Studying Gender and Mobility in India

3rd Year BA Student Becy Ainsworth is the latest student to write about her dissertation research for the LivUniGeog blog.

“This summer I spent two months in Jodhpur in northern India volunteering for a local NGO whilst conducting my dissertation research. I was able to combine my desire to volunteer and travel with my academic work, each of which benefited the other. Having the basic knowledge of India’s politics, economy and society from various modules allowed my research to delve deeper into issues, which at the start of my trip I would probably have overlooked or misunderstood. Coming from the ‘western’ world, it was extremely challenging for me as an outsider to grasp the complex and diverse values in India that were so alien to me. As someone who loves travelling and understanding local culture, I found that combining that with my research abroad changed my entire understanding of the country.

The City of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

The City of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

My research was a response to the horrific gang-rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi in December 2012. Shocked that such an act could occur on public transport, I decided to investigate wider practices of mobility – which is do, how and why people move around on a day-to-day basis. I particularly focussed on how women used public and private space and public transport systems – as a country that is strongly patriachal, Indian women often have many challenges in their daily travels around urban areas like Jodhpur. I conducted interviews and focus groups, and kept a detailed research diary noting my conversations and interactions with local people and my own experiences of mobility in the city. The language barrier was only an issue for the focus group (everyone else spoke perfect English) and I needed a translators during and after the group (when transcribing the recording) – both translators had quite different interpretations so that was my greatest challenge during the research process. The women were so open, enthusiastic and willing to share their experiences and opinions with me, which made my research a really insightful process.

Teaching some of the Women at the Sambhali Trust

Teaching some of the women at the Sambhali Trust

My role in Sambhali Trust was teaching English and maths to low-caste women and children, and to run workshops that would help with the empowerment of women. I was fully absorbed into Indian culture, which meant my daily interactions with the men, women and children of Jodhpur were valuable for my research and more general understanding of Rajasthani society. I was fortunate in that my everyday conversations revealed mobility to be a prevalent issue in women’s lives, as it was important to me that my area of research was relevant and addressed serious problems.

A notice for a women's helpline on a bus in Jodhpur

A notice for a women’s helpline on a bus in Jodhpur

Working with and researching in another country with a completely different culture to my own was a challenge and a very steep learning curve. In India, things tend happen very ‘last minute’, which was stressful for my western mind-set at times. For example, Sambhali Trust organised a conference on child sexual abuse, which is an incredibly taboo subject throughout India. We invited 60 local professionals and dignitaries related to the field, but only began doing so five days before the event (which we had spent six weeks planning). This was obviously very nerve-wracking for the European volunteers used to planning events far in advance, however most people invited to the conference attended and it was a real success, with Sambhali Trust establishing a new project two days later. Another example is how I tried to interview someone that I was living with; we set a time and place every day for my final two weeks but only on the morning before I left did we both find the time for the interview to actually happen. I definitely learned the art of patience!

I kept a blog during my time at Sambhali Trust explaining about the charity’s projects, campaigns and workshops if anyone has an interest in women’s empowerment or development work.I would really recommend students to consider researching abroad. The endless possibilities of the research subject, the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of another culture, and the skills you develop from the daily challenges of the research have made it an incredible experience that I would love to do again (minus the dissertation write up bit!).”

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Western Ireland Excursion: the Grand finale of the DYNAMITE project (DYNAmic Models in Terrestrial Ecosystems and Landscapes)

Connemara coastline, stunning bays, headlands and sea food

Connemara coastline, stunning bays, headlands and sea food

The four-year DYNAMITE project (DYNAmic Models in Terrestrial Ecosystems and Landscapes), a teaching and research cooperation programme between the School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, UK and the Departments of Geology and Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science at Lund University, Sweden, recently ended with an excursion for PhD students, postdocs and academic staff from both institutions to western Ireland in September 2013 and organised magnificently by Prof Richard Bradshaw (University of Liverpool).

