Re:configuring Cybersecurity

Our Landscape surgery session on 11th February was a session organised by Royal Holloway’s own PhD Student Laura Shipp and Julia Slupska, a PhD student from the Centre of Doctoral Training in Cybersecurity and the Oxford Internet Institute, also the sister programme of Laura’s interdisciplinary project (Geography/Information security).

The session was an active one, in which we participated in the Re:configure: Digital Privacy Workshops, co-facilitated by Julia and Laura. The workshop applies feminist principles to cyber security, in both theory and practice. It aims to democratise cybersecurity by opening it up to be more open, fair and inclusive and providing cybersecurity advice in a space that is approachable and accessible way. 

The session started with an introduction from the co-facilitators. We learn that the project rose out of frustrations with the exclusive realms of cybersecurity, that are often male-dominated, hierarchical and elitist, in which there are definite rights and wrongs, and opinions of those outside of the space are invalid, resulting in an intimidating and in many cases condescending space. The workshop then, offers a chance to destabilise this narrative and create a space in which to learn and share ideas for those who are generally excluded from it. It forms part of a larger project of Julia and Laura’s that aims to listen to opinions of a broad range of people, with an emphasis on those who are generally excluded from cybersecurity discussions and bring them back into cybersecurity research, as well as offer cybersecurity advice in an inclusive and supportive environment.

To this end, the workshop was split into two sections, a threat modelling section and tech support section. Firstly, in the threat modelling section, we split off into groups and shared ideas about what online data we wanted to protect most. Topics of conversation spanned from personal photos, smart home systems, financial data, passwords, location data and cloud-based back-up data. The discussions were often informed by personal experiences of life online, and things that made us feel insecure for multiple reasons. From there, we were then encouraged to think about how we could improve our current security practices in regard to the things we valued most valuable to protect.

Secondly, in the tech support section, we were introduced to a wide range of resources that could help us in that task of protecting the data valuable to us. A noteworthy resource here is the DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity (https://hackblossom.org/cybersecurity/). At this point, we were given just over half an hour to scour the guide (usually this time is an hour, but we were on time constraints so had to run a condensed version of the workshop), which offered simple, and mostly free, methods to improve our cybersecurity, as well as an opportunity to ask to facilitators for advice of help with case-by-case confusions or worries.

Importantly, the workshop provided a great space to discuss openly what we didn’t know (which for me, is quite a lot!). We were given time to articulate what we considered important in data privacy, and then offered ways to improve on those things. Personal experience filters into how we experience the world, both physical and virtual, and so everyone’s online life is different, and people have different values and methods in conducting themselves. Crucially then, this workshop realised that, and offered cybersecurity advice in a space that brought people together, as well as allowing us time that we may all put off in doing our own cybersecurity work. By paying attention to feminist approaches and concepts such as inclusivity, personal experience, consent and hierarchy more broadly, the spaces of cybersecurity can be fundamentally changed, and can have a significant positive impact on how people experience and conduct their life online.

Written by Rhys Gazeres.

Edited by Rachel Tyler.

Redemption, Conservation and the Making of Territory

Our most recent landscape surgery session was presented by Dr Yoav Galai, a lecturer in global political communications from Royal Holloway’s own department of politics, international relations and philosophy. Yoav’s research is concerned with narrative politics, visual politics and collective memory.

The presentation was of an ongoing project of Yoav’s that is exploring the ways in which interventions in the natural world are used to legitimise political claims to land, with a specific focus on the production and realisation of Jewish imaginaries in Israel and the dispossession of Palestinian land. Yoav made frequent reference to Zionism here then, which for him, refers specifically to the ‘redemption’ of a Jewish nation is what is now Israel. Indeed, as can be seen below, these two lands often come into close contact.

Yoav adopts stereoscopic photography to visualise the overlapping cultural, social and political layers, that define these contested territories. This technique, very popular during the beginning of the 20th century, is used to portray picturesque views of urban landscape, consists of capturing and displaying two slightly offset photographs to create three dimensional images. Using two paired digital cameras and a visor to merge the resulting images into a three-dimensional composition, Yoav produced a series of landscape photography of contested areas in contemporary Eastern Jerusalem. The talk began with Yoav showing us a photo of his taken as such.

A section of land in Israel, that has been ‘colour coded’ to show the checkerboard-like nature of distinctions between Jewish and Palestinian land. Each colour corresponds to either Palestinian or Jewish ownership.
Photo taken, edited and provided by Dr. Yoav Galai.

From there, we discussed interventions on the land and photography more generally. The two main discussion points were interventions with flora on one hand, and fauna on the other, highlighting how each of these have been utilised in various ways to project the imaginaries of redeeming and restoring the Holy Land onto the landscape.

The first example we were presented with was flora, namely, an ongoing project of afforestation by the Jewish National Fund, to create abundant tree cover to Israel in attempt to re-create a landscape associated with ancient Jewish ownership. As Yoav notes, this is in line with the ‘making the desert bloom’ narrative, restoring the barren Palestinian land’s former vitality through Jewish reoccupation.

Of course, this example serves popular discourses such as caring for the environment, and creating natural public spaces, yet Yoav argues that it simultaneously works to legitimise Jewish ownership of the land, under the guise of what he calls an ‘angelical narrative’. It is thus an act that is weaved into that general category of redemption. We also learn that there is a ₪7000 (ILS) (this is currently around £1500 or €900) fine for removing the trees, and even the possibility of jail time, meaning that once these trees have been planted, that land is off limits.

We now turn to some of his more recent work, similar in nature, but this time concerned with live animals, the fauna. Hai Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve was established in Israeli in 1986 with the aim of re-introducing the biblical animals (to varying degrees of success) that are said to have been made extinct in the wild during Muslim occupation, such as the donkey, oryx and addax. The animals are bred here and then re-introduced into the wild.

