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  • Troll Hunter

    Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren