Potential PhD Students

I’ve added a short page to this site outlining potential topics that I would be well placed to supervise. Any potential students are encouraged to email me on robert.shaw2@ncl.ac.uk to discuss further – and if you have your own plans or ideas as to what to study then even better!


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.



Thoughts on Brexit, Trump, Nationalism and Research Responses

On the 22nd June 2016, I was sat in an uncomfortable chair in the Durham Miners’ Association Halls, calling residents of Sunderland and Darlington as part of the final push for the UK Remain campaign. Sat in a vestige of the ‘old left’ – on the walls around me were pictures of Lenin, Keir Hardie and Stalin amongst others – I spoke to a range of voters, who in my calls split pretty much 50/50 between remain and leave. Two calls stand out in my memory. One was with a young woman in Darlington. She was a hairdresser living with her mum and from her voice I’d be surprised if she was over 25. She knew very little about the next day’s referendum, and wasn’t sure if she would vote. When pressed, she asked me: “wait, is leave the one that if we vote for it will stop immigration”? I’m not sure my attempts at explanation helped, and if pushed I’d suspect that she did not go out and vote the next day. The other call which I remember was a working mother living in Sunderland. We chatted in a friendly way – she agreed with my arguments about the economy, was not too concerned about the impact of immigration, and felt it was important that rights which are supported by the EU were protected for her children’s’ futures. But at the end of the conversation, she confided that she would still be voting leave: she felt uncomfortable with the EU, had a sense that a vote to leave would be beneficial, though admitted that she could not rationalise her beliefs. I wished her all the best – we’d had a nice chat.

I’ve thought a lot about these conversations in light of Brexit vote, the US Presidential campaign and now the election of Donald Trump. It’s not that these women’s views were inherently representative of all the leave voters that I spoke with, or whose views I’ve read. Most were more informed than the hairdresser; and many were less considerate of the remain case, or more forthright in their reasons for wanting to leave, than the working mother. But these two women both seem to me to represent that the Brexit/Trump votes can and must be understood in terms of alienation, a failure by various groups to connect to people meaningfully, and the emotional resonances of messages about nationalism, identity and security, rather than in simplistic terms of racism, xenophobia, sexism or a strong support for any ideological position.

Several things have moved me to write this today. It is in part a way of helping me process my thoughts; in part of way of helping me consider how a potential future research project which I am in the early stages of planning can help explore questions of affect, emotion, belonging and nationalism; and in part because of the repeated cries of despair, frustration and anger that I see around my social media echo chamber. I don’t particularly expect anyone to read it! But I hope that it’s useful for me, in progressing with my current work and aligning my own political thoughts.

The problem of alienation is important, I think. Many of the Brexit/Trump voters have voted for messages which connect with their desires, emotions and beliefs, and rejected those which don’t.  Alienation describes this gap, this lack of connection, and it is economic, cultural, political and geographical. As culture, politics and economics have moved to a global scale, power has been concentrated in places where there is quick and easy access to that global: in the UK that’s in London, and to a lesser extent the South-East region and major cities. The USA is bigger and the geography more complicated, but there are similar processes happening.[1] But I think that, while people don’t necessarily voice it – that Sunderland working mother expressed a feeling, not an idea – they’re sensing (rightly) a connection between, on the one hand, reduced facilities, support and services in their own communities, and on the other a concentration of wealth, people and investments in global cities. In peripheral cities, small towns and also deprived neighbourhoods of major centres, there are links between closed Post Offices, automated checkouts, stagnating pay, loss of community centres, reduced access to social care, etc. All of these chip away, bit by bit, at people’s sense of safety, at their quality of interactions with people on a daily basis, at their pride in where they live, and they produce the alienation that leads to people to want change, any change, that seems to come from outside of political and economic elites.

As for the Left: some of its responses have been fantastic. Unions, food banks, activists, community centres, co-ops: they have small victories, generating jobs, providing support, connecting people. But these victories take work, energy and time. And for every victory, there’s a defeat. These small scale, local actions are great and necessary, but they’re being let down by the institutional left. Elected officials seem compromised: in Durham, Labour Party councillors are pushing through cuts to pay for teaching assistants, in face of opposition from activists in their own party, on the spurious grounds of fictitious potential equal pay claims from other council workers. Meanwhile, the ‘old left’ remains stuck in rooms with pictures of Soviet Union dictators on the wall, clinging on to patriarchal visions of a working-class that disappeared decades ago. Other parts of the liberal, metropolitan left either cosy up to Wall Street and the City, or misdiagnose nationalist or protectionist sentiment as racism or ignorance. Again, there is much good work coming from the Left, but it seems at the moment that small scale labour-intensive efforts of activists are being undermined by the mainstream, institutional left.

And while the Brexit/Trump votes reveal the extent of these problems among white British/American working-class, I don’t think that these sentiments are unique to these groups. The alienation expressed in the votes that we’ve seen is the same that we saw the expressed by the multi-ethnic youths in the England riots of 2011; by the largely black populations involved in the Ferguson unrest of 2014 and 2015; and by the more middle-class responses of Occupy, Indignados, and other anti-austerity movements that have been ongoing since 2011. The only difference, I think, is who each group blames, and the capacity that they have for voicing their frustrations.

In some ways, this is probably quite a negative post – I don’t offer any answers or responses, beyond a plea perhaps to greater efforts at understanding. But I also see it as positive. People haven’t voted out of an inherent evil, or out of inherent support for ideologies. If we can understand the attractions of these ideologies, I think we can find ways of responding. For my own part as an academic researcher and occasional part-time activist, I think that this means doubling down on work which engages with questions of community, nationalism and emotion. It could be productive to consider how the emotional release, collective organisation and affects or emotions of belonging that diverse groups experienced through the joy of watching the Olympics, the protection and security felt from voting for the SNP, the fantasy of nationality produced at events such as Kynren,[2] the collective action of Occupy and the violence of the 2011 riots all seem to work to relieve, at least temporarily, people’s alienations and frustrations. I’m convinced that the majority of leave and Trump voters are not the ‘Deplorables’ that Clinton spoke of. Many more of them are in turns frustrated, alienated, ignored and unrepresented. While I don’t imagine magically undoing the forces that have led to this, I do think that with continued work at understanding we can contribute to combating them.

[1] That’s not to say there are no pockets of isolation in London (there are) and that there are no islands of metropolitan elites in smaller towns or peripheral regions (again, there are).

[2] An outdoor production launched in 2016 here in the north-east, re-telling and celebrating a mythologised version of English history: see http://elevenarches.org/