Towards a Taxonomy of Pop-Up: Part Two

With the help of funding from the SCG PhD Student Support Fund, I spent the past 6 months conducting a preliminary investigation into pop-up culture in London in order to identify case studies for my PhD research. This two part blog post gives an account of my findings and subsequent decisions


Cinemas, Supper Clubs and Shipping Container Spaces

In what follows I’ll give abridged and anonymised accounts from my field notes of some of the pop-ups I visited in order to demonstrate the rationale behind the selection of my three case study types. As I hope will be clear, each type is intended to draw out certain defining elements of pop-up, but those elements can also be considered in relation to the other types, and to pop-up more broadly.

Supper Clubs: Public/Private dichotomies and the role of the internet  

Having found the supper club online, read some reviews on their website and had a look at the menu, I booked tickets to attend an event a couple of weeks later. On the night, I arrived on a residential, smart looking street in North London feeling slightly terrified. There was no sign of any event happening from outside so I went up and knocked on the door. I was greeted by a woman in her early thirties, and taken through to a living room full of confused looking strangers, all nervously clutching flutes of cava. After making fairly forced conversation we were taken into the main family room, shown pictures of the host and her brother’s graduation ceremonies, and introduced to their mother, who would be cooking our dinner. She said they were family recipes, and showed us a portrait of her mother, who had taught her to cook. The other guests said they’d found the event online too, most had come as part of groups, but some had come alone. By the end of the evening there was a good conversation going, punctuated by slightly strange interjections from the host’s father. The brother, apparently, was upstairs in his bedroom, as he doesn’t like to be involved in the supper clubs.  

In their pure form, supper clubs happen in somebody’s house, raising questions about how the public and the private are refigured via this commercialisation of a domestic space (supper clubs usually cost around £30 to attend.) In this account, the eagerness of the host to show the family photos to the guests, and the fact that one member of the family was hiding upstairs both offer insights into the nature of this encounter between public and private. On the one hand, representations of the familial/personal are foregrounded as a selling point of the experience, but on the other, the deliberate absence of one family member demonstrates how the supper club could be an intrusion into the domestic realm. The supper club also brings into focus questions around the colliding temporalities of work and leisure in contemporary London, given that, like many pop-ups, the hosts normally run them in addition to their day jobs, as profitable hobbies.  

Also of interest is the role of the internet in organising supper clubs, and indeed in organising most temporary places. Given that supper clubs happen in somebody’s home, the only way of knowing that the property is being transformed into a public place for the evening is via listed notifications (you can’t tell, as I found out, from the outside of the building) which almost always happens online. Supper clubs therefore bring into focus the intermediary role of the internet in the production and consumption of pop-up places. The internet is used to keep track of the transformation of city spaces into pop-up events, given that the pop-up landscape is too unsettled for cartographic representations, and requires something more akin to Paul Virilio’s ‘trajectography’. That is to say, pop-up requires ways of continuously finding out what’s happening, not a fixed way of knowing what is.  


Pop-up Cinema: Temporality and Urban Imaginaries 

I left, along with my friend, in day light, feeling pretty daft in the costume I’d been instructed to wear. But once we got closer to the site of the screening we started to see other people obviously going to the same place, and by the time we arrived we were part of an excited gang. We had to hand in our mobile phones before going into the building, which looked like it might have been an old fire station. The whole place had been decked out to look like a city, and my friend and I were sent to different districts and given different errands to do. Along my way I met various people, and sometimes couldn’t tell if they were actors or spectators like me. Most people never dropped character, and whenever asked I gave the name that I’d been allocated when I booked the tickets online. The set was pretty convincing and I quickly felt like I really was in an unknown city. Every now and then a short scene would be acted out, sometimes by characters I’d already interacted with. Eventually I found my friend out in the court yard and together we tried to piece together the story emerging from our encounters. The story was soon clarified when we were all called into a big hall to watch the film; we recognised the scenes we’d seen acted out and the characters we’d met and made sense of our experiences against the film’s narrative. During the film there were still some bits of acting taking place in the room, to compliment what was happening on screen. At the end there was a band and we danced with some other people, until we decided to pick up our phones, stumble out into the ‘real’ world, and get the last tube home.

Cinema has long been thought in relation to the city. Much attention has been paid both within Geography and Film Studies to how urban forms and temporalities have, across eras, been imagined via and shaped through film. Equally, places of cinematic spectatorship have been considered for their functions as spaces where alternative and politicized publics can be formed. Pop-up cinema can be seen as the latest chapter in this history. Pop-up screenings, as detailed above, have a lot in common with early models of spectatorship, where the film screening is just one part of an experience which includes music, performance, eating and drinking. Studying pop-up cinema as part of this history of urban spectatorship will allow insight into the ways in which pop-up cinema screenings re-imagine and construct the urban, and open avenues of exploration into the sociality and publicness of pop-up. Given the longstanding place of film in understandings of temporality, pop-up cinema will also be a good starting point for considering the nature of temporality within pop-up culture. Furthermore, as the account above shows, pop-up cinemas are carefully designed to create a site in which the fiction of a film is expanded into real space, and a study of their aesthetic form and its effects will provide an insight into elements of play, performance and immersion which are identifiable across pop-up culture.