The point of the Hai Bar then, is clear, to restore the land to its supposed former state, with a lack of modern intervention, recreating the fertile land associates with Jewish ancient occupation. Yoav reminds us here that, of course, it is not a biblical safari, but is a reproduction, bringing an imagined land from the past, to the present.

At this point, we spend some time thinking about the role of photography in this construction of this imaginary. Yoav introduces us to the late nature photographer Gail Rubin. Her posthumous publication Psalmist with a Camera (1979) worked hand in hand with the aims of the Hai Bar. Within are wide framed shots of the animals of the Hai Bar, representing at once both the fertile, rich lands and the fauna that belong in them. They are shot in such a way as to document the existence of the ancient Jewish lands, both influenced by and feeding the Jewish imaginary through representation, and thereby working to establishing the facts of the realm. 

Gail Rubin’s (1979) Psalmist with a Camera: Photographs of a Biblical Safari. Abbeville Press.

An interesting point here is the contrast between Gail’s nature photography and Yoav’s photograph included above. Gail’s work aims to represent solely Jewish ownership of the Israeli lands, denying the possibility of Palestinian associations by excluding the Palestinian lands from her lens. On the other hand, Yoav’s image above shows the reality of Israel’s contested lands, and how both Palestinian and Jewish claims to the land are not as separate as the former collection implies. We must remind ourselves then, that the camera is not an objective tool. In every photo, the photographer choses what to include and exclude, whilst these choices are often framed by social context and subjectivities of the photography. What is not in the frame then, can tell us as much about the image and what is visible.

So, what we are seeing with these examples is the construction of a biblical gaze that works as an antagonism, redeeming and restoring the former Jewish lands as legitimised by pro-environmental discourse, whilst dispossessing the Palestinian of that same land. It is, Yoav argues, the mobilisation of biblical narratives in various ways that work to legitimise a political, territory-based narrative.

Yoav finishes by reminding us that all of this is still ongoing in some ways, and that the take home point is that it is important to put such interventions under scrutiny, highlighting their political nature and origins.

Written by Rhys Gazeres.

Edited by Rachel Tyler.

Contributions from Stefano Carnelli.


 

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From Theatres, to Exhibitions, to Restaurants: Expanding and Deploying Scenography

Our most recent session was organised by Jihane Dyer (Royal Holloway), a 2nd year PhD student, and featured presentations from Dr. Rachel Hann (University of Surrey) and Prof. Judith Clark (London College of Fashion). The session explored the term ‘scenography’, how it can pull apart and expand, and what benefits this creates when thinking about exhibitions, experiential spaces and events.

Firstly, Jihane reminds us that scenography is a technical term denoting the art of perspective representation and is associated most closely with set design in the theatre. In this sense, scenography is about communicating a pre-determined idea to a spectating audience. We were encouraged to think about how this idea can be taken away from the theatre and thought of horizontally as an assemblage of facets and agents that come together when exhibiting things and places.

Judith Clark’s presentation was entitled ‘retrieving exhibitions’. Judith trained as an architect before becoming a curator and exhibition maker. She reflects that while fashion exhibitions are well documented in catalogues, these catalogues usually only include representations of the garments shown. They rarely include, until relatively recently, a sense of how they were exhibited or ideas about the physical curation of the exhibition. The questions that Judith asks us are: what happens behind the scenes of an exhibition? And, what about the spaces between the objects? 

We are introduced to Judith’s exhibition Fashion and Heritage – Conversations at the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa, Getaria, Spain (2018). Judith used a double narrative in the curation to both explain the evolution of Balenciaga’s designs and its historiography– through scenography and the use of visual ‘captions’. These captions would often reference (or retrieve) previous exhibits of Balenciaga. One example is  a miniature installation replicating a photograph from a previous exhibiton:  Balenciaga Ouvre au Noir, at Musee Bourdelle, 2019, which sits next to a dress displayed on a mannequin.  Judith notes that this image always came to her mind in relation to this dress and seemed relevant to this exhibition. It also pushes forward the theme of sculpture, and the evolution of sculptural elements in Balenciaga’s clothing.   

A collage exploring the themes and facets of Judith’s (2018) Fashion and Heritage – Conversation exhibition. Taken from http://judithclarkcostume.com/exhibitions/cristobal-balenciaga-fashion-and-heritage-conversations/.

The point here is that past exhibitions can offer information that is pertinent to the objects on display in a current exhibition. The space around the object is important, in terms of both immediate physical space and the intellectual space in which they are thought about. Time; place (both the place of creation and places of exhibition); the garment; the garment’s production, are all equally relevant in costume history. 

Rachel Hann’s presentation offered an insight into the work presented in her recently released book ‘Beyond Scenography’ (Routledge: 2019). Rachel’s first point of departure is that scenography is not necessarily an individual phenomenon but can be thought of as a process rife with multiplicity and plurality. In this sense, Rachel notes that thinking of scenography in this way allows us to move beyond the notion that scenography is exclusively a visual phenomenon, but instead a multisensory process comprised of both human and more-than-human elements that come together in assemblage to create what Rachel calls ‘feelings of place’ or ‘of world’.

Rachel Hann’s (2019) Beyond Scenography.

For Rachel then, scenography is about investigating the processes and assemblages of the tangible and intangible, and of matter and mind, that are involved in the making of world. She reminds us that we are not simply looking at the world, but instead are intrinsically bound up, or with the world. To illustrate this, she details a first-person experience of a Vietnamese restaurant in Guildford that is designed to mimic a Bangkok street market. Here, one experiences a multi-sensory dynamic of smells, tastes, and aesthetics that work together to elicit a feeling of place through artistic, and indeed culinary, means.

Thaikun restaurant, Guildford (Photo on behalf of Rachel Hann).

