Introducing Katherine Stansfeld, new PhD student

Hello! I joined the Geography Department at RHUL this October (2014) as a new PhD student. I am jointly funded by a CASE Award from the South East ESRC DTC and Ordnance Survey. My supervisor at Royal Holloway is Prof. Phil Crang and my second supervisor is Dr. Gwilym Eades, with Dr. Jenny Harding being my supervisor at Ordnance Survey.

My provisional PhD title is ‘Mapping Vernacular Geographies in Places of Super-diversity’. I intend to explore how, in the context of ‘super-diversity’ and multicultural London, the ‘vernacular geographies’ of different people represent both cultural complexity and shared spaces of encounter and civic culture. As well as in the context of wider arguments for the ‘thrown-togetherness’ of place, I aim to evaluate how contemporary cartographic and geographic information can map places as constellations of trajectories. I am hoping to discover how the power of mapping can be used by Ordnance Survey to engage and provide for ‘super-diverse’ users. I’ll be focusing on one particular area of London (likely North-East), which is still to be confirmed!

Katherine Stansfeld

 

My background is in Sociology, institutionally from Goldsmiths where I completed my MA in ‘Critical and Creative Analysis’ and prior to that the University of Bristol where I received a Bsc. in Sociology. My interests include (but are not limited to) urban multi-culture, the diversity and hybridity of forms in cities, identity and belonging to place, critical cartographies, immigration and integration as well as the power of everyday encounters for change. To name just a few topics! (Believe me I was tempted to add more). I have a background as a research assistant with the Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR) at Goldsmiths, doing projects as a researcher with community-arts organisations. I developed my interest in visual urbanism at Goldsmiths, as I have a great passion for photography, which I am hoping to bring to my PhD. I also (incidentally) developed my love of cultural geography while at Goldsmiths, reading lots of Nigel Thrift, Michael Keith, Tim Cresswell and Doreen Massey and feel honoured to be so welcomed to this department and Landscape Surgery!

Prior to this I took a year out and spent time living in Florida, US and Cape Town, South Africa (I’m half South African) as well doing some traveling in Colombia. I spent time making portraits and photos in each place, and I’m currently (in my spare time?) putting it together into a photo-book entitled ‘finding my place’ (so watch this space). I also, unfortunately not very successfully, started a blog on urbanism with a friend (see info below) but am in the process of reviving it, so if interested also stay tuned for that.

If you’d like to be in touch, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Email: katherine.stansfeld.2014@live.rhul.ac.uk

Twitter: @katsta_

Collaborative Urbanism Blog: http://urbanimaginings.wordpress.com/

Photo Blog: http://kstansfeld.tumblr.com/

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Entering The Field

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It sounds easy, to enter the field. It’s a simple case of unlatching the gates and walking in. What could be simpler, I thought, whilst I stood staring at the gates looking for the latch at the beginning of term. This was never considered. It was just meant to happen, seemingly all by itself. One year I’d be in the library, the next in the field, and the following writing-up. This was the way of a PhD, I thought. My three-year plan.

I’ve heard stories about it, read books about it, and watched videos about it. I’ve seen people walk in with no problem. I’ve seen others take a run at it and hop the fence, and I’ve even seen a few bulldozing their way through without any regard for the landowner, let alone the ethics board. For some it’s nothing. Or so it seems. Then there those who are nudged ever so gently towards the gate. Those that take such tentative steps that you wonder if they’ll ever make it in, even with the gates wide open. Eventually the weight on their shoulders convinces them that this must be done, and only then do they take that final stride. But it wasn’t easy, I can assure you. Such transitions rarely are.

*

So I find myself in the field. I’ve made it. It’s huge and there’s PhD students everywhere. Now what? It’s certainly not what I was expecting. There’s much that was invisible to me as I sat staring out of the library window these past twelve months. So many practicalities that I hadn’t considered, so many logistical nightmares that I hadn’t anticipated, and most worryingly so little time. All of a sudden the deadline has appeared on the distant horizon, eerily so.

Last years structure is out and I’m forced to build another, essentially around other people’s time. Gone is the freedom of the evening or weekend, replaced only by a quiet morning or lazy afternoon. My working day has become about as unstructured as it can be, changing from day to day, week to week. Am I doing too much, am I doing too little? It’s hard to tell when there’s nothing concrete yet, save for a reel of field notes and pages of observational scribbles. I’m told it will all come together, and I’m sure it will, but at this stage it’s certainly disconcerting.

