Welcome to the University of Liverpool’s Geography Blog

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Welcome to the blog for Geography at the University of Liverpool. Follow this blog for regular updates on our work including our research activities, comments on news stories and updates on what our staff, postgraduate and undergraduate students and alumni are doing. We hope this will help give an insight into the dynamic world of geography at the University of Liverpool and that the blog will become a space for conversation about what we do. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment or email us.

Exploring the social and solidarity economies in Liverpool and Brazil

Carol (second on the left) with the Social Enterprise Network team and Cllr Rosie Jolly, Chief Executive of SEN and the Mayoral Lead for Social and Community Enterprise at the Liverpool International Festival of Business

Carol (second on the left) with the Social Enterprise Network team and Cllr Rosie Jolly, Chief Executive of SEN and the Mayoral Lead for Social and Community Enterprise at the Liverpool International Festival of Business

Having lived in Liverpool for a year, I can say how enriching the experience of leaving your individual comfort zone can be! I am Carolina Santos. I have been a Brazilian exchange student at the University of Liverpool for the last twelve months as part of the Science without Borders program, part of the Environmental Sciences degree. This is what I have learned…

Even after having spent some time in this lovely and vibrant city, it is still not easy for me to fully understand how deep the differences between Brazil and the UK – politically, socially, economically, culturally – actually are. While the UK has been at the heart of globalising processes since the Second World War – and the British Empire, with Liverpool at its heart, was central to global trade before that – the Latin American experience of deeply exploitative colonial processes both historically and, as Eduardo Galliano showed, today. This understanding profoundly shaped and intensified my experiences of living among such profound differences. The historical injustice of the legacy of global trade that is celebrated by Liverpool’s UNESCO World Heritage Status still matters, and I am very pleased that these ‘geographies of responsibility’ are properly grappled with by Liverpool Geographers.

During my time in Liverpool I was lucky enough to participate in a research project which examined potential learning between the British ‘Social Economy’ context and the Latin American ‘Solidarity Economy’ scenario, coordinated by Dr Peter North with Liverpool’s Social Enterprise Network. While it may seem a debate about definitions, basically the British Social Economy looks to use business skills and methods to do good and to meet social needs, while the Latin American Solidarity Economy context starts with a different question – how do we want to live with dignity, meeting both our needs, and those of the other species that we share this planet? How can we build an economy that helps us do that? While there are differences, both concepts put people before pounds or profit.

I found the differences between the UK and Brazil fascinating. You will have seen the million strong demonstrations in Brazil around the World Cup: was it right to spend money on stadia while people went hungry in the favelas a few miles away? Considering the current British socioeconomic condition of austerity and the continuing existence of highly deprived neighbourhoods (especially around Liverpool, close to the city centre), I could not help but feel that a dose of radicalism would be beneficial to British society, in order to build a stronger repudiation of the public sector cuts as part of a fight against deprivation and for a better society. Dr North told me that back in his day, Liverpool did see such a fightback, and it did not end well – are todays politicians right to be more pragmatic? As a Latin American, I’m not sure.

Indeed, it’s incredibly interesting for me to observe how people act in relation to economic crisis. Generally speaking: even though in both contexts there is a general historical tendency for people to get together in difficult socioeconomic times, it seems to me that Latin Americans explore and recognize their power as citizens able to make a difference and to fight for their rights more fully. They frequently make this explicit by taking to the streets far more regularly in order to pressure the public sector and fight for public policies or new agendas. The Solidarity Economy in this context can be considered a more radical anti-capitalist approach than Social Economy as it understands social issues as housing, employment, health and education are all connected as consequences of the same exploitative competitive system. The Solidarity economy is based on feelings of reciprocity, democracy and equality, and it works mainly through cooperatives.

