Linguistic Geographies

titleI have recently started a research blog which I have called Linguistic Geographies. I’ve been meaning to do it for a while, but some comments I received after the Landscape Surgery first year presentations last week spurred me into action, and already the act of creating my own small space on the world wide web has thrown up an interesting conundrum: how do you get your site indexed by Google without actually signing up to/in to Google? Much of my research involves being as ‘clean’ of what I might start calling ‘google residue’ as I can, and for that reason I don’t have a Gmail account or signed in searches. I have experimented with Google Adwords, but keep that to my laptop, leaving my desktop as ‘google neutral’ as possible.

But resisting the charmingly convenient yet data hungry ministrations of the googlebots is proving an existential challenge. I can’t ‘submit my URL’ to Google, or use any analytical or webmaster tools without creating an account, and as result of this, the google spiders are steadfastly refusing to crawl in my direction. A Google search on Linguistic Geographies currently only returns several references to Linguistics projects relating to the geographies of language and dialect, and does not yet pick up on my blog, despite it being a link-heavy WordPress site.

I’m going to be patient and leave it for a while and see what happens. I know page rankings on Google are measured in part by the outgoing and incoming links between pages, so I will try to establish my presence that way.

In the meantime, I am happy to exist in the realms of the blogosphere and hopefully the other search engines which don’t force me to give up my data in return for a web presence. I will keep an eye on the search results, and will perhaps be able to work out what it is that finally prompts the googlebots to stop ignoring me, if they ever do, that is. Wish me luck (and links)!

Upcoming Event! Materials of Madness, June 23rd.

Hannah Awcock:

The next Passengerfilms event is coming up on the 23rd of June, it looks set to be a great evening, don’t miss out!

Originally posted on passengerfilms:


Our next event on June 23rd seeks to explore the materialities of mental illness. The event features David Cronenberg’s psychological thriller Spider (2002), staring Ralph Fiennes and Miranda Richardson. The film reveals the intricate and confusing webs of bodies, objects and place which can be symptomatic of schizophrenia, blurring the line between fact and fiction and shattering both mind and body.

The event will include short talks and a panel discussion including Dr. Andrea Sabbadini, a practising psychoanalyst who is also Director of the European Psychoanalytic Film Festival, Prof Steve Pile, professor of Human Geography at the Open University and co-editor of Psychoanalytic Geographies (2014), Dr Felicity Callard (Durham), Reader in Social Science and Medical Humanities and Director of Hubbub (The Hub at Wellcome Collection), and Michael J. Flexer, PhD Candidate at the Leeds University Centre for Medical Humanities, studying cross-disciplinary representations of schizophrenia.

The event is…

View original 25 more words

RHUL Geographers at the ICHG


From 5 to 10 July, London will be host to the 16th International Conference of Historical Geographers. A number of Royal Holloway geographers have been involved in the organisation of the conference, not least Felix Driver, Chair of the Local Organising Committee.  Veronica della Dora and Innes M. Keighren have, additionally, served on the Conference Advisory Group.

Ten geographers from the department—a combination of doctoral students, staff, and Honorary Research Associates—will present papers across a range of different sessions (and take a lead in two of the mid-conference study visits).

