Category Archives: Material Culture

Introducing New PhD Students 2016/17



Adam BadgerScreen Shot 2017-01-06 at 18.08.55.png

Space, Freedom and Control in the Digital Workplace

Having undertaken both BA Geography and MA Cultural Geography at Royal Holloway, I am delighted to return to the department for PhD study. This time, however, with a twist! As a Leverhulme Trust Magna Carta Scholarship funded candidate I have been given the opportunity to work in a wholly interdisciplinary capacity between the schools of Geography and Management. With my supervisory team – Prof. Phil Crang (Geog) and Prof. Gillian Symons (SoM) – I will be investigating the contemporary digital workplace through a range of analytical lenses. Of particular interest currently are the themes of ‘surveillance, display, and (de)territorialisation’, in addition to the development of methodological toolkits geared toward today’s changing work environments. In this race – both with and against Moore’s law – this line of study will hopefully generate exciting research into digital workplaces and, in addition, build bridges between the disciplines of Geography and Management.


Ed Brookes Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 20.24.59.png

Excavating the contemporary urban geographies of Robin Hood Gardens, London

Before joining the Royal Holloway family I studied at the University of Southampton, graduating in 2013 with a BA in human geography. With a brief interlude for various jobs and travel excursions it wasn’t until 2015 when I returned to academia, enrolling in the MA Cultural Geography course at Royal Holloway. It was during this time, and with great help from the Geography Department, that I managed to secure a PhD with funding by the ESRC. With a start date of September 2017, the PhD (supervised by Dr. Oli Mould and Prof. David Gilbert) aims to explore the social and cultural urban geographies of the Robin Hood Gardens housing estate in East London. More specifically it will focus on how the present-day site, and its on-going political contestation, is continually ‘produced’ by historical and layered assemblages of materiality, culture and urban politics.

In terms of my wider research foci I am particularly interested in the geographies of home, geographies of architecture and concepts of liminality. With a particular fascination with how individuals create and navigate the spaces in which they live as well as how intimate and ‘everyday’ architectural spaces are linked to a wider urban politics. Looking beyond my academic interests, I fill my time with manufacturing unhealthy baked goods and consuming large amounts of dystopian science fiction.


Daniel Crawford



(Dis)Assembling the Sacred


I’ve been a student in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway since 2012, completing a BA in Geography and MA in Cultural Geography during that time. Funded by an ESRC 1+3 studentship, my PhD aims to investigate how meanings and experiences of sacred spaces are influenced by processes of material change. Within the ‘infrasecular’ present such processes are pervasive, as the relationships between communities and individuals, belief, non-belief and alternative forms of spirituality become increasingly complex, and, in parallel, sacred spaces are transformed and repurposed, made and unmade, neglected and conserved. I am interested in exploring these shifts with reference to various religious and non-religious understandings of the ‘sacred’ itself, many of which offer compelling and provocative ways of thinking about its geographies (architectural, natural, bodily, textual). These inform my current theoretical work looking at how and where silence, nonsense (and non-sense), emptiness and other negative projections of the unknowable might exert themselves. Finding suitable case studies and methodologies to clarify and focus these concerns will be my next step.


Katy Lawn picture1

Affective geographies of the contemporary British workplace: lifeworlds, biopolitics and precarity

I completed my undergraduate degree at Durham University, where I focused on cultural and literary geographies through a comparative study of Jack Kerouac novels and the philosophy of the (then) recently translated You Must Change Your Life by Peter Sloterdijk. After completing my undergraduate degree in 2013, I worked in a large publishing house for a year – which meant I got to meet David Starkey (very briefly). But the call of the academy was still too strong… and I returned to complete my MA at Royal Holloway in 2016 with a sustained interest in philosophies of living and emotional geographies. My PhD  work – supervised by Prof. Phil Crang and Dr. Oli Mould – will carry this interest through with a particular focus on the geographies of work, and within that, the role of affect and emotion in the workplace. I also have an interest in creative methods in social research – for example poetic ethnography and visual methods. When I am not reading critical management theory, I also like to paint, draw, and go to spoken word poetry events.


Flora Parrott

Swallow hole: the pursuit of darkness and uncertaintyparrott


I studied Fine Art at The Michaelis School of Art in Cape Town, The Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art graduating with a Masters in Printmaking in 2009. Exhibitions include, Robin Gibson Gallery in Sydney, Herbert Gallery and Museum in Coventry and the Ryedale Folk Museum, The Cosmos, Residency & Relatively Absolute at Wysing Arts Centre, The Negligent Eye at The Bluecoat, Liverpool, and Thin Place, Oriel Myrddin, Wales. In 2012 I received an Artist International Development Grant to travel to Brazil, the resulting project ‘Fixed Position’ showed at Tintype London, Projeto Fidalga, São Paulo and in The Earth Science Museum at The University São Paulo.

My teaching experience includes: Lecturer at Norwich University College of the Arts and Senior Lecturer at Kingston University. I am also currently visiting lecturer at UCA, and the universities of Birmingham, Bath and Bournemouth.

