Tag Archives: Economic Geography

Geographies of higher education: activism, philanthropy and marketisation

By Natalie Tebbett, Loughborough University


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.


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

The Geographical Imagination and Britain’s Entanglements ‘East of Suez’


The Suez Canal continues to loom large in the consciousness of British foreign policymakers. (c) 2015 Wikimedia Commons.

By Benjamin Sacks, Princeton University

The phrase ‘East of Suez’ looms large in our geographical imagination. Long after the end of formal empire and even the Cold War, it embodies a particularly Orientalist conception of exotic peoples, vibrant Kiplingesque colours and untapped wild landscapes. Why does this term still conjure such emotional responses, and why is it back in the news?

In the midst of this month’s unsettling developments, from terrorists attacks in France, Mali, Egypt, and elsewhere, to the constant media frenzy surrounding the US presidential campaign, Britain quietly moved back ‘East of Suez’. On 1 November Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa ceremonially began the (re)construction of HMS Juffair (first erected in 1935) in Mina Salman Port, Britain’s first permanent military base east of the Suez Crisis since 1971. The new base will provide logistical, materiel, and offensive support for Royal Navy operations in the Middle East and South Asia. Rather more surreptitiously, Britain has also heavily invested in expanding Oman’s Duqm port, 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of Masirah Island, to accept Royal Navy vessels (including the forthcoming Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers). In both cases the war against ISIS, Yemeni militants, and bolstering defence, trade, and communications links have been cited as reasons for expansion.

In step with the British Empire’s dissolution, the Aden crisis, financial problems, and unstable domestic developments, in 1968 Harold Wilson decided to close all formal military bases east of Egypt’s Suez Canal, thereby reducing military costs and refocus Britain’s diminished post-War resources on NATO, Europe, and the North Atlantic theatre. While many commentators praised Wilson’s decision as opening a new, postcolonial chapter in Britain’s foreign policy, others believed that the move was a dangerous, short-sighted mistake. The 1982 Falklands War and 1991 and 2003 Iraq wars galvanised both supporters and opponents of the ‘East of Suez’ policy. As The Economist argued however, ‘In reality, Britain never left the Gulf’. Even after 1971 Britain maintained significant military and geopolitical influence in Oman, the Gulf States (Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar), Malaysia, and Brunei, as well as at Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory and at Hong Kong (until 1997). Arguably, it enjoyed greater success through so-called ‘soft-power’, maintaining strong economic and broadcasting relationships with Arabian and South Asian states.

Why does ‘East of Suez’ remain such an emotionally-charged phrase for contemporary audiences? A quick survey of British newspapers evidences how Labour, Conservative, and independent journalists all use the term to evoke particular political sentiments. The Independent used it to highlight anger from human rights campaigners. The BBC, while noting criticism of UK-Bahraini ties, also discussed the latter state’s longstanding relationship with Britain. The Telegraph simply described ‘East of Suez’ as a ‘welcome renewal of friendships in the Gulf’.

Irrespective of where one’s political beliefs lie on the spectrum, geography and geographical writing have played central roles in embedding ‘East of Suez’ in our collective conscious. The Royal Geographical Society’s extensive archives reveal how this phrase was used to promote particular imaginations and responses throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth century. Early, Orientalist-charged uses of ‘East of Suez’ underscored geography as an imperial discipline. Between the 1880s and the First World War, Suez expanded from the Canal and Peninsula, to a symbolic geostrategic marker, and finally to a border between ‘known’ and ‘unknown’, ‘us’ and ‘them’.

In an 1886 memorial, ‘East of Suez’ meant exactly that. The largely undocumented Sinai desert east of the Suez Canal. This reference nonetheless is important, for it provides us with evidence as to how the RGS conceived of the Suez Canal in the 1870s-1890s: as a geographical place. This narrow notion soon changed, however. In the Georgian period Ernest Young, a Belle Epoque travel writer on Siam (Thailand) and Finland, deliberately (and vaguely) described the geography in-between Europe and Russia and Southeast Asia as ‘Somewhere East of Suez’, conveying a romantic notion of uncharted mountains and pirate-laden waters. As the RGS reviewer laconically noted, Young’s Orientalist perspective was undoubtedly a function of his day job as a schoolmaster. The following year Rachael Humphreys, an early female FRGS, published Travels East of Suez, reiterating the term’s intensely imperial meanings. This time, ‘East of Suez’ referred not the Near East nor Fertile Crescent, but to the Indian Subcontinent. This broadness suggests the pre-First World War use of ‘East of Suez’ to describe a generalised, homogenous Asian ‘Other’, exoticising the grand adventure of Britain’s colonial exploits beyond the Canal. Belle Epoque literature, from Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1900-1901) to near-endless accounts of British explorers, undoubtedly influenced Humphreys’ selection of her title.

