Place, Materiality, Photography

On Tuesday 18th February, we held a special extended Landscape Surgery in conjunction with visual urbanists from Goldsmiths, which explored how materiality of place can be engaged through visual practices. Surgeons enjoyed four presentations that brought together academic investigations and photographic work, by Mia Hunt (RHUL), Rachel Sarah Jones (Sociology, Goldsmiths and the International Association of Visual Urbanists), David Kendall (Visiting Fellow, CUCR, Goldsmiths), and Ben Murphy (University of the Arts London and ‘Landscape Surgeon’).  Vibrant discussion was chaired by Philip Crang.


Mia opened the afternoon by presenting a paper in press with Geography Compass, entitled Urban Photography/Cultural Geography: Spaces, Objects, Events.  The paper draws from her visual ethnography of London’s Ad Hoc shops and her experience at Goldsmiths’ Urban Photography Summer School, which she attended in 2011. It set out ways of attending to material and place with the camera that chime with contemporary concerns in cultural geography: by evoking the feeling of place and its material richness; opening work to ambiguity and chance to create space for interpretation; playing with value, hierarchy, and the agency of matter; and highlighting the matter of our own bodies caught up in events.  The paper focused not only on images, but on the practice of doing urban photography as a performative methodology.  The images she showed – both her own and by others – were not only evidential, but also depicted atmosphere and emotion.  Here, images are both self-explanatory and mysterious; space, light, and time are described, but often revealed as unknowable. (An earlier version of the paper is available on her blog at:



Next, Rachel Sarah Jones showed a series of vivid abstract urban photos: Landscape of Disappearance.  At once, these images highlight urban materiality, immateriality, legibility, and illegibility.  Rachel discussed how she works with coloured filters, light reflections and layerings of images to create abstractions that respond to the flow and pace of urban life. She spoke of how mundane urban experience often occludes place in favour of speed and movement. The Landscape of Disappearance in her photographs is a response, but one that seeks to cross between place’s materiality and immaterial states of being.  Her collaborative approach to working with place highlights its affective vibrancy while allowing it to disappear. (You can see more of Rachel’s photographic practice at




David Kendall then shared a budding project on mobility and interstitial spaces in Doha.   Like Rachel, his work interrogates the velocity of urban experiences and the illegibility of the city.  Before revealing the project’s first images, David described his own feelings in Doha: his sense of being out of place, his experience walking along highways and other overlooked sites, and the feeling of the climate on his body.  His images – flattened, desaturated, graphic, and textured – describe the limits of his access, both socially and in terms of built form, and capture his sense of disorientation as an outsider.  (You can see more of David’s work at



Finally, Ben Murphy showed images of temporary settlements in southeast Spain from his on-going doctoral research. The project considers how the materiality of these dwellings constitutes alternative settlements and new relationships to ‘mainstream’ lifestyles and rejected urban environments. His use of a large format camera brings a heightened reality to his images and the things they describe.  These people-less portraits are rich with feeling.  They awaken and lay bare the material of these counter-cultural lives.  (You can see more of Ben’s photography practice at



A number of themes worked across these bodies of work and were drawn out in an animated discussion. Collectively, the work could be seen as problematising the common distinction between photography as aesthetic and as evidential. The images shown were aesthetic objects that permitted a new engagement with materiality of place. Evocative and feeling, they contribute to academic work in ways that go beyond the documentary and the illustrative. The materialities of photography are deployed as a way to think through the material of place. Images become a way of reflecting. That said, through blurring, disappearance, and illegibility, much of the work critically reacted to our inability to know place. Themes of visibility and invisibility recurred. Photography here is a way of attending to place while showing that it cannot be pinned down or captured.


Many images captured the material and movement of place, while also engaging with the material of the photographic process.  The acetate filter, the bulk of a large format camera, the undulation of the film in a pinhole camera, the corporeal experience in a foreign place… visual practice was shown to be as material as the places it attends to. This in turn has implications for how photographic work is shown and seen within academic cultures and economies.  There are questions about the relations between image, speech, and text, as well as about the capacity to publish photographic work for social science and human geography ‘readers’. Overall, though, the session’s discussion of the materiality of photographic practice enhanced the shared sense that photography can work with place in a spirit of collaboration to evoke its material and feeling.


