Tag Archives: Representation

‘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

‘Green and Pleasant’ Cultural Geographies: London 2012

by Fiona Ferbrache

London 2012 – this summer’s Olympic Games – may be drawing the eyes of the world to the UK’s capital city.  However, details released last week confirmed that the UK’s four nations (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) will be represented in the Opening Ceremony.  The ways in which these territories, landscapes and people will be represented have raised much subsequent interest.

On July 27, spectators of the Opening Ceremony will view a scene entitled ‘Green and Pleasant’. According to the artistic director, it is a creation intended to represent ourselves as a nation.  However, as an idyllic scene composed of rolling hills, rivers, and meadows with cows, horses and sheep dogs, this is also an idyllic geographical imagination. This typical ‘English’ countryside has evoked a range of responses, including those that question the reality of such representations.

Representations of people and places underpin the field of cultural geography and, in particular, cultural landscapes.  This theme also comes to the fore in the current issue of TIBG.  Peter Hulme (2012) in ‘Writing on the land’, critically examines geographical imaginations and literary representations of Cuba.  His paper reveals how the island’s geography has been reproduced through a range of metaphors relating to place (i.e. Cuba as a geobody), and political geographies enfolded within maps and novels.  These representations are shown to be powerful sources of material influence in and over Cuba.

Two further articles complement Hulme’s paper.  First, Radcliffe (2012) develops Hulme’s focus by exploring three themes as they relate to current geographical debates.  Second, a response by Reid-Henry (2012) closely examines the metaphors found in Hulme’s work.  Together, these pieces provide a comprehensive insight to Cuba’s imagined geographies, and the ways in which we might consider broader territorial and national representations.

Perhaps inspired by this work, will you be wearing your cultural geography hat when July 27 arrives?

  Hulme, P. (2012) Writing on the land: Cuba’s literary geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 37.3. pp.346-358

  Radcliffe, S. (2012) Relating to the land: multiple geographical imaginations and lived-in landscapes. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 37.3. pp.359-364

  Reid-Henry, S. (2012) Geography and metaphors: a response to ‘Writing on the land’. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 37.3. pp.365-369

  ‘Green and Pleasant’ – the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

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.

Continue reading

Geography, imagination and understanding the world around us

Logo of the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2011. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

by Madeleine Hatfield

As the first term of the UK’s current academic year draws to an end, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual Conference of August and September already seems a long time ago – in fact, planning for next year’s conference in July is well underway. Those who attended will remember a wide range of papers and presenters sharing their research under the theme of ‘Geographical Imagination’. Several of the research projects behind these presentations also made the news, showing how geographical research informs wider debates, including Tom Hargreave’s work on smart energy meters, Jon Anderson’s research on surfing and coastal conservation and Jenny Pickerill on the short-comings of ‘eco-bling’.

The Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers journal offers another window onto the geographical imagination with its Virtual Issue guest edited by the conference chair, Stephen Daniels (University of Nottingham). This brings together papers – still free to access online at the time of writing – published across the history of the journal and shows how the concept of a geographical imagination can provide a new way of understanding places, how we think about them and how we represent them through our writing and maps. Our understanding of the world around us is always influenced by our imagination, not just when we dream or write stories, and our imagination is equally fed by everything we see and do – reading the news, attending lectures or going on holiday.

Daniels, S. ed. 2011. Virtual Issue on The Geographical Imagination. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

Dr. Jon Anderson’s Spatial Manifesto website with audio and visual media coverage from the BBC.

Bawden, T. 2011. The Smart answer to the energy crisis? The Independent, 1 October 2011. [Report on Tom Hargreave’s research as presented at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference]

In Loughborough. 2011. When eco-friendly means eco-bling. 15 September 2011. [Report on Jenny Pickerill’s research as presented at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference]

Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference.

Landscapes of Power – Moscow

Peter the Great Statue, MoscowBy Alexander Leo Phillips

On Tuesday 28th September Yuri Luzhkov was sacked after 18 years as Moscow’s mayor.  Given the secretive nature of Russian politics, the ongoing spat between Luzhkov and Putin/Medvedev was unusual  not only for its viciousness, but also for the publicity it received.  Accused of mismanagement and corruption he was offered a simple choice – jump or be pushed.  The charges against him have yet to be proven, with supporters claiming that it was his popularity which saw him removed, as he was seen as a threat to the Kremlin.

Luzhkov came to power as the Iron Curtin fell and since that time oversaw the massive redevelopments of Moscow’s centre and the establishment of a new financial district.  These changes attracted a great deal of praise, but also their fair share of criticism due to the destruction of historic landmarks that the redevelopments left in their wake.   However, the most visible legacy of his power is doubtlessly the ‘300 years of the Russian Fleet’ monument, more commonly known as the Peter the Great Statue (pictured).

Standing taller and heaver than the Statue of Liberty the monument has been voted the 10th ugliest structure on the planet and become a symbol of Luzhkov’s  power. Now that he has finally been ousted plans are afoot to dismantle it and move it away from the public gaze.  Such a move can be read simply as the removal of a controversial work of art, or as something more sinister as the power of Kremlin exerts itself beyond its traditional boundaries. After all, Muscovites have been left with little doubt that their new mayor will be someone with a little more official approval.

