Introducing Pip Thornton – PhD Student

I am Pip. I have just begun the second year of a 4 year EPSRC funded PhD in ‘Geopolitics and Cybersecurity’ as part of the first cohort of students in the new Centre For Doctoral Training (CDT) in Cybersecurity. I am being jointly supervised by Prof. Pete Adey from the Geography department, and Prof. Keith Martin from the Information Security Group. PipRecentPic

My life journey so far has been fairly varied. My first degree was a BA in History and Politics from Liverpool University, although to this day I’m not quite sure how that happened. After being released into the world from a decade of boarding school, it wasn’t my finest hour/3 years, and I remain to this day the only person I know to have graduated with a Pass (which, incidentally is even lower than a Third, and is guaranteed to make you the only person in your category at your degree ceremony, which in turn makes everybody think you’ve won some special award and you get extra claps, which is nice, but inside you’re feeling pretty bloody ashamed and don’t quite know what to do with yourself, Grandma and extended family being there and all). Anyway, after covering myself with glory at Liverpool, I decided to get back on the rails again in style and joined the police.

I spent 15 years as a Met Police officer, sometimes doing some really interesting and exciting stuff, but mostly not, and in that time I completed a BA in English from the Open University (in which I thankfully managed to improve on my previous grade), and an MA, also in English from Kings College London. For most of this time I was also a reservist soldier in the Royal Logistics Corps, where I learned to shoot and drive big trucks (which was great fun, but got me mobilised to Iraq in 2003, which wasn’t so much fun, but on the plus side has given me lots to think/write/complain about). If it hasn’t already become apparent, there is a distinct lack of either Geography or Cybersecurity in my story thus far. What led me to Royal Holloway was my Masters dissertation, which I did on Patrick Keiller’s wonderful Robinson films. I discovered psychogeography and began to read a lot of the social and cultural geography literature, which included Tim Cresswell’s work on Space and Place.

By this time I had had enough of the police, so I contacted Tim about a possible PhD. He was moving to Boston, but put me in touch with Pete Adey, who guided me through the various application and funding procedures until I finally managed to get the fantastic studentship I am on. I had originally thought my thesis would be on representations of the figure of the soldier in different geographical, political and cyber-spaces, but as part of my first year on the CDT studentship I had to complete a project in a cybersecurity related matter, which has led to completely new and surprisingly exciting PhD ambitions. Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 00.39.36My new thesis proposal is about the agency of search algorithms and how they can affect physical and linguistic securities. The crux of the thesis is that not only are we being physically secured by the data we input into search engines, but that what we get out of them is a ‘reconstructed’ version of language which is based on the geographically, politically and technologically skewed corpus of the searchable web. The first chunk of thesis will be a reworking of Walter Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction which will consider what happens to Language in the Age of Algorithmic Reproduction. I am looking forward to hosting a Landscape Surgery session on this next term, with a view to submitting it as an article to Radical Philosophy (or probably somewhere less ambitious). Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 00.43.31I am also continuing to do some work on soldiers and the military, but I suspect this will become harder to maintain over the next three years. I am currently working on a paper which I hope will be published in Cultural Geographies which explores ‘The Meaning of Light: Seeing and Being on the Battlefield’, which is based on a poem I wrote about my time in Iraq called ‘Light Discipline’. I will be presenting on this subject as part of a paper session  on Terrain at the AAG in 2015.

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