Shipping Container Spaces: Place, Placelessness and the Economy of Pop-Up

One day I spent a few hours hanging around a ‘pop-up mall’ made of shipping containers. The containers had been painted and modified to create units which were being used for multiple shops, restaurants, cafes and bars to operate out of. There was also a further container a little way off from the main site where a sponsored busking event was taking place. Amateur but pretty decent songwriters and DJs were performing to a small, very hipster-ish, crowd and others looked on from the terrace of a bar operating out of one of the containers on the upper level of the structure. One of the corridors inside the container structure had been decorated with poems about east London, mostly celebrating the diversity of the area. The modular design of the containers gave a regularity to the shops and restaurants, but inside they had all been customized in different ways.

My final case study cluster, which will look at shipping container spaces, is an effective way to study the economy of pop-up. Shipping containers have historically been emblematic of globalisation and standardized production, but here, as my account shows, they are repurposed as customized objects with a new symbolic currency. Like most pop-ups, container spaces foreground the process of their construction, and take an aesthetic form which is performatively temporary and ad-hoc. The way in which shipping containers are repurposed for ‘make-shift’ structures, gives an insight into the shifts in logics of production and consumption which pop-up is part of, a shift towards the handmade, the one-off and the crafted. However, as well as economic shifts, container spaces also facilitate continuations of economic patterns. Like containers used for shipping, these containers are still tied up in maintaining trade and other circulations of capital in the city.

Shipping containers also provide an insight into tensions between place and placelessness in pop-up. Pop-up developments are often discussed by planners as creating a sense of place in areas, as is evidenced by the poems displayed on the walls in this account. But this sense of place is in tension with the destabilization of place for others, which pop-ups are arguably complicit in via gentrification. It’s also arguable that pop-up makes place a product, a selling point in itself which can be exported to many different spaces, and this too suggests that pop-ups might be thought in relation to ideas of non-place and placelessness. 


Summary of Rationale

As I hope these accounts make clear, my three clusters of case studies have been selected on the basis that they provide particular insight into the main distributions and imaginaries of the pop-up landscape. So, while my research will be in no way a complete or conclusive study of pop-up, it will contribute to emerging understandings of pop-up’s spatiotemporal logic, and its functions within the contemporary city.

by Ella Harris

Towards a Taxonomy of Pop-Up: Part One

With the help of funding from the SCG PhD Student Support Fund, I spent the past 6 months conducting a preliminary investigation into pop-up culture in London in order to identify case studies for my PhD research. This two part blog post gives an account of my findings and subsequent decisions.


Impressions of London’s Pop-up Scene

Time Out’s ‘pop-up event generator’ gives a good indication of the current ubiquity of pop-up places and of how they are publicly perceived. Clicking on the generator throws out a parody of potential pop-ups: “An enchanted garden….at a secret location”, “A close-up magic show…in the midst of an empty housing estate”, “A greasy spoon with a ‘molecular gastronomy’ twist….in a disused brewery”.

The generator plays on pop-up’s pervasiveness, and picks up on some defining qualities of its imaginary: an absurdist incongruity of location and event, a fixation on transience and secrecy, and a fascination with the spectacular or surreal.  

In terms of the tasks this imaginary is put to, pop-up has been heralded by some as an opportunity for small enterprises to get off the ground and a way to rejuvenate post-recession high streets. The endorsement of temporary occupancy of commercial premises by the UK government, who have taken practical measures to facilitate short-term leases, has been instrumental in the growing popularity of pop-up as an urban form over the past decade. However, pop-up is regarded more critically by others, who explore its role in the gentrification of areas of London, often arguing that pop-up is merely a distraction from economic crisis, and/or a precursor to regeneration strategies which often result in the displacement of poorer populations.

Preliminary Investigations

The intention of my PhD is to study the ways in which time-space is imagined and performed by the producers of the pop-up landscape. However, given the breadth and prevalence of pop-up events, an ethnography of the entirety of pop-up culture in London would be near impossible, and I’ve needed to determine a selection of case studies and a methodological framework which will allow me to explore the logic of pop-up via concrete and manageable empirics.

Thanks to funding from the SCG PhD Student Support Fund, I was able to conduct a preliminary investigation into London’s pop-up scene to inform my case study selection. Between January and July I visited 27 pop-up places in order to get a sense of the kinds of pop-up which exist and think about which ones would be the best basis for my fieldwork.

 Brief Summary of Findings

The lists below give a sense of what I discovered about the pop-up landscape of London during my preliminary research.


The main forms of pop-up spatiality can be loosely categorised within the following list of ‘types’ (although distinctions between types aren’t always clear cut, and many pop-ups fit into more than one category.)