In 2016 I was Artist in Residence at RGS-IBG and The Leverhulme Artist in Residence in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway University London, developing a project titled ‘Swallet’. Current projects include a publication with Camberwell Press and an upcoming group show at Norwich Castle Museum.

Huw Rowlands


Historical and contemporary performance of cross-cultural first contact encounters: temporal and spatial dynamics

As first year AHRC-funded PhD student, I focus on re-performances of first-contact encounters in colonial-indigenous relationships. My research explores the roles of these encounters and their subsequent expressions in a range of media and contexts, such as neo-historical novels, dance/theatre, oral traditions, and exhibitions, including in the contemporary world. Seen through the lenses of performance and performativity, the research aims to understand the role of first contact re-performances in the cross-cultural dynamics of contemporary societies. I am supervised by Felix Driver and advised by Helen Gilbert.

A ‘Surgeon’ since undertaking an MA in the department 2014-15, I particularly enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of surgeries. Interdisciplinary, eclectic, curious, these are all words that seem to characterise my life; so far anyway. As a public/third sector project manager for 20 years, I worked on such diverse projects as the creation of a long-distance footpath between Winchester and Mont Saint Michel, funding Gaelic language tourism in Scotland, looking for life on Mars, and organising a multicultural percussion festival in the mountains of France. I taught geography, junk percussion and creative writing in both France and in UK Steiner schools over four years, and am also currently working (very) part-time as project co-manager, modern maps processing at the British Library.

My other interests include samba-reggae, photography, knitting, garden design, drawing, theatre, world music, walking and badminton.


Joy Slappnigjoy.JPG

The Indigenous Map

My PhD project (which is part of the Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) scheme and supervised by Prof. Felix Driver and Dr. Catherine Souch) seeks to establish Indigenous contribution to the map collection at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), and to explore the historical significance of “Indigenous maps” as sources of geographical information, as ethnographic objects, and as artefacts of encounter. I’m new to Geography and intrigued by the diversity of the discipline, and to see what my academic background can bring to my PhD. I completed a BA in History at King’s College London (my dissertation focused on the influence of bebop on racial integration in New York during the 1940s and ‘50s), and an MSc in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology at the University of Oxford (where my final project investigated how the “remnants” of repatriated objects in American museums (catalogue records, exhibition labels, photographs, etc.), influence Indigenous presence in those institutions). I’m interested in the geographies of exchange and encounter, material anthropology, post-colonial studies, as well as ethnographic collections, and the ways in which they have been assembled (and sometimes disassembled), displayed and otherwise engaged with, and used in the production of knowledge. I really liked participating in curatorial research internships at the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, during which I worked on a repatriation procedure with the Laguna Pueblo tribe, and on an exhibition of pre-Columbian architectural models. A you might expect, I enjoy visiting the London museums in my free time (the Hunterian Museum is a recent favourite), and I also like going to the movies. I’ve just moved to the northwest of London and I’m currently enjoying the novel NW by Zadie Smith. 



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Curating a Research Exhibition

dscf8465Landscape Surgery’s current theme of ‘communicating research’ took a look at research exhibitions, and revealed ways in which exhibitions can be far more than valuable forms of communication. The session was stimulated by three panelists: current surgeon and 3rd year PhD student n the department Katherine Stansfeld, ex-surgeon and PhD student and now British Library curator Phil Hatfield, and Carey Newson, who recently completed a collaborative PhD with Queen Mary, University of London and the Geffrye Museum of the Home.

Katherine introduced her research on mapping superdiversity and outlined several reasons why an exhibition might form part of PhD research: as a means of communication, particularly in reaching audiences beyond the academy; as research or analytical process, alongside other methods; and as a way of starting or continuing a dialogue with people who may be interested in or have participated in the research.

Three aspects of Katherine’s experience stood out. The first relates to planning and spatial materiality. An exhibition budget enabled a diverse team to be involved, including an artistic director and production staff. This increased planning and coordination time that Katherine has been spending on the exhibition. It also revealed how significantly the materiality of an exhibition space and design affects the way people can interact with an exhibition. The second and linked aspect is the process of deciding what to show and how to show it. This is clearly not a neutral process, and can be driven as much by material priorities as research or aesthetic ones. Collaboration was the third aspect, and Katherine shared her experience of working with young artists on alternative mapping. In conclusion, she commented on how the more time-consuming communication that results from these three aspects offers both challenges and opportunities.

In contrast to Katherine’s exhibition being very much within her research, Carey’s followed the completion of her thesis. Her research project, in collaboration with Queen Mary and the Geffrye Museum speaks to the material culture of domestic space, geographies of young people and the study of the home, and explored the meaning and significance of the teenager’s bedroom and its material culture. Visual anthropologist Kyna Gourley took photographs of the bedrooms, and Carey returned with a selection of these later to stimulate interviews with both teenagers and their parents. Some of the findings included the way the rooms reflected and expressed teenagers’ personalities and lives, and so changed over time; that the bedrooms were retreats more than social spaces; and that the 24 rooms studied were very different, yet with recurring themes. Teenagers were pre-occupied by dilemmas around what to keep and what to get rid of, recalling Nicky Gregson’s work on the relationship between ridding and dwelling.