Mia Hunt (PhD Candidate)

Running as Transport

Originally posted on Jographies:

The Perils of Commuting 

Trains hey. Love them but they are not the most reliable and certainly susceptible to “inconveniences” being caused. Yesterday I had a stark reminder of this. My journey back from Royal Holloway to Guildford requires two changes, fortunately I was offered a lift to the first change en route and was looking forward to getting home earlier than anticipated.

O how naive.

Due to the very sad occurrence of someone being hit by a train, I had an hour wait for a train to arrive to take me the 10 minutes from Weybridge to Woking. Upon alighting, I was faced with another hour wait for my connecting train to Guildford – again a ten minute journey. With no buses running that late, I had a choice between waiting for the train or paying for a taxi.

In the end, I decided to run. A route I…

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RHUL Geographers in Tampa


The preliminary programme for the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers has recently been published. The Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London will be strongly represented by both staff and doctoral researchers (detailed below).

Pete Adey

  • 5112 What Space for the Post-Security State? I: Fragile, Failing, and Tentative Securities [Introducer and Organizer]
  • 5212 What Space for the Post-Security State? II: Knowledge, Circulation, Air [Organizer]
  • 5412 What Space for the Post-Security State? III: Critique and Countering Security [Discussant, Organizer]

Katherine Brickell

  • “Towards Intimate Geographies of Peace? Local Reconciliation of Domestic Violence in Cambodia” [Paper in session 4509 FQG Gender-based violence: space, scale and intersectionality]
  • 4421 Race is but one–Examining Violence and Non-Violence in Asia and the Asian Diaspora [Panelist]

Simon Cook

  • “Accomplishing Road-Running: Negotiating Space, Mobile Politics and Order on the Street” [Paper in session 1605 Geographies of Mobility III: Alternative Mobilities]

Harriet Hawkins

  • “Artful encounters with Climate Change” [Paper in session 2119 Mixed Methods and Hybrid Epistemologies in Climate Change Research I]
  • 5105 Arts of Encounter/ Encountering Art 1: Encountering, Embodying, Empowering [Chair, Organizer]
  • 5205 Arts of Encounter/ Encountering Art 2:Debating Publics, Exploring encounters [Organizer]
  • 4116 Geographies of Making/ Making Geographies 1: Materialities [Chair, Organizer]
  • 4216 Geographies of Making/ Making Geographies 2: Spaces and Practices [Chair, Organizer]
  • 4216 Geographies of Making/ Making Geographies 2: Spaces and Practices [Chair, Organizer]
  • 4416 Geographies of Making/ Making Geographies 3: Politics and Economics [Organizer]
  • 3108 Geopoetics [Discussant]
  • 3611 Rethinking Production [Organizer, Chair]

Innes M. Keighren

  • “Circling the Society: women’s geographical frontiers in Edwardian London” [Paper in session 2221 Outsiders in the Histories of Geography: Toward Inclusive Perspectives]
  • 3670 Teaching the History of Geography: Review and Prospect [Chair, Introducer, Organizer]

Weiqiang Lin

  • “Aeromobilities and Climate Change: Geoecological Debates in Aviation” [Paper in session 2405 Geographies of Mobility VI: Climate Change, Disaster and Resilience]

Alasdair Pinkerton

  • “Creative Statecraft and the ‘Making’ of Diplomacy” [Paper in session 4416 Geographies of Making/ Making Geographies 3: Politics and Economics]
  • 3611 Rethinking Production [Panellist]

Laura Price

  • “‘They’re off my knit-for-list this year’—making and materials at Christmas” [Paper in session 4116 Geographies of Making/ Making Geographies 1: Materialities]
  • 4116 Geographies of Making/ Making Geographies 1: Materialities [Organizer]
  • 4216 Geographies of Making/ Making Geographies 2: Spaces and Practices [Organizer]
  • 4416 Geographies of Making/ Making Geographies 3: Politics and Economics [Chair, Organizer]
  • 3611 Rethinking Production [Organizer]

PhD top-tips…


Thank-you everybody who attended and contributed to the Landscape Surgery session last week on top-tips  (21st Jan 2014).

It seemed like everybody had lots to say, and we have a set of topics stored up for the next top-tips session which will be after easter.  In the mean time, here is an attempt to collect together all the great resources and tips that came through in the session and that people posted on twitter and e-mailed me.