  • Pop-up Cinemas
  • Pop-up Theatres (Including pop-up opera)
  • Pop-up Restaurants
  • Immersive/themed pop-up dining and drinking events
  • Supper Clubs
  • Event Spaces – which can be split into two groups:
    • Existing venues designated for temporary use by multiple temporary tenants
    • Shipping container structures designed as multi-function pop-up consumption and event spaces
  • Pop-up Bars
  • Pop-up Shops
  • Educational pop-ups 
  • Residencies (a pop-up food or drink event taking temporary or cyclical ‘residence’ within an existing establishment, usually a pub or bar)
  • Public Space pop-ups (Including a pop-up forest and pop-up ping pong)


Pop-ups can also be divided into two camps according to their temporal organisation: Pop-ups which occur as one-off events (be it for a night, a week or several months), and pop-ups which occur cyclically or seasonally.  

Geographical distribution within London

With regards to area – although there tend to be higher densities of pop-ups in ‘trendy’ areas of the city, for example around Hackney, there is actually a fairly wide spread of pop-ups in London, and during the six month period I was aware of pop-ups occurring in areas as disparate as Catford, Turnham Green and Tottenham. 

Common themes

As well as thinking about the kinds of categories pop-ups fit into, I also kept track of recurring themes notable across the pop-up landscape, with regards to their spatial, temporal and aesthetic form. I found the following commonalities:

  • The use of ‘alternative’ or unusual spaces including: private spaces (for example homes), ‘very urban’ spaces (for example car parks, roundabouts, warehouses) and vacant spaces (for example disused offices or retail premises)
  • The use of other premises after hours (for example a hairdresser used for evening film screenings or cafes used for pop-up dinners in the evenings)
  • An emphasis on craft, process and the handmade, in terms of the products sold but also in terms of the design of the spaces, via the use of make-shift materials, or via (lack of) interior design (i.e. exposed concrete and wiring.)
  • A tendency to theme pop-up events, often around fictional worlds from books or films, around nations and national events or sometimes around historical periods or famous people.
  • A focus on ‘immersive’ experiences (often via the use of themes as detailed above)
  • An emphasis on interactivity and sociability, including an encouragement to interact with strangers
  • A playful approach to the site’s former use and/or to place and locality – often achieved via the incorporation of a site’s former use into the naming or design of a pop-up (although not a pop-up, a bar using a similar naming convention in Deptford has been criticised for insensitivity, raising questions of relevance for pop-up too)
  • An emphasis on temporality (specifically on ephemerality and spontaneity) within marketing and publicity

Organisational structures  

I found that pop-ups are organisationally dependent on the internet. There are certain key websites which list pop-ups (for example ‘london pop-ups’, ‘edible experiences’ and ‘grub club’) and pop-ups tend to have a strong social media presence, using twitter and instagram for publicity (there was even a ‘pay by Instagram’ pop-up).

Pop-ups are also embedded in various economic, legal, governmental and charitable structures. There are multiple organisations who match poppers-uppers with spaces for them to pop-up into and pop-ups are often encouraged as part of national or local government supported regeneration schemes, or as part of business improvement districts. The ‘meanwhile lease template’ is designed to facilitate temporary uses of vacant buildings, and recent changes surrounding business rates and planning permission are intended to make pop-ups quicker and easier to organise.

Plan of Action

I wanted to narrow down my empirical focus in a way which enabled me to produce in depth knowledge of certain types of pop-up, while still allowing me to explore the commonalities and organisational structures of the pop-up landscape listed above. For this reason I decided to focus on the types of pop-up which I thought gave the clearest insight into the qualities of pop-up as a culture. The three types I selected are:

  1. Pop-up cinemas
  2. Supper clubs
  3. Shipping container spaces.

Within this framework, I plan to conduct three levels of research.

  1. An in depth ethnography of two case studies from each ‘type’ selected
  2. A briefer study of around six other case studies from each type, using interviews and short periods of ethnography.
  3. A series of short visits and participant observations at up to 40 pop-up places from, or of direct relevance to, the three types, as well as interviews with key players in pop-up’s organisation.

These levels will allow me to produce detailed knowledge about particular pop-up places, but without losing the sense of pop-up culture’s plurality, diversity and prominence within the city.

The next section of this blog will explain the rationale behind each of the types of pop-ups I’ve decided to focus on, demonstrating how they draw out the common themes and structures identified.

By Ella Harris


Everyday Augmentations of Place

LS Duggan

Digital technologies are becoming increasingly intertwined with everyday life at all scales. As a result they are having significant and often multiple impacts on the everyday geographies of many people. It could be said that in today’s world, many of our daily practices involve, if not rely upon, the use of internet-enabled digital technologies.

Increasingly this tethering of digital technology and practice is mediated through the mobile devices that we carry in our pockets or bags. When in use, these devices (primarily the popular smartphones and tablets available) make little distinction between what we once considered the ‘online’ and the ‘offline’ world. In effect, they are being used to mediate the material and the virtual in everyday practice.

Fundamental to my research is examining how these coming-togethers of the material and the virtual have affected a sense of place. I am particularly interested in how this digitally-mediated nexus affects a sensuous experience of place, which I suggest is inextricable to the assemblage(s) that constitutes place. My primary aim is therefore to explore how digital technologies augment everyday sensory experiences of place.

