Author Archives: Oli

Walking Heathrow: Exploring the fissures of infrastructure


As I’m sat in my car, parked in the Hatton Cross Station Car Park, I watch as the dark blue hue of the cold November morning sky slowly turns to a light grey, as the sun struggles to pierce the thick blanket of cloud above. Planes rumble up the runway, the end of which is about 100m in front of me separated by three rows of chain-link, razor-wired fence and a buttress of thick orange scaffolding supporting runway lights. These slender machines soar over my head, jetting off into the turning sky, roaring their ascent to the awakening population beneath them. In a few minutes, I was due to meet a traveller from New York. He had a 6-hour lay over and wanted to walk the perimeter fence of Heathrow, roughly 13 miles or so. The banality of such an undertaking bemused many when I told them I was doing it, particularly as it involved me battling the alarm clock a good 2 hours earlier than I normally do. But it is in the banality that the sublime can shine through; there is beauty in the everyday. Also, I was halfway through marking my third year cohort’s essays on psychogeography, and with their exciting adventures in the quotidian city teeming through my mind, how could I refuse such an invitation?

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Poppy Lawrence
I returned to the department this term to study MA Cultural Geography having graduated from reading BA Geography at Royal Holloway earlier this year. My undergraduate dissertation involved contemplating the formation of a possible subculture within religious groups, more specifically looking at young creatives who identify as Christians within urban clusters such as London. I hope to focus my research this year upon the evolving nature of sacred space and community, looking at how this could be perceived as redefining the bodily and affectual experience of sacred space.


Emily Hopkins

I completed my undergraduate degree in BSc Geography at Royal Holloway, and now I am starting the MA in Cultural Geography as part of my ESRC 1+3 studentship. My general interest is in creative geographies, ranging from visual and artistic methods, to the planning and functioning of cultural regeneration strategies.

Through a focus on creative gentrification within cities, my research aims to understand urban creativity from an audience perspective in smaller scale sites. I will undertake this in order to understand public perceptions on the artistic and cultural investments that are increasingly popular in city regeneration strategy.

Nina Willment

 Following my undergraduate degree at Royal Holloway, I am now studying for the MA as part of the ESRC 1+3 studentship. My general interests are in the geographies of creative workspaces and the work practices of creative labourers. My research aims to investigate the workspaces and careers of DJ’s and MC’s, particularly in the emerging musical genre of grime across the UK.


Sarah-Jane Pilton

During my three years at Royal Holloway studying for my degree in BA Geography, I discovered my enjoyment for the cultural aspects of the course. I did my undergraduate dissertation on the geographies of women and sport, in relation to performance and the media, which links to my primary research interests of the body, gender and the digital. When it came to thinking about what I was going to do after I graduated I decided that I wasn’t ready to leave the department. I stumbled across the MA Cultural Geography course and after reading through the course content and speaking to lecturers on the course I decided this was the right path for me.


Sterling Mackinnon III

Cultural Geography at Royal Holloway has provided a unique opportunity to synthesise mybackgrounds in both history and GIS. As an undergraduate at the University of Washington (Seattle, WA) I focused on historical notions of European nationhood and in the years following my graduation gravitated towards GIS, spending last year interning with the U.S. National Park Service as a GIS technician. As a cultural geographer I am fascinated by the entree of geospatial technologies, 3D modelling and printing, and virtual and augmented reality into the heritage sector, particularly with regards to ‘at-risk’ built heritage. I am curious as to how an evolving approach to built heritage preservation and restoration will inform and influence the future construction of narratives of place.


The Dystopia of Sodor: Thomas the Tank Engine and Neoliberalism

Thomas - the perfect neoliberal subject

Thomas – the perfect neoliberal subject

Thomas the Tank Engine, the popular children’s book and TV series, has been with us for 70 years, and still captures the imagination of children around the world. As a father of two rapidly growing-up children, trains seem to have some sort of mystic fascination with the preschool demographic. So it is no surprise that Thomas the Tank Engine is one of the world’s most recognised toy brands.

