2020-2021 Seminar Series

Comparative Urbanism, Pandemic Worlds, Dr. Julie Ren, University of Zurich

  • March 24th 2021 (time: TBD)

Trump and Spectacle: Book launch and author-meets-critics panel

Trump and Spectacle: An Embodied Assemblage Approach (Bristol University Press) by Dr. Jacob C. Miller (Dept of Geography and Environmental Sciences, Northumbria University).

Panel: Dr. Jason Luger, Northumbria University; Dr. Natalie Koch, Syracuse University; Moderator: Kahina Meziant, Northumbria University

  • Friday March 12th (15:00-16:30)

Conflict and Kinship: Homelessness, Safety and Belonging in Toronto’s Gay Village, Dr. Rae Rosenberg, University of Edinburgh

  • February 25th 2021 (15:30-16:30)

I just want to watch some football”: The Politics of Community-Owned Sports Clubs, Daniel Evans, York University

  • December 16th 2020 (15:00-16:00)

Black Gold and Grey Areas: The Geopolitical Ecology of Illicit Caviar Trade in Europe, Dr. Hannah Dickinson, Durham University

  • December 4th 2020 (15:00-16:00)

Vital Mobilities: Thinking Through Blood, Saline and Oxygen Supply Chains, Dr. Stefanie Sodero, University of Manchester

  • October 10th 2020 (12:30-13:30)

Against the City? Cosmopolitan, Heartlander, and Digital Space, Dr. Jason Luger, Northumbria University

Flexibility and Fuel Switching Beyond Substitution, Dr. Peter Forman, Northumbria University

  • September 9th 2020 (12:30-13:30)

2019 Annual Lecture summary: Geographers “Out of Place”

This year’s S&CGRG annual lecture in June focused on the question of when, where and why human geographers might be, or feel out of place. Instead of a single lecture, this year we had a panel that included Rhiannon Pugh (Örebro University), Hannah Martin (Northumbria University), Cheryl Gowar (National Aids Trust) and Matt Ballie-Smith (Northumbria University).

Throughout the day’s events discussion focused on the varied and often intersectional factors which might make someone feel in or out of place in the academic workplace. Feelings of placelessness might be experienced in spaces of higher education, in departments of geography or in other related fields. Factors highlighted included, but were not limited to:  

–           Ableism

–           Ageism

–           Bullying

–           Employment history

–           Geography

–           Homophobia

–           Individualism

–           Language

–           Metrics

–           Precarity 

–           Racism

–           Research specialism

–           Sexism

During the reading group we reflected on “Glass ceilings and stone floors: an intersections approach to challenges UK geographers face across the career lifecycle” by Maddrell, Thomas and Wyse (Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography 101.1 (2019): 7-20). The authors outline what can be done by senior managers/academics who have some degree of power through strategic and managerial decisions. But what about early and early-mid career scholars with comparatively little power?

Reflecting on this we recognised that this group of people have relatively more power than colleagues on precarious contracts, but perhaps less influence over strategic decisions than more senior academics. Those on more precarious contracts often felt they must tow the line, as opposed to speaking out against injustices in the workplace, as this could harm their chances of better or even renewed contracts. However, participants acknowledged that we do have power in everyday practice. Building on discussions during the annual lecture day and since, we want to put forward some guideposts for an ethics of everyday practice that can help make sure our workplaces are more inclusive and encouraging of diversity.

Below we put forward a few ideas about how we can act within domains of action where we have some degree of power: writing, research, teaching, collegiality. We should recognise that these choices are constrained at various times and in different contexts, and it is unrealistic to expect all our practice to be in resistance because of the costs it takes on us individually even in the most supportive of environments (e.g. time, energy, mental health, other commitments etc.). Further, the increasing pressure placed upon us in an increasingly time-pressured neo-liberal academy means there is a cost involved in developing more progressive practice when they run counter to managerialist approaches.

How can we use our practice to help address the problems outlined above?

Who we cite 

In our design and delivery of modules we can decide who to include on reading lists and as authors who to cite in our writing. We can choose to balance references to address gender biases, cite scholars from BAME backgrounds and people working beyond dominant (often Anglo-American) discourses. This might help remind us to ‘not forget half the human’ of human geography (Monk and Hanson, 1982, The Professional Geographer). In doing so, we can make this this explicit to students in teaching and supervision, outlining the reasons for it to highlight the unequal production of knowledge.

We can avoid over-privileging canonical work that is exclusive of diverse geographies and geographies of difference (i.e. what feminist economic geographer(s) J.K. Gibson-Graham refer to as “capitalocentric Marxism”). This may require explaining to reviewers and editors, in responses to reviews, that you chose not to cite particular work.

We can undertake strategic refusal of repeat offenders (i.e. senior academics who have shown their inability or unwillingness to change their exclusive behaviour) by not citing them and not inviting them to give talks. In their place, early career scholars could be invited (and costs covered to support those with no or limited access to research funds). 

What we teach

Again, our curriculum must not encourage a-theoretical or a-political approaches to understanding social realities (as critical as human geography can be, programmes exist where a-theoretical and a-political positions are encouraged). We insist on a problem-based curriculum, rooted in philosophy of social justice. We should help students develop the skills to critique and identify problems and to critique us (the teachers) at the same time. At the same time they should have the freedom to explore their own concerns and politics. 

Who we research with 

We suggest including an ECR as part of the writing process and adding them as Co-Is on research bids, not just as post-docs/research assistants. If you have a post-doc lined up for a project, why not include them as a Co-I from the start? Academics on precarious contracts are often excluded from applying to research funding when the eligibility criteria are that applicants be on permanent contracts. This is a regressive policy that is prohibitive to the reproduction of the academic labour force.

How we recruit and nurture post-graduates and early career researchers 

There is value in drawing from broader cohorts and prospective student populations. Access schemes and foundation years may provide a way into degrees for students who face structural disadvantages in gaining required entry levels, but such pathways can increase debt on the very people least able to take on such burdens and for whom the spectre of increased debt is a discouragement to entering higher education. We should acknowledge that performance in A-levels is not the only way to identify ability, critical thinking and potential, and post-16 qualifications are not necessarily good predictors of degree-level performance. We can also recognise that critical skills don’t just exist within the academy. There is real value in recognising the value of practitioner, experiential and other forms of knowledge for students and staff.

We should all acknowledge the responsibility to help people develop, and that not everyone will have a ‘REF-ready’ CV; those people should be given the opportunity to develop and show their ability. Expecting that new lecturers come with articles that are internationally excellent or world leading is, frankly, ridiculous and exclusionary. Not every type of PhD provides article-suitable material and with limited time and often financial constraints, an expectation that students write articles alongside their thesis only encourages overworking (a wider problem in academia) without suitable adjustment to the design of a PhD work programme.

Everyday solidarity and adaptation to neoliberal tasks

Tasks which seem unnecessary, such as peer review of articles for an institution’s REF submission, or second marking, for example, are time consuming and can be frustrating. However, in the absence of realistic structural reform, they could be seen as opportunities for discussion of research and teaching, rather than onerous tasks to be resented and refused. In other words, if there is no way to refuse these tasks collectively and we are forced to do them, we can turn them into opportunity to engage with the philosophy of research, methodology, etc, which are necessary to our vocation but rarely fit into our official ‘work-loads’. We need to find ways to resist while not shifting additional work onto other colleagues. Recognising that withdrawing completely from a task on an individual basis creates more work for those not in the position to be able to withdraw from/refuse certain activities. Sometimes we have a responsibility to engage for the sake of others.


A final key action for an ethics of everyday practice is to address ways we make sure to welcome new staff and postgraduate candidates, particularly those from groups that are under-represented in the academy, and ensure a safe, welcoming and inclusive workplace for all.

For post-grads admitted to the programme, we must make sure to build their self-esteem by reminding them that they would not have been admitted if we weren’t already impressed with what they have achieved and with their potential. We can emphasize that the postgraduates are the ones that we look to for leading the way in new thinking for the disciplines; they are the ones to try out new experimental methods, theories, ideas, etc.

Academics should be supportive and encouraging of postgraduate development; this means not being overly critical of their students’ ideas. We should be there to help nurture ideas, not shoot-them down, especially in public settings where power differentials are keenly felt. This goes especially for ‘senior’ staff, who need to understand that academia can be very intimidating (especially for those who are ‘out of place’) and therefore they need to be extra attentive to this.

In short, we must encourage and create safe learning and collaboration spaces. This means, again, not getting carried away with negative critique/criticism and offering feedback in a constructive and supportive way. We should create spaces of generative engagement and encouragement, not combative competition to boost our own egos.

What are the costs of doing this?

The practices outlined above go some way to exercise the power we possess as scholars for progressive ends, but they are not cost-free or always easy to implement. Costs include:

•          Additional time: tasks not aligned with university strategies are often not included in workloads. Finding non-canonical readings and examples initially takes additional time because we often weren’t taught them and they aren’t in the textbooks/special issues most easily accessible.

•          Stress and anxiety: battling, arguing, and seeing your work not valued in the same way as others takes a toll. The cognitive dissonance and guilt of engaging in more ‘neo-liberal’ practices counter to your own ideology can be stressful.

•          Reputational damage: gaining a reputation amongst managers, or even the wider community, as not working in line with institutional strategies (where management see people/groups as problems) or against hegemonic discourses influencing funding agendas can hurt employment prospects and other opportunities.

•          Co-option: it can be de-moralising when work gets co-opted for purposes you don’t agree with e.g. it finds its way into proclamations from management to support their own agendas, or is mis-represented through media outlets.

We want to thank the panellists again for their contribution to this year’s event and for inspiring such a lively and worthwhile conversation. The points summarized here, we think, can inform future action that can help ensure that fewer and fewer will feel “out of place” in the spaces of higher education.  

‘Bridging the Tyne’ – more than steel, more than water.