A brief report from the trip offers an excellent overview of the breadth of Quaternary Science as a discipline, illustrating how we integrate geomorphology, archaeology, geology and palaeoecology, to foster better understanding of local- to global-scale environmental change at varying temporal scales through the Holocene and Pleistocene.

Archaeology

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Our trip began (Day 1) in The Burren, an extensive karstic landscape composed of remarkable limestone pavements and that supports many rare species. Michael Gibbons guided us around a number of fascinating archaeological sites, many of which feature in this detailed report from the Burren Landscale and Settlement Project. We visited impressive hill forts, court tombs and exposed oyster middens, many of them dating from Neolithic, and in some cases Mesolithic age. Many sites in the Burren have yet to be excavated, including these stone piles in the tidal zone; what was their purpose and when were they constructed remains to be discovered.

The trip also ended (Day 6) discussing archaeology, specifically the Céide Fields Neolithic complex at Ballycastle, County Mayo. These field systems enclosed by stone walls represent the most extensive Neolithic Stone Age monument in the world, dating to 5000 – 6000 years ago, and is today mostly covered by extensive blanket peat except for a few isolated areas currently undergoing excavation. The age of the walls is determined by applying radiocarbon dating to fossilized pine stumps preserved in the bog. Seamus Caulfield (Archaeology, University College Dublin) who has focused much of his research career on these sites led an extensive guided tour of the excavations, where the peat has been removed at various intervals revealing the abandoned stone walls.

While individually the piles of stone do not initially appear tremendously impressive, when the spatial extent (>10 km2) and perfectly parallel construction of the walls is considered, the enormous scale of Neolithic agriculture in the region is unveiled. What is also of great interest is the rarity or lack of preservation of a monument of similar age elsewhere in northwest Europe. It appears most likely that a regional decline in pine forests (indicated by pollen reconstructions) meant stone walls were constructed at great effort, instead of the log walls constructed from forest timber at the time elsewhere in Europe.

Palaeoecology

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A short boat ride on Day 2 took us to Inis Oírr, the smallest of the Aran Islands, led by Karen Molloy (National University of Ireland, Galway). The small field boundaries struck me as unusual but apparently such land division has a long history in western Ireland (as we discovered at the Céide Fields). Karen presented the impressive lake sediment sequence of An Loch Mór; the unique setting of the lake means the >13 m of sediment deposited here records a fascinating story of palaeoecological change (e.g., Holmes et al. 2007, QSR) through the late-Glacial and Holocene periods, including insight into local ice retreat at the end of the last glaciation, sea-level and salinity changes, vegetation history and phases of exceptionally high windspeed due to its exposure to the Atlantic Ocean.

Later in the trip (Day 4) we tracked down a small exposed organic deposit exposed in a fluvial terrace at Derrynadivva that contained many large plant macrofossils. It turns out these deposits are not Holocene in age; rather, they are remnants of plants growing during a previous Pleistocene interglacial. It remains uncertain which interglacial is represented here however based on analysis of the pollen and plant macrofossils, the deposit possibly represents Oxygen Isotope Stage 11 (Hoxnian; e.g., Coxon et al. 1994 JQS).

Glacial Geology and Geomorphology

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We visited a number of sites around Co. Galway, Co. Mayo and Connemara (Days 3 – 5) with Professor Peter Coxon (Geography, Trinity College Dublin) and Dr Richard Chiverrell (Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool) to examine the complex, fascinating and still-unresolved history of Late Glacial ice-retreat in western Connemara. The stunning landscape of Connemara bears vast evidence of ice-sculpting during the last glacial period, including the elongated fjord of Killary Harbour, the Twelve Bens mountain massif that rises almost directly from the sea and the partly submerged drumlin field at Clew Bay.

The Ballyconneely Bay drumlin was particularly impressive with excellent coastal erosion exposing the innards of the feature with a length-wise cross-section through the middle of the drumlin. One can thus walk along the beach examining its internal sedimentology in great detail. The sharp contact to angular facies at the head of the drumlin, suggesting coarse debris flow / meltwater processes that occurred in a cavern beneath the icesheet, was especially neat.