Role Session Paper
Arends Bergit Chair Field experiments: collaborative practices in art and environment (2)
Arends Bergit Convenor Field experiments: collaborative practices in art and environment (2)
Arends Bergit Chair Field experiments: collaborative practices in art and environment (1)
Arends Bergit Convenor Field experiments: collaborative practices in art and environment (1)
Awcock Hannah Author Contesting the capital: Historical geographies of protest in London London calling: The Capital as a focus of protest and dissent
Awcock Hannah Convenor Contesting the capital: Historical geographies of protest in London
Bide Bethan Author Materiality and historical geography (1) Unravelling the Fabric of the City: Using Worn Clothing to Narrate London Lives
della Dora Veronica Author Topographies of piety: maps, texts, icons and pilgrimage (2) Topographies of Piety and Optics of Truth: Vasilij Grigorovich Barskij’s Pilgrimages to Mt Athos (1725-1745)
della Dora Veronica Chair Topographies of piety: Maps, texts, icons and pilgrimage (1)
della Dora Veronica Chair Geographies of religion
della Dora Veronica Convenor Topographies of piety: Maps, texts, icons and pilgrimage (1)
della Dora Veronica Convenor Topographies of piety: maps, texts, icons and pilgrimage (2)
Driver Felix Chair The material image: the photographic archive in circulation
Driver Felix Chair Welcome and introduction to the ICHG
Driver Felix Convenor The material image: the photographic archive in circulation
Driver Felix Convenor British Academy geography lecture: Who reads geography or history anymore? The challenge of audience in a digital age
Driver Felix Convenor Welcome and introduction to the ICHG
Driver Felix Chair Making and mobilising collections
Driver Felix Chair Geography and enlightenment
Driver Felix Convenor Business meeting and close of conference
Haines Liz Author Institutional geographies of the photograph: Aesthetics, circulation and affect (2) Pseudo-photogrammetry and the touristic imagination
Haines Liz Author Materiality and historical geography (2) When form becomes content: drawing historical narrative from the paper of paper records
Haines Liz Convenor Institutional geographies of the photograph: Aesthetics, circulation and affect (2)
Haines Liz Convenor Institutional geographies of the photograph: Aesthetics, circulation and affect (1)
Keighren Innes Author Mobility and empire (1) William Macintosh’s Travels: colonial mobility and the circulation of knowledge
Keighren Innes Chair Geographical knowledge and ignorance
Owen Janet Author Making and mobilising collections Fuegian Face-paints and Papuan Wood-carvings: Moments of collecting by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace
Rooney David Author Architectures of hurry: Mobilities and modernity in urban environments (1) Technologies of Segregation on the Streets of East London
Santana Noeme Author Institutional geographies of the photograph: Aesthetics, circulation and affect (1) The S. Pearson & Son Malta Albums: institutional and corporate image(s)
Santana Noeme Author The material image: the photographic archive in circulation Materiality, corporate structure and global business: understanding and contextualising the Pearson photographic archive
Santana Noeme Convenor The material image: the photographic archive in circulation



University of Exeter. Venue of the 2015 RGS-IBG Annual International Conference.

University of Exeter. Venue for the 2015 RGS-IBG Annual International Conference.

The Department of Geography will be well represented at this year’s RGS-IBG Annual International Conference in September. All told, 19 Royal Holloway geographers—MA students, PhD candidates, postdoctoral researchers, and members of staff—will be in attendance, presenting more than 20 papers in a diverse range of sessions (detailed below).




