Tag Archives: embodiment

Planting the seeds of a quiet activism

Laura Pottinger, University of Manchester

LP allotment pic.jpg

Author’s photo

Though seeds are fundamental to all food systems they have evaded scrutiny in much of the discourse around local and alternative food networks. With rising interest in community gardens, urban allotments and ‘growing your own’ food, some gardeners have begun to question the provenance and suitability of commercially available seeds, and have learnt how to save their own.

‘Seed savers’ are gardeners who cultivate their own fruits and vegetables before selecting, drying and storing the seeds to provide future crops for themselves and others. They claim that home-grown seed is better suited to small-scale, organic systems. What’s more, self-sufficient seed production provides opportunities for resisting the control of what is argued to be an increasingly corporate and concentrated industrial seed system.

Conservation networks, like Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library and local seed swap events connect seed savers so that they can share their seed harvest and source unusual varieties at a low cost. In doing so, seed saving networks extend gardeners’ individual and everyday practices with plants and seeds among a wider gardening community, and contribute to the biodiversity of British gardens.

On February 5th 2017, Seedy Sunday takes place in Brighton and Hove. As the UK’s largest and longest running annual seed swap, the event brings gardeners together to swap seeds (one packet can be swapped for either another packet or a fifty-pence donation), exchange gardening advice and skills, listen to talks and learn about local food projects and environmental groups.

seed swap table.jpg

Seed swap table. Author’s photo

In a new paper in Area, I explore how seed savers’ practices of cultivating and exchanging can be understood as a kind of ‘quiet activism’. Though the relatively mundane activities of tending plants and sharing seeds may seem at odds with the vocal and combative protest often associated with traditional accounts of activist behaviour, they can contribute to environmentally and socially progressive goals.

Seed savers propagate and protect rare and heirloom seeds that are outlawed by EU legislation prohibiting the sale of unregistered varieties. Swapping and gifting seed also generates feelings of connectedness amongst extended collectives of growers. As plant material is circulated and sown, it forges links between diverse growing spaces, connecting gardeners over space and time.

A Guardian article exploring ‘the cult of quiet’ highlights a contemporary desire for quietness, and explores the recent trend for silent reading parties, dining and even dating. Occupying a purposeful rather than passive embodied stance, quiet activism seems to promise both radical potential and the possibility of retreat. Seed savers suggest that their tangible practices of making and growing hold greater currency in cultivating environmentally and socially just food systems than vocal, antagonistic protest. But is there also a risk that these quiet acts go unheard?

This research with seed savers prompts geographers to look beyond noisy and disruptive activism to expose small, quietly subversive acts of gardening, crafting, making and doing. These varied forms of action provide a rich terrain for researchers to explore activisms performed at varying volumes, and their unique possibilities and limitations.

About the author:  Laura Pottinger is a Research Associate and Senior Tutor in Geography at the University of Manchester. Laura’s research explores ethical food consumption, focusing on alternative food initiatives. 

References

books_icon Pottinger L 2016 Planting the seeds of a quiet activism Area doi: 10.1111/area.12318

Sokell A 2016 Saving seeds, one teaspoon at a time The Guardian Online Retrieved 12 December 2016

60-world2 Williams L 2016 Ssshhh! How the cult of quiet can change your life The Guardian Online Retrieved 12 December 2016

60-world2 Seedy Sunday http://www.seedysunday.org/

60-world2 Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/hsl

 

 

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

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Exploration

by Fiona Ferbrache

Urban Exploring in verlassenen Bunkeranlagen

A fortnight ago, Geography Directions reported on exploration and adventure in Geography.  While exploration is often associated with ventures into the wilderness and unchartered territories, it is also very much about less physical scientific discovery and search for deeper understanding.  This week, I introduce an alternative group of inquisitives: urban explorers who scale the heights and depths of abandoned or derelict buildings, landmarks and transport infrastructure as a means of rediscovering build environments.

The London Consolidation Crew is a group of urban explorers that physically explores closed or (usually) inaccessible urban spaces.  The Guardian linked these often illicit and high-risk excursions to a celebration of capitalist space, while geographer David Clarke suggested that they were embodied reactions to increased control and surveillance over urban spaces.  Analysis of these activities (the basis of a recent geographical PhD by urban explorer Brad Garrett), informs existing geographical research on contemporary urban exploration (Garrett, 2010) and advances theories that concern how places are experienced through the body: concepts such as affect, performance and embodiment.

