Category Archives: Landscape Surgery

Literary Geographies

Our third Landscape Surgery of the autumn term discussed the topic of Literary Geographies, with presentations from three of the department’s visiting scholars: Nattie Golubov (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), Lucrezia Lopez (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela) and Giada Peterle (University of Padua). Each presenter discussed the ways in which their research has engaged with different forms of literature, and what their individual methodologies can contribute to geographical study. This was followed by a panel discussion that grappled more broadly with what encounters between literature and geographical inquiry can achieve.

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Our presenters in discussion during the session

Our first speaker on the day, Nattie Golubov, has been a professor at the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature at UNAM since 1995, having taught widely on English literature, literary and cultural theory. Her research engages in the critical study of a variety of types of American texts, to understand how relationships between diverse groups of people in the US are expressed culturally.

Nattie began by highlighting how academic literature on migration has tended to view the process from perspectives of postcolonialism, diaspora and exile, while focusing disproportionately on the point of departure and the point of arrival. Using Teju Cole’s (2017) book Blind Spot as a point of reference, she explained how literary approaches to the topic of migration can be fruitful for scholarship on this subject, with stories in the form of novels and other texts being able to evoke the translocal (relationships between specific locations within countries, not just between countries); complicate the binaries of nomadic/sedentary and centre/periphery which have characterised existing migration scholarship; and foster critical reflection on the geographies of where texts on migration are written, published, read and translated.

In her current research, Nattie has been examining contemporary US romance literature that tells stories about American soldiers in Afghanistan. What she finds interesting about these texts, she explained, is how the subject matter of the stories is at once heavily geopolitical, yet grounded in the ‘normal’ and everyday. While the locations portrayed by the novels can lead to an awareness of the planetary, this is typically foregrounded by familiar tropes of small-town America and the space of the house/home.

With romance being a very popular genre that is widely read in the US – especially by women – this can render the representations used in the novels problematic, notably through the sometimes shocking language that describes places in the Global South. Nattie gave the example of one location being referred to as the ‘armpit of the world’; while simultaneously the novels perpetuate a fantasy of whiteness and enclosure in these territories.

Nattie’s work is seeking to ask what it is about the ‘normal’ that is so attractive and tenacious in literature. And in turn, what kinds of (geographical) relationships do these novels forge with the reader? Can they produce a new type of sociality around the topic of migration?

Our second presenter was Lucrezia Lopez, whose research explores practices of tourism, heritage and religious expression by investigating how they are represented and interpreted culturally. Her current research, titled in this presentation as ‘The Contemporary Spaces of the Way of St. James’, studies the travel diaries of those sharing their experiences of pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago.

Lucrezia started by outlining how literature, cinema and the internet are contributing to a new spatial discourse of the Camino de Santiago; reinforcing the notion that there are multiple ‘Caminos’ articulated by the different artists and writers who represent it.

Travel diaries in particular are a relatively new method people are using to share their experiences of travelling on the Camino, reflecting a broader turn in the literature towards exploring the internal journeys of pilgrims taking part. Lucrezia identified two trends within the travel diaries’ representations of walking the Camino: neo-romanticism, reflecting the aesthetic value of travel diaries in conveying emotions/feelings and representing an idyllic rural landscape; and neo-realism, reflecting the testimonial value of travel diaries in drawing attention to traffic, waste and issues of sustainability on the Camino.

As for the act of writing itself, Lucrezia has found that a concept of liminality or ‘in-between’ space is expressed through practices of documenting the pilgrimage using travel diaries. The process of writing about the landscape in this way is believed to cultivate a different sense of self; a cathartic, therapeutic and/or spiritual practice that is part of the pilgrimage. However, some of these writers have been exploring this intimacy using alternative forms of representation than just text. Lucrezia referred to the comic book On the Camino by Norwegian artist Jason (2017), and how his use of images portrays the practice of pilgrimage on the Camino using popular visual tropes of the solitary thinking walker, bridges, and rural landscapes.