In contrast, in the face of public spending cuts the British Social Economy or third sector has explored more market-based alternatives to stake funded provision. Social enterprises, for example, aim to tackle social issues as their main objective, and mainly differentiate themselves from private businesses by having their surpluses reinvested. I struggled to find anyone who had a good word to say about the Big Society! On the other hand, I was very impressed with the professionalism of and the commitment of the lovely friends I made at the Social Enterprise Network in Liverpool – their professionalism and expertise is something I will take back to Brazil.

That said, my Brazilian roots suggest that, no matter how developed the British third sector is and how great its social impact has become (especially around the very well-received “buy social, buy local” movement), it should also be important to keep a clear understanding of what social needs are and what social demands should be made to change things for the better, holding the balance between tackling social needs in positive, pragmatic ways while not accepting state withdrawal, especially in times of austerity, without a fight. We should not be complicit in the cuts, in neoliberalisation!

In this context, Brazilian experiences of public policies for the development of the Solidarity Economy consist of both massive popular pressure toward the public sector to win social benefits through a fairer economy for all, with concrete projects to make this happen. Ever since 2002 there has been a National Secretariat of the Solidarity Economy which supports solidarity economy initiatives nationally and locally. They focus on empowering people and communities with both technical and managerial support, and through supporting what we call self-management and direct democracy. They work to strengthen community cohesion and use educational methodologies developed by Friere which are part of a long-term process toward achieving a more representative and inclusive society. I suppose what I could not help thinking was that the British Social Economy movement could be more obviously part of a fight for a better world, not a way of making the cuts less ‘painful’.

Something else I could notice in the UK (more specifically in Liverpool) was the low involvement of the young student generation in political movements and social economy itself, and how little is made of the potential for running things in co-operative and solidaristic ways by student unions and even student guilds. They do not seem to do as much as I expected to organise political actions, even though the region has had a strong militant past by the 80s. This is a definitely different aspect from Brazil, where students still have a strong culture of political involvement, which is directly connected to the need for change and the fight for social equality, and, in this way, to solidarity economy principles. It all also shows how positive things could be could be if social enterprises got more support from universities, especially through student guilds and unions.

At this point, about to return to my home country, I am feeling fulfilled and thankful for taking back a huge bag full of learning and knowledge for life with me. Even though it has not been easy to live in a different place, noticing differences definitely has the potential to bring understanding between different societies and, consequently, to understand how both can make the world a better place in their own way.

Carol Santos, Science without Borders student, School for Environmental Sciences

Regional Science Conference in Aberystwyth

My first Regional Science Conference, the 43rd (RSAI-BIS) conference at Aberystwyth, was an eye opener for me. It all started with a long journey from Liverpool with my colleague Kush Thakar. The most important thing I learnt is to expect the unexpected. The A roads to Wales from Liverpool are not always wide and it may make you feel that you are actually in a farm with no GPS signal, but if you trust pre-printed Google maps then you won’t be lost completely at-least!

The Colloquium held at the conference was a place where I felt the importance of attending a conference and presenting. The people I met at conference were down to earth with diverse knowledge in economics and geography with experience more than my age (don’t ask that!). The knowledge and innovative ideas provided by various people triggers new approaches to my research. I was honoured to present my research at the PhD colloquium on Tuesday the 19th of August, which started new conversations and discussion. It made me happy to the see the importance each attendee gave to PhD student research.

Later that evening began with Budweiser in my hand at the Scholar pub in the city centre. I also found that the route between University and town centre was similar to Liverpool wit the university on top of a hill and city centre below (but beware the slope is much greater than Hardman street or Brownlow hill) I had long conversations with different research groups and individuals. The discussions were wide ranging from the ALS bucket challenge to Propensity Score Matching (it’s a statistical method).

The First day of the conference started with little hangover in morning compensated with strong coffee and a refreshing afternoon with good lunch. The topics involving economic and sustainable environmental developments were wonderful. Several presentations made me think of why I haven’t tried those methodologies and approach (Input output Methods, Time based methods, decay approach and list goes on…).