That said, this field is exciting. I must say. It may not always have decent WiFi, a coffee shop and central heating, and I may find myself bogged down at times, but it has so much more in terms of sheer sense of adventure. Often it simply feels like play, like one big intellectual expedition that I’m responsible for leading. I’m not sure where we’re going yet but it’s going to be quite the trip. I can tell already.

The project is underway now. Finally. It has come off the page and manifested itself as an adventure in the field before it surely screams to be put back on it in the years to come. I for one look forward to my time here.

Mike Duggan (PhD Candidate)

Introducing the MA Cultural Geography students 2014/15

Landscape Surgery has strong links with the MA in Cultural Geography, taught by the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway., University of London. The course teaches a range of cultural geographic ideas and is combined with research training, practice-based courses and is formally recognised by the British research councils. As such, many of the alumni go on to PhDs and successful careers in academia, policy and beyond.

Below, we introduce the current cohort (2014/15), with a summary of their research interests and links to their work.

Thomas Dekeyser
Thomas-Dekeyser-IDI have a theoretical and practical background in media studies and specifically in film making. I am interested in bringing these together with my broad research interest: the urban. This includes (but is not limited to) urban interventions, activist practices and processes of demolition. Related to this, I organise a series of unoffical pre-demolition exhibitions called Last Breath.

Twitter | LastBreath website

Ben Gilby
PhotoI am studying part-time, whilst spending the other half of the week as a primary school teacher in the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. My research interests surround Geographies of Regionality, with a particular focus on Cornish Culture & Identity. I am especially interested in how different regions demonstrate and celebrate their unique culture and how, in some cases this clearly influences the local political, economic and even sporting scene.

Twitter | Blog

Oliver Knight
PhotoForLSBefore starting this MA, I graduated from Royal Holloway with a BA in Geography in Summer 2014. My particular research interests within the discipline of socio-cultural geography are based in the arena of the geographies of sexualities. In particular, I am interested in how our everyday behaviours, experiences and emotions affect the formation of sexual identities both in the private and public spheres of the rural environment. Most recently, I have turned to both psychological and sociological literature regarding queer phenomenology to enrich my approach to this topic.

Twitter

Alice Ladenburg
Handstand 2013 04 01 13 Drakensberg02As art-school educated (Edinburgh College of Art, 2008), one half of an Art/Science collaboration with Professor Iain Woodhouse (School of Geosciences, Edinburgh University) and initiator of Jambula (an artist-led project raising awareness of deforestation in Malawi) I am interested in exploring the potential value of working as an artist in both academia and development.

Twitter | Website | Red Horizon Art | Why Equals

Huw Rowlands
Coming back to the academic world after 25 years as a project manager in the public, charitable and education sectors is exciting. Things have moved on in the meantime (it would be surprising if it hadn’t!) and the breadth of interest is mind expanding. Much of my work involved some form of applied geography, and it was very diverse, but I always knew I’d be back to study. My route from project management to Royal Holloway has been via leading a samba-reggae drumming band in France, junk percussion workshops for children and Steiner teacher training. I’m still teaching some classes this year, and I currently imagine taking my newly expanded mind and finding valuable applications for learning contexts. This may well include (at least) child development, sense of place and indigenous mapping practices.

Twitter | BlueSkyPoint website | FranceRant blog | BatalaMassif

Robert Sheargold
Before this MA, I finished a BA in Human Geography earlier this year at Aberystwyth University, where I took up an interest in the relationship between physical and digital spaces and how we as everyday people approach these questions.  Since joining RHUL I have taken an interest in ideas of mobilising traditional research methods.

Twitter

Emma Shenton
unnamedI have a strong interest in gender and in emotional geographies. My interests have developed since the second year of my undergraduate degree where I proposed and carried out research in Malawi, Africa, focusing on women’s access to transport. At the moment my research is concentrating on the geographies of love and belonging and how this is performed through different situations. This work stems from previous work on the home and the emotional and sensual geographies which surround it.

Twitter | Blog

The quick death of slow scholarship?

