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New research project – The New Night Shift


Today I’ve had the good news that I’ve received funding from Newcastle University’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences for a small research project titled “The New Night Shift: on-demand delivery workers in the night-time city”.

The project marks a turn towards a greater focus on night-time working, which I’m hoping to develop over the next few years. I’m interested in how on-demand delivery creates new ways of working in and inhabiting the night-time city. Workers respond to the demands for food or product deliveries in the evening and at night, meaning new shift patterns which fall outside the traditional 9-5 but which are also very distinct from the night-shift patterns of factory workers or even those employed in bars and clubs.

The project has two research questions:

  1. How do on-demand delivery workers experience night-shift work; is this comparable to well established forms of nocturnal employment?
  2. What are the mobilities of night-time on-demand delivery workers: what spaces do they inhabit and what routes do they follow?

I’m interested in the spaces that workers inhabit while waiting between jobs, the public squares, cafes etc where they gather. What routes do on-demand delivery workers take as they move around the city at night, and do these differ to the day? I’m also interested as to how night-work is integrated into other duties or responsibilites such as second jobs, education, or care. or the home in the gaps between jobs? Are night shifts split, or integrated with day shifts? And how do these new night-time workers change the night-time city?

I’ll be interviewing delivery workers in the North-East of England, and I’m hoping to get GPS data from a selection of them as part of this project. I’ll be developing a page with information for participants on this website soon, to launch when the project formally starts in August 2018.

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From the Lighthouse


I was happy to receive at work today my copy of ‘From the Lighthouse’, an interdisciplinary project exploring light. Contributions are short interventions, tied together by a narrative written by the book’s three excellent editors. It’s an unusual and innovative collaboration, crossing sciences, social sciences and humanities. I was happy to make two small contributions and proud that one of them discusses the Hoad, a ‘lighthouse without a light’ in Ulverston, a small town near where I grew up.

The book is available here and has a fantastic cover!

 

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The Nocturnal City – Published


I’m very happy to announce that my first book, The Nocturnal City, was published in March by Routledge! It was mainly written from 2014-2017, but it has its origins in my PhD research started back in 2007.

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The Nocturnal City (photographed of course at night!)

The book puts the night at the heart of understanding urban life. It is the first English language book to do this, and to explore the night in and of itself as an object of research, since Murray Melbin’s Night as Frontier back in 1989.

It’s argument is simple: that while the urban night is being transformed into a space more active, more dynamic and more diverse than ever before, it is also not becoming the same as day.

Night is an inherently more difficult time for people to operate in than day: it’s often dark, often cold, and most people’s bodies want to sleep. For spaces to operate nocturnally, they require an infrastructure of lighting and heating which uses significant amounts of electricity, requiring maintenance, and which causes disruptive light pollution. Night is a time in which our social networks disappear: we become more isolated in our homes, public services stop running, and vulnerable groups can be more exposed to violence and danger. Night is therefore and will remain for the foreseeable future a very different time-space from day. I argue that in studying how night differs, we can start to understand some of the limits or boundaries to urban life, to what we call the city: and as such that even if ‘planetary urbanisation’ fills all spaces of the earth, the spreading of activity temporally across 24 hours is far from complete. Globalisation has its rhythms.

The book covers a range of examples from across the world and looks at diverse topics such as aesthetics of the night, night-time lighting, the domestic night, and the night-time alcohol and leisure industry. There are of course absences and gaps in the book and already I can think of topics, places and people that I’d like to include! But I hope it offers a good overview of why the night is important for understanding the city, and how social scientists have understood it.

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Qualitative Methods Course: Coding, or, Rigour vs Interest


This post is part of a series of blogs offering a week-by-week account of my first year qualitative methods course. You can find them all under the tag GEO1018: Qualitative Methods

With last week’s lecture on ‘how to interview’ cancelled by the 2018 UCU strike – I’ll add a blog-post outlining what I have done at some point! – this week we move on to possibly the most boring topic possible for a lecture: coding.

In some ways, what’s difficult about teaching coding is convincing the students how simple it is; that all it is is about highlighting and annotating notes so that data can be tied to key concepts, and to help produce analytical categories.

In the lecture itself, I frame the process in terms of selecting and ordering. The first part is about ‘selecting’ the data that will inform the analysis, and the second part is about ordering it into an analysis.

As I developed the course, I’ve increased the amount of space for actual examples of coding and coding practice, reducing the discussion of what it is and why we do it.  In the seminar, students work with their transcripts to produce a series of codes with data on a spider diagram. It’s impressive how the task can result in 40 minutes of silent scribbling, typing and concentration: I don’t think I’ve seen many seminars where students work so hard! The seminar format is:

  1. Open Coding (20 mins)

Looking at your transcript, study it to try and find codes. You can attempt to focus on your research questions, or look at any emerging themes. Try to find as many codes as you can

  1. Sorting and Organising Codes (20 minutes)

Draw a spider diagram of your project, with the codes collected into groups. Try and select key quotes from each code to go on the diagram.

