taCity

A site about the ephemerality of the socio-urban world


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Whose bailout is it anyway? Saving the Arts may not save Culture

Empty Theatre (almost) | An experiment with HDR. | Flickr

The recent announcement by the government that they are giving a £1.57bn ‘bailout’ to the UK’s arts and cultural sector has been hugely welcoming. As far as traditionally culture-shy and fiscally prudent Conservative governments go, it is a huge amount; it is almost three times the annual budget of Arts Council England. But when you consider it against the pay out in France of €7bn and the fact that the UK creative sector is worth £111.7bn it suddenly seems a relatively austere investment.

But despite that, and after weeks of campaigning, it will no doubt save some of our most valued and treasured cultural institutions (although it may too late for some). It is certainly a substantial amount that begs the question, where is all this money going and will it go to the people who need it most?

For me, there are three very important issues that can’t be swept away with the tidal wave of relief that this much-needed cash injection for these cultural institutions brings.

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Geography isn’t dead. It’s the future…

For a time, it was fashionable to talk of the ‘end of geography‘. In the brave new financial and globalising world of the late 90s, the world wide web and telecommunications were going to obliterate borders and usher in a new ‘global village’. We all know how that turned out.

9/11, religious terrorism, the financial crash, Brexit and Trump have all shown how the imaginary of the nation-state is still a fundamental part of our existence on this planet. Borders, cultures, economics, violence, empire, society and the climate catastrophe that encompasses all of these; they all have a geographical root.

So today, geography is more important than ever. The term ‘geography’ originates from two greek words: the first is ‘geo’ which means ‘the earth’ and the second “graph” which means  ‘to write‘) – to write the Earth. It is concerned with the relationship people have with the places around them, and how together, we create the spaces of the world that we all inhabit.

So studying and tackling climate change and the Anthropocene (or what some people have called the Capitaloscene); understanding the rise of a populist fascism in the heartlands of the liberal democratic nations of the West; realising the massive effects of social media and machine learning on the workings of the human psyche and how we relate to each other to create societies; building the cities that will house the rapidly expanding and mass-migrating populations of the climate-change-ravaged Global South; having a geographical understanding of the world is not only critical now, but it will arguably be the foundation of the future.

Here at the Geography Department at Royal Holloway, University of London, we have devised a brand new MSc in Global Futures (and two related MRes courses) that does just that: equips the learners on the course to have an in-depth, critical and geographical awareness of the world around them, and how that knowledge can help tackle the challenges everyone will face in the future.

The department has extensive expertise in cultural & creative geographies, historical geography, geopolitics & security, development & sustainability and social justice. Study sites range from rampant inequality of London as a global city, the slave labour of the Cambodian construction industry, the geopolitics of the oceans, the artistic and creative approaches to subterranean spaces, the climate-change induced wildfires in Australia, the Amazon and California, and many others that demonstrate a cutting-edge application of human geography to the major global challenges of our world. Blended together, these themes and sites create a course that will provide critical geographical knowledge, advanced research skills as well as prized employability skills via in-work leaning.

So if you’re looking to have a meaningful impact upon the world, then get in touch. As the course director I handle all the applications – email me if you’re interested in applying, or click on the various links in this post to find out more information.

As an academic discipline, geography helps us to better understand climate change and the impact that is having upon all the other issues that we see in the world today. It is far from dead…


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Walking Roosevelt: An autoethnographic exploration

What does it mean to do autoethnography? What even is it? To the critics, autoethnography is rather disparagingly labelled ‘mesearch‘ and a form of personal story-telling that is far too narcissistic to be considered proper research. However, such a view tends to resolutely align traditional scientific objectivity with truth, and so personal accounts become far too unscientific to be able to produce generalisable results. But it is painfully obvious by now, that the truth has a rather variegated existence these days.

Many urban cultural geographers (and indeed, those beyond the discipline) will utilise autoethnography in their own research: some of the most compelling (albeit not entirely unproblematic) research monographs of late have been autoethnographical; Alice Goffman’s ‘On the Run’ and Bradley Garrett’s Explore Everything come to mind. But we also teach it. Students are extremely receptive to it as a method, and not just because it can avoid anxiety-producing encounters with strangers in the field. I find that those students willing to embrace it properly will wield it as a potent critical weapon against the stifling striation of the contemporary city. Yet despite our best efforts in the classroom beforehand, there is always some confusion as to what constitutes autoethnography as a methodological perspective in the field. Continue reading


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Fight Club 20 years on: suicide and empathy