By the 1930s ‘East of Suez’ was firmly entrenched as the Empire’s dividing line between Europe and an occasionally mysterious Asia. In 1936 Kenneth Mason recalled the moment aviation came to India: ‘I look back with mixed feelings to twenty-five years ago, when in December 1910 the first plane seen east of Suez arrived at Allahabad and began what were optimistically called “joy-flights”‘ (5). Here ‘East of Suez’ enjoyed a physicality, the sense that it served as an actual obstacle for the advancement of British civilisation, a feat that must be traversed each time the Empire sought to impose a European convention onto the Orient.

The War changed all that. ‘East of Suez’, even to the RGS, became a byword for Britain’s need for oil. G M Lees’ 1940 article, for instance, defined ‘East of Suez’ as Arabia, and Arabia as a potential oil source for the British war effort.

By 1968, when the newly-published monograph Great Britain in the Indian Ocean 1810-1850 was reviewed in The Geographical Journal, the consequences of Britain’s Asian ‘adventure’ were very much on reviewer Antony Preston’s mind. ‘As Great Britain’s “East of Suez” commitments are under such heavy fire’, he wrote, ‘one may well wonder how we came to be saddled with so many treaty obligations and colonial responsibilities’. ‘East of Suez’ had ceased to be a term of imperial excitement. Instead, it succinctly described the weight of imperial fatigue, eating away at a post-War Britain eager to tighten its finances and responsibilities.

In the wake of the 1982 Falklands War and the RGS’s now-famed 1983 discussion of the islands’ environmental and political geography, such political geographers as John House (Oxford) used ‘East of Suez’ as a term to describe the expansion and limitation of Soviet naval operations in relation to British and American counterparts. ‘East of Suez’ no longer carried a clear imperial meaning; instead political geographers identified it as a fault line between Capitalism and Communism. Bizarrely, House declared that the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean ‘would be of little significance in the global nuclear balance’ (13), thereby forgetting two millennia of history. In the twenty-first century, ‘East of Suez’ conveys two distinct, but intertwined meanings: the return of formal British military bases to the Indian Ocean (see Blake 2009), and the expansion of British soft power in South and Southeast Asia.


books_icon (1886) Geographical Notes, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography8(5): 328-38.

books_icon C R M (1914) Review, From Russia to Siam, by Ernest YoungThe Geographical Journal 44(6): 586-87.

books_icon (1916) Review, Travels East of Suez, by Rachael HumphreysThe Geographical Journal 47(2): 138.

books_icon Mason K (1936) The Himalaya as a Barrier to Modern CommunicationsThe Geographical Journal 87(1): 1-13.

books_icon Lees G M (1940) The Search for OilThe Geographical Journal  95(1): 1-16.

books_icon Preston A (1968) Review, Great Britain in the Indian Ocean 1810-1850, by G S GrahamThe Geographical Journal 134(1): 134.

books_icon House J (1984) War, Peace and Conflict Resolution: Towards an Indian Ocean ModelTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 9(1): 3-21.

books_icon Blake R (2009) Airfield Closures and Air Defence Reorientation in Britain during the Cold War and its Immediate AftermathArea 41(3): 285-99.

60-world2 Lindsay I (2014) HM Ambassador’s speech to the Bahrain Business Forum, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, 10 December.

60-world2 (2015) British Secretary of State for Defence visits OmanBritish Embassy Muscat, 1 October.

60-world2 ONA (2015) British Secretary of State for Defence hails Sultanate’s efforts in solving regional crisisMuscat Daily, 1 October.

60-world2 (2014) We’re back: A new naval base in Bahrain is an echo of the pastThe Economist 13 December.

60-world2 Merrill J (2015) Royal Navy base construction begins in Bahrain as Britain seeks a return to ‘East of Suez’The Independent, 1 November.

