Monthly Archives: October 2018

Racisms in Higher Education: Why is my research group so white?

Our second landscape surgery of this year was convened by Saskia Papadakis, a PhD student in the Geography department at Royal Holloway, with research interests in nationality, culture and identity; the English North-South divide; and transregional migration within England. We were delighted to be joined by three guest speakers: Dom Jackson-Cole, Chantelle Lewis and Tissot Regis. The session focused on the absence of people of colour at postgraduate level and beyond in UK higher education (HE). Given the number of students of colour at undergraduate level in the UK, why are the academic staff and PhD students our speakers work with almost all white? Our speakers discussed the ways in which universities exclude and profit from postgraduate students of colour, how it feels to be a racialised outsider in HE, and why histories and realities of racism are relevant to everyone, not just students of colour.

Recording Surviving Society Podcast

Saskia, Tissot, Chantelle and Dom recording Landscape Surgery for their ‘Surviving Society’ podcast. Photography by Alice Reynolds

Our first speaker of the session, Dom Jackson-Cole, has worked in the higher education (HE) sector for over ten years, and is an Equality and Diversity Advisor at SOAS University of London. He is currently completing his PhD at the University of East London, where he is exploring issues of racism in postgraduate education in England. Dom spoke about the endemic presence of racism within HE, in which people of colour directly and indirectly experience abhorrent systematic and institutional barriers in their postgraduate educations.

Dom introduced Gillborn’s Critical Race Theory (CRT), an approach which offers a radical lens through which to make sense of, deconstruct and challenge racial inequality in society (Rollock and Gillborn, 2011), a theory which has grown to become one of the most important perspectives on racism in education internationally. As a body of scholarship immersed in radical activism, CRT seeks to explore and challenge the pervasiveness of racial inequality in society, whilst based on the understanding that race and racism are the product of social thought and power relations (Rollock and Gillborn, 2011).

Our second speaker, Chantelle Lewis, is an activist, sociologist, podcaster and PhD researcher at Goldsmiths. Chantelle also works with the charity Leading Routes, a network of black students and academics, and is the Programme Director of Black in Academia, which aims to further the conversation about the representation and experiences of black students and staff in universities within the UK. With her research on mixed-race families in a mostly white town in the West Midlands, Chantelle wants to challenge common-sense understandings of race, class and gender. Chantelle spoke about the challenges she had faced within HE, discussing difficulties in navigating spaces as a working-class black woman, where she has “been at the hurdles of the meritocracy of whiteness”.

Our third speaker of the session, Tissot Regis, is a sociologist and PhD researcher at Goldsmiths, researching white anxieties in East London in a post-Brexit environment. Outside of academia, Tissot works with the charity ReachOut, a mentoring charity working with young people in disadvantaged communities to raise aspirations and help them grow in character and attainment, and is also a speaker for the Stephen Lawrence foundation. Echoing Chantelle, Tissot spoke about feeling uncomfortable in academic situations due to being a person of colour. Tissot discussed his irritation at the notion of separateness in society: “we need to get away from this idea of seperateness in our approach to education and the syllabus… Black history month – why is it separate? It’s your history too”.

In presenting some shocking statistics, Chantelle highlighted academia’s inability to understand the relationship between race and class, frequently resulting in universities putting their guard up and saying “it’s not my issue”. One poignant statistic recognised that in 2016-17 there were only 25 black women and 90 black men among 19,000 professors in the UK (Advance HE, in Adams, 2018). Begging the question, why is it that the number of black and minority ethic (BME) students dramatically decreases in postgraduate education? This is thought-provoking given that as a society we seem to be moving closer to equality in undergraduate education, but we still have a long way to go to ensure equality within postgraduate education and beyond. Chantelle expressed feeling optimistic about how BME students and academics are proactively talking about empowering the future. However, she feels less optimistic about the outlook of HE institutions themselves and the government’s role in enabling equality.

Saskia, Chantelle and Tissot run a political podcast from a sociological perspective called ‘Surviving Society’. Being fed-up with mainstream conversations taking place around politics and current affairs, through public sociology they aim to challenge common-sense understandings of race, class and gender and aim to show how entrenched inequalities shape both political conversations and individual experiences. Their episodes are accessible, entertaining and free to download, and are available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Spotify. This week’s Landscape Surgery was recorded for one of Surviving Society’s podcasts, and is available to listen to here.

We would like to extend our thanks to Saskia, Chantelle, Dom and Tissot for a thoroughly thought-provoking session, and for their continued work in promoting people of all colours to continue in postgraduate education and beyond.

Bibliography

Adams, R. (2018) ‘UK universities making slow progress on equality, data shows’, The Guardian, 7 September [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/sep/07/uk-university-professors-black-minority-ethnic (Last accessed: 30 October 2018)

Bell, D. (1980) Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma. Harvard Law Review, 93(3), pp.518-533.

