‘Exploring Atmospheres Ethnographically’ – Published

I’m delighted to say that the Susanne Schmitt and Sara Schroer’s edited collection, Exploring Atmospheres Ethnographically, has been published today. The book is a great collection of explorations of atmosphere, adding much needed detail to the conceptual discussions of this concept that have circulated in social science circles in recent years. It offers a good interdisciplinary range of articles by anthropologists, sociologists and artists, as well as my contribution from geography!

I contribute a chapter on atmospheres of pubs, in conversation with George Orwell’s fascinating essay The Moon Under Water.  It’s a topic I’ve long been interested in and I’m glad to add Orwell’s conceptualization of atmosphere, as described in his essay, to the discussion of the topic. The framework he offers starts with the premise that:

“If you are asked why you favour a particular public-house,
it would seem natural to put the beer first, but the thing that most appeals to me
about the Moon Under Water is what people call its atmosphere” ( Orwell 1946 ).”

I use Orwell’s conceptualization of atmosphere to explore my own ethnographic data, and I hope that it might encourage others to look at his essay for a framework for considering atmosphere.


BAE Systems are Looking to Take Control of More British Schools

Note that this blog is written purely from a personal perspective; it does not relate to my academic research or workplace

I grew up in Barrow-in-Furness, a somewhat isolated industrial town on the Cumbrian coast, known (if it is known at all) for its shipyard, a 2002 outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease, and as the home of one of TV’s Hairy Bikers. I remain fond of what is a somewhat unusual but underrated corner of the UK.

So I was intrigued the other week when reading an article at The Guardian to see an advert pop up promoting a vacancy for the role of ‘Business Director’ at Furness Academy,  Barrow’s main secondary school which was formed from the merger of 3 comprehensives in 2009. What on earth did a school Barrow need a Business Director for, and why was an advert needed in such a high profile site?

On investigation, the answer is rather gloomy. To quote from the job advert itself:

Furness Academy is sponsored by BAE systems and is currently the single school within the Furness Academies Trust that is owned by BAE Systems Maritime – Submarines.

I think I had vaguely known that the school was sponsored by BAE Systems, the global arms manufacturer which runs Barrow’s shipyard. In a local context, this is quite normal: BAE, and its predecessors VSEL and Vickers, are deeply embedded in Barrow life as the town’s main employer. As a child, I had played at Vickers Sports Club; many members of my family and several of my friends have worked in ‘The Yard’.  So we’re used to a certain closeness with BAE in Barrow.

I wasn’t aware that this translated into them actually owning the school, however. Furthermore, it was the plans for the Business Director which appeared to be more insidious. They are being hired:

with a view to playing a strategic role in the development of the Multi-Academy Trust.

Here is the answer to our question as to why they need a ‘Business Diretor’: BAE are interested in controlling more schools. As the major employers in Barrow, with a long history in the town, having an association with the local school is somewhat understandable. But owning it and ‘multiple’ other schools seems much more troubling.

Let’s not forget that BAE Systems has a proven history of corruption in its dealings when selling arms to Saudi Arabia.  It employs ‘Education Ambassadors’ to “improve our corporate reputation at both a local and national level“. Their move into owning British schools is part of this programme to soften their image, to increase their political influence, to further trap towns and communities such as Barrow in a dependent relationship with arms manufacturing, all with the potential as well to make a profit.

I’ve written this because I’ve not found anything online about BAE’s apparent desire to expand its control over UK schools. I think many people would be troubled to learn about a global arms manufacturer looking to take ownership of our schools, as part of the ongoing privatization of the British education system.


Ecosophical Geographies

I’m happy to present a special issue on ‘Ecosophical Geographies’ for Geografiska Annaler B, which is released today. The issue is edited by me and Gerry Taylor-Aiken of the University of Luxembourg (see our editorial). It’s the best part of 3 years in the making, dating from a 2014 Royal Geographical Society conference session of the same name. We’re very happy with it – we have a range of interesting papers from participants from across geography and other disciplines too.

‘Ecosophy’ refers to a diverse range of activist-philosophical practices that put the humanity-environment-world relationship at the heart of thought and action. As a term, it was coined independently by both Félix Guattari and Arne Naess in the 1980s. For Guattari, ecosophy is the solution to global crises in which psycho, social and environmental damage emerge together. For Naess, ecosophy is the both a philosophy and a practice, referring to ways of living in the world driven by the understandings of deep ecology.  All ecosophies do more than just insist on the interconnections of humanity with environment. Rather, they position these as the starting point for being-in-the-world, emphasizing the importance of practicsing ecosophical forms of living at a personal and social level.

The ecosophical geographies of this special issue are attempts to use this framework for understanding geographical relations, or for fostering new ways for people or communities to relate to the world. Part of what interests me is the similarity but subtle difference between ‘ecosophy’ and ‘geography’ as terms, which is at the heart of my own contribution ‘Knowing homes and writing worlds? Ethics of the ‘eco-’, ethics of the ‘geo-’ and how to light a planet‘. 