The role architecture plays in the domination of landscapes is nothing new to Human Geography.  Across the globe Geographers have studied how the design of buildings has been implemented to give an unrivalled physicality to the power relationships which dictate the political, economic and cultural structures which inhabit our built environment.  In Transactions’ current issue Maria Kaika has explored London’s changing skyline and how its shift from the traditional to revolutionary designs like the Swiss-Re tower (the Gherkin) is symptomatic of the recent institutional reconfigurations of the Corporation of London.  She argues that “the internationalisation of London’s economy after the 1970s challenged the Corporation’s insular character… [And responding to the threats from ‘foreign companies’] the Corporation reinvented itself with an institutional reform [strategy,] and re-branded its identity… as an outward-looking institution, open to London’s new transnational élites” (2010:453).

Kiaka, M. 2010. ‘Architecture and crisis: re-inventing the icon, re-imag(in)ing London and re-branding the City’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 35 (4), pp. 453-474.

Profile of Yuri Luzhkov.

More information on the ‘Peter the Great Statue’.

Political Coverage

By Alexander Leo Phillips

As I write this I’m watching David  Cameron deliver his first Conference speech as Prime Minister.  This is naturally a big event for him; not only is it the first time a Conservative Prime Minster has addressed the Party Conference since 1996, but it also comes at a difficult time for the party itself and wider Britain.

Over the past few weeks of ‘conference season’ we’ve witnessed the Liberal Democrats confuse themselves as they struggle to reconcile the problems of finally tasting power, along with the poisonous knowledge that power has been achieved through the betrayal of many long-standing principles.  Similarly we have seen the alleged death of New Labour and the general bafflement of MPs as they try to comprehend just how they’ve managed the elect the ‘wrong Miliband’.

The Prime Minister’s problems however, are intensified by the burden of government.  The coalition has upset many in the party’s right-wing and has pushed the party too far to the political ‘centre’ than many would have liked.  As a result it has been alleged that the Conservative Party could be on the march towards a state of civil war, which could see the coalition strained not by blue/yellow splits, but by blue/blue splits (see Rawnsley).

Conferences themselves have numerous functions (most of which hold little interest to non-members).  However, one of the most significant is the opportunity to transmit their policies to the wider public in the hope of securing votes.  It is at this point where the power of the media becomes paramount.  Each conference is almost guaranteed to lead the nightly news headlines along with networks like the BBC and Sky offering live rolling coverage and analysis throughout the day.  Geographers Smeltzer and Lepawsky address this point by investigating the important role “[m]ainstream and alternative media play  … in circulating powerful narratives within and often beyond a country’s borders” (2008:86).  Although they’re work focuses upon the Malaysian elections of the last decade, they’re argument and conclusions can be applied just as interestingly to the UK or elsewhere throughout the political calendar. The rise of political blogging through sites such as this, along with countless others; has provided an ever expanding platform of expression upon which people can spout their political views and read the ramblings of others.  A quick look to America and the success of groups like ‘The Young Turks’ provide and effective example of this, as the views of their videos and blogs rival that of the major news networks.

Such coverage raises important questions about ‘framing’.  In the battle for viewers/readers many media organisations have become increasingly partisan in the way they chose to frame their political coverage.  Smeltzer and Lepawsky address this issue of framing by focusing on the relationship between ICT and the electoral process and question the political implications of this framing activity.

Smeltzer, S. and Lepawsky, J. 2008. ‘Foregrounding technology over politics? Media framings of federal elections in Malaysia’, Area. Vol 42 (1). pp. 86-95.

Andrew Rawnsley’s Political Commentary: The Guardian/Observer

The Young Turks website

You expect me to talk? No Mr Bond I expect you to buy

SIS (MI6) Headquarters, London

By Alexander Leo Phillips

We were reminded today about the grim realities of life in the global intelligence community, with the discovery of a thus far unidentified body in a London flat.  Such stories have become increasingly  common place since the end of the Cold War, as many governments have opened up (relativity speaking) and comment more regularly upon matters of state intelligence.  So much so in fact, its now often forgotten that the British Government only recently publicly acknowledged the very existence of SIS. Now they even have an official website.

Before this time the complexities of international espionage were a mystery to the general public.  All we had to go on were the entertainment industries best attempts to turn this unknown world into an exciting (and often slightly camp)  two hours of fast cars, women and guns.  In such a world James Bond was never puzzled by the ill defined notion of the Britain he was fighting for, nor was he ever concerned by his carbon footprint.  As a result, many could be said to hold an overly romanticised image of this world; as something they can buy into for its ‘promises’ of thrills, excitement  and sex.

Stijn Reijnders has explored the increasing profitable world of James Bond tourism in Area’s September 2010 issue.  In it he details the journeys of 007 “pilgrims” as they visit various locations from Bond films across London and the wider world.  From a simple door way to SIS headquarters itself, these pilgrims relive their favourite Bond moments; wishing, if only for an instant, to be part of that world.  However, it seems unlikely to me that these same fans would find as much joy reflecting upon locations like Piccadilly’s Itsu sushi restaurant.

Reijnders, S. 2010. ‘On the trail of 007: media pilgrimages into the world of James Bond’, Area, 42 (3). pp. 369 – 377.