Moving on to the creation of the exhibition itself, Carey, like Katherine, mentioned the materiality of the space, especially the glass cases which, initially thought to be problematic, led to the development of a series of installations. There were also particular challenges and creative design solutions in relating the objects to their bedroom contexts. The creation of a full-scale installation of a bed and contextual material was assisted by the original room’s occupier, and made a fascinating difference to the way the teenage audience engaged with the exhibition at the opening. Playful forms of engagement, such as sitting on and in the bed and taking photographs of each other, stood out. It seems curious the way these rooms are exhibitions in themselves, and this was in some ways an exhibition of exhibitions.

Phil’s presentation gave us an opportunity to take a broader perspective on exhibitions in the context of major cultural institutions, based on his involvement in six exhibitions at the British Library. One of the first points Phil raised was the effect of space and time and other resource pressure in such places. Large institutions have relatively complex planning and approval processes which impose longer lead-in times. They also have more proposals for exhibitions than space to accommodate them. Add to this the range of costs, that can be in the £100,000s, together with the numbers and seniority of staff involved, and you have a set of factors with very significant impacts on exhibitions. These collectively mean that the opportunities to integrate an exhibition into the timescale of a PhD are very limited, effectively nonexistent.

However, successful exhibitions still happen regularly at the British Library, and Phil identified a number of other more positive factors. By keeping in touch with curators over the long-term, there is more chance of being able to take advantage of unexpected opportunities that do come up. A case in point is Phil’s own forthcoming exhibition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the federation of Canada through the Library’s photographic archives, based on his PhD completed six years ago. In dealing with large cultural institutions, flexibility can be very helpful too. By contributing in small ways to exhibitions and book projects, blogs and public programming, you build a relationship based on relevant collaboration that can enhance other, greater opportunities.

A very interactive discussion followed, aided by the contrasts between the three speakers around the common theme. The contrasts highlighted the range of relationships that an exhibition can have with research as research method, output, opportunity for participatory involvement, and engagement with more diverse audiences. Even in the British Library, an exhibition can feed into the institution as a whole, beyond the specific research that it is focused on.

An interesting theme developed around the risks and other dynamics involved in showing a work in progress, as in Katherine’s case. This raised the importance of managing expectations. It also illustrates how the material processes of exhibition production can be significantly different. Take photographs for example. The specification of photographs being produced in the role of final record is different from that where they are being displayed as research tools. Applied to Katherine’s video work, this also highlighted the way editing affects the research process in important ways.

This is magnified in larger projects, where the numbers and specialisms of people involved make exhibitions effectively massive collaborations, where the identification of the work with the names of only one or two curators seems at the very least inadequate. Further discussion looked at the use of the term curation and the development of curatorial skills in more detail.

An intriguing thread led us through issues of presenting items to speak for themselves contrasted with the use of explanatory text. There was some link to the timing of the exhibition in relation to the stage of the research project. Katherine felt that, as a work in progress, she had greater freedom to allow the work to be displayed with limited explanation. Carey noted the importance and value of experience in advising and editing display text. Phil took this further to remind us of the intensely collaborative nature of producing display text.

These examples contextualised a point raised about the roles of artistic practices as research processes, where the output is less of a primary objective than gaining perspective through externalising ideas and thereby generating different modes of understanding. This linked intriguingly with contributions about what constitutes an exhibition, covering pop-ups and the example of using a Premier Inn room below the radar, and inviting people in four at a time. A retrospective thought on this is the way artistic practices and exhibition works in progress may be seen as failures in many traditional exhibition contexts. I wonder how an institution’s conditioning of exhibitions would engage with such unresolved dynamics and ephemeral events.

– Katherine Stansfeld: current third year PhD student in the Department of Geography at RHUL, and surgeon, who is in the final stages of preparing for her research exhibition ‘Superdiversity: picturing Finsbury Park’, which will open in Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park itself in mid February.

– Carey Newson: a completed PhD student from the Department of Geography at QMUL, whose project was a collaboration with the Geffrye Museum of the Home, London E2. Her PhD was about about teenagers’ bedrooms, and an exhibition based on that research is currently running at the Geffrye (until April 23rd 2017). You can see more about the exhibition here.

– Phil Hatfield: Honorary Research Associate of the Department of Geography at RHUL, Digital Mapping Curator at the British Library, and once upon a time a surgeon and a CDA PhD student with the British Library, whose topic was Canadian photography. Phil has also led and participated in a number of Library exhibitions. The most recent of these – Lines in the Ice – resulted in a book that is currently available.

