to, beings we could learn important things from if we knew how to listen. In my article ‘Placing the Anthropocene: A Day in the Life of an Enviro-Organism’, I offer a glimpse of nature as a collection of living and nonliving things that communicate with us and with each other. I propose that we should meet these fellow creatures in a spirit of dialogue, or even in a spirit of orchestral performance. By doing so, our ambivalent relation to nature becomes clearer. This attitude to nature helps us find a place for ourselves as observers filled with awe and scientific curiosity, but also as caretakers of a small corner of the universe.

About the author:

Dr. Paul C. Adams is Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Texas at Austin.

books_icon Adams, P. C. (2015), Placing the Anthropocene: a day in the life of an enviro-organism. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12103

60-world2 Capecchi C and Rogers k 2015 Killer of Cecil the Lion Finds Out That He Is a Target Now, of Internet Vigilantism The New York Times

60-world2 Dunnakey A 2015 Coral reefs endangered by bleaching in global event, researchers say CNN

60-world2 Lee J 2015 Starfish are still dying, but here’s reason for hope The National Geographic

60-world2 NASA 2015 New Horizons: The First Mission to the Pluto System and the Kuiper Belt

60-world2 Platt J 2015 Frog Mass Extinction on the Horizon Scientific American 

60-world2 Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’

Radio Geopolitics

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

Last month saw the release of the final episode of the podcasting sensation that is ‘Serial’. The true crime podcast, a spin off from long-running radio show ‘This American Life’, has experienced record-breaking download numbers, spawned a number of fan podcasts, and encouraged feverish debate on a lively subreddit devoted to the show. The same month also saw the horrific massacre of 141 students and teachers in their school in Peshawar, Pakistan. The man responsible for ordering the attack has been named by the press as Taliban commander Umar Mansoor, known locally as ‘Mullah Radio’. He gained this nickname from his popular pirate radio broadcasts in Swat Valley that apparently earned him legions of followers and convinced many to join and fight for the Taliban.


Image Via Wikimedia Commons

Radio, then, remains a medium with the capacity to entertain, engage and enthrall audiences with simple yet captivating storytelling techniques. It also remains a potent tool for the dissemination of ideologies, manipulation and indoctrination; it is a tool that has been used to this end on countless occasions, in the course of numerous conflicts, by both state and non-state actors.

An article by Patrick Weir in the December edition of Geography Compass seeks to review geographical approaches to the conceptualisation of radio’s role in geopolitics, an area of study that has often overlooked this medium, tending to focus instead on visual culture and visual representations.

Weir suggests that ideas of assemblage, which emphasise non-human objects, infrastructures and forces, as well as the linkages between the material and the discursive, “can provide a new frame of understanding for the geopolitics of radio”. Weir argues that just as no meaningful distinctions can be made between the material and the cultural components of, for instance, treaty negotiations, which, he suggests, consist of “a shifting landscape of technical, diplomatic and bureaucratic objects, regulations and directives, and vehicles, bodies and buildings”, no worthwhile separation of radio into its material and non-material constituent parts can take place.

As an example of the geopolitical agency of radio, Weir points to what he calls the ‘radio war’ that took place within the Algerian war of independence during the late 1950s. He cites Franz Fanon’s description of liberationist radio station The Voice of Fighting Algeria in A Dying Colonialism:

The French authorities… began to realize the importance of this progress of the people in the technique of news dissemination. After a few months of hesitancy legal measures appeared. The sale of radios was now prohibited, except on presentation of a voucher issued by the military security or police services… The highly trained French services… were quick to detect the wavelengths of the broadcasting stations. The programmes were then systematically jammed… The listener, enrolled in the battle of the waves, had to figure out the tactics of the enemy, and in an almost physical way circumvent the strategy of the adversary.

Weir cites this passage as, he claims, it ‘perfectly illustrates’ how radio’s assemblage “includes material components (batteries, transistors, aerials) interact with legalistic structures (taxes, vouchers) and ideological concepts (colonialism, sovereignty, peoples).”

As Martin Müller notes, engaging in this type of geopolitical analysis of organisations and institutions means “tracing the ways in which the non-human and the human become bound up with each other and constitute organizations as geopolitical actors”. With media and popular culture playing ever more important roles in the conduct and construction of geopolitics, the incorporation of notions of assemblage is likely to become something of a priority in geopolitical analysis.

 Patrick Weir, 2014, Radio GeopoliticsGeography Compass 8(12) 849-859.

 Martin Müller, 2012, Opening the black box of the organization: Socio-material practices of geopolitical orderingPolitical Geography 31(6) 379–388.

 Franz Fanon, 1967, A Dying Colonialism. Monthly Review Press: New York.

Communicating Science: Applying Local Lessons on a Global Scale?