Thomas lives on the Island of Sodor, a mythical, small countryside island in the Irish Sea, just off the coast from Barrow-in-Furness. The trains are colourful, largely happy and busy, while the people go about normal lives in school, on the farm or on the railways. The trouble is, though, this surface-level utopian English-countryside-mid-twentieth-century idyll belies a far more sinister neoliberal allegory that pervades the daily minutiae of Thomas and his friends. The more of Thomas I watch, the more its ideologies of subservience, self-interest, prejudice and the constant imprinting of capitalist relations on everyday life ooze through the veneer of cutesy anthropomorphic trains. I would like to explore, here, just three ways in which Thomas the Tank Engine is far from a utopian idyll, but, rather, is a nightmarish vision of a society dominated by neoliberal capitalist ideologies. Continue reading

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Introducing the MA Cultural Geography Students 2015/6

Chloe Asker
PastedGraphic-1Before finding myself at Royal Holloway, I studied human geography at The University of Southampton. Here, I began to cultivate my passion for cultural geography and the more-than-human aspects of the discipline. I completed my undergraduate dissertation on the gendered domestic geographies of dog keeping, and found my interest for nature-cultures and embodiment under the guidance of Dr Emma Roe.

Twitter | Etsy Store


Adam Badger

UntitledI arrived onto the MA cultural geography course having just finished my BA Geography degree at Royal Holloway earlier this year. My primary research interests concern social mobility/justice, the city and (rather differently) the digital world. I believe we now stand at a point where online worlds can interact with the built environment and provide the agency necessary for social change. In my opinion, part of our role as geographers is to research these issues in a democratic way to help towards creating a fairer society.


Ed Brookes

edHaving spent the past two years traveling and working abroad I have returned to the world of academia. I have a previous geographical background graduating from Southampton with a BA in Human Geography. I have developed broad interests in geographies of the home, memory and mobility. I am especially interested in the politics of home and memory spaces, and how individuals navigate the spaces in which they live, previously researching elderly experiences in sheltered accommodation.

Twitter | Blog


Georgina Collins

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 10.57.13I graduated from Royal Holloway in the summer of 2015 with a BSc in Geography. Throughout my undergraduate I became very interested in Historical Geography and the Geographies of Museums and Collections. My undergraduate dissertation involved engaging with objects from the V&A Indian collection to consider the changing attitudes towards displaying India from the Colonial and Indian exhibition 1886 to the present day Nehru gallery. This allowed me to explore the method of object biography; which I wish to investigate further during the Cultural Geography MA using material culture to explore the concept of cultural genocide.


Dan Crawford

557834_4866521881537_879988634_nI completed my undergraduate degree at Royal Holloway this year, and am now studying for the MA as part of an ESRC 1+3 studentship. Broadly I am interested in the relationships between architecture, religion, heritage, landscape and sacred space. My research aims to investigate the ways in which sacred spaces are understood and experienced in the contemporary city, how they undergo material change over different timescales, and how these changes are implicated in wider social and cultural processes.


Jo Howes
unnamedComing to higher education later than most, my journey was via horticultural training and practice, followed by a History degree. My research interests include the Victorian imperial networks of horticultural knowledge and exchange and the spaces that have permitted or restricted this flow of knowledge across gender, class and ethnicity.



Katy Lawn
katyAfter completing my undergraduate degree at Durham University, where I focused on cultural and literary geographies, I have joined Royal Holloway with a general interest in philosophies of living and emotional/psycho-geographies. Through a particular focus on the geographies of work and the workplace, I hope to uncover some of what it means to live a fulfilled life in a contemporary urban setting.


Anthea Zhang 

mmexport1443952928294I am a visiting research student from South China Normal University. I major in geographical information science. And I have strong Interests in Cultural Geography. I focus on the intersection between Cultural Geography and GIS. At the moment my research is concentrating on the everyday practice of migrations in Guangzhou city, China. Using a qualitative GIS method.



Pictures and Thoughts on Writing and Pictures

unnamed (1) unnamedBackwards Drawings: pages 18 and 19 and plate 13 from Russian Icons (by David Talbot Rice) ink and watercolour on paper

Text can be understood as image when it cannot be ‘read’ in the way that we understand letters to make words, and words to make sentences. Text becomes a series of lines and shapes when it cannot be processed by the reader in the way that the writer had intended. When looking at Arabic, Chinese or Greek text, I understand that there is meaning present in the form of the ‘words’, but I don’t have the key be able to process this meaning as language. Instead, I discover meaning elsewhere; I create in my mind an image-poem.