"Travels into Print". First manuscript draft (February, 2013).

Travels into Print. First manuscript draft (February, 2013).

Since joining Landscape Surgery in 2010, I have had a seemingly every-present item of business on which to offer updates during our fortnightly “newsrounds”: the progress made (or, more often, not made) in the production of a co-authored research monograph, Travels into Print: Exploration, Writing, and Publishing with John Murray, 1773–1859. With its origins lying in an 2008 AHRC-funded project, the book has (in one form of another) occupied me and my co-authors (the historical geographer Charles W. J. Withers and book historian Bill Bell) for much of the last six years—a literal and figurative example of what Eric Sheppard has called “slow geography”. Having completed the book’s index last month, Travels into Print is (at least as far as its writing is concerned) now finished. All that remains are the relatively fun tasks—approving the cover design, soliciting back-cover endorsements, offering suggestions over marketing and publicity, and so on—before Charlie, Bill, and I sit back and wait patiently for readers’ praise or criticism.

On informing colleagues of the book’s completion, more than one replied (with tongue more-or-less-firmly in cheek) that this was “one in the bag for REF2020”. With the results of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework evaluation not yet published, it is telling that we, as academics, are already looking ahead to the next point at which the merit of our research will be assessed through an appraisal of four (or so) examples of our published work. Eric Sheppard has written interestingly on how “contemporary merit evaluation culture” (such as the REF) has important implications for “geography’s cultures of publication”.  As Sheppard has argued, a process such as the REF “incentivizes short-termism: ‘fast’ scholarship (more frequent, shorter publications, in journals with high citation counts) rather than the ‘slow geography’ of major monographs”. Indeed, given the length of time needed to research and write a scholarly monograph—and to navigate it successfully through the rigorous processes of review demanded, rightly, by university presses particularly—it would seem illogical at best (and foolhardy at worst) for academics to invest time in writing monographs when the time-scales of evaluation imposed upon them emphasise the strategic value of publication in journals alone.

Writing along similar lines, the historical geographer Robert Mayhew (2014, 277) has recently argued that “the audit culture of U.K. academic life increasingly positions the writing of a monograph as outré, an indulgence, or both”. It is not, of course, just in geography where such pressures are felt. The historian of science Aileen Fyfe (2012, ix) has identified a similar problem in the humanities:

writing a historical monograph is entirely contingent on having the time and money needed to visit archives and rare book collections, and, later, having time to write. These necessary conditions of historical research are coming under increasing pressure in our modern universities.

In those disciplines where research monographs are considered important, and are regarded as the venue in which a scholar’s most detailed, useful, or important work will be communicated, there is a perception that, ironically, the evaluation of scholarship creates the mechanisms by which its value is diminished—that the REF (and similar instruments) encourage the quick death of slow scholarship.

In my role as Book Reviews Editor for the Journal of Historical Geography, I have yet to notice any decline in the rate at which scholarly monographs are published (although I have only my perception, rather than a statistical baseline, on which to go). Clearly, however, there is now greater experimentation on the part of publishers with respect to form and format (Palgrave’s Pivot series, for example, promises to publish titles of between 25,000 and 50,000 words within twelve weeks of the completion of the peer-review process). The solution to the “problem” of slow scholarship does not, of course, lie simply with faster publication. Rather, it requires that systems of audit and evaluation do not unfairly disadvantage those disciplines and academics for whom “slow” scholarship is a fundamental intellectual activity. The particular periodicity of the REF introduces a clear element of risk for those academics who wish to pursue work whose periods of research and writing are measured not in months or years but in half-decades at least.

Fyfe, Aileen. Steam-Powered Knowledge: William Chambers and the Business of Publishing, 1820–1860.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Mayhew, Robert J. Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet.  Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014.

Innes M. Keighren

Unreal City: Discovering London through the Archive (by Hannah Awcock and Bethan Bide)

London is a complex, vibrant, and diverse city to study (Source: The Guardian)

London is a complex, vibrant, and diverse city to study (Source: The Guardian)

London is a fascinating city, a buzzing metropolis with an incredibly rich history. It has been the subject of an untold number of academic studies, as well as an almost infinite assortment of films, books, poems, pictures and other cultural products.

