Tag Archives: Landscape Surgery

Speculation and Meaning in the 1980s Swedish Arts World: The Making, Display and Dispersal of the Financier Fredrik Roos’ Art Collection: Jenny Sjöholm

Landscape Surgery’s summer term programme started on 2nd May with a round of news about the varied and fascinating things that Surgeons have been up to over the past few weeks. These involved suitcases, corridors, conferences, placements, submissions, and a fellowship. The one I will give a specific mention to is Ben Murphy’s show at the Architectural Association’s School of Architecture until 27th May, to give you all a chance to see it in the next couple of weeks or so. It sounded like Ben gained some rich experience about dealing with press interviews along the way.

For the main part of afternoon, Jenny Sjöholm, Marie-Sklodowska Curie Fellow with the Department, introduced us to an art collection created by Frederick Roos. This collection was remarkable in many ways as we shall see; but Jenny’s particularly fascinating work has been to trace the collection over its life. This is not an object biography but a collection biography if you will. Continue reading

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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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Self-Portraits of a Surgeon – My Affair with Cultural Geography

ImageIt was never meant to happen. I was just curious; experimental. I mean, it was my first year at university – this is what you’re meant to do right? I was just messing around but I knew where my passions really lay. Yet before I realised, something changed – my flirting was no longer just harmless, tangential fun. It meant something. I had to be honest with myself – I no longer liked what I used to, I was into something different and it was exciting.

Starting my undergraduate degree at Plymouth, I was an ardent physical geographer. My experience of geography up till that point had told me that human geography was pretty boring and it was in the physical sciences where it was really happening. Indeed I remember being quite taken aback during sixth form when someone suggested that I must favour the human side of discipline. I could not dispute their reasoning (based on my very social science/humanities A-Level subjects) but the conclusion almost repulsed me. A similar feeling of steadfastness was experienced in my first lecture at Plymouth when Dr Richard Yarwood ‘guaranteed’ that the majority of us in the room would favour human geography by the end of the degree.

I was tempted within two weeks.

The introductory lectures in human geography were nothing like what I had experienced hitherto – they were exciting, intriguing and seemed to be about real life – about people, places, the world. In comparison, the physical lectures seemed dated, dull and if I am going to be honest – too sciencey for me.  I was slowly being seduced by human geography. I found it fascinating that you could use poetry in geographical enquiry, that a coastal walk could be cutting edge fieldwork. By Christmas I was a fully-fledged human-geography-convert when I was introduced to Yi-Fu Tuan. Assigned an essay about my sense of place, I discovered the idea that peoples’ feeling, emotions, actions, thoughts and opinions about things really mattered, in life and in geography. What a revelation that was, since that point I haven’t taken a single physical geography module – I was a human geographer and proud.

The remaining two and a half years at Plymouth were spent finding my feet, I was still cagey in this new ground; unsure of what human geography really was, what held it together and what type of human geographer I was. I was definitely having a crisis of identity, struggling to articulate to my family and friends what it is I was studying and how it all related to geography. Unfortunately this is not a story of epiphanic realisation or how I became a born-again cultural geographer. Truth be told, I still have the same difficulty – sometimes I say I am a cultural geographer, sometimes a social-cultural geographer, sometimes a human geographer, sometimes a geographer and sometimes just a researcher. I have a fuzzy academic identity but I know I have found a home in cultural geography.

I ended up at Royal Holloway, studying the MA Cultural Geography, not because I decided I was a cultural geographer (in fact I had never had a cultural geography lecture before I enrolled) but because so much of the geography that really excited me was coming from here. If I have assumed the label of a cultural geographer because of that, I am ok with it because I feel cultural geography and me are well-matched. In my first seminar here we discussed what culture and cultural geography were. We concluded that we did not know. The concept of culture is too difficult to pin down, the remit of cultural geography is broad beyond compare and cultural geographers come from such diverse disciplinary backgrounds – there is no archetypal cultural geographer.

