Tag Archives: diversity

Arsonists, Booing, and Blaming the Weather: Diversity and Revealing Everyday Behaviour

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

A sign for Gek Poh Ville in Yunnan, Jurong West, Singapore

A sign for Gek Poh Ville in Yunnan, Jurong West, Singapore: Photo Credit: Allkayloh.

The Independent recently published a story about a Christmas Eve arson attack on a hotel for asylum seekers in the German town of Schwäbisch Gmünd. The author implies that this attack highlights how the positive attitude of the German government to the ‘refugee crisis’, does not necessarily reflect the everyday reality of intolerance in many German suburbs. This violent legacy adds fuel to the continuing academic engagement with diverse communities and everyday multiculturalism.

Ye (2015) expands on such a discussion in her recent article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Turning her attention to the Jurong West neighbourhood of Singapore Ye explores “how everyday encounters in public reproduce spatialised principles of coexisting with diversity.” (Ye, 2015: 94). Ye focusses her engagement to the notion of ‘gui ju’, a kind of social code familiar to established citizens of Singapore. This code, Ye explains, is a behavioural and attitudinal norm promoted in part by state infrastructure and reinforced through everyday action (and inaction) in public spaces.

By turning to everyday interactions between people appropriating public spaces in Jurong West, Ye has created a narrative of the ‘gui ju’ social code in action. She uses extracts from interviews and her own observations to understand different behaviours of individuals familiar with the code – such as people’s silence when they are on public transport or their decorum when playing cards in the street. Uncovering such unwritten norms she is able to add clarity to the “messiness inherent in shared spaces” (ibid.: 91).

Furthermore, Ye elaborates how it is through adherence to ‘gui ju’ that locals in Jurong West can identify insiders and outsiders to the community. She explains that in Singapore, where a legacy of diverse ethnic communities are the norm, tropes like ethnicity or nationality cannot be used to define belonging. As such behaviours and attitudes in everyday interactions can be used instead to identify belonging.

However, to add complexity to her narrative Ye also states that “There are constant tensions, struggles and disquiet over how things ought to be in [public] spaces.” (ibid.: 96). In other words, the unwritten code of conduct applying to everyday life are not fixed, but are contingent and malleable: belonging requires active living in these spaces.

This compelling notion of a “social organising principle that prescribes proper codes of conduct” in public spaces (ibid.: 92), could also be applied to the UK. A quick glance at the national media following the start of the New Year can provide us with some examples. The Guardian has an article about the cultural valence of ‘booing’ in the UK during live performances of art and sport. Similarly The Telegraph discusses difficulties for British people returning to work after the winter break, including the author stating that she will “do what we Brits always do in times of low-level despond: blame the weather”. Additionally both The Guardian and The Independent imply a range of acceptable responses to the ‘artistic’ New Years Eve photograph of drunken and disorderly behaviour in Manchester. These examples highlight a complex and contradictory ‘gui ju’ of British everyday attitudes and behaviour; to boo or not, to condone or to condemn drunken disorder, and when in doubt: refer to the weather.

However, I feel it is necessary to exercise caution with Ye’s thoughts on social codes of conduct. While there may be some dominant codes and norms, such as ‘gui ju’, this does not negate the existence of multiple behavioural codes that remain hidden to each and every one of us. These can include behavioural and attitudinal codes associated with class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and all other tropes of identity. Maybe to help find these hidden codes we should adopt the approach of Mr Arnold, an inhabitant of the town of Schwäbisch Gmünd: we should invite outsiders into our private lives – the “Gmünder Weg” (The Independent). This could enable both insider and outsider to learn their different social codes, and mould them into new shared codes.

References

Ye, J., (2015) Spatialising the politics of coexistence: gui ju (规 矩) in Singapore, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 41: 91–103 doi: 10.1111/tran.12107

The Independent (2016) “Refugees in Germany: Arsonists destroy refugee hotel in ‘model’ migrant town Schwabisch Gmund” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Independent (2016) “The story behind the Manchester New Year’s Eve photograph likened to a Renaissance painting” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Guardian (2016) “I used to think booing was healthy. Now it’s out of control” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Telegraph (2016) “The January blues are bad enough without giving up booze too” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Guardian (2016) “’Like a beautiful painting’: image of New Year’s mayhem in Manchester goes viral” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

Forest decline in the eastern U.S.?

Covering much of central New York State is a mosaic of forest, pasture, and cornfields punctuated by lakes, small towns, rural residences, and sometimes wind turbines (© Peter Klepeis)

Covering much of central New York State is a mosaic of forest, pasture, and cornfields punctuated by lakes, small towns, rural residences, and sometimes wind turbines (© Peter Klepeis)

by Peter Klepeis

Most news coverage of forests tends to focus on deforestation. And for good reason. The Food and Agricultural Organization concludes that from 2000-2010 upwards of 13 million ha of forest per year were converted to other uses or lost to natural causes. Most of the clearing occurs in the tropics, and the resultant biodiversity loss, carbon dioxide emissions, and threats to local inhabitants are among the reasons to be concerned.

