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.

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!

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…

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.

 

 

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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Walking Heathrow: Exploring the fissures of infrastructure

Landscape Surgery

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As I’m sat in my car, parked in the Hatton Cross Station Car Park, I watch as the dark blue hue of the cold November morning sky slowly turns to a light grey, as the sun struggles to pierce the thick blanket of cloud above. Planes rumble up the runway, the end of which is about 100m in front of me separated by three rows of chain-link, razor-wired fence and a buttress of thick orange scaffolding supporting runway lights. These slender machines soar over my head, jetting off into the turning sky, roaring their ascent to the awakening population beneath them. In a few minutes, I was due to meet a traveller from New York. He had a 6-hour lay over and wanted to walk the perimeter fence of Heathrow, roughly 13 miles or so. The banality of such an undertaking bemused many when I told them I was doing…

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Happy 8th Birthday!

Today is the 8th birthday of this blog. My blogging style and content has changed substantially in those 8 years (as you can tell from my first ever post) although, I’d like to think you can see the critical human geographer scratching at the surface in those words. Below is a word cloud of all my posts, which for me at least, shows that urban life, creativity and of course film have always been at the forefront of my work. Anyway, thought that a quick bit of nostalgia would  be a nice deviation from today’s more pressing political issue. As you were…Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 09.26.57

The Dystopia of Sodor: Thomas the Tank Engine and Neoliberalism

Landscape Surgery

Thomas - the perfect neoliberal subject Thomas – the perfect neoliberal subject

Thomas the Tank Engine, the popular children’s book and TV series, has been with us for 70 years, and still captures the imagination of children around the world. As a father of two rapidly growing-up children, trains seem to have some sort of mystic fascination with the preschool demographic. So it is no surprise that Thomas the Tank Engine is one of the world’s most recognised toy brands.

Thomas lives on the Island of Sodor, a mythical, small countryside island in the Irish Sea, just off the coast from Barrow-in-Furness. The trains are colourful, largely happy and busy, while the people go about normal lives in school, on the farm or on the railways. The trouble is, though, this surface-level utopian English-countryside-mid-twentieth-century idyll belies a far more sinister neoliberal allegory that pervades the daily minutiae of Thomas and his friends. The more of Thomas…

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Being Human // Human Being – Ex Machina

passengerfilms

Join us for an event which seeks to explore what it means to be human, or simply alive, in a world in which the digitally processed virtual is increasingly experienced in the actualities of everyday life.

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Curated and hosted by digital geographies PhD students Mike Duggan and Pip Thornton, and featuring Alex Garland’s sci-fi thriller EX MACHINA (2015), the event aims to question binary definitions of virtual/real, nature/culture and human/non-human, engaging with critical debates around artificial intelligence (AI), law & ethics, gender, techno-capitalism and virtual geographies, while challenging the representations of these subjects in the film and other media.

Ex-Machina Trailer

The event will include short talks and a panel discussion involving Dr. John Danaher, lecturer in Law at the National University of Ireland, Galway and author of the blog Philosophical Disquisitions, Lee MacKinnon, lecturer in the Theory and History of Photography at Arts University Bournemouth, whose book chapter…

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