We visited quarries at Tullywee cut into a subaqueous fan fed by a series of anastomosing eskers related to ice retreat from the last glacial maximum (~25 k years ago) that imply a water-surface of 60-65 m above IOD. In addition the large ice-contact deltas at Leenaun at the fjord head of Killary Harbour and exhibit a classic Gilbert-style structure implying a high shore-level of 78 m IOD. Further deltas were visited at Srahlea Bridge and in the Glennacally Valley, you can never have too many deltas. The causal mechanism(s) for this high water-levels have yet to be fully deciphered, but probably relate to ponding of lake waters in and against the mountains of Connemara by more dominant ice orginating the Irish Midlands and penetrating through and around the Connemara Mountains via Galway Bay, Killary Harbour and Clew Bay, whilst the mountain glaciers were in a reduced state during deglaciation (~20 – 18 k years ago) . This hypothesis seems more plausible than the alternate glacio-marine hypothesis which requies much higher local sea-level than models or other reconstructions possibly suggest. More discussion of these implications can be found in Thomas & Chiverrell, 2006 Quaternary Science Reviews.

Many pristine examples of glacial geomorphology were observed during the trip, for example the eskers at Tullywee, as well as much smaller features such as this ‘dropstone’ in a small exposure in the Leenaun delta. One could easily stroll past and not realise the significance of this cobble; the deformed sediments indicate we were adjacent to a calving margin and this cobble exited the iceberg as it floated seawards and was deposited in the soft sediments. The precise timing and rates of ice retreat in this part of the world are the subject of on going research in the NERC Consortium Project BRITICECHRONO.

Summary

It was a wonderful trip, tremendously educational and certainly a place I’d love to visit again for its visual beauty and ideally for the purpose of research as there is much yet to be understood about the Quaternary environments of western Ireland. For interested readers, the Quaternary of Central Western Ireland (edited by Professor Pete Coxon, 2005) contains a wealth of further information on many of these sites and other case studies.

Mostly written by Daniel Neame Schillereff

Dan Schillereff waxing lyrical #guinnesshelps

Dan Schillereff waxing lyrical #guinnesshelps

Welshcakes in Westminster: Student Dissertation Research

Continuing our series of posts on current student dissertation projects, here, Nia Bevan, a 3rd Year BA Geography student, reflects on doing research with political elites in Wales & Westminster.

“This summer doing my dissertation research presented me with an exciting opportunity to better understand the intricacies of the UK’s constitutional system of divided competence. Welsh devolution has long been of interest to me as debates regarding independence and autonomy are certainly a hot topic within the Bevan household. Devolution in Wales presents a truly unique chance for political geography to be involved in helping shape and understand a political legacy through research into legislation, jurisdictions and constitutional reform. My dissertation research led me to interview Welsh Members of Parliament and Assembly Members in order to ascertain whether Wales is correctly represented within Westminster today.

Wales has always had a prominent place in Westminster. The presence of the statue of (Welsh) former prime minister David Lloyd George in the Members Lobby that is touched by MPs for luck each time they enter the House of Commons exemplifies this. It seems that we Welsh are a nation of high achievers within parliamentary history – as proved by the only MP to have served in the four great offices of state, James Callaghan. Decentralisation however has signified a questionable era for Welsh elected representatives. Contentions have been made by various (mostly English) MPs about the constitutional imbalance between the traditional nations which make up the UK. The current home rule system has long produced complex and contentious arguments about the fairness of the administrative system. From an academic point of view, these changes and disputes present an interesting case study to understand electoral politics and geopolitical dynamics within the United Kingdom.

Lloyd George and Churchill's statues in the Member's lobby of Parliament in Barack Obama's recent visit to the UK (Catherine Bebbington/Parliamentary copyright).

Lloyd George and Churchill’s statues in the Member’s lobby of Parliament in Barack Obama’s recent visit to the UK (Catherine Bebbington/Parliamentary copyright).