Backwards text from pages 18 and 19 of Russian Icons (by David Talbot Rice) shown above is an ink drawing of a piece of writing that considers how we read Eastern Iconography. If you were to look carefully enough and could read backwards, you would find the following sentence within the text:

‘….in (Russian) iconography, a distant and purely Eastern system of arrangement is followed, where scenes are built up from right to left, not from left to right. In the Annunciation, for instance, the angel approaches from the right side and not from the left, as it does in Western and in true Byzantine art. In the West, in fact, scenes move from left to right, like the writing; in East they move from right to left, as does the Arabic script…’

‘…In order to appreciate an Eastern painting to the full, we should therefore try to look at it from right to left, rather than from left to right, as we naturally tend to do even if we do not realise it’.

We tend to translate images instinctively, understanding them visually rather than verbally, generating meaning in a way that makes sense to us. It is interesting to consider text in the same way: ingesting it visually, not literarily. Through the ‘translation’ of a section of printed text into a reverse-drawing, it is presented as image and therefore ‘read’ in a very different way. However, the viewer will recognise that the drawing is written text, and, with the time or inclination (and a mirror?), it could be read as the author had intended.

Plate 13 from Russian Icons (by David Talbot Rice) (the image accompanying the reverse-drawing) has also been copied from the book and painted in reverse. Unlike with the written text, the audience is unlikely to realise this. As with an abstract painting that is hung upside down, it might feel wrong, but is it possible to know that is not the right way up? And what might this mean for understanding and knowledge that is gained through the visual?

By Alice Ladenburg

NB: This work was recently selected for HOAX – an independent, artist-led project providing a space in print and online to show all forms of creative work incorporating text alongside each other without prejudice or predefined “rules” about the look, format, content or execution of the work’. See their website for more information.


Last Breath: Exploration and Art Practice as Research

I’m Thomas, currently an MA Cultural Geography student at RHUL. Over the last months I initiated my first two ‘real’ academic adventures: a participation in UCL Urban Labs’ Cities Methodologies exhibition (showcasing innovative means of investigating the urban) and in the Reconfiguring Ruins research project (an AHRC-funded platform bringing together museums, academics and artists to reconsider our current understandings of material and immaterial ruins and the process of ruination). Apart from the disastrous technological breakdown minutes before the exhibition’s opening night (no surprises there), it proved to be an exciting experience to present a project I have been working on throughout 2013 and 2014, where the ‘traditional’ boundaries of the researcher were questioned and blurred into spheres of curation, art practice and film making.

Last Breath

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Introducing the MA Cultural Geography students 2014/15

Landscape Surgery has strong links with the MA in Cultural Geography, taught by the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway., University of London. The course teaches a range of cultural geographic ideas and is combined with research training, practice-based courses and is formally recognised by the British research councils. As such, many of the alumni go on to PhDs and successful careers in academia, policy and beyond.

Below, we introduce the current cohort (2014/15), with a summary of their research interests and links to their work.

Thomas Dekeyser
Thomas-Dekeyser-IDI have a theoretical and practical background in media studies and specifically in film making. I am interested in bringing these together with my broad research interest: the urban. This includes (but is not limited to) urban interventions, activist practices and processes of demolition. Related to this, I organise a series of unoffical pre-demolition exhibitions called Last Breath.

Twitter | LastBreath website

Ben Gilby
PhotoI am studying part-time, whilst spending the other half of the week as a primary school teacher in the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. My research interests surround Geographies of Regionality, with a particular focus on Cornish Culture & Identity. I am especially interested in how different regions demonstrate and celebrate their unique culture and how, in some cases this clearly influences the local political, economic and even sporting scene.

Twitter | Blog

Oliver Knight
PhotoForLSBefore starting this MA, I graduated from Royal Holloway with a BA in Geography in Summer 2014. My particular research interests within the discipline of socio-cultural geography are based in the arena of the geographies of sexualities. In particular, I am interested in how our everyday behaviours, experiences and emotions affect the formation of sexual identities both in the private and public spheres of the rural environment. Most recently, I have turned to both psychological and sociological literature regarding queer phenomenology to enrich my approach to this topic.


