a mini-family history, looking closer at personal archive work

“The Archive is made from selected and consciously chosen documentation from the past and from the mad fragmentations that no one intended to preserve and that just ended up there” (Steedman, 1998:67). I would like to bring up the topic of personal archive work. I would like to suggest that a personal archive is a very complex collection of things; they contain memories which embrace the emotional and intimate geographies of people’s lives.

A few years ago, before I started my undergraduate degree, my grandparents (who now live in France) were driving around their own home-town – this sparked hours/days of reminiscing about ‘the-good-old-times’, of which, I am ashamed to add, I knew very little about. Being the only grand-daughter in the family I thought I would ask them a favour…”pretty please spend some time putting together a collection of stories, histories, photos- anything- of your lives – not only for me but for our future families too”. It was a successful venture resulting in, a few months later, a car load of: diaries, journals, photographs, objects and scrap books arriving. So after a visit to the Royal Geographical Society for a half-day of archival research on the 12th February with my fellow Master’s students, my interest in Archives grew, I would not class myself as a ‘historical geographer’, and definitely not as an Archivist, but I like a challenge, and started to delve into the “Human Geography of a Family” (as my Grandmother called it in her main journal).

As I worked through the journals and collections of photographs and objects I found that not only was it was physically hard work but it was quite an emotional experience as well. This is what I decided to concentrate on for my Element 2 ‘Methods’ essay. Emotional geographies focus on exploring and trying to understand how feelings impact and alter our environments, landscapes and social relations (Ashmore, 2012). Emotions are essential when looking at human behaviour as they also have the ability to facilitate our attachment to people and places, as I found through looking into my Grandparents collection. However, although the importance of emotions is clear, they are commonly avoided as a topic of academic research: they are deliberately left out due their complex nature (Meth, 2003).  Emotional geographies are, without a doubt, personal yet at the very core of our collective existence. This emphasis on the significance of embodied knowledge and of celebrating feelings is a challenge to conventional geographical academic writing (Rodaway, 2002). So far through my MA in Cultural Geography I have explored how love can, and should be, an area of geographical study, how diaries can be used as a successful methodological tool for study, and now a paper on how personal archive work can lead to interesting exploration of more than just past environments- but also past emotions. Perhaps this research will lead into more exciting opportunities.

Emma Shenton (MA, Cultural Geography Research)

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Introducing Natalie Hyacinth- Geography and Music PhD Candidate


Greetings fellow Surgeons!

My name is Natalie Hyacinth and I am very happy to be a part of the Landscape Surgery collective. I have begun a PhD within the Geography and Music departments at RHUL supervised by Prof. David Gilbert and Dr. Henry Stobart. My PhD is part of and attached to a larger joint research project with UCL entitled ‘Making Suburban Faith’…which is again part of a larger AHRC funded ‘Connected Communities’ research programme…phew! So there are lots of new and exciting things ahead.

The preliminary title of my PhD is “Music and popular creativity in suburban faith communities”. My focus will be on music, sound and silence and how these work through and within the manifestation of spirituality for faith groups in the particular London suburb of Ealing. Thus my research will ‘embody’ dimensions of space (suburbia), creativity (music) and faith (performance & performativity of identity). I with the Making Suburban Faith project team embarked on a visit to 5 of the project’s faith spaces in Ealing where I recorded some sounds. As my interest and passion is music, I thought it would be great to incorporate some of these sounds into my music making. So I have set up a Sound Cloud page called ‘SacredSonix’:


…where I will embark upon a type of ‘audio ethnography’ or a digital sound archive of the project in the spirit of the recent rise of a ‘digital humanities’. So far I have uploaded some warped type sounds I have been playing around with and some dubs/beats I have produced. All in a very rough sketch kinda mode!

My own academic background I would say is broadly within Cultural Studies and Philosophy. I completed an MA in ‘Cultural Studies’ at Goldsmiths University in 2014 and completed a BA in ‘Music and Media Management’ at London Met in 2010. I hold such a wide variety of philosophical/political interests that anything which attempts to uncover and deeply explore our strange world usually seizes some form of fascination for me. So I am into anything from the philosophy of technology (I actually like and have written on Heidegger..!), Diaspora Studies and Afro Futurism to Poetry & Spoken Word, Feminism, Roots, Dub and Hip Hop music to now of course…Cultural Geography!!

I am always up for collaboration so if anyone would like to work together to make or perform something creative or anything really, please do get in touch.