Ultimately, Lucrezia located three spaces through which the travel diaries operate: the space of the reader, the subjective space of the pilgrim/author, and the physical space of the Camino itself. How the Camino is imagined is a product of the work that varying forms of representation (e.g. comic book versus text) do in these spaces, alongside the personal discourses that are performed through individual practices of writing, reading and walking.

With wider relevance for thinking about methodology within literary geographies, Lucrezia finished by speaking about some of the challenges she has faced while studying travel diaries for her research. Which sources do you choose to consult, which do you leave, and why? Which academic research should be consulted, amongst the wide range of scholarship on the Camino? And could examining this kind of literature for research be a ‘leading’ methodology, privileging the researcher’s own interpretations of the texts?

Our final speaker was Giada Peterle, a post-doctoral research fellow and lecturer whose work is creative and interdisciplinary, bringing a range of narrative forms to her academic study within geography to think about the ways we understand, shape and represent the places we inhabit. Her current project is titled ‘Urban Literary Geographies: Mapping the city through narrative interpretation and creative practice’.

Giada’s presentation started by situating her work within a wider trajectory of creative geographies. She charted how the dialogical exchange between geographical and literary theory, as well as an existing and ongoing reciprocal exchange between place and literature, has been an important influence within the recent creative (re)turn in geography (e.g. Hawkins 2013; Madge, 2014). As well as fostering interdisciplinarity, this scholarship has approached storytelling not just as a form of representation, but as a creative practice to engage with, in which the embodied experiences of academics themselves can inform research.

Giada illustrated how her work has entered the domain of creative practice through Street Geography, a collaborative project between several geographers at the University of Padua with Progetto Giovani (based in the Office of the Municipality of Padua), which aims to encourage dialogue between academic research, art practice, and Padua citizens in an effort to contribute to the conceptualisation and realisation of more meaningful and sustainable cities. Street Geography brought together three geographers and three artists to create three site-specific exhibitions in Padua that question the ways people live in cities, as well as the significance of change, movement and relationships in shared urban spaces.

This presentation concentrated on one of these site-specific exhibitions, A station of stories: moving narrations, which was undertaken in Padua railway station. Giada recounted how the project team wanted this site-specific work to reflect the varied mobilities and stories that the station embodies, as an environment of co-presence and contradictions: between transit and encounter, consumption and dwelling, work and criminality, encounter and exclusion.

This conceptual approach led to an idea of the material space of the station itself being a narrator. Using this tactic in their writing, the team aimed to provoke empathy with the place; challenging anthropocentric understandings of the station by imagining the site telling stories of its own changing environment from a non-human perspective. In turn, the team hoped to enable readers to think about how, when and on what terms different stories of the city are told. This latter objective was especially relevant as most of the station’s spaces are normally used for advertising. How could these spaces be appropriated to encourage people to think critically about the station as a confluence of diverse stories?

The team’s answer was to use the comic book form. As a type of literature that is easy to read and accessible, but also quite mobile in how it is read, using comics took into account the different entry points and directions of movement from which the story could be approached and interpreted in the station. This depth of engagement was facilitated by the comic’s physical presence as a public art exhibition; though the physicality of the comic panels also brought practical challenges. Giada recalled finding all the exhibition panels face down on the ground only the morning after mounting them for display, and consequently having to change the way they were stuck up. The team were also concerned that members of the public writing on the panels might obscure the material shown.

In the end, the physical positioning of the panels in the station successfully engaged diverse audiences of academics, travellers and residents through a series of intentional and accidental encounters with the artwork. Creative geographical approaches such as those adopted in Street Geography, Giada contended, demonstrate how encounters between geography and art can engage wider communities with the discipline, by seeing it as a creative approach towards understanding spaces that incorporates their materialities and affects, as well as the personal experiences of researchers.

The three presentations were followed by a panel discussion, which picked up on points of crossover between Nattie, Lucrezia and Giada’s work.