Technology has always been used in one way or another to augment our experiences, and therefore our sense of the world. I would however argue that digital technologies offer something novel in the way that they come to augment everyday life. I suggest that unlike previous technologies, those emerging today facilitate immediate access to a dense layering of dynamic information, to be retrieved from any location with cellular or WiFi connectivity. Noting the ‘real-world’ impact that access to this information can have, my research will examine what affect(s) this may have on a sense of place.

To be more specific, my research focuses on how the use of popular geo-spatial and geoweb technologies (which are embedded within most mobile devices available today) have come to augment everyday practices of navigation, way finding and exploration. Perhaps the most well known of these is mobile mapping applications, and as such questions addressing how mobile mapping applications have come to affect a sensory experience of place will feature heavily throughout this research. What does it mean, for instance, to experience the world through the lens of GoogleMaps, BingMaps, OpenStreetMap etcetera, and what bearing does that have on a users sense of place? Questions such as these will be used to address another of my research’s aims; that is to examine the impact that geo-spatial technologies may have on the sensory geographies of everyday spatial practice, and how these affect everyday place-making.

In carrying out this research I will to use a ground up, long form ethnographic methodology. Participants will be drawn from a broad range of cultures, the aim being not to provide any generalisations of society but instead to produce snapshots of how life is being lived in the so-called ‘digital age’. By exploring how geo-spatial technologies are affecting the intricacies of everyday practice in this manner, my research aims to provide an alternative to the ‘big data’ driven studies currently dominating this field of research.

By Mike Duggan (PhD Candidate)

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Curating Art in the Age of the Anthropocene

 oil on canvas  226.5 x 275 cmCourtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Daniel Boyd, We Call them Pirates Out Here, 2006
oil on canvas
226.5 x 275 cm. Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Oil on canvas 192.2 x 265.4 cm

E Phillips Fox, Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770, 1902. Oil on canvas
192.2 x 265.4 cm

Mark Dion Phantoms of the Clark Expedition, 2012 Installation Explorers Club New York Courtesy of the artist

Mark Dion
Phantoms of the Clark Expedition, 2012
Explorers Club New York
Courtesy of the artist

Recent years have seen a surge in artists’ projects engaging with environmental questions and addressing these through novel forms for research, documentation, presentation, and public dialogues. As a consequence artists have sought new artistic strategies, constituencies, and institutional frameworks in which creative experimentation can take place. Frequently these projects are instigated by and enabled through a contemporary art curator.

I am particularly interested in artists who engage with ecological systems and constructions of nature through working in the modes of ‘field work’ and ‘expedition’. These modes, so I propose, are particularly useful for the study of the relationships between humans and nature, particularly environmental change, and within post-colonial contexts.

Within these artistic practices deploying the expeditionary mode I focus on performative projects – benefitting here from joint supervision within the Geography Department and by the Department of Drama and Theatre Studies ̶ that re-enact historic and contemporary scientific practices in the natural sciences in order to make visible the processes and consequences of human actions. Through re-enactments, be they performative or through history painting both, artist and viewer, can imagine and re-imagine a past historical world, that encompasses natural and human history, and reflect on the present.

Underpinning my research are notions of time and human actions, as currently taken up in the wildly varying debates around the geological ‘Anthropocene’, a term intended to highlight the significance of human agency within the Earth’s natural system (Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000).

Currently I am exploring the geological imagination through works by American artist Mark Dion and the ecological imagination by collaborating with photographer Chrystel Lebas by studying the archives of British botanist and ecologist Sir Edward James Salisbury (1886 –1978), which are held at the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens. I also work with Australian artist Daniel Boyd and study his imaginings of the cultures of the Pacific via archival collections and history paintings and his cosmological imagination.

Through these and other artists’ works I will study the critical spaces they open up through their processes and practices. I will show how they make visible the contributions of scientific expeditions to the natural sciences and imperialism, and how ideologies, gender, and social class differences are manifested in the constructions of peoples, nature, and history. Furthermore I will explore how artists create new analytical, imaginary and mental spaces by introducing disruptions, humour, the poetic, and the absurd into the scientific and ethnographic moments of fieldwork and expedition.

From the perspectives of geography, performance studies, visual culture, post-colonial studies, and the history of science I will gain understandings of artists’ re-enactments that offer not only critical reflections and discourse, but show how they are conducive to creating a theatre of history. In the words of historian Greg Dening “…the realism of history, not of the past, will always be somewhat magical.”

Bergit Arends, PhD Candidate


See also:

Observing Environmental Change: Chrystel Lebas and the Sir Edward James Salisbury Collection

Daniel Boyd Tracing the Past at the Natural History Museum London

First Fleet: Daniel Boyd at the Natural History Museum London


Key words: Anthropocene, curating, contemporary art, environment, expeditions, exhibition, field work, history, science

Souvenir Geographies — My first year PhD presentation in Landscape Surgery

Shirt of London Made in Turkey, (photo by author, taken in Cool Britannia, summer 2014)

Shirt of London Made in Turkey, (photo by author, taken in Cool Britannia, summer 2014)

The first-year PhD presentation day is a tradition of Landscape Surgery. I attended it last year as an audience member when I was a MA student, and was honoured to be a speaker in it this year. For the LS presentation, I created a slideshow to help demonstrate my PhD (available here), which can also give you a taste of my PhD.

