Tag Archives: Cultural Geography

X Marks The Spot: Chemtrails, Conspiracies & Discourse Analysis

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield 

Sfc.contrail.1.26.01

NASA photograph of aircraft contrails, take from I-95 in Northern Virginia, January 26, 2001 by NASA scientist Louis Ngyyen.

The X-Files recently returned to television after a fourteen year absence. The Guardian provides a useful guide to the new series, which had mixed reviews and was accused of Islamophobia and Transphobia. As ever the show explores a range of paranormal phenomenon, folklore and contemporary conspiracy theories.  These may seem strange subjects for geographers to take an interest in but such stories are an integral part of society. For an exemplar, see Pile (2005) on phantasmagorias and the role dreams, magic, vampires and ghosts play in modern city life.

In an article published in The Geographical Journal, Rose Cairns explores the online world of “chemtrail” conspiracy narratives and asks what they can tell us about the international politics of geoengineering. Conspiracy theories are not new, and Cairns provides historical examples of the role they play in making sense of the world.  She highlights “the instability of the distinction between ‘paranoid’ and ‘normal’ views”, suggesting “moral outrage at the idea of global elites controlling the weather” should not simply be dismissed as irrational (2016:70). The reaction is provoked by many things including our emotional and visceral connections to the weather.

Geoengineering is often discussed as a possible intervention against climate change.  Perhaps fears around chemtrails can be seen as embodying a wider mistrust with authority, mainstream media and science which is seen as elitist and opaque. Belief is connected to scepticism about climate change and may indicate a failure to convey research in clear and understandable ways. As public engagement is perceived to be an increasingly important facet of academic communication, perhaps we should encourage conversations with those who provide alternative viewpoints. Cairns recognised this may be difficult when arguments are polarised and emotional.

Discourse analysis can draw contradictory narratives into a bigger picture that explains how and why belief systems develop within a society. You don’t have to agree with something to find it interesting, and it’s often illuminating to try and understand radically different perspectives. Cairns has been attacked for her work by “truthers” but we all need to keep questioning. We also need to refrain from dismissing anything that deviates from the hegemony simply because it sounds unbelievable to us. Just last week a former aide to President Nixon was quoted as saying, with regards to another alleged cover-up:  “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the (Vietnam) war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities…and vilify them night after night on the evening news” (Baum, 2016).

It is tempting to finish with a glib Mulder and Scully slogan that “the truth is out there” but reality is so often more complex and fantastic than fiction.

References

60-world2 Baum D 2016 Legalize It All: How to Win The War on Drugs Harpers March 2016 online at https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/ (accessed 22.2.2016)

books_icon Cairns R  2016 Climates of Suspicion: “Chemtrail” Conspiracy Narratives and The International Politics of Geoengineering  The Geographical Journal 182: 1 pp 70-84 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/geoj.12116/abstract

books_icon Pile S 2005  Real Cities Modernity, Space and the Phantasmagorias of Modern Life London: Sage Publications Ltd

60-world2 The Guardian  The X-Files Episode by Episode http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/series/the-x-files-episode-by-episode (accessed 22.2.2016)

Geographies of higher education: activism, philanthropy and marketisation

By Natalie Tebbett, Loughborough University

Picture-DearKitt1_wordpress-1140x600

Cecil Rhodes Building. Image Credit: Flickr user Jonathan/Flickr.com

Over the last month, many English newspapers have reported on the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign (see also Shaw) – a protest movement petitioning for the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the frontage of Oriel College, University of Oxford. Campaigners for the removal of the statue argue that its continued presence ‘is an open glorification of the racist and bloody project of British colonialism’ (Petitioning Oriel College, Oxford University 2016). The original Rhodes Must Fall protest movement, which began 9 March 2015 at the University of Cape Town, describes itself as ‘a collective movement of students and staff members mobilising for direct action against the reality of institutional racism at the University of Cape Town’ (Rhodes Must Fall n.d).

