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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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‘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.

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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.