By Daniel Schillereff

L'aquila earthquake damage - Kremlin.ru [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What do Hurricane Sandy, the earthquake in Aquila, Italy in 2011, the earthquake of British Columbia last week and climate science have in common? They have all prompted intense debate centred on the effectiveness of scientists at communicating science. A piece in The Guardian is one recent example. In particular, how can uncertainty in model projections or predictions be succinctly but accurately explained in a manner accessible to all who may be impacted by the event?

Recent commentary in the Financial Times on the Aquila earthquake criminal charges highlights the three-way relationship which exists between those who produce knowledge, those who disseminate that knowledge to others and those who desire that knowledge to be outlined to them in a non-complex, straightforward manner. In the broadest sense, these end-users are normally assumed to be the scientists, the media and the public, respectively. However, the on-going difficulties communicating climate science and the other examples mentioned in this post suggest this relationship is failing to function in an ideal manner. Of graver concern is the possibility that scientists will be unwilling to discuss or disclose their findings in the future due to risk of persecution; is a new approach required?

Although its scope is much narrower, the novel approach outlined by Lane et al., 2011 in their Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers paper, ‘Doing Flood Risk Science Differently…’ could act as a model for improved communication of science and subsequent mitigation strategies being implemented in the future on a wider scale. Their case study of flood risk around Pickering, Yorkshire, highlighted the deep understanding of local residents of the hydrological and geomorphological triggers of flood events and Lane et al. emphasise their knowledge directly contributed to a more holistic and effective model of the local flood regime. They suggest local people for whom flooding is a serious hazard should be encouraged and supported to produce knowledge as opposed to being simply involved in a focus group discussing knowledge previously generated by scientists. Provided each user group is willing to invest the necessary effort, this approach appears both sensible and practical specifically due to continued user involvement in each step of the scientific process.

 S N Lane, N Odoni, C Landstrom, S J Whatmore, N Ward, S Bradley, 2011, Doing flood risk science differently: an experiment in radical scientific methodTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36 15-36.

  Poor information obscures emergency warningsThe Guardian, 01 November 2012

Jailing the seismic seven will cause tremors beyond ItalyFinancial Times, 24 October 2012

Area Content Alert: Volume 44, Issue 1 (March 2012)

The latest issue of Area is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

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Content Alert: New Articles (11th November 2011)

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

The challenges and opportunities of participatory video in geographical research: exploring collaboration with indigenous communities in the North Rupununi, Guyana
Jayalaxshmi Mistry and Andrea Berardi
Article first published online: 8 NOV 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01064.x 

Water quality standards or carbon reduction: is there a balance?
Hannah Baleta and Rachael McDonnel
Article first published online: 8 NOV 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01066.x 

Resisting gentrification-induced displacement: Advantages and disadvantages to ‘staying put’ among non-profit social services in London and Los Angeles
Geoffrey DeVerteuil
Article first published online: 9 NOV 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01061.x

Cents and sustainability: a panel on sustainable growth, politics and scholarship
Pauline Deutz, Matthew Himley, Michael Smith, Karlson ‘Charlie’ Hargroves and Cheryl Desha
Article first published online: 9 NOV 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00448.x

Feminism, bodily difference and non-representational geographies
Rachel Colls
Article first published online: 9 NOV 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00477.x

Virtual Conference Report: Day One (19 Oct, 2009)

by Paula Bowles

NewsstandWelcome to the first day of the 2009 Compass Interdisciplinary Virtual Conference. Regenia Gagnier (University of Exeter) opened the conference by asking: ‘Why Interdisciplinarity?’ As part of her introductory remarks, Professor Gagnier discusses the definitions of Interdisciplinarity, as well as outlining some of the benefits of interdisciplinary research and praxis.

Roger Griffin’s (Oxford Brookes University) keynote paper: ‘The Rainbow Bridge’: Reflections on Interdisciplinarity in the Cybernetic Age’ highlights the opportunities offered by the novel concept of a virtual conference. By reflecting on his own research into fascism, Griffin recognises the need to make cross-disciplinary connections, or as he describes it academics operating ‘flexibly as both splitters and lumpers, according to the situation’.

Two other conference papers have been presented today. The first ‘Communicating about Communication – Multidisciplinary Approaches to Educating Educators about Language Variation’ by Anne H. Charity Hudley (The College of William and Mary) and Christine Mallinson (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) and the second
Language and Communication in the Spanish Conquest of America’ by Daniel Wasserman Soler(University of Virginia).

Finally, Professor of Human Geography, Mike Bradshaw (University of Leicester) has contributed a Publishing Workshop entitled ‘Why Write a Review Paper? And how to do it!’. As well as all of these academic gems, conference delegates have also taken the opportunity to meet the speakers in Second Life and cast their votes in the ‘Battle of the Bands’.