The 10th of October 2018 marks the 90th anniversary of the official opening of the Tyne Bridge, one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century. But how, and why, did these seven tonnes of green steel, bridging the banks of Newcastle and Gateshead, come to be such an international icon and an integral part of the physical and emotional fabric of Tyneside and the Geordie identity?

Bridges have been central to life on Tyneside since the second century AD and have become so much more than simply structures used to aid the crossing of the Tyne. Bridges are cultural markers, identity shapers and have a significant influence on social mobility and the economy. The Tyne Bridge, opened by King George V in 1928, has become an iconic symbol, imprinted into the local and global memory, of both the industrial past and the post-industrial present of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Throughout the years of its construction, the Tyne Bridge provided employment for hundreds of local skilled labours, from shipbuilders to steel workers, in the recession that faced local industry in the interwar period. This led to the Tyne Bridge being perceived locally as a symbol of great economic significance, in essence it was the Bridge that was there to provide a livelihood for many whom were facing dire employment opportunities and unstable futures. While from a global viewpoint, it was seen to be a structure demonstrating cutting edge technology and the prowess of industrial capabilities.

The iconic parabolic arch structure has now been forever memorialised in numerous images, works of art, local song and in television and film. Ships from all over the world have sailed under its green arch, celebrated aircraft, such as the Red Arrows, have flown over it and millions have made the journey across the Tyne Bridge by all means of transport. Even a colony of 700 pairs of endangered Kittiwakes have made their home under this icon of the North.

If you were to look at images of the Newcastle Tyne Bridge and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in parallel, it is evident that they were both products of the same firm, Mott, Hay and Anderson. Yet, contrary to Geordie myth, the Tyne Bridge did not inspire the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is three times as long, three times as wide and over twice as high as the Tyne Bridge. Although the Tyne Bridge was regarded as a trial for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it is fair to say that there are not many other bridges in the world that have become as deeply ingrained into local life and regional culture as that of the Tyne Bridge. Though only opened in 1928, it immediately acquired a dominant place in the hearts and minds of the local people. An icon that symbolises and bonds together both the industrial past of Tyneside and its post-industrial cultural regeneration.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first century the landscape of the North-East was one associated with post-industrial decline. Defined just as much for what it had once been, as what it had now become. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the economically entwined industries of Tyneside – coal mining, engineering, shipbuilding and metal making – made an international contribution to modernisation and industrialisation.

The banks of the Tyne in central Newcastle were proliferated with thriving industrial businesses that provided work for those living across the area. This rapid industrialisation of the economy in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, encouraged mass migration from those living across Britain, Europe and Scandinavia. This presence of a diverse working class population contributed the creation and maintenance of the iconic Geordie identity. Northern identity is about honesty, pride, hard work and trustworthiness and even in declining economic circumstances, this has always remained a constant.

The river banks that are located below the iconic Tyne Bridge are full of spaces which commemorate the industrial past of the city while providing the means to commercially reconnect with the Quayside in the present. Where there used to be flourmills, ship yards, docks and fish markets, there are now restaurants, bars, world-renowned art galleries and music venues.

Throughout a childhood set in the North-East, a strong association with place based culture is apparent in the way families negotiate the spaces of central Newcastle. Going for family walks along the Quayside to experience the market on the weekend, and visiting the local museums and galleries with grandparents, which display the industrial heritage of the region, suggests that you learn to be ‘Geordie’ by the culture you experience in your formative years. Those living across Newcastle and Gateshead actively construct their own understandings of the spaces that are part of their everyday lives. These spaces, places, buildings and structures become part of their ‘home’ identity.

Therefore, what on the surface may appear to simply be a bridge, a beautiful landmark, can, under the conditions of post-industrial regeneration and wider historical and socioeconomic contexts, become the keystone in an iconic cultural landscape and identity, steeped in past representations but very much situated in the present. Arriving into Newcastle after a long train journey, and seeing the green arch of the Tyne Bridge, evokes a comforting sense of home and familiarity that all Geordie’s have experienced over the last ninety years.

To celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Tyne Bridge, academics from Northumbria University took part in a guided walk event with the public on Saturday 6th October. We walked from the Redheugh Bridge to the Millennium Bridge and heard talks ranging from the geological formation of the Tyne Valley to the experiences of Russian Revolutionary activists on Tyneside.

This project also seeks to create a social media archive using the #WeAreTheTyne. With the increased use of social media and the digitisation of our everyday lives there is a heightened risk of losing the chance to record our daily experiences and exchanges. This project aims to use hashtags on social media to collate an online, interactive and participatory archive of the way in which we interact with our surroundings, in this case the bridges of the Tyne.

Speakers of the Bridging the Tyne Guided walk: Mark Ashley Parry, Lara Green, Hannah Martin, Annabel Woolf, Leona Skelton and Mark Stoddart. Photo credit: Simon Veit-Wilson Photography


A busy summer! Conference details.

This summer is proving a busy one for members of the research group as they are attending conferences around the world to disseminate research findings. Below are details of who is doing what and where (chronological order).


51st Academy of Marketing conference: Marketing the Brave– University of Stirling, 2-5 July 2018.


Placing the Hardy angling brand: investigating the symbolic British landscapes that have made a global icon


Tom Mordueand Oliver Moss


Founded in 1872, Hardy (www.hardyfishing.com) is the world’s oldest manufacturer of high quality angling products. Still operating out of a small manufacturing plant in Alnwick, Northumberland (itself home to some of the best game fishing rivers in Britain), the Hardy brand remains not only from, but distinctly of, the angling world. Though several general histories of Hardy exist, none has explored the specific ethos and provenance of the Hardy brand. Nor has any critical academic research been carried out into the ways in which the Hardy brand and its associated values are preserved and cultivated. It is this deficiency that we seek to remedy in this paper. Drawing on previously unseen materials from the Hardy archive and interviews with current and former Hardy staff, including two Hardy-sponsored game-angling guides, the paper will proceed through three sections. First, we interrogate the means by which place and landscape narratives underpin a brand whose iconicity has grown at the vanguard of modern angling. Second, by exploring how locales such as the rivers Tyne and Tweed are represented and evoked by Hardy in international marketing campaigns, we shed light on the ways in which a particular (northern) British rurality can speak impactfully way beyond its regional and national borders. Third, and finally, we explore how the Hardy brand is, and is intended to be, embodied, situated, articulated and performed by anglers in an interplay between, inter alia, branded equipment, sporting, didactic and local expertise, and the consumption of landscape, place and nature.


European Conference on Sustailability, Energy & the Environment (ECSEE) – Brighton, 6-7th July 2018


Business Models for Vehicle to Grid (V2G) 


Richard Kotter


The variable nature of renewable energy has consequences for electricity supply control and management. The control of the electricity grid is premised on the ready availability of high energy density fossil fuels. The use of such fuels for electricity production, including for electrified transport, is leading to adverse environmental impacts. Lately, there has been significant progress to using renewable energy sources for electricity generation. However, these energy sources are low density and variable. This has implications for grid control and management. Given the projected further rise in the use of Electric Vehicles (EVs), there is a considerable interest in the impact of this on grid control and in the idea of using the energy storage capacity of EVs as a means for helping with grid management.

EV battery can provide an important service to the grid by using it as storage to both import and export power from/to the grid. This is known as Vehicle to Grid (V2G). Other methods of regulating the intermittent nature of renewables is to use (in addition) stationary batteries. V2G means that the battery of an EV can be used for peak lopping and frequency stabilisation. The technologies for such power sharing are developing and few commercial demonstrators are under test. However, for this approach to be successful there needs to be a business model (or models) that ensure that EV owners are rewarded for allowing their vehicles to be used. This is because EVs cannot then simultaneously be used for transport use (thus reduced convenience) and EV batteries may experience additional battery degradation . In addition, there needs to be a system for ensuring that EVs that are used for grid management are sufficiently re-charged in order to meet the EV user needs.


This is part of the ongoing SEEV4City EU Interreg project (where I am Deputy PI for Northumbria) across Engineering, Computing and (Human/Environmental) Geography)



Association of Borderland Studies World Conference– Vienna & Budapest 10-14 July 2018


Brexit, autochthonic politics of belonging and everyday life


Kathryn Cassidy, Perla Innocenti and Hans-Joachim Bürkner


Panel: Citizenship, statelessness and minorities


Brexit is not only re-shaping the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union through shifting geopolitical positioning(s) and the (re)introduction of barriers and boundaries; it is also challenging British and EU citizens to revise their everyday sense of belonging. Assuming that border-making, citizenship and belonging do not only take place at the level of high politics but also through everyday cultural, economic, political and social activities, the scope of such revision cannot be overestimated. Brexit incorporates emergent and contested political projects of belonging; determining anew who belongs and who does not, and is raising questions about who will be constructed as belonging in a post-EU Britain. At the same time, for British citizens the EU is shifting from an “inside” to an “outside” position. This implies altered perspectives on “non”-entities and groups: non-Britain, non-EU, non-European, etc. Negative definitions of the outside not only entail reinforced discrimination and exclusion of outsiders, as triggered by a wave of re-nationalisation and political objections to permissive “EU” attitudes towards immigration, they also render everyday concepts of belonging highly political.


