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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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. You can find out more on the university’s dedicated postgraduate pages here.

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…

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. Read More

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. Read More