Both presentations here were clearly rather different, one exploring museum space and the other the notions of place and world. What we see in both cases though, is how the idea of scenography can be expanded and deployed in various ways, aiding our understanding of both of these topics in some useful and insightful ways.

We would like to thank both Rachel and Judith for their thought-provoking presentations, to Jihane Dyer for organising and convening the session, and to all the landscape surgery participants that offered some interesting questions and discussion points.

Written by Rhys Gazeres. Edited by Rachel Tyler.


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New Additions to the PhD Cohort

The start of the new academic year brought some new additions to the Landscape Surgery cohort. Seven PhD students joined us in Septembe 2019, bringing a set of new projects that span the discipline(s). Some of these projects are practiced based, whilst others will deploy some unique creative methodologies. Together, they tackle an array of interesting and pressing issues, showing strong variety, and are sure to lead to great bodies of research.

So, introducing our new doctoral researchers..

Angela Chan

Angela is a doctoral researcher with StoryFutures, Royal Holloway’s new immersive and VR lab. Her research focuses on creative clustering, exploring the business models and behaviours that drive successful growth in the digital and immersive sectors. Her particular focus is on the role that diversity plays in innovation and new forms of digital storytelling. 

Bethan Lloyd Worthington

Bethan is an artist working with installation, objects, writing and artists books. Her practice-based research takes as a starting point the excavation of Gully Cave in Somerset and practices of climate reconstruction.

Stefano Carnelli

With a background in architecture, urbanism and sociology, Stefano’s work explores the intersection between photography and cultural geography. Stefano’s practice-based research investigates the ERUV, the ritual urban enclosure that allows Orthodox Jewish communities to circumvent some of the restrictions imposed on the public domain during Sabbath and other festivities.

Rachel Tyler

Rachel’s research explores geographies of garments and making, and how these can be expressed through cartography. Her AHRC Techne funded PhD employs creative practice-led methodology, with a specific focus on London’s fashion industry.

Holly Nielsen

Holly’s research, “British Board Games and the Ludic Imagination, c.1860-1960”, explores the history of play, materiality, intergenerational familial dynamics, and understanding categories of age through analysing the presence of board games both in domestic spaces and their wider cultural presence.

Jack Morton

Jack is a Doctoral Researcher with StoryFutures specialising in cultural and political geographies with his PhD research focusing on freelance labour in the video games industry. He has been at Royal Holloway in the Department of Geography for 4 years, completing a BSc in Geography and MSc in Geopolitics and Security.

Rhys Gazeres de Baradieux

Rhys’ PhD explores skateboarding’s debut inclusion into the 2020 Olympic Games, and the tensions that this has with skateboarding as it is practiced and lived in the urban environment, created ultimately by the further entrenchment of the neoliberal doctrine onto a subversive urban practice.

Written by Rhys / Edited by Rachel.

Commons, Greens, and the end of a decade

Image of a grassed field, surrounded by green trees. There are two black and white pigs grazing the land. The text "Customary rights, property and contested belongings in English commons and village greens, 1795-1965,' is overlaid.

The last Landscape Surgery session of the decade was opened by Katrina Navickas’s (University of Hertfordshire) presentation : ‘Customary rights, property and contested belongings in English commons and village greens, 1765-1965’. The seminar was a collaboration with Provincialism at Large – a new seminar series co-ordinated by Ruth Livesey (RHUL),  building on the collaboration between the Centre for Victorian Studies and the Centre for the GeoHumanities. Katrina was joined by Ruth and two PhD researchers (RHUL) Saskia Papadakis and Gemma Holgate, whose doctoral research projects are titled  ‘Northerners in London: Englishness, place and mobility’ and ‘Writing Socialist Feminism: Women Activists and the Novel, 1887-1908,’ respectively.

Katrina positions herself firmly as a regionalist, and promotes the study of particular regions in English history.  Today, she is presenting her research on legal geographies of the commons and village greens in England.  The 1965 Commons Registration act was legislation which aimed to survey all common land in England and Wales, however it was flawed and revealed the widespread difficulties of defining a common, its rights and ownership — many of which still exist today. The resulting registers are inaccurate and conflicting. 

Image of a booklet entitled "Common Land: Read this booklet to find out how to preserve your rights and interests."
1965 Commons Registration Act

But, how is common land defined? We were challenged to define these three terms as a group– with varying degrees of success!

  • Common: Private land which is subject to rights of common–  including pasture, turbary (taking peat or turf), estovers (taking wood), piscary (taking fish)..etc. The land could be fenced or open and was usually attached to private property.
  • Waste: Land which belongs to the manor, is uncultivated and while is not subject to rights of common can be used for pasture. 
  • Village Green: Land ‘owned’ by the village parish, which has been allotted for recreation and leisure for the inhabitants of the village.
A slate sign listing byelaws of fees. From 1954 - still erected today it the common today.
A sign listing Coulsdon Common’s byelaws, and list of fees. From 1954 – still erected today it the common today. 

Katrina reminds us of the importance of commons, to working people particularly, throughout history as meeting places; their integrity to political movements; the commons preservation movement; and points to the new shift to ecological concerns. 

Today many are fighting for their commons to prevent housing developments and retaining commons as nature reserves. Katrina also points to the landmark case in November 2019 in the which the Supreme Court ruled the banning  of Extinction Rebellion’s Autumn protest between 14-19 October was unlawful, which reminds us of how important laws on customary rights can be in the present: the right to liberty and protest still need to be protected. 

We would like to thank Katrina Navicka for her engaging presentation, and imagery; Ruth Livesey and Sasha Engelmann for organising this session; Saskia Papadakis and Gemma Holgate for presenting their research; and the other Landscape Surgery participants for their contributions to the discussion.

Written by Rachel Tyler.

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GeoHumanities Summer School: Listening to Field, Voice and Body

 

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Our latest Landscape Surgery session gave space for reflection and discussion of the recent GeoHumanities Summer School, organised around the theme of ‘Listening: Field, Voice, Body’.