All the best,


Email: Natalie.Hyacinth.2015@live.rhul.ac.uk

Blog: https://sacredsonix.wordpress.com

Making Suburban Faith Project Website: http://www.makingsuburbanfaith.org


Royal Holloway Science Festival

So it is the beginning of term, and we (as a collective: MA Cultural Research Group) are given our handbooks for the course and timetable for the course ahead. We spend a bit of time flicking casually through the pages, knowing that we have months to complete the course. Zoom forward 6 to 8 months, and little did we know that this time would literally fly! We were under the impression we had a long time to complete our essays let alone the blog-posts and podcasts and other things which we participate in as a fundamental part of the course. We are now about to enter the last teaching week, we have just completed our group podcast, so we thought we’d devote this post to a reflection upon an activity we both got involved with as part of the ‘public geographies’ portion of our course.

In this manner, this post is a joint one, written by the both of us regarding our participation on the 7th of March in the Royal Holloway Science Festival. For those who unaware of what the annual Science festival is, it has been running at RHUL for over 20 years and attracts usually around 4,000 visitors. The Festival is an invitation for schools and the public to come and get involved and (hopefully) be inspired by different aspects of science.

As part of the MA in Cultural Geography we are required to participate in either helping on the Festival, or get involved with Passenger Films; we decided to pick the Science Festival due to our interests in outreach. It is so important to inspire and encourage younger children to take part in days like this to help them understanding that learning is fun – not always the easiest thing to do! Our participation involved the creation a map with the help of Jenny Kynaston for an activity called ‘Where do these animals call home?’. Alongside the production of the map, we purchased some small model animals. This enabled us to make an interactive world – where children (and adults) had fun deciding where in the world each animal came from. There was quite some confusion over our ‘red panda’ – apparently it resembled a fox. Perhaps when it comes to writing the Amazon review on the animals that should be mentioned!

The biogeographical derivations of animals has endured as a research focus in the geographical discipline. It is a fascinating topic, encompassing discussions revolving around issues from evolution and climate change, to species diversity and ecological revolutions. There is an estimation of around 7 million species of animals living on earth today, which makes it an interesting topic not only for us academic scholarship, but also for school children too to consider too. Indeed, It was apparent that the animals captured the imaginations of the children, many of them reminiscing about experiences of zoos, or childrens television programs. Unsurprisingly, the model Giant Panda featured in many recreations of Kung Fu Panda throughout the day! Whilst this is not perhaps ‘our-kind-of-geography’ as cultural geographers, the visitor’s interests in geography was evident through their enjoyed participation in our activity. It was incredibly rewarding to see.
Overall, the day was a success, the sun was shining and everyone seemed to be having a great day, including us. We would most definitely recommend future undergraduate and postgraduate students participate in the annual science festival.

Emma Shenton and Oliver Knight, (MA Cultural Geography, Research). science festival

Sans Dust- Flickr and Instagram as Archives

Hannah Awcock:

Rachel Taylor is is a past member of Landscape Surgery, she completed the MA Cultural Geography last year, and is now working for the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). In this post, she reflects on one of the methodologies she used for her Masters dissertation, online image archives.

Originally posted on Turbulent London:

Rachel Taylor graduated from Royal Holloway’s research-based MA Cultural Geography last year. She is currently working for the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). Her research interests include public engagement with academia, museums, identity politics and how we understand human remains. Here she reflects on online archives, particularly photographic ones, as a research method. The internet is not one of the first things that springs to mind when you think of archives, but it is a valuable resource for academics if we only made use of it. Follow Rachel on Twitter: @mereplacenames

A photo of the British Museum available on Flickr (Source: Alex Roach) A photo of the British Museum available on Flickr. Rachel Taylor used websites such as Flickr and Instagram to analyse visitor behaviour in museums in the research for her Masters dissertation (Source: Alex Loach).

In an age where the most popular ‘camera’ used by Flickr uploaders is the iPhone 4S, it’s time to reconsider photography, contemporary archival methods and…

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LS will continue to meet on Tue. from 2:00 to 4:00pm, but,  please, note room changes:


5 May            Miranda Ward                                                43 Gordon Square, Room Gor 124

                      Bodies of Water


19 May          ​Janet Owen (HRA)                                                          Senate House, SH261

                      Darwin, Wallace and Cultures of Collecting


2 Jun             First-year PhD presentations                                       Senate House, SH261



Regrettably, due to restrictions on space, participation in Landscape Surgery events is by invitation only.