This paper discusses the construction of political and everyday senses of belonging implied by public debates on Brexit, and critically examines the shifts in attitude towards received citizenship and different degrees of social exclusion. Exclusion will not simply be discussed in traditional terms of ethnicity, xenophobia, racism or othering relating to migration or cross-cultural encounters, rather, it will be theoretically reflected at a more general level. It will be conceptualized as an outcome of situated gazes related to in-/exclusionary social practices and inherent ideas of autochthony. The felt imperative to decide who is a rightful autochthonous member of society, or who commands a natural link to British society, takes othering and the formation of we-groups to another level. It suggests a more universal mode of in-/exclusion which seeks to shape the foundations of society, rather than its margins. Autochtonous belonging might prove to be an even more powerful imaginary than former ideas of ethnicity, culture or race. Consequently, we argue that it is not only important to research the effects of rebordering for minorities and the intersectional nature of inequality they experience. In our view it is also important to scrutinize majorities for their sense of belonging and its variations. One possible outcome of such scrutiny might be a deeper recognition of the holistic – and therefore more powerful – form of exclusion that impacts upon minorities during periods of rebordering. In particular, it might relieve concepts of “exclusion by intersectionality” from theoretical constraints generated by merely summing up axes and indicators of inequality. This study seeks to explain exclusion from an emergent stream of ideation that is informed by constant and contingent reshaping of a general sense of belonging, which gives individual axes of inequality a particular orientation.


IGU-CAG – Quebec City, 5-8 August 2018


Regional responses to asylum seeker dispersal and privatization of asylum seeker accommodation in the UK


Kathryn Cassidy


Panel: Rethinking responsibility and identity in urban governance and development


In this paper, I explore the ways in which third sector organisations and local councils, primarily in the North East of England, have been working together to improve the accommodation and living conditions of asylum seekers dispersed into the area and housed by private firms contracted by the UK Home Office. Environmental Health departments within local councils are tasked with ensuring housing in their area meets minimum standards, but in the case of the UK’s ‘no choice’ asylum accommodation, their efforts are often undermined by national contracts known as the Commercial and Operational Managers Procuring Asylum Support Services(COMPASS), which have been in operation since 2012. Not only do these contracts present challenges on a local level to governance of urban housing, but the concentration of housing in post-industrial urban spaces, where low-cost accommodation attracts the highest profits for the contractors, also undermines efforts to reshape these spaces and fractures community participation by increasing diversity and transience in the local population. The paper is based upon two years of participant observation with a campaigning and advocacy group based in the North East of England, as well as analysis of public and policy discourses relating to asylum accommodation across the UK since 2012.


Emerging forms of community unionism and the spatial politics of labour organising


Paul Griffin


Panel: Work, Workers, and Workplaces in an Age of Authoritarian Austerity


This paper aims to consider the wider political dimensions of emerging forms of labour organising in the North East of England (NE). It will combine an analysis of experiences across case studies of community union organising, including: campaigns against zero hour contracts, organising against austerity/welfare sanctioning and wider education projects. The research presented is based upon a series of interviews with key organising figures relating to these cases. The paper engages with the diverse forms of work related organising that have expanded the remit of existing trade unionism through community union branches and engagements with ‘unemployed workers’. In this regard, established labour geography understandings of community unionism have largely been built upon notions of reciprocity and capacity building through an economic lens (e.g. Wills, 2001), but have yet to fully foreground the wider implications of organising groups beyond the workplace. The emerging forms of community union organising in the NE indicates explicitly political forms of agency across multiple grievances against increasingly punitive employer and state practices. Consequently, the organising emphasis found is centred upon ‘raising expectations’ as well as the continuing challenging of particular work place practices (McAlevey, 2012).This engagement with a wider political realm, alongside disputes directly engaging with working conditions, suggests a more complex and nuanced understanding of labour demand making. Thus, this paper advances an understanding of community unionism activism as contributing towards a wider ‘working class presence’ shaped through diverse and intersecting spatial practices and political demand making.


Nordic Migration Research Conference 2018

Norrköping, Sweden 15–17 August 2018


The emotional geographies of the Zimbabwean diaspora: change hope uncertainty


John Clayton


The ’emotional turn’ (Anderson and Smith, 2001) has brought renewed attention to the role of affective registers in constituting and transforming socio-spatial relations. For migrants, such emotions are particularly significant vis-a-vis ongoing processes of inclusion/exclusion and the everyday reconstruction of translocal subjectivities. However, consideration must also be given to the emotional dimensions of more seismic geo- political change (Pain, 2009) as actively navigated ‘from a distance’. In this paper we draw on research examining the resignation of the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe in November 2017, from the perspective of Zimbabweans living outside of Zimbabwe. In the immediate aftermath, the overwhelming impression conveyed by media was a powerful yet complex response: initial excitement tinged with frustration and exhaustion, disbelief, celebration and then hope measured with uncertainty. Such reactions, fed by decades of repression are actively re-working the contours of citizenship and belonging for Zimbabweans. However, what is perhaps less clear is how this is being experienced by a diverse, dispersed and ‘fractured’ diaspora (Pasura, 2011) in ways that might inform practices of translocal lives (Brickell and Datta, 2011). This paper discusses some of the initial findings of exploratory research into the reactions and consequences of these events for those now living through a range of (trans)national contexts.

RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018– Cardiff, UK 28-31 August 2018.

Re-writing creative and digital work: governmentality, methodologies and policy discourse


Panel: The geography of creative industries revisited


Jon Swords, Ewan MacKenzie and Paul Vallance


The aim of this paper is twofold. First, to critique prevailing discourses that have come to define the ‘creative industries’ in the context of economic growth policy in the UK and beyond. Second, to highlight how these discourses and associated rationalities can contribute towards social and economic inequality by prioritising economic objectives. We draw on findings from the AHRC funded Creative FUSE project in the North East of England which sought to “drive innovation and growth” in the creative and digital sectors. We highlight how policy-driven discourses and methodologies were at odds with the perceptions and experiences of some creative and digital workers. Drawing on interviews and a large scale questionnaire, we illustrate the role of policy discourse in privileging particular labour markets and sectors, which in turn fails to account for or value creative and digital work located outside of economic growth criteria. By adopting the concept of governmentality as a form of representation in a discursive field in which exercising power becomes a process of rationalisation in itself, we assess the costs involved in such recent policy interventions. From these insights, and by drawing inspiration from the anti-precarity movement, we explore the possibilities for adopting socially progressive approaches to understanding and encouraging creative and digital work.



Building Immersive Memoryscapes


Jon Swords


Panel: Geographical Considerations of Digital Landscapes


Memoryscapes is an interdisciplinary research project which brings together researchers from geography, computer sciences, architecture and the humanities to work with Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (a museums and archives service) and FaulknerBrowns Architects (an architectural firm). It explores how immersive digital technologies can be used to re-contextualise heritage assets from museums into public spaces by augment urban landscapes to produce heritage-led immersive experiences. The aim is that such experiences increase accessibility and participation with heritages beyond institutional setting in the places from which they gain meaning. But the diverse disciplinary and practical knowledges involved in generating immersive memoryscapes, the media through which they are experienced, and the places they are installed present epistemological and methodological challenges the research team has needed to overcome. Drawing on work which acknowledges the discursive nature of heritage as plural and contested (Smith, 2006; Ashworth, et al., 2007) and interpretation as a ‘writerly’ exercise (Barthes, 1987; Pickles, 2004), this paper reflects on the processes undertaken to understand and embrace the diverse vocabularies, constraints and working practices of organisations working in the heritage, ‘place-making’ and digital technology sectors to produce interactive digital landscapes. This paper explores these ‘productive tensions’ which accompany colliding epistemologies (Brown and Knopp, 2008) through the concept of an immersive platform stack and present an optimistic account of bringing together, and learning from this range of organisations.



Landscapes of Hate


John Clayton is co-convening this session with Ed Hall (University of Dundee, UK) and Catherine Donovan (University of Sunderland, UK)


The incidence of reported ‘hate crimes’ – related to ‘race’, religious belief, disability, sexuality and transgender identities – has increased significantly in recent years, with a notable spike after the 2016 Brexit referendum. Studies of hate crime have been dominated by criminological, psychological and sociological perspectives. Despite spaces and places featuring explicitly in hate crime incidence, and the above studies, as well as important contributions in relation to discrimination and exclusion, there has been a limited contribution from geographers with an explicit focus on ‘hate’ (Browne et al, 2011; Listerborn, 2015; Clayton et al, 2016; Hopkins, 2016). The session seeks to open up the hate debate beyond criminology; encapsulate a range of marginalised and stigmatised groups; consider the intersectional dimensions of incidence and experiences of hate (and those who perpetrate hate); map the geographies of hate, and its relationship with broader social exclusion and marginalisation; engage with and critique theoretical and conceptual aspects of ‘hate’ (for example, identity, encounters, relationality, emotions and affect); consider relevant methodologies for studying hate; and examine policy and practice around prevention, reporting and support.



Geographies of Institutionalised Childhood


Tom Disney is co-convening this session with Anna Schliehe (University of Cambridge, UK)


The everyday micro-scale worlds, materialities, subjectivities and mobilities of childhood and youth have long been of interest to geographers (Horton and Kraftl 2006), yet, extant research in this area has often focused on somewhat ‘mainstream’ childhoods from minority world contexts. What of those children deemed ‘problematic’ or in need of care and correction? Many children and young people are subject to institutional interventions that seek to ‘‘design’ and ‘produce’ particular and improved versions’ (Philo and Parr 2000: 513) of their everyday, which is markedly different from the ‘mainstream’. For example, in England last year over 50,000 children were subject to child protection plans, over 70,000 were in residential care (DfE 2016) and over 1000 were experiencing Young Offenders Institutes (MoJ 2017).Such significant interventions see children and young people’s worlds shaped and remade by statutory services. These attempts and techniques can be traced to the ‘traditional’ institutions that seek to alter problematic behaviour, such as prisons, asylums and orphanages, but also ‘institutions’ now operating in a more ‘dispersed spatial form’ that have yet to be addressed. Examples of which might be young people receiving care from children’s services or mental health care at home and in the community. In short, there is a geography of institutionalised childhoods that requires our attention.In this session we want to focus on children and young people as an under-researched subgroup within carceral geography while also building on research from other disciplines. This session seeks to shed light on the everyday worlds of children experiencing significant interventions, both in ‘traditional’ institutions and those that might be understood to be operating in a ‘dispersed spatial form’.



