Walking the Edge: The interstitiality of the Blackwater Valley Path

The familiar brown wayfinding signs of the Blackwater Valley Path, with the blue route markers in the bottom right corner

I’ve lived in the Blackwater Valley area for nearly a decade now, and as a keen runner and walker, I have frequently come across the wayfinding infrastructure of the Blackwater Valley Path. It became one of those ritualistic things whereby I would mentally log that I needed to research the path when I got back home, but as per usual, the task slipped from memory as the drudgery of the fog of daily life kicked back in after the mental clarity of a run. So it’s little surprise to be honest that it has taken nearly ten years (9 years, and 6 months 2 weeks and 3 days to be precise) to finally research the route, get up to fitness and most difficult, find a spare day to walk the whole 23 miles of the Blackwater Valley Path.

But why did I feel so drawn to it? What is it about a relatively random collection of pathways that have been transformed and manicured by the good folk at the Blackwater Valley Countryside Trust from a site of industrialised landscape extraction to a network of middle-class leisure and residential pursuits over the last 40 years or so? The answer is simply ‘because geography’. Or perhaps more disciplinarily, cultural geography.

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CfP RGS-IBG 2022 – Food for thought: The political potentiality of mutual aid food provision networks

August 30th – September 2nd 2022, Newcastle University

Sponsored by the Social Cultural Geography Research Group (SCGRG) and Food Geographies Research Group (FGRG).

Organisers: Oli Mould, Jenni Cole and Adam Badger (Royal Holloway, University of London)

How mutual-aid groups are supporting Brooklynites

Of the many horrific outcomes of the coronavirus disaster, the wellspring of mutual aid groups that have continued beyond short-term pandemic relief is not one of them (Firth and Preston, 2020; Spade, 2020). There has been a multitude of community groups who have grown their mutual aid practices of pandemic care, and begun to enact its anarchist roots of create networks of solidarity, anti-capitalist praxis and radical social justice (Rose-Redwood et al., 2020; Cayuela, 2021; Chavée, 2021; Lachowicz & Donaghey, 2021). While continuing to battle against structural inequalities and insecurities, there are a plethora of groups that are creating alternative means of community care and social provisioning.

One of the most ubiquitous forms of this provisioning is with food justice including food banks, community fridges, supermarket trips, and so on (Mould et al., 2022). Moreover, it has given an opportunity to bring together those who seek to provide food to alleviate, highlight and tackle food poverty, with those environmentalists who see it as a way to reduce food waste. Perhaps surprisingly, this is not always an easy political coalition, but if formulated, it has the potential to create new political horizons beyond unjust capitalist food structures.

With this spirit of mutual aid in mind, we aim to blend invited academic papers on mutual aid and/or food justice, with activists in the local area to create a dialogue across class, political and disciplinary divides. With the help of local mutual aid networks in and around Newcastle, we envision site visits for academics to help distribute food, and the opportunity for activists to listen to academic work in the conference. With the help of these activists and non-traditional contributions, we also aim to stage an RGS ‘fringe’ event that is more exploratory, creative and ‘horizontal’ in its application of academic ideas; including placard making, guerrilla gardening, open mic nights and artistic urban interventions.

With all this in mind, we welcome papers and interventions that sit on the cusp of activism and academia (as uneasy a relationship as that may be (Lacione and Popovici, 2021) to do with food justice, environmental sustainability of food provision, and activist food networks. As such, we are looking for traditional academic papers, but also artistic and food-based interventions (spoken word poems, physical or digital art works, activist cookery classes, guerrilla gardening workshops, and so on).

To submit a paper, please submit an abstract of c.250 words to oli.mould@rhul.ac.uk.

To submit a non-traditional format, please send a brief synopsis of what you intend to present or workshop, and the resources you will need to do so (limited to one page of A4 if possible please) to oli.mould@rhul.ac.uk Deadline for submissions is 16th March, 2022.

