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.
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
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. Read More
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. Read More
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? Read More
Flowers planted in used tear gas grenades form a memorial garden in the West Bank village of Bil’in, source here
Given the state of the social, political and environmental turbulence in the world at the moment, many of us are keen to roll up our sleeves and get to work protesting the perceived injustices of more intense neoliberalism, creeping fascism, growing wealth and income inequalities, and further environmental degradation. Resistance to these large-scale ideological movements is in many, many forms; for example taking to the streets post-Trump’s election, the massive demonstrations in Seoul, industrial action from a host of public sector workers, organised campaigns such as Black Lives Matter, and a multitude of anti-gentrification campaigns; and these are just the few that have held my attention over the last few years – there are many, many more. Read More
Organiser: Oli Mould (Royal Holloway, University of London)
The twenty-first century has been dominated by increasing ideological conflict. This has often manifested in ever-increasing political contestations, urban conflicts, religious fundamentalism, social polarisation and cultural marginalisation. The rise of far right and left political parties, the Arab Spring and the global Occupy movement, unfettered expansion of neoliberal philosophies, religious extremism, increasing wealth inequalities, homelessness; the symptoms of a multiplication in differing philosophical and ideological tendencies, all rubbing against each other within the every day.
Many of these phenomena are characterised by an articulation of rage.
For the first term of 2016/7, I will be convening an Activist Geographies Reading Group (AGRG) for undergraduates studying at Royal Holloway’s Geography Department – information re dates on the poster below.
Numbers are strictly limited, so if you want to come, I will be giving preference to students who can make ALL 4 sessions and who can demonstrate that they are invested in activism and activist scholarship more broadly. Do email me (or tweet me @olimould) if you want to know more.
Having been CEO of London plc. for 5 years now, Stuart Gulliver can step down from the role knowing that he will go into the history books as perhaps the greatest businessman of all time. London wasn’t even a company when he took over, and today in 2026, it is has a bigger turnover than any of the tech giants of the West Coast Division of Trumpland, and employs more people than the recently floated NHS. Reluctantly taking the role in July 2021 after the now infamous ‘Londexit’ vote, Mr. Gulliver was the obvious choice having been the CEO of London’s biggest financial institution HSBC for some 10 years previously. Read More
Were it not for the freezing winds, driving rain and half a foot of mud underfoot, walking around the Jungle camp in Calais could be mistaken for Dharavi or Kibera. The makeshift shelters of wood and tarpaulin, the improvised roads, open sewers and stench of human waste; there are many ugly ways in which the Jungle compares to the slums of the Global South. But also, there are thriving businesses, social services, educational programs and human creativity on full show; there are many positive ways the Jungle compares. And like the slums of Mumbai, Nairobi or other megacities of Global South, the Jungle is a product of the inequalities radiating from the nearby metropolis. But in this case, that metropolis is London. Read More