It appears that cultural geography is also very fuzzy. While I may struggle to explain at a party what I do and why I do it in a catchy sound bite, I am happy to embrace all this fuzziness and run with it – the results of which are enthusiasm, excitement and fascination. While I recognise the jack of all trades, master of none argument, I am not concerned by it. I prefer to think of cultural geography, not as a list of researchable topics, but as a disposition and way of thinking. To me cultural geography explores how spaces, places, people and things are, how they become meaningful, how they are experienced, and how they are perceived, imagined and practised by different people / things. It is about how we live our lives, the places we live in, how we create meaning and the affects/effects of such things and yes, that is very broad but also of incredible importance.

I am curious about the world, and cultural geography not only accommodates this widespread concern but actively encourages it; constantly questioning, challenging and pushing me to think in different ways, research in different ways and see the world from different perspectives. 3 years 4 months ago, I would not believe it but: my name is Simon Cook and I am having an affair with cultural geography.

Simon Cook (M.A Candidate)

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Landscape Surgery Spring 2014


Happy New Year Surgeons

I hope everyone has had a relaxing and productive start to 2014. 

We are finalising the programme for this coming semesters Landscape Surgeries as I write, while we wait I thought i would just give you a sense of what is coming up and also let people have dates for diaries. 

We start back on the 21st January, with a welcome back session and some crowd sourced top-tips!  I will be in touch with what prep this entails. Moving into February we will have a seminar on the 4th from Prof. Mona Domosh who is visiting RHUL from Dartmouth in the US.  Mona is also doing the Gordon Manley Lecture the week later on 13th Feb.  Mona will also be part of other events in February to make the most of her visit. 

On the 18th of Feb Mia and Phil have organised an extended session on place, materiality and photography with special guests from Goldsmiths.  Please note the extended time, 1-4.30 pm.  

Jo and Leonhardt take the lead on the 4th March with a session on doing research in the German context, and we close out the term  on the 18th March with a session led by Laura  ( of wonderful christmas cookie making fame!) and Clarisse on International academic exchanges. 

Looking forward to the post-easter period,  we will resume sessions on the 6th May, and reserve the session on the 13th May ( yes only a week later i know) for the PhD first year presentations. Get ready first years… 

I will post the full programme in the next few days




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Self Portraits of a surgeon – Geographer Self


The truth? I’m still not sure I am a geographer.

Over the last year I’ve become more comfortable claiming to be one, or at least marginally less fearful of being exposed as a fraud. But at parties my go-to response to the dreaded question of “what do you do?” is: “oh, I’m a writer.” If the conversation survives this admission, and I happen to mention that I’m doing a PhD, and I happen to mention that the PhD is in cultural geography, I might make an attempt at explaining how these things are linked. I might say, “I write about geography.” This is not really an explanation, but if you say it confidently enough, it almost sounds like one.

“Writer” was not always – is not always – a comfortable identity either, though. It took me a long time to learn how to say it without cringing, to stop waiting for someone to say, “sure, but be honest: you’re not a real writer.” On a good day, what I feel about my identity as a writer is that it’s mine, and therefore it’s okay for it to look different to someone else’s. Perhaps geography is the same; it moulds itself to your shape. My cultural geography is not your cultural geography, though there may be overlaps.

So let’s say that in one sense, I’m still learning how to be a cultural geographer. And part of the process of learning this involves an appropriation of the label. When I first fell into geography I was giddy: I felt like I’d finally found something I needed but didn’t know I’d been looking for. I then spent my first few shaky months as a PhD student telling people how nervous I’d been, coming from an academic background in Other Subjects (politics, then creative writing), and so often these people would say, in turn, that they had also been worried about this, that they had first studied history, or literature, or international relations, or theatre, or whatever. Interdisciplinarity seems to be at the heart of cultural geography, which is one of the things I love most about it: it’s an open field. It comes alive as a discipline because of the people who do it and the knowledge (and baggage) they bring with them.


Actually, geography is the one thing I’ve always wanted to write about and think about, even before I knew it had a name.

