Monthly Archives: July 2012

The South London Black Music Archive

Memorabilia from The South London Black Music Archive. Photograph from

One of the standout exhibitions for me this year has been The South London Black Music Archive (2012) by Barby Asante at Peckham Space, South London. This short post will briefly describe this exhibition, explaining why I think it was interesting, and how it speaks to my Ph.D. research.

The South London Black Music Archive engaged with people’s relationship with black music in the South London area. Predominantly authored by East-London artist Barby Asante, the exhibition was presented as an ‘open archive’ to which visitors can add to the objects on display. Peckham Space describes the intention of the exhibition thus: ‘Asante’s selected objects highlighting seminal moments in this history will share the same platform as visitors’ objects and stories depicting their own experiences through music and memorabilia.’[1] The exhibition consisted of one room and encompassed a variety of display methods, including archival boxes, an interactive magnetic map, vitrines, changeable wall displays, shelving and a listening station. Visitors were actively encouraged to contribute objects relating to their experiences of black music in South London to gain “membership” to the archive. The objects were categorised, labelled and stored within boxes and exhibited on a rotational basis in the gallery space. The exhibition encompasses a range of technologies to appeal to an intergenerational audience, including iPods, record players, tape players and a DVD station. Music filled the gallery space; the atmosphere constantly being (re)shaped and transformed through inviting visitors to play donated records and suggested tracks from the listening station. The exhibition also allowed people to share their memories, stories, observations and anecdotes relating to their experiences of black music in South London by texting the gallery. These texts were received and printed live within the space, enabling the visitor to add their printed story to a large magnetic map in the area to which it referred. Within this very small space a multitude of interactive opportunities and outlets for the visitors’ personal expression and contributions to be heard, seen, touched and absorbed.

Magnetic map of South London with visitor texts stuck on. Photograph from

The facility to allow spectators to feed back into the exhibition was, for me, particularly interesting. In doing so a tension was created between the authorship of the space and the spectator, challenging the identity and position of the artist, whilst empowering the visitor. Through this tension, the aesthetic experience of the space was created based on exchange rather than transmission. Exchange is a key word for this exhibition. It appeared not only in the authorship of the space, but also in the form of the social relations it facilitates. The objects and interactivity of the exhibition aren’t really the art here; it is the social relations created by them instead. This is not to downplay the objects and processes of multiple authorship of the exhibition at all, for they were the facilitators of this social exchange. However, the primary aesthetic, in my opinion, lay in the social relations and encounters the exhibition provoked. In this light, The South London Black Music Archive transformed Peckham Space into a site of dialogue and encounter, using art practice as a technology of connection.

My Ph.D. research is interested in precisely this connective ability of aesthetics coupled with its potential to play a role in the debate surrounding the creation of meaningful encounters in times and spaces of increasing diversity. I attended a fascinating series of sessions focused on ‘Encountering the City’ at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference in Edinburgh last month which opened my eyes to the great variety of research currently being carried out on the understanding of meaningful encounter. I am hoping that my research will be able to add something to this exciting and important topic.

Danny McNally (Ph.D. student at Royal Holloway)

The Shaky City

Restrictions in Christchurch CBD Red Zone

“On February 22nd, I found myself hugging the carpet in the staff common room of the department” (Julie Cupples 2012, 337)

I can completely relate to this. A few weeks ago, I too experienced an earthquake from inside The University of Canterbury Geography Department. I was sitting in the seminar room on the fourth floor, preparing to present my PhD project in a seminar series, when – without warning – an earthquake rattled the building. I gripped the chair I was sitting in tightly, watching the building sway from side-to-side, and anxiously willing the shaking to stop. Honestly? I was scared. While Julie experienced an earthquake of much greater intensity, I can entirely relate to the sense of powerlessness she experienced in that moment. As her insightful paper suggests, disasters have the ability to alter one’s life in unimaginable ways: “The life that we have is gone, and is replaced by something quite different, and potentially quite disorientating” (Cupples 2012, 337). In one split second, the familiar becomes the unfamiliar.