 

London is obviously a fantastic city to study. It is the economic, social, political and cultural centre of Britain, and during the heights of the British Empire it served this role for huge swathes of the world. It has a population of over eight million people, who speak over 300 languages. This quantity and diversity of people, organisations and events provides fertile ground for huge numbers of research projects. As well as this, it is almost unrivalled in terms of the archives available for use, and being the focus and inspiration of so much academic and cultural output means that there is a wealth of sources available to study.

 

We are both studying London for our PhD research; Hannah looks at the historical geographies of protest in the city between 1780 and 2010, and Bethan is working on so-called ‘austerity’ fashion in London after the Second World War, in collaboration with the Museum of London. We are also both utilising archival research in our projects. London is a unique area of study for both of us in its own way. In terms of protest,  London’s role as the symbolic and literal centre of British politics makes it a key location of dissent. With regards to fashion, London is known as a world fashion capital, and although the history and origins of this status are contentious, London has long been a centre for fashionable production and consumption.

An archival glimpse of shopping on post-war regent street.

An archival glimpse of shopping on post-war Regent Street.

 

One of the first steps when conducting research to to ensure you have a clear definition of the terms involved in your project. However when it comes to London, that is not an easy thing to do. London means so many things, to so many people, that it is hard to pin down a coherent and concise definition. Is London a city of 8.17 million people, or an area of 611 square miles? Knightsbridge or the East End? London is all of these things, but each research project must decide how it wishes to locate itself amid these different definitions, by means of summary or selection.

 

The richness and diversity of London also pose other challenges to the researcher, particularly when it comes to archival research. Archival sources go through several selection processes; firstly, when the archival institution, curator or individual collector decide which items to keep and preserve, and then secondly when the researcher chooses which materials to use in their research.  As an archivist or collector, how do you choose sources to accurately represent such a varied city as London? As a researcher, which sources best represent that variety within the scope of your research? Is it even possible or indeed desirable to draw meaningful conclusions about ‘London’ as a coherent entity?

 

The possible existence of a London bias should also be considered. Is London researched too much, at the expense of other British cities? If this is the case, do we as researchers have a responsibility to correct this imbalance? Researchers and academics have a great deal of power in terms of representing the people and places that they study, should we therefore try to ensure that each place is represented ‘fairly’?

A poster for the London Calling demonstration about student tuition fees in 2010 (Source: Coalition of Resistance).

A poster for the London Calling demonstration about student tuition fees in 2010 (Source: Coalition of Resistance).

 

As you may have guessed from this post, we have a lot of unanswered questions in relation to this topic. For this reason, we choose not to draw conclusions, but instead leave the topic open for further discussion. Do you consider yourself to be a researcher of London? Was it a deliberate decision or simply a matter of convenience? How do you tackle the challenge of researching something of the sheer immensity of London?

 

Answers on the back of a postcard please (although any thoughts or opinions in the comments would also be very welcome!)

 

Hannah Awcock and Bethan Bide

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Introducing Benjamin Newman – CDA Student

Hello Surgeons!

I’m Ben, an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) student working in partnership with the department and the Royal Ben Newman Geographical Society (with IBG). I am supervised jointly by Dr. Innes Keighren and Dr. Catherine Souch (Head of Research and Higher Education Division at the RGS), with Prof. Klaus Dodds offering guidance and support for good measure.

My journey at Royal Holloway started some 5 years ago when I joined the department as a young, fresh-faced undergraduate student. I completed my undergraduate degree on the BA Geography course, where I was introduced to the world of historical geography on the second-year research field trip to New York. I moved on to the MA in Cultural Geography (Research) in 2013 (notwithstanding that fact I hadn’t previously undertaken any of the cultural geography modules available at undergraduate level). Despite an apprehensive start, I enjoyed the new and varied concepts introduced in each of the seminars and creative practices (which including strapping a Go-Pro to a dog), however, almost inevitably, I found myself back in the archive to complete my MA dissertation.

Throughout my time at Royal Holloway, I used the respective dissertations to hone the clumsy archival research skills that would have been on display in the New York Public Library years earlier. My undergraduate dissertation took me to the League of Nations Archive on the United Nations campus in Geneva and considered the conception, implementation, and circulation of the League of Nations’ interwar nutrition programs. Since the glamour of New York and Geneva things have come slightly closer to home. Under the guidance of Prof. Felix Driver, I found Richard Dennis’s and others fascinating work on nineteenth-century modernity and formulated a project considering the new lived experience and politics of the first, deep-level electric underground railway in London (and the world).