I grew up on a ranch on the coast of California. The land was rough and uncooperative. One winter the road, submitting to the pressures of a particularly heavy rainfall, slid away into the sea; we walked out to Highway 101 on the railroad tracks, across a tall, spindly bridge, hoping no trains came. We lived in fear of summer wildfires, which were presaged by a particular kind of wind that put everyone on edge and could turn beloved golden hills into a blackened Martian wasteland in the blink of an eye. We coexisted with coyotes, mountain lions, bats, mice, rattlesnakes. Everything had a life of its own. It was a difficult place, but it was also beautiful, hypnotic – at times almost unbearably so. How can anyone live here? How can anyone leave here?

I developed a sense of place rooted not in a town or a city, as so many of my peers had, but in isolation and details: the rock face that our house had been built into, the smell of orange blossoms and dirt, the swells and tides of the sea, the subtle seasonal changes in light. The affective qualities of these things were intensified during my teenage years, when I actively resented the ranch: I hated being so remote, so weird, though I knew that the place mattered to me. I thought my friendships were weaker because I couldn’t wander out into the suburban night and get casually drunk with them, that I would never learn how to be comfortable around people my own age because every extracurricular social encounter had to be arranged in advance. But I also remember thinking, around this time, that the thing that most defined me, the thing that was most important to me, apart from basic considerations like love and shelter and sustenance, was a relationship with place. I didn’t know how I could think about anything else without first considering where I was and where I’d been.


So you could say that in this everyday, bordering-on-selfish sense, I have, in fact, been a geographer for a long time. These things – wildfires, washed-out roads, train tracks, orange groves, kelp beds, afternoon light – are cultural geography to me. So are my memories of them, which are often imperfect, sometimes invented, especially now that I live about 5,000 miles away. This is, perhaps, where I get the impression that geography is often best done from the perspective of an “I”: I am part of the geography that I write. I’ve written recently about the difficulty of negotiating multiple, sometimes overlapping but often quite disparate selves – academic-self, freelance-self, writer-self, person-in-the-world-self. I’m coming to believe that my geographer-self is the thing they all have in common.

The discipline of (doing) geography has taught me, too, to be a better writer, a better reader, a better participant in my own life and the lives of others. Place, broadly understood, has remained important to me; it’s where my “practice” as an academic geographer is rooted. But I’m also starting to see other things through the lens of geography. The way I listen to music informs my actions as a cultural geographer, and vice versa; sitting in a café, peeling cracked plaster from our bedroom walls, walking to the pool after an unproductive day, swimming laps – these are all ways of “doing” geography. They are certainly all ripe for writing about from the perspective of the cultural geographer. Sometimes just to write is a geographical act.

Miranda Ward, PhD Candidate

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Self Portraits Of A Surgeon – I, Cultural Geographer

ImageFriend: What is it you’re studying?

Me: Cultural geography

Friend: What’s that about?

Me: Well, it’s erm… basically…

It is the ubiquity of this type of conversation that makes me sometimes feel that Landscape Surgery sessions amount to the equivalent of holding an AA meeting in a pub; simultaneously a sympathetic and consoling audience, and dragging you further into the fog.

Indeed, there appears to be a lack of kudos for the cultural geographer. On the one hand, we have the (slightly straw-man-esk) practitioner of a hard natural science or quantitative social science, who are broadly either respectfully bewildered, or sniff and use expressions like ‘it’s a bit fluffy’, ‘yes, but what use is that?’ or, more bluntly, ‘sounds like bollocks’. On the other hand we have someone who works within the humanities/arts/humanity-sympathetic social scientist group, who in my experience often say ‘sounds like bollocks’ if you don’t have much time to explain it, or, interestingly, if you have some time to explain it, often are surprised it sounds like their own discipline. This has actually happened with disciplines as broad as media studies, history, philosophy and architecture. I’m sure you’re thinking what wonderfully diverse friends I have, but this phenomenon speaks to something Mike alludes to; if you can study everything, the worth or utility of any individual thing that you study must be zero. This is an interesting paradox; logically breadth and diversity in study would be, at worst, an asset; at best, a positive virtue.