At the University of Oxford, protesters have said ‘that the colonialism, racism and patriarchy this statue is seeped in has no place in our university – which for many of us is also our home. The removal of this statue would be a welcome first step in the University’s attempt to redress the ways in which it has been an active beneficiary of the empire’ (Petitioning Oriel College, the University of Oxford 2016). Despite the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign, The Guardian reported this week that the statue is to remain after the governing body of Oriel College was warned that a proposed gift of £100m may be cancelled, with other expected donations also thought to be in jeopardy. In a statement, Oriel College said that it ‘does not share Cecil Rhodes’s values or condone his racist views or actions’ (Oriel College 2015).

The protest movement, though not successful in getting the statue removed, has raised concerns about black and minority ethnic ‘representation and experience’ of academics and students, which the University and Oriel College agree must improve. The number of recent news stories discussing the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign highlights the complex geographies of the university as a space for free speech and activism, but also an oppressive environment that can incite institutional racism. The impact and strategic culture of philanthropic donations to higher education institutions is also explored (see Warren et al. 2014).

Two articles in Area reflect the increasing interest in the geographies of the university and higher education. In Sam Halvorsen’s paper, he discusses his own experience with Occupy London and the impact this had on his classroom teaching. For example, Halvorsen brought his ‘activism into the university by teaching and presenting seminars to students and staff…, gathering support in the process’ (p. 467). Sarah Hall (2015) also examines the geographies of higher education but from an economic geography perspective, with specific focus on the ‘spatiality of marketisation through the…introduction of undergraduate student fees’ (p. 451). Hall’s paper also contributes to wider debates in geography about the internationalisation of higher education. Both articles highlight the complex interplay of economic, political and social processes operating at institutional and much broader higher education scales.

The Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign gives an important insight into some of the geographies of higher education spaces; for example: free speech, activism, institutional racism and black and minority ethnic under-representation. These debates, especially those that address race equality and diversity, will continue to unfold and be discussed particularly with the development of a higher education Race Equality Charter.

References

books_icon Hall, S. (2015) Geographies of marketisation in English higher education: territorial and relational markets and the case of undergraduate student fees. Area, 47(4), 451-458 (free to access).

books_icon Halvorsen, S. (2015) Militant research against-and-beyond itself: critical perspectives from the university and Occupy London. Area, 47(4), 466-472 (open access).

60-world2 Oriel College (2015) Statement by Oriel College about the issues raised by the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford petition. Available at: http://www.oriel.ox.ac.uk/content/statement-oriel-college-about-issues-raised-rhodes-must-fall-oxford-petition [Access date 02 February 2016].

60-world2 Petitioning Oriel College, Oxford University (2016) Petitioning Oriel College, Oxford University web-site. Available at: https://www.change.org/p/oriel-college-oxford-university-oriel-college-oxford-university-remove-the-cecil-rhodes-statue [Access date 02 February 2016].

60-world2 Rawlinson, K. (2016) Cecil Rhodes statue to remain at Oxford after ‘overwhelming support’. The Guardian 29 January 2016. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/28/cecil-rhodes-statue-will-not-be-removed–oxford-university [Access date 2 Feb 2016].

60-world2 Rhods Must Fall (2016) Rhods Must Fall. Available at: http://rhodesmustfall.co.za/ [Access date 02 February 2016].

books_icon Warren, A. P., Hoyler, M., and Bell, M. (2014) Strategic cultures of philanthropy: English universities and the changing geographies of giving. Geoforum, 55, 133-142

Exploring “Militant Research” and how to research protest

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield

 

Occupy_London_-_Finsbury_Square

Banners at the moved Occupy London protest in Finsbury Square in the City of London: Image credit: Alan Denney 

This month sees the twentieth anniversary of ‘The Battle of Newbury’ when protesters were evicted from their camp to make way for a bypass. The BBC takes the opportunity to reflect on the long term impact of the anti-road campaign. Journalist Paul Clifton reported on events in 1996, suggesting that

“the protesters lost the battle. But perhaps they won the war. There is no doubt the tree climbers swayed public opinion and, later, political policy changed too. It virtually halted the construction of major new roads for a generation.”