Now I am here, starting another exciting adventure, it was never meant to happen like this, but Harriet could sell ice to the inuit or, more appropriately, PhDs/MAs to students who aren’t quite sure if they are ready for the next step. Although I have been at Royal Holloway for years, I have been exposed to a range of geographic concepts not least at LS. Broadly I am interested in historical geographies of the nineteenth century (I think it’s a great time period to work in given its turbulence and rapidity, the emergence of new geographic experiences and knowledge making) and the mobility of people, objects, and knowledge during that period. I am currently working under the title: “Geography in Dialogue: Print Culture at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), c. 1830–c. 2000”. The project uses The Geographical Journal (GJ) as an empirical focus. First printed in 1831, a year after the founding of the RGS, the GJ’s long-standing tradition of publishing lectures delivered in the Society alongside the questions and discussions which followed them, offers an important insight into the circulation and reception of ideas within geography and the nature of the discipline’s dialogues throughout time and space. As a CDA student, the project was formulated by my respective supervisors and, therefore, currently a significant portion of my time is dedicated to the reworking of the project within the loose parameters already set out in the original AHRC proposal.

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Introducing Pip Thornton – PhD Student

I am Pip. I have just begun the second year of a 4 year EPSRC funded PhD in ‘Geopolitics and Cybersecurity’ as part of the first cohort of students in the new Centre For Doctoral Training (CDT) in Cybersecurity. I am being jointly supervised by Prof. Pete Adey from the Geography department, and Prof. Keith Martin from the Information Security Group. PipRecentPic

My life journey so far has been fairly varied. My first degree was a BA in History and Politics from Liverpool University, although to this day I’m not quite sure how that happened. After being released into the world from a decade of boarding school, it wasn’t my finest hour/3 years, and I remain to this day the only person I know to have graduated with a Pass (which, incidentally is even lower than a Third, and is guaranteed to make you the only person in your category at your degree ceremony, which in turn makes everybody think you’ve won some special award and you get extra claps, which is nice, but inside you’re feeling pretty bloody ashamed and don’t quite know what to do with yourself, Grandma and extended family being there and all). Anyway, after covering myself with glory at Liverpool, I decided to get back on the rails again in style and joined the police.

I spent 15 years as a Met Police officer, sometimes doing some really interesting and exciting stuff, but mostly not, and in that time I completed a BA in English from the Open University (in which I thankfully managed to improve on my previous grade), and an MA, also in English from Kings College London. For most of this time I was also a reservist soldier in the Royal Logistics Corps, where I learned to shoot and drive big trucks (which was great fun, but got me mobilised to Iraq in 2003, which wasn’t so much fun, but on the plus side has given me lots to think/write/complain about). If it hasn’t already become apparent, there is a distinct lack of either Geography or Cybersecurity in my story thus far. What led me to Royal Holloway was my Masters dissertation, which I did on Patrick Keiller’s wonderful Robinson films. I discovered psychogeography and began to read a lot of the social and cultural geography literature, which included Tim Cresswell’s work on Space and Place.

By this time I had had enough of the police, so I contacted Tim about a possible PhD. He was moving to Boston, but put me in touch with Pete Adey, who guided me through the various application and funding procedures until I finally managed to get the fantastic studentship I am on. I had originally thought my thesis would be on representations of the figure of the soldier in different geographical, political and cyber-spaces, but as part of my first year on the CDT studentship I had to complete a project in a cybersecurity related matter, which has led to completely new and surprisingly exciting PhD ambitions. Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 00.39.36My new thesis proposal is about the agency of search algorithms and how they can affect physical and linguistic securities. The crux of the thesis is that not only are we being physically secured by the data we input into search engines, but that what we get out of them is a ‘reconstructed’ version of language which is based on the geographically, politically and technologically skewed corpus of the searchable web. The first chunk of thesis will be a reworking of Walter Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction which will consider what happens to Language in the Age of Algorithmic Reproduction. I am looking forward to hosting a Landscape Surgery session on this next term, with a view to submitting it as an article to Radical Philosophy (or probably somewhere less ambitious). Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 00.43.31I am also continuing to do some work on soldiers and the military, but I suspect this will become harder to maintain over the next three years. I am currently working on a paper which I hope will be published in Cultural Geographies which explores ‘The Meaning of Light: Seeing and Being on the Battlefield’, which is based on a poem I wrote about my time in Iraq called ‘Light Discipline’. I will be presenting on this subject as part of a paper session  on Terrain at the AAG in 2015.