Bodily experiences of climbing are described, analysed and theorised by Barratt (2012) in Area.  While Barratt’s empirical research was undertaken among outdoor climbers more familiar with ascending rocks, his arguments also apply to urban explorers.  Barratt argues for an understanding of climbing as a complex assemblage of body-material-environment relations i.e. that the experience can be understood through interactions between body, clothing and kit, and the place or surface where climbing is practised.  Barratt’s paper offers a more-than-representational approach to this leisure activity, and thus provides a framework to reconsider urban explorers’ engagement with their environment.  From this perspective, not only do urban explorers inspire new ways of discovering spaces, but they also provide a context where emerging theoretical ideas can be refined.

  The Guardian: Shard explorers seek out new targets after scaling London landmark

  Place Hacking: Explore Everything

  Barratt, P. (2012) ‘My magic cam’: a more-than-representational account of the climbing assemblage. Area. 44.1, pp.46-53

  Garrett, B.L. (2010) Urban Explorers: Quests for Myth, Mystery and Meaning. Geography Compass. 4.10, pp.1448-1461

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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Street Performance and Video Methodology

Sarah Mills

The Edinburgh ‘Fringe’ Festival will soon be opening (5th-29th August) and host a range of acts including comedians, dancers, artists and musicians.  Alongside the ‘official’ shows and ticketed events will be a variety of street performers – each becoming part of the largest arts festival in the world that has been held in Scotland’s capital since 1947 (with the Festival Fringe Society established in 1959).  Their official website states that “In 2010 we enjoyed a record-breaking 2,453 different shows staging 40,254 performances in 259 venues by 21,148 performers.”  The Fringe prides itself on being an ‘open access’ arts festival, meaning that street performers in particular can put on a show as part of Fringe with no selection process and be part of a programme that is not curated.  This creates a unique environment and arena for ‘performance’, as well as a particular type of engagement with the audience(s).

In his recent article published in Area (currently on earlyview), Paul Simpson discusses the geographies of street performance and “the acts of audiencing that members undertake in relation to this” (2011: 1).  He uses street performance as an example through which to explore the role of video methodologies in contemporary geographic research.  The paper reflects on his research – during which he played guitar in Bath, UK and videoed the street performances – and focuses specifically on the giving and receiving of donations, linking these practices to debates on affect, embodiment and ethnography.  Whilst ultimately a paper that critically reflects on using video as a research method, Simpson’s research on street performance highlights debates on everyday and artistic practices, many of which can be seen at the Fringe Festival.

Read P. Simpson (2011) ‘So, as you can see . . .’: some reflections on the utility of video methodologies in the study of embodied practices Area [currently early view] 

Visit the Official Site of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Drinking emotions

By Rosa Mas Giralt

According to the BBC reporter Jim Reeds, the Home Office has just announced plans to return power to local authorities to police drinking behaviour in their streets. This proposal follows criticisms of the ‘24 hour drinking policy’ which was introduced with the aim of staggering the closing of bars and other establishments, therefore reducing drinking related problems and anti-social behaviour in the city centres and streets of England and Wales. The new plans, currently under consultation, would include Councils being able to stop drinking in their streets after midnight, bars being charged a late night fee due to extra-policing expenditure and supermarkets and other establishments being banned from selling drinks at ‘below cost’ price. This is a new episode on the long-standing battle of public authorities in the UK to reduce excessive drinking and its related public safety and health impacts.

In a forthcoming article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Mark Jayne, Gill Valentine and Sarah L. Holloway argue for an emotional, embodied and affective approach to researching alcohol, drinking and drunkenness. Such an approach, they suggest, can provide a bridge between scholarship focusing on health and legislation issues related to excessive drinking and that centred on the social and cultural aspects of these practices; therefore, providing a more holistic context in which to understand the complexity of factors which play a role in people’s experiences of drinking and their related impacts.

 Watch Jim Reed’s report “24-hour drinking culture ‘failed’, Home Office says” on the BBC website.

 Read Mark Jayne, Gill Valentine and Sarah L Holloway (2010). “Emotional, embodied and affective geographies of alcohol, drinking and drunkenness”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. [Early view]