Adey Peter Reimagining the mobility transition Thinking through the mobility transition
Adey Peter Reimagining the mobility transition
Adey Peter Surveilling Global Space
Arends Bergit Suspending the Anthropocene (1) Impasse, Lost Futures, Déjà vu Déjà-vu: the Anthropocene in the registers of contemporary artists
Boxall Katie Geographies of Amateur Creativities: Spaces, Practices and Experiences (1)
Boxall Katie Geographies of Amateur Creativities: Spaces, Practices and Experiences (1)
Boxall Katie Geographies of Amateur Creativities: Spaces, Practices and Experiences (2)
Cook Simon Current and emerging research in transport (1): Active travel and commuting Towards active travel beyond walking and cycling: the potential of run-commuting for transport geography
Cook Simon Geographies of Sport (1): Everyday sport Towards a geography of everyday sport: blurring boundaries, finding opportunities
Cook Simon Geographies of Sport (2): Everyday sport
Cook Simon Geographies of Sport (2): Everyday sport
Cook Simon Geographies of Sport (1): Everyday sport
Eades Gwilym Determinism, environment and geopolitics: an interdisciplinary conversation Roundtable Open Discussion
Eken Evren Knowledge, governmentality and power Governmentality, Geopolitics and Procedural Rhetoric in Video Games: A Practice Based Methodological Toolkit
Gilbert David The field formerly known as Urban Studies? (2) Rethinking the urban through its new manifestations Without the City? Suburbia’s central place in rethinking the urban
Gilbert David Geographies of Amateur Creativities: Spaces, Practices and Experiences (2) Making suburban faith: creativity and material culture in faith communities in West London
Gilby Ben The Contemporary Growth of Regional Identity in Europe (2): Regional Culture: Distinctiveness, Performance & Tradition
Gilby Ben The Contemporary Growth of Regional Identity in Europe (1): Trends In Devolution & Independence
Gilby Ben The Contemporary Growth of Regional Identity in Europe (1): Trends In Devolution & Independence
Harris Ella Producing Urban Life: Fragility and Socio-Cultural Infrastructures (3) Radical Infrastructures The Artworks: Maintaining Uncertain Urbanisms
Harris Ella Future Fossils? Specimens from the 5th millennium “Return to Earth” expedition (2): From slum fragments to shattered hard drives Container Architectures: Human Settlement Transformations in the Anthropocene
Harris Ella Urban Precarities (1): Precarity and urban imaginaries in declining, derelict and unregulated spaces
Harris Ella Urban Precarities (2): Precarity in Urban Places of Work and Residence: Experiences and Resistances
Hunt Mia Urban Precarities (2): Precarity in Urban Places of Work and Residence: Experiences and Resistances Politics and practice in the corner shop: The compound precarity of ad hoc retailing
Hunt Mia Attentive Geographies: materials, processes, creations (1) Knowing and Feeling: Practicing visual and material cultures in the corner shop
Hyacinth Natalie Geographies of Amateur Creativities: Spaces, Practices and Experiences (2) Making suburban faith: creativity and material culture in faith communities in West London
Kleine Dorothea Development’s pasts and futures: A critical dialogue between (Latin American) Area Studies and Geography, Panel Session Panel Discussion
Nikolaeva Anna Reimagining the mobility transition A “Quirky project” or an “Industry”? Challenges of imagining a mobility transition
Nikolaeva Anna Reimagining the mobility transition
Nowicki Mel Urban Precarities (1): Precarity and urban imaginaries in declining, derelict and unregulated spaces
Nowicki Mel Urban Precarities (2): Precarity in Urban Places of Work and Residence: Experiences and Resistances
Nowicki Mel Urban Precarities (2): Precarity in Urban Places of Work and Residence: Experiences and Resistances
Sheargold Robert The Contemporary Growth of Regional Identity in Europe (2): Regional Culture: Distinctiveness, Performance & Tradition
Sheargold Robert The Contemporary Growth of Regional Identity in Europe (2): Regional Culture: Distinctiveness, Performance & Tradition
Sheargold Robert The Contemporary Growth of Regional Identity in Europe (1): Trends In Devolution & Independence
Squire Rachael Wet Geographies III (2): Water-worlds – Wet Geographies Panel Discussion Wet Geographies III: Water-worlds – Wet Geographies Panel Discussion
Squire Rachael Wet Geographies I: Under the Sea: Geographies of the Deep
Squire Rachael Wet Geographies I: Under the Sea: Geographies of the Deep
Thornton Pip Algorithmic Practices: Emergent interoperability in the everyday (2) Language in the Age of Algorithmic Reproduction
Ward Miranda Geographies of Sport (1): Everyday sport Towards a geography of everyday sport: blurring boundaries, finding opportunities
Ward Miranda Geographies of Sport (2): Everyday sport
Ward Miranda Geographies of Sport (1): Everyday sport
Ward Miranda Geographies of Sport (1): Everyday sport
White Rosanna Wet Geographies I: Under the Sea: Geographies of the Deep Ceremonies of Possession: Performing sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic
Wood Astrid Reimagining the mobility transition Moving forward by looking backward: Reimagining the mobility transition in the UK
Wood Astrid Reimagining the mobility transition

Making Space for Diasporas and the Sacred

Diaspora is an intrinsically geographical phenomenon. Diasporas can be studied as historical or political occurrences, as expressions of national, religious or cultural otherness, or as sociological and anthropological phenomena.  When combined with a diachronicity which stretches from the dawn of recorded history to the present day, this amazing diversity gives rise to endless possibilities for interdisciplinary research and discussion. As with diaspora, religion and the sacred implicate space and shape geographical imaginations. Are experiences of the sacred changing in our globalized world? Is it possible to find new vocabularies to talk about diaspora and sacred space? Is it desirable?


The Greek church of St Anna in Ancona, Italy

front1 (1)

    The Leng Noei Yi temple in Bangkok’s Chinatown (photo by Tawirat Songmuang)

Yesterday HARC sponsored a double postgraduate workshop on the themes of diaspora and sacred space, organised in collaboration with the History and Geography Departments and the Hellenic Institute. The event brought together PhD and MA students from History, Geography, Music, English and Politics to share their research and reflect how diasporic identities, faith and geography interact at different scales, through different spaces and media and in different historical contexts.