Creating Hackney as Home

Hannah Awcock:

The last Passengerfilms event spoke to the themes of home, identity, and gentrification. Our next event, Bordering Strangeness, will be on the 2nd of April. Check out Twitter and our blog for more details.

Originally posted on passengerfilms:

The Creating Hackney as Home audience (Photo: Ella Harris). The Creating Hackney as Home audience (Photo: Ella Harris).

London is a city of constant change. At the moment, you would be hard pushed to find a run-down or poor area that isn’t going through a process of rapid gentrification and development, and Dalston in Hackney is no exception.  There are constant debates in the media and online about this process, but how young people feel about these changes are often overlooked. The Creating Hackney as Home, a youth-led visual research project into home and belonging at the Open University, aimed to rectify that. 5 young people from Dalston were given training in research methods and film making, and each produced a short film about Dalston as their home as part of the project.

These films were shown at the Creating Hackney as Home event on the 5th of March at the Russet in Hackney, alongside Legacy in the Dust

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Home? My thoughts, feelings and experiences…

“we enter our house through the front door, but enter our home through our slippers” (Bachelard’s 2003:1939).

Home can shift across geographical space, yet it is usually the centre of each person’s universe (Douglas, 1991). This post is going to explore my own, personal associations with ‘home’ and my own experiences with having multiple homes. Geographers have realised that home is essential to everyday life, and is therefore an important site of geographical research (Blunt and Varley, 2004). Domestic space – the home – is an ever growing sub-discipline within geography and due to international migration, the movement and settling of people is also changing, and consequently, so does the theoretical context in which home is placed (Walsh, 2011).

Okay, so to start; I was born in Holland, quite a small country, famous for the stunning scenery, tulips, clogs and windmills. I was born in Groningen, (North) Holland and as my mother is Dutch, I have a Dutch passport: so I am, therefore, Dutch; The Netherlands is my ‘homeland’. I guess I end up with a diasporic identity; which along with material and imagined connections of my childhood means I always feel ‘at home’ in Holland but maintain connections with other places as well (Blunt, 2007).  Whenever I go back to see my family, as I fly in over the coast and land in Amsterdam, I hear the language, see familiar places and I get a warm, fuzzy feeling which makes me happy. A full sensory overload of being ‘at home’ – I like to think this will never go away. I am proud to call Holland home.

Dubai, in contrast to Holland is huge, and with the city comes a variety of connotations of wealth, skyscrapers, beaches and Palm Island; it’s a city that attracts thousands of migrants (and tourists) each year, for a variety of different reasons. Having said this, Dubai also has a negative global image of “gated communities, conspicuous consumption, exploitation of labour and ‘unsustainable’ growth” (Walsh, 2012). Dubai is one of the richest cities in the world, through oil wealth, huge tourist industry and international investment. Due to these circumstances it is a popular destination for expatriates and their families; however, owing to its rapid growth and globalisation, it can be argued that it is a difficult country in which to feel ‘at home’. Expatriate feelings of ‘home’ in Dubai are complex; feelings of belonging, security and everyday-life can be quite different to what people expect. According to Ahmed (1999), a home can be multiple places, which reiterates the expatriate’s idea that ‘home’ is a more complex understanding than just a house which one inhabits.

In Walsh’s study on Home in Dubai; there is a specific interest in how families recreate the feelings of belonging and intimacy through friendships. Walsh (2009) goes on to say that friendships in places such as Dubai are often strong; mainly due to the mutual characteristics and experiences that the expatriates share. People are highly dependent on their relationships with others, and the social ties that are created within an unfamiliar space are vital to feel comfortable and to produce a sense of belonging. Basically, the friends I made really did make me feel ‘at home’ when I was growing-up, which is something I remember fondly about Dubai. Remembering and imagining homelands is common (Blunt, 2007). Home can be a physical location, but also a metaphorical space of emotion and belonging; and this is definitely true in my case, as these are the feelings I get when thinking about Dubai; it will always feel like a home.

I moved back to England when I was 10, I remember feeling quite lost, but of course, those feeling of insecurity soon disappeared when I settled into school and make new friends, and now I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I had similar emotions when I moved away to university to Royal Holloway, University of London: students end up living in two homes with differing qualities,  the parental/familial home; and the temporary student home; new spaces which then become meaningful and important to each one of us through freedom for personalisation and independence (Hinton, 2011 and Thomsen, 2007). The importance of identity, security and self-esteem reiterate that although student housing may be temporary, the feeling of being ‘at home’ and the emotions which surround this are still very important.

I recently, moved again; having lived in university halls in my first year of university, I thought it would be great to live in them again as a ‘post-grad’ – I was quite wrong. From my previous experience in my first year, it was a great social space, designed so you had communal space to be with friends and your own space when needed. Having said this, when you take the ‘social’ out of the communal space, it can become lonely. I’m not afraid to admit that halls can be unsociable, lonely and claustrophobic. Home’ is meant to be a place in which we belong, where we are familiar, a site where we feel at ease and comfortable (Blunt and Dowling, 2006). This was certainly not the case for me for the first few months. So, as all good things start with a dream, I asked my best-friend if she would move out of her halls and live in a house with me… and thankfully, 3 months later; we have a beautiful little house, where I am happy, comfortable, and cozy and I feel safe. Basically, the point I’m trying to make is that as people change, our ‘homely’ needs change as well. Four years ago I was happy in halls, this year the tiny room did not quite meet my expectations, on any level.

A running theme throughout all of these places: Dubai, Holland, my familial home, and university, it is the people I interact with in each space which makes it meaningful and therefore; in part, my home. These people create the feelings which one’s home should illustrate: belonging, comfort, love, and safety; I think this quote from Kaika illustrates this well; “The modern home became constructed not only as a line separating the inside from the outside (a house), but also as the epitome, the spatial inscription of the idea of individual freedom, a place liberated from fear and anxiety, a place supposedly untouched by social, political and natural processes, a place enjoying an autonomous and independent existence: a home” (2004: 266).

-Emma Shenton (MA, Cultural Geography Research)

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RHUL geographers in Chicago


The preliminary programme for the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers has recently been published. The Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London will be strongly represented by both staff and doctoral researchers (detailed below).

Hannah Awcock


The Battle of Cable Street: Space, Place and Protest in London


Geographies of Activism and Protest I — Presenter

Andrea Burris


Discourses of Creativity and the Global Division of Digital Labour


From Online Sweat Shops to Silicon Savannahs (session 2): Geographies of Production in Digital Economies of Low-Income Countries — Presenter

Mike Duggan


Smartphones, places, bodies: location-based services and everyday assemblages of place


Geographies of Media II: Big Data/Technology/Security — Presenter

David Gilbert


Cultures of Consumption and the Financialisation of Urban Space: from ‘Swinging London’ to ‘Carnaby Village’.


The Financialization of City-making: Articulating critical perspectives (2) — Presenter

Ella Harris


IDocs as a Contemporary Imagination of, and a way to Imagine, “The Present”


‘The Present': Session 1 — Presenter
Precarious Geographies (I) Precarious Places: Urban Decline, Welfare and Employment– Organizer
Precarious Geographies (II) Precariously Placed: Migrants, Gender and Sexuality — Chair, Discussant, Organizer
Precarious Geographies (III) Sites of Resistance, Resilience and Response — Organizer

Harriet Hawkins


‘The Interface Envelope’ by James Ash: Author Meets Critics — Panelist
Author meets critics: Derek McCormack’s ‘Refrains for Moving Bodies’ — Discussant
Co-Producing a heuristic conceptualization of curation — Chair, Organizer
Co-Producing a heuristic conceptualization of curation (2) — Organizer
Co-Producing a heuristic conceptualization of curation (3) — Organizer
Is hope radical? Creative methods, experimental politics and diverse adventures in living through environmental change — Chair, Organizer
Presidential Plenary Session: Radical Intra-Disciplinarity — Speaker

Innes M. Keighren


“Consistent neither with candour nor truth”: negotiating authorship and authority in William Macintosh’s “Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa” (1782)


Authorship and Authority: Piracy, Plagiarism, and Truth in Geographical Writing — Organizer, Presenter

Dorothea Kleine


Digital inclusion, female entrepreneurship and the production of neoliberal subjects – views from Chile and Zambia


Digital Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality at the World’s Economic Peripheries — Presenter

Marton Kocsev


From Hub to Hubris – the Liquid Demograpies of the Silicon Savannah


From Online Sweat Shops to Silicon Savannahs (session 2): Geographies of Production in Digital Economies of Low-Income Countries — Presenter

Chen Liu


Making the ideal home with culinary cultures in urban Guangzhou, China


Chinese Urbanism: everyday critical geographies — Presenter

Oli Mould


Function, minority and the event: Towards an urban politics of subversive creativity


The Urban Political at a Time of Late Neoliberalism I: Theorizing the Urban Political — Presenter