60-world2 Gardner F (2015) UK builds first permanent Middle East base for 40 yearsBBC News, 1 November.

60-world2 More C (2015) A welcome renewal of friendships in the GulfThe Telegraph, 1 November.

Beyond sub-disciplinary boundaries: geographers and the study of development

By Rory Horner, University of Manchester

The world economic, social and political map and consequent geographies of development are rapidly changing, as a result of such trends as the growing influence of rising powers and simultaneous forms of crisis in both global North and South.

Yet, among geographers, it can seem as if the study of development is often relatively separate to that of economic geography, which can be quite perplexing and challenging for postgraduate students and others keen to research at this interface.

In a recent paper in Area, I explore how this imbalance may be encountered and hopefully gradually overcome. Upon commencing my PhD research on India’s pharmaceutical industry, I initially focused on the economic characteristics of Indian pharmaceutical firms as emerging multinationals. However, I struggled to reconcile much of the conceptual work I was reading, initially in economic geography, with the empirical issues at hand.

Fieldwork beyond disciplinary boundaries

Particularly when conducting fieldwork in India and reading various India-published newspapers and journals (as well as some more development studies-oriented research), I was opened to a whole host of broader “development” debates around the industry – most notably around the public health issue of access to medicines. After my pilot fieldwork, I adapted my research to try to take a more inclusive focus:


  • a wider range of small and medium-sized, as well as large, firms
  • civil society organisations as well as firms and policymakers
  • Asking a broader range of questions, going beyond firm-level concerns to a greater interest in access to medicines issues
Corporate Headquarters of Aurobino Pharma, Hyderabad Image Credit: Rory Horner

Corporate Headquarters of Aurobino Pharma, Hyderabad Image Credit: Rory Horner

A small-scale pharmaceutical company in Delhi (image credit: Rory Horner)

A small-scale pharmaceutical company in Delhi (image credit: Rory Horner)










Particularly for those at an early career stage who are perhaps less embedded in prior research divisions, fieldwork, and engagement with various stakeholders, can provide relative freedom from academic boundaries and be a crucial stage for challenging sub-disciplinary boundaries.

Richer geographies of development?

Ultimately, the scope of my PhD research shifted from understanding a growth industry, and its industrial reorganisation internationally, to research about global governance, specifically changing patent laws, the role of the state and development impacts. By playing a crucial role in the global access to medicines campaign and in contesting a Northern agenda on pharmaceutical patent laws. the Indian pharmaceutical industry has had global significance in a social as well as an economic context. Any analysis to separate the ‘economic’ aspects of the industry from the broader ‘development’ dimensions involving health would have been incomplete.

Writing up the research, making conference presentations and submitting to journals did provide somewhat of a re-encounter with disciplinary divides. Yet, some journals and senior scholars (and PhD supervisors) fortunately appeared interested in seeing early career researchers pursue research in new directions. I found new opportunities by drawing on economic geography literature to contribute to a development debate (around the impact of changes in patent law – and vice-versa (around integration into global production networks. In addition, India-focused social science publications, and a report for the interviewees involved in the research, provided opportunities to communicate my results relatively free of disciplinary boundaries.

The possibilities of any scholar being completely free of sub-disciplinary boundaries is doubtful, and some research may have greater resonance with one “side” (for me, with economic geography). Yet if we are to better understand major development debates that cross the economic, social and political, such as access to medicines issues in India as featured in a 2013 New York Times article, we need more integrated approaches. By engaging with the dynamics of extensive fieldwork and the integrated nature of social and economic development, a new generation of researchers can play a crucial role in breaking down the divides between the “economic” and “non-economic”, in geography and related fields, and ultimately produce richer geographies of development.

Recommendations for postgraduate students seeking to cross (sub-) disciplinary boundaries
  • Read beyond your (sub-)discipline and from multiple sources (e.g. academic, policy, media, international journals and local publications)
  • “Listen” to the data during fieldwork, following and even reconsidering the research question, relatively free of disciplinary boundaries
  • Inter-relate concepts, perspectives and literatures derived from global North and South, and different parts of each, to make new connections in journal publications
  • Write publications for stakeholders where the research was conducted, and other more “empirical” publications to communicate the work relatively free of disciplinary boundaries

books_icon Horner, R. (2014), Postgraduate encounters with sub-disciplinary divides: entering the economic/development geography trading zone. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12130

books_icon Horner R (2014) The Impact of Patents on Innovation, Technology Transfer and Health: A Pre- and Post-TRIPs Analysis of India’s Pharmaceutical Industry New Political Economy  19 384-406

books_icon Horner R (2013) Strategic decoupling, recoupling and global production networks: India’s pharmaceutical industry Journal of Economic Geography

60-world2 Harris G (2013) India’s efforts to aid poor worry drug makers The New York Times

About the Author: Dr Rory Horner is a lecturer in Globalisation at the University of Manchester.




