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.

Edinburgh Field Class 2015

Post by Dr Paul Williamson

Congratulations to this year’s Edinburgh field class photograph competition winners. Here are the winning entries for the category ‘Views of Edinburgh’:

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And here are the winning entries in the category ‘Students in action’:

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The field class took place in late-April and saw 43 Year 2 BA Geographers and 3 staff heading north, enjoying the warmest and sunniest Edinburgh-based week on record as they to put into practice a variety of research skills acquired over the last year and a half of study.

These included interviewing Members of the Scottish Parliament; surveying any member of the public unable to run away fast enough; interviews with local activists; and participant observation of the local nightlife.

Comparing the 'sense of place' of locals and students

Comparing the ‘sense of place’ of locals and students

This year students researched topics as diverse as perceptions of the newly launched tram network, factors explaining Scottish political allegiance, tourist perceptions of Edinburgh and a comparison of the Liverpool and Edinburgh students’ sense of place.

Tourist perceptions of Edinburgh

Tourist perceptions of Edinburgh

The final part of the field class focussed on data analysis, ranging from traditional graphs and tables of survey results through to the deconstruction of interview responses.

Survey results

Survey results

The Edinburgh Field Class is just part of our wider three-year field class programme, which includes trips to Mid Wales, the Lake District, Spain, California and Singapore. All of these trips are designed an ethos of ‘learning by doing’. Or, in Edinburgh’s Case, ‘learning by doing whilst getting a suntan’. Happy Days!

Performing Ethnography at Hunt & Darton Café

By Catherine Wilkinson

On Wednesday 25th March, I took up my Researcher in Residence placement at Hunt & Darton Café in Manchester. Hunt & Darton Café is an award-winning pop-up café which unites art with the everyday. Despite being an installation, presented by artists Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton, the café is fully-functioning with a range of food and drink. Through performance, Hunt and Darton showcase the ‘behind the scenes’ of the business; for instance, displaying their profits for the day on a blackboard for customers to see. It was my task to explore methods of documenting and archiving the live art and performance. During my ethnography of the café, I participated as a customer yet made audio recordings; took photographs; and made field diary entries. Because it was the 25th of the month (March), Hunt & Darton café naturally celebrated Christmas Day. In attempting to capture my observations from the day, in a way which does justice to the performativity of the café, I present to you a poem.

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As I approached Hunt & Darton Café I could tell I was in for a treat,
Before I knew it I was greeted with “Happy Christmas, take a seat!”
There was a Christmas tree in the window, mulled wine, and mince pies,
I thought “It’s March, not December”, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Perhaps more strangely, I saw two ladies in broccoli dresses,
It was Hunt and Darton – they even had broccoli branches in their tresses.
The artists approached me, asking “would you like coffee or tea?”
“I’d love a cuppa thank you, with milk, but no sugar for me”.
As I sipped on my brew I marvelled at the crockery,
Then they commenced the quiz and I soon was made a mockery.
“How many sides does a snowflake have?” they asked.
“I know this, I thought…12” – “No, it’s six” – my knowledge was surpassed.
Question number 5 and my score was still zero,
Then a stranger sat down next to me – John – he fast became my hero.
John was getting questions correct left, right, and centre,
I mean – he even knew the name of the mince pie inventor!
The quiz was terminated momentarily as Hunt and Darton took their break,
John got up to leave “back to work for me” he said “I’ve got money to make”,
The quiz was resumed and without John’s presence I felt defeated,
I have to confess that (with use of good old Google) on at least one occasion I cheated.
It was somewhat a relief when the quiz came to an end,
My performance had been poor, there was nothing to commend.
“20 minutes until unhappy hour” Hunt and Darton declared,
“Unhappy hour, what’s this?” I admit it – I was scared.
I was told “the mood gets very sombre and you’re not allowed to laugh”,
At first I thought “forget this, get me out this caff”.
But as the clock struck 6.30pm I soon realised it was nothing malicious,
Hunt and Darton simply wanted to know “what has been your worst Christmas?”
As they walked around the café evoking stories of great sadness,
I couldn’t help but think “what on earth is all this madness”.
It was soon time for me to leave in my getaway car,
But truthfully I loved every second, no matter how strange, how bizarre.

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Moving forward with the project, I have a few aims to keep me busy:

  • I will use the audio recordings, in the form of vox pops and soundbites, to produce an audio documentary which captures the atmosphere at the café.
  • I will create an ‘uncomic strip’, continuing the theme of ‘unhappy hour’, to document my ethnographic findings and the ‘characters’ I met.
  • I will be visiting Hunt & Darton café in Folkestone 9th-10 May to continue my ethnographic observations.

I look forward to working with creative methods to document the performativity of Hunt & Darton Café.

