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.
PhD students, Postdocs and lecturers from the Department of Geography joined over 14,400 other scientists at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna from 24 – 28 April 2017. The General Assembly is one of the largest annual meetings of earth, atmosphere and ocean scientists in the world and offers a range of sessions for you to get your fix of the latest science. Geomorphology, hydrology, atmosphere, climate, energy and earth science feature heavily in an extensive programme of orals, poster and PICO (Presenting Interactive Content) presentations alongside short courses and debates.
This was my first time attending EGU and my week began with efforts to decipher the programme and create a schedule for the week. Overwhelming at first, I was able to navigate the huge conference centre and attend sessions on coastal morphodynamics, marine renewable energy, and estuarine processes to name but a few. The presentations offered a great opportunity to soak up data, results and information from projects around the world. Watching my MSc work presented as part of a talk on tidal lagoons and barrages in the Mersey Estuary was a pretty cool highlight.
The poster sessions at EGU are a site to be seen – rows of hundreds of colourful, detailed posters all displaying many hours of work behind them. Several students in the department had posters and it was great to see how successful each of these were. I presented a poster on the spatial variability of extreme water levels in the Severn Estuary in a session on Natural Hazard impacts in coastal areas. Ben Phillips, a first year PhD student also presented a poster in this session on his MSc work which looks at the impact of wave overtopping on beach morphology. The poster acts as a useful visual aid when engaging in in-depth discussions about your work: thanks to those who stopped, asked questions and gave incredibly useful suggestions on my own poster (sorry again to the associate professor I addressed as a PhD student).
It was also great to see friends and colleagues in action, giving talks and posters across a range of topics. Rachael Lem, a third year PhD student, presented her results on palaeoceanagraphic productivity changes in the Eastern Equatorial Atlantic to a packed room. Second year PhD students Chris Feeney and Kieran Newman presented posters on their research, and Siôn Regan presented in a PICO session. Xiaorong Li, presented a poster for work on her post doc about morphological change along the east coast of the UK. Dr Hugh Smith gave a highlighted session on predicting fire effects on water quality. Professor Janet Hooke presented work on the role of events, structures and morphology in ephemeral channels.
In addition to posters and presentations, a series of debates and short courses were also included in the schedule. Highlights here included debates on ‘How to make science great again’ and ‘Science communication in the age of Brexit and Trump’. High ranking panellists certainly drew the crowds to these sessions. These sessions encouraged young and established scientists to speak up for their discipline and gave advice on how to clearly communicate a message through stories, graphics and even poetry. Short courses on visualising your data to make it more appealing and understandable to a wider audience and tips to write a successful scientific paper were popular sessions which provided invaluable advice.
Overall, EGU 2017 was a great experience with lots of interesting science, new ideas and a great opportunity to get to know more people in the community. If you get a chance to attend the EGU General Assembly for the first time, here are some tips:
- Spend the time deciphering the programme to fill your week with an interesting programme of sessions. I found the EGU app incredibly useful in helping me create a programme.
- Don’t just search through the presentations and posters by just the disciplines related to your work. You might find some real gems if you go off piste. One of the best sessions I attended of the week was about how science communication can be strengthened when twinned with art, music, film and even board games!
- Don’t rely on the free coffee and cookies for sustenance – it’s a scrum to get them during the breaks. Bring a flask and a packed lunches.
- Ensure you find the time to explore Vienna and sample a local apfelstrudel and sachertorte. You will not regret it.
Thanks to ARCoES project for financial support to allow me to attend the conference.