David Fincher’s Fight Club is now 20 years old. And that the film still manages to talk directly to the issues of today is a testament to the foresight of Chuck Palahniuk’s original novel, but also to the incisiveness of Fincher’s film-making. There are countless blog posts, papers, books, online documentaries, social media brain dumps and podcasts that dissect the film in all sorts of ways. From how it inspires incels, the feminist narratives to the film’s evisceration of consumer capitalism, there are many themes, ideological takes and thematic overtures that can be gleaned from such a masterpiece. So it is not without a big dollop of caution that I go about adding yet another view to the corpus of virtual detritus written about the film, but having trawled through a lot it, it is a view that I have yet to see made so forcefully; and that the film’s relationship to male suicide and how we require the empathy of minor subjects to tackle it. Continue reading


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CfP RGS19 – The Final Frontier? The Enclosure of a Commons of Outer Space

The Final Frontier? The Enclosure of a Commons of Outer Space

CfP for the RGS-IBG Annual Conference at the Royal Geographical Society, Exhibition Road, London, 28 to 30 August 2019.

 

Musk’s Roadster car mounted on Falcon during his orbit of Earth in 2018; Earth in the background

“Space: The final frontier” (Star Trek TV Series, Opening Monologue)

“Capitalist production constantly strives to overcome these immanent barriers, but it overcomes them only by means that set up barriers afresh on a more powerful scale. The true barrier to capitalist production is capital itself” (Marx, 1894: 176)

In February 2018, when Elon Musk sat aboard the Falcon Heavy and blasted off into space, a new age of space exploration took off with him. His company, SpaceX, is now part of a range of corporations (funded by white male billionaires) that are competing with one another to claim the right to colonise space, Mars, the moon and even asteroids. The financial might of these corporations eclipses some of the State-led space agencies (such as NASA, who themselves are increasingly looking to private suppliers) and work is well underway here on Earth that is preparing these corporations to be the gatekeepers to the heavens.

Geographical inquiry has, in recent years, begun to shift from its traditional etymological base of ‘earth writing’, to consider the ways in which outer space is embroiled within our notions of the geographical imagination. Recent contributions from Dickens and Ormod (2016) and Dunnett et al. (2017) have attempted to shift the geographers gaze from our immediate Earthly surroundings to consider how the space of outer space inflects the way we conceptualise the myriad of geographical concerns. In addition, feminism, labour geographies, warfare, time-space compression, environmental catastrophe; they are all traditional geographical concerns that have been used in these recent writings as frames to analyse the cosmos, but they have been shown to be intimately affected by the processes of current space exploration. And from the broader social sciences, work has begun to extend the idea of the global commons into outer space (Buck, 2017).

This session therefore starts from a simple premise: if geography has its roots in ‘earth’ writing, what can the discipline contribute to the current race for near space? We are seeking contributions from a range of disciplines (geography or not), that critically examine how this new age of capitalism-inflected space exploration is changing the way life will evolve here on earth. We envision contributions that speak to the following themes (but of course, are not limited to them)

The enclosure of the commons of near space
Militarisation of the cosmos
Environmental impacts of space exploration
The planned zoning of the solar system
The geopolitics of claiming near space
Space junk and the limits of materiality
Labour geographies of space work
Political economy of asteroids
Intersectionality in outer-space

Along with the threat of thermo-nuclear war and enslavement by AI, ecological catastrophe is one of the most dangerous threats to our species; so space exploration is vital. But as critical scholars, we can’t leave this up to a powerful capitalist system that seems to be more concerned with enclosing a potential vast commonwealth that any emancipatory venture for our species. After all, do you think Elon Musk will let just anyone on his Mars colony…?

Please send a 300-word abstract to oli.mould@rhul.ac.uk, peter.adey@rhul.ac.uk and rachael.squire@rhul.ac.uk by 5pm UK time on February 6th 2019. We anticipate issuing acceptance notices shortly thereafter.

 

 


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Don’t be surprised, mobilise

The Anti-Trump Protest in London, July 2018

When President Trump called refugees coming into the US ‘animals’ on live TV, it wasn’t a surprise.

When Roseanne Barr, a prominent Trump supporter likened a Valerie Jarrett – an African-American advisor to Obama – to an ape, it wasn’t a surprise.

When it broke that the UK government has been deporting the Windrush generation as part of a wider ‘hostile environment’ that the Home Office has created for migrants, it wasn’t a surprise.