Three strikes and they’re out: why we need to get the vote and strike!

Source: https://twitter.com/DaunceyEmil/status/968949216461643776?s=20

It’s Groundhog day. Again. Next week, UCU staff are balloting for strike action that, if successful, would take place before Christmas. We’ve been on the picket line twice in the last 3 years, and still, we have seen no progress in bettering working conditions and stopping the decimation of the pensions of university & college staff. University management has taken a lead from the prevailing winds of political change and taken part in what can only be described as disaster capitalism: using the confusion and exhaustion of the pandemic to ram through redundancies at Leicester, Liverpool and Goldsmiths to name but a few. What’s more, since we were on the picket line last (that was cut short because of the outbreak of covid), the government have fanned the flames of a culture war against universities; we apparently stifle free speech and ‘cancel’ people, and the daily rags of hate that do the government’s bidding continue to publish falsehoods and lies. We seem to be public enemy number 1. In short, it’s a bad time to work at universities.

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AAG2022 CfP: Solidarity not Charity! Reclaiming the radical politics of mutual aid in a post-COVID world

Organisers: Adam Badger, Jenni Cole, Phil Brown and Oli Mould

**We are aiming to have a physical AND virtual session February 25th to 1st March, New York & online**

The COVID-19 crisis has seen monumental shifts in our understanding of the world and of each other. Yet, despite dystopian fiction often painting of picture of a Hobbesian world of mistrust, violent competition for resources and default to a self-survival mode, the crisis saw a wellspring of communality, empathy and perhaps most visibly, mutual aid (Pretson & Firth, 2020; Spade, 2020). Through digital media, community notice boards or simply knocking on doors, people mobilised extremely quickly to make sure vulnerable neighbours were fed, supported and not isolated in their homes. However, as individuals and groups – including mosques, charities, schools, sports clubs, churches etc. – began to coalesce into larger networks of community support, which Local Authorities took time to mobilise. All under the term ‘mutual aid’, these groups have radically shifted the terrain of post-crisis community care, and expanded the definitional and practiced boundaries of what constitutes mutual aid to provide community care and support to the most vulnerable – around food justice, housing justice, companionship, financial support – often exceeding the original remit of the groups and institutions they represent.

This session discusses the changing nature of mutual aid; transitioning it from Kropotkin’s anarcho-communist counterbalance to the social Darwinism of neo-liberalism, and placing it in the context of our contemporary Covid-19 society (Springer, 2020). It is of pressing importance now, because Covid-19 has the potential to reframe how we see our shared world and our responsibilities and actions within in it. This will be of increasing significance in forming a critical response framework to the increasing climate emergency. As the agile community support groups that have sprung up around the UK become more established and embedded, will they change to face the challenges the future presents, and if so, how? If not, why did they not endure beyond the sprawling ends of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Solidarity, not charity: Why mutual aid reemerged in the pandemic, and is  flourishing amid protests

This session therefore aims to explore the types of mutual-aid efforts that took place to understand how they transgressed the fractured political climate across the world; often occurring outside of what many would have considered an overtly ‘political’ act. In this sense, the pandemic – whilst forcing us apart – has brought many of us closer together, inspiring interactions and solidarities between strangers who otherwise, may never have met; and opening the eyes of more privileged members of society to previously present but less visible injustices and poverty on their doorsteps. Much of the population now has a shared experience of living under a capitalistic system that actively disregards people’s health and wellbeing in pursuit of expansion.