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

Spatial and Local Factors in Understanding Financial Crises

By Benjamin Sacks

Picturesque Pforzheim, Germany belies local and regional financial woes. (c) 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

Picturesque Pforzheim, Germany belies local and regional financial woes. (Image credit: Parlacre (CC 0)

Geography, economics, and finance are intimately linked disciplines, a relationship that is sometimes misunderstood or ignored entirely by contemporary media. Port access, weather, spatial and network relations between various tiers of government, private sector businesses, and third-party (e.g. academic) institutions, even the positioning of financial headquarters – as recent threats from Standard Life and Lloyds to relocate from Edinburgh to London in the event of Scottish independence demonstrate – can all drastically affect financial markets, long-term monetary stability, and the ability of particular precincts or sectors to recover from such recessions as the 2008-2010 global financial crisis.

In the most recent suite of articles in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Reijer P Hendrikse (University of Amsterdam) and James D Sidaway (National University of Singapore) undertook a focused study of Pforzheim, a German city of some 120,000 people in Baden-Württemberg, near the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. In ‘Financial wizardry and the Golden City’, Hendrikse and Sidaway critiqued the media’s focus on national-level bailouts, arguing that provincial- and city-level bailouts and financial negotiations were just as, if not more important to comprehending both the scale of the 2008-2010 crisis as well as possible solutions. Further, they recalled and adopted David Harvey’s 2011 argument criticising French and German media pundits and financial analysts alike who saw ‘the crisis in cultural or even nationalist terms’; as somehow a ‘distinctive Anglo-Saxon disease’ based in London and New York City.

The authors chose to examine Germany, in part, because of that country’s apparent economic stability in the face of difficult industrial and economic issues in neighbouring Eurozone states. Berlin famously directed the bailout of several EU member states: Greece, Portugal, and Spain. But a closer examination revealed a significantly more complex and debt-ridden landscape. Various German cities were ‘like Greek islands within Germany’, Die Tageszeitung reported, ‘having slowly but surely drowned in their debts over recent years’ (p. 195). Pforzheim, following a trend blazoned by other cities in the Rhine heartland, bought a large series of Deutsche Bank interest-rate swaps. This speculative maneuvre, popular in the world of hedge funds and day-trading currency exchanges, permits institutions (e.g. a city) to obtain a more cost-efficient fixed-rate interest arrangement enjoyed by another corporation. Ideally, both parties benefit from reduced interest-rate-associated costs. However, the risks are highly variable, and dependent on the financial stability of both parties. As A R Sorkin described, and Hendrikse and Sidaway reiterated, German cities were ‘gambling that [their] costs would be would be lower and taking on the risk that they could be many times higher’ (p. 196).

Theoretically, Pforzheim should have been a model city. After enduring a horrific bombing campaign near the end of the Second World War, Pforzheim’s economic base recovered, thanks to longstanding jewelry and watchmaking industries in the city. But Pforzheim’s geographical location limited its growth. The city shares Baden-Württemberg with Stuttgart, Heidelberg, and Mannheim, each major cities with significant economic and political clout. These cities traditionally attracted major corporations away from such smaller, more specialised urban centres as Pforzheim. Although the financial stresses of the late-2000s put pressure on all German cities, smaller, less economically vibrant communities suffered significantly worse. A Pforzheim administrator summarised the city’s awkward geostrategic situation: ‘We are a jewelry- and watchmaking city that has brought a relatively mono-structured economy’, more sensitive to economic shifts than larger, more diverse cities as Frankfurt-am-Main and Cologne (pp. 198-99). In a dangerous game of financial roulette, Pforzheim and other small German cities engaged in increasingly complicated and risky collaborations with German and EU financial institutions – unaware of these banks’ own instabilities. Pforzheim’s recession, the authors concluded, was demonstrative of how integrated German and continental European financial markets are to Anglo-Saxon banking paradigms, even as they continue to assert a supposedly distinct, fiscally conservative methodology and culture.