When Trump’s ICE team locked children in cages in conditions likened to prison camps, separating them from the asylum-seeking parents, this wasn’t a surprise.

When Victor Orban made it an illegal act to help refugees in Hungary creating a toxic and dangerous environment for vulnerable people, it wasn’t a surprise.

When the Trump administration declared the global temperatures would rise by 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, but then shrugged their shoulders, it wasn’t a surprise.

When Brett Kavanaugh got nominated to the Supreme Court for life, thereby cementing a patriarchal, homophobic, ablist, white supremacist hegemony at the heart of American life for the next generation, it wasn’t a surprise.

When Brazil votes in Jair Bolsonaro and he goes on to install a military dictatorship in the country that systemically and violently oppresses minorities, it won’t be a surprise.

When it becomes fully exposed that Brexit was merely a ruse by hyper-capitalists to turn the UK into, a) tax haven where oligarchs can park the blood money they’ve earned via plundering the (human and physical) resources of the Global South, b) a destination with such deregulated labour conditions that corporations can exploit workers to death, and c) a bargain basement bin of once prized and globally-envied public assets to the hawked to the highest bidder; it won’t be a surprise.

When whatever comes next in 2019 that’ll be far worse than all 2018 had to offer, it sadly, won’t be a surprise.

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Glass War: The New Materials of Gentrification

London’s Glass War © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons

Stand on London Bridge on a sunny day and look East, you’ll see the towers of Canary Wharf glistening in the distance, the Shard looming to your right slicing into the sky, and the bloated curves of the Walkie Talkie shimmering like a newly blown glass vase. Walk further west along the South bank, and you’ll come across the ‘South Bank tower cluster’, with its centrepiece One Blackfriars jutting it’s chest out ostentatiously over the river. Further still, and you’ll reach Nine Elms, the biggest building site in the city. Scores of towers are flashing into the sky and construction has begun on the remarkably opulent ‘sky pool’, a 25m long, glass-bottomed swimming pool that hangs 10 storeys up.

These towers represent the most visible beacons of London’s continued development. They contain the moneymaking corporate machines that swell the city’s coffers but fuel the city’s rampant housing crisis, and the unaffordable luxury flats that are the symptom of the city’s hyper-gentrification. Yet there is another aspect to their representation that often goes under-recorded in the hyperbole around London’s gentrification problem – namely their most visible constituent material, glass. Continue reading


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The loss of an icon? The Crescent Pub in Salford

The Crescent Pub, Salford (image taken from their website, http://www.thecrescentpub.com)

On Sunday after a weekend visiting the old haunts in Manchester for the weekend (and spending a day watching Jimmy Anderson skittle out South Africa’s batting line up), I took a slow drive along Chapel Street as I made my way back to the motorway. I wanted to see my old employer, the University of Salford as well as the changes to the area that I’d heard about from ex-colleagues. I was taken aback by the raft of identikit housing, the beautified (and frankly much better) ‘shared space’ of the new road layout, and the new cladding on the previously tired looking Salford Crescent Station. But the main draw for me was my old watering hole, the Salford Crescent pub. However, after noticing a small white notice on the window of the pub, I stopped the car to take a closer look. “Closed until further notice”. It was a troubling sign, not least as it meant I couldn’t pop in to have another look around. Continue reading


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Scrolling Beat ’em ups, urban blight and the neoliberal city

streets-of-rage-2_2

The best scrolling beat ’em up: The ultimate neoliberal fight against urban decay?

The first computer game I can recall playing was Target Renegade on the Amstrad. Essentially, you would scroll through various urban landscapes, kicking and punching other men (and some women) along the way. You had to walk  through car parks, urban streets and snooker clubs(?!) using nothing but your fists and feet (and the occasional appropriated weapon; a baseball bat, chain, mallet and yes, a snooker cue) to fight your way to the end-of-game boss. A tried and tested format which became one of the most important computer game genres of the 80s and 90s.

Of the many scrolling beat ’em ups that adorned our consoles over those years – Final Fight, Streets of Rage (1 and 2, 3 not so much) and even Two Crude Dudes – there was a similar trope being played out. A violent crime syndicate had taken over the city, and a group of dedicated, tough and very talented mercenaries took it upon themselves to clean up the streets, and perhaps rescue a loved one along the way. Like other cultural artefacts, do these games (and the genre more widely) reflect their contemporaneous social trends and anxieties, in this case, US inner-city decline of the 70s and 80s and the rise of neoliberalism and ‘enterprising self’ as the mode of social progression?  Continue reading