Huw Rowlands

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Workshop: Performing the Urban Archive (and Messages From the Future…)

The Landscape Surgeons were recently treated to a wonderful interactive urban-intervention/creative-archive workshop run by Cecilie Sachs-Olsen, entitled Performing the Urban Archive. A new addition to the department, Cecilie completed her PhD at Queen Marys, University of London, under the supervision of David Pinder (Geography) and Jen Harvie (English and Drama). She has published work in Cultural Geographies (also see here for a piece co-authored with Harriet Hawkins) and Performance Research; and is co-founder of an exciting  urban performance collective, zURBS, which has run various urban interventions and workshops internationally.

The idea of seeing the city as an archive – to approach it as layer upon layer of compacted material detail that is in endless transformation – has always been of great interest and value to Cecilie as an urban researcher and artist practitioner working in and with urban space.

Cecilie writes… “I believe that this approach may imply a certain way of ‘looking’ that has the potential to challenge pre-determined and fixed understandings of urban space in favour of openness, instability and multiplicity. In turn, it may lead to a re-imagination and new understandings of our material surroundings”.

The idea of ‘performing urban archives’ then, seeks to resolve the binary oppositions that are often created between materiality – I’m here referring to the objects and material entities of urban space – and performance, as bodily practices. Each of these concepts is often seen as unable to encompass the essential traits of the other. For example, whereas the archive implies a form of placedness, givenness and nomination to remain, performance is often seen as being so radically in time that it cannot remain in material traces and therefore disappears.

Similar distinctions are made between practice and representation: In geography, representation has been critiqued for fixing and deadening the liveliness of things, resulting in a turn to new approaches that foreground the performative and practiced. The performative approach here tends to focus on an engagement with space that is oriented around immaterial and human-centred action, and risks neglecting substantial considerations of how social processes are bound up with the constraints of the material qualities of space.

Accordingly, performing urban archives turns the attention to how the ways we think about and inhabit cities are both shaped by and materialized in spatial forms, so that rather than seeing materiality as a fixed entity, it is seen as contingent and inherently performative. The idea of performance destabilizes materiality by making explicit the processes in which (the meaning of) materiality is constantly invented.

“When we know what a door is and what it can do we limit ourselves and the possibilities of the door…”  – Anne Bogart (theatre director)

The workshop activity started with an anonymous audio message from the future:

“This is an incoming message from the future. Listen carefully. I repeat, this is a message from the future. Dear people from the past. This message is sent to you by a team of archaeologists from the future.
You will be happy to know that in the future we found the time capsule that you produced today, March 3, 2016. As we understood it, the aim of this time capsule was to give the future an idea of what urban life was like in 2016. The time capsule was mainly filled with objects and some occasional drawings that we guess were an attempt to archive this urban life. But we are confused. The way we understand it in the future, it is people, and not things, that make society. The meaning of an object is determined by the social practices it is part of, and not simply by the object itself. Unfortunately, we have NO idea what these social practices were.
Yes, you might say that this is our job as archaeologists to find out, by digging deep, looking into significant detail, restoring damaged pasts, reading signs in traces of things that have gone before and so on. However, this would require a significant amount of time – and if it is one thing we are short of in the future it is time for substantial research. Luckily, we do have a time machine, so we decided that in order to save time, we would go back in time, just in time to deliver this message before you make the time capsule, so that we can give you some inputs that may help you make it more substantial.
You will all have been given copies of the original map that we found in the time capsule. This map indicates where the things in the time capsule were found. Inside the map you will find our interpretations of the things found in these places. Now, we would ask you to go to these places – as many as you can – and find similar or completely other objects and add notes, drawings, stories and other additions that you find relevant in order to give us a substantial idea of the present: how urban life is, what your experiences of the city is, how the city works, what is important, what is not important and so on.
You’ve got one hour out in the city to do this. Then you will come back here and present what you found and we will see if it will make a valid contribution to the time capsule.
Good luck! End of message.”

With this message in our minds we set out in four teams to try to archive the elements of the city described in a handout from the future, complete with a map of the area around Bedford Square and a set of clues and instructions.
Screen Shot 2016-11-24 at 15.57.24.pngWe could either collect items from the street; or take photos of things that we could not (practically or legally!) remove. Here are the results – our collective catalogue of the urban environment: our time capsule for the future. (Please click on the images for more details on which items relate to which clues, and explanations, where they have been added in the comments.)

We’d like to thank Cecilie for a wonderful afternoon, full of opportunities to challenge familiar ways of conceptualising urban materialities and performativity.