In a conversation on what the spatial perspective of geography can offer literature, our presenters considered the complex relationship between ‘real’ physical spaces and how they are represented in fiction. They reflected on how geographical approaches and (creative) methodologies that investigate the spaces of readers, writers and publishers, such as Innes Keighren’s work on geographies of the book (e.g. Keighren, 2013), can attend to the ways in which literary representations of space are implicated within the wider social, political and material processes through which different literatures are produced and consumed.

It was also suggested that the themes of mobility and non-linearity within geographical thought can help with understanding how the form of a text interacts with the way its geographies are experienced by the work’s creators and readers. Our presenters concurred that such experiences of literature have become increasingly non-linear, through both the unique and interactive forms of consumption that digital technology enables, as well as postmodernist trends in literature that have sought to think beyond linear constructions of narrative.

Thank you to all three of our presenters for sharing some fascinating insights from their research, and for all they have contributed as visiting scholars to our research community in the Social, Cultural and Historical Geography Research Group during their time at Royal Holloway.

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Lucrezia Lopez, Nattie Golubov and Giada Peterle

Bibliography

Cole, T. (2017) Blind Spot. London: Faber & Faber.

Hawkins, H. (2013) “Geography and art: An expanding field: Site, the body, and practice” Progress in Human Geography 37(1): 52-71.

Jason (2017) On the Camino. Seattle: Fantagraphics.

Keighren, I.M. (2013) Geographies of the book: review and prospect. Geography Compass 7(11): 745-758.

Madge, C. (2014) “On the creative (re)turn to geography: poetry, politics and passion” Area 46(2): 178-185.

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

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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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Year 1 Presentations: 29th May 2018

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:

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Emily Hopkins: 

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.

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Year 1 Presentations: 22nd May 2018

On Tuesday, Landscape Surgery saw the first round of Year 1 surgeons presenting on their research:

Rachael Utting:

Collecting Leviathan: curiosity, exchange and the British Southern Whale Fishery (1775-1860)

My research project is titled Collecting Leviathan: curiosity, exchange and the British Southern Whale Fishery (1775-1860). The project looks specifically at the collecting activities of whalers and whaling surgeons within the BSWF and at the role played by these individuals in supplying the trade in curiosities in Britain during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. My presupposition is that during the regular layovers for fresh food, water and wood, the whalers also engaged in exchange relations to acquire indigenous artefacts which were retained for personal interest or sold as curiosities upon returning home. By analysing these moments of exchange and encounter through whaling logs, journals, auction house records and public and private correspondence, I propose to build an understanding of the networks of exchange spreading out from the London dockside and thereby enhancing our knowledge and understanding of early British collecting practices. To evidence this, I am reviewing journals (and to a lesser extent) logbooks relating to the BSWF to look for examples of cross cultural trade.

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Aërography

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Aerography Panel: (left to right) Pete Adey, Gwilym Eades, Sasha Engelmann and Anna Jackman

After a long Easter break, this week was a welcome return to Landscape Surgery’s seminar series. We were welcomed back by a wonderful panel of guest speakers, as Pete Adey (Professor of Geography, RHUL), Anna Jackman (Lecturer in Human Geography, RHUL), Gwilym Eades (Lecturer in Human Geography, RHUL) and Sasha Engelmann (Lecturer in GeoHumanities, RHUL) each presented their work around the theme of aerography.

The session starts with an introduction by Sasha as she briefly explores the definition of aerography. Taken literally, aerogeography means a description of the air. However, when considering the term more deeply,it comes to embrace the whole domain of atmospherics from the flow and counter-flow of the air, the pressures, temperatures, humidities, dust content, electrical charge, as well as their function in relation to living systems. Citing the work of Alexander McAdie (1917) Sasha presents how aerography looks to engage with the multiple textures, nuances, and material resonances of the atmosphere and how by attending to them, we can develop new understandings around the wider energetic politics of the atmosphere. This is particularly poignant because, as Sasha goes onto discuss, geography has for too long been focused on the surface of the earth. She argues increasingly there is a need to attend to the new power geographies of the air. Especially when considering that the atmosphere is more and more beyond our control, as it becomes increasingly populated by drones, aircraft, pollutants, legal regulations, and waves of communication.