Rollock, N. and Gillborn, D. (2011) Critical Race Theory (CRT). Available at: https://www.bera.ac.uk/researchers-resources/publications/critical-race-theory-crt. (Last accessed: 24 October 2018)

Written by Alice Reynolds, edited by Megan Harvey and Jack Lowe.

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Meet the editors!

Hello! We are Ed, Jack, Alice and Megan, and we are the new editors of the Landscape Surgery blog. As a team, we are all very excited to be taking over this role from Nina and (the other) Ed who did such a great job of curating the site last year. For us, ‘Landscape Surgery’ (which is now 22 years old!) has always been a great opportunity to bring together all members of the Social, Cultural and Historical Geography Research Group in our bi-weekly meetings. In the fantastic company of our groups ‘surgeons’, we have timely and critical conversations on a wide variety of subjects, reflecting the huge array of academic interests displayed by the research group as a whole. As an editing team, we are eager to continue to dissect ‘Landscape Surgery’ discussions within this informative blog, as well as highlighting the exciting things that members of the research group have been getting up to; from academic conferences, new publications, interdisciplinary workshops and public events.

We actively welcome submissions from all ‘surgeons’ who wish to use this blog as a way to start a conversation, showcase an event, discuss general PhD life, give post-doc and career advice, or to talk about some stimulating research you’ve done. So, if you’ve been up to something interesting, why not write a blog about it?

If you would like to submit a post, or have any comments or questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at: Ed.armston-sheret.2017@live.rhul.ac.uk, megan.harvey.2014@live.rhul.ac.uk, jack.lowe.2017@live.rhul.ac.uk, alice.reynolds.2013@rhul.ac.uk.

Ed Armston-Sheret

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What are your current research interests?

My research looks at British explorers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I am particularly interested in how explorers prepared, used, and represented their bodies and the relationship between these issues and their public and scientific reputations. In looking at these issues, I explore the importance of bodies within scientific practice, geographical fieldwork, and ideas of heroism in the Victorian and Edwardian period.

What do you do outside academia?

Outside of academia, I enjoy doing things that get me away from books, screens, and writing. I particularly enjoy cooking and cycling. I’ve also got into foraging for fruit which I use to make my own jams and chutneys.

What is your favourite song to work too?

I’ve become less and less able to listen to music while I work. I used to do it a lot but often found I ended up typing the lyrics into what I was writing!

What is your favourite book?

C.L.R James’ The Black Jacobins is probably top of my list at the moment. It’s really hard to do this account of the Haitian Revolution justice; it’s well written, impassioned, and I found it almost impossible to put down.

Megan Harvey

Megan Harvey

What are your current research interests?

I’m currently really interested in better understanding the economic and cultural geographies around sleeping and dreaming. My PhD project will think quite explicitly about neoliberal capitalism and its latent desire to harness the micro-spaces and temporalities of sleep. This will include a focus on the practices of night-time businesses, the embodied geographies of commodified sleep technologies and a close examination of subconscious ‘dream space’ to assess the degree of capitalism’s impingement. I also enjoy crafting new cultural geographic research techniques for querying sleeping and dreaming, from a ‘Nocturnal Methodological Praxis’ that explored insomnia and nocturnality within the city, to a ‘Dream Tool-Kit’ that utilised dream journaling and sleep diaries to interpret slumber experiences.

What do you do outside academia?

I think that a work/life balance is really important, so I like to spend my down time doing as much as possible with my family and friends. We like to watch films, play video and board games and cook together. I also play women’s rugby twice a week for Royal Holloway’s university team, which is a great stress reliever!

What is your favourite song to work too?

I love to listen to film and television scores as I work, anything by Hans Zimmer and Ramin Djawadi are usually on my playlist. I recently found the soundtrack to Black Mirrors ‘San Junipero’ by Clint Mansell, it is incredibly reminiscent of the fantastic episode and has been on repeat for a while!

What is your favourite book?

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier has long been one of my favourite books, it’s a gloomy and gothic thriller that was later turned into one of my favourite films by Alfred Hitchcock. I also love A Handmaids Tale by Margaret Attwood and Hot Milk by Deborah Levy.

Jack Lowe

Jack Lowe.jpg

What are your current research interests?

I’m a cultural geographer whose research engages with various forms of digital media art to investigate the processes through which places become meaningful. My practice-based PhD project, supervised between Geography and Media Arts, will involve making a mixed-reality game in my home city of Canterbury, as a method of understanding this medium’s potential to enable people to tell, and learn about, the stories that make places meaningful. I also have a longstanding interest in the cultural geographies of video game environments; in particular how a sense of place can be crafted in these (semi-)virtual landscapes. In this regard, I’m keen to explore further how post-phenomenology might provide theoretical frameworks through which we can apprehend the relationships between different kinds of materials, technologies, bodies and social contexts in the production of game-playing experiences.

What do you do outside academia?