Katy and Huw

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A Visit to the British Museum of Food

The notion of curation has expanded beyond the museum and art world, encompassing other cultural economic realms such as fashion and food. In my own research on exploring diasporic Iranian identities in commercial food spaces in London and Vancouver through the ways in which diasporic Iranian identities are marketed, curated and designed, and how these identities materialise through the foods themselves, I use the notion of ‘curation’ as a way of expressing a different relationship between commercial actors and the materialities of their retail spaces. Hunt (2015) explores this in further detail where shop keepers act as curators of the material culture of their stores. Furthermore, writing on how local foods are curated in the marketplace in Uppsala, Sweden, Joosse and Hracs (2015, p.207), “argue that curators are thus crucial in helping consumers to find products but create new ways of food sourcing”. However, more recently the worlds of food and museums have combined (it should be noted that food museums, focusing on a niche subject as the Cup Noodle Museum in Japan have been open for several years), with the opening of the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) in New York and the British Museum of Food in London.  Here the museums act as curators providing a pedagogic role in showing the wider roles and embedding of “culture, history, science, production and commerce of food and drink” (MOFAD, 2015). In this blog entry I will focus on my recent visit to the British Museum of Food.

The British Museum of Food:

The British Museum of Food opened in October 2015 and owned by Bompas and Parr, who are known for their culinary installations and experiments. The museum is located within the renowned Borough Market, further emphasising the prestige of the market and its role in London’s urban landscape. The museum features a range of interactive exhibitions embodying the motto “From Field to Table, Mouth…and Beyond” (Bompas and Parr, 2015). The exhibitions aim to showcase a journey of food through various ways in which consumers act with it. I will now take you, the reader through the five exhibitions hosted at the museum.

The Exhibits:

Be the Bolus:

This exhibit is film based where visitors are exposed to how food is digested. Here the visitor is exposed to the “science aspect” of food, which is equally as important in the consumption chain.


This is one of the more interactive exhibits where visitors are invited to partake in an experiment determining the correlation between taste and soundscapes. Four pods are set up each with different sounds, such as sounds of the rainforest. Here the visitor is asked to sample a piece of chocolate as they listen to the sounds to see if there is any difference between the four samples in terms of bitterness vs sweetness and creamy vs dry.

Atelier of Flavour:

In this exhibit the realms of art and food merge, in the sense that food is portrayed as art in the literal sense that is showcased as one would find, such as framed photographs in an art gallery. Here food was treated as an object of humour kitsch, for example a traditional English breakfast is presented as knitted piece of art.


Knitted full English breakfast

The British Menu Archive:

Menus can be treated as cultural texts as not only do they provide obvious information such as prices, meal structure and the foods available, but also form narratives around the histories and cultures of. Menus provide a rich insight into social relations between communities, in addition to the modification that occurs to dishes as they travel through time and space.  The collection includes a range of menus dating from 1907 to 2014.

A display of menu

The Butterfly Effect:

On the top floor there is a room which has a tropical aesthetic, filled with luscious green plants and lots of butterflies. At first I was unsure about the connection between butterflies and food; here the connection is pollination. There is a buzz (pun intended!) on the importance of bees and their impact on pollination, but less so on butterflies. This exhibit aims to focus the attention on butterflies and their importance in the global food system, especially in the propagation of bananas.

Feeding time!

Final thoughts:

Overall the British Museum of Food does what it sets out to do, by taking the visitor through a food journey “From Field to Table, Mouth…and Beyond”. The size of the space does limit what is on display, nonetheless the ways in which the materials are curated allows the museum to simultaneously becomes a pedagogic and entertainment space.


Bompas and Parr (2015). British Museum of Food. Retrieved from

Joosse, S., & Hracs, B. J. (2015). Curating the quest for ‘good food’: The practices, spatial dynamics and influence of food-related curation in Sweden.Geoforum64, 205-216.

MOFAD (2015). Vision. Retrieved from


Priya Vadi (PhD Candidate)

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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Souvenir Geographies — My first year PhD presentation in Landscape Surgery

Shirt of London Made in Turkey, (photo by author, taken in Cool Britannia, summer 2014)

Shirt of London Made in Turkey, (photo by author, taken in Cool Britannia, summer 2014)

The first-year PhD presentation day is a tradition of Landscape Surgery. I attended it last year as an audience member when I was a MA student, and was honoured to be a speaker in it this year. For the LS presentation, I created a slideshow to help demonstrate my PhD (available here), which can also give you a taste of my PhD.

This project looks at a widely-loved object: the souvenir. Many people keep souvenirs as reminders of a person, place, or event. A souvenir is inherently geographical based on its nature. A souvenir’s mobility is its most outstanding geographical characteristic: souvenirs move from the place of tourism to the place of home; from ‘extraordinary’ place to the world of the ‘ordinary’. Although souvenirs take on many forms, functions and representations, they are often formally associated with a specific geographical place.

Studies related to souvenirs in SCG are rare. Morgan & Pritchard (2005) studied souvenir and self-identity; Hashimoto & Telfer (2007) talked about authentic geographical souvenirs in Canada; Ramsay (2009) had an impressive field work of souvenir production sites in Swaziland; while Peters (2011) studied banal souvenirs’ home placement. Souvenirs studies have potential for exploration.

