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.

Understanding Polish Migration to the UK

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

Decolonising Parenting: Curating the World One Playmobil Character at a Time

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:

via Decolonising Parenting: Curating the World One Playmobil Character at a Time — Kathy Burrell

Carceral Geography comes to Liverpool

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.

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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!

Keeping things moving A to B: why what happens at sea matters

 

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The Trans Future unloading in Auckland, NZ. Ships help to carry 96% of goods around our world (Photo: K Peters)

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.

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Viewed from the New Brighton beach, the Liverpool2 container port. This recent development will enable the city to welcome some of the world’s largest vessels (Photo: K Peters)

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.

Should parkrun users pay for parks?

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.

Introducing James Lea: New Lecturer in Glacial Geomorphology

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Post by Dr. James Lea

I’m James Lea, and I’ve just started in the department as a new lecturer in glacial geomorphology.

My research looks at how glacial and geomorphic processes can aid our understanding of the past, present, and potential future behaviour of glaciers and ice sheets, though I also have more general interests in Quaternary environments, remote sensing, and numerical modelling techniques.

One of the main areas I research is the behaviour of tidewater glaciers (those that flow into the sea), since these are amongst the largest and fastest on the planet, and potentially the most likely drivers of future rapid sea level rise. I started to study these types of glaciers during my PhD at the University of Aberdeen, where I reconstructed the last 250 years of behaviour at the largest and most dynamic tidewater glacier in SW Greenland (the catchily named Kangiata Nunaata Sermia).

As part of this, I used a variety of information including satellite imagery, explorer’s photographs, geomorphology, and forgotten diaries of early Greenland colonists to reconstruct glacier positions. The result was the longest observation based record of tidewater glacier dynamics anywhere in Greenland, which I then was able to use to test whether a numerical model could adequately simulate the decadal to centennial behaviour of these glaciers.

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Following my PhD, I moved from Aberdeen to Stockholm University, Sweden to take a postdoc position looking at performing simulations of the former Svalbard-Barents Sea Ice Sheet (north of Scandinavia) that existed during the last glacial. During this time I was also researching how iceberg calving processes are incorporated into ice sheet models, with the aim of improving how this significant but poorly understood mechanism of ice loss is represented.

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In addition to these mostly model and remote sensing based studies, I also very much enjoy taking part in field-based research. Some of examples of this have included: nearly getting heat stroke in an Essex Quarry (Quantification of turbate structures through a subglacial till: dimensions and characteristics, Lea & Palmer, 2014); standing in a lake for 6 hours in the middle of the Swedish winter coring for sediments (Timing of the first drainage of the Baltic Ice Lake synchronous with the onset of Greenland Stadial 1, Muschitiello, Lea, et al., 2015); and hiking round Greenland for 4 weeks at a time carrying everything on my back (Terminus driven retreat of a major Greenlandic tidewater glacier during the early 19th century, Lea et al., 2014a; Fluctuations of a major Greenlandic tidewater glacier driven by changes in atmospheric forcing, Lea et al., 2014b).

If you have any questions just drop me an email (j.lea@liverpool.ac.uk), or call by my office (Rm404 in the Roxby Building) to say hello!

Responding to ‘civic vandalism’ – thoughts on the Liverpool Green & Open Space Review Board

Post by Dr Ian Mell

Over the past twelve months Liverpool City Council has been engaged in a review of how it funds the city’s green and open spaces. Due to an reported 58% decrease in funding from central government to the city, its Mayor and elected officials have been forced to rethink how they pay for statutory services, i.e. those services which are legally required, which has raised questions over the short and long-term financing of discretionary services. Liverpool’s parks, gardens, green paths and some of its waterways fall into the latter category and post-2016/17 there are concerns that the city will have no money to manage its landscape.

The Liverpool Green & Open Space Review Board was set up by Liverpool’s Mayor to find solutions to the lack of funding for the city’s landscape. Guided by an Independent Chair and a board of City Council officers/members and local experts the review aimed to gauge the feeling in city about the protection and in some cases the development of green and open spaces.

Whilst it was agreed throughout the review process that the City Council needed to rethink how it manages the city’s landscape, there were contrasting opinions across Liverpool regarding what and why parks and greenspaces should be protected. Over the course of the review the city’s approach to landscape management has been called ‘civic vandalism’, as members of the public have viewed the ‘call for sites’ as a developer’s charter undermining local objections to the redevelopment of parks. It was also clearly apparent that local communities wanted a greater say in how the city’s landscapes were being managed.

As expected several high profile sites including the proposed redevelopment of Walton Hall Park into the new Everton Football Club stadium and the redevelopment by Redrow on Setfon Park Meadows/ Park Avenue incidental space were prominent throughout the consultation process. However, it was the veracity of the support for smaller spaces in Clubmoor, Tuebrook and Childwall which illustrated the multi-functional nature of greenspace to the city’s population.

These spaces are used by walking, cycling, socialising and walking the dog. They are places like Princes Park and Score Law Gardens where families congregate to spend time together. Moreover, Otterspool Promenade and Croxeth Hall Park are places where the natural landscape of the city meets its urban boundaries.

Time and time again the city’s parks, gardens and greenspaces were discussed as provided essential social and ecological benefits to the city’s population. Spatial variations in quality and use though were discussed illustrating a lack of trust within north Liverpool of the council’s commitment to delivering high quality green and open spaces.

Unfortunately in spite of the vast public support for the retention of all green and open spaces in the city Liverpool City Council is having to rethink how it pays for the management of its landscape. The interim report of Green & Open Space Review brings to the fore the breadth of options open to the city and frames these alternative funding opportunities within a wider management context.

Could the sale of some sites be a good way to fund long-term maintenance? Could Community Asset Transfers to greenspace campaign groups provide local people with greater authority to manage their local landscapes? Would long-term corporate sponsorship or an endowment from the city’s two Premier League football clubs meet the annual costs of maintaining sports pitches throughout the city? And could the NHS provide funding for park maintenance as part of their healthy living programmes?

All of the above are options open to Liverpool City Council. What is clear though is that it cannot continue to look to central government to support funding for the city’s parks and gardens. What the Green & Open Space Review is doing is therefore innovative, as it is one of the first cities in the UK to undertake such a broad ranging assessment of how it funds it landscape under an austerity government. The interim findings and recommendations of the review were released in December 2015, with the final evaluation due for release in 2016. What is certain is that if Liverpool City Council are prepared to take positive steps to attractive funding from public, private and community sources is that the city’s greenspaces could be managed in a more sustainable way in the coming years.