Tag Archives: Political Geography

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

Colonial Memories Re-Ignited: In Producing the Streets and Rhodes, One Stone Remains Unturned

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

Oriel College bird’s eye view from University church. Image Credit: Arnaud Malon

Every day people walking past Oriel College on High Street in Oxford are confronted with a statue of Cecil Rhodes; a man heavily involved in the creation of enforced racial segregation in South Africa. As part of a global protest movement called ‘Rhodes Must Fall’, which began in South Africa in March 2015, a group of students at Oxford University have mobilised, calling for the statue to be removed. Toppling the stone Rhodes, they feel, would indicate that the seeds of progress are being sown in a battle against continuing racial inequality at Oxford university (The Guardian, 2015). However, despite this cause, on 29th January 2016 it was announced by Oxford University that the statue shall remain (The Guardian, 2016).

Benwell (2016), in his recent article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, turned his attention on how everyday memories form geopolitical subjectivity. His specific empirical case was young people living on the Falkland Islands, and their engagement with memories etched into the social and physical landscape. Using this discourse when looking at Oriel college, one is able to ponder the presence of the Cecil Rhodes statue and consider how it plays a continually evolving role in the geopolitical memories of those who encounter it.

The statue in Oriel College is not new; it was erected with the construction of the Rhodes Building in 1911 from funds left to the college by Cecil Rhodes himself. Therefore we can assume that in the past the statue was probably missed or completely ignored by the majority of people who passed it – indeed no one is claiming that until last year all people walking along High Street silently condoned the statue’s existence. However the success of the Rhodes Must Fall movement, bringing the issues of an ongoing racist colonial history to international consciousness, has meant that the presence of the statue has been elevated. This elevation has enabled the revival of memories of a horrific colonial past to be found; engaging new geopolitical subjectivities. But now that the University has made its decision to keep the statue, what does this mean for the Rhodes Must Fall movement?

Arguing about whether it was right or wrong for the University to keep the statue will not help develop this narrative. Instead we should consider; what is revealed by the decision of the University to keep it? Lefebvre (1991) indicated in his work The Production of Space that all spaces are always actively produced by those who either perceive, conceive, or live the space. Here we have, on one side, a University controlling the space through its decision to keep the statue – creating the representation of space – and on the other side a movement of students who are occupying this space on High Street – making it representational space. The inability of the Rhodes Must Fall movement to remove the statue, indicates that despite appearing in the space they are fundamentally alienated from the construction of this space. Those controlling the space on the other hand, are able to impose upon these users their own representations of the space. Lefebvre warns that such impositions, by the controlling force of the University, will make “permanent transgression inevitable” (Lefebvre, 1991: 23) if the lived enactment of the space continues to be occupied by those alienated from its control.

The question is therefore; what future transgressions will we witness in the ongoing narrative of this statue? And importantly, will these transgressions establish a spatial legacy for the Rhodes Must Fall movement? A legacy memorialised with a permanence equivalent to a statue maybe? Removing the statue was never seen as an end to the discussion by any side in the debate. The story of this space is not finished.

References

books_icon Benwell, M. C., (2016) Encountering geopolitical pasts in the present: young people’s everyday engagements with memory in the Falkland Islands, Transaction of the Institute of British Geographers, Early View, DOI: 10.1111/tran.12109

books_icon Lefebvre, H., (1991) The Production of Space, London: Wiley-Blackwell

60-world2 The Guardian (2015) Oxford students step up campaign to remove Cecil Rhodes statue, Online Article (Accessed on 2nd February 2016)

60-world2 The Guardian (2016) Cecil Rhodes statue to remain at Oxford after ‘overwhelming support’, Online Article (Accessed on 2nd February 2016)

 

 

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)

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)

 

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

280px-SuezCanal-EO

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.

References

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.

Housing Refugees: Prejudice and the Potentials of Encounter

By Julian Shaw (King’s College London)

Syrian Refugees at Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

Syrian Refugees at Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary
Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

This summer the British media opened its eyes, cleared its collective throat, and eventually gave voice to a global refugee crisis that has been growing for years. Initially the tragedy traversed the narratives of public and political figures, then it made its way into the private discussions of British families (via TV news and online petitions). Now the tragedy’s spatial journey appears to have followed suit – moving from the public spaces of train stations and border checkpoints, it is now poised to enter private space. In The Independent it was revealed that “one in 14 people – the equivalent of almost two million UK households – said they would be prepared to offer a room or space in their home to a refugee” (The Independent, 2015); what an amazing thought.

Concurrently in September’s issue of The Geographical Journal, Valentine et al. published the latest instalment in their investigation of the geography of encounter; looking in this article at “encounters…within the context of family life” (Valentine et al., 2015: 280). Their article specifically turns the significance of everyday intimate encounters with diversity in the home, and how these may have the potential to challenge wider prejudices evident in public life.

Turning to the cities of Leeds and Warsaw, Valentine et al. surveyed over 3,000 social attitudes and made in-depth qualitative explorations with 60 of these respondents. Their findings revealed that indeed “intra-familial diversity does produce more positive attitudes in public life” (ibid.: 291). Should such a result be consistent across the UK, this has made me wonder about the wider positive implications that could occur if British families were to house refugees in their spare rooms, as was suggested in The Independent.

Of course, housing someone does not necessarily make them family – or at least not in the traditional sense. However, Valentine et al. acknowledge in their study that the intimate encounters they explore do not presume the traditional sense of family – in the modern world family structures are much more malleable and changeable than they used to be. Instead they extend their investigation of families to the wider spatial setting of “the home and associated spaces of family life” (Valentine et al., 2005: 281). In this case, I suggest that their findings could be directly relevant to UK families welcoming refugees into their homes.

However, the obvious caveat here is that likely volunteers to house refugees are those already holding positive views towards them. I guess the challenge is – if intimate encounters can break prejudice – enabling intimate encounters with refugees to enter into the homes of those harbouring intolerance? Yet, don’t most of us have some distant or extended family members that we might reluctantly describe as being intolerant, even while we hold broad and accepting views ourselves? If this is the case then the intimate encounters described by Valentine et al. (2015) could indeed happen in the families of those offering to house refugees. Let’s hope the offer becomes reality.

References:

60-world2 The Independent (2015) Online article: “Revealed: the extraordinary response to the Syrian refugee crisis – and how it shames David Cameron”, by Adam Withnall and Matt Dathan on 23rd September 2015, Accessed online at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-crisis-the-true-extent-of-the-british-publics-extraordinary-response-revealed-10514341.html (Accessed on 23rd September 2015)

books_icon Valentine, G., Piekut, A., and Harris, C., (2015) Intimate encounters: the negotiation of difference within the family and its implications for social relations in public space, The Geographical Journal, 181(3): pp.280-294 (open access).

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.

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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.

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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.