This project looks at a widely-loved object: the souvenir. Many people keep souvenirs as reminders of a person, place, or event. A souvenir is inherently geographical based on its nature. A souvenir’s mobility is its most outstanding geographical characteristic: souvenirs move from the place of tourism to the place of home; from ‘extraordinary’ place to the world of the ‘ordinary’. Although souvenirs take on many forms, functions and representations, they are often formally associated with a specific geographical place.

Studies related to souvenirs in SCG are rare. Morgan & Pritchard (2005) studied souvenir and self-identity; Hashimoto & Telfer (2007) talked about authentic geographical souvenirs in Canada; Ramsay (2009) had an impressive field work of souvenir production sites in Swaziland; while Peters (2011) studied banal souvenirs’ home placement. Souvenirs studies have potential for exploration.

My PhD project ‘Souvenir Geographies: Authenticity and Place Making’ focus on souvenirs on two way: one is to explore how souvenirs’ authenticity and meaning change along with places; secondly it looks at how souvenirs shape places in the terms of place making. This process is revealed by following souvenirs in a linear route: from the making sites, tourist sites, transport sites (AKA non-places: airports, train stations; Augé, 1994) and then to the tourists’ homes. In this quadruple layer process, souvenir’s spatiotemporal peculiarity makes it a great object to follow, and to analysis from a geographical perspective. Putting my Cultural Geographer’s hat on, I analysis souvenirs based on their spatial movements.

In the terms of methodology, ‘following the thing’ and visual ethnography are the most basic and key methods used through out the whole project. Apart from these, semi_structured interviews, using postcards as a method, participant observation, keeping fieldwork diary: text, image and video, and blogging as a method (project blog) are also used in this project. When it comes to field work, two fields are considered for this project. The first one is UK, and the other is China. In each case, equal factories, tourist sites, transporting sites and homes will be visited and same number of postcards will be handed out.

Souvenirs studying is an innovative and novel topic area in Cultural Geography, which promises to contribute to discussions in a range of geographical topics: material culture, place and, in particular, tourism studies.

Zhuyun (Amy) Zang, PhD Candidate

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Exploring Time-Space in the Temporary City



(pop-up film screening, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens)

My PhD looks at three kinds of “pop-up” spatiality in London in order to explore new distributions and imaginations of time-space in the contemporary city.

Pop-ups are temporary places, usually created in vacant buildings or temporary purpose built or re-purposed structures. They have become a huge phenomenon in recent years, arguably growing, in part, out of rising vacancy rates in urban areas after the recession. Pop-up is now ubiquitous as a term and as well as the routine sight of pop-up bars, cinemas and shops there are pop-up think tanks, pop-up yoga classes and ‘pop-up weddings’!? Pop-up is so prevalent that there is, apparently, even going to be a pop-up restaurant on the site of the last supper.

Pop-up’s can be situated within a long history of temporary geographies, which they draw on and respond to, including street food markets, “happenings”, raves, prohibition bars and early cinema screenings. Against this history, I think that what delineates pop-up as a new phenomenon is the way in which pop-up places emphatically perform their temporariness via their aesthetic form and state their affiliation with pop-up culture through their use of pop-up’s lexicon.  For this reason I see pop-up as being as much an imaginative as a material geography and, accordingly, frame my work as a study of the ways in which time and space are conceived and performed within pop-up culture.

Within the vast landscape of pop-up places I focus on three kinds of pop-up spatiality: shipping container spaces, supper clubs and pop-up cinemas. These three types have each been selected to draw out different aspects of pop-up’s spatio-temporal logic, including its economic structures, its approach to the notion of place, its implications for public/private dichotomies, its relationship to the internet, its forms of sociability, and its rendition of temporality and the urban. These features of pop-up’s spatio-temporal logic in turn indicate, I think, changes in the imagination of the city more broadly.

My research also considers the politics of pop-up within the contexts of recession and austerity. I see pop-up as embedded in two inter-related regimes of temporariness. These are, on the one hand, an enchantment with transience, now-ness and newness apparent in practices such as ‘flash-mobs’, ‘hot-desking’ and ‘start-ups’, as well as in the experience economy, and on the other, an increasing precarity of place linked to austerity urbanism and processes of gentrification. I consider the role of pop-up in normalising, glamorising and instigating temporariness at a time of widespread precarity in London.

As well as ethnography, auto-ethnography and discourse analysis of pop-up’s online presence, my methodological approach to studying pop-up will include the use of film to create an interactive documentary website about the pop-up city. This site will compliment my written PhD and engage with the aesthetic form of individual pop-up places, as well as with the aesthetic form taken by the pop-up landscape as a whole; explored through notions of nonlinearity, immersion and co-presence.