In a recent article for Area, Sam Halvorsen discusses the challenges faced when trying to study social movements when the researcher has an involvement with the cause. He focuses specifically on the role of ‘militant research’ in his work with, and on, The Occupy Movement. Like Newbury, Occupy had a distinct geographical element to its fight against much bigger issues and it fought to physically claim space. Halverson states the ‘starting point for militant research is not an academic researcher seeking to further a particular strand of knowledge, but the context of political struggle’ (2015:467). He acknowledges many within those struggles are already engaged in theorising, but may have an antagonistic relationship with academic institutions.

Having a dual role as a scholar and activist is not new, but it remains problematic. Universities are labyrinthine structures, constantly reshaped by the students and staff within them. They can provide opportunities to support research, engage in discussion and offer practical help such as meeting spaces. They also have strict ethical codes which may, for example, complicate relationships with direct action campaigns. The militant researcher cannot claim to be neutral – indeed the rich understanding they offer springs directly from their commitment to the ethics and aims of the cause they are engaged in. Halvorsen also discusses his experience with ORC (The Occupy Research Collective) an attempt to re-imagine research and create opportunities outside the university. This became a valuable space for discussion but encountered its own problems.

Halvorsen concludes that militant research needs to constantly be ‘pushing against any form it takes, as it is only through negation (and simultaneous creation) that change becomes a reality’ (2015:469). He draws on Holloway (2002) and the idea of a dialectical relationship between protest and its wider context. This accounts for both the contradictory relationship between both universities and militant researchers and the researchers themselves who may criticise the movements they are studying. Social movements, and their struggles for justice, are key components of society. It would be disingenuous to claim researchers are, or can be, passive, objective onlookers. Taking a critical view of such movements, whilst remaining involved, is necessarily complicated but very worthwhile. Passion and an ethical commitment to a cause should not be a barrier to research, as surely scholarship should be aiming to make a positive difference to the wider world.

References:

60-world2 The BBC (2016) Did The Newbury Bypass Change Anything? Online article accessed 13.1.2016

books_icon Halvorsen, S.  (2015) Militant research against-and-beyond itself: critical perspectives from the university and Occupy London Area, 47:4 466-472 (open access)

books_icon Holloway, J (2002) Change the world without taking power: the meaning of revolution today. Pluto Press: London

 

 

Pre-emptive Response: Controlling the Exceptional in the Interval Between the Capitalist Working Weeks

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

Belgian Police

Belgian Police. Photo Credit: Eddy Van 3000

In his recent article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Ben Anderson explores how emergencies are governed through a logic of response and a politics of delay (Anderson, 2015). Focussing on the inquest into the London bombings of 7 July 2005, Anderson shows how governing an exceptional event utilises response to ensure that sovereign power is maintained, and that a normality of capitalist life is re-established. Furthermore Anderson highlights the inquest’s final recommendations which focussed on ‘delays’ in future emergencies; delays in communication between agencies, and delays in declaring a major incident.

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, we have witnessed a logic of response in the immediate actions of the French authorities, the subsequent raids on properties around the capital, and the declaration of a 3-month ‘state of emergency’ by the government. However, it is not this specific response that I will make brief comment on. Instead it is the ‘non-event’ a week later on Saturday 21st November in Brussels, and the pre-emptive response (a necessary contradiction) of the Belgian state to an immanent emergency.

After the tragedy in Paris a week earlier, the Belgian government claimed to be in possession of intelligence that suggested that a major incident was immanent in their capital, Brussels. An emergency response was initiated; “public transport restricted, shops shut, shopping malls shuttered, professional football cancelled, concerts called off and music venues, museums, and galleries closed”, and “People were told to avoid rail stations and airports, shopping centres, concerts, and other public events where people congregate” (The Guardian). In addition, military personal were deployed onto the streets, fully clad in camouflage and balaclavas, carrying fully-automatic weapons. However the major difference of this logic of response was that is was not a response. Nothing had happened, or did happen that day.