Reclaiming failure in geography: academic honesty in a neoliberal world (1) Reclaiming Failure across the Higher Education Landscape, (2) Research Methods and Fieldwork


Tom Disney is co-convening this session with Thom Davies (University of Warwick, UK) and Eleanor Harrowell (Coventry University, UK)


From fieldwork mistakes, to article rejections, to troubled pedagogical experiences, and missed academic opportunities; failure is everywhere within geography. So why is it a largely unspoken part of academic life? Despite our well-crafted resumes and polished publications, failure is a ubiquitous and unseen part of practicing the discipline of geography (Horton 2008). There have been some recent attempts to normalise failure in academia through ‘CVs of failure’ and theoretical explorations of the term (Halberstam 2011); but admissions of failure within our discipline remain rare, and the ‘toxic shame’ (Gill 2009) of failure can be professionally and emotionally debilitating for geographers at all career stages.Failure can, however, be an emancipatory and powerful resource (Harrowell, Davies and Disney 2017). It can provide a means to resist the dominant neoliberal ideology that pervades the higher education system and demands “success” at all costs (Halberstam 2011). In an academic landscape that is increasingly measured and scrutinized through metrics or ‘REF outputs’, it has become increasingly difficult to talk about times and spaces where things go wrong. Yet there is so much to learn from these experiences. How do we as critical geographers reclaim failure? How can we incorporate failure into our everyday geographic practices in meaningful ways? Can failure become a means of doing geography better? Could honesty about failure be a means of resisting neoliberalism?This session provides a safe place for speaking about failure. It invites papers that reflect openly and honestly about moments, feelings, experiences, senses, and spaces of failure within our discipline. Here we aim to reclaim failure. By facilitating an open discussion from a range of geographers at different career stages to reflect on how they have coped with, overcome and benefitted from failing in their career, the session will push back against the isolation created by the fear of failure. This session aims to cross the disciplinary divide within geography, drawing upon insights and vignettes from both physical and human geographers, to explore the diversity of experiences in the discipline.


C-MUS Conference – (em)Powering Mobilities– Aalborg University, Sweden, 29-30th August 2018


‘Not the Blue Mosque. Where would you like to take me?’ Destination Branding through the narratives of taxi drivers in Istanbul.


Dr Sharon Wilson, Serkan Uzunogullari and  Dr James Johnson


This paper investigates the ways in which visitors experience Istanbul through narratives of taxi drivers. Taxi drivers whilst not identified as official `cultural brokers’ can act as unofficial tour guides influencing how tourists interpret and experience the city (Bae et al 2014; Garcia-Almeida & Klassen 2017, Cetin and Yarcan, 2017). Tour guides are an established part of the tourism industry yet as a profession tour guiding has received relatively little attention in tourism literature (Ap &Wong, 2001; Huang, Hsu, and Chan 2010) with previous research focusing on the role of tour leaders (Luoh &Tsaur, 2013), emotional labour (Wong & Wang, 2009) and quality of service (Heung, 2008; Mak et al., 2011, Min 2016). Acting as cultural brokers tour guides often work within an official message of a destination brand with tours consisting of trained itineraries and structured routes that capture established and must see tourist icons (Yu, 2017). It is noted that such scripted tours may lack authenticity (Obrador and Carter 2010). This study explores how taxi drivers “commonly assumed to be passive and guided by established rules” (De Certeau 1984: xi) juxtapose ‘official’ must see attractions, with the logic of navigating fares, the ebb and flow of the city and in doing so may provide an alternative pathway through or vision of the city which exist outside of official brand narratives.


This qualitative study consists of interviews with 15 registered taxi drivers in Istanbul during July 2017, interviews were conducted in Turkish and translated into English. Results indicate that Istanbul taxi drivers consider themselves a reflection of the city, that they are well versed in knowledge about the city.  As a representative of the city Istanbul taxi drivers felt they have an obligation to share knowledge with the tourist passenger, however language barriers can prohibit meaningful communication. By asking taxi drivers, ‘Where would you like to take me?’ we have been able to establish how routes are negotiated in the temporary relationships between drivers and passengers as social, cultural and economic relationships orientate representations of place. In this paper we consider the moral compass of the taxi driver who, whilst operates within regimes of institutionalised destination images, due to their autonomy can also constitute alternatives by taking their customers ‘off the beaten track’.


Historical Geography – Revisiting Red Clydeside

Paul Griffin has recently published a paper on Glasgow’s radical history – you can read more about the paper below whilst a link to the paper itself is available here: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1XF0V3Qu6uJtwo

James Maxton speaking at an open-air meeting sometime in the 1920s (image licence with Historic Environment Scotland © Glasgow City Archives)

One of the aims of my recent research was to consider the political differences and spatial connections found within an established labour history – Red Clydeside. Red Clydeside was a period of unparalleled industrial, social and political unrest in the West of Scotland, centring within Glasgow, in the early twentieth century. Unlike other historical geography interests that seek to illuminate ‘hidden pasts’, this area of research is relatively established within public memory, particularly locally, and regularly referred back to within contemporary settings. Elsewhere, I’ve written about some of the archivists and volunteers who maintain and provide access to the records associated with this period (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/area.12384?hootPostID=51f50c311c02af7da4c86b1974c71fe1).

Whilst this historical resonance is noteworthy, questions around the terms on which such retelling of history persists. My most recent paper attempts to offer an alternative approach to such historical geographies. In essence, the paper argues that political difference and fluid forms of political activism, connection and identity were integral to these times. Such a reading of the associated archives suggests that singular narratives of this period, perhaps through the winning or losing of disputes or the lens of particular organisations, for example, fail to capture the dynamism of political unrest that inspired and supported acts of tangible change, such as rent reductions, improvements to working conditions or parliamentary advances of the political left.

To capture this dynamism and sense of political difference, the paper returns to the work of E.P. Thompson and his conceptualisation of working class presence. Thompson’s notion of class forged through antagonism instigated a more rounded approach towards what counts as political activism and can be read alongside more geographical concepts of assemblage, topology and throwntogetherness to engage with a wider realm of political activity. In this regard, the paper argues for an engagement with both the processes of change and the elements of continuity that shaped this radical history. In doing so, the paper considers prominent disputes and campaigns alongside more generative political practices, such as pamphleteering, travelling and public speaking appearances.

Empirically, my archival research revisited the records of three activists who represented this diversity. Guy Aldred, Helen Crawfurd and James Maxton (photographed above at an open-air meeting in the 1920s) were three individuals who committed the majority of their lives to political campaigning in Glasgow, whilst also being prominent political figures beyond Clydeside. Their lives reflected different political influences (such as anarchism, communism, parliamentary activism and the suffrage movement) that informed the wider characterisation of what became known as Red Clydeside. They developed strategic solidarities on particular struggles, such as the anti-war movement during the First World War, the rent strikes of 1915 and the free speech disputes of the 1920s. By drawing upon biographical snapshots, the paper attempts to move beyond a silo-based analysis of political geography. Integral to this understanding is an engagement with the international connections developed by Clydeside activists and the paper raises these to further foreground the spatial politics of this period and to indicate the diversity of political influences within and beyond the Clydeside context (see Workers’ International Relief image below). By doing so, the paper argues that Glasgow was a particularly significance hub of working class activism that shaped, whilst simultaneously being influenced by, wider translocal connections.

Helen Crawfurd helping in the distribution of food for children of striking miners at Lochore in Fife, 1926 (Image licence with Historic Environment Scotland. © Gallacher Memorial Library)

The paper concludes by indicating how these political differences characterised the working class presence of this period. Whilst not exhaustive, as many other activists and influences made similarly significant contributions, the paper begins to illustrate the innovative nature of activism during this time through material cultures (of activism and protest) and international solidarities (through friendships, publishing networks and organised relief efforts). By doing so, the paper suggests that the wider notion of a ‘spirit of rebellion’, which Maxton described within Glasgow during 1915, must be engaged with through multiple perspectives to more fully characterise the histories of such times.

The Nuclear Family Project: The Art Of Touring The Toxic

This post is from Sharon Wilson on tourism and activism related to nuclear sites. Sharon is based in Newcastle Business School. It was originally published here: https://t2m.org/publications/the-nuclear-family-project-the-art-of-touring-the-toxic-pt-1/

In the guise of a family holiday, artists Lindsay Duncanson, Marek Gabrysch and their 11 year old son Lukas toured the British Isles to explore 16 active and decommissioned nuclear power stations. By using the ‘Egg’ touring caravan as a living space and art studio, this creative family began a 2200 mile journey to visit nuclear industrial sites from Dounreay in Caithness to Dungeness in Kent. Using these ‘toxic’ sites for artistic exploration and recreation constitutes an unconventional form of tourism. Hannam and Yankovka1 note, ‘dark’ and ‘toxic’ tourism has developed as the numbers of travellers interested in death, sufferings and disasters have grown significantly of late. Whilst this project is not dark tourism per se, it does prompt a conversation about a human interest in the macabre or, in this case, how non-touristic sites may be used for leisure consumption. Unlike the fascinations of dark tourists who engage in toxic tours, The Nuclear Family Project links artistic and touristic practices together in a cultural performance and allows for engagement in family futures that are lensed through ‘environmental uncertainty’ and a ‘post-ecologistic’ quest for sustainable energy. So, while this art tour is partially about appreciating the beauty in a potentially savage environment of the nuclear, it is also, by default, a mobile form of political tourism that promotes toxic awareness through art. By travelling in a mobile atelier, the artists were not only able to engage in tourist activities, but also to use their caravan as a workplace from which to produce family portraits, drawings, photography and creative writing. The Nuclear Family Project tour thus raises interesting questions regarding the connections between art, politics and tourism as they meet on the move.