Last week, PLoS ONE published our paper using satellite imagery and machine learning techniques to predict levels of Living Environment Deprivation. You can check it out here in open access, as the journal takes the P in PLoS (i.e. Public) very seriously. In a companion resource, we also published the data, the computational environment, and…
Reblogged from (see for full post): PLoS ONE paper using satellite images and machine learning to predict deprivation — Geographic Data Science Lab
New blog post by Dr Kathy Burrell
In my academic research I have focused on Polish migration to the UK. I have done this largely through interviewing Polish migrants directly – in-depth interviews which allow time to talk about key experiences and feelings related to migrating from Poland to the UK. I have interviewed people who were refugees from the Second World…
Reblogged – follow this link to read the full post Understanding Polish Migration to the UK — Kathy Burrell
I don’t know whether it is because I have recently finished co-teaching a postcolonial geographies module for this cycle, or because my daughter, at six, is becoming more conscious of, and interested in, the world, but lately I have felt my academic and personal worlds collide as never before. I have always considered myself at…
Blog post by Dr Kathy Burrell – for the full post follow the link below:
Post by Dr Jennifer Turner
Human Geography at Liverpool has a strong reputation for the study of socio-spatial exclusion, inequality, geographies of the life-course and developing understandings of moving, mobile populations. As a new Lecturer in Human Geography, I’ve been excited to join this vibrant department, bringing to it, a further way of thinking about those themes – through the study of so-called ‘carceral’ life – or, in layman’s terms, thinking about the geographies of places of imprisonment, detainment or confinement and the people who are involved with these spaces.
My research focuses upon spaces and practices of incarceration, past and present. Most recently, I have interrogated prison architecture, design, technology and their potential to impact upon rehabilitation. Other interests include penal tourism, articulations of the prison boundary and conceptualisations of carceral space. My work has been published widely in the fields of carceral geography and criminology. Please see my website for further details.
I’ll be bringing this specialism to Liverpool through a variety of teaching at undergraduate level and postgraduate level, including the modules ENVS385 Issues in Geography and ENVS434 Space, Power and Culture.
Here will be will thinking about a range of themes; some covered in a new book entitled Carceral Mobilities: Interrogating Movement in Incarceration just published with another Liverpool geographer, Dr Kimberley Peters.
The book has been an exciting, cross disciplinary project. At first glance, the words ‘carceral’ and ‘mobilities’ seem to sit uneasily together. Yet, through its introduction and 17 chapters, the book challenges the assumption that carceral life is characterised by a lack of movement; and that mobilities scholars may find no obvious interest in supposed spaces of confinement and stasis – the prison, camp or asylum centre. Identifying and unpicking the manifold mobilities that shape (and are shaped by) carceral regimes, the book brings together contributions that speak to contemporary debates across carceral studies and mobilities research, offering fresh insights to both areas of concern. It features four sections that move the reader through the varying typologies of motion underscoring carceral life: tension; circulation; distribution; and transition. Each mobilities-led section seeks to explore the politics encapsulated in specific regimes of carceral movement.
It is now argued that mobilities research is ‘centre stage’ in the social sciences with wide-ranging work that considers the politics underscoring the movements of people and objects. From studies that examine technologies of motion, to the infrastructures that enable/disable mobility; and from investigations of the subjects made mobile or immobile by regimes of regulation, to the materialities that shape and are shaped by mobilities, what this turn has come to achieve is a critical consideration a world that is ever ‘on the move’. This book, however, offers a fresh perspective on these questions, exploring mobilities through a carceral lens.
Featuring contributions from leading academics working in the field of carceral studies and mobilities research (as well as a strong selection of chapters from emerging scholars, freelance writers and social workers), the book brings together timely discussions in one collection, which will appeal to wide, cross-disciplinary audiences, contributing firmly to current conceptual debates shaping the social sciences. Indeed, drawing on a range of international examples (from the UK, Europe, Australia, South-East Asia, North and South America), the book offers an authoritative, global collection on the theme of carceral mobilities, from a variety of disciplinary perspectives including Criminology, Sociology, History, Cultural Theory, Human Geography and Urban Planning. A foreword and afterword will be provided by established figures in carceral geography (Dr Dominique Moran) and mobilities studies (Professor Peter Merriman), also illuminates how understandings of ‘carcerality’ and ‘mobility’ can each inform the other. The book therefore offers a first port of call for those examining spaces of detention, asylum, imprisonment and containment, who are increasingly interested in questions of movement in relation to the management, control, and confinement of populations.
You’ll be able to access this in the library soon!