What this ‘pre-emptive response’ shows, in agreement with Anderson, is that the logic of response employed by liberal governments requires a focus on reducing delays in gaining control under exceptional conditions. As such, the case in Belgium this weekend exemplifies this; the delay is reduced to such an extent that it is pre-emptive.

Anderson indicates however that there is a “twofold political status” in the focus on delay; firstly it “reflects anxiety about the fragility of government” and secondly it reinforces the belief that any emergency can be exited (Anderson, 2015: 11). By having armed soldiers on the street, and the Mayor advising all cafes and restaurants to be closed by 6pm (The Independent) the suggestion of an anxious government is verified. Additionally a delay, between normality and ‘returning to normality’, rapidly becomes the focus for believing whether an emergency can be exited or not. Indeed the Wall Street Journal commented that in Brussels the “big test will be whether the metro system starts running again Monday morning, when many of the capital’s more than one million inhabitants depend on public transport to get to work” (Wall Street Journal).

While the pre-emptive response to an immanent emergency serves to ‘de-exceptionalise’ future emergencies – through a display of logistical control with exceptional measures – such measures must be limited and exited in time to restore normal capitalist flows, i.e. when businesses start trading again. The problem is, what if the immanent threat persists? How long until the delay in returning-to-normal undermines the fragility of liberal governmentality?

References

books_icon Anderson, B., (2015) Governing emergency response: the politics of delay and the logic of response, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, doi: 10.1111/tran.12100

60-world2 The Guardian (2015) Brussels ‘very dangerous’ as several terror suspects remain at large, Online Article  (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)

60-world2 The Independent (2015) Paris Attack Suspect Salah Abdeslam could be in Brussels ‘ready to blow himself up’, says friend, Online Article (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)

60-world2 Wall Street Journal (2015) Brussels Remains on Lockdown Amid Terror-Attack Fears, Online Article (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)

 

Collecting as Archiving

By Will Andrews, Aberystwyth University

In a recent article published in Transactions, Didier DeLyser (2015) explains the importance of the what she refers to as ‘archival autoethnography’ (p209) as a way to approach and analyse the intimate spatialities of social memory tied up in amateur collections.  The article explores DeLyser’s own collections of souvenirs related to Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel Ramona, whilst contextualising this within wider enthusiasm for the novel and its impacts.  Many of these souvenir items, such as written postcards are tied to certain geographical locations in Southern California, in this way they connect people to place as well fitting into broader narratives of collection and enthusiasm the postcards in particular providing clear and intimate accounts of social memory in place.

800px-Collection-of-cameras                                        A Collection of Old Soviet Cameras (Dzhepko, 2007)

April 7th saw the second series of BBC 2’s Collectaholics (BBC, 2015a), a popular culture lens on the personal collections and archives compiled by various individuals who have interests in subjects which do not always attract more mainstream archival attention. The programme details, “the weird and wonderful collections of some of Britain’s passionate and avid…collectors” (ibid). As DeLyser (2015) explains such collections transcend cultural capital or monetary value (p209) and have more to do with the personal experiences and memories of the collectors. Collections on the BBC series range from an archived collection of natural history items in the first episode to more performative archives as in the sixth episode when Mark Hill explores a home transformed by its owner into a recreated early twentieth century cottage (BBC, 2015a). Both collections can be seen as pertinent examples of DeLyser’s observations, that people collect items which connect them to certain places and broader narratives, preserving their own, ‘intimate spatialities of social memory” (p210).

p02nbbzz                                                 Episode 1. Collectaholics (BBC, 2015b)

Beyond the importance of collecting as a creative process or practice DeLyser (p209) argues the methodological importance of collecting as archiving. That by gathering texts and artefacts ourselves we can contribute to important alternative archives which through the scholarly realm may ultimately bring more attention and inquiry to their circumstances, as is true of Ramona as a result of DeLyser’s work. Furthermore by collecting souvenirs we can better understand the work these do in the lives of those who purchase them. Through my own autoethnographic research within modified car culture I have begun to see the building of the modified car as a sort of collection of parts and indeed many people collect parts in order to maintain a sort of archive. In this way I would argue that DeLyser and Greenstein’s (2014) account of rebuilding a classic Tatra car is itself another example of creating an alternative archive. Traditionally historical geographers have approached the archive as something separate from the domestic or professional spaces of their homes and offices instead we can and should turn to the collections which “reside with us in our homes and offices” (DeLyser, 2015: 209).