Figure 1 Public viewing point. Dounreay Nuclear Family Tour  2015

How then can a nomadic art practice utilise tourism to stimulate conversation about local and environmental issues? Whilst the discussion does make comparisons with ‘toxic’ tourism and protest art, it ultimately draws a distinction between the UK Nuclear phenomena (which barely registers on the cultural Geiger counter) and the more prevailing conditions of chemical corridors such as ‘Cancer Alley’ in Louisiana: a more deadly but still comparable context. As cultural theorist Pezzulo2 summarises in what Bullard3 also describes as ‘human sacrifice zones’, the guided bus tour is a powerful vehicle for environmental activism, in which campaigns against the consequences of industry attempt to make the intangible more visible through the modus of travel. Admittedly the nuclear threat, in this case, is more an ‘accident waiting to happen’ than communities being constantly exposed to dangerous contaminants. Nevertheless, the looming presence of nuclear reactors, whilst questionably benign, does not make them less hazardous as future impacts just because they appear dormant now.

To consider the outcomes of the tour, the first point of note is that the artists, in the post-mortem of their journey, reflected upon the idea that a self-conscious use of tourism as a positive agency could initiate debate about the corrosive impacts of the nuclear. It is suggested therefore, that as travel meets art through the auspices of a ‘toxic’ tour, an alternative form of vacation with a creative and educational purpose is made possible which fits neither the mould of toxic tourism nor raw activism. Also, as MacCannall4 points out, tourism is by its nature deemed toxic, ‘even tourists dislike tourists’. The question arises as to whether this kind of ‘art tourism’, in which the artists are engaging in a personal journey of discovery, may lead to ethical encounters with local populations surrounding nuclear sites. Another issue to emerge from their travels was how art is used to promote environmental justice as a gentler form of protest. Here it is proposed that participation in arts activities hosted in a 1960s vintage caravan due to its non-threatening demeanour is, perhaps, a quiet radicalism that re-engages residents and tourists in debate about the sustainable future of communities, nature and industry. As Branagan and Boughton5 point out, non-violent activism and education often occur simultaneously. So, while the artists’ intention was not to lead directly to civil unrest, arguably, by simply being in these locations making art, attention is drawn to important issues. As a result, it would seem that socially engaged art might facilitate critical debates in places where issues are on the threshold. The final point made relates to the ways in which the nuclear industry contributes to conservation, urban regeneration and tourism development. Admittedly it would be outlandish to propose that a temporary caravan holiday would be a catalyst for any major environmental campaign. Nevertheless, its presence is timely and subtly impactful. Investment in nature and the local communities pushes an industry agenda to redeem public opinion in a ‘post-toxic’ atmosphere. This dichotomous relationship between industry and nature reserves can lead to a social production of space paradoxically formed by chemical and community relations. The discussion briefly considers how beautification of the landscape may civilise the industrial thoroughfares through the encouragement of biodiversity in industrial habitats, reclamation and the strategic designation of leisure spaces. So, whilst the nuclear chemical industry creates toxicity, it also maintains, controls and manipulates nature arguably to reposition the tourist gaze through a pro-nuclear lens.

Art and Activism

In considering how The Nuclear Family Project situates itself as a form of ‘accidental’ environmental activism, a brief account of where it is located in the wider campaign for sustainable ecologies and economies is in order. The UK government’s nuclear energy policy has, in the past, been met for the most part with public outcry. Often this was as much a response to the Cold War’s nuclear weapons program as to the industry itself. Even in the face of the relative safety of nuclear energy versus other forms of generation (coal mining, gas drilling) and against other risk-related contexts6, serious concerns about risk underlying the nuclear industry remain. As Martin7points out, most environmental damage is caused by governments and corporations, yet the world’s environmental crisis is so enormous that averting its relent is not just about governmental or corporate action but requires the engagement of all of society8. We seem to be in a state of flux concerning our energy future. Public opinion favours low-carbon  generation from wind and other renewables in spite of limited and sporadic supply. In the face of rising demand for low-carbon baseload, UK public opinion polls still reflect substantial unease regarding nuclear power. However, current trends toward nuclear power are interestingly characterised by falling concern and increased ambivalence9. This was borne out by the artists’ experience through conversation with the communities visited. Brook10 suggests that because nuclear power has arguably advanced the means to enable low-carbon energy, the notion of its endorsement as an energy source is also in the public consciousness. Also, according to Truelove and Greenburg (2013)11, the new greater risk of climate change has made people more open to nuclear facilities since these may improve energy security. Thus, previous criticism has perhaps begun to take a back seat in light of more global ecological concerns.

With these wider national debates in mind, the ‘Nuclear Family’ project is a creative response to the fear of the unknown. With concern about nuclear still expressed by around half the general population, its roots in the mindset of nuclear threat and with only limited information about how nuclear power is managed, the human imagination is left to draw its conclusions. The artists, therefore, travelled the country with a desire to learn about the phenomena, to understand what those living near the power stations think about the industry, and with optimism to explore nuclear power from a post-Cold War perspective with no particular axe to grind.

In this instance, the artists used their ‘tour’ to learn where the real and imagined idea of ‘the nuclear’ resides in 2016. Researching the subject, they travelled using their caravan as a travelling laboratory for aesthetic specimens to be collected, observed and contemplated. Tourist Information, collated oral histories, snapshots, collected shells and anecdotes from conversations en-route, were all used as a mobile archive and meeting ground for community interest. Environmental concerns were surreptitiously built into the leisure activities, not only from an artist’s perspective but also for the visiting public. That said, the artists by their own admission were not trying to preach a particular doctrine, and despite making critically engaged art, they chose to ‘sit on the fence’ in their attitude to the nuclear industry. They used tourism simply to converse with those who are impacted by the presence of the nuclear industry. The artists also said that their main aim in touring, apart from their own personal pleasure in making art, was about a fascination with industry and landscape: despite having little previous contact with nuclear power stations they were still mystified and intrigued by them. It was also a ‘privilege’, they said, to be able to share their thoughts, fears and misconceptions with different people in the hope to widen knowledge about the toxic. So, although the tour was a personal inquiry, the fact that they had conversations with others was deemed an additional benefit Marek, sharing some observations noted:

It is hard to hear negative conversations around the nuclear power stations because there is a zone of acceptance. The police at Sellafield said there was generally support around the power station, and it would gradually wane off with distance, so the zone of maximum dissatisfaction would be just outside of commuting range; outside the zone of economic influence. There are often lots of lovely houses around the power stations, and perhaps people live there because it’s quiet.

Protests often involved people who had travelled from other places, from cities. The Wylfa protest group, PAWB, on the other hand had been protesting locally against the power station in Anglesey since it had been there. In an old school CND way, perhaps they would be against anything nuclear. Their debate is wider though because it’s also about maintenance of nuclear weapons. Conversely, we live in an energy hungry society and locally, people need jobs and so on. Activist groups seem more focused ideologically than practically in terms of their nuclear debate. Activist groups protest against the nuclear for ideological reasons; parties that often do not live in the sites they represent often undertake campaigns. Whilst this is not necessarily a negative, protest groups are interested in national issues of the nuclear and have occasionally been criticized for having a romantic or revolutionary vision of social change. A campaign to close a nuclear power station as part of the long-term goal to decrease nuclear pollution may make sense, yet in the short term is unpopular if livelihoods depend upon it. Whilst protest groups may provide a much needed voice for environmentalism, critically they are not always representative of the communities for whom they seek ‘justice’. This problem is echoed in the worthy optimism of Cumbrians Against Radioactive Environment (CORE). As a not for profit organisation, CORE started life in 1980 as the Barrow Action Group, with  the aim of opposing the import of foreign fuel to be reprocessed at Sellafield. In 1990, they also engaged in toxic tourism, conducting local tours and giving presentations to schools, universities and community organisations. Whilst this group offered an effective forum for which to take local issues to parliament, their work was not popular with the locals. CORE celebrated living in harmony with nature, pro-actively defending the purity of the fells, estuaries, lakes and woodlands of Cumbria. Through a political activism they were deeply opposed to what they felt was ‘harbouring invisible danger’, yet many of them did not work at the reprocessing  plant. They alluded to the preservation of the traditional picturesque and nature as essential and important national assets, deemed these under threat and in need of protection above and beyond the economics. As pointed out on their website, CORE’s manifesto embodied sentiments such as ‘The water we drink, the food we eat along with the very air we breathe all bear the hallmark of man-made nuclear pollution.’12.  One of CORE’s major campaigns was to fight against the operation of a new plant THORP and they were successful in challenging a proposal by the nuclear waste agency NIREX to put a waste dump on the edge of the Lake District.

On the other hand, The Nuclear Family Project was motivated by curiosity regarding the reappraisal of nuclear in the light of climate change by notable media commentators (such as Stewart Brand and George Monbiot). This curiosity was alongside a genuine interest in toxic landscapes and appreciation of the natural world through art. This forms a different, if contentious, lens through which to engage with the issues highlighted by collectives such as CORE. However, such sentiments have similar environmental roots and it is merely the process which differs. Art arguably has the power to involve itself more subtly with politically driven campaigns due to perceived neutrality. As Marek explained, “By being holidaymakers on an unlikely tour, the caravan served as a sounding board or a conversation opener from which reciprocal knowledge could be exchanged through creative dialogue”. So, art arguably endeavoured to give a voice to the unspoken without being seen to be overtly activist. Marek commented that, “Typical protest tends to polarise people and lead to disengagement where arguments are complex: where people are at loggerheads, there is no dialogue”. Lindsay added that, “The project, rather than a point of conflict, instead was a meeting place where ideas could be cracked open – we were trying to work it out for ourselves, what the arguments are, and the most authentic way was to go and visit the places”.