In order to obtain qualitative data on this topic I decided to interview various parliamentary figures within Welsh politics. Finding interviewees was a long and sometimes crushing experience. Rejection after rejection meant that at one point my ‘summer doing research’ looked like it was about to turn into a summer of trying to think of another research idea. Fortunately for me (and my grades), the months of emailing paid off and I managed to secure 10 interviews with Welsh MPs and 6 with AMs in Ty Hŷwel, a Welsh Assembly Building in Cardiff.

Over the course of the research work, interviewing certainly became a lot easier. Looking back at my first interview with the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Owen Smith, I cringe at the thought of the awkward and dense questions I asked. Interviewing incumbent members that have extensively contributed to the current parliamentary domain can be extremely nerve-wracking. Trying to madly work out political terms such as ‘asymmetrical devolution’ or ‘Barnett consequentials’ whilst also trying not to cry is definitely harder than it looks. However after a panicky few days of reading my sister’s law books, exhausting the use of www.thefreedictionary.com and asking my dad politics questions every two minutes, the interviews gradually become easier each time. The last interview (with Member of Parliament for Caerphilly, Wayne David) went far more smoothly. It highlighted how much I had learnt from the process both in understanding the constitutional organisation and processes of Westminster as well as helping me work out where Wales sat within national and international politics. Of course I have learnt a lot more than simply academic material; I have also learnt life-long skills that I’m sure will assist me in my future endeavours. Most notably, this summer has taught me how to dress. This may seem odd as outfit picking and Welsh devolution have little correlation to each other. Nevertheless, sitting in the waiting room of Portcullis House in jeans, T-shirt and scruffy boots whilst everyone around you looks like candidates for ‘The Apprentice’ definitely gives you the motivation to buy some tidy trousers.

1st attempt at an interview outfit...

1st attempt at an interview outfit…

On reflection, the overall experience of data collecting was great. It was an excellent opportunity to see first hand what our elective representatives do on a day-to-day level. Additionally my summer with various Welsh elected representatives reinforced my political views with regards to devolution and independence as well as general politics. Furthermore the data collection process led to some interesting work experience this summer. Having interviewed a range of MPs and AMs, I was fortunate to secure a few weeks of work experience with Leanne Wood (Leader of Plaid Cymru), and with the Welsh Conservative Party in Cardiff Bay, as well as a research opportunity with a local MP.

This summer has been a great summer of firsts for me having completed my first ever solo research collection project, bought my first ever ‘work outfit’, eaten my first ever welshcake in Westminster, met the First Minister of Wales and now completed my first ever blog. I can now sit and watch Welsh Questions, First Minister’s Questions or relevant political interview shows on TV and can say ‘I’ve met him / her’. But more than anything, this summer has finally given me a (vague) idea of what I can do after my student life comes to an end.

Many can relate to the horror that third year students associate with the word ‘dissertation’ but in my experience the dread and fear is definitely overrated. If anything it turned out to be a piece of (welsh)cake.”

Welshcakes

Welshcakes

Lorca Fieldclass 2013

 

Lorca 2013 participants

Lorca 2013 participants

 

Day 1

Arriving in Lorca the previous night and chowing down on a surprisingly delicious meal from the Hotel Felix restaurant, in which we were each served a three-course meal meant we were reasonably psyched for the first full day of fieldwork. This day consisted of a tour of the main areas in which we would be working. Our first stop was Lorca Castle in which we were briefed on what kind of fieldwork we would be undertaking as well as gathering notes and taking some great photos of the greater Lorca area. Another notable stop was at the town of Puerto Lumbreras which was the location of a natural disaster back in 1973 in which 86 people were tragically killed when a sudden influx of heavy precipitation in the upper catchment of the area rushed down the river channel where a market was held. We took a very good look around the river channel as our tour coach became stuck in the extremely dry surface of the channel! After waiting around 2 hours for help to arrive we were finally able to hop on a replacement bus and continue our orientation of the area. Another notable stop was a visit to the Puentes Dam which is a key feature of the local water system. A lovely three-course meal consisting of delicious Paella starter, chicken leg and potatoes for the main course and a slice of chocolate ice-cream cake for desert was waiting for when we arrived back to hotel after an extremely long day! A trip to the local bar for some well-deserved drinks and to watch Gareth Bale’s debut for Real Madrid rounded off our first day before heading to bed for some much needed sleep.