Cake_drums_-_Belgium                                               Cake Drums- Belgium (Spotter2, 2009)
To conclude, the current BBC series Collectaholics shows that there is a popular fascination with collecting and the subsequent informal and personal archives created, by watching these episodes through a lens informed by DeLyser’s (2015) article we can begin to see the geographical and intimate spatialities woven into the tales of these weird and wonderful collections.
References

globe4 BBC (2015a) ‘Collectaholics‘, BBC Two website

60-world2 BBC (2015b) ‘Episode 1. Collectaholics‘, BBC Two website

books_icon DeLyser, D. (2015) ‘Collecting, kitsch and the intimate geographies of social memory: a story of archival autoethnography‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40(2), 209-222

books_icon DeLyser, D. & Greenstein, P. (2015) ‘ “Follow that car!” Mobilities of Enthusiasm in a Rare Car’s Restoration’, The Professional Geographers, 67(2), 255-268

60-world2 Dzhepko, L. (2007) ‘A collection of old Soviet cameras on sale in the Vernisazh in Izmailovky Park, Moscow, Russia‘, Wikimedia Commons

60-world2 Spotter2 (2009) ‘Cake Drums- Belgium‘, Wikimedia Commons

Outsiders at the Seaside

By Mark Whitehead, Aberystwyth University

Aberystwyth, Image Credit: The Author

When you live in a coastal town, as I do, you become aware of the peculiar social geographies of seaside communities. The social geography of coastal communities is defined by two factors: the sea and the visitor. The sea always seems to define the gestalt of the coastal town: it is the reason why the community is where it is. The sea does, however, seem to limit the geography of the seaside town: removing a large portion of its potential surroundings and making the place feel that bit more isolated as a consequence. If the sea is the defining environmental feature of the seaside town, the visitor is its defining subject. It is the visitor who supports the local tourist economy, who swells the population of the community in the summer, and who connects the community to the outside world. The sense of isolation and the orientation towards the visitor common in coastal communities generates an at times troubling social dynamic. Consequently, while the respectable, well-behaved tourist is welcome, those on the margins of society are seen as being particularly problematic. In seaside towns the homeless, the drug addict, the mentally ill, and the alcoholic appear to be much more conspicuous than in larger communities and they are seen to represent a much greater threat to the socio-economic viability of the place. Coastal towns are communities that rely on the temporary migration of the outsider into the community, but are also places that are particularly sensitive to the presence of unwanted outsiders.

The current issue of the journal Area contains a series of reflections on a classical article that is firmly grounded in the social geography of the seaside town. The paper in question is Chris Philo’s path breaking paper ‘Not at our seaside’: community opposition to a nineteenth century branch asylum, which was published in June 1987. ‘Not at our seaside’ neatly encapsulates geographical concerns about difference, inside/outside relations, and social justice. The paper recounts the story of the controversial decision (in 1856) by the Devonshire Public County Asylum to establish a temporary Branch Asylum in the seaside town of Exmouth, for those in mental distress. Drawing on the reports of the Commissioners in Lunacy, Philo considers the local tensions that were created by the establishment of this Branch Asylum. Although the paper does not delve into theoretical discussion per se, it prefaces and reflects the debates around mental health and moral geography that came to be a much more prominent part of the discipline during the 1990s. In this Classics Revisited section, Chris Philo provides some personal reflections on the background to the paper and his intentions in writing it. These authorial reflections are followed by two commentaries on paper by Tim Cresswell and myself, in which we discuss the broader significance of the paper and what it means personally to us.