The evening was planned with a city tour, which gave me the opportunity to see the beautiful views of the Aberystwyth and the sea front. The remains of the castle and beautiful green grass were mesmerising, and made me feel bad for not carrying my camera with me. Only few pics with my phone were possible.

yogi2

yogi1

The day ended with an open bar and a Welsh style 2 course dinner at the beautiful hotel on a hill top close to sea front. The view of the sunset was beautiful but still, can’t match the beauty of Liverpool’s sunset (only in summer). This was the day that I was introduced to my research family by my supervisor Karyn Morrissey. Karyn introduced me to her supervisor Professor Graham Clarke (Grandfather) and all my cousins (his other PhD students and their PhD students!). It was an honour becoming a part of this family.

yogi3

My presentation at the last day of the conference allowed me to present my finding in calm composed manner, which gave me a variety of feedback and long discussion with fellow researchers. This gave an outside view of my research from an economical point of view. With this experience I returned to Liverpool with a long playlist of songs in the car with my supervisor and colleague, hoping to work on those innovative approaches and methodologies in my future research.

Yogi

A Year in the Life of an Undergraduate Geography Student

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Post by Alexandra Guy – about to start year 2 BA Geography

Before I visited the UCAS Higher Education Conference at Liverpool, I’d had my sights set on a university elsewhere. Being from Merseyside, I didn’t intend on staying local for uni, however, I was finding it really difficult to find a geography course that I could tailor to my interests. It was at the HE Conference that I discovered that Liverpool offers exactly that, and, one year on, I’ve just completed my first year of the BA Geography degree.

Our field trip to Wales in October was a really interesting way to start the course. We were given a list of topics to research in groups, alongside larger group activities like a debate, and then put together all our findings into a poster presentation once we got back to uni. I enjoyed the independence we were given during the field work, which continued throughout the year. There’s also a module that involves field work in Liverpool (Human Geography through Merseyside), which involved using observations from around the city to create unusual projects like an exhibition for a museum and a brochure for tourists. I was surprised to find that not all the field work and coursework related to it was essay based – it kept things interesting throughout the year by having a variety of essays and presentations combined with more creative tasks.

Photos from Liverpool field work

However, my favourite module (Research Frontiers in Human Geography) involved a series of lectures on the recent work staff in the geography department have been carrying out, in areas such as cultural geography and geopolitics. We then had to relate this research to a recent story in the news, for an assessed group presentation. This introduced us to areas of geography we had never studied before, while highlighting its relevance to contemporary issues – making deciding what modules to study in second year a lot easier. I’ve been able to identify exactly what areas of geography interest me, and I’m looking forward to focussing on them in second year, particularly with my optional modules in Social and Cultural Geography and Political Economies of Globalisation.

Support in the department is second to none, due to the fortnightly small group tutorials with a member of staff. These sessions helped me get used to university-style studying – knowing that I have a member of staff available for me to chat to or send a quick email to, regarding everything from academic advice to careers, has made such a difference to my first year and has really helped me settle in to university life well. From my friends at other universities, I’ve heard that this kind of support is quite rare, so I know I made the right decision to come to Liverpool! There’s also support with pretty much everything else outside of the department too – Liverpool Student Homes were a great help during my search for a house for second year, and the Financial Support Team were invaluable while I was trying to reapply for student finance.

Shanghai

Shanghai

A geography degree also gives you plenty of opportunities outside of your course to develop your CV and help you relate geography to potential careers. Thanks to a reference from my tutor and the support of the Careers and Employability Service, I was selected by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to take part in the Government’s Study China Programme. I spent Easter at Zhejiang University, near Shanghai, studying Mandarin and political changes in Asia, with students from across the country. Additionally, the amount of group work I’ve done this year has proven useful in job applications – team work is a key skill that employers look for, and it’s partly thanks to this that I’ve secured a part time job acting as a student rep for the company I hope to work for after graduation.

Receiving my certificate of completion from the Chancellor

Receiving my certificate of completion from the Chancellor at Zhejiang University

I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Liverpool to anyone considering studying Geography.