The morning session focussed on the concept of diaspora with case studies including the sixteenth-century Greek community of Ancona (Italy), a Greek printer in seventeenth-century London and Constantinople, the role of religion in shaping and maintaining diasporic Chinese identities in Thailand, the experiences of North Korean refugees in China and South Korea, Iranian identities in London and Vancouver, and transnational / translocal music in NE Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The afternoon session explored a wide range of ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ sacred spaces ranging in scale from the domestic spaces of contemporary English suburbia and Victorian ‘houses of mercy’ to the concept of the forest as understood by the ancient Greeks and medieval Christians. The boundaries of sacred were further pushed to encompass non-religious spaces, such as secular buildings with Holocaust connections, and the space of the German nation as articulated in nineteenth-century music.

The event was led by George Vassiadis (History) and Veronica della Dora (Geography) and respondents were Charalambos Dendrinos (History), Henry Stobart (Music) and Agnes Wooley (English). Kim Burton, Laura Cuch, Niccolò Fattori, Benedick Felderhof, David Gilbert, Stephanie Hesz Wood, Kit Kembell, Jae-Young Kim, Nil Pektas, Tawirat Songmurang, Priya Vadi, and Susan Woodall presented.



Photo by Laura Cuch (from Making Suburban Faith)

Pictures and Thoughts on Writing and Pictures

unnamed (1) unnamedBackwards Drawings: pages 18 and 19 and plate 13 from Russian Icons (by David Talbot Rice) ink and watercolour on paper

Text can be understood as image when it cannot be ‘read’ in the way that we understand letters to make words, and words to make sentences. Text becomes a series of lines and shapes when it cannot be processed by the reader in the way that the writer had intended. When looking at Arabic, Chinese or Greek text, I understand that there is meaning present in the form of the ‘words’, but I don’t have the key be able to process this meaning as language. Instead, I discover meaning elsewhere; I create in my mind an image-poem.

Backwards text from pages 18 and 19 of Russian Icons (by David Talbot Rice) shown above is an ink drawing of a piece of writing that considers how we read Eastern Iconography. If you were to look carefully enough and could read backwards, you would find the following sentence within the text:

‘….in (Russian) iconography, a distant and purely Eastern system of arrangement is followed, where scenes are built up from right to left, not from left to right. In the Annunciation, for instance, the angel approaches from the right side and not from the left, as it does in Western and in true Byzantine art. In the West, in fact, scenes move from left to right, like the writing; in East they move from right to left, as does the Arabic script…’

‘…In order to appreciate an Eastern painting to the full, we should therefore try to look at it from right to left, rather than from left to right, as we naturally tend to do even if we do not realise it’.

We tend to translate images instinctively, understanding them visually rather than verbally, generating meaning in a way that makes sense to us. It is interesting to consider text in the same way: ingesting it visually, not literarily. Through the ‘translation’ of a section of printed text into a reverse-drawing, it is presented as image and therefore ‘read’ in a very different way. However, the viewer will recognise that the drawing is written text, and, with the time or inclination (and a mirror?), it could be read as the author had intended.

Plate 13 from Russian Icons (by David Talbot Rice) (the image accompanying the reverse-drawing) has also been copied from the book and painted in reverse. Unlike with the written text, the audience is unlikely to realise this. As with an abstract painting that is hung upside down, it might feel wrong, but is it possible to know that is not the right way up? And what might this mean for understanding and knowledge that is gained through the visual?

By Alice Ladenburg

NB: This work was recently selected for HOAX – an independent, artist-led project providing a space in print and online to show all forms of creative work incorporating text alongside each other without prejudice or predefined “rules” about the look, format, content or execution of the work’. See their website for more information.


Bodies of Water


Photo Credit: fanirfanfan via Compfight cc

Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of presenting some of my research to Landscape Surgery. My talk was based on a paper that was read out on my behalf at this year’s AAG annual meeting, as I couldn’t be there myself, so it was wonderful to get feedback on the ideas and engage in discussion with the group.

The title of the session was ‘Bodies of Water: discomfort, unpleasantness, and the complex materialities of the indoor swimming pool.’ My PhD research explores the geographies of lap swimming and the convergence of bodies, materialities, and practices of the indoor swimming pool. In this talk I focused on the materialities of everyday lap swimming practice, with a particular emphasis on elements which may provoke anxiety or discomfort in swimmers: water, chlorine, hair, plasters, snot, sweat, mould…


“the lifeguards at the pool…remind you of the thin line between waving and drowning” (Deakin 2000: 3)
Photo Credit: laszlo-photo via Compfight cc

Thematic points of discussion included:

  • The pool as landscape/what happens when your landscape is effectively reduced to 25 metres of tiled floor?
  • Ideas of comfort/discomfort in the context of exercise and the body (and the sites/environments where this takes place)
  • The role that individual experience, memory, mood, association play on perception of material components / vice versa
  • Ideas around enclosure and intrusion

It was a real privilege to be part of the stimulating discussion that followed the talk, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to present and think through some of my work in such a generous environment. Thanks to all who attended and contributed!