Ella Harris

Space, Place, and Protest: The Historical Geography of Contentious Politics in London

The Hyde Park Railings Affair ( Source: Anon., “The Riot in Hyde Park,” Illustrated London News, August 4, 1866, accessed March 24, 2014, Illustrated London News Historical Archive)

The Hyde Park Railings Affair ( Source: Anon., “The Riot in Hyde Park,” Illustrated London News, August 4, 1866, accessed March 24, 2014, Illustrated London News Historical Archive)

In my PhD I plan to investigate the relationship between space, place and protest in London since 1780. Using case studies including the Gordon Riots (1780), the Hyde Park Railings Affair (1866), the Battle of Cable Street (1936), the Grunwick Strike (1976–8), and the Student Tuition Fee Protests (2010), I will attempt to argue that space, place, and protest are mutually constitutive, that they influence and impact each other (although I am fully prepared to find my hypothesis incorrect!)


The case studies were selected to be representative of the time frame, but also to represent different types of spaces, such as the street, parks, commons, and buildings. Although these distinctions do not stand up to much scrutiny, they help to ensure that as wide a variety as possible of the different types of space that make up London are considered in the project.


The method will of course be mainly archival research, but oral histories or interviews may be utilised for the more recent case studies, to help mitigate a common issue with the historical research of protests, the fact that archival sources are rarely from the perspective of protesters themselves. This is only one of several challenges I face in my methodology, but I hope that I will be able to deal with them all in time.


When I say ‘space’ I mean the physical characteristics of a location, for example buildings, roads, street furniture, or a lack of these things. I will investigate whether these characteristics impact protests as they occur within the space, and whether protests in turn impact the space, either directly or through pre-emptive attempts to limit protest. For example, during the Hyde Park Railings Affair in 1866, protesters broke into Hyde Park, which had been closed by police, by pushing over the railings. The protesters then clashed with police, with scuffles still occurring several days after the protest. If the railings had been stronger, and the protesters unable to get into the park, the protest may well have unfolded differently.


In terms of place, by which I refer to the meanings, connotations and emotions that people associate with a location, I will also look at the interaction with protest. I hope to find out if protesters deliberately make use of these meanings and connotations for the purposes of their protest, and if places are changed because a protest happened within them. For example, in the days preceding the Hyde Park Railings Affair, there was extensive debate in the newspapers about the propriety of using the park for a demonstration. Some argued that the park was for the people, and as such could be used however the people saw fit, whilst others considered the park appropriate only for quiet recreational activities. The Railings Affair sparked a battle over what Hyde Park meant to London and its people.


These examples illustrate some of the issues I may be engaging with during my PhD, and I very much look forward to investigating them further.


by Hannah Awcock

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LS programme Summer 2014


The programme for Summer 2014


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Landscape Surgeons in Loughborough


mid term

The snappily titled RGS-IBG Postgraduate Forum Midterm Conference was taken by storm on Monday by a seven (wo)man contingent of Royal Holloway cultural geographers. Whether it was a biscuit induced sugar rush or academic inspiration can’t be definitively determined, but either way, everyone left the opening key note speech by Hilary Geoghegan feeling enthused about the conference to come.

The conference was arranged into six blocks of two or three sessions, with four or five papers in each session. The organisers had tried to theme the sessions, but given the mix of physical, human and cultural geographers, this was a bit of a challenge, and some papers fitted their themes better than others. Each presentation was ten minutes, with two or three minutes for questions from the audience. Every session was well attended and we had some interesting questions and lots of opportunity to follow up with conversations in the breaks.

The Royal Holloway gang talked on a range of subjects. Here’s an overview – in order of appearance…



I presented a paper entitled ‘Space, Place and Contentious Politics in the Gordon Riots.’ By the time I had defined contentious politics and given some background information on the Gordon Riots I only had half of my ten-minute presentation left, but I feel I managed to illustrate the relationship between space, place the riots well in the remaining five minutes using two case studies. I’m glad a chose to focus on the Gordon Riots rather than trying to explain my entire PhD; I think it allowed a good balance of breadth and detail in the time we were given. I got several questions from the audience, several of which made me think about issues that hadn’t occurred to me before, which I will definitely consider as my project progresses.



I presented a paper which set out to illustrate some of the human geography theory on people’s relationship with nature – in particular in the ways that that is changing as we come to terms with the idea that (1) we live on a planet of rather unstable climates which, (2) we ourselves are making the climate even more wobbly than it is on its own and (3) the forces that drive the climate really don’t give a toss about us, but we probably need to give more of a toss about them. 

When I looked over the conference listing I realised I was the only non-physical geographer in the ‘climate and cryosphere’ session, which consisted of a fascinating delve into means of measuring the thickness of the Greenland icesheet, ‘plumes’ from glacial outbursts in Svalbard and a rather extraordinary remote control plane to analyse the topography of Iceland. To say I was nervous would be a gross understatement!