I realise that, posting this on a cultural geography blog is somewhat preaching to the converted. So rather than what cultural geography’s relationship, through me, to my peers is, what is my own relationship with the discipline? I think, firstly, there is a perhaps symbiotic, perhaps parasitic, aspect. All I ever wanted to do was learn about stuff, happenings: phenomena, facts and philosophy. I chose my A level subjects on the basis of breadth of knowledge I could learn- physics, geography and music; a science, a social science, and a humanity. What I value in cultural geography is that not only do I have the opportunity to learn things, I learn about ways of thinking about things. Thinking on a higher plane. On a very fundamental level, in the process of becoming a cultural geographer, I am also becoming more the person I want to be.

Secondly, then, if the works of cultural geography help me to think in new ways, it is also a literally disciplining set of ideas, in that my mind/body/organ/life-world composite is ethically regimented to the norms of the cultural geographical canon. What are stipulations to have a reciprocal and reflective positioning in an interview if not a call for humility? What are the understandings of multifaceted and contingent narratives of truth if not a source of soul searching? What are understandings of spatial power and politics if not a fundamentally moralising set of discourses? In learning about post-colonialism, poststructuralism, (post)postmodernism, I feel I am either consciously or subconsciously internalising not only the ways of thinking about things, but ways of ethically approaching things as well. Maybe they are one and the same thing, I don’t know. I hasten to emphasise, I see this as a good thing!

Of course, it’s not all gravy. 6 years ‘in’ academia has had an obvious and sometimes distressing impact on my prose, for example. I remember listening to the Reith lectures, recently presented so brilliantly by Grayson Perry. He quoted a bit of writing from an arts magazine that was obviously meant to be pretentious and impenetrable; I found it quite lucid, and now worry that I have lost all sense of what normal language feels like. It’s a real worry, because in my first week at university I remember thinking that anyone who wrote like in that obfuscatory way must be bull-shiting. More generally, there is the ubiquitous but no less disquieting feeling of change being diametrically opposed to authenticity. Now, obviously, as a learnéd post-structural cultural geographer, authenticity is what you make it, basically. Everything started somewhere, what you decide is authentic is just a matter of where you draw the line. I know there is, in fact, no authentically me ‘me’. So, I’m not becoming less authentic, but I am becoming different. I am changing, and it is this that is my third, somewhat ironic, personal connection with cultural geography; it is relevant to the way I live my life. In becoming more sensitive to things like heritage and feelings of place, I am more distant from my own heritage, and the places that I would think of as formative. In developing critical and deconstructive ways of thinking, I often find a feeling of the Fruedian uncanny- that which is familiar and yet also distant. Indeed, it is being able to identify what I read in the literature with what I instinctively engage with to be the most important aspect of cultural geography; it is relevant.

Giles Lindon (M.A. Candidate)

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Self Portraits Of A Surgeon – The Question Of Cultural Geography

world_geography_cartoonAs a Cultural Geographer I am no stranger to an identity crisis. At least twice a week I am confronted by a terrifying realisation that I am no longer sure what I am. I should clarify. I am speaking in terms of my profession, and not my sanity, for I know perfectly well what I actually am; a bag of organs and bones trying to make my way in the world like every-body else.

More often than not these minor crises are encouraged to rear their ugly heads from somewhere deep within, by a friend, relative or newcomer asking a simple question. You have more than likely heard it, or even been asked it before. At parties, around dinner tables, in the pub and for the duration of arduous ‘networking’ events, the question makes its way around the room pointing me out from afar as if eying me up as its next victim.

When the question does finally come, it is usually phrased in two ways. The most polite, usually from a newcomer, is ‘So…what do you do then?’ And the more direct, most likely from a friend you recall having told at least a few times is ‘So…what do you actually do again?’

Usually I have seen the question coming but have nonetheless done my upmost to repress any kind of coherent response. I panic, and generally respond by blurting out something non-sensical, preposterous, or most worryingly, pretentious. Without any intention to do so, what comes out of my mouth is something which may sound clever but makes me look completely stupid. Particularly at a party.

As a Cultural Geographer, working at a time in which the discipline often debates collectively of how to best engage with the public, I find the usual response of ‘I am a Cultural Geographer… er… yeah. It’s a bit like sociology but different’ will disengage any half interested public in a matter of seconds. At times such as these, I only wish I could relay my interests without toeing some sort of company line, for it is never how I regard myself, or for that matter the discipline that I am working within. What comes out is far too often a generic entanglement of utterly boring words that amount to nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders from my recipient.