If you’re curious, you can read more about my research here, or visit my research blog.

– Miranda Ward (PhD candidate)


Work cited

Deakin, R. (2000), Waterlog, London: Vintage

A Week in Leipzig: From censored punk portraits to Johann Sebastian Bach’s motets on Saturday afternoon, 18 April 2015

view from Zweckverband Abfallwirtschaft Westsachsen waste deposit site, April 2015

View from Zweckverband Abfallwirtschaft Westsachsen waste deposit site, April 2015

April 2015

April 2015

I had spent time over the Easter break with the family at my parents’ place in Eastern Frisia on the Dutch-German border (I am German, from the former West). My train ride to Leipzig took me on a journey from West to East starting at Emden via Oldenburg, Bremen, Hannover, Magdeburg, and Halle, to Leipzig in the former German Democratic Republic. Leipzig has been very visibly renovated since the ‘Wende’ in 1989, a term for the reunification that has crept into everyday use but is criticized by some as a flawed term in as much as it implies some form of restoration. For others that time of change is characterized as the Friedliche Revolution (Peaceful Revolution).[i] This study trip afforded me insights into the city’s complex past beyond the recently gilded and contemporary glassy facades.

My doctoral research, provisionally entitled ‘Experimental Fields: Curating Art and Environment Projects in the Age of the Anthropocene’ considers the relationships between humans and the natural environment with particular attention to field and expeditionary practices, to the co-production of knowledge, and to re-enactment.

One of my case studies is the photographic album ‘Kohle unter Magdeborn’ (Coal beneath Magdeborn), 1976, by photographer Nguyen The Thuc (b. 1949 in Nam Dinh, Vietnam). During the time of the German Democratic Republic he documented the environmental and the social impacts of the intensifying coal mining in Espenhain, near Leipzig. The historic village of Magdeborn was only one of many swallowed up by the expanding open-pit brown coal mine, but seemed to have attracted the most attention. Its around 3500 inhabitants were decanted to nearby villages or the newly-built ‘Plattenbauten’, buildings made from prefabricated concrete slabs, on the outskirts of Leipzig. Thuc accompanied this process over a period of a few months, creating a unique documentation of the bulldozed buildings and the displaced life.

The Espenhain surface mine scored deeply into the landscape to unearth the crumbly brown coal between 1937 and 1994 and was closed after having extracted coal to depths of 60 to 100 m. The site was transformed into the Störmthaler See, which began to be flooded in 2003, creating a lake with a sailing and other leisure facilities. The re-cultivated area and its futuristic landscaping was photographed last year by Leipzig-based photographer Christiane Eisler. Both artists, Thuc and Eisler, were educated at the famous Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts or Hochschule for Grafik und Buchkunst (HGB), where they studied photography. My attention was drawn to the Magdeborn project by Thuc and the retake by Eisler through the exhibition ‘Freundschaftsantiqua’, curated by Julia Blume and Heidi Stecker for the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, which marked 250 years of the school in 2014. The curatorial proposition was to show works by foreign students at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig as a much neglected chapter of international art in the GDR, with a special focus on photography. Interestingly these students often worked on themes that were not officially recognized or were subversive, selecting themes that were taboo in the GDR at the time.[ii]

You can see some works and exhibition installation shots here Freundschaftsantiqua

Thuc documented the people of Magdeborn. A lot of the inhabitants had small holdings, and Thuc recorded details of their everyday lives, their festivities, and their religious celebrations. His photographs became particularly poignant knowing that it was forbidden to talk about the process of ‘decanting’ and the problems of environmental transformation and of pollution. In fact, religious groups in particular started to draw attention to the toxic environments around Leipzig at the time, contributing to the dissidence that led to the change in the late 80s.

Eisler (called Schwenn at the time of her studies) has taken a long-term interest in documenting social environments of marginalized individuals under an oppressive regime and those affected by a changing society. Her portraits of East German punks of the 80s were considered undesirable and were censored. She contributed to the ‘Freundschaftsantiqua’ exhibition with her photographs of defunct sites of labour, the immigrant situation of Leipzig’s Eastern district and by revisiting the former Espenhain site, in whose depths lie the remains of the Magdeborner Heimat (homeland).