Here is a link to the storified tweets ( thanks Simon and Laura for pointing me towards this)

Thanks all for your contributions…

Please keep adding via the comments function below or reposting


Dealing with those reviewers….  you know- the ones that never agree…. 

Steph Morrice’s  advice would be:
*Conflicting reviewer comments can be daunting. ie. One reviewer suggests you shrink the theoretical section and expand the empirical, the other suggests the opposite. You need to make a reasoned decision as to which, if either, you agree with and make an argument for why. In the past, I’ve asked the editor for guidance with this.
*Realise that you do not need to make changes to your paper in response to every single reviewer comment. If you don’t agree with a reviewer’s suggestion, explain why. Remember that you are entitled to a good argument.
*Response letters should be clear and well-numbered, first addressing any major issues raised by the reviewers and then followed by a more detailed comments. I normally start by creating a basic two columned table. On the left, I copy all the comments from reviewers (one per box) and on the right I summarise and explain my response.
*In my experience, the entire submission/resubmission process can be quite lengthy, but the general advice I would give is:  not to be discouraged by “major revisions”. If an editor asks you to resubmit, this is still a positive outcome. And to try not to be disheartened by negative comments – it can be frustrating having your hard work critiqued, but I would recommend keeping an open mind – and giving yourself a day or two, even a week, before tackling the comments.


I’ll do that later…tomorrow… next week… procrastination:


When it all gets a little bit out of perspective…

Practical tips for working… 
Search 25:  Lets you search all libraries in London for resources at once.
 Book Darts are great:


Do you ever think one day everybody else is going to realise you don’t belong here? 

 Imposter syndrome…
Maybe this is a function of the neo-liberal academia?
Other great things to read:
Also a huge list… thanks Amy and others
 how and why imposter syndrome can be seen as a good thing (opposite of complacency, etc.):
Kirsty Rolfe “Avoiding the bears”- an amazing cartoon blog, check out these…


Academia, PhDs and depression/ anxiety: exploding the tyranny… 

You know how it goes… you are so lucky to be here… it is amazing chance… you should love every second of it… of all the different myths perpetuated within the academy it seems the one where we all pretend we are all ok and things are going great, and that we are superhuman and can do everything is perhaps the most dangerous.
Here are a set of resources collected from a number of surgeons that help explode the tyranny of silence around how tough this process can be.
the key message:  you are not alone, please come and talk to us if any of this strikes a chord
Online ebook, Advice to a Troubled PhD Student
An incredible honest and intellectual exploration of Depression as a public feeling, that begins from the personal experiences of the author: Ann Cvetkovich, Depression: A public feeling (2012) Duke University Press
 I can not recommend this book enough.
Academic Mindfulness:
blogs and articles:
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Self-Portraits of a Surgeon – My Affair with Cultural Geography

ImageIt was never meant to happen. I was just curious; experimental. I mean, it was my first year at university – this is what you’re meant to do right? I was just messing around but I knew where my passions really lay. Yet before I realised, something changed – my flirting was no longer just harmless, tangential fun. It meant something. I had to be honest with myself – I no longer liked what I used to, I was into something different and it was exciting.

Starting my undergraduate degree at Plymouth, I was an ardent physical geographer. My experience of geography up till that point had told me that human geography was pretty boring and it was in the physical sciences where it was really happening. Indeed I remember being quite taken aback during sixth form when someone suggested that I must favour the human side of discipline. I could not dispute their reasoning (based on my very social science/humanities A-Level subjects) but the conclusion almost repulsed me. A similar feeling of steadfastness was experienced in my first lecture at Plymouth when Dr Richard Yarwood ‘guaranteed’ that the majority of us in the room would favour human geography by the end of the degree.

I was tempted within two weeks.

The introductory lectures in human geography were nothing like what I had experienced hitherto – they were exciting, intriguing and seemed to be about real life – about people, places, the world. In comparison, the physical lectures seemed dated, dull and if I am going to be honest – too sciencey for me.  I was slowly being seduced by human geography. I found it fascinating that you could use poetry in geographical enquiry, that a coastal walk could be cutting edge fieldwork. By Christmas I was a fully-fledged human-geography-convert when I was introduced to Yi-Fu Tuan. Assigned an essay about my sense of place, I discovered the idea that peoples’ feeling, emotions, actions, thoughts and opinions about things really mattered, in life and in geography. What a revelation that was, since that point I haven’t taken a single physical geography module – I was a human geographer and proud.