My talk began with “and now for something completely different…” and I discussed pictures and descriptions of my own artworks while using them as a starting point for exploring some of the theory I’d been looking at. To be honest, I was very nervous as I wasn’t sure what my group of scientists would make of me and pictures of bits of chalk and snowballs – but I got such arrestingly interesting questions and positive feedback I was overwhelmed.

I’m so pleased that it was a success, and I met absolutely some fascinating people (I reckon it definitely helps to present early on, so people approach YOU over coffee and biscuits… ) I’m also so pleased I got to have a great chat with keynote speaker Hilary Geoghegan who’s work I’ve been really interested in for a few years now. Let’s hope the annual conference in August is as positive an experience as the post-grad one…


The first day was rounded off with drinks and a wedding reception thinly disguised as a conference dinner. With the bright lights of Loughborough being extinguished by 11pm, it was an early night for all. Day 2 began bright and early with a keynote on environmental issues in China by Professor John Anderson, who doused the flames of enthusiasm by concluding that we are all f*@ked.



I gave a poster presentation and also made some reflections on the conference here:

The presentation I enjoyed most is Professor John Anderson’s ‘China and Global Change’ (on the second day). I feel excited to look at China from a different angel. Professor John Anderson pointed out lots of problem in China, while showing his affection for the country. All the problems he pointed out are realistic, I admit it. The central government thought we can take the same way as the western took in the 20 century, but now it realizes that the damage to environment will be too huge to fix if we have the same way of developing (economy first, and then we will fix the environment). So it is taking action now. I was in Chine during Feb 2014, and in this month, several (7 or something like that) iron and steel plants and some cement hills in suburban Beijing had been torn down, to control the producing of steel in order to control the building of new houses, and to control the usage of coal in order to pollute the environment less.

Although some action have been taken, I still think the problem is serious and I like the ending of Professor John Anderson’s presentation: if the Chinese continuing taking the same way as the western did, and if the West of China has the same developed level as the East of China, ‘WE ARE F**KED!’ I like how he deals with the conclusion and makes it sound more serious. The more serious the problem sounds, the worse the situation we are in, the central government will pay more attention to the environment. It was a very great presentation! And I am touched about Professor John Anderson’s feeling of China. He must love it and hate it!



At the mid-term RGS conference, I chose to present a paper illustrative of anticipations-in-action, delivered as introductory and as an overview-in-progress review; navigating the nexus of current operative empirics concerning the Cultural Geographies of Dyslexic Creative Writing and Writers.

In this session, the paper laced the narrative and (auto)ethnographic fibres that knit together this research’s fabric on a specific Creative Practice. It tailored how Dyslexic Creative Writing and Writers are apprehended and approached both as a ‘subject-of’ and as a ‘method-of’ Geographical inquiry. Furthermore, this dual-perspective approach to Dyslexic Creative Writing and Writers is underlined by finer threads of research objectives, that run through these empirics; these were Geographically framed and termed as materialities, sociabilities, corporealities, spatialities and mobilities of Dyslexic Creative Writing, and were applied to collective and intimate sites of fieldwork inquiry. After travelling in tandem and mapping a journey of empirical outsets and intentions, the paper arrives back to the theoretical territory of the thesis’ overarching aim; to understand how Dyslexic Creative Writing’s interrelatible processes of consumption and production underlie contentions of Geographical imaginaries and subjectivities constitutive of a ‘Dyslexic’ voice, narrative-self and translatory world.

Despite this paper’s focus on the ethnographic ventures in the pursuit of research so far, of particular interest were instances that delved into the creative and more experimental methods that were devised in sensitivity and sympathy to the nature of this writing subject of this Geographical inquiry. Explanations of the implementation of creative methods and experimental approaches, sought how they demonstrated to negotiate the footpaths, unmarked trails and forested terrains in the biography-scape(s) of the writing process, practice and performance of Dyslexic Creative Writers. The genesis of this paper targeted contributions to and extending dialogues-of-interest in respective Geographical discourses spanning Creative Geographies, Disability-Aesthetic Geographies & New Geographies of Storytelling.



(Augmenting The Everyday: Emerging Places For Digital Research.) Presenting at the RGS mid-term was the first opportunity I’ve had to present my work to an audience of purely geographers. Great news I thought. However, being asked to present to a group billed, as ‘Business, technology and the economy’ was certainly a daunting task. No pressure then, I thought. I needn’t have worried. Presenting an outline of my work from its early conceptualisations to preliminary methodological ideas, the group stuck with me, which was evident in the questions I was asked both during the Q&A and later sessions. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the conference was its informal atmosphere. Not being afraid to ask a silly question is always a great position to be in, and the environment fostered at the conference really helped encourage that. I’ll look forward to next year.



My presentation explored the idea that the language which pop-ups use in their marketing rhetoric is borrowed from, or at least reminiscent of, nonlinear science. I argued that this appropriation does, amongst other things, a specific (political) job – in that it helps to re-brand what are in actuality circumstances of recession (insecurity, disorientation, uncertainty) as desirable and marketable qualities of pop-up events (complexity, immersion, secrecy).  I suggested that this idea was one way into thinking about the imaginative geography of pop-up, and that it also raised questions around the work that nonlinearity is put to in geography – given that nonlinearity is often seen as grounding radical and critical politics (e.g. turbulence, vital materialism) but that here its purpose was actually to foreclose critical conversation by masking the failings of neoliberal economics.