Post by Kimberley Peters
Breaking chains: the threat of piracy
Just a few years ago the threat of piracy – the seizure of huge cargo ships and the holding hostage of their crews – loomed large off of the coast of Somalia. This illicit maritime activity, which is many centuries old and can be traced back to the earliest seafaring (see Hasty 2014), was a cause for global concern. Ships are the technologies that link spaces together for the majority of trade (96% to be exact). Moreover, much of that trade travels through piracy ‘hotspots’ – voyaging through the Suez Canal linking Europe with the Middle East and South-East Asia.
As was depicted in the Hollywood film Captain Phillips (based on the events experienced by the real Captain Phillips) piracy has costs. There are, for shipping companies, large economic costs of training crews, installing water cannons and locking systems onto vessels, and, of course, rising insurance premiums. At the height of the piracy crisis (which coincided with a fall in oil prices) it was cheaper for vessels to travel around the African continent, following 18th and 19th century colonial trade routes, than to journey via Suez and the Somali coast. Higher costs for shipping translate, ultimately, into higher costs for us as consumers. But there are also other costs – the costs to lives, of those victim to piracy, but also those in war-torn countries who commit such offshore acts.
The spate of piratical acts over the last decade has alerted the world to the often invisible world that exists offshore (Urry 2014). It has also alerted us to the fact that the chains that keep things moving A to B, are not unbreakable. When we go shopping – for food, clothes, a new mobile phone – almost all of these things will have travelled on a ship across the oceans, connecting us to the world beyond dry land and to the lives of those offshore who are making (and breaking) those commodity chains (see Peters 2010).
Today, we hear less of piracy in the news. This is partly due to better oceanic governance to prevent it, and efforts onshore to assist the rebuilding of communities who often have little option but to turn to crime at sea (see the excellent work of Gilmer on piracy in the recent issue of Geoforum, 2016). But just because piracy is not as visible as it has been, doesn’t mean that it is all plain sailing for those who facilitate the supply chains that keep our shop shelves stacked.
Stuck in limbo: when shipping companies go bust
In the past few months we’ve seen a new crisis emerge as global shipping firm Hanjin went bust. As geographers Stephen Graham and Nigel Thrift have argued (2007), we often fail to recognise the infrastructural systems that keep our world functioning: the pipes, cables, roads, cars, planes and even ships – that are part of networks which keep things moving A to B. It is only when things fail we notice these invisible systems (piracy for example, made the closed world of shipping suddenly very visible). The Hanjin crisis did the same.
When the company was declared insolvent, ships and their crews were stuck out at sea with nowhere to go (see this BBC report). Ports refused them entry knowing the bankrupt company would not be able to pay the port fees. Captains and workers were stranded on board. The thousands of container boxes carried by the ships were undelivered – trapped in an oceanic limbo. Supply chains were severed. Cars failed to arrive in showrooms. Electrical goods failed to reach their destination. Personal items shipped overseas were left bobbing about offshore. Again, this instance alerts us to the fundamental but fragile role of shipping in everyday life.
Keeping things moving: new developments
In recent months we have been confronted with the global world of shipping in new ways here in Liverpool. The opening of the new Liverpool2 docks in November 2016 will enable the world’s largest ships – of 400 meters and above – to enter the port. Liverpool, it is anticipated, will become a new hub of global trade in the North of England – a key site for enabling those vital connections that move things from A to B (see this BBC report).
The difference this will make for Liverpool, the north-west region, and to the world of commerce and trade is, as yet, unclear. It is argued it will bring more jobs and greater prosperity to the area. It may also create new global links between Liverpool and the rest of the world. As such, what happens at sea, on ships, and in ports matters to us here on land (as myself and colleagues have argued elsewhere, see Anderson and Peters 2014). Developments like Liverpool2 are part of the network of infrastructures that keep things moving and enable us to access the goods and resources essential to our daily lives (see also this recent article on the Geographical Magazine website).