The remaining two and a half years at Plymouth were spent finding my feet, I was still cagey in this new ground; unsure of what human geography really was, what held it together and what type of human geographer I was. I was definitely having a crisis of identity, struggling to articulate to my family and friends what it is I was studying and how it all related to geography. Unfortunately this is not a story of epiphanic realisation or how I became a born-again cultural geographer. Truth be told, I still have the same difficulty – sometimes I say I am a cultural geographer, sometimes a social-cultural geographer, sometimes a human geographer, sometimes a geographer and sometimes just a researcher. I have a fuzzy academic identity but I know I have found a home in cultural geography.

I ended up at Royal Holloway, studying the MA Cultural Geography, not because I decided I was a cultural geographer (in fact I had never had a cultural geography lecture before I enrolled) but because so much of the geography that really excited me was coming from here. If I have assumed the label of a cultural geographer because of that, I am ok with it because I feel cultural geography and me are well-matched. In my first seminar here we discussed what culture and cultural geography were. We concluded that we did not know. The concept of culture is too difficult to pin down, the remit of cultural geography is broad beyond compare and cultural geographers come from such diverse disciplinary backgrounds – there is no archetypal cultural geographer.

It appears that cultural geography is also very fuzzy. While I may struggle to explain at a party what I do and why I do it in a catchy sound bite, I am happy to embrace all this fuzziness and run with it – the results of which are enthusiasm, excitement and fascination. While I recognise the jack of all trades, master of none argument, I am not concerned by it. I prefer to think of cultural geography, not as a list of researchable topics, but as a disposition and way of thinking. To me cultural geography explores how spaces, places, people and things are, how they become meaningful, how they are experienced, and how they are perceived, imagined and practised by different people / things. It is about how we live our lives, the places we live in, how we create meaning and the affects/effects of such things and yes, that is very broad but also of incredible importance.

I am curious about the world, and cultural geography not only accommodates this widespread concern but actively encourages it; constantly questioning, challenging and pushing me to think in different ways, research in different ways and see the world from different perspectives. 3 years 4 months ago, I would not believe it but: my name is Simon Cook and I am having an affair with cultural geography.

Simon Cook (M.A Candidate)

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21st Jan: The helpful session…ask the audience

This Tuesday sees the first Landscape Surgery of  2014.
Alongside the general introduction and news-round — we are running a ‘helpful session’  but with a twist.
We are going to ‘crowd source’ both the topics people want advice on,  but also top-tips from you all. 
We are looking for people to share the top-tip ( or maybe tips)  with the group.
It could be that you just want to share personal experience, or maybe that you have found some great readings, blogs or other resources that you think others would benefit from. 
Some topics to get you started: 
Reading/ engaging with literatures
Fieldwork and access
The writing up process
Convening sessions 
The publishing process
Public engagement
Managing your supervisor
Don’t feel restricted to these, if there are things you think are important for us to add either email them to me (, or tweet them with the hashtag #landscapesurgery and we can address them in the session. 
 I will also be starting to tweet some of my favourite resources so please do join in. 
I will be collecting all the resources people share in a later blog post . 


Landscape Surgery Spring 2014


Happy New Year Surgeons

I hope everyone has had a relaxing and productive start to 2014. 

We are finalising the programme for this coming semesters Landscape Surgeries as I write, while we wait I thought i would just give you a sense of what is coming up and also let people have dates for diaries. 

We start back on the 21st January, with a welcome back session and some crowd sourced top-tips!  I will be in touch with what prep this entails. Moving into February we will have a seminar on the 4th from Prof. Mona Domosh who is visiting RHUL from Dartmouth in the US.  Mona is also doing the Gordon Manley Lecture the week later on 13th Feb.  Mona will also be part of other events in February to make the most of her visit. 

On the 18th of Feb Mia and Phil have organised an extended session on place, materiality and photography with special guests from Goldsmiths.  Please note the extended time, 1-4.30 pm.  