Mel Nowicki


‘I see myself as more of an occupier': Squatting as protest in post-criminalisation London


Geographies of Citizenship and Dissent — Presenter
Precarious Geographies (I) Precarious Places: Urban Decline, Welfare and Employment– Chair, Organizer
Precarious Geographies (II) Precariously Placed: Migrants, Gender and Sexuality — Organizer
Precarious Geographies (III) Sites of Resistance, Resilience and Response — Chair, Discussant, Organizer

Alasdair Pinkerton


Remnants of No Man’s Land


Remnants of No Man’s Land: History, theory and excess — Presenter

David Simon


Bearing the Brunt of Environmental Change: gender and other social differentiators within adaptation and transformation challenges in urban Africa


Climate Change Adaptation and Gender — Presenter
Development Geographies: Looking Forward — Panelist
Geographies of Resilience 4: Cultural Perspectives on Everyday Resilience: Contributions from Geography — Discussant

Rachael Squire


“Man in the Sea”: The Geopolitics of UnderseaTerrain


Terrain 2 — Presenter

Pip Thornton


The Meaning of Light: Seeing and Being on the Battlefield


Terrain 2 — Presenter

Miranda Ward


Bodies of Water


Exercise and environment: new geographies of the exercise experience 2 — Presenter

Mapping Diasporas: Goad, Pervititch and the Survey of Egypt

On Tuesday, February 17th we had the pleasure to have with us Dr George Vassiadis from the History Department. George started his appointment as a Lecturer in Modern Greek History at RHUL in 2014 and he is also an executive member of the Hellenic Institute, an interdisciplinary research centre for the study of Greek history and culture. His research focuses in part on the Greek diaspora in Egypt and Turkey.

Here are some post-LS reflections by George.


I was invited to Landscape Surgery to talk about using maps as a source for my ongoing research into the social, political and economic history of the Greek communities in Turkey and Egypt between the 1850s and the 1960s.  Minority groups in the successor states of the Ottoman Empire were negatively affected by the violent upheavals of the twentieth century. Although there are still small numbers of Greeks in Turkey and Egypt, they are struggling to survive as viable communities. Maps provide us with one of the most immediate visual and documentary testimonies of their presence in cities where the host cultures have now come to predominate.

Key Secteur Nord Vol IIIa 1926-27 Pervititch   Alexandria 1944 Survey of E sheet 20

Using specific examples, I showed how the maps produced by Charles E. Goad (1848-1910), Jacques Pervititch (1877-1945) and the largely anonymous cartographers and surveyors of the British-run Survey of Egypt (extant from 1898 to 1960) serve as invaluable aids for tracking the urban presence of non-Muslim minority communities, both indigenous and foreign, in Constantinople (Istanbul), Smyrna (Izmir), Alexandria and Cairo. The ethnic groups involved include Greeks, as well as Armenians, Jews, Syrians, and Levantines of western and central European origin.

Goad Charles E 1879 Vancouver Archives

The beautifully drawn and coloured Goad and Pervititch maps were originally produced for the fire insurance industry. Until recently, very little was known about the motivations and working methods of these two important cartographers.  Goad had a flourishing fire insurance plan business in Canada, yet he chose to map four Ottoman cities. Pervititch’s maps are highly idiosyncratic, the inspired output of a first-generation Constantinopolitan who strongly identified with his adoptive city. Although initially aimed at producing a detailed record of land tenure for taxation purposes, the Survey of Egypt left a rich cartographic legacy which far exceeds its original administrative requirements.

Pervititch Jacques

Until now, I tended to study these maps in isolation. Preparing for the Landscape Surgery highlighted the value of a more comparative approach. The interesting and thought-provoking discussion which followed raised a number of significant points.  Can the personalities and professional working methods of Goad and Pervititch tell us more about the maps they produced? We know that these maps were originally produced for commercial and administrative purposes.  But did people interact with them in different ways at the time? Have these maps now been wholly reappropriated by historians and cultural geographers?  Should we treat them as cultural artifacts?  When looking at these maps, how do we trace the physical presence of the people we are seeking?