At the times when I have been able to offer something with a little more substance, I am met with further probing questions of exploration. I get asked ‘So… why does that matter?’ Or, my personal favourite to which I have never come up with an answer to easily satisfy, ‘So… how does that work in the real world?’. In doing so, they question how my work fits into their world. They want to understand, but only fleetingly. If only to humour me. They want a response that is interesting, engaging and something to build the next five minutes of conversation on. What they get rarely hits the mark. The words ‘culture’ and ‘geography’ are appealing to a listener, for they are both well worn in everyday life, but they are also distant and difficult to comprehend together.

Given Cultural Geography’s extensively broad scope, and my position within that, such questions initially appear all to easy to answer. Have any discussion amongst a group of Cultural Geographers and you are likely to come out of it thinking that the discipline is everything. And to a certain extent you would be right. The research going under the banner of Cultural Geography clearly stretches far and wide. Responding with everything is however, not an acceptable response when being questioned by the public. It is far too ambiguous, far too general and more importantly provides a response that will immediately paint a geographer as either a ‘know it all’ or someone who knows nothing at all. In other words, everything is nothing in their eyes.

These problems haunt me as a Cultural Geographer, and as such I am frequently required to begin each day by justifying my position as someone doing something worthwhile. I am required to purposefully engage and re-engage with the ‘real’ world on a day to day basis.

After some particularly strenuous window gazing during a recent ‘library day’, I decided to lay down my thoughts once and for all (or at least until I change my mind). I worked to answer the questions outlined above by producing a response that I would be happy to give in a perfect world. It is not right. It is not wrong. But it is a response that I would be content with giving in order to engage the broader public with my work as a Cultural Geographer. Even if it sits as a lonely file on my hard drive for years to come, it is a point of reference for which I can come back to in time and review.

Below is my manifesto if you like. A personal statement. Meant only for me, but reproduced here only for the sake of making it fixed. For now at least.

I am a Cultural Geographer. This is what I do.

I am interested in how people and things situate themselves and others in the world. My aim is examine how they do so in order to gain a broader understanding of the world’s entanglements. I do this by looking into the cultural practices of everyday life. Such practices include many of life’s complexities, ranging from the social, to the political, to the economic and the environmental.

It is with such fundamentals that I use to ground myself as a Cultural Geographer in the so called ‘real’ world. I am not a stuffy, blue sky thinking academic, although there are times when such things have to be considered. I resent thinking (sometimes by myself) which suggests that my work is not grounded in the ‘real’ world, for its sole purpose is to increase my understanding of the ‘real’ world in the hope that such work can one day be of some tiny benefit to it.

The themes and topics that make up my research interests are all just context for broader geographical thinking. Such topics and projects are finite. My interests will move on, for time has the habit of dragging once interesting topics into contention with boredom fairly quickly. Beyond my immediate research the fundamentals of Geographic interest will however, remain consistent.

I am a thinker but I am also a ‘doer’. I may read but I am also working hard to apply such reading to the ‘real’ world. At the risk of sounding completely pretentious, my work is the ‘real’ world in certain respects. Cultural Geography, for me at least, is about the immediate world around me. More importantly, it is about how such a world relates to the world’s of others. Cultural Geography is not so much something that is done, but rather something that is lived. In order to engage with wider publics and to answer questions of what use the discipline is and what it does, this assertion is perhaps Cultural Geography’s greatest asset. That is the ability to show people that they matter in a wider world. Cultural Geography as a discipline does not need to bring people into geography for they are out there living it, as we as professional geographers do, everyday. Rather geography, and indeed myself, should endeavour to work within those everyday realities in order to help broader publics benefit from understanding their own place within the world.

As a geographer I may see the world through a matrix like vision of spatial and temporal practices but I would argue that the public does too, just in different terms. Those not claiming to be geographers are in fact geographic practitioners by nature. In this respect a geography exists for all, and that is why public consultation, whether it be delivered in fragments over a pint in the pub or diligently across a lectern should remain a priority for myself, and indeed the discipline.

Mike Duggan (PhD Candidate)

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