Through these photography projects I have started to explore a critique of a utopian societal and economic model. Thuc’s intercultural encounters within the ‘closed society’ of the GDR afford subtle and subversive observations of the dramatic changes in the industrial landscape and the effects on people. I am beginning to explore how Thuc’s transcultural perspective from the 1970s, and Eisler’s existing and commissioned photographs, were reframed through contemporary curating practices.

During my stay, I interviewed one of the exhibition curators, other artists who had photographed the changing landscape, and inhabitants of the extinguished Magdeborn. One day was spent driving and walking the outline of the 1-year old Störmthaler See, which was opened for public use last April. My site-visit started on the Grade 3 waste deposit that now covers part of the former mining site, from which vantage point I could oversee the lake. It was the hottest day of the week when I climbed this ashen mountain of waste.

The GDR in the 1980s was the world’s leading producer of brown coal. The Federal Republic of Germany still ranks among the most significant extractors of the remains of the carboniferous forest, and is engaged in mining sites from West to East. Despite the Energiewende (energy transition) and heavy investments in alternative energies, Germany still relies on coal, the more so since its stepping away from nuclear power following Fukushima. A layered model of an anthropogenic Earth would picture the gaping holes in the land left by coal extraction, a transformed society through energy generation, and an atmosphere laden with CO2 caused by burning coal. How do artists critically represent our hunger for energy? Can we afford to be sentimental about the loss of Heimat as the cost of the energy demands that underpin our standard of living? Does our understanding need the top of a waste heap from which to look down onto the moonscape of a surface pit or the turquoise mirror of a leisure lake?

On my last day in Leipzig I went to the motet in the protestant St. Thomas church, where Johann Sebastian Bach, was cantor. Every Saturday at 15h the motets are sublimely sung, this time with the world-famous St. Thomas boys’ choir. 70 years earlier to the day, the American troops had entered Leipzig in the last throes of the Second World War. Back home in London I had a heated debate with a German friend about which verb to use for the advancing and the retreating armies and the German population caught up in these battles. Were the Germans in Leipzig ‘liberated’ or were they simply ‘defeated’? The pastor speaking from the pulpit in the St. Thomas church related that the Americans were in Leipzig until 1 July 1945. When American troops withdrew as agreed with the Soviet Union, Leipzig was taken over by the Soviet army. During the time of the GDR the official story was that the Soviets had liberated Leipzig, thereby erasing 10 weeks of American rule from history.

I will use the research material gathered during an intense week to trace the layers of the living archive south of Leipzig. The photographic representations and the narratives evolving around these images are my primary sources. The artists’ works appeal to social justice in their portrayal of the individuals within the different states, which is something I will particularly draw out.

I am exploring landscape as a palimpsest of human interventions and the agency of nature. Artists’ representations of environmental change can draw on the fields of economy, science and technology, and culture. In my thesis research I study and trace these through a number of artists’ works including photographer Chrystel Lebas, installation artists Mark Dion and Hu Yun, and painter Daniel Boyd. Their explorations led them to the re-enactment of archives and to working in the field to create their art. The current debates around the geological age of the ‘Anthropocene’ serve as a framework to analyse and interpret these works afresh. I will look at the understanding of time in nature and humans and the complex role humans assume within nature by being passive observers and active agents.

Bergit Arends

2nd year PhD candidate in Geography and Drama, Reid scholar

I would like to thank the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group in the Department of Geography and the Department of Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London for the support of this study trip.

[i] Simon, A, (2014) ‘Wende? Revolution!’, Die Zeit Online, No. 44

[ii] ‘Freundschaftsantiqua. Ausländische Studierende an der Hochschule fὒr Grafik und Buchkunst – ein internationals Kapitel der Kunst in der DDR’ exhibition curated by Julia Blume and Heidi Stecker at the Galerie fὓr Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig, 1.2.2014 to 1.6.2014, and accompanying Journal #2, issued by the HGB

Tagged ,

Researching non-heterosexual lives

In this blog post, I wish to address the following question: should only non-heterosexuals do non-heterosexual geography? As ridiculous as this question may sound initially, I am regressing here to consider Kim England’s (1994) piece published in the The Professional Geographer where she discussed her own sympathy for the argument that ‘lesbian geographers should do lesbian geography’. 21 years on, I intend here to further comment on this particular argument; one which has since been primarily silent throughout the geographical discipline since England’s initial consideration.