View from Lorca Castle

View from Lorca Castle

 

Group work location

Group work location

Day 2

After a satisfying jam covered breakfast and a trip to the local bakery we were all set to head out on our second day of orientation. Our first stop was the scenic area of Cabo Cope in which we had quite a long talk about the different geomorphological processes that formed the surrounding cliffs, and also why there were different types of rock within the same cliff. After Cabo Cope we headed to the nearby coastal town of Calabardina for a short break. Some people headed off for some shade whilst others (myself included) headed into the sea to cool off and catch a tan! Needless to say the cool water didn’t make much of a difference when we arrived at our next location as it was blisteringly hot! The next location was the La Hoya region of Murcia which is the location of the suspected fault line which caused an earthquake in 2011. We had the opportunity to view the suspected fault close up and have a group talk with Janet and Andy about the formation of the surrounding Alluvial Fans and the development of the area throughout the Holocene. Our next and penultimate stop was the Torrealvilla channel in which we had a quick talk about how the recently constructed dams that we had visited the previous day were affecting the area and how human quarrying has altered the topography. We then headed back to Lorca for a well-earned break before heading off to the local bar once again to watch the Barcelona game with a few drinks.

View from cabo cope coastline

View from cabo cope coastline

Day 3

Our third day was based solely around guided group projects. After a breakfast consisting of a pain au chocolat and a nice sugary coffee I was good to go. The guided projects were designed to introduce us to working individually in preparation for our unguided, assessed projects in the following two days. We were divided into groups of six and each group did five different types of fieldwork, including the assessing of nearby land usage, topography and species diversity within a quadrat area. After each group had completed one of their assignments we would move location. As we were heading towards our first location we were stopped by the Spanish military who were testing some form of missile interception system which wouldn’t be a coincidence considering the proximity to Gibraltar and the recent tensions! Eventually we ended up in the nearby Badlands which had treacherous terrain and temperatures reaching 40°c. Due to these conditions, the fulfilment of the fieldwork in this area was optional and only a small handful of people actually went down into the Badlands (including myself) to take pictures and take some quick measurements. When we were finished we headed back to the hotel and had a pretty quiet night in in preparation for the tough fieldwork and the Liverpool match the following day.

On the seaside

On the seaside

Day 4

Day 4 marked the beginning of our unguided group projects which are to be assessed. My group consisted of myself, Ben Phillips, Phillip Ellis, James Misra and Rob Dietz and we decided to focus our investigation on how a microclimate, land usage and the area geology/geomorphology all have an impact on the surrounding surface temperature. These projects were set over the course of two days. Today would be located at Nogalte, the location of a small, newly-constructed dam. The day was very laid back as we only had to take surface and air temperature, humidity and wind speed measurements every 15 minutes. Between these measurements we tried keeping ourselves entertained as best as possible, which included swatting away several pesky wasps (the area was infested with them). Half-way through our measurements a construction worker doused the soil in water, which forced us to move our measurement location ever so slightly as it would have affected our results! Phil also thought it’d be a great idea to take some sneaky footage of myself trying to keep myself busy and turn it into a mini video for all of Facebook to see… nice one Phil! After 6 or so hours of measurements we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the big game! We decided to eat out at a pizzeria located in the self-proclaimed “Concert Square” before hunting around for a bar which had the Liverpool game on. A tough draw was enough to maintain our top-of-the-league status and give us Liverpool fans bragging rights for the remainder of the trip!