Jo and Leonhardt take the lead on the 4th March with a session on doing research in the German context, and we close out the term  on the 18th March with a session led by Laura  ( of wonderful christmas cookie making fame!) and Clarisse on International academic exchanges. 

Looking forward to the post-easter period,  we will resume sessions on the 6th May, and reserve the session on the 13th May ( yes only a week later i know) for the PhD first year presentations. Get ready first years… 

I will post the full programme in the next few days




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Self Portraits of A Surgeon – Me as a cultural geographer



Do you ever get that very particular kind of brain-ache when you think about unfathomablequestions like “If the universe is everything there is, but it is expanding, what is it expanding into?” That’s what thinking about my relationship with Cultural Geography as an academic often feels like. So most of the time, I just try not to think about it.

However, when I do force myself to think about it, I’m not able to come up with a neat and succinct answer. As someone who shunned the second year undergraduate course in Cultural Geography because I thought it would be ‘too fluffy’, only to embark on an MA in ‘Cultural Geography’ two years later, my relationship with the subject has never been clear-cut. Over my academic career so far, I’ve felt like a geographer; a human geographer, a social geographer, a cultural geographer and a historical geographer. But on reflection, I’m not sure this confusion is too much of a problem. Given how interdisciplinary the subject seems, does the label matter anymore?

I have often joked that Geography is the magpie of academic disciplines, stealing whatever it fancies from other disciplines. Although the process is more of a sharing than a taking, I don’t think it is an inaccurate analogy to make. I was recently at a seminar given by a Historian in which she said that she was using geographical ideas for her analysis because they were the most useful and appropriate. Apart from making me feel a bit smug, this also reinforced a thought that I’ve had for a while: the boundaries between academic disciplines are artificial, and often arbitrary. Does it really matter what I am so long as the research I am doing is well-informed, detailed and original? (The merits of these qualities in academic research can also be questioned, but I think that is a question for a future session of soul-searching!)

However, it is useful to know that I am a Geographer. It tells you a bit about the academic background I have come from, or the types of writing I am likely to be familiar with. But knowing I am a Geographer gives no indication whatsoever as to which topic I’m studying. In fact, people frequently ask me how my topic (historical contentious politics in London) counts as Geography. If I were a more coherent and confident speaker, this is the response I would give:

“My topic is geographical because of the manner in which I approach it. Geographers study the same things as everybody else, but from a different perspective, with a slightly different focus. So for me, defining Geography isn’t about drawing lines in the sand between what we can and can’t study, it’s about articulating a way of thinking, a thought process focussed on space, place, networks, scale, and other ‘geographical’ concepts.”

So I am proud to call myself a Geographer, despite all the quips about colouring in that I still face! One of the main reasons I like the discipline so much is its breadth. One of my highlights of the RHUL Geography Department calendar is the Postgraduate Symposium during Welcome Week, because it brings the whole department together in a way that is quite rare the rest of the year, and it reminds me just how wide an umbrella ‘Geography’ is.  From glaciers, peat bogs and cave men to art galleries, Iranian restaurants and graffiti, Geography can be anything, and this is one of my favourite things about the subject. I am a Geographer because of the particular set of tools and techniques I use to study a topic, not because of the topic I choose to study.

Hannah Awcock (Phd Candidate) 

A Public Conversation about Public Geographies: Introducing the Series


A brief introduction to a series of posts I am writing over at my blog about public geographies, reflecting on a twitter conversation that occurred back in October. Future posts will take a focus on a different theme emanating from the conversation and other thoughts regarding doing public geographies and the impact agenda.

Originally posted on Jographies:

Recently (well it was recently when I started writing this post – it has been in the draft stages for quite a while now) I was involved in a twitter conversation about the idea and practice of public geographies. Whilst geographers have long been interested in geography-in-public there is currently a reinvigorated and lively debate about the topic. The full conversation has been storifyed and is available here.

This ongoing discussion, that began with Duncan Fuller’s and Kye Askins’ 2007 paper, is interrogating what public geographies means, what challenges and opportunities does it present, what geography-in-public should be and what responsibilities do researchers have to make geography public. A good chunk of this dialogue has revolved around digital scholarship and the enhanced opportunities that social media platforms offer academics to make their work public.

Public geographies was the subject matter of a seminar I attended for my MA Cultural Geography

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