Kim England’s (1994) piece was written during an epoch when the entire process of the making of geography utilizing traditional neopositivist methodologies by social scientists was subjected to considerable scrutiny. Acknowledging the intersubjective realities of social life had resulted in an academic environment where – to use England’s own words – the ‘socially constructed and situated nature of knowledge [was] increasingly commonplace’. At the heart of this realisation was feminism, which critiqued the orderly, binaric and qualitative thinking inherent to the social sciences. England’s piece describes this academic scene in more depth, before then drawing on her own research experiences regarding the lesbian communities of Toronto for further exemplification. Initially conceiving of Toronto’s lesbian communities as mostly self-contained, she employed a lesbian research assistant who she conceived would be able for her to ‘gain entry into the lesbian world’. Regardless of this, this research project is described by England from the outset as having ‘failed’. She notes how one of the reasons for this was that she could not fully understand what it is like for another women to live her life as a lesbian when she herself was straight. Whilst I do not believe she needed to worry that she was ‘colonizing lesbians in some kind of academic neoimperialism’ as she described, her portrayal of her ‘failed’ project does fundamentally speak to the question I posed at the beginning of this post. In inscribing this particular question regarding whether non-heterosexuals should do non-heterosexual geography onto the academic map, in my opinion her supposedly ‘failed’ project was not such a failure! It is here that I return to this question many years on, and its potential resonance given the current state of the discipline of the geographies of sexualities.

21 years on, the discipline has progressed immeasurably. Academics have considered the geographies of non-heterosexual lives in a plethora of public spaces and private spaces: homes, hostels, hotels, parks, landscapes, moorlands, mountains and the outback, to name but a few. To consider England’s ideas in more depth, we can look to the methodologies being used most recently to research the geographies of sexualities. The new methodological turn within this discipline within the last 10 years revolves around either the completion of an ethnography of non-heterosexual life by a non-heterosexual researcher (e.g. Cattan and Vonolo, 2014), or instead the use of an autoethnographically oriented methodology whereby the non-heterosexual researcher becomes both researcher and researched as their own lived experiences become the primary data (e.g. Eichler, 2012). Indeed, arguably one may conceive of this to be a validation of England’s experiences, as in both these cases a non-heterosexual is doing non-heterosexual geography, and incredibly convincingly in both cases! When recording my own experiences autoethnographically as a gay man of rural public spaces for my undergraduate dissertation, I found myself further sympathetic to this argument. I questioned how would someone else be able to conceive of the spatially intricate construction and contestation of my sexual identity throughout the landscape without having experienced a similar sexuality-based marginalization? But then in querying this in such a way, am I arguing that there is some shared sense of spatial experience between all non-heterosexuals?

Ultimately, I hold no specific answer to the initial question regarding whether only non-heterosexuals should do non-heterosexual geography. It seems to pose more questions than it answers in my above reflection. I do however believe this debate should be one more openly discussed in literature regarding the geographies of sexualities. It may seem at times like it becomes a non-academic debate, or one replete with essentialisms, yet I believe we must be open to such a dialogue for the further progression of this research area. As far as I am concerned, a comprehension of reflexivity as a researcher is fundamental to any research project. After all, ‘a researcher is positioned by her/his gender, age, “race”/ethnicity’, sexual identity, all of which may inhibit or enable certain research method insights in the field’ (England, 1994).

Oliver Knight (MA Cultural Geography Student).


Cattan, N. and Vanolo, A. (2014) ‘Gay and lesbian emotional geographies of clubbing: reflections from Paris and Turin’, Gender, Place & Culture, 21(9), pp.1158-1175.

Eichler, M. (2012) Consuming My Way Gay: An Autoethnographic Account of Coming Out as Consumptive Pedagogy’, Sage Open, 2(3).

England, K.V.L. (1994) ‘Getting Personal: Reflexivity, Positionality, and Feminist Research’, The Professional Geographer, 46(1), pp.80-89.


Hot off the press

2015 sees the publication of a number of books written or edited by members of Landscape Surgery. In order of publication these include

Maps and Memes: Redrawing Culture, Place, and Identity in Indigenous Communities

by Gwilym Lucas Eades

(McGill-Queen’s University Press, 264 pages)

Maps and Memes: Redrawing Culture, Place, and Identity in Indigenous Communities

Maps and cartography have long been used in the lands and resources offices of Canada’s indigenous communities in support of land claims and traditional-use studies. Exploring alternative conceptualizations of maps and mapmaking, Maps and Memes theorizes the potentially creative and therapeutic uses of maps for indigenous healing from the legacies of residential schools and colonial dispossession.