  1. Presenting Work (20 minutes)

For the final 20 minutes, as many of you who we can fit in will present your diagrams to the class, explaining your codes, the quotes connected to them, and what they tell you about your topic

The seminar leads to a satisfying 30 minutes or so of a room of students quietly writing, annotating and working. It’s a different style of seminar compared to what we often do – much more school-class like – and I wouldn’t want to do it too often; but there is some value in creating the space to do this work!

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Qualitative Methods Course: Interviews, or, What Do People Have to Say for Themselves?


This post is part of a series of blogs offering a week-by-week account of my first year qualitative methods course. You can find them all under the tag GEO1018: Qualitative Methods

After two weeks of introduction, this week we’ve moved on to the first of the module’s three methods, semi-structured interviews.

The three main blocks all have the same structure:

Week Time Activity Topic
1 09:00, Thu Lecture The first lecture introduces the method
Seminar Slots Practical The first practical helps you plan a research activity
2 09:00, Thu Lecture The second lecture is a more detailed ‘how to’ guide
Week Fieldwork – you have time to carry out the methods
3 09::00, Thu Lecture The third lecture looks at the analysis of the data
Seminar Slots Practical The third practical helps give space to analyse your data

So in week 1, I introduce the method and in the practical we have a go at starting to plan a project around that method.

For semi-structured interviews, I take a fairly conventional approach. In lecture 1, we look at why it’s important to get qualitative detail about experiences, beliefs and perceptions in a way that questionnaires – the comparable quantitative method – may fail to do so. I illustrate my lecture in relation to Gill Valentine’s 1989 paper The Geography of Women’s Fear (“cited 589 times in Google Scholar” as my slide says) and my own paper ‘Streetlighting in England and Wales: new technologies and uncertainty in the assemblage of streetlighting infrastructure‘ (“not cited 589 times in Google Scholar” – one of the few jokes that seems to get a smile from the students!). This allows me to talk about my own research design, but also to flag a classic paper in the discipline.

The seminar asks students to start to design an interview schedule. The research topic is  student experiences of changing home when moving to university: a fairly unoriginal topic perhaps but one which is easily accessible to the students, which I think is important as I want them to be thinking primarily about the method rather than the topic area!

This is the first block to use a workbook for the two seminars and fieldwork, which outlines core seminar tasks and readings.

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Qualitative Methods Intro 2: Ethics, Postionality


This post is part of a series of blogs offering a week-by-week account of my first year qualitative methods course. You can find them all under the tag GEO1018: Qualitative Methods

In the two part introduction to the module, my second lecture and seminar focus on ethics and positionality. My goal is that eventually I’ll go through a whole methods course without hearing that a qualitative method could be improved by being less ‘biased’; we’re not quite there but I have found that by getting in early how we work with rather than against subjectivity in qualitative analysis,  I can push the vast majority of the students to thinking more subtly about these methods.

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At some point sooner rather than later, I’ll encounter a cohort of students who’ve never heard of some of these references…

It’s probably the most conceptual of the lectures in the course! Last week I skipped over some of the conceptual background to qualitative methods, so this week I start with a (very light) introduction to what, if we’re using isms, we’d call constructvism and interpretivism. My core points are that if the world is to some extent socially constructed, and that if social actors interpret the world meaningfully, we need to use qualitative methods to unpack how this meaning making shapes and reinforces or challenges these constructions.

I also include a short section on qualitative methods in physical geography; my go-to example is some of Carly Maynard’s work on river catchment managementwhich makes nice use of semi-structured interviews in an accessible way. Another really intriguing example is by Nyssen et. al.who use interviews in combination with contemporary measurements to assess gully erosion in a region of Ethiopia where local farmers are able to offer memories of past landscapes.

Most of the discussions of positionality are placed in the seminar; I briefly introduce it in the lecture, but then use the introduction of an excellent article by Farhana Sutlanato pose questions to students about positionality, particularly in relation to the projects that they will be doing where they interview fellow students; it’s nice to get them starting to think about positionality in these terms of insider/outsider, which I think is relatively accessible. The Sultana article in full is in Acme; the extract I use with questions for the students is here.

I also use adaptations of 5 ethical dilemmas that can be found in an ESRC Ethics guidebook online. I’ve simplified them a little and made them more geography focus – the actual slides I use with the examples are here. I find that this is quite a nice exercise in getting the whole seminar group involved; I can ask for a show of hands for some questions, and invite more of a discussion for others.

 

  1. Maynard, C. M. (2013). How public participation in river management improvements is affected by scale. Area45(2), 230-238.
  2. Nyssen, J., Poesen, J., Veyret‐Picot, M., Moeyersons, J., Haile, M., Deckers, J., … & Govers, G. (2006). Assessment of gully erosion rates through interviews and measurements: a case study from Northern Ethiopia. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms31(2), 167-185.
  3. Sultana, F. (2007). “Reflexivity, Positionality and Participatory
    Ethics: Negotiating Fieldwork Dilemmas in International Research.” ACME: An
    International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 6(3), 374–385