With all this in mind, we invite papers for discussion that explore the role of mutual aid during the pandemic and how it has forced people, and institutions, to rethink their role in post-crisis community care. Specifically, this may involve papers that think about the following questions, but of course, are not limited to them:

  • How has mutual aid been redefined by practice?
  • What are the political motivations of specific groups?
  • Has mutual aid centred prefigurative politics into ‘mainstream’ political action?
  • How has mutual aid praxis in the pandemic brought about a revival of food justice?
  • What key social injustices have been highlighted and exposed through mutual aid action?
  • What has been the role of digital and non-digital technologies?
  • Does mutual aid need to have a foothold in political activism to support and strengthen communities?
  • Where does – and should – mutual aid sit within State apparatus geared to respond to the climate emergency?
  • How do mutual aid groups address issues of scale? Do they see scale as a challenge to be overcome, or something to be embraced as part of a move toward localised organising?
  • How do the histories of Mutual Aid become present in the contemporary mutual aid responses to the Covid-19 pandemic? Do they?
  • How do approaches to mutual aid vary from country to country, culture to culture or context to context?
  • How do Mutual Aid groups share knowledge and organising initiatives with each other?
  • How does the internal governance of Mutual Aid groups play-out in the complicated and contested realities of practice?

The deadline for abstracts is the 11th October 2021, please send them through to oli.mould@rhul.ac.uk.

If you would like to discuss your abstract prior to submission, please feel free to get in touch.

A line of flight? A Psychogeographic venture on Newcastle’s Skywalks

Newcastle was once touted as the ‘Brasilia of the North‘ by an ambitious town planner, T. Dan Smith. That was back in the 1960s when cities were seen as plastic crucibles to mould into concrete utopias, but half a century (and a corruption conviction again the Labour City Councillor that meant prison time) later, Newcastle’s concrete utopia has gone the way of many others; a neglected enclave of dereliction, crime and underuse. It is only the famous ‘skywalks’ – and derelict modernist surrounding landscape – that’s left. So when I visited the city, of course it was number 1 on my list of things to see.

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NFTs are killing creativity

Banksy’s Girl with Balloon shredding stunt in 2018 (image from TechCrunch)

The art market has always faced accusations of being over-inflated and reducing the subversive, political, ethical and perhaps spiritual potency of art in favour of pure profit. Banksy’s ‘Girl With Balloon’ piece pictured above – where a stunt to shred an artwork didn’t go to plan and as a result, actually increased the value of the artwork – is testament to just how divorced artistic and monetary value are from each other. The mechanisms of capitalism in the twenty-first century, i.e. of the intense and deepening financialisation of everything from housing to education, has seen art become an exchange currency that is of more value squirreled away in freeports than on display in the Louvre.

But with the advent of so-called Non-Fungible Tokens (or NFTs), the financialisation of art will obliterate any remaining integrity from artistic endeavour. In the same way that the price paid for Banksy’s failed prank has nothing to do with the politics of the piece, the eye-wateringly high prices being paid for digital art are nothing to do with the appeal of the piece, but because of the infallible copyright accuracy of the blockchain. NFTs essentially do away with the ambiguity of ownership and authenticity and a provide a digitally-encoded and incorruptible proof of ownership. In essence then, all NFTs do is ramp up the privatisation of art; a process that began with patronage, and won’t end until any semblance of social or political utility has been completely removed from the artistic process.

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Using Google Street View Archive as Gentrification Research

Google Maps Now Lets You Time Travel Through Its Street View Archives - The Atlantic

You may or may not be aware at the archival potential of Google Street view, but ever since the search engine behemoth has been photographing and spying on as much of our cities as it can, it has created a rather useful, freely accessible public archive of outdoor space. Archival research has long been the preserve of historical geographical research, but as Keighren (2013: 577) has eloquently argued (and still does to this day in our regular corridor conflabs, and with the same level of eloquence)…

“The skills associated with historical research – critical evaluation of sources, triangulation of data, attention to the beliefs and opinions of particular cultural groups – are precisely those which are encouraged and valued elsewhere in the human geography curriculum.”

While taking a few minutes to scroll through the historical images that Google has stored in its ongoing panoptic assault on everyday urbanity does not, nor should not, replace the much longer time needed to conduct archival research in situ, it provides students a gateway into the vibrancy of archives and how they contain a real impact upon research of the contemporary condition. And in the age of the pandemic and online digital learning, it’s proved extremely useful for urban research.

