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.

Texts in Place/Place in Texts I

Miranda Ward delivering the opening paper at “Texts in Place/Place in Texts I”.

For geographers and literary scholars, place is both a significant intellectual focus and an important organisational concept. In its various guises, place is something captured by, and responded to, in texts; it is where texts are written and where they are read. Place, in various ways, is also tangled up with memory and identity. This special session of Landscape Surgery—organised as part of the HARC Fellowship strand on “Cultural Participation in Place”—brought together postgraduate geographers and literary scholars to discuss the question and significance of place.

The Department of English was represented by Ben Felderhof, whose research concerns the representation of the jungle in British fiction, and James Cutler (co-supervised in the Department of Media Arts), whose work investigates the dominant position of place in the cultural memory of Charles Dickens, the Brontes, and Thomas Hardy. The Department of Geography was represented by Miranda Ward, whose work has examined creative approaches to writing place, and Katie Boxall, whose research concerns the cultural geographies of dyslexic creative writing.

The session was convened by Finn Fordham (English) and Innes M. Keighren (Geography). It is to be followed by a one-day symposium—“Texts in Place/Place in Texts II”—at Royal Holloway on 21 May. In what follows, the speakers summarise (in the order in which they presented) their contributions to the session.

Miranda Ward

“An embodied act and process”: place, text, and the body in geographical writing

My paper examined the role of writing in geographical scholarship about place, focusing particularly on the potential to use “creative-critical” forms of writing to explore relationships between body and place through engagement with both the physicality of the act of writing as well as the spatiality of the text. This kind of writing was loosely defined as being characterised by personal modes of authority, a playfulness with language, and /or an experimentation with form and structure; I then framed my argument through reference to my own research on swimming bodies and the pool, suggesting that while there may be an especially noticeable tradition of using writing as a tool to explore the active male body in place, thinking of the body as a “recording machine” in the field (Dewsbury 2010: 327), or “something through which research is […] done” (Crang 2005: 232) allows us to consider the potential of writing to engage with as many kinds of bodies as there are scholars and writers, performing various duties and activities in various places.

By looking at a certain kind of geographical writing, one which is perhaps a bit more fluid and free-form than traditional scholarly writing but which nevertheless has some underlying geographical agenda, I therefore attempted to conceptualise texts as:

  • Records of bodily engagements with place
  • Bodily engagements with place themselves
  • Sites for further engagement with place (and its layers) via the space opened up between reader and author

Works cited:

Crang, M. (2005) ‘Qualitative methods: there is nothing outside the text?’, Progress in Human Geography, 29(2), pp. 225–233.

Dewsbury, J. D. (2010) ‘Performative, non-representational, and affect-based research: seven injunctions’, in DeLyser, D., Herbert, S., Aitken, S., Crang, M. and McDowell, L. (eds) The SAGE handbook of qualitative geography. London: SAGE, pp. 321–334.

Ben Felderhof

The forest in European literature, and its role in materialist and teleological views of nature

In summarising some of the background research I have conducted as part of my thesis on the tropical forest in British fiction, c.1885–1914, my paper attempted to relate a brief history of arboreal settings in European literature. I argued that, since ancient Greek philosophers first used the word for ‘uncultivated woodland’ to represent primordial chaos, forests have been used to substantiate conflicting views about the nature of the universe and humanity. On the one hand, Christian writing depicted existence outside God’s law as a dark, disorderly and savage tangle, which tends towards order and benevolence in accordance with divine influence. In texts influenced by materialist ideas, on the other hand, there is no meaningful development of the forest, only a deterministic cycle of creation, destruction and re-creation. My overall aim was to establish that the proliferation of jungle stories during the late-nineteenth century was due in part to a dispute arising from Darwin’s theory of evolution, between those who clung to a teleological view of the world and those who accepted the somewhat bleak implications of natural selection.

Katie Boxall

Cultural geographies of dyslexic creative writing practice: a place for mindful pageness, or a page for mindful placeness?

In this paper, I presented selected conversations between four practising dyslexic creative writers, illustrating ideas of more-than-page exchange, processual creative writing, and the literary habitations/habits evident in how writing takes place. The conversations were between a dyslexic poet, a dyslexic scriptwriter, a dyslexic personal experience narrator, and my own dyslexic autoethnography practice. My paper sought to highlight the messiness, and associative transcending facets, which cyclically ferment in what it means to write and be a writer. Through extracted tales, visual ethnography, and conversational interview extracts, I exemplified how these writers narrate within, beyond, and neighbouring the parameters of the page.

James Cutler

Place in Dickens/Dickens in place

My paper explored the key link between Dickens’s unrivalled enduring popularity and cultural legacy and place. More specifically, it focused on Oliver Twist (1837–9)—Dickens’s second-most-popular and culturally pervasive text after A Christmas Carol—and the text’s depiction of London; it then investigated the way in which Dickensian London had been sustained and shaped in a twenty-first-century cultural remediation (specifically through a Lloyds Bank television advert from the autumn/winter of 2014–15). The first part of the paper discussed Dickens’s original textual aesthetics of, and affective and fictive relations to, urban place. Mostly focusing on Oliver’s initial immersion in London (and the reader’s first experience of it) in Chapter VIII, the paper examined Dickens’s use of dialectical macro and micro montage as a means of reflecting late-1830s urban experience, and crucially contributing to the powerful resonance of London in the text to which the reader is drawn imaginatively and affectively. The second section explored the most recent mass cultural permeation of Dickens’s text: Lloyds Bank’s television advert which featured two clips from Carol Reed’s 1968 musical film, Oliver! Concentrating on the representation of Dickensian space and place in the two clips, the paper proposed a number of tentative suggestions about what this indicated about Dickens, Dickensian place, and us today.

Finn Fordham and Innes M. Keighren

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,




Making Suburban Faith Project Website:


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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