The other contributors cover both ecosophical thought and ecosophical practice. Sue Buckingham’s piece looks at the ecosophical as a personal activity through the lens of yoga. She offers Rosa Braidotti’s work as an addition to the writing of Félix Guattari on ecosophy to bring feminist thought into conversation with ecosophical. Antonio Carvalho’s work on meditation also engages the relationship between self and environment as a way of exploring ecosophy. Charles Carlin’s paper on traditional native american vision-fast ceremonies explores how these personal practices can be translated into social changes, arguing that there is a need for “social tending to articulate the practice in relationship to a broader ethics of care and the politics of ecological struggle” (p125). On a more ‘social’ scale, the articles by Gerry Taylor-Aiken and Jon Anderson  look at communal forms of ecosophical living that have been produced through deliberately ecosophical communities in Europe. Finally, Derek Jones uses ecosophy as a lens to revisit mind-body dualisms and the concept of embodied cognition.  All make fresh and interesting contributions to geography, and help open up what ecosophical geographies might do.


‘Pushed to the Margins of the City’: Nuit Debout research published

I’m happy to write about the publication of my new article ‘Pushed to the margins of the city: The urban night as a timespace of protest at Nuit Debout, Paris ‘ in Political Geography, reporting on the research that I did at Nuit Debout in Paris last year. The article is free to view until 19th July via this link.

The article is an attempt to ask what difference ‘night’ made to the protests, in the wider context of the emergence of urban protest camps (Occupy, Indignados, etc) since 2007. It looks at both night as a resource for protesters, and as a barrier to achieving their goals. I argue that the turn to night is in part a response to increased restrictions on day-time protests in urban spaces, and also an effect of the ability to make protests visible online, reducing the importance slightly of making a protest visible in the city itself.

The article is just a short reflection, but I’m looking forward to building on it by attending the Protest Camps and Beyond  research workshop at Leicester University in June, and speaking on the topic at the  (en) Countering change, (dis) Assembling placeness  session at the 2017 RGS-IBG Annual International Conference


RGS-IBG 2017 Call for Papers – Becoming Geography’s Others: Thinking Through Antonyms


I’m excited to be share this call for papers, sponsored by the History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group (HPGRG), for the 2017 RGS-IBG Conference. I’m hoping that this a session that people might take as a fun opportunity to think through or speculate on topics or concepts relating to their research that they may have overlooked as ‘opposites’ of core research interests, as well as a session in which the act of thinking through antonyms is itself reflected upon. Submissions of abstracts of up to 300 words from people at all career stages, from across or outside the discipline, and with ideas that are currently only loosely formed are welcome! Please email me if you have any further questions – the deadline for submissions is Monday 13th February


Becoming Geography’s others: thinking through antonyms

RGS-IBG 2017, London, Tuesday 29 August to Friday 1 September 2017, Sponsored by the History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group (HPGRG)

Session Organizer: Dr Robert Shaw, Newcastle University, robert.shaw2@ncl.ac.uk

“Geographers who count on the stability of points should beware. They may not be what they are since they are always already becoming-other” (Doel, 2000, p.122)

All research projects have their others: people, places or concepts which sit in opposition to our main topic of research.  These oppositions often function to given a sense of stability to our research. If we know what something is not, we can start the work of deciding what it is.

This session invites geographers from across the discipline to explore their research through a paper focusing on some sort of ‘opposite’ to their main topic, social group, place or concept (for example, the relational to the non-relational, a shopping mall to a garbage dump, the day to the night). Papers might attempt to break down the binaries between the two items being considered, or they may show the ways in different actors carry out work in order to (re)produce boundaries. It is hoped that papers will, to some extent, focus on what the act of reflecting through opposites might mean intellectually for research, or the discipline of geography. Reflections could use the consideration of the antonym to help define, understand, explore or elucidate something about their main topic of research, to consider the positionality and power involved in the production of opposites, or alternatively presenters might offer insights from their existing work to comment on the antonym. The aim, following Doel’s quote above, is to destabilize the ‘points’ that constitute our research by attempting, and failing, in the act of thinking or becoming our research’s others.

Contributions from people at all career stages, from across or outside the discipline, and with ideas that are currently only very tentative or loosely formed are welcome! Please submit abstracts of up to 300 words to robert.shaw2@ncl.ac.uk by Monday 13th February


Two Night Calls for Papers

Not mine, but I wanted to publicize two very interesting calls for papers that for various reasons I’m not going to be able to participate in, but other night-interested people should!

Luc Gwiazdzinski and Will Straw are continuing their run of interesting and unique night-related collections with a call for papers on Nights and Mountains for the Journal of Alpine Research. I’ll be really interested to see what this brings up – it makes me think of climbers going up Scafell Pike in the night in the UK’s three peak challenge.

The other call is for a session unpacking the allure of of the Mediterranean Urban Night at the Congresso geografico italiano.  The nightlife of Mediterranean cities and towns has been fetishised in urban planning and our imagination of the night, so this could be a very interesting session. Details are here in both Italian and English, and it’s arranged by Emanuele Giordano of the Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3 and Gabriele Manella of the Università di Bologna, with Adam Eldrige from the University of Westminster invited.