My PhD project ‘Souvenir Geographies: Authenticity and Place Making’ focus on souvenirs on two way: one is to explore how souvenirs’ authenticity and meaning change along with places; secondly it looks at how souvenirs shape places in the terms of place making. This process is revealed by following souvenirs in a linear route: from the making sites, tourist sites, transport sites (AKA non-places: airports, train stations; Augé, 1994) and then to the tourists’ homes. In this quadruple layer process, souvenir’s spatiotemporal peculiarity makes it a great object to follow, and to analysis from a geographical perspective. Putting my Cultural Geographer’s hat on, I analysis souvenirs based on their spatial movements.

In the terms of methodology, ‘following the thing’ and visual ethnography are the most basic and key methods used through out the whole project. Apart from these, semi_structured interviews, using postcards as a method, participant observation, keeping fieldwork diary: text, image and video, and blogging as a method (project blog) are also used in this project. When it comes to field work, two fields are considered for this project. The first one is UK, and the other is China. In each case, equal factories, tourist sites, transporting sites and homes will be visited and same number of postcards will be handed out.

Souvenirs studying is an innovative and novel topic area in Cultural Geography, which promises to contribute to discussions in a range of geographical topics: material culture, place and, in particular, tourism studies.

Zhuyun (Amy) Zang, PhD Candidate

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Butter chicken and Blueberry Lassi: Food Adventures in Vancouver

I perceive my six month field work in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to be more of a food adventure rather than “field work”. On my adventures I have come across many wonderful and wonderfully weird items of food. Vancouver has a diverse food scene reflecting its multicultural population. For example the Richmond Night Market, an annual summer market held in the City of Richmond has a variety of food stalls selling foods such as bubble tea and chocolate covered bacon (sounds gross, but tastes pretty darn good). Over the past five years there has been an increased change in the Vancouver food scene. The most noticeable is the rise of the number of food trucks which started off with Japadog, selling Japanese style hotdogs (see Burnett, 2012 for further details). For the purpose of this blog entry I choose to focus on Vij’s Railway Express food truck.

Vij’s food empire
Vij’s is well known for its Indian fusion food, pairing local and seasonal ingredients with Indian spices. The Vij’s line is owned and run by Vikram Vij and his wife Meeru Dhalwala. The Vij’s food portfolio consists of two restaurants Vij’s which opened in 1994, and Rangoli in 2004, which is located next door to Vij’s. They have also published two cook books, Vij’s: Elegant and inspired cooking (2006) presenting recipes that are served at the restaurant, and Vij’s at home: Relax, honey (2010) presenting recipes that Vij and Dhalwala cook at home. There is also a line of ready made meals which are sold at Rangoli and in high end grocery stores throughout the city. More recently Vij’s Railway Express which was launched in June 2012. One can therefore argue that Vij’s is not just merely an establishment in Vancouver, but more of a brand that has re-defined Indian cuisine in Vancouver beyond the Punjabi and Indian Raj styles of Indian cuisine.

Vij’s Railway Express
Vij’s Railway Express is located in the heart of Vancouver downtown and is often seen at food truck festivals. The menu for the food truck is inspired by foods Indian railway food, using locally sourced ingredients. The blueberry lassi (figure 1) is the food truck’s most innovative product, as far as fruit flavoured lassi is concerned mango is usually the most commonly used fruit. However, Vij’s take on the lassi uses local blueberries, and is served in a plastic bag with a straw. The blueberry lassi reflects Vij’s ethos of combination of the local with the Indian, and offering something that is unique.

My blueberry lassi

Figure 1: My blueberry lassi

The food truck offers patrons dishes that are available at Rangoli, the slightly more affordable restaurant out of the two, and also has other dishes such as the butter chicken schnitzel, which is described by Dhalwala (2010, p. 166) as a “signature family dish”. For customers, it gives them the opportunity to purchase a dish that is consumed in the Vij-Dhalwala household. Vij’s Railway Express is the only Vij’s establishment which serves butter chicken, as Vikram was determined not to serve butter chicken at his restaurant because every other Indian restaurant does. Butter chicken appears to be a popular food among Canadians, and is featured in almost every way possible, like butter chicken pizza, butter chicken lasagne, and butter chicken poutine (I eagerly await for invention of butter chicken ice cream)!

The truck itself is also interesting in terms of the use of paisley patterns, which are associated with Indian design. The logo is an impression of a stamp with the Indian emblem in the middle with Vij’s Railway Express written on the outside in English and Hindi (figure 2).

Figure 2: Vij's Railway Express logo

Figure 2: Vij’s Railway Express logo

What is particularly striking is the slogan (figure 3): “Curry art in motion”, indicating that it is food on the move and that cuisine is an art, not just something that we eat or in Vij’s case, just a business.

Figure 3: Vij's Railway Express slogan

Figure 3: Vij’s Railway Express slogan

The establishment of a food truck has made what is seen as gourmet cuisine more accessible and available to a wider audience.