‘Community to me is’…Young People’s Musings on Community

Post by Catherine Wilkinson, ESRC NWDTC PhD student

KCC Live is a community youth-led radio station situated in Knowsley, just outside of Liverpool. The station targets listeners between the ages of 10-24 and has a cohort of volunteers aged 16 and upwards, assisting with roles such as presenting, programming and fundraising. The overarching aim of my doctoral research is to explore how KCC Live creates social capital among these young people in the current time of political, social and economic uncertainty. Within my project I draw on a range of creative qualitative methods, namely: participant observation; interviews and focus groups with young volunteers; interviews with key stakeholders; a listener survey and follow-up interviews; and listener diaries and follow-up interviews. Within my research I adopt a participatory approach.

As part of my research, I am particularly interested in understanding what ‘community’ means to the young people, and the different meanings they attach to the word. To this end, as part of my participatory methodology, the young people and I co-created an audio documentary. The documentary was participatory to the extent that: the young people highlighted key topics relating to community which they would like to discuss; the young people and I recorded discussions about community to be used as content; the young people provided me with advice as to how to edit the documentary; they chose the music and sound effects to be included; after a ‘first draft’ was complete, the young people were involved in snoops (listening sessions where critique and feedback is provided), which instructed me on how to improve the documentary.

In accordance with the desires of the young people, the documentary explores: what community means to them; the different community groups they are involved in; different scales of community, from geographic to virtual; the role of social media in the construction of community; whether they perceive community as positive or negative; the Scouse sense of community; and the community of KCC Live. The audio documentary is around 30 minutes in length and was played out on KCC Live during a show that I present. It is now available as a resource for young people to use as broadcasting content on the station whenever they desire. To listen to the documentary, please follow this link: https://soundcloud.com/catherinewilkinson

Beyond Greenspace in Merseyside

By Ben Wheeler, Becca Lovell and  Dr Karyn Morrissey

Originally posted on Beyond Greenspace

We recently had a great opportunity to spend a morning together with a wide range of people and organisations, mostly from the Merseyside area, at a workshop organised by the Heseltine Institute for Public Policy and Practice Fresh Thinking Series. At the event “Beyond Greenspace: How can nature create healthier and wealthier places” we collectively covered a lot of ground on the research, policy and practice angles in Liverpool city region and beyond.

We had the opportunity to discuss the Beyond Greenspace project, and related research at the European Centre, and then to consider issues such as the pioneering links between local NHS organisations and the fantastic Mersey Forest. There has clearly been a huge amount of innovative work in the area, such as the Natural Choices project and Mindfulness in Forests. It was encouraging to see excellent collaboration going on between organisations such as the Liverpool LNP (Nature Connected), the regional Academic Health Science Network and CLAHRC, and the Local Economic Partnership.

Much of the conversation flowed around to economics, with some passionate debate on how a region can protect its natural heritage and public green/blue space, improve public health and wellbeing, and generate jobs and economic opportunity within a highly restrictive financial climate (HLF’s ‘State of UK Parks‘ provides some useful information on some of the challenges facing UK greenspace managers).

Dr Karyn Morrissey of the University of Liverpool, Department of Geography and Planning was on hand to give an excellent perspective on the economics of natural resources. Karyn spoke about the economic valuation of our natural resources as a means of incorporating green and blue assets within the public and private agenda. Whilst, undoubtedly rudimentary (and perhaps crass), the manner in which economists monetise our environment is important to the maintenance of our greenspaces; “what gets measured gets managed”.

“Only a Scouser can get the Tube talking” Life after Liverpool and some reflections

danwilberforce

By Dan Wilberforce

BSc Geography (Class of 2013)

So I’m sitting on the London Underground listening to a more-than-slightly-tipsy-Londoner complaining about minicab companies, the pitfalls of the new Hackney Carriage and the reason why he never uses the Tube anyway. It never runs on time, it’s too cramped, the seats smell…”Northern Line this, Northern Line that….”The people of this particular cramped Tube car, on this particular Thursday in January react in the typical London way to the guy’s blusters; awkward shuffles of annoyance, sideways dagger glances and sighs galore…but undoubtedly and perhaps predictably an overwhelmingly apathetic tone triumphs amongst the victims of London’s evening rat-race.

Things weren’t looking like they were going to improve much, when from the corner of the carriage a familiar and welcome accent makes a lively appearance in the form of a small stocky Scouser, resplendent in merchandise from Liverpool FCs official store.

‘Hey mate!’ hollered the Red, catching our evening in-car entertainment’s attention. ‘Shut up will ya, … you’re really doing me nut in. I’m sure we’ve all had a long day and listening to you is seriously down the list of ideal commute options.’

From the eyes wide, slightly panicky astonishment gripping the face of the perpetrator, this sudden outburst of heart-on-sleeve honesty shocked and certainly thwarted any continuation of that specific evening lecture; and the reaction of the crowd was no less brilliant. Visible displays of relief started spreading across the faces of the other car passengers, then that relief turned to joy… and then energy. Soon the carriage was buzzing and people actually started talking to each other. It was great to see, and it all started with a Scouse bloke lightening the mood with a bit of ‘everyone else was thinking it, I just said it’ attitude.