Alice Ladenburg
Handstand 2013 04 01 13 Drakensberg02As art-school educated (Edinburgh College of Art, 2008), one half of an Art/Science collaboration with Professor Iain Woodhouse (School of Geosciences, Edinburgh University) and initiator of Jambula (an artist-led project raising awareness of deforestation in Malawi) I am interested in exploring the potential value of working as an artist in both academia and development.

Twitter | Website | Red Horizon Art | Why Equals

Huw Rowlands
Coming back to the academic world after 25 years as a project manager in the public, charitable and education sectors is exciting. Things have moved on in the meantime (it would be surprising if it hadn’t!) and the breadth of interest is mind expanding. Much of my work involved some form of applied geography, and it was very diverse, but I always knew I’d be back to study. My route from project management to Royal Holloway has been via leading a samba-reggae drumming band in France, junk percussion workshops for children and Steiner teacher training. I’m still teaching some classes this year, and I currently imagine taking my newly expanded mind and finding valuable applications for learning contexts. This may well include (at least) child development, sense of place and indigenous mapping practices.

Twitter | BlueSkyPoint website | FranceRant blog | BatalaMassif

Robert Sheargold
Before this MA, I finished a BA in Human Geography earlier this year at Aberystwyth University, where I took up an interest in the relationship between physical and digital spaces and how we as everyday people approach these questions.  Since joining RHUL I have taken an interest in ideas of mobilising traditional research methods.


Emma Shenton
unnamedI have a strong interest in gender and in emotional geographies. My interests have developed since the second year of my undergraduate degree where I proposed and carried out research in Malawi, Africa, focusing on women’s access to transport. At the moment my research is concentrating on the geographies of love and belonging and how this is performed through different situations. This work stems from previous work on the home and the emotional and sensual geographies which surround it.

Twitter | Blog

Subverting the aesthetics of decay

The aesthetics of decay have been well versed of late, not only within academic literature, but also mainstream media and online via blogs and other social media. We have seen an aquarium in an abandoned shopping mall in Bangkokentire disused airports in Cyprus and an whole abandoned island used in Hollywood blockbusters. Industrial, residential, infrastructural, rural; there have been a plethora of forms of dereliction that have been recorded. The huge swath of media (sometimes labelled ‘ruin porn’) has led to the fetishization of dereliction with some suggesting that such overt ruination imagery has had damaging effects on particular places that are oft the focus of such narratives, notably Detroit.


Nature reclaiming her land

Click on the photos to view the larger image

Recently, I was lucky enough to spend some time in the Shropshire and Cheshire countryside, and came across what on first viewing looked like an abandoned, disused factory, perhaps once used for chemical production of some kind (I had trouble recalling my GCSE chemistry lessons). Upon closer inspection, the site did indeed have a ‘ruined’ factory. The redbrick façades were punctuated by shattered windows that allowed the old pipework, and inner-workings of the factory to be exposed. Nature had clearly began to reclaim this building, as shrubbery and invader species were rife on the walls, the roofs and throughout the old passageways between the buildings. The high industrial, temporary fencing that are synonymous with ‘danger, keep out, abandoned building’ sites was stationed around the decaying buildings, and had it not been for the family waiting impatiently in the car while I indulged in ruination geekery, I would have attempted to get beyond the fencing to explore further. Other typical ruination aesthetics were in view, with the exposed metal work rusting in the damp North West climate. Continue reading


The Las Vegas Affect

Welcome to the Desert of the Hyperreal...

Welcome to the Desert of the Hyperreal…

There has been a great deal of scorn poured on Las Vegas from the academy. From its low creative city ranking, its over-reliance on too narrow an industry base and its crippling ecological effects, Sin City has been attacked by urban, economic and environment geographers respectively. Baudrillard (1994: 91) has been equally as disparaging stating that the ‘liquidation’ of the mediated advertising architecture, and the “reabsorption of everything into the surface (whatever signs circulate there)… plunges us into this stupefied, hyperreal euphoria that we would not exchange for anything else, and that is the empty and inescapable form of seduction”. The city that seems to represent nothing but a simulacrum of itself and is awash with rampant hawkish capitalism, is designed in toto to rid you of as much financial, social and personal capital as is possible. Continue reading