The summer school was a week-long residency to Bude in Cornwall during July 2019, around the site of a GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) listening station, where participants explored listening as an approach to research across a range of disciplines and perspectives.

The summer school was the culmination of a two-year programme funded by a TECHNE Conflux grant of £10,000, and was co-organised by Royal Holloway geographers Dr. Sofie Narbed, Dr. Cecilie Sachs-Olsen and Dr. Sasha Engelmann, alongside Dr. Mark Peter Wright and Prof. Angus Carlyle, sound artists from the University of the Arts London.

The programme began in September 2018 with a workshop held at the Chisenhale Dance Studio in East London, where participants took part in a number of choreographic experiments involving both embodied exercises and a range of sensing technologies, situated in different ‘stations’ in the studio.

Since the opening workshop, the conflux has involved a series of group meetings, attended by 13 students and 18 staff members in total. These seminars helped to establish three interweaving strands of interest:

Voice – understanding listening and responding as a physical practice; recognising the affective, political, more-than-human and haunting qualities of various types of voices.

Field – understanding listening as an extension and amplification of research into the world, as well as a series of embodied practices and events.

Body – understanding listening as a process of attunement, with heightened attention to movement, distance, stillness and proximity through the body.

The site of the summer school at Bude connected with these themes through its long history of listening in the form of surveillance. An internal NSA (National Security Agency) newsletter leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that surveillance of satellite communications has been taking place at Bude, and its sister sites in the US, since the 1960s.

For participants in the programme, thinking about ideas and practices of listening at this site raised three main questions:

How do we listen if we’re already being listened to?

What do we ‘take’ by listening?

What are the ethics of recording?

 

The film

 

 

The week-long trip to Bude was documented in the form of a film by MA Cultural Geography graduate Matthew Phillips. Matthew created a cut of this film specifically to be screened in Landscape Surgery, which was followed by some words from him on what his aims were and the challenges he faced.

Matthew explained that his MA dissertation was researching the topic of ethnographic films, and through his practice he was exploring the possibilities of occupying a middle ground between the observational and participatory aspects of ethnography. In this way, his film attempted to encapsulate the events of the Summer School both from his perspective and that of the other participants.

Yet this was not a straightforward endeavour, as Matthew realised that he was actively participating in the very practices of surveillance that the attendees were questioning during the trip. While these concerns could be practically addressed by asking for permission, which gave the other participants the choice to opt out, other ethical issues were harder to negotiate. Access was a particular worry, with constant uncertainty about what he could and couldn’t film in the environs of the listening station. These anxieties also extended to the local residents, who overwhelmingly refused to be recorded when approached.

In the end, the trip resulted in roughly 900 GB of footage – about 12 hours in total – which required a time-consuming process of editing to whittle down. Matthew outlined two key themes he sought to emphasise in the final film: reaching out (with aerials, arms, and the various communication methods used during the trip) and waves (the nearby sea, but also electromagnetic waves).

 

Senses and presences

The screening of Matthew’s film was followed in the session by a wider discussion about the geographies of listening that were examined and performed during the Summer School, with four other participants in the programme also present in the room.

These participants kicked off the discussion by reflecting on the different senses and practices invoked in the process of listening. John Hughes, a practice-based PhD student at Kingston University whose work uses radio broadcast and performance, remarked that he found himself drawing rather than adopting the familiar methodologies of field recording while in Bude. Alternatively, for Sofie Narbed, her realisation from the Summer School was that there is value in resisting the impulse we have as researchers to document as much as possible, and instead just ‘being’; letting momentary conversations and occurrences unfold and pass.

These experiences drew out a broader theme across the Summer School participants of multi-modal and multisensory practices of listening – particularly in how often we incorporate visuals to accompany sound, or attempt to ‘translate’ different forms of recording for different outputs. In this regard, Oli Mould considered what the notion of ‘multisensory listening’ can add to conservations around the politics of listening; potentially resisting some assumptions we tend to have around auditory practices and those who are marginalised as a result.

In thinking about different communities of listening, the discussion then turned to what is lost and gained during both group and individual listening. Sasha Engelmann recounted one of the Summer School activities which prompted participants to choose their own ‘field’ in Bude and spend time there by themselves, while responding to prompts from ‘HQ’ using a group chat on Whatsapp. This sharing of individual experiences from each participant’s field attempted to mediate the individual and group perspectives by forming a collective archive that brought these various fields, voices and bodies together digitally.

As well as the dynamics of the Summer School group, some of the participants contemplated their embeddedness within the wider local community in Bude. Anecdotal conversations with locals about alien landings, MI5, events surrounding the construction of the listening station, and the impact of the station on tourism were characterised by superstition, fear of being recorded, rumour and gossip – all of which spoke to a core tension in practices of listening between truth and fiction.

The final pivot of discussion concerned the physical presence of the listening station itself. Multiple participants highlighted the iconic presence that the station has in the landscape, and the need for people to have something physical to which they can attach their imaginaries and fears of surveillance. Despite this, the dangers of these forms of listening are largely ‘invisible’ to us today; contained within smartphones, PCs, servers and other digital infrastructures.

Sasha highlighted how the listening station is anachronistic in this sense, as the satellite transmissions that the station’s big dishes were built to monitor no longer form such an important part of our communications. Yet it is harder for us to imagine the more pervasive practices of ‘algorithmic listening’ that infiltrate our everyday communications, so sites like Bude still maintain a powerful aura in our cultural conceptions of surveillance and espionage.

We would like to thank Sofie Narbed and Sasha Engelmann for organising and leading this engaging session on listening; Matthew Phillips for arranging the film screening; and the other Summer School participants – John Hughes, Carolyn Roy and Liz Miller – for their contributions to the discussion.