Climatic measurements and soil types in the bad lands

Climatic measurements and soil types in the bad lands

Day 5

Day 5 consisted of exactly the same thing but in a different area (Torrealvilla, the location of a large aqueduct). The good news was that there were only pesky flies to contend with rather than wasps but it was a much hotter day than the previous and there was very little shade. There was lots of time spare between each measurement that we took so we had a great opportunity to look around the area and appreciate the vast landscape here. We gathered our data over the next 6 hours and found a significant disparity between the two sites that we had chosen to measure, even though they were only 200m or so apart. When finished we returned to the hotel to put our data into a spread sheet ready for when we return to Liverpool. We had a lovely final meal which was complimented by free Limoncello by the restaurant staff, and a complimentary glass of champagne from the hotel owner! As this was the last day everybody went to “Concert Square”. After a sociable night we returned to the hotel for our final sleep before departure. A select few may have got a little bit too drunk and needed to be carried home… always the sign of a brilliant night.

Torrealvilla

Torrealvilla

 Benefits of the Field Class

By participating in the field class with experts in their fields I feel that I have gained a solid understanding of how extreme geomorphological conditions can affect the severity and likelihood of flooding. I have also gained a good understanding of how humans can mitigate against flooding and a lack of rainfall by constructing dams and aqueducts to divert the scarce water resources to much needed areas. My project focused on how microclimate, land usage and the geology of an area can affect the surrounding temperatures and I think from taking some great quantative data I am now able to better understand why south-east Spain is so semi-arid, and why some areas (such as the bad lands) are much more desert-like

Brandon Kinson (BSc Geographer, Year 2)

Liverpool Geography Student studying at the University of Hong Kong

The first month studying at the University of Hong Kong has flown by.

As I stepped off the airplane –the heat, humidity and busy nature of Hong Kong was overwhelming. Arriving at the Halls of Residence where I am staying was easy and stress free. Living in a 16-floored high rise building for a semester is still a surreal concept, but being part of hall life here is a unique experience. The first week consisted of the local students practicing hall songs and chants at 6am every day. Sports teams and cultural teams are taken very seriously and the inter–hall competitions are extremely competitive. The halls I am living in consists of 300 students, 5 of us are international exchange students. The local students are very welcoming, helping the exchange students to embrace their culture. The international community is large – on the first week there were multiple orientation events for the international students – enabling us to meet other exchange students from all over the world.

View of the Hong Kong Skyline from the Peak

View of the Hong Kong Skyline from the Peak

The HKU campus is on Hong Kong Island and has great accessibility to the rest of Hong Kong.  The campus itself is very modern, the geography department is situated in the Centennial Campus which was built two years ago. A lot of Hong Kong is built on hills and steep regions and the HKU campus is no different. It is built on different levels – making it very hard to navigate around it. I still get lost going to the same lecture theatres every week. The lecture style here is similar to Liverpool, however there is less group work here in Hong Kong, the classes that I am enrolled in vary from 20 students to 100 students. Most of the assessment here is based on coursework throughout the semester and a final exam in December.

Singapore

Singapore

 Hong Kong is a very busy and bustling city, a place where you can never get bored – I doubt that I have explored a half of the city yet and I have been here over a month. In my free time I have spent my time investigating the attractions that Hong Kong has to offer, both the main tourist attractions and the more local attractions, for example hiking to the peak, going to local bars, going to the Hong Kong light show, visiting temples, haggling at the markets, camping at the beach and eating a lot of the local cuisine! On the third weekend here, I managed to fit in a trip to Singapore, arriving on the Friday and leaving on the Monday morning – I got a brief impression of Singapore. Last weekend Hong Kong prepared itself for the hit of typhoon Usagi, all the shops were packed with people stocking their cupboards up, the local students and authorities advised everyone to stay inside for the Sunday, which was the expected day for the typhoon to hit Hong Kong. Luckily for Hong Kong, the typhoons path changed meaning Hong Kong wasn’t a direct hit.

Tai Long Wan Beach

Tai Long Wan Beach

The opportunities that are available studying here are incredible. Studying abroad has definitely lived up to my expectations – it’s amazing!

Anna Durbacz (BA Geography, Year 2)