Gwilym Eades proposes that maps are vehicles for what he calls “place-memes” – units of cultural knowledge that are transmitted through time and across space. Focusing on Cree, Inuit, and northwest coast communities, the book explores intergenerational aspects of mapping, landscape art practice, and identity. Through decades of living in and working with indigenous communities, Eades has constructed an ethnographically rich account of mapping and spatial practices across Canada. His extended participation in northern life also informs this theoretically grounded account of journeying on the land for commemoration and community healing.

Interweaving narrative accounts of journeys with academic applications for mapping the phenomena of indigenous suicide and suicide clusters, Maps and Memes lays the groundwork for understanding current struggles of indigenous youth to strengthen their identities and foster greater awareness of traditional territory and place.

Urban Subversion and the Creative City

by Oli Mould

(Routledge, 206 pages)

Urban Subversion and the Creative City

This book provides a comprehensive critique of the current Creative City paradigm, with a capital ‘C’, and argues for a creative city with a small ‘c’ via a theoretical exploration of urban subversion.

The book argues that the Creative City (with a capital ‘C’) is a systemic requirement of neoliberal capitalist urban development and part of the wider policy framework of ‘creativity’ that includes the creative industries and the creative class, and also has inequalities and injustices in-built. The book argues that the Creative City does stimulate creativity, but through a reaction to it, not as part of it. Creative City policies speak of having mechanisms to stimulate individual, collective or civic creativity, yet through a theoretical exploration of urban subversion, the book argues that to be ‘truly’ creative is to be radically different from those creative practices that the Creative City caters for. Moreover, the book analyses the role that urban subversion and subcultures have in the contemporary city in challenging the dominant political economic hegemony of urban creativity. Creative activities of people from cities all over the world are discussed and critically analysed to highlight how urban creativity has become co-opted for political and economic goals, but through a radical reconceptualisation of what creativity is that includes urban subversion, we can begin to realise a creative city (with a small ‘c’).

Geographical Aesthetics: Imagining Space, Staging Encounters

edited by Harriet Hawkins and Elizabeth Straughan

(Ashgate, 320 pages)

Geographical Aesthetics: Imagining Space, Staging Encounters

Geographical Aesthetics places the terms ‘aesthetics’ and ‘geography’ under critical question together, responding both to the increasing calls from within geography to develop a ‘geographical aesthetics’, and a resurgence of interdisciplinary interest in conceptual and empirical questions around geoaesthetics, environmental aesthetics, as well as the spatialities of the aesthetic.

Despite taking up an identifiable role within the geographical imagination and sensibilities for centuries, and having what is arguably a key place in the making of the modern discipline, aesthetics remains a relatively under-theorized field within geography. Across 15 chapters Geographical Aesthetics brings together timely commentaries by international, interdisciplinary scholars to rework historical relations between geography and aesthetics, and reconsider how it is we might understand aesthetics. In renewing aesthetics as a site of investigation, but also an analytic object through which we can think about worldly encounters, Geographical Aesthetics presents a reworking of our geographical imaginary of the aesthetic.

Travels into Print: Exploration, Writing, and Publishing with John Murray, 1773–1859

by Innes M. Keighren, Charles W. J. Withers, and Bill Bell

(University of Chicago Press, 392 pages)

Travels into Print: Exploration, Writing, and Publishing with John Murray, 1773–1859

In eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain, books of travel and exploration were much more than simply the printed experiences of intrepid authors. They were works of both artistry and industry—products of the complex, and often contested, relationships between authors and editors, publishers and printers. These books captivated the reading public and played a vital role in creating new geographical truths. In an age of global wonder and of expanding empires, there was no publisher more renowned for its travel books than the House of John Murray.

Drawing on detailed examination of the John Murray Archive of manuscripts, images, and the firm’s correspondence with its many authors—a list that included such illustrious explorers and scientists as Charles Darwin and Charles Lyell, and literary giants like Jane Austen, Lord Byron, and Sir Walter Scott—Travels into Print considers how journeys of exploration became published accounts and how travelers sought to demonstrate the faithfulness of their written testimony and to secure their personal credibility. This fascinating study in historical geography and book history takes modern readers on a journey into the nature of exploration, the production of authority in published travel narratives, and the creation of geographical authorship—a journey bound together by the unifying force of a world-leading publisher.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 467 other followers