 

Written by Jack Lowe, edited by Megan Harvey

RGS-IBG Postgraduate Forum Midterm Conference 2019

 

Photo by @rgsmidterm2019

Attendees at the end of the RGS-IBG PGF Midterm Conference (Source: Twitter, @RGSmidterm2019)

 

This year’s Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers) Postgraduate Forum Midterm Conference was held at Manchester Metropolitan University from 24th to 26th April. Royal Holloway was well represented at the conference by PhD students in the Department of Geography, and here a selection of our cohort share their experiences from Manchester.

 

Megan Harvey

I was really thankful for the opportunity to present some of my preliminary PhD work at this year’s fantastic RGS Midterm Conference. My paper, entitled The Geographies of Sleep: Corporatisation, Codification and Dreams of Subversion, was allocated to an oral presentation session that sought to explore various developments in ‘innovative research methodologies’ that are being utilised in incredibly exciting and often interdisciplinary capacities by postgraduate researchers. From the outset, this demanded an identification of my research’s technical approaches, encouraging me to critically reflect on the alternative investigative techniques that I plan to implement. As I expressed throughout the presentation, most of my inspiration, both conceptually and empirically, comes from adopting and adapting knowledges from not only the social sciences, but from neuroscientific and psychological fields of study. Resultantly, I argued that my PhD’s ‘innovative’ practice is merely a consequence of my attempt to bridge the scholarly gap in scientific vocabulary that currently dominates sleep research. In essence, I called for the cultivation of a ‘neurogeographic’ research methodology that will challenge the lexicon of sleeping and dreaming and recognise the cognitive, embodied, and experiential aspects of its performance through a geographic lens. Only through doing so can we begin to truly understand the phenomena’s impact within our restless capitalist society.

For me, the experience of presenting my work to the RGS Midterm audience was wholly encouraging. It allowed me to gather invaluable feedback and advice on my own research, meet some brilliant individuals from outside of the Royal Holloway contingent, and become inspired by the sheer quantity of great work that’s going on within the discipline of Geography at the moment!

 

Nina Willment

It was really lovely to be able to attend the RGS Midterm Conference at Manchester Metropolitan University in April. I always forget how much I enjoy this conference and it is my favourite conference of the year hands down! The atmosphere is always so friendly and welcoming and I always end up meeting and spending time with some really wonderful people who also happen to be fab academics. It was really lovely this year to be asked to chair a session on ‘gender and class mobilities’. Chairing a session was really nerve-wracking at first, but in reality it’s kind of like being the host of a (very scholarly) party?! You are just in charge of making sure the speakers keep to time, everyone knows what they are doing and generally just has a good time! At the conference, I also stepped down from my role as Chairperson of the Royal Geographical Society Postgraduate Forum. Getting involved in the Postgraduate Forum has given me valuable insight and experience of working as part of a wider committee and within the Royal Geographical Society as a whole. I’ve also had the chance to meet and work with a really amazing group of postgraduates from around the country, many of whom have now become really good friends of mine. Every year the PGF look for new committee members for a variety of roles on the committee and it is really a great opportunity to get involved which I would recommend to anyone. More information can be found on the RGS-PGF website here. You can also find more information about becoming a Postgraduate Fellow of the RGS here. Huge thanks go out to Jamie, Gail, Valerie, Matt, Fraser, Harry and Maria from Manchester Metropolitan for organising such a fun and fantastic conference! Roll on 2020!

 

Alice Reynolds

It was really great to attend my first RGS Midterm Conference at Manchester Metropolitan University this year. It was rewarding to meet other young researchers and academics and to share with others the experiences of doing a PhD. It was particularly interesting to hear about such a range of diverse research being undertaken by geographers, and I am excited to follow the journeys of other researchers as their research develops.

I presented in a session titled ‘The Geographies of Education’ which consisted of my research on student housing in Dublin, a presentation by Ellen Bishop from the University of Leicester on the educational experiences of pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities in a mainstream secondary school, and a presentation by Amy Walker from the University of Birmingham on the materialities of children and young people’s homemaking in post-separation families. As my first time presenting at an academic conference, it was a really supportive environment to do so and I presented to less than ten people in our session, so it was a small enough group to not be too intimidating! It’s a useful opportunity to test out some of your research ideas and progress so far, and gain feedback in a supportive environment.

Not only was the conference a good opportunity to meet other PhD students, it was also great to meet other academics and hear about their stories from academia. There was also a range of workshops to choose from. I found a workshop on publishing particularly useful; and I also particularly enjoyed Dr. Morag Rose’s workshop on using walking as a research method, a method which I have never really explored before. Now I know more, I think it could be particularly useful for my own research. I also enjoyed viewing the posters produced by other PhD students, so if you are thinking of attending the conference in the future but don’t want to give a presentation, a poster is also a great way to demonstrate your research. Of course you don’t have to do either, and can simply come and enjoy the conference instead!

I would really recommend that any new (or old!) researchers attend the 2020 Midterm conference!

 

Jack Lowe

The RGS-IBG Postgraduate Forum Midterm Conference was a wonderful occasion that gave me the opportunity to gain more experience in presenting my research, field questions on my research from an audience, meet other geographers at the same academic career stage, and also explore a bit of Manchester – a city I’d never visited before.

I presented in a session organised around the theme of ‘Innovative Research Methods’ alongside fellow RHUL PhD student Megan Harvey – and in fact, we were the only presenters in the session as the third planned speaker did not attend! This allowed us to take our time with the presentations, and also respond to more questions at the end, so we both got the maximum possible out of the session. In my presentation I discussed what I’ve learnt so far from the process of making games and other digital narrative artworks as a research method, drawing on my experience of creating story-based treasure hunting game The Timekeeper’s Return at the start of my PhD, and most recently making prototypes for my final project. I was very happy with how I delivered the material in the end, and particularly grateful that I was asked some thought-provoking questions that helped me consider how I might frame my methodology discussion in my eventual thesis. This conference is small enough that there are also lots of opportunities to continue discussions outside the sessions, which is great for getting feedback and making connections with those who share your research interests.