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‘Urban detours: play, performance, politics’

27653443_10155422464308693_1111895170_oIn this week’s landscape surgery we are taken on a tour of London organised by the ‘Urban Detours Guide Team’ (Cecile Sachs Olsen, Hattie Coppard and Jonathan Moses). They invite us to take part in a ‘walkshop’ and explore urban space in alternative and creative ways, as we play with its meaning, content and context.  The tour takes the form of a ‘sound-walk’, walking silently through the city in order to embrace sounds and experiences as they happen. We are given three rules:

  • No Speaking
  • Follow The Instructions
  • Play Along

What follows is a series of text and images that attempt to document part of our experience as we delve into the various textures, smells and audiovisual registers that the city produces.

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The 12 Books of Christmas

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As i’m sure many of you know, the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ begins with a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days before Christmas day. Well this year Landscape Surgery (whilst not quite having the budget for various exotic birds and leaping dignitaries) is providing you with twelve books that would make great reads over the holiday period.

Each book has been selected by surgeons in the group, along with a reason why they liked it and why you should read it too!

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Author Meets Critics (Without the Author): Violence, Mourning and Politics

judith_butler_ap_img_0Judith Butler – Courtesy of Google Images

In the first landscape surgery session of ‘Author Meets Critics (Without the Author)’, we discuss a chapter from Judith Butler’s book Precarious Life (2004). The chapter in question, ‘Violence, Mourning and Politics’ (pp.19-50), was selected as many surgeons felt it had continuing relevance in both their own academic work and with recent political events concerning global conflicts and disasters such as the Grenfell Tower fire.

The session is led by Oli Mould (Lecturer in Human Geography, RHUL Geography) and Miriam Burke (ESRC PhD, RHUL Geography) who begins with a summary, drawing out many of the key themes from the chapter. Starting with notions of ‘grief’, Oli discusses how Butler questions what it means to grieve.  In particular, the idea that we define who we are as humans through what makes a ‘grievable’ life. This questions who ‘we’ are in the collective sense as through the act of grieving we come to realise that we are inherently connected to others, both human and non-human. There is a realisation that there is a ‘you’ in the collective notion of ‘we’ and that part of us is lost when we grieve for others. This notion is aptly summarised by Butler, as she highlights how we are undone by each other’ (pp.23).

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Decolonising geographical knowledges or reproducing coloniality?

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Geography: “a discipline that may not be ready to, or even capable of, responding to the challenge of decolonisation,” (Esson et al., 2017: 384).

Huw Rowlands (AHRC PhD, RHUL Geography) and Joy Slappnig (CDA PhD, RHUL Geography in collaboration with the RGS-IBG) expertly led Landscape Surgery this week, in a “Contemporary Debates in Human Geography” session concerning “decolonizing geographical knowledges” – a topic that not only formed the locus of important discussions at the recent RGS-IBG conference, but also inspired a forum in Transactions. Together we sought to ultimately explore and unpack the question: decolonising geographical knowledge or reproducing coloniality? To begin exploration of this challenging but salient topic, Huw and Joy posed three key reflective questions:

-What is geographical knowledge? How is it perpetuated? Why should we address it?

After a few moments of personal reflection, we were asked to document our initial reactions to these questions on post-it-notes, which we then used to populate flip-charts posting these questions around the room.

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Analogic Spaces, Caves and the Ends of the Earth – Flora Parrott, Rachel Squire and Pete Adey

IMG_3507Photography: Ed Brookes

This week’s landscape surgery explored the world of analogic and subterranean geographies. Hosted by Flora Parrott (TECHNE PhD, RHUL Geography), Rachel Squire (Lecturer in Human Geography at RHUL) and Pete Adey (Professor of Geography RHUL). Split into two parts; Flora presented her work on caves, followed by Rachel and Pete and their research into the subterranean realms of analogic spaces.

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