Living, as I do, in the coastal community of Aberystwyth, Chris Philo’s groundbreaking paper resonated strongly with me. It also served to remind that the study of coastal communities has remained marginal within human geography. While I am sure that there are good reasons for, it is important to note that the socio-economic plight of coastal communities is now becoming s significant object of political debate. A recent article in Guardian newspaper, for example, reflected on a series of reports that showed that coastal communities (and not inner cities) are the main centres of social disadvantage limited opportunity and social isolation in the UK. Perhaps it is time to follow Chris Philo’s lead and to reconsider the geographies of the seaside town.

About the Author: Mark Whitehead is a Professor at Aberystwyth University.

 Whitehead, M. (2014), Editorial introduction: Revisiting Chris Philo’s ‘Not at our seaside’. Area, 46: 214. doi: 10.1111/area.12088

 Philo, C. (2014), Same, Other, NIMBY and an asylum by the sea: revisiting ‘Not at our seaside’. Area, 46: 215–218. doi: 10.1111/area.12089

 Cresswell, T. (2014), Around 1987: outline of a lesson in geographic thought. Area, 46: 219–221. doi: 10.1111/area.12090

 Whitehead, M. (2014), Proximity, acceptance and hopeful ontologies. Area, 46: 222–223. doi: 10.1111/area.12091

60-world2 Mc Veigh T 2014 Sun, sand and inequality: why the British Seaside towns are losing out The Guardian 22 June 2014

60-world2 RGS-IBG Society News, 27 years on: An academic classic is revisited

From “overstocking” to “overgrazing”: more livestock as a symbol of wealth?

By Yonten Nyima Sichuan University, China

Yaks in a summer pasture, eastern Nagchu, Tibet, July 2009 (Photography by Yonten Nyima)

Yaks in a summer pasture, eastern Nagchu, Tibet, July 2010
(Photograph by Yonten Nyima)

In 2011 China, which claims to have the world’s second largest grassland area after Australia, launched its largest grassland protection program literally known as the grassland ecological protection subsidy and reward mechanism in its pastoral region. The backbone of the program is to subsidise or reward pastoralists for not “overgrazing”. Nonetheless, it is hard to celebrate this new program as progress on grassland management and pastoralism because it is merely the latest example of an underlying assumption deeply embedded in state policy on grassland management and pastoralism in China.

In China overgrazing has long been assumed to be a direct or main cause of grassland degradation. Accordingly, adjusting livestock numbers to “carrying capacity” has been both a means and a goal of protecting grassland ecosystems. Pastoralists have often been accused of overstocking because they are believed to want to raise more livestock as a symbol of wealth.

Through a case study from Nagchu Prefecture, the largest pastoral prefecture on the Tibetan Plateau in terms of both grassland area and livestock numbers, in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is reported to have the largest grassland area in China, my Area paper raises the questions whether more livestock are a symbol of wealth for pastoralists and why pastoralists appear to raise more livestock than they currently appear to need. My research in Nagchu shows that pastoralists do not raise more livestock as a symbol of wealth. Instead, three overlapping reasons explain why pastoralists want to raise more livestock than they currently appear to need.

First, owing to biological, cultural and economic factors, current livestock numbers are not equivalent to actual livestock available for production. Second, pastoralists want to raise more livestock as a long-term strategy for livelihood security and flexibility. Third, pastoralists want to raise more livestock as a means for improving their standard of living. Therefore, for pastoralists raising more livestock is a means rather than an end. My Area paper also shows that in practice, labor power, grassland and economic status are three primary overlapping factors constraining pastoralists from raising more livestock.

A take-home message for policy advisors and policymakers from my Area paper is that pastoralism must be understood from the standpoint of pastoralists and in the socioeconomic, cultural and environmental context in which pastoralist live, rather than from outsider perspectives and values.

The author: Dr. Yonten Nyima is Associate Professor, Institute of Social Development and Western China Development Studies, Sichuan University, China

 Nyima, Y. (2014), A larger herd size as a symbol of wealth? The fallacy of the cattle complex theory in Tibetan pastoralism. Area, 46: 186–193. doi: 10.1111/area.12099

60-world2 China to susidize herdsmen to curb overgrazing, China Daily, 6 May 2011