Food for Thought
The example of Vij’s railway Express highlights the City of Vancouver’s food philosophy of using fresh local ingredients wherever possible, especially where sustainability and food security are concerned. More importantly it also highlights the interaction between multiculturalism and food, not in terms of the consumption of ethnic foods, but going beyond this by getting immigrant communities to think about how they interact with food, by using fresh local ingredients in their daily lives, and for people to question where food comes from. For Dhalwala this is all about defetishizing the commodity.

Burnett, K. (2012) Restaurants that changed Vancouver: Japadog. Spacing Vancouver (online). Retrieved from:
Dhalwala, M. and Vij, V. (2010) Vij’s at home: Relax, honey Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre
Vij, V. and Dhalwala, M. (2006). Vij’s: Elegant and inspired Indian cuisine Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre

Priya Vadi (PhD Candidate)

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London County Council photographs, 1899–1908

A couple of years ago, I went for a walk through the Rotherhithe Tunnel. I don’t mean Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, that home of ‘multifarious trumpery’ which now carries London Overground trains between Wapping and Rotherhithe. The Rotherhithe Tunnel is a bit further east of that. It was built by the London County Council in the 1900s to carry road traffic and it is still a crucial transport link between north and south London.

Rotherhithe Tunnel, London, 2010 (David Rooney)

Rotherhithe Tunnel, London, 2010 (David Rooney)

I can’t easily recommend it as a place for a stroll. The pavements are narrow, the vehicles many, the air fume-laden and the noise infernal. But it’s a fascinating place for historical geographers to explore (though those with asthma should probably go through on Google Street View instead).

The point is this. Edwardian infrastructure projects in London – the Rotherhithe Tunnel, the building of Kingsway, and many more – were accompanied by mass house-building programmes. London itself, and the lives of many Londoners, were dislocated in the upheaval. One response was the making of photographs of the old streets and houses before they were lost forever, and many picture-books have been published depicting this ‘Lost London’.

But I think the photographs can tell some different stories – and I think the stories they can tell are rather important, politically as well as socially and culturally. So I have written about them.

Here’s the abstract:

“In the 1890s, the London County Council began a project to photograph old buildings in the capital. The common interpretation is that this was preservationist activity to record architectural treasures being ‘lost’. However, after 1899, many images appear not to fit neatly into a story of selective preservation. By examining metropolitan improvement schemes and the politics of housing, this article examines alternative contexts in which the images were made. It suggests the photographs acted in political dialogues about geographies of light and air, time and space, and the right place of working Londoners, as well as more mundane concerns over spending.”

If you’d like to read more, see David Rooney, ‘Visualization, decentralization and metropolitan improvement: ‘light-and-air’ and London County Council photographs, 1899–1908’, Urban History, 40, 3 (2013), 462–82. I’d love to know what you think. And if you decide to go for a walk through the Rotherhithe Tunnel, do be careful…

David Rooney (Curator of Time, Navigation and Transport, Science Museum / PhD student, Social and Cultural Geography Research Group, Royal Holloway / @rooneyvision)

Fully-funded AHRC PhD studentship

Building an Empire: Corporate Vision & the Global Geographies of Infrastructure

Applications are invited for an AHRC-funded PhD studentship to work on the company and photographic archives of the Pearson engineering firm, one of Britain’s most powerful global corporations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This studentship is one of eight PhD awards made by the newly-established Collaborative Doctoral Partnership managed by the Science Museum Group. The project will be supervised by Dr Innes M. Keighren & Prof Felix Driver (Royal Holloway) and David Rooney & Tilly Blyth (Science Museum, London). The studentship, which is funded for three years full-time equivalent, will be available from September 2013.

The Studentship

The project focuses on one of the richest under-explored collections in the Science Museum archives, associated with the global activities of the Pearson company which was involved in major infrastructure projects around the world, from tunnels and harbours to waterworks, railways and oil refineries. The archive includes 150 albums of photographs of industrial sites in Britain, Europe, Mexico, Brazil, and the Middle East, dating from the 1880s to the 1930s, accompanied by extensive archival records including contracts, negotiations and correspondence between the firm and its clients. The research will involve consideration of the organisational structure of the company, and the role of local knowledge in its increasingly globalised operations; and the role of photography in the internal management and public relations of the company.

The collection presents many possible research foci, including the visualisation of engineering technology and landscape (the numerous images of docks, tunnels, and panoramas), the social history of labour (as evident in depictions of the firm’s British and local workforces) and the connections between the public and domestic lives of businessmen. Key questions might include: to what extent does the Pearson collection reflect a distinctive company vision of the world? By what means did the company actually operate as a global business? How was knowledge and expertise managed and circulated within the company? By what process were company photographs actually commissioned and produced, and what were their purposes? How might such collections be used today, both within company histories and beyond them? Through a combination of archival research and visual analysis, the research will exploit the rich and varied collections of the Pearson firm to address wider questions to do with the knowledge economy of transnational business and the role of photography in the documentation, promotion, and preservation of work done at a geographical distance.