My doctoral project is based on the 2011 Queensland floods and considers how emotion motivates post-disaster return decisions (more details can be read here). To offer a point of comparison, I recently completed a 16-day fieldwork trip to Christchurch to explore the aftermath of the 2010/2011 Canterbury earthquakes. I set off towards the Shaky City with a number of questions in mind: Does emotion differ in different disaster contexts? How does the ongoing nature of the earthquakes/aftershocks affect the decision to rebuild/relocate? As a researcher, I was also apprehensive about visiting a setting that I knew would be very emotionally raw, particularly after the emotional intensity of my research in Brisbane.

In Christchurch, I stayed at a hostel on Barbadoes street (with a group of British construction workers who, unsurprisingly, had all found work in the CBD). Although most of the CBD is still inaccessible to the general public, the morning after I arrived, I walked down recently re-opened Gloucester Street. As I navigated my way between  ‘No Access’ signs, shattered buildings and metal barriers, I was astounded at what I saw: a city so different to the place I visited four years ago. Christchurch has long been hailed the ‘most English’ of New Zealand’s cities. During my previous visit, I enjoyed the quaint streets, punting on the willow-lined River Avon, trams, and a farmers market in Cathedral Square. Post-quake Christchurch now appears horrifically broken; cracked and torn apart, absent of life, and the vibrancy I saw four years ago.

Destruction in Christchurch CBD

In the two weeks that followed, I spent my time observing the city. I visited Redcliffs, Sumner, Avonside and Lyttelton (towns notably affected by the February quake). Each town presented levels of devastation that I wasn’t expecting; shells of houses and abandoned businesses, empty plots, and broken communities. I also conducted four interviews with residents who were forcibly displaced from their homes after the February earthquake. Similarly to those I carried out in Brisbane, interviews were emotionally powerful and astute, illuminating the complexity of a post-disaster return decision.

Abandoned empty plot in Lyttelton

Since Christchurch is the third post-disaster location I have encountered, a number of points struck me about this setting in particular. Firstly, Fear. As I mentioned earlier, Cantarbrians have been subjected to thousand’s of aftershocks since 2010. The ongoingness of these quakes has left residents tired, drained and anxious. It seems the stress of living in fear is a heavy influence on decisions to move away from Christchurch. During my short time in the city, I felt four earthquakes – each with enough intensity to make my heart flutter uncomfortably. The Monday after I arrived, I visited the Christchurch museum on the day that it re-opened to the public. At the end of an excellent earthquake exhibition was a counter, tracking the number of aftershocks recorded since the 2010 September earthquake. The day I visited, this number stood at 11,489.

Furthermore, I was struck with the number of conversations I had with people who no longer feel safe in their homes. In this post-disaster context, the once familiar and comfortable setting of ‘home’ – the place one goes to feel grounded – no longer feels safe. This loss of security is, in fact, closely associated with the second point to strike me from my time in Christchurch: Helplessness.

Unlike in Brisbane, Christchurch homes are zoned according to earthquake damage levels. Red zones are areas where there is area-wide damage and an engineering solution to remediate the land damage would be uncertain, disruptive, not timely, nor cost effective. Those living in these areas are given an offer by the Crown to buy their property. While residents can legally choose not to accept this offer, services in the area will not be restored and insurers may also cancel insurance coverage. Perhaps most importantly, however, CERA also has powers (under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011) to require (essentially force) residents to sell their property for its market value at that time. For some, then, the decision of whether to return ‘home’, or relocate, is no longer their choice to make. This understanding has left me thinking about how access/denial to home is dictated by larger political realities. The loss of these intimate spaces has left people in Christchurch restricted of their freedom, hopelessly stumbling down a broken path, in search for a place to call ‘home’.

Stephanie Morrice (Ph.D. student at Royal Holloway)


Cupples, J. (2012) “Boundary crossings and new striations: when disaster hits a neoliberalising campus”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37 (3): 337–41.

Graduation 2012

Newly-minted Ph.D.s

The Social and Cultural Geography research group are delighted to congratulate its latest batch of newly-minted Ph.D.s, who graduated last week. They include:

Anyaa Anim-Addo (in absentia), for her thesis “Place and mobilites in the maritime world : the Royal Steam Packet Company in the Caribbean, c. 1838 to 1914”.

Graça Brightwell (pictured third from right), for her thesis “A taste of home: food, identity, and belonging among Brazilians in London”.

Bradley L. Garret (pictured fourth from left), for his thesis “Place Hacking: tales of urban exploration”.

Louise Henderson (pictured second from right), for her thesis “Geography, travel, and publishing in mid-Victorian Britain”.