To echo this, according to Taylor13, the celebratory and creative aspects of the arts bring a balance to environmentalism by lightening its often confrontational messages with creativity and humour. Although anger is an important emotion in activism, it is not sustainable for long periods, and may contribute to burnout. Similarly, audiences may ‘turn off’ if they are continually bombarded with angry messages, whereas the use of many different emotions can evolve a variety of ‘hooks’ to engage people. In this case, the novelty of the vehicle and the public being invited to participate in quirky activities such as making milkshakes on Sellafield beach added a sense of oddity hard to ignore. It would be naive to suggest that visiting toxic locations and talking to others would serve to collapse or rehabilitate the atomic industry, yet engaging local people in environmental debates linked to the local area, if nothing else, is the antithesis to the normative acceptance of toxicity. As Marek noted after spending time in these localities:

It almost felt like rather than attempting to change the minds of locals we were an expedition on behalf of the angry liberal city dwellers to understand nuclear. In the light of changing attitudes and increasing opposition to fracking and fossil fuels: the default stance was always been to distrust nuclear but this is now undermined by global warming concerns. All well and good to just say we can’t have fracking and fossil fuels and we need renewables…what does that mean in real terms? If nuclear power is part of that alternative- what does that really mean to the country and communities?. There was, however, a playfulness in our family activities, reminders about local nuclear impact… the ‘elephant in the room’

Figure 2 Family Activity. Milkshakes in Seascale (Sellafield) Nuclear Family Tour 2015

Pezzullo14 uses the term ‘toxic tourism’ to describe organised tours to places of environmental degradation in underprivileged communities. Toxic Tourism cannot just be categorised as dark tourism, but, as Di Chiro15proposes, it is a form of environmental tourism which draws together the contentious relationships between environmental justice and social degradation. The arts fit into this debate by using aesthetics to synthesise sometimes controversial ideas into potent symbolic images, songs or performances which can raise awareness with the community at large (Andrew and Eastbum16, Evergreen Theatre,17). The arts play an important role in exposing these covert processes in promoting open, factual debates. As Branagan points out, the arts bring a carnival, yet simultaneously sharp, atmosphere to environmental rallies18. This arguably creates ‘liminal’ settings which are conducive to the deep learning necessary for social action (Turner) 19, 20 Using tourism to socialise with strangers by means of a self-conscious ‘doing family’ performance, is a playful and non-invasive way to meet others. Indeed many activists have used art to educate audiences, to disseminate information and try to convert them to environmentalism.

The question arises: what kind of social activism may be induced through aesthetic practices when a) the itineraries are not always clear, or b) are ignored? Considering the natural inertia experienced in the ‘zone of acceptance’ (as Marek puts it),  the nuclear ‘foreshadowing’ the every day, is inherent, and tacitly accepted around the potentially hazardous sites. (See Figure 3). In fact, Bonnett, like Redclift21 and Blühdorn22 mourns the fact ‘that we now live in a post-ecologist period in which, behind a façade of deep ecological concern and green politics, inaction is par for the course’. Re-igniting potential concerns through art, however, could lead to significant social change through a radicalised population if the messages were clearly heard and acted upon in a meaningful way. The Nuclear Family Project’s alternative form of tourism contains the idea that pleasure-seeking with traditional forms of family leisure such as swimming on Wylfa Beach or building sandcastles at Dounreay, instead of deactivating and naturalising the toxic, draws attention to it. Art activists from this pretext are seen not as provocateurs but instead passionate, informed individuals who admire and respect the place and just have relevant questions to ask.

Figure 3 Nuclearity Boundary Markers. Winfrith. Nuclear Family Tour 2015

Art and Tourism

By engaging with contested sites of leisure and capturing these travel experiences through photography, drawing and community participation, it is suggested that the art of touring politely disrupts the status quo of places visited because it can critically engage with the issues of atomic power through the gentle lens of art. Whilst other artists have looked at the nature of art and tourism and art and the toxic, (Martin Parr, Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, and Isabella Mongelli for example) what is subtle and effective about this project is the process by which it uses an established form, a family vacation, to critically engage with toxic smells, sounds, contagions, stories and imaginaries as a form of cultural production and political debate. The 30-day tour culminated in a body of work which includes a range of creative musings from pastiches of family portraits to self-styled souvenir drawings of the nuclear power stations, oral histories of residents, security guards, police and employees who live and work in intimate proximity to the nuclear ‘factories’.

The almost ubiquitous nature walks (which formed part of the artistic ‘family activities’) were often remote and yet industrial. Their setting against the ‘romantic idealism’ in the highly managed safe zones of public nature reserves revealed a paradoxical symbiosis between the banal landscapes of industrialisation, environmental toxicity and the itineraries of conservation which seek to preserve and maintain nature. Interestingly, anecdotal evidence from visitors to these places which tried to mix local tourism with the nuclear said that they didn’t feel comfortable photographing a nuclear site in spite of nature paths passing through or adjacent to the stations. By investing in conservation and promotion of local tourism, another juxtaposition between the mundane architecture of the functional factory is set against the equally manufactured, ecologically ‘sustained’ environment with conservation of the nature that surrounds the factories tempering the perceived threat to public health. Whilst conventional leisure seekers travel to contemplate picturesque landscapes through a romantic gaze, travel to these sites is foreshadowed by the perceived dangers associated with nuclear facilities.

Many of the planned artistic interventions occurred in residential areas associated with the nuclear sites and travel in this sense allowed hosts and guests to meet in fleeting encounters; the format of a family on holiday in a caravan had an innocence and novelty about it which allowed the artists to explore environmentalist issues without themselves being ostracised. As Lindsay pointed out:

We were playing out being tourists, being slightly disruptive and inquisitive even ignorant, sort of ‘oh what’s going on here’ type thing. It allows you to take any role that you want. You can talk to the train spotters or the ex-worker from the nuclear industry. I don’t think many people actually thought we were tourists but I think they quite liked the fact we opened up the possibility that you could tour nuclear power stations. The idea of setting up a new paradigm of how and why you might want to travel, a kind of informal activism and leaving perhaps a legacy for a kind of new form of tourism seemed like a plan. Because of the art side of it, you are acting as a tourist, so it is tourism development in a strange way. As a family we made a tourist itinerary of motor boating, kite flying or swimming in the sea. But they were all set within a nuclear framework; doing them next to a power station added a weird element of risk.

Figure 4 Nuclearity, Dungeness Boundary Marker. Nuclear Family Tour 2015

The ‘nuclear family’ moniker (in this case, the idealised white Anglo-Saxon version of the nuclear family23 ) is the post-war idea of the family which itself alludes to the security in conformity. It is this conformity set against the backdrop of a somewhat ambivalent relationship with nuclear energy that underpins the family photographs. Taken at each destination, they represent an attempt to begin a dialogue which locates threat. Here, the traditional poses both allude to the conventions of expressing togetherness in a happy family holiday, whilst also being a reminder of the toxic landscapes which contextualise these portraits. By engaging in family activities at each of the destinations, the aim was also to engage a wider audience through the cultural media genres of literature, film and art, adding narratives to public debates on the environment, on beauty and toxicity. Through the genteelism of art production, this narrative can be a ‘quiet riot’ in the otherwise undisturbed experience of the everyday. So, from the realm of artistic appreciation in a banal landscape, the radioactive ‘elephant in the room’ is temporarily made visible by a family on holiday. They are not, of course, an entirely conventional family, but rather a publicly funded one which travels to make art: the Nuclear Family Project is in this sense a form of alternative ‘niche’ tourism but hosted under the rubric of ‘environmental tourism’ and mediated through an artistic practice. By their own admission, The Nuclear Family Project are artists and not activists. Because of the form of their project, they are also ‘holiday makers’. In contrast to the idealised notions of a white, happy family on a beach (Obrador-Pons)24 this is juxtaposed with the arguably darker aura of the toxic landscape; spaces of leisure and family activities as played out in the contested spaces of the nuclear industry. The artists, in holidaying in these places, wished not only to use tourism for contemplating the strangeness of industrial landscapes but also as antithesis to the more traditional forms of tourism such as the beach holiday:

I had no idea what it would be like to tour nuclear sites. I didn’t even know if you could get close to them. They are fenced off, but fenced off right next to the building and were surprisingly accessible – that really surprised me. I mean, even Dounreay, an ex-military site had a nice viewing area that was made for tourists. It has informative panels and yet was one of the nuclear research places during the Cold War, I believe it would have been top secret. They are now promoting tourism and have even built a massive car park to encourage people to hang around. Wylfa has a visitor centre, and Trawsfynydd is a tourist spot again – now that the reactors don’t heat up the lake water. In fact, it’s now a leisure lake with watersports, fishing and Ospreys.

By touring nuclear sites, The Nuclear Family are able to re-engage both hosts and guests (and most importantly audience) in a debate about the social reality of nuclear threat. As Pezzulo25 points out, tourism is romanticised for its promise of pleasure, and yet tourism may also enable exploitation of other cultures. In the case of the environmental justice movement, raising awareness about polluted communities and reducing the physical distance between hosts and guests serves to redress this. Being a creative family on holiday, the danger of ‘othering’ its host is reconciled by the artists’ reciprocal engagement with, for example, place. Making work that does not preach about the nuclearity of the destination, and has an appreciation for aesthetics with a genuine concern and sympathy for local issues, is arguably a more ethical encounter with its host.

Figure 5 Family Portait Chapel Cross. Nuclear Family Tour 2015

When visiting these industrial towns, the artists used a variety of tactics to engage with both the public and the surrounding areas which they wished to explore. As participants in this somewhat unlikely holiday, the artists, as suspect holidaymakers, mimicked the performances of conventional leisure tourism by engaging in activities such as beach walking, fishing, sightseeing, apparently behaving like any other visitor. Another approach was to park their caravan in public areas such as car parks and roadsides near the nuclear facilities, intending to prompt reactions to their unusual presence. Using such leisure spaces for family activities naturally led to tourist encounters with residents who lived and worked with nuclear reactors on their doorstep. Interactions included conversations with the communities about the positive and negative impacts of nuclear factories in their neighbourhoods. So, instead of exploiting the destinations encountered, Marek and Lindsay made art which, while addressing an environmentalist agenda, also involved the local community as a way of giving something back. The artists as tourists were as curious about where to find the souvenir shop as they were at disclosing uncomfortable truths,  striking up conversations on difficult topics with non-threatening naivety. By performing family holiday activities close to a nuclear facilities, rhetorical questions are raised around safety, security and what can be construed as acceptable leisure pursuits in toxic zones.