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Dwelling on Counter-Cultural Identity

Untitled, South east Spain. 2006/7. Copyright Ben Murphy 2014

Untitled, South east Spain. 2006/7. Copyright Ben Murphy 2014

I began my practice based research at the University of the Arts, London and transferred to Royal Holloway this October to situate it within the wonderful world of cultural geography. My photographic practice concerns how place indicates, affects and is designed to convey identity. I am interested in the notion that places and spaces resonate with histories and relationships to people and that our interventions, actions and doings are ephemeral. I hope to convey these preoccupations through photography. Examples of my work can be seen in my book concerning the interior spaces of the United Nations in New York ( The U.N.Building. Thames and Hudson 2005) and in the permanent collections of the V&A. My current practice and research is focussed on the construction of counter-cultural identity through dwelling space and habitat. I am really looking forward to continuing my research within this vibrant department and aim to make a positive contribution to the development of approaches to cultural geography.

RESEARCH

A PHOTOGRAPHIC SURVEY OF MIGRANT COUNTER CULTURAL IDENTITY THROUGH PLACE AND SPACE. A CASE STUDY FROM SOUTH EAST SPAIN.

In a remote mountainous region of south-east Spain individuals gather from other parts of the world to live outside mainstream society. Identities are reinforced through coexistence in loosely structured, transient, self-regulating, intentional communities. Their makeshift dwellings, possessions and surroundings act as deliberate architectural symbols of rejectionist ideologies.This practice based research aims to demonstrate that dwelling and habitat are implicitly linked to the expression of identity. Using large format analogue photography and its ability to draw out detail and allow for neutral observation the work explores the complexities of particular rejectionist identities and offers new understanding about migrant counter-culture. Acknowledging the work of photographers who have examined intentional communities employing an ethnographic approach and other photographers who have focussed on alternative communities’ harmony with nature, and writers who have explored subcultures this research examines different types of international rejectionist identities which have come together in a foreign land. It does this primarily through a study of their self constructed dwellings and habitat. The practice is reinforced and interpreted with theory concerned with place, space and identity. I am also interested in developing a phenomenological perception of the subject matter within the photographs to gain understanding.

KEY QUESTIONS

How is migrant counter-cultural identity defined, expressed and reinforced through type of makeshift dwelling?

How can photography work to give new understanding about migrant counter-cultural identities through studies of place and space?

What compromises, homoginisations, disfunctions, paradoxes and tensions exist if any in the construction and manifestations of these identities?

Copyright Ben Murphy, 2014

Untitled. South East Spain. Copyright Ben Murphy, 2014

Copyright Ben Murphy 2014

Untitled. South East Spain. Copyright Ben Murphy 2014

Copyright Ben Murphy 2014

Untitled. South East Spain. Copyright Ben Murphy 2014

Untitled, South East Spain. Copyright Ben Murphy 2014

Untitled, South East Spain. Copyright Ben Murphy 2014

Copyright Ben Murphy, 2014

Untitled. South East Spain. Copyright Ben Murphy, 2014

Copyright Ben Murphy. 2014

Untitled. South East Spain. Copyright Ben Murphy. 2014

Untitled,South East Spain. Copyright Ben Murphy 2014

Untitled,South East Spain. Copyright Ben Murphy 2014

Untitled,South East Spain. Copyright Ben Murphy 2014

Untitled,South East Spain. Copyright Ben Murphy 2014

At the Roots of an Hegemony?