George Vassiadis, Lecturer in Modern Greek History, RHUL

Precarious Geographies workshop, 10th February, 11 Bedford Square, sponsored by the Royal Holloway Social & Cultural Geography Group (organised and convened by Ella Harris and Mel Nowicki)

Featured image

Keynote Speakers Hannah Lewis, Louise Waite and James Rhodes 


On Tuesday 10th February at 11 Bedford Square, Ella Harris and Mel Nowicki ran a workshop, kindly sponsored by the Social & Cultural Geography Group here at Royal Holloway, exploring the theme of ‘Precarious Geographies’. The day was divided into two parts. The first consisted of two keynote talks: Hannah Lewis and Louise Waite from the University of Leeds discussing their ‘Precarious Lives project, and James Rhodes from the Sociology department at the University of Manchester exploring urban decline in Youngstown, Ohio.  The second part of the day consisted of seven short (5 minute) presentations, in which presenters outlined their work, followed by in-depth discussion of the topics raised.

Precarious Geographies is an ongoing project of ours, and follows on from the Landscape Surgery session we led on the same theme last November. This workshop was the first of a series of sessions relating to Precarious Geographies that we are running throughout 2015. On 23rd April we will be convening three sessions at the AAG Annual Meeting in Chicago, and in September will be convening a UGRG-sponsored session at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference on ‘Urban Precarities’.

The Precarious Geographies project was born out of a discussion around our own PhD research, and the realisation that precarity of place was a concurrent theme in both of our work.

Mel’s research broadly assesses the impact of Coalition housing policy on inner London residents, with a particular focus on the under-occupation penalty, or ‘bedroom tax’, and the criminalisation of squatting as key case studies. Precarity runs throughout Mel’s research in relation to how housing policy targets the precaritization of the homespaces of particular societal figures, namely social tenants and squatters. Mel is particularly interested in the ways in which this precaritization becomes normalised through housing policy being framed as morally just, feeding into an ongoing ‘deserving vs. undeserving poor’ rhetoric in the UK.

Ella’s work looks at geographies of pop-up places in London.  She is specifically interested in the spatiotemporal logics of pop-up culture and their instrumentality within the city. For Ella, precarity comes into this in multifaceted ways. Pop-up can be seen as a phenomenon framed by precarity, given that it has been strongly promoted as a way to tackle post-recession urban decline, valued as a solution to vacancy rates on high streets and a way to utilise interim sites awaiting development. But pop-up capitalises on this precarity by turning uncertain urbanisms into an opportunity for commercial enterprise. And in turn the normalisation of pop-up instigates and solidifies precarity for others in various ways. For example, pop-up entrepreneurship can become a substitute for funding, training and employment opportunities, and pop-up culture has sinister implications when translated beyond the commercial arena – where it becomes pop-up council housing, or pop-up legal aid clinics – undermining structural provision of support.

Whilst there has been an important and growing body of work in geography that considers precarity in relation to the labour market, spearheaded by academics such as Louise Waite (2009), we feel that precarity as a concept would be a really useful tool in other areas of geography as well, and that there is much to be gained from a focused interrogation of the ways in which precarity is spatialized. This and future sessions seek to extend the existing conversations around precarity, and in particular to further tease out the many and varied relationships between precarity and place.

Below we briefly outline the presentations given, both by our keynote speakers and our short-paper presenters.

Drs Hannah Lewis and Louise Waite, (Critical Geography Research Fellow & Senior Lecturer, University of Leeds): ‘Precarious Lives’ project

Hannah Lewis and Louise Waite got the day off to a fascinating start in their keynote talk on their ongoing ESRC funded ‘Precarious Lives’ project. Alongside their colleagues Peter Dwyer and Stuart Hodkinson, Hannah and Louise have been exploring the experiences of forced labour among asylum seekers and refugees in England. Recent outputs of the project include a book entitled Precarious lives: Forced labour, exploitation and asylum, and a journal article in Progress in Human Geography, ‘Hyper-precarious lives: Migrants, work and forced labour in the Global North’.

In their keynote talk, Hannah and Louise discussed forced migration and precarity of labour as a normalised outcome of neoliberalism, globalisation and austerity, and cautioned against understanding precarity as an exceptional state. They highlighted the multi-dimensional insecurities experienced by refugees and asylum seekers in forced labour. This condition, termed ‘hyper-precarity’, sees a continuum of exploitation that is defined not only through labour conditions, but is compounded through various aspects of the migrant’s journey into forced labour, from dangerous homelands to border trafficking, to the hostility experienced when arriving in the UK.

Hannah and Louise emphasized the difficulties faced in mobilising those experiencing hyper-precarity due to their fear of deportation and their fragmentation and isolation as a group. They did however suggest that a useful way of using precarity as a potential tool for resistance and change may be through linking migrant exploitation to broader instances of exploitation occurring throughout the labour markets of the Global North, for example zero-hour contracts.