Fortunately, my session was in the first paper presentation timeslot of the conference, so once it had finished I was able to focus on getting the most out of the remainder of the sessions, and meeting fellow Geography postgrads from other institutions. Particular highlights from the rest of the conference for me were Morag Rose’s workshop on walking as a research method, which took us outside into the built environment of the conference location, and the paper sessions on ‘Performing Place Identities’ and ‘Health and Wellbeing’, in which many of the presentations had interesting crossovers with my own research interests, despite coming from quite diverging topics.

My favourite moment, however, has to be Kim Peters’ keynote on the first night. Kim detailed her academic journey that has taken her work across some wildly varied research topics, and evoked this experience to make a claim for being eclectic in the paths that our research takes. She encouraged us to stay curious within our discipline and to research what really interests us, rather than being too quick to categorise ourselves as a certain ‘type’ of geographer and consequently limit our opportunities for both career paths and personal growth. As a result, I felt newly inspired to continue exploring fresh directions that I could take my research, and to stay aware of what new fields of inquiry are opening up across the discipline.

Overall, the Midterm for me was a very welcome opportunity to break free from the ‘bubble’ of doing independent research, and remind myself why I love Geography in all its breadth and diversity. The organising team at MMU deserve huge credit for creating a thoroughly engaging programme and managing the masses of admin and logistics that go into making an event like this happen.

 

Photo by @CaitlinHafferty

Kim Peters during her talk on ‘Eclectic Geographies’ (Source: Twitter, @CaitlinHafferty)

MAKING DIARIES, MAKING ARCHIVES, MAKING BLOGS: ACCOUNTING FOR EVERYDAY LIFE ONLINE AND EXPLORING THE SPACES AND PRACTICES OF SOCIAL MEDIA

On Friday 31st May, the Centre for the GeoHumanities (Royal Holloway, University of London), in collaboration with the Department of Geography at the University of Portsmouth and the Department of Geography at Stockholm University, welcomed a network of scholars from the UK and overseas with a shared interest in methodologies for exploring social media, specifically blogs, vlogs and blog/vlogospheres. The purpose of this interdisciplinary workshop was to bring together scholars in discussions around understanding social media activities and spaces, and the associated opportunities and challenges involved in both their production and their examination.

Jenny Sjöholm (Centre for the GeoHumanities, RHUL) opened the workshop by highlighting a series of questions and debates: Why do women create such spaces of memory? In what ways do these creative spaces matter? How can we understand and approach these spaces? How do women’s pre-digital-era detailed accounts of everyday life – such as travel diaries, pocket diaries and photo albums – compare and contrast with their online equivalents? Are we in need of new tools and perspectives? How can we balance our understanding of the personal elements of such constructions with their professional and commercial aspects?

Following this activity, we were invited to explore the outdoor space of Bedford Square. Under the shade of the trees, scholars were invited to be involved in a ‘speed networking’ event. Here, we had a chance to network with other members of the workshop to find out what everyone else was working on. This networking continued back in Bedford Square over a working lunch. It was really exciting to find parallels and cross-overs between work on emotional ‘care’ work, the fashion industry, travel bloggers, food cultures and Eurovision, all in the context of social media and blogs, which will hopefully open the way for some potential collaborations and cross-overs in the near future!

LS Picture
Image courtesy of Jamie Halliwell, Manchester Metropolitan University

After some much-deserved refreshments, Dr Sally Bayley (University of Oxford) led an interactive mini-workshop based on her recent study of the diary and journal as a form of literary and social self-construction. Her book The Private Life of the Diary from Pepys to Tweets: A history of the diary as an artform (2016) explores diary-making as a form of private and public identity as it is constructed across history. Sally opened the mini-workshop by introducing the group to the diary of Sylvia Plath. The group were invited to attempt to decipher both the words and the meanings of the images on the page. Sally also discussed the ideas of micro-space and the associated geographies of the page in relation to practices and processes of self-recording.

LSpic 2
Image courtesy of Jamie Halliwell, Manchester Metropolitan University

Keeping with this idea of geographies of the page, participants were then invited to think about their own acts of self-recording in relation to the micro-geographies of the page space. Using individual raffle tickets (which together comprised one page of a raffle ticket book or one distinct spatiality), we were asked to think about and draw out a private space we had inhabited that day. Each raffle ticket, therefore, represented both a micro-space of the geographies of the page and of the personal space. Together, in a roundtable discussion, we then discussed our spatial maps. This exercise prompted discussions around both the intimacies and subtle differences of each participant’s account of self-recording.

LS pic 3
Image courtesy of Nina Willment Royal Holloway University of London

Reflecting on these self-recordings, for the final exercise of the day, we were then asked to write a short ‘diary’ entry about these images. Participants were asked to make a conscious choice about the distinctive materiality they used to make this recording (from the phone notes app to the invoice book to the humble notepad itself). In doing so, participants were invited to think about and discuss the constraints and affordances which their distinctive choice of ‘page’ afforded them. This activity led on to some lively discussion around ideas of aesthetisation of the blog as diary online and the blog/diary as public versus private space.

LS pic 4
Image courtesy of Jamie Halliwell, Manchester Metropolitan University

We hope this workshop provided an opportunity to serve as the foundation for establishing a network of scholars working on such issues around social media data, blogs and blogospheres in the GeoHumanities and beyond. With huge thanks to my co-organisers, Jenny Sjöholm (Centre for the GeoHumanities RHUL), Taylor Brydges (Department of Geography, Stockholm University), Carol Ekinsmyth (Department of Geography, University of Portsmouth) and also to the Centre for the GeoHumanities (RHUL) for all of their help and support in making this event a success.