An Alternative Perspective for International Human Geography

geografia02

On Tuesday 28 October 2014, Dr Caterina Martinelli shared with us her current research on what we might call the ‘geographies of human geography’, or more specifically, the debate centred on the cultural imperialism that characterises Anglophonic cultural geography. Caterina is a lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Verona and we are fortunate to have her in our department as a visiting scholar this term. Caterina is not new to Royal Holloway. She participated in our MA Cultural Geography (Research) in 2011 and spent a research period in the department last year. She is currently working with RHUL to build a partnership with Verona’s Department of Time, Space, Image, Society which, among other things, will involve PhD students and staff exchanges. We see this as an important opportunity to develop a space for dialogue between two different academic traditions—the British and the Italian—that have not always been effectively communicating with each other.

Caterina’s contribution to LS focussed precisely on this lack of communication (or inability to communicate), which has resulted in what she calls ‘an epistemological gap’ between these two realities.

“When I first arrived at RHUL and tried to engage in the intellectual life of the Department, as an Italian human geographer, I experienced a deep sense of disorientation. The cultural geography I was suddenly faced with was very different from what I had studied in Italy for so many years and from what I had experienced cultural geography to be about”. This initial sense of disorientation led Caterina to interrogate herself on the divide between the Italian and Anglophone traditions and on the reasons behind it.

Where does this gap originate from? Can we trace it back to a precise moment in time? Is it something we can overcome? And if so, how?

Caterina’s research started from her will to identify the characteristics and causes of the distance between the two traditions and contemporary disciplinary practices, as well as from her aspiration to facilitate a more pluralistic and inclusive international debate.

The lack of attunement between Anglo-American geographical debates and those belonging to other national contexts has already been acknowledged (see, for example, Social and Cultural Geography’s country reports, or the various contributions related to the debate on Anglo-American hegemony in human geography, such as Fuller and Minca 2013 and Minca 2013, just to mention two among the most recent). However, the causes and some relevant characteristics of this lack of attunement have not been properly tackled yet.

According to Caterina, there is a fundamental misalignment between the epistemological premises that move mainstream geographical inquiry in the Anglo-American context and those inspiring a consistent part of geographical research in many other countries. Caterina traces the origins of this misalignment back to the renewed conception of culture, space and their interactions introduced by the so-called ‘new cultural geography’ in the 1980s, and in its different reception (or lack of reception) in the Anglo-American context and outside of it. British new cultural geography absorbed the new lexicon developed by the French spatial thinkers in order to make sense of the post-modern world with its time-space compression and its many contradictions. From the French thinkers new cultural geographers also absorbed the idea that theory is political (not a meta-discourse) and performative (it produces the reality it describes, thus it can change the world rather then simply describe it). Drawing on these ideas, British geographers started to construct the theoretical apparatus and vocabulary of a ‘new’ cultural and human geography for the third millennium, which continues to inform mainstream debates and to define the international standards of the discipline. Generally speaking, non-Anglo-American geographers did not participate in this process, and for this reason, they developed geographical debates generally based on more traditional conceptualizations of space, culture and their interactions.

Besides this ‘epistemological gap’, there is also an institutional and cultural gap. For example, until the early 2000s the then-existing Italian policies for research funding, academic recruitment and careers made the participation in national discussions and contexts more relevant than participation in the international arena. Furthermore, while the UK and North America boast large research-led geography departments, in Italy the panorama is much more fragmented. Most Italian geographers are scattered among different departments and research is not always a priority (or at least, not to the same extent it is in the UK and North America).

The result is that nowadays ‘internationalization’ in our field has become largely synonymous with ‘Anglophonization’. With the globalisation of academia and neo-liberalization of many national academic systems, geographers from non-Anglophone countries (such as Italy) are progressively called to publish in ‘high-impact’ journals and to attend conferences and other events taking place in spaces internationally acknowledged as ‘spaces of excellence’. These venues and publishing spaces are produced, governed and occupied mainly by Anglo-American human geography/ers, and these processes therefore foster an Anglo-American hegemony within the discipline at an international level.