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Nurses 1% Pay Decision: Letter Template

Dear [Your Conservative MP]

I am writing to you to convey my utter dismay at the 1% pay rise that your government announced recently for nurses in the UK.

As you will no doubt be acutely aware, our NHS nurses have been, and continue to be, totally vital in the response to the coronavirus pandemic. They, alongside their NHS colleagues, are the main reason why the catastrophic death toll isn’t any higher.

Even before the pandemic, our nurses have been chronically underpaid. If only a 1% increase goes through for 2021-22, nurses’ pay will be £2,500 less than in 2010 when adjusted for inflation, with equivalent falls of £3,330 for paramedics and £850 for porters. Indeed, the ‘NHS Long Term Plan Implementation Framework’ document agreed by the government in 2019 factored in funding for a pay rise of 2.1% in 2021/22. Why then, after nurses have shown their indispensability are you reducing their pay?

This is totally unacceptable in ‘normal’ times, let alone in the wake of one the country’s most severe health crisis for centuries. The employees of the NHS have shown they will work tirelessly in the face of huge risks to their own safety. And for the last 18 months or so, you and your government rightly praised their efforts, clapped on your doorstep and mourned when we lost them.

Offering fairer pay is the one of the most effective and tangible policies that a government can easily achieve, so why are you not doing it? The anger and dismay shown by ordinary people right across the country is palpable, and should indicate to you that you have got this decision badly wrong.

I urge you to apologise, reconsider and implement a fairer pay rise. Public sector workers are vital to the health and wellbeing of our country, and this week has been, quite frankly, a kick in the teeth for them.

Yours sincerely,

[Your Name]

MSc in Global Futures: Showcasing Student Work

The inaugural year of Royal Holloway’s MSc in Global Futures has been a challenging one, largely because staff, students and administrators have had to constantly adapt to what the pandemic has thrown at as. But it is testament to the resolve and intellectual agency of the student cohort that they have continually produced some amazing work throughout the year, all the while battling online learning, government flip-flopping on university campus closures, isolation, mental ill-health and technically-deficient and ranty course directors…

For one of the modules – Social Media & Audiencing – they are encouraged to write blog posts, with the use infographics and explainer videos to convey an issue that they are passionate about. Emanating from the three pathways through the course: culture & creativity, geopolitics & security, and justice, development & sustainability, below are links to just some of the posts, chosen to highlight the amazing variety of work that the students produced.

Decolonising the Green New Deal | Abolishing the cultural hegemony of the carceral state | Thought for food, food for thought | Black Summer repeats – the new normal?Feminist Geographies of Dance | TMAY Day, Year 3 | Frankenstein’s Outer Space Monster | Water Wars | Does David Attenborough hate women? | Intimate Soundings | Podcast: GeoReflections | Video: Poetic Exploration of Human Activity

There were many other excellent posts and media, these simply represent the broad range of work being done within this MSc program. I look forward to reading more of their work in the future; it really is one of the best bits of the job reading work by politically-engaged and enthusiastic students. Happy reading!

Planetary Safe Mode? Turning Lockdowns into a tool to fight Climate Change 

Image result for lockdown
The pandemic that currently grips our world has been many countries go into unprecedented lockdowns multiple times. Characterised by stay at home instructions, education going online, the closure of non-essential businesses; they have caused misery for millions. However, in some parts of the world they have had unintended benefits such as the
reduction in CO2 emissions in China, public urban space being redesigned for pedestrians and not cars, the near annihilation of the needless commute; there are real tangible benefits that have come about surprisingly quickly. After the pandemic fades, we will face new emergencies the likes of which we have not seen before, not least those caused by the extreme weather events of climate change, and the social, political and economic upheaval that will inevitably ensue. These ‘lockdowns’, if managed and governed properly, could be recast as going into a ‘planetary safe mode’. No, wait, bear with me…

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