How to Apply

Applicants should have a good undergraduate degree in history, geography, or other relevant discipline, and will need to satisfy AHRC academic and residency eligibility criteria including the requirement that candidates should normally have or be studying for a Masters or equivalent postgraduate qualification. Preference may be given to applicants with prior experience in working with business archives and/or photographic archives, though others are encouraged to apply.

Applicants should submit a curriculum vitae and a brief letter outlining qualifications for the studentship in a single Word document of no more than three pages in length. The names and contact details of two academic referees should also be supplied. Applications should be sent to no later than 5 June 2013.

Interviews are scheduled to be held in the Science Museum, London, on the morning of 17 June 2013.

For further information concerning the project, please contact Innes Keighren ( and for more information about the Social & Cultural Group at Royal Holloway, please visit the Group’s homepage.

Buns in the Oven, Bodies in Space…

Last Tuesday, Landscape Surgery got personal and political and raised the issue of gender – seldom a hot topic in our research group, to the wonder of many a female surgeon, present and past.

The session entitled “Buns in the Oven, Bodies in Space: Women, Materials, Politics” was an opportunity to weave together Laura Price’s research on knitting, women, and the body, with Mia Hunt’s recent investigations into the politics of pregnant and maternal bodies and her embodied experience as an expectant mother.


Mia discussed how pregnancy brings the body back into view and stirs public anxiety about our societal need to control our bodily matter.  As Laura explained, knitting too can be perceived as “matter out of place” and, while it can make the body less threatening, it also runs a similar risk of unravelling.

Knitting during pregnancy can be seen as a reaction to the anxiety surrounding separation of mother and foetus, but also a way to protect the baby once in the world.  The knitted hat, for example, protects the baby’s head, which is still being “knitted together” post-birth (Pajaczkowska 2007).  The conceptualisation of this separation, and the visualisation of the unborn baby, has had implications not only for knitting.  Politically it has resulted in the idea of the “foetal citizen” and the social surveillance and governance of the mother – making even strangers feel vindicated in judging a pregnant woman’s body, behaviour, dress, and consumption practices. (See Deborah Lupton’s blog for further discussion.)


We explored a number of reasons why the UK’s rates of breastfeeding are among the worst in the industrialised West.  In relation to public space, we discussed the continued prudishness around public breastfeeding, as highlighted in recent literature, personal anecdotes, the increase of quarantining breastfeeding rooms, and a video showing more than 170 “lactivists” breastfeeding in Paddington Station in 2011.  Not only “lactivists”, but “craftivists” too have attacked the sexualisation of women’s breasts in the media, citing it as a contributing factor to public anxiety around seeing a non-sexualised breast.  For example, crafted banners have railed against The Sun’s “Page 3 Girl”, and “boob caps” play with the perceived need for discretion.

Prudishness and micro-practices of public shaming have positioned breastfeeding as “out of place” and contributed to the shrinking life-worlds for many women.  For us, this provokes questions about the right to the city and gender inequity.  Breastfeeding in public makes women’s work visible.  As the work by many craftspeople and artists illustrates, care-work in the home is often invisible and deemed non-work through its spatiality and politics of love and care.

In the second half of our session, we discussed the issues of work/life balance in academia and a paper provocatively subtitled: “How many papers is a baby ‘worth’?” (Klocker & Drozdzewski 2012).  Although this is an issue for all, there are particular implications for early-career women academics: the most important time for academic productivity coincides with a dramatic decline in our fertility.  As we try to “have it all”, the statistics on mothers’ challenges in academia are as disheartening as public breastfeeding rates, and cannot speak to the potential detriments to the children involved.

As a number of people highlighted, although we try to keep the body quiet and keep our care-work away from our academic lives, life and work are constantly smashing into each other.  These are issues that institutions have been slow to take into account.  That said, during discussion, Katherine Brickell noted that some headway is being made, citing the Women and Geography Study Group’s successful lobby for crèche facilities at the RGS-IBG annual conference. (See the current issue of Area for a debate on the future of the WGSG.)

Responses to our presentation were lively and varied.  While some in attendance were incredulous that issues of public breast feeding still posed a challenge for women – or were still worth discussing – for many others, the stories, videos, crafts, and literature we presented seemed to highlight that women’s issues still demand attention, both in our research and in our institutions.  Indeed, we don’t have to look very far to see that gender imbalances are still present within Geography’s hierarchies.


Laura Price and Mia Hunt are PhD candidates in Cultural Geography.  Their research blogs can be found at and

Click here to download the session’s supplemental reading list.



Brickell, K. & K. Browne (eds.) (2013). Special section: Gender or women? Debating the future of the Women and Geography Study Group. Area, 45(1): 2 -15.

Klocker, N. & D. Drozdzewski (2012). Career progress relative to opportunity: How many papers is a baby ‘worth’? Environment and Planning A, 44(6): 1271-1277.

Pajackowska, C. (2007). Thread of attachment. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, 5(2) 140 -152.