Written by Nina Willment, edited by Alice Reynolds and Jack Lowe

GeoHumanities Creative Commissions 2018

For the penultimate Landscape Surgery of the academic year, we were delighted to be joined by two guest speakers. Jol Thomson (PhD student at the University of Westminster) and Dr. Julian Brigstocke (Lecturer in Human Geography in the School of Geography and Planning at Cardiff University) joined us to discuss their work as part of Royal Holloway’s Centre for the GeoHumanities Creative Commissions, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and AHRC, and last year organised around the theme of ‘Creating Earth Futures’. Five works were selected for the 2018 programme, three of which we were introduced to in the session. Full details about all of the selected works are available on the Centre for the GeoHumanities’ blog.

First up to present was Jol Thomson discussing ‘In the Future Perfect’, the commissioned work he developed alongside Julian Weaver, an artist at Finetuned Ltd. Jol and Julian’s project seeks to interrogate the imaginaries and implications of scientific work operating in the realm of pataphysics: that which examines imaginary phenomena existing in a world beyond metaphysics; outside the basic principles of existence. In this regard, their work explores the discourses and materialities of nuclear fusion and its implications for energy provision and climate change.

Jol explained that the cultural imaginary around this branch of scientific experimentation and technological development has so far only existed in the future perfect, with fusion consistently projected over the past century to be ‘30 years away’ from being a viable power source. Decades of fusion experiments have faced continued difficulties in containing the reaction in a manner requiring less energy than the amount that can be extracted.

To develop their creative research, Jol and Julian sought to gain access to The Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, the UK’s national nuclear fusion research laboratory located in Oxfordshire, as well as visiting the ITER Centre in Marseille, an internationally-recognised experimental site for nuclear fusion. One of the most significant observations the pair have made during their research at both sites is the scale of infrastructure needed to make fusion reactions possible. Jol illustrated using maps and photographs how the UK’s Culham Centre is situated close to both a power station and solar field, and also draws on sources of energy from further afield to function. Meanwhile, it was explained by Jol that for fusion to be viable as a source of energy, research has shown that humans would need to mine off-world to recover the minerals needed to create adequate conditions for fusion to occur, which are rare to find on earth.

Even aside from these very practical limitations to the fusion process, Jol hypothesised what would happen if humans could harness the unlimited, self-sustaining energy that nuclear fusion promises. It has been projected that population levels could eventually become so high that our impacts as humans would become devastating to the earth’s ecosystem and ultimately be unsustainable, undermining the ‘green’ credentials of fusion as a method of energy production. In considering what the legacy of fusion energy could look like millennia into the future, Jol and Julian have been inspired by the film Into Eternity, which explores ideas about how a nuclear waste site in Finland could be marked as hazardous for future inhabitants of Earth, who are unlikely to communicate using the same languages we do today.

Both film and sound recording have been employed by the pair to interrogate the atmospheres and energies that permeate today’s nuclear fusion testing sites. In the session, Jol played sound files that audibly represented what takes place inside a tokamak test reactor, where a magnetic field confines the heated plasma used in nuclear fusion experiments, suggesting that him and Julian could eventually score this sonic output for a choir as a performative piece. Through the process of transforming these scientific operations into visual and sonic outputs, their work demonstrates both the elusive and ethereal qualities of current fusion experiments, and the level of imagination necessary to make nuclear fusion as a power source a tangible reality.

Following Jol, Dr. Julian Brigstocke gave a presentation titled ‘Thinking in Suspension: The Geoaesthetics of Sand’. His presentation introduced his collaborative project ‘Harena’, which he works on alongside Victoria Jones, an installation artist exploring the ways humans use their senses to connect with and create a sense of place. Their creative collaboration investigates the contemporary politics of sand mining through a series of experiments with the material properties and cultural experiences of sand.

For Julian, sand is both a vital substance and display of power. It connects the elemental to the global; marks time, decay and death; and as the primary component of concrete, cement, glass, fibreglass, asphalt, microchips and more, is the most important constituent material of our urban landscapes. Despite being a finite natural resource which takes centuries to form, it is the world’s most consumed resource after air and water, and humans are using it at accelerating rates, particularly in construction (Morrow, 2018). In 2014, the UN Environmental Program declared that sand mining was causing “unequivocal” environmental problems (ibid).

In this regard, Julian made particular reference to Hong Kong, where sand extracted from seabeds has provided the material for land reclamation, at the cost of catastrophic damage to marine ecosystems. While land reclamation projects appear to promise a quick fix to endemic housing shortages in one of the world’s most densely populated urban areas, political debates rage around how far these projects go towards reducing Hong Kong’s vast inequalities in wealth; where the sand itself comes from; why existing brownfield sites are not used instead; and government collusion with private property owners and developers.

As well as carrying out fieldwork in Hong Kong and visiting sand mines in the UK, Julian and Victoria’s work has delved into the sensual and material properties of sand through a series of ‘experiments’ that explore its qualities of suspension. Julian recounted his unsettling experience of a sensory deprivation tank, where participants lie face up on a pool of water warmed to body temperature and containing a high proportion of salt in suspension, enabling them to lose all sense of the body’s external boundaries. Elsewhere, him and Victoria visited an anechoic chamber, which prevents users from hearing anything inside it, as an exploration of the silence that suspension in air entails; while indoor skydiving allowed them to perceive how tiny adjustments in bodily weight can cause significant directional movements when bodies are suspended in air. In thinking about these processes of attunement with various environmental and atmospheric conditions – of drifting, disorientation and movement across earth, water and air – Julian was reminded of a quotation from Michel Serres (1982: 83): “nothing distinguishes me ontologically from a crystal”.

