Following on from last weeks post, this weeks Landscape Surgery saw the next round of first year presentations, with each surgeon presenting their PhD research:
Creating the ordinary city: Creative policy and the making of place and community in small cities
The ‘creative city’ continues to be used as a tool in urban development policy, with little sign of abating: 47 cities are now listed as part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Creative Cities Network (UNESCO, 2015). However, studies have focused on the extraordinary narratives of iconic ‘global’ cities, like London, New York and Berlin. My research aims to extend existing ideas on creativity and its social, cultural and economic conceptualisations within urban communities and infrastructures. It counters current foci by attending to the ‘ordinary’ city, as an urbanity that intertwines with creative policy and cultural regeneration decisions, which is increasingly occurring in middle-sized UK cities. The case study is Coventry, a city in the West Midlands of the UK with over 300,000 residents – a place I know well, as my home city. In December 2017, Coventry won the title of UK City of Culture 2021. This will involve a year of cultural and artistic events to entice local civic pride, while attracting millions of pounds worth of regeneration investments, both private and public. This multi-dimensional thesis will use in-depth ethnographic methods and participatory action research to study the vernacular creativity, everyday communities and localised cultural ‘place-making’ processes to evolve discussions on creativity in cities, encouraging the appreciation of ordinary urban space in the midst of regeneration.
Geographies of the creative workplace: the workspaces and careers of travel bloggers.
My research seeks to advance understanding of contemporary work cultures within the creative economy through an empirical case study of British travel bloggers. My project’s primary interest is in the working lives and workplaces of these travel bloggers but it will also aim to contribute to research literature on the wider politics and economics of creative labour and the geographies of travel writing. The growth of work within the creative and cultural sectors is a pressing research agenda. For some, it offers hope of more fulfilling working lives; for others it involves newly exploitative labour relations. Assessing such claims will involve investigation of both the labour markets and labour processes of travel blogging. Through focusing on travel blogging as an economic and cultural phenomena, the study will offer a more nuanced account of how travel blogging may be engendering new cultural economies of work (i.e. the economisation of new forms of cultural labour and production) and novel configurations and politics of labour (i.e. new transnational forms and spaces of work). As a result, my research will pay particular attention to: travel blogger’s constructions of their creative careers; the aesthetic, affective, curatorial and aspirational components of their work; and their varied workspaces. It also aims investigate how travel bloggers’ navigate the insecure political economy of their industry. Overall it thereby seeks to advance understanding of the wider politics of creative labour through in-depth understanding of the working lives, spaces and careers of travel bloggers.
Excavating gentrification: The contemporary geographies of Robin Hood Gardens
The Robin Hood Gardens Estate in Tower Hamlets, East London (RHG) has become an iconic site in contemporary debates around London’s housing crisis. The only brutalist housing estate ever to have been constructed by British architects Alison and Peter Smithson, it has been at the heart of national and local political discussion, preservationist campaigns and the contemporary economic and social processes of housing. As of 2015 English Heritage rejected its application to be listed and demolition of the site began in 2017, with luxury flats set to take its place. This project therefore represents an interjection into these complex, interlinking and important debates, given that much of the site will be demolished over the next few years. Viewing the site as continually ‘layered’ by different and conflicting people, cultures, histories, practices and places, the project will use both geographic and archaeological methods to excavate these layers and their incumbent meanings and histories (which will be lost post-demolition), but bring these to bare on the current process of policy, housing development and gentrification more broadly. In doing so it attempts to provide a more nuanced account of how sites of urban regeneration can be understood more deeply, understanding a building in the last moments of its life.
Thirst for sand: Cognitively mapping the spatial fix
Fiction leaches into reality at the point when a commodity becomes territory. Between fictionalised glimpses of the commodity chain of sand from Cambodia to Singapore, this presentation will seek to plot some common ground between the cognitive map and the spatial fix, and ask how our understanding of the fiction of sovereignty can be expanded by attending to the ways capital reads and writes space. Presenting initial findings from preliminary fieldwork on land reclamation and sand extraction, this presentation wants to sketch the broader theoretical terrains of the project and how they might interlock with the field.
A paper world: The collection and Investigation of Plant Materials for papermaking c.1830-1914
Paper is a resource that is all around us. Used for communication, packaging, display, commerce and art, it is arguably the bedrock of civilisation. With a global and ancient history that could span a multiple volume publication, this project will look at a particular period of innovation – in the middle of the nineteenth century – when inventors, botanists and industrialists were driven to find an answer to the shortages they were facing. Limited in production due to a reliance on linen and cotton rags as the base material for paper, growing empire, bureaucracies and industry dictated that demand outstripped supply. Inventors turned to nature as inspiration, and building on the works of experiment in the eighteenth century they looked to new plant fibres to provide the mass of entwined cellulose that paper is made from. Sitting at the intersections of historical geography, history of design, and the history of science and technology, this thesis aims to unite both the cultural and economic factors that shape the history of paper in the nineteenth century. This project will take an expressly material approach, using objects as its base for exploration. The heart of the project therefore is the unrivalled paper collections of the Economic Botany Collection at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. These objects will be the engine for further discoveries raising wider questions concerning the formation of knowledge about raw materials, technologies and commodities.