Ashley Nye (not pictured), for his thesis “Designing and experiencing sensory urban environments: an intensive case study of Grand Union Village in West London”.

Kimberley Peters (pictured far right), for her thesis “Floating places: assembling the marginal geographies of Radio Caroline’s ships”.

Daniel Whittall (in absentia), for his thesis “Creolising London: Black West Indian activism and the politics of race and empire, 1931–1948”.

Photograph courtesy of Felix Driver.


The 2012 Transition

Bradley Garrett with his parents

Bradley L. Garrett (newly-minted Dr) discusses his doctoral graduation, over on his blog.

Ellie Miles (a Ph.D. student at Royal Holloway) likens writing a thesis to playing Tetris.

Ellie Miles

‘What appears in your eyes all the time are your mistakes’

– Alexey Pajitnov, Tetris inventor, speaking in Tetris: From Russia with Love

Oonagh Murphy recently wrote about gamifying the PhD, describing a system of rewards and positive reinforcements. Conference papers, productive meetings with supervisors, publications and collaborative projects definitely feel rewarding but the daily work of a PhD feels more like a game of Tetris. ‘Tetris is a game with a very strong negative motivation’, argues Mikhail Kulagin, in the same film. The good chapters and finished articles are like the completed lines; they’re set aside from your workspace and converted into points on the scoreboard, ticked off your thesis plan or added to your CV. Your research gaps, incomplete bibliographies and works in progress are the things you see on the screen in front of you.

Sometimes writing up a PhD feels a lot like Tetris. As the documentary’s voiceover…

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(In)Securities of Home at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2012

Home at the RGS-IBG

Katherine Brickell examines how ideas of home were dealt with at the recent RGS-IBG conference in Edinburgh, over on her blog.

Tim Cresswell discusses his forthcoming book, Geographic thought: a critical introduction.


I have not written much on this blog for a while. I have been belatedly finishing a book on Geographic Thought I have been writing for about five years. It is delivered! It has been an irritant at times but mostly a labour of love. Just to wet your appetite I attach the first few pages of the final draft…

Introduction (extract), Geographic Thought: A Critical Introduction (Blackwell, 2013)

If the scientific investigation of any subject be the proper avocation of the philosopher, Geography, the science of which we propose to treat, is certainly entitled to a high place…

(Strabo 1912 [AD 7-18]: 1)

Geography is a profound discipline. To some this statement might seem oxymoronic. Profound geography seems as likely as ‘military intelligence’. Geography is often the butt of jokes in the United Kingdom. A school friend of mine who was about the start a degree in…

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Amy Cutler (a Ph.D. student at Royal Holloway) discusses July’s upcoming PassengerFilms event.


‘In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work…’ (Sebald, Rings of Saturn)

To celebrate the launch of the new Place, Environment, Writing MA run collaboratively by geographers and writers at Royal Holloway, we’re back at the Roxy Bar and Screen putting on a special screening of Grant Gee’s Patience (After Sebald) (2012), alongside launch drinks, a short film by theEYE on Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta, and talks from Sir Andrew Motion, James Kneale, Heather Yeung, Jamie Andrews and Gareth Evans.

Patience (After Sebald) (2012, 82mins) is a stunning multi-layered film essay on landscape, art, history, life and loss by the acclaimed documentary film-maker Grant Gee (‘Joy Division’, 2007). It’s an…

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Laura Price (a Ph.D. student at Royal Holloway) offers her latest reflections on mending and materiality.

Knitted geographies


Last weekend I attended the first, inaugural Mend*rs symposium in Docker, South Cumbria. The symposium brought together mending practitioners, activists, entrepreneurs and academics, who, together, would work towards creating ‘a critical agenda for mending’, or more spectacularly ‘the age of mending’. The talks were fantastic and inspirational. A key theme, that struck me, was mending as an emotional experience. The act of mending is an act of care for objects, for self, or for others. In mending things we repair our connections to our objects, others and ourselves. Steven Bond, part of the ‘Small is Beautiful’ exhibition, discussed the demise of being able to make a living from mending. The photographs in the exhibition had attempted to capture the ‘texture’ of mending through engaging with menders workplaces. Tim Dant talked about the problem of ‘responsibility’ that broken objects present; when an object is broken it provides possibilities and…

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