Julian ended his presentation with a provocation central to the joint political and cultural territory of his and Victoria’s project. He asked: how might the granular thinking necessary to understand the properties of sand pollute the contemporary noisy landscapes of consumerism, for example in the concrete, glass and asphalt landscapes of Hong Kong?

To conclude the session, we were presented with a film by Matterlurgy (Helena Hunter and Mark Peter Wright) made in collaboration with filmmaker Daniel Beck, entitled ‘Rehearsals for Uncertain Futures’. Featuring Royal Holloway’s Department of Geology’s Sea Ice Simulator (SIS), used in climate science to predict and model the impact of black carbon on ice reflectivity, the film emphasises the create commission project’s broader emphasis on noticing (Tsing, 2015). Focusing on the polyphonic dimensions of environmental processes and methods of observing them, “[s]uch an inquiry finds its roots through interleaved theories of listening […] and the practices of performance and fictioning. It considers the vibratory, affective and speculative forms of agency bound within the technologies and practices produced by GEC [Global Environmental Change]” (Hall, 2018).

Heavily featuring the work and daily practices of Professor Martin King (Professor in Environmental Geoscience in the Department of Earth Sciences at RHUL), the film never once features Professor King’s full body or face, but instead focuses on the materiality of the shipping containers situated in the woodland where the SIS is stored, the bird song in the background and the diverse sounds produced by the SIS machinery.

“The film focuses on the interconnections between the lab and field amplifying physical and material production practices behind climate simulation and predictive data modelling. How does data become data, where exactly is the field, what practices of maintenance and care does simulation require?” (Helena Hunter, no date).

The film is just one part of a broader project which seeks to produce a series of artworks which “challenge and re-imagine how GEC is both sensed and non sensed, signalled and signed, heard and unheard” (Hall, 2018).

We would like to extend our thanks to Jol and Julian for joining us in the session, and to Helena and Mark for allowing us to view their film. We look forward to seeing how the projects develop.

 

Bibiography

Hall, L. (2018) Matterlurgy selected for the Creating Earth Futures Commissions. Available at: https://www.crisap.org/2018/01/22/matterlurgy-creating-earth-futures-commissions-2018/ (Accessed: 14 May 2019)

Hunter, H. (no date) Rehearsals for Uncertain Futures. Available at: http://www.helenahunter.net/rehearsals-for-uncertain-futures (Accessed: 27 May 2019)

Morrow, S. (2018) 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Sand. Available at: http://discovermagazine.com/2018/jun/20-things-you-didnt-know-about–sand (Accessed: 27 May 2019)

Serres, M. (1982) Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press.

Tsing, A. (2015) The mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

 

Written by Alice Reynolds and Jack Lowe

LONDON MANIFEST: A film by Matthew Phillips, Emma Christian and Ollie Devereux

 

 

LONDON MANIFEST is a short film made in the context of the MA in Cultural Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. It presents London with various geographical themes in mind. Our original idea for this project collapsed due to unexpected circumstances. Pressed for time, we improvised an alternative.

We began by exploring the city, letting our minds wander, considering the mechanics of its being. Focusing on core ideas of flux, continuity and performance of the urban environment. Capturing the city in flux, we contemplated points of transit and motion; crowds funnelling through the underground and out into the streets above. In this section, we juxtapose original words focusing on the anonymising transit infrastructure of the city with words from Poe’s Man of the Crowd, recognising the humanity of individuals in the crowd.

In the film’s second part, (Re-)construction, we turn our attention to the city’s ever-changing architecture, analysing the unfinishable nature of urban environments; the continual presence and constant motion of cranes as an indicator of ‘development’.

Following this we then shift to the city’s landmarks, with words inspired by Sharon Macdonald’s book Memorylands. We decided to combine our own contemporary footage of the city’s monuments with archival footage, splicing them together. Through this process we hoped to capture the persistence of monumental structures like Big Ben and St. Paul’s Cathedral, framed by references to the flux. We use music throughout these sections to allude to the continuing and changing rhythms and rhizomes of the city.

In The Unreal City, we focus on the production and performance of London’s cultures. Through an overlaying of skaters with their past and future selves, we seek the patterns of performativity. We explore the notion of the city as a stage where performance has been practised in a backstage environment such as the home; a private space. Citizens give themselves a role to which they shape the attribute. This bounces on fluidity in the sense that performances and choices of movement in the city are influenced by flux and common norms. Further, we move our lens to document the recording of these performances, and the occurrent meta-theatrics.

In the final section, (Re-)orientation, we address our positionality in the city. With reference to the flows and structures of previous sections, we attempt in some way to catch the urban unaware. We feel it is necessary as geographers to re-orientate ourselves in the city, to subvert societal pressures of conformity, and indoctrinated modes of urban understanding. With this in mind we visually and audibly adjust our perspectives. This section features a reading of Etienne Sicard’s A Londres au Crepuscule, in its original French. We elected to use work from another language to offer an alternative perspective on London, as well as to act as part of the re-orientation, subverting assumptions about a massively multilingual city’s Anglo-dominant identity.

Getting the footage of the city was one of the most enjoyable aspects of making the film. We began filming before we actually had the idea of what would develop, as we went to London to gather ‘b-roll’ for the original film idea. The initial idea was about BASE jumping as an urban subversive practice. However, our contact for the film stopped responding the week we were meant to interview and record them. The footage we got initially with the BASE jumping film in mind can be seen at the beginning of the film, as well as during the (Re-)construction section.

Creating the film out of what is essentially 300+ clips of b-roll is certainly an interesting challenge as it relies on the other aspects of the film to carry any narrative or message. That being said, we have tried to make the visuals part of the narrative, such as the use of archival video and our own footage of the same scene, overlaying the skateboarders, and teleporting around London. Overall, the visuals of the film are designed to tie together the poetry to the city.

 

Written by Matthew Phillips, Emma Christian and Ollie Devereux. Edited by Jack Lowe.