I’m a big fan of video games, particularly ‘walking simulators’ and other story-based titles. I love walking in physical environments as well as virtual ones; and even though it’s becoming part of my research, I still like to go Geocaching (often with my sister and 7-year-old nephew) to explore new places. I also play piano and guitar, and very occasionally compose some classical stuff; it’s all demos at this stage though. Reading and creative writing are both activities I like to do for pleasure outside academia too.

What is your favourite song to work to?

I listen to albums rather than individual songs while working, and this tends to be classical music. I adore Jessica Curry’s soundtrack to the video game Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, which wonderfully captures the spirit of bucolic rural England. I also love working to the music of Olafur Arnalds, Zoe Keating, and most recently Evan Call’s Automemories, the moving and eclectic orchestral score to the anime Violet Evergarden.

What is your favourite book?

I’m going to go for The Orchid Trilogy by Jocelyn Brooke, an author who lived in my home area of rural Kent. It’s a set of three semi-autobiographical novels that tell stories from different parts of Brooke’s life, from his childhood growing up in east Kent during WW1 all the way up to serving in the army during WW2. It paints a melancholy but enchanting picture of a sensitive man, whose passion for the mystical rural landscapes of his childhood, and seeking rare orchids, embodies the distance he experienced from the rest of ‘normal’ society; in particular its ‘desirable’ traits of masculinity.

What made reading The Orchid Trilogy extra magical for me was having my local Ordnance Survey maps next to me. Following in his footsteps this way added another layer of significance to the familiar landscapes of my own upbringing.

Alice Reynolds

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What are your current research interests?

I am really interested in the marketisation of Higher Education, both within the UK and globally, and the Student-Consumer debate. My current research, supervised between Geography and Law, focuses upon a study of student housing in Dublin, where I am aim to advance student geographies by utilising a social harm perspective to explore the experiences of students within Dublin’s housing crisis. The research aims to advance the burgeoning field of zemiology, placing students at the heart of the research, and in doing so arguing for a social harm approach within geographical studies.

What do you do outside academia?

I have a big family and enjoy spending my free time visiting them out in the country. My guilty pleasure is watching anything to do with crime and the police and I’ve probably watched every Police Interceptors episode ever made…

What is your favourite song to work to?

I love Irish music and find it motivates me when I’m working. I love listening to Lord of the Dance whilst secretly wishing I was an Irish dancer!

What is your favourite book?

I really enjoyed reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, later adapted into a film in 2013. The book follows the story of Liesel, a nine-year-old German girl given up by her mother to live with foster parents in the small town of Molching in 1939, shortly before World War II. The strong relationships Liesel creates with characters throughout the book create a strong contrast against a backdrop of hate.

PhD Studentships in Cultural and Historical Geography

The Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London is delighted to invite suitably qualified candidates with research interests in cultural geography, historical geography, or the GeoHumanities to apply for doctoral funding under the auspices of the AHRC’s technē Doctoral Training Partnership and the ESRC’s South East Network for Social Sciences (SeNSS).*

The Department of Geography has a long-standing reputation in cultural and historical geography and its staff currently take a leading role in a number of the sub-disciplines’ key bodies (e.g., the Historical Geography Research Group and the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group of the RGS-IBG), journals (e.g., cultural geographies, Journal of Historical Geography, and GeoHumanities), and seminar series (e.g., the London Group of Historical Geographers). The Department is also home to the interdisciplinary Centre for the GeoHumanities. The Department has formal partnerships with the University of Neuchâtel (Switzerland) and the University of Padua (Italy), providing the opportunity for PhD students, where appropriate, to undertake exchange visits as part of their studies.

We would welcome enquiries from students interested in working in the following areas:

  • histories of geography; historical geographies of science;
  • history of cartography; the geography of the book;
  • histories of travel, tourism, and pilgrimage; cultures of exploration;
  • heritage, landscape, and memory; collecting and collections; museum geographies;
  • historical geographies of religion and sacred spaces;
  • cultural and historical geographies of the Mediterranean, especially Greece and Cyprus;
  • creative geographies; geographies of art and activism; creative experiments;
  • geographies of air and atmosphere; elemental geographies; sonic geographies;
  • citizen science; geographies of listening; feminist geographies of radio.

Interested candidates are invited to contact the Director of Graduate Studies (Admissions and Recruitment), Dr Innes M. Keighren (Innes.Keighren@rhul.ac.uk) to discuss supervisory possibilities.

Further details about the Department of Geography’s vibrant Social, Cultural and Historical Geography Research Group are available on its homepage: https://intranet.royalholloway.ac.uk/geography/research/researchgroups/schg/home.aspx The Group’s blog, Landscape Surgery, details the activities of our postgraduate researchers: https://landscapesurgery.wordpress.com/

* Applications to SeNSS and technē are governed by specific eligibility criteria (see, respectively, http://senss-dtp.ac.uk/application-faqs/ and http://www.techne.ac.uk/how-to-apply-for-a-techne-ahrc-studentship) and are dependent upon candidates applying successfully for admission to study at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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