So next time you go shopping, spare a thought for the oceanic connections interwoven with the things you buy, and the geographic processes, and infrastructural maintenance that has enabled them to reach our shores. And if this has sparked your interest, we explore some of these themes in the new ENVS339 Maritime Geographies module in the Department of Geography and Planning in Spring 2017, taught by myself, Prof. Andy Plater and Dr. Andy Davies.
Post by Dr Ian Mell, Department of Geography and Planning
The Parkrun phenomena has promoted running to a whole range of keen, and less so, runners around the UK and the world. However, this week a local council in the south-west of England has proposed that a Parkrun in Little Stoke start to pay fees to cover the costs of maintenance of the park it uses. This has led to a range of response most questioning why a local council would tax a well-managed and much loved form of free public exercise. Whilst on the face of it there is a very pervasive argument for promoting health and well-being through organised activities supported by the NHS and Clinical Commission Groups CCG) there is a second argument which asks whether all organised sports/events in public spaces should be subject to fees.
It would be unwise to compare team sports, such as football, played on public parks, the rise in popularity of ‘boot camps’ and Parkruns. However, they are all organised activities which require parks to be somewhat segregated to function. Football teams pay fees to cover some, but not all, maintenance of football pitches whilst for-profit private boot camps businesses do not. This raises a dilemma for Parkrun enthusiasts. Parkrun is a charity which does not charge a participation fee and is therefore not for profit. Any sponsorship they do receive covers the running/administrative costs of the events. Parkrun is at its very core different to boot camps and organised sport, yet is still organised and makes use of public spaces for a formal event.
One of the reason why the local council in Little Stoke are proposing charging Parkrun to use the park is the cumulative wear and tear of approximately 300 grouped runners using the site every Saturday. The Parkrun organisers have offered in-kind litter picking or maintenance work to cover any damage (perceived or real) that the events create, on which the local council and the organisers have not yet reached an agreement. However, with increased and concentrated use there are very real possibilities that the quality of a given site could be compromised even where organisers and users are careful to respect the integrity of the site.
A lot of the reaction to the proposed charges have been ones of incredulity asking why a free event would be charged, asking why council tax doesn’t cover all this, and asking why an event that has, in some places, engaged people who may not participate in physical activity regularly would start charging entrance fees? All of these are good questions but in many ways simplify the argument.
First, the lack of an entrance fee has been one of the foundations of the success of Parkrun. However, would a charge of £1 put people off entering? The costs of other organised races/events could be considered exhortative – the Liverpool 10K is over £20 – so the smaller cost may be more manageable for many people.
Second, any activity that engages people in a healthier lifestyle is a positive. This can be in the form of organised exercise/sport, more exposure of community activities or simply spending time with other people. Again, we could ask whether Parkrun actually addresses these issues for people who often fall through the net of health care improvements. Furthermore, are the locations of Parkrun convenient for people? In Liverpool Croxteth Hall and Princes Park are home to Parkrun event, which may or may not engage people who can’t access other activity facilities.
Finally, the role of funding parks management is central to the Little Stoke case. Council tax is used to fund the development and maintenance of parks and open space. However, the proportion of council tax allocation to parks is minimal. Moreover, in many cities in the UK, including Liverpool, local government budgets have been slashed by central government and increases in council tax payments have been frozen. Therefore as the costs of maintenance of parks has increased the ability to raise funding to manage them has flat lined or decreased. For example Liverpool’s operational budget has decreased by approximately 58% in the last six year (2010-to date) meaning that the budgets for managing parks has also fallen. With the rise in park use through activities such as Parkrun there is likely to be greater need for maintenance due to wear and tear, yet the money needed to do the works is becoming increasingly limited.
All of these issues are wrapped up in the Parkrun debate. Promoting a healthier lifestyle through exercise or community engagement should be seen as a positive but there is a payoff regarding the longer-term management of spaces used for activities. Over time it may become necessary to raise charges for all ‘formal’ activities (even if they are free) in parks such as Parkrun to provide revenue to maintain the resource. However, as we have seen this week such decisions come loaded with emotive responses and thus require local councils to think carefully about whether the increased benefits of use and physical activity (of which there are many) can be balanced against the economic costs of maintenance.