60-world2Robert Peston, ‘EU Law may force RBS and Lloyds to become English‘, BBC News, 5 March 2014.

60-world2Robert Peston, ‘Is Standard Life alone?‘, BBC News, 27 February 2014.


Reijer P Hendrikse and James D Sidaway, ‘Financial wizardry and the Golden City: tracking the financial crisis through Pforzheim, Germany‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39 (2014): 195-208.


David Harvey, ‘Roepke lecture in economic geography – crises, geographical disruptions and the uneven development of political responses’, Economic Geography 87 (2011): 1-22.

books_iconA R Sorkin, ‘Towns in Europe learn about swaps the hard way’, The New York Times 16 April 2010.

The Future of European Aviation?

by Benjamin Sacks

Proposed European FABs.

Proposed European FABs.

The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökul volcano on 20 March 2010 demonstrated the weaknesses in Europe’s diverse air traffic control network. As a massive ash cloud up to 8 kilometres high gradually extended across western Europe, forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights and stranding millions of passengers across the entire continent. Although European air controllers correctly prioritised passenger safety above all other factors, the scenario left many airline industry commentators and journalists frustrated with the European Union’s apparent inability to swiftly and effectively act on changing meteorological and airline information. With few exceptions, the maintenance of separate airspace quadrants by each EU member, each with different processes, response mechanisms, as well as external pressures from airlines and politicians, all contributed to delayed and even contradictory responses in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Oslo.

In Eyjafjallajökull’s wake, the International Aviation Transportation Authority (IATA), in cooperation with the EU, proposed the establishment a single European air zone, divided into nine ‘functional airspace blocks’. Citing the current system’s woefully inefficiency – e.g., ‘With fewer air traffic controllers the United States FAA [Federal Aviation Authority] is able to deliver 70% more controlled flight hours than Europe]’ – the IATA / EU consortium called for a reorganisation, or ‘rationalisation’ of air traffic control hierarchies, technological modernisation, and substantially better (and more transparent) communication between national aviation authorities. Optimistically entitled ‘Single European Sky’ (SES), officials set a date of 4 December 2012 for its implementation.

But, as Dr Christopher Lawless (Durham University) reminds us in his March 2014 Geographical Journal commentary, 4 December 2012 came and went with little change. Only two of the nine blocks – Denmark-Sweden and UK-Ireland – had reached operational status. National-level aviation oversight bodies – intended to be the vanguard of transnational cooperation – had made little progress in communicating or facilitating with their neighbouring counterparts. Bickering, unsurprisingly, had early on replaced collaboration. At the EU Aviation Summit in Limassol, Cyprus, Siim Kallas, European Commission joint Vice President and Transport Commissioner, attacked EU states for ‘their “undue protection of national interests'” (Lawless p. 76).

Of the seven non-operational airspace blocks, two (Iberian Peninsula and Central Mediterranean) had not even progressed beyond the ‘definition stage’ (p. 77). Fearing the loss of their jobs and the complete overhaul of learned ATC procedures, French and German air traffic controllers repeatedly threatened strikes.

Lawless examined SES’s problematic history through Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim’s 2009 paradigm of ‘sociotechnical imaginary’. The European SES programme sought to mix technological requirements with larger political aspirations, inevitably leading to discord between various member states. Airlines, already struggling to break even financially, balked at restructuring costs (p.80). Spatially, air spaces were eventually designed along largely existing geographical and geopolitical lines, as the UK-Ireland, Denmark-Sweden, and Italy-Mediterranean sectors clearly demonstrate (p. 78). In reality, these geopolitically-influenced air spaces make little sense with the traffic patterns of most passenger flights:

[T]he highest density region of European air traffic…spans a corridor encompassing the airspace of the UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Under the current arrangement, this straddles four separate FABs…(p. 78).

Lawless concludes by calling for a comprehensive inquiry into sovereign states’ concerns, risk assessments, and considerations, and re-drawing the air space landscape in a more logical (and less state-specific) manner. Ultimately, he stressed that even such ‘apolitical’ projects as SES are unfortunately ridden with politics, negotiation, and self-interests.