James Rhodes (Lecturer in Sociology, University of Manchester): Shrinking cities, urban marginality and socio-spatial inequalities

The second keynote talk was given by James Rhodes, a Sociologist from the University of Manchester. Although not a Geographer by trade, James’ presentation offered a captivating insight into the spatialities of precarity in Youngstown, Ohio which has lost over 60% of its population since 1950, seen drastic declines in employment levels, and experienced falls in house prices so severe that residents sometimes simply cut their losses and walk away. As James described, Youngstown has lost urban density to the point where many areas of the city are food deserts (where no fresh food is sold within a mile) and streets which used to be lined with houses are now only sparsely populated. James considered the production of precarity in Youngtown as relating to a convergence of concentrated disadvantage, high vacancy and demolition rates and the development of insecurity as a structure of feeling. However, his presentation also questioned whether precarity is a forceful enough term to describe the situation in Youngstown. If precarity implies being in-between or on the edge then how can it account for the unremitting deprivation of such a place? Having raised this provocation, James considered precarity as relational and subjective and opened up fascinating questions about the role which imagined geographies play in structuring experiences of precarity, suggesting that desired or remembered places function as bench marks against which present realities are measured.

Mara Ferreri (Research Assistant, Queen Mary’s, University of London): Temporary, Precarious

The first short presentation was from Mara Ferreri, a research assistant at Queen Mary’s University. Mara’s presentation considered the complex precarities of temporary occupations of space including pop-up shops and property guardianship schemes. Describing the rise of policy around temporary use and its instrumentality in delivering social regeneration, Mara positioned pop-up as paradigmatic of neoliberal urbanism and as increasingly entrenched in the ways we imagine future cities. She suggested that temporary urbanisms can be sites of resilience for creative practitioners despite their neoliberal affiliations, and explored tensions between imaginaries of neo-bohemianism and flexibility and the underlying precarities which typify temporary use. Mara ended by questioning what alternatives and forms of resistances to precarity might be emerging, and where we might locate alternative urban futures.

Alexander Proudfoot (Undergraduate Geographer, Oxford University): Solidarity in Precarity

Alexander Proudfoot presented research he has conducted into precarious employment in London as an area where multiple forms of precarious labour exist in close proximity and precarity is growing in the aftermath of financial crisis. He research involved interviewing untenured academics, retail workers and business-service interns and looked to question whether solidarity existed amongst precarious labourers, testing the applicability of Guy Standing’s assertions that such workers are forming a new social class, ‘the precariat.’

Alex explored the different ways in which precarity is experienced across these diverse sectors of work and argued that precarity is often seen as a necessary stage in building towards future aspirations, in particular noting a narrative of “short term pain for long term gain” amongst interns. Alex concluded that although commonalities exist across precarious work, experiences are ultimately diverse and solidarity is rarely felt given the individualistic nature of work in post-fordist, neoliberal labour regimes. His presentation contested the utility of ‘the precariat’ given these realities of neoliberal work.

Ruth Solomons, (Practiced based PhD candidate, Birkbeck, University of London): 2008-2010: The ‘First Phase’ of Artists in Balfron Tower

Ruth Solomons described her experience as one of the “pioneer phase” of artists occupying the Balfron Tower in east London where in 2014 Turner Prize nominee Catherine Yass controversially proposed to drop a piano from the tower, prompting a series of media articles which questioned the ethics of making art in council estates. Ruth’s presentation explored tensions between the deployment of artists for the ‘art washing’ and gentrification of the tower and the precarity of the artists themselves as paying occupants of properties deemed unfit for habitation. She documented worsening conditions for artists across each ‘phase’ of artist occupancy, but also emphasised that her own experience was in many ways positive and that she lived harmoniously among the tower’s existing residents. She raised interesting issues around how the realities of artists’ lives and practices might be negated in narratives of art washing.

Andrew Wallace (Senior Lecturer, University of Lincoln): Regeneration of Salford

Returning to ideas around urban decline and renewal, Andrew Wallace explored the impacts of regeneration practices in Salford as a peripheral, deindustrialised UK city which has seen a barrage of renewal schemes in recent years, bolstered by the infamous relocation of parts of the BBC to the area. Andrew outlined Salford as a deprived area struck badly by austerity and explored how precarity is commonly experienced as an anxiety over the security of private property amidst high levels of crime.