This got me thinking about my time in Liverpool and the energy the city has, the days of Bold Street Coffee, Leaf and Heebies; reasonable rent, ‘8 Days a Week’ all day breakfasts, News from Nowhere, cheap gigs, quad vods, BBQs in the Park, and of course the fact that you knew what you were going to do for at least three years. When you’re in the moment, enjoying (or not) the security of a commitment to something that takes time, it’s easy to overlook the peace of mind that it provides, and consequently not take advantage of that security in a more proactive way. So when Pete North asked me to write a bit about my experiences post Liverpool, and buzzing with nostalgia after the ‘Scouser on the Tube’ episode, I thought I might try and offer some insights and reflections that I and some of my friends have had as a postgrad.

I have recently completed an MSc in Human Rights at the LSE, which is granted a bit more than a hop skip and a jump (subject wise) from the BSc in Geography that I took at Liverpool. Though Geography does have this knack of being very good at providing rounded skill sets. Nonetheless, the masters was challenging; a year of intensive study, meeting people, a new city (that is considerably more expensive than Liverpool), starting to think more in sociological terms than paleoclimatological ones, all whilst trying to find a niche that would suit my new found, slightly abstract collection of qualifications. However, to finish a masters degree and then find myself unable to get anything other than an unpaid internship in any of the related fields was an obstacle that I had not predicted, and actually turned out to be the hardest period of my academic/work related life to date. But it was my fault, and it could have mostly been avoided. See, I was under the impression that I would be able to walk out of the those graduation doors, slam the degrees down on the CV and let the job offers role in, or at least get some interest from something interesting.

I got a linkedIn email from a small recruitment firm in Wandsworth.

I didn’t understand. So I started sending off application after application, CV after CV, cover letter after cover letter….. 20 applications, 30, 40 , 50….

What I became increasingly aware of was the fact that I hadn’t used my time, my exposure to academics, my access to career services or peers as effectively as I might have. Lots of people around me were getting good roles, paid ones, loads of responsibility, challenging positions…what did they have that I didn’t? In reality it was what they had done, as well as what they had. They had spent time developing relationships with various different professionals, as well as people their own age that were interested in roughly similar trajectories. Also something that became apparent was that people had multiple potential routes and aspirations, there was and still is little need to nail one’s flag to the mast so early on, though it does help to work within some relatively refined parameters. This takes me back to the time available to one when studying for a bachelors degree. You have long holidays and plenty of time during term to explore different potential routes for after you graduate. You can use the holidays to do a few short internships, get to know some people in the industries or sectors that interest you, because it is these relationships that open the doors later on. It doesn’t have to take up the whole holiday, just a week or three. Any work put in early on will certainly pay off later on. If finding these connections is a bit daunting, try the professors, try the careers service, the more you put in to finding and developing these early networks…the easier it will be to actually get a fulfilling role. This also applies just as much to any masters level preparation or participation, although I found it harder to find the time during a masters degree.

I am saying this from personal experience and observation… You can work very hard, get a very good degree, but the guy/girl who has made the extra effort to show interest and demonstrate ability to potential employers will be ahead by a decent margin; and it’s very competitive out there right now….don’t be fooled by the zero hour contract revised stats, jobs are hard to find. Also this sort of planning is what you will start doing when starting to work full time. People may start bandying around words like nepotism, brown-nosing and favouritism. But this isn’t what building a network is. Building a network is about finding likeminded people within all age brackets that you can help and that can help you, it is about co-operation and mutual benefit, it is essential in the modern work environment and something you do anyway, though probably in a more social capacity. However, avoid at all costs being way too keen, it just annoys people.

Another thing to try is exploring more people within societies or different social groups at uni. I know most of my extended group of mates focused around groups formed in Halls, but there are so many people around. If you want to find people with big ideas, unless you’re lucky, they probably won’t just appear.

And lastly, do talk to your professors and lecturers. They really do have a tonne of experience in a huge range of areas. I know so many people who went through their entire undergraduate degree (and even masters) without really having a proper chat to the academics at their institution. Don’t do that. You’ll find most of them drink beer, and picking their brains (if they have the time) over a pint is always a good way to find out more about opportunities that interest you.

So all these things, are all undertakings that I’ve been trying to do with more frequency towards the end of my masters and upon completion. I have been interning for various Human rights NGOs, writing some articles for small newspapers, taking testimonies from Darfuri genocide victims, helping to organise attendees for the Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations, attempting to recruit SMEs into custom Corporate Social Responsibility schemes (especially payroll giving), and trying to play a bit of music on the side. I’m also trying to start a social enterprise that provides legal assistance and safe-housing for sex trafficking victims in the UK, but funding seems to be the big next question (guess it’s a watch this space type thing).

I hope that some of these little insights prove helpful for anyone who reads this. I hope it wasn’t too prescriptive, but reading a little chronology about what I’ve been doing might have been a little bland. Liverpool is still without a doubt my favourite city in the UK. I come back as often as I can, and I’m sure that will be the case for years to come. If you’re there, soak up the atmosphere and energy, its good for the soul!