Global trends in forest cover hide regional differences, however. Many temperate and rich-country contexts have been experiencing forest recovery for decades. In the eastern United States, for example, cleared areas reached their peak in the mid-to-late 19th century, but this was followed by widespread natural forest regeneration. This forest expansion is celebrated for increasing carbon sequestration and improving water quality, reducing flood risk, decreasing soil erosion, expanding wildlife habitat, and providing opportunities for recreation and extractive industries. But it is not entirely positive. As described in Jim Sterba’s new book Nature Wars, extensive forest cover, a decline in hunters, and a lack of natural predators has led to a boom in wildlife – and deer in particular – with tick-bearing disease, auto accidents, and munched veggie gardens among the negative consequences.

Regardless of its positive or negative impacts on nature and society, what explains the shift from net forest loss to net gain? In the early 1990s the geographer Alexander Mather started to develop forest transition theory: economic development, the abandonment of lands marginal to agriculture, and the movement of rural inhabitants to urban areas tend to stimulate forest recovery. The theory captures fairly well the recovery trends seen in the U.S. and Europe over the past few hundred years. But the theory is not without its critics. Forest change is dynamic, non-linear, and the factors involved are linked to specific places and time periods. Not surprisingly, therefore, recent scholarship documents how – after decades of net gain – forest cover in the eastern U.S. started to decline in the 1970s.

In a new article in the journal Area, my co-authors and I use aerial photographs to evaluate changing forest cover between 1936 and 2008 for a town in central New York State. As expected, a decline in the farming sector and changing life and livelihood goals within farming families led to 25.8 % of the town reforesting. Two new trends emerge, however. First, there is a pronounced increase in the percentage of forest recovering on prime agricultural soils, which holds the potential to diversify habitat and increase biodiversity. Prior to 1994, reforestation on high quality soils was rare. Second, alternative land uses and invasive species, such as the Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis), represent possible new forms of forest disturbance. Landowners are starting to develop wind power and natural gas, and practice silviculture. Also, there is steady growth in amenity-oriented land use and rural residential development. These new dynamics challenge theories of forest change, and raise questions about the prospects of sustainable land and forest use in the region.

The author: Peter Klepeis is Associate Professor of Geography at Colgate University, N.Y., U.S.

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Klepeis P, Scull P, LaLonde T, Svajlenka N and Gill N 2013 Changing forest recovery dynamics in the northeastern United States Area DOI: 10.1111/area.12016

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Mather A S and Needle C L 1998 The forest transition: a theoretical basis Area 30 117-24

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Grainger A 1995 The forest transition: an alternative approach Area 27 242-51

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Mather A S 1992 The forest transition Area 24 367-79

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Sterba J 2012 America gone wild Wall Street Journal 2 November

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Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2012 State of the world’s forests FAO, Rome

Alternative reproductions, alternative kinships

By Rosa Mas Giralt

Last weekend, The Observer Magazine published an in-depth article by Emma John (with photography by Ed Alcock) which investigated unregulated services of sperm donation. The shortages of donors in many European countries and the consequential long waiting list for those needing in vitro fertilization from public health services and the lack of alternatives for those who have been denied this treatment (e.g. single women, gay couples), have led an increasing number of people to take up the offers of men volunteering their “reproductive” assistance over the internet (as the author of the article reminds us, it is a voluntary gesture as it is illegal to sell sperm in Europe). The level of involvement of these donors in the lives of their biological offspring takes different forms, from complete disconnection to open communication, if desired. Despite the obvious concerns that such unregulated practices raise with the related health, safety and legal risks for both bona fide donors and recipients; these types of practices allow us to reflect on the changing social and ‘natural’ landscape of reproductive procedures and their relationship to how we conceptualize kinship.

In an article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Catherine Nash reminded us how “[t]he development of new reproductive technologies has been the subject of some of the most significant work on the ways in which the categories of nature and the natural are troubled by bio-technologies that threaten to disrupt kinship’s natural facts of paternity, sex, gestation and birth and are reproduced via new technology” (2005: 453). These new practices of human reproduction add to the debates that this author discussed under the banner of “geographies of relatedness”. In the article, Nash argued that there is a need to reconceptualise kinship away from dualisms based on genetic essentialism or on purely relational performativities unsettled by the persistence of essentialist and individualist ideas; she proposes that the focus should be on “explor[ing] the diverse effects of kinship in practice”. The new kind of personal “connections and disconnections” (Nash, 2005: 460) created by alternative ways of undertaking the act of human reproduction may offer fruitful avenues to understand the effects of alternative kinships.

 Read an online version of Emma John’s article: “Conceivable ideas: meet the modern sperm donor”, The Observer Sunday 27 June 2010

 Read Catherine Nash (2005) “Geographies of relatedness”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 30(4): 449-462.