Andrew’s paper drew out tensions between gentrification, abandonment and renewal. He positioned residents of Salford as enveloped within a ‘chaotic alliance’ of projects within which they are subject to multiple place re-brandings yet remain unsupported on the level of service and housing provision, illuminating how regeneration schemes can make residents feel in limbo yet do little to alleviate local problems.

Dr Andrew Burridge, (Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter): “Where is your solicitor?” Unrepresented hearings and precarious geographies of legal aid in UK asylum appeals

Andrew’s presentation was based on ethnographic research conducted between July 2013 and July 2014, which included daily observations of first tier asylum appeals hearings at Immigration and Asylum Chambers Tribunal (IAC) hearing centres. A particularly concerning realisation emerging from his research has been the high frequency of unrepresented hearings in certain regions of the UK. In these hearings judges are expected to take on an ‘enabling’ role, yet with little clear guidance, while asylum seekers are left to defend themselves against the Home Office. At some hearing centres over a quarter of hearings have no legal representative present, a clearly spatialized precarity that has left some regions of the UK ‘legal deserts’, where the chances of a successful hearing are severely reduced by a lack of representation. Indeed, success rates for asylum seekers are typically below five per cent when unrepresented.

Andrew drew on Waite’s (2009) call for a critical geography of precarity, in which she identifies instability, lack of protection, insecurity, and social and economic vulnerability as central components, and considered whether precarity is helpful in understanding the position of asylum seekers against the broader impacts of cuts to effective legal representation, and uneven geographies of access to legal advice and support.

Dr Geoff Deverteuil, (Senior Lecturer, University of Cardiff): Precarity and violence

Geoff’s paper explored the relationship between precarity and violence, where violence is defined as “…individual, group, or institutional actions, or a consequence of the dominant social relations, that inhibits self-development and self-expression of individuals or communities’’. Geoff proposed three forms of violence – interpersonal, structural and mass intentional – and explained how precarious populations are both receptors and agents of precarity; they both experience violence but also have the potential to inflict it on each other.

Geoff also considered precarity as a medium through which violence becomes institutionalised; a slow-moving violence that is inherent in the everyday lives of particular populations. He emphasised that precarity and violence have a distinctly geographical relationship, and that space and place have both passive and active roles to play.

Dr Menah Raven-Ellison, (Queen Mary’s, University of London, & Senior Occupational Therapist): Negotiating homes beyond the detention centre: Experiences of asylum seeking women

Menah’s paper was based on qualitative research undertaken for her PhD on the experiences of women who have been detained and then released from UK Immigration Removal Centres. Her presentation highlighted that, even after women are released from spaces of detention, they continue to negotiate multiple and fluctuating boundaries in relation to subjective accounts of home and belonging post-detention. Menah argued that the experiences of ex-detained women are best understood within a discourse of precarity. She suggested that the ‘state of precarity’ implicit within narratives of detention can seep into and define the everyday geographies of home beyond release, with erosive impacts on the mental wellbeing and sense of belonging for ex-detained women. For these women, the discrimination they experienced in the detention centre followed them into other forms of homespace. For them, the borderlands of the home and the state were highly blurred in their everyday experiences, through continued surveillance and ongoing experiences of discrimination.

Menah suggested that precarity itself is strategically employed by the state through geopolitical interventions in the name of security and immigration enforcement which are played out in part within (in)secure spaces of home with implications for feelings of safety, belonging, and gendered identities.

Concluding remarks

All the presentations were well received and sparked a really interesting and lively afternoon of debate and discussion, with many provocative and insightful questions from attendees. Particular issues which came into focus were;

  • The utility of ‘the precariat’ as a concept
  • The temporalities of precarity – including the challenges of thinking through slow moving violence and crisis
  • ‘Deserts’ as a type of precarious geography, including food deserts and legal deserts
  • The subjectivity of precarity and the roles played by imaginative geographies of place in experiences of precarity
  • The recurrence of narratives around ‘short term pain for long term gain’
  • The ways in which precarity is made structural, with a particular focus on the relationships between structural precarity, ‘investor ready cities’ and ‘the temporary city’ as the model for the future

Overall we felt that the workshop as a great success and were really excited by the ideas and questions which emerged. There was a fantastic energy all afternoon and we are very grateful to all the speakers and attendees for their enthusiasm and their contributions to the debate.

In particular we would like to thank Phil Crang and the Social and Cultural Geography Group at Royal Holloway for enabling the event through their generous provision of funding, as well as all of our key note speakers and short paper presenters for their fascinating presentations.

Ella Harris and Mel Nowicki


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