The SES debate will continue to fascinate observers for some time. Agonising, protracted discussions over the future of London’s airspace – the world’s busiest – between Conservative officials, led by Boris Johnson, and Labour opponents seem unlikely to end amicably, or soon. This regional crisis, combined with Britain’s current national debate over its long-term role within the EU, will only further complicate the SES’s possible re-development and implementation.    


Gertisser R, Eyjafjallajökull volcano causes widepread disruption to European air trafficGeology Today 26.3 (May-Jun.: 2010), 94-95.

books_icon IATA / EU, A Blueprint for the Single European Sky: Delivering on safety, environment, capacity and cost-effectiveness, 2011.

books_icon Lawless C, Commentary: Bounding the vision of a Single European SkyThe Geographical Journal, 180.1 (Mar., 2014): 76-82.

60-world2 Sacks B, Eyjafjallajökull: Geography’s Harsh ReminderGeography Directions, 18 February 2011.

60-world2 Q&A: EU response to Iceland volcano ashBBC News, 25 May 2011.

60-world2 Iceland volcano ash: German air traffic resumingBBC News, 25 May 2011.

60-world2 Hofmann K, French, German ATCs postpone strikes over Single European SkyAir Transport World, 24 January 2014.


Glocal Finance: bounded forms of global financial capitalism

By Fiona Ferbrache

Warehouses being built adjacent to airport runways may be used as 'freeports' to store valuable goods

Warehouses being built adjacent to airport runways may be used as ‘freeports’ to store valuable goods

Entrepôts, freeports, bonded warehouses… these terms refer to special economic zones in which regulations are relatively relaxed in comparison with those of surrounding jurisdictions.  Such spaces are often part of international trading networks and may be analysed to gain insight to financial relations across and within bounded spaces. 

Guernsey (Channel Islands) is one example of an historical entrepôt. During the 17th and 18th centuries, it developed a key role in Anglo-French trade in wine, spirits and tobacco. Not only was the island strategically located between France and England, but it was used by both countries, at different time, to reduce the costs of import/export. Today, Guernsey provides another example of a special economic zone through status as an offshore financial centre.  The attractions of such spaces (security, tax advantages (relative to mainland jurisdictions) and confidentiality) are also found in a growing number of  freeports.

Freeports refer to repositories at airports that are becoming increasingly popular places to store and trade valuable or luxury goods.  You can read about them in a recent article from The Economist (2013).  Goods may arrive by plane, be transported to freeport warehouse (literally alongside the runway), and then traded without incurring import or other taxation duties.  This occurs partly because goods in freeports can be considered ‘in transit’ – neither ‘here’ nor ‘there’ (another interesting link for geographers might be how this connects with ‘mobilities’). 

The Economist suggests that rising interest in freeports is entangled with global processes and regulations that have evolved since the start of the financial crisis.  It is here that I wish to make a link with a new TIBG paper by Hendrike and Sidaway (2013), and their exploration of how the global financial crisis was mediated in one very specific place: Pforzheim, southwest Germany. Pforzheim is  treated as a ‘glocal’ display of the crisis in which financial decisions were taken at the local level but complexly interlinked with broader processes and structures of financial capitalism. Through this study, Hendrike and Sidaway provide a symptomatic example of how the financial crisis was mediated through particular scales and polity. 

It is not the intention here to present these spaces as negative or deviant, but as localised or ‘bounded spaces’ in an interconnected world.  A commonality between entrepôts, freeports and Pforzheim, is the way in which global issues (such as the financial crisis or trade networks) are interpreted, negotiated and contested through bounded spaces; examination of which can inform out understanding or broader processes and structures.

 Hendrikse, R.P. & Sidaway, J.D. 2013 Financial wizardry and the Golden City: tracking the financial crisis through Pforzheim, Germany. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. DOI: 10.1111/tran.12024

books_icon  Aalbers, M. (2009) Geographies of the financial crisis. Area. 41(1): 34-42

books_icon  Derudder, B., Hoyler, M. & Taylor, P. (2011) Goodbye Reykjavik: international banking centres and the global financial crisis. Area. 43(2): 173-182

60-world2 The Economist (2013) Freeports: Uber-warehouses for the ultra-rich.

60-world2  The New York Times (2012) Swiss Freeports are home for a growing treasury of art