I got a couple of good questions and a nice chat with a 1st year geographer from Queen Mary after the presentation. It was really useful to get a sense of how what I’m working on will be received by a. people who aren’t me and b. people who aren’t cultural geographers and hopefully the experience will stand me in good stead for the ‘adult’ version of the RGS in summer!


After lunch a series of workshops had been arranged on the subjects of funding, publishing and innovative methods. Run by experienced academics, they were all informative and engaging.



My presentation covered the intended theoretical approach to my research, focusing in particular on ‘domicide’, the intentional destruction of home, and the extension of its meaning to consider the ways in which the home can be destroyed socio-symbolically, as well as through the physical destruction of or displacement from the dwelling. I explored this extension using my two research case studies, Section 144 (the criminalisation of squatting in a residential building) and the bedroom tax (removal of the spare room subsidy for council tenants). I discussed the ways in which the home of the squatter and the social tenant is unmade through these policies via reducing their ability to establish and maintain secure homespaces, and through their subsequent outcasting as social miscreants either unable or unwilling to engage in normalised rhetorics of homeownership-as-aspirational. I then linked this to wider theoretical considerations of Foucauldian governmentality/technologies of governance, to consider the ways in which domicidal policies such as Section 144 and the bedroom tax are able to occur via technologies of governance that praise the homeowner as the successful pinnacle of homemaking, and equally condemns those who do not engage in such rhetoric as failed citizens. ​


Well-known for being a friendly and easy-going conference, the Midterm did not disappoint as an opportunity to present papers and network in a friendly and supportive environment. The conference provided us with the opportunity to meet and mingle with like-minded Geographers all at a similar stage in their academic careers, as well as fatten ourselves up on the complementary lunches and snacks.


H.A, M.B, A.Z, K.B, M.D, E.H, & M.N

Self portraits of a surgeon: My love for all things Geography

I have always loved Geography and always will.  I often get asked why I chose to do Geography, to which I reply, I am fascinated by how spaces and places operate and interact with each other, this is why I chose to become a Geographer. So what exactly it is that Geographers do?  I find the best way to explain to people is that we take aspects of different disciplines like economics and add a spatial component.  Am I cultural Geographer? You could say I suffer from imposter syndrome, because of my diverse Geography education background.

My undergraduate degree was in physical Geography, concentrating mainly on applied physical Geography and environmental management. From this I began to develop an interest in the more human aspects of it and undertook courses in urban Geography, which led to my Masters degree in human Geography.  I found this a difficult transition at first and often wondered if I had made a mistake in taking on something I had no idea about. I had never read or heard of Marx, Gramsci, Freud, or Lacan.  I was out of my depth. But after a lot of very slow reading, perseverance, and encouragement I began to feel more comfortable with this kind of material.

My MA research looked at how Aboriginal people in Vancouver, Whistler, and the surrounds were engaged in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games planning process, considering the specific claims of Canada’s Aboriginal population to the right to participate in public processes. Although it was largely based on social sustainability, I began to find myself reading a lot on cultural Geography, and became interested in it as it played a significant role in my research. More specifically I was interested in the questions of commodification and appropriation of culture, and the extent to which Aboriginal participation in the 2010 Olympic Games was a spectacle.   It was this, and a certain Geography professor at Simon Fraser University (you know who you are!) who encouraged me to peruse cultural Geography at Royal Holloway and work with Professor Phil Crang.

I began to develop my interests in the commodification and consumption of culture by moving on to look at the consumption of diasporic Iranian culture, and in particular food. I still have a slight case of imposter syndrome, but I am a cultural Geographer, not because of what I study but the ways in which I study it.  Again, I had chosen to dive straight into the unfamiliar, researching a diaspora and topic I knew very little about. I chose to take an ethnographic approach to my research, by going to various Iranian cultural events (I also found it was a great way for my parents to learn about what it is that I do!), learning some Farsi, meeting with Persian people, and of course eating lots of Persian food.  I found that best way to try to understand the unfamiliar was to immerse myself into it. But more seriously it allowed me to gain the access I needed when conducting my fieldwork.

Am I cultural Geographer? I suppose I am, although I feel that I am just a Geographer as I like to dip and dive into other aspects of Geography like GIS, urban Geography, and geomorphology. I was advised that one should venture outside their research comfort zone by attending different sessions at conferences like the AAG.  For example, attending a session on curation in cultural economies at the 2013 AAG in LA has been helpful in the analysis and writing process of my empirical chapter on the designing of diasporic Iranian commercial food spaces.  In addition to expanding my network, it has led me to co-organise a session on curation integrating a cultural and economic geography approach at the 2014 RGS*.

My name is Priya, and I am a cultural Geographer.


Priya Vadi (PhD Candidate)


* For full details on the session please go to and click on the “Where culture meets economy: co-producing conceptual understandings of curation” link


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