L'EUROPA

While this might also be the case with other disciplines, (cultural) geography certainly stands out. On the one hand we have a mainstream Anglophone cultural geography almost obsessed with novelty (new fashions, new paradigms, cutting-edge theories), often trapped within its own networks, and creating spaces and cultural economies that accommodate and foster change (AAG meetings, journal special issues, etc.); on the other, we have an incredibly fragmented Italian panorama governed, as it is, by different intellectual agendas that move at different speeds and often in very different directions. The ‘power geometries’, to use Doreen Massey’s phrase, that govern these spaces are complex and varied. Some Italian geographers are keen (or pushed) to publish in mainstream international journals; others are not. Some are often not aware of the theoretical stances which support the approaches of mainstream Anglophone geography; others appropriate names and concepts from Anglophone geography in a rather shallow fashion, without critical depth. At the same time, exciting interdisciplinary collaborations between Italian scholars are opening up new horizons and possibilities. Is this the key for a future dialogue? Is interdisciplinarity a precondition for internationalization?

Caterina’s presentation generated a very rich discussion, which highlighted the need for further critical reflection and research. It also showed the importance of engaging geographers ‘from both sides of the Channel’ in a common discussion about the different ways of conceiving geography in different places and about the possibility and desirability to create spaces for dialogue.

I believe that focusing our attention on the ‘misalignment’ between Anglophone and Italian human geography, and creating occasions for inclusive debates on space, culture and their relationships can place Anglophone and non-Anglophone geographers at the roots of the current divide and mark a step forward towards true plural participation”.

 Bridge

References

Fuller J.J. and Minca C. (2013), Not a geography of what doesn’t exist but a counter-geography of what does: Rereading Giuseppe Dematteis’ Le Metafore della Terra. Progress in Human Geography, 37, 542-563.

Minca C. (2013), (Im)mobile Geographies. Geographica Helvetica, 68, 7-16.

“What’s your research for?”

Over the last few months, several research participants have expressed an interest in the “why” of my research – what I’m hoping to achieve, what good I think it might do, if there’s any human behaviour I believe could be changed or encouraged by it, and so on. Their questions made me realise how little I’d really considered this recently: I’d started to take for granted, I guess, that what was interesting to me would be obviously relevant to others.

Crafting responses to my research participants’ questions turned out to be a great exercise in thinking through the way I justify my work, and particularly in thinking through how to express the more abstract value of the kind of research I – and perhaps other surgeons, too – am doing. So I wrote a post about this on my research blog, excerpted below:

Over the last few months, a few research participants have asked me variations of the same question, which is something like: What’s your research for? What do you hope it will change or inform?

It’s a good question, and one that, until recently, I hadn’t really given much thought to. On the one hand, I’m wary of overplaying the potential implications of my research, and it would be disingenuous for me to claim that I’m aiming to directly influence policy, or that I have some grand notion that my project is going to change the world. On the other hand, I do believe there’s value to what I’m doing beyond just the satisfaction of personal curiosity.

To some extent the project is about highlighting the potential good that swimming can do (physically, emotionally, societally), and recognizing the importance of the pool as a site for this activity – particularly through an exploration of the extent to which specific material aspects of the pool environment may help or hinder regular participation. So I hope that the research may shed some light on how people are using and interacting with indoor pools, what about the pool environment is important to them and encourages or enables a regular practice and what about the environment is discomfiting or discouraging.

I’m also interested in the way people experience places via their bodies, and vice versa – the way they experience their bodies via certain places. So I think there’s also an opportunity here for the research to illuminate ways in which habitual lap swimming changes or brings to the fore people’s awareness of and attitude towards their own bodies. I’m thinking, for instance, of the participant who told me that she likes what swimming has done to her body both in terms of what it can do and also what it looks like; it took exercise, she said, for her to learn to love her body. So the value here may lie partly in using an exploration of people’s relationship to their swimming bodies as a way of exploring what facilitates comfort in/with one’s body more generally. The body, after all, is the home we cannot leave, and the pool provides a uniquely intimate and anonymous environment in which to exercise and experience this home.

Fundamentally, though, I’m just fascinated by swimming pools as places, particularly given how banal they often seem, how ugly and purely functional and even unwelcoming the architecture and environment can be. So the project is, at its heart, about not only valuing the place of the pool – which may be easily overlooked – but also about valuing other everyday places more generally: it’s great to write about grander landscapes, but I think it’s also important to pay attention to the kinds of smaller-scale places that people encounter repeatedly in their daily lives.

 You can read the full post here – and I’d be interested in hearing from fellow surgeons who’ve grappled with similar questions!

Miranda Ward (PhD Candidate)

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