As Marek observed:

In Sizewell there is a managed walk that highlights butterfly spotting and right next to it is a sign about what to do if there’s a disaster, you know, go home close your windows etc. Weirdly the campsites right next to some of them are really beautiful. Sandy Bay camp site’s promotional material talks about wildlife and proximity to the Sizewell sands beach, and stunning Suffolk coastal walks yet completely fails to mention that it’s directly next to two enormous nuclear power stations. When we arrived and talked to the woman at reception, I said we had come to see the nuclear power station and she stopped and gave me an uncomfortable look then regained her composure and went on  ‘oh that’s nice’. I did wonder if she’d imagined that any of her other guests had come to see it. Sizewell Tea are great though, they are a beachside café and they proudly celebrate the fact they are in a car park next to a nuclear power station and make the best of it.

Lindsey also commented that:

Awareness of the nuclear presence is quite ambiguous. I mean we were a bit worried before we left for the tour. Dounreay beach has a history of incredibly hot particles. I think we also imagined we would have more fractious encounters. I didn’t anticipate how pretty the sites would be and how accessible they were with paths and places to walk dogs alongside the structures. We did meet occasional tourists like the Dutch ones in the camper van, and they were completely unaware of the nuclear power station, and they were the only ones walking their dog on the beach. Others would not go on the beach but enjoyed the view of the coast, and some read the warning signs not to go on the beach and turned back. There they were more cautious but at Torness everyone rocks up more as a conventional seaside holiday spot, a best kept secret beach. Dungeness was at the other extreme and had been a tourist resort well before it had a nuclear power station so its popularity is probably historical.


This study has followed the journey of The Nuclear Family project to understand better, how the mobilisations of art and tourism can re-engage environmentalist discourses surrounding the controversial global enterprise of atomic power, manufacture and disposal. Set against the mundane realities of communities living and working at nuclear power stations in the UK, a family of contemporary artists posing as tourists on a caravan holiday were inspired by the cold war narratives of their childhood; their mobile installation used creatively to explore how eco politics in the 21st century, relates to everyday life.

By visiting 16 nuclear power stations in the UK and staying at the industrial beaches, car parks, laybys and visitor centres located next to nuclear reactors, these unconventional holiday destinations allowed social connections with residents, prompting informal conversations about the challenges and benefits of engaging with atomic power. Despite the undeniable danger attached to being a nuclear host, Chernobyl as historical exemplar of horrific consequences, the communities in question tended to mythologise potential risks, distancing them from both public consciousness and debate.  Arguably, given the quotidian circumstances of the everyday, death by radiation appears as phantasmagorical given the occurrence of disasters overall.

Whilst the artists enjoyed capturing the beauty of the industrial landscape and with gentle provocation raised the issue of the toxic, local residents as employees of the nuclear industry counteracted these critical views with stories of economic and conservational benefits. In summary, this essay has discussed how tourism mobilities can be used as a vehicle through which to explore the dichotomy between urban mythology and scientific actuality. Through critical contemplation of the relations between economic necessities, social activism and aesthetic practices therefore, new stories about our paradoxical relationship

With the nuclear as a lived experience have been told.


Turner, J.C, (1982). Towards a cognitive redefinition of the social group. Social identity and intergroup relations, pp.15-40.

Redclift, M. (2011). “The Response of the Hermeneutic Social Sciences to a ‘Postcarbon World’.” International Review of Social Research 3 (2): 155–166.

Blühdorn, I., (2011). The politics of unsustainability: COP15, post-ecologism, and the ecological paradox. Organization & Environment, p.1086026611402008.

Carr, N.(2011). Children’s and Families’ Holiday Experience, London, Taylor and Francis.

Obrador Pons, P. (2012). Annals of tourism research, Vol. 39, No. 1, pp, 401-420

Pezzullo, P. C. (2007). Toxic Tourism: Rhetorics of Pollution, travel, and environment justice.

Can cryptocurrencies save Indonesia’s carbon forests?

Pete Howson discusses the potential for block chain technology to help environmental problems. This article was originally published here: https://news.mongabay.com/wildtech/2018/06/can-cryptocurrencies-save-indonesias-carbon-forests-commentary/

  • Blockchain technology is already connecting buyers and sellers around the world, even if they don’t trust each other. It’s cutting through bureaucracy, and bypassing corrupt governments, all with just a few strings of code. The technology could even save Indonesia’s forests.
  • Over the next few months, several flagging carbon forestry projects are hoping the Bitcoin bubble can carry them to new heights of market capitalization. These Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) projects are part of an international mechanism designed to make forests more valuable standing than cut down.
  • The idea behind these projects was born in Indonesia in 2007, but, for multiple reasons, REDD+ never really took off. 95 percent of the world’s ‘avoided deforestation’ credits, representing millions of hectares of conserved forest, were stuck without a buyer. Until now.
  • This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Blockchain technology is already connecting buyers and sellers around the world, even if they don’t trust each other. It’s cutting through bureaucracy and bypassing corrupt governments, all with just a few strings of code.

The technology could even save Indonesia’s forests.

The growing hype around cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is nowhere more obvious than in Indonesia. Despite being illegal as a transaction mechanism, Indonesians are moving $15-20 million worth of digital currency every single day.

Although Bitcoin holds by far the biggest market share, alternatives (alt-coins) are catching up, and new ones flood the global crypto-exchanges almost daily. There are now over 1,500 listed alt-coins touting for investment through the sale of tokens. These tokens are often sold speculatively, like shares in a new company, or given as incentives to people who offer their computer power, which enables the network. The encoded tokens represent blocks of data stored on the network. Some of these cryptocurrencies offer game-changing blockchain technology to their respective market sectors. Others are completely bogus. With no central regulator, it’s often difficult to know what’s what.

While Bitcoin was the first application of blockchain technology, ‘Bitcoin’ should not be used to mean ‘blockchain’, which is a much broader idea. Cryptocurrencies are but one use of blockchain technology. Other applications include government record-keeping, tracking the flow of goods and services along supply chains, voting, and verifying the identity of citizens.

A blockchain is essentially a distributed database. What makes the technology unique is its ability to enable the storage of data immutably, without relying on a central authority. This allows the database to preserve its integrity and prevent hacking or other forms of monkey business.

Logging near Tanjung Puting National Park. Indonesia is losing around 800,000 hectares of primary rainforest each year. Photo courtesy of BP-REDD+. Photo by Edy Purnomo

Over the next few months, several flagging carbon forestry projects are hoping the Bitcoin bubble can carry them to new heights of market capitalization. These Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) projects are part of an international mechanism designed to make forests more valuable standing than cut down. The idea behind these projects was born in Indonesia in 2007, but, for multiple reasons, REDD+ never really took off. 95 percent of the world’s ‘avoided deforestation’ credits, representing millions of hectares of conserved forest, were stuck without a buyer. Until now.

Ecosphere+ is providing carbon credits to its strategic partner, Poseidon, for use on a blockchain platform. This will allow consumers and retailers to track and offset their carbon footprints. Meanwhile, Veridium Labs and Infinite Earth, who launched Central Kalimantan’s Rimba Raya REDD+ project in 2008, are jumping on the blockchain bandwagon, this time with a new kind of credit card, VerdePay. The card allows consumers to purchase anything from handbags to SUVs, while autonomous computer programs issue REDD+ carbon credits via the blockchain, offsetting the embodied carbon footprint of each purchase. Unlike the smoke and mirrors of some previous carbon offset projects, using self-executing code means there’s no mystery fees or middle men taking a cut, just fully transparent, non-partisan algorithms guaranteeing everything stays above board.

The sale of Verde tokens also funds community development and biodiversity conservation initiatives. Infinite Earth’s Todd Lemons announced at a $2,000-a-head blockchain conference in New York last month that such environmental and social benefits can be coded into a token and executed automatically. Lemons said, “We hope the tokens will provide less friction and a much higher adoption rate.” The company expects the experiment to offset an average of 4.4 million metric tons of pollution per year, enabling the Rimba Raya Reserve to stay up and running for 60 years.

The project brings together blockchain developers at IBM, funders seeking a greener image like BP, Gazprom, and Shell, and financial services companies like Allianz and Zurich, all promoting environmental and social transformation. Without a doubt, blockchain is providing these bedfellows with more efficient ways of connecting Indonesia’s carbon projects and global communities of eco-conscience consumers. But will Indonesia’s forest communities get a share of the goodies? Probably not.

Land cleared by fire for palm oil plantation in the subdistrict of Segah, Berau, East kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of BP-REDD+.

According to recent research, the Rimba Raya project is the only REDD+ project in Indonesia to have secured funding from carbon markets. Half of the project’s 10 million metric tons of produced carbon credits have been sold. None of these financial compensations make it to the communities that pay the highest costs and take on the significant risks. And that’s standard practice.

Chris Lang of REDD-Monitor highlights four other fundamental problems with REDD+ projects: leakage, additionality, permanence, and measurement:

Leakage refers to the fact that while deforestation might be avoided in one place, as the root causes of deforestation aren’t tackled, the problem is simply moved to another area of forest or a different country.

Additionality refers to the impossibility of predicting what might have happened in the absence of the REDD+ project.

Permanence refers to the fact that carbon stored in trees is only temporarily stored. All trees eventually die and release the carbon back to the atmosphere.

Measurement refers to the fact that accurately measuring the amount of carbon stored in forests and forest soils is extremely complex — and prone to significant errors.

These problems have beset climate offset projects for over a decade. Current crypto-REDD+ initiatives have failed to overcome them. But blockchain does offer partial solutions to consumer-driven climate change.

Image courtesy of Pete Howson.

Much of the technology needed to connect consumers with forest communities is already here, or in advanced stages of production by groups of independent blockchain developers. Regen Network, for example, plans to implement a blockchain-based application, which they claim “monitors on-the-ground conditions and generates trusted attestations about the ecological state of managed environments.” Rather than baseline fairy tales, additionalities can be proven by satellites and ‘Proof of Location’ systems. ‘Smart-contract’ apps are also in development, which use autonomous protocols and self-executing code to enable automatic incentive payments to be disbursed directly to forest communities working to improve tropical ecosystems.

Cryptonature bubbles of hot air will likely burst or blow away, carrying the un-savvy investor with them. Meanwhile, development of the underlying blockchain technology is likely to bring about radical social and environmental transformations to Indonesia’s forests. Knowing the difference between the greenwashing bubbles and the bona fide game-changers will always be difficult in an unregulated arena.

But, if forests are improving while forest communities are getting the lion’s share of the benefits, then that’s a good sign.

Traditional Dayak dancers entertain dignitaries at a provincial REDD+ event in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan. Photo courtesy of BP-REDD+.

CORRECTION: This article originally stated that Ecosphere+ was using blockchain technology to find buyers for REDD+ credits from Sumatra’s Merang peatland. In fact, Ecosphere+ has sold a number of carbon credits to Poseidon, which is using them as part of its blockchain platform to allow consumers and retailers to track and offset their carbon footprint. The credits that Poseidon bought from Ecosphere+ are from the latter’s project in Cordillera Azul National Park in Peru. Mongabay regrets the error.


• Enrici, A., & Hubacek, K. (2018). Challenges for REDD+ in Indonesia: a case study of three project sites. Ecology and Society, 23(2). doi:10.5751/ES-09805-230207

GE0242 – Geopolitics of Ethnic Identities Playlist

As part of the final year module ‘Geopolitics of Ethnic Identities’ taught by John Clayton, students are asked to  write a critical review of a media source (or aspects of that source) that speaks in some way to the themes, concepts and theories covered in the module.

Students provide a detailed commentary and critical evaluation of the source material, which this year has included a range of journalistic sources, feature films, cartoons, books, television programmes, poetry and music. Interestingly there has also been a tendency towards sources routed through a US perspective. The strength of assignments this year has been particularly impressive, and broadly speaking the group have demonstrated a clear ability to engage with issues of ‘race’ and ethnicity with sensitivity and criticality. We thought that we would share the 2017/18 ethnic identities ‘playlist’ with you.


Straight Outta Compton

8 Mile

Get Out


This is England

Django Unchained

Black Panther

Do the Right Thing

Remember the Titans

A Time to Kill


TV Shows

Brooklyn 99 (TV series)

Fox and Friends

The Simpsons (cartoon)



Selected works by Benjamin Zephaniah (poetry)


Noughts and Crosses (book)

I wriggled my toes, enjoying the feel of the warm sand trickling like fine baby powder between them. Digging my feet even deeper into the dry, yellow-white sand, I
tilted back my head. It was such a beautiful August afternoon. Nothing bad could ever happen on a day like today. And what made it even better was the fact that I could
share it – something rare and special in itself, as I knew only too well. I turned to the boy next to me, my face about to split wide open from the smile on it.
‘Can I kiss you?’



Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’


Parliament’s ‘Mothership Connection’

Selected works by Tracy Chapman

Joyner Lucas’s ‘I’m not a racist’

NWA’s ‘Fuck Tha Police’

S&CGRG Annual Lecture

This year’s annual lecture will be on 6th June. Full details are below. During the day we’re having a reading group around the topic of platform economies and if you would like to attend please contact Paul Griffin at the email address below.

Platform Economies: Cultural, Political and Work Futures

Social and Cultural Geographies Research Group Annual Lecture 2018

A002 Ellison Building

The Social and Cultural Geographies research group are delighted to announce our 2018 annual lecture. This year we have selected the theme of platform economies and digital work as a cross-cutting research interest that brings together much of the research group’s work. The rise of so-called platform capitalism has been heralded as part of a fourth industrial revolution and is transforming production systems, labour relations and consumption of products and services across the economy. It has had an impact across the arts, humanities and social sciences as academics explore and conceptualise such transformations. This year’s lecture brings together academics from cultural and political theory, digital media and communication studies and economic geography.

We are pleased to welcome Dr Yujie Chen (University of Leicester) and Dr Jeremy Gilbert (University of East London) for this event, who, with Dr Jon Swords from the research group, will consider the nature of platforms themselves, the changing landscapes of culture and work associated with platforms and the political possibilities and tensions provided by platform technologies.

All welcome.

Please contact Dr Paul Griffin with any inquiries (paul.griffin@northumbria.ac.uk)

Please register here: https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/About-us/News-Events/Events/2018/06/Social-and-Cultural-Geography-Annual-Lecture-2018

Day structure:

15.30 – 16.00: Meet and greet in The Hub – Ellison Building, 2nd floor, B Block (coffee and tea available)

16.00 – 18.00: Ellison Building, A002, Panel lecture and discussion (contributors and abstracts below)

Lecture information:

The lecture will include three contributions detailed below and time for discussion and reflection.

Chair: Dr Kathryn Cassidy (Northumbria University)

Interpenetration and intermediation of crowd-patronage platforms

Dr Jon Swords (Northumbria University)


Web platforms are becoming part of everyday life for internet users. They come in many forms, offering a range of products and services for both producers and consumers as they (re)produce multi-sided markets. Platforms act as key intermediaries, bringing together third parties and shaping the provision of access to information, finance, content and networks. They operate within an ecosystem, connected through technical service provision and operational logics that van Dijck (2013) terms interpenetration. This article explores how interpenetration with and from two crowd-patronage platforms – Patreon and Subbable – is co-constitutive of their intermediary functions. Both sites connect(ed) artist-creators with patrons, offering an alternative means of income generation in the face of declining advertising revenues and digital piracy. Through this examination I propose the expansion of the interpenetration concept to include analysis of where in a platform’s ‘stack’ interpenetration occurs, and how power asymmetries between platforms enables or constrains their adaptive capacity when faced with change. In so doing I argue interpenetration through shared operational logics transforms cultural work as it is enrolled into a calculus of web metrics that allow algorithmic curation.

The pendulum of informal practices and inherent contradictions in the platform economy

Dr Yujie Chen (University of Leicester)


Through the examples of ride-hailing platforms in China, this paper demonstrates how on-demand service apps in the platform economy not only develop new labor management mechanisms but also precipitates new types of digital labor in the platform economy. The analysis hinges on two axes—1) the platformization of driver’s work process and 2) drivers’ lived labor practices. I argue digital apps decontextualize the work process by setting the start and finish points that do not necessarily correspond to workers’ actual completion of the job. Though it seems to offer standardized service from a passenger’s point of view, the arbitrarily platformized work process and the absence of occupational trainings exploit and aggravate the long-standing lack of institutional social support for Chinese platform laborers. This leaves workers to learn to work by practice and trial-and-error. Specifically, becoming platform workers involves communities of practices (Wenger, 2000) to co-produce and share vernacular knowledge, for which they rely on individual’s digital literacy as well as collective wisdom from the extended social networks. Their worker subjectivity takes shape in sharing mundaneness and collaborative production of practical knowledge. The persistence and pendulum of informal practices among drivers on ride-hailing platforms lay bare the inherent contradiction in the platform economy in general—that is, constant and heavy reliance on extra/surplus (informal) labor from outside the platform. The paper concludes with discussions on how this inherent contraction may inspire new framework to develop a fairer and sustainable platform economy.

Platform Politics in 2018

Prof Jeremy Gilbert (University of East London)


It is increasingly apparent that the post-Fordist epoch of ‘flexible accumulation’ has given way to a new era in which the ‘leading-edge’ of capital is constituted by the platform monopolies of Silicon Valley (Google, Facebook, Youtube, Amazon, Apple). Although many current interpretations of the situation focus on its dystopian implications, it is also clearly true that the age of platform communications has created significant new opportunities for democratic organisation and mass politics. The complexities of the moment cannot be well understood in terms of any simple or teleological narrative, but they can be very usefully analysed by focussing on the emergence of ‘Big Tech’ as a specific class fraction, closely related, but not identical, to finance capital, increasingly intent on securing its own position as the hegemonic element of the global ruling elite. This paper will argue that the problem of maintaining the consent of ‘subaltern’ groups to their rule is as much of a problem for Zuckerberg et al as it has been for the ruling classes of previous generations, and that recent controversies in the world of ‘tech’, from the bitcoin craze to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, should all be understood in this light.

Spanish Fieldtrip

We take the second year BA (Hons) Geography students to Spain every April for a week as part of their field trip module. We fly to Malaga and then head into the Alpujarras mountains where we stay in small villages (Laroles and Valor) for four nights. We then return to Malaga for three nights.

Student learn about our destinations in the first semester and develop group projects to undertake while in Malaga. While in the villages student complete reflexive journals based on their exploration of the surrounding areas and village life.



The local shepherd who looks after livestock for various villagers. We were told the number of sheep has dropped from 200 twenty years ago to around 50 today.


Laroles has an open air theatre on the site of a former threshing floor. It was crowdfunded and bring performances usually reserved for large cities to the village (more info here).


Judging from the reactions, today’s performance was a comedy.


Practicing taking notes, sketching and recording reflections while in the field.


Students making observations about the use of public space.


Valour looking great in the spring sunshine.


It might only have a population of c.400, but Laroles boasts a quality micro-brewery. Pau and Davide were kind enough to show us around and provided free samples of the four beers they produce.






In Malaga John Clayton explains the transformation of the area near the harbour into a cultural quarter.


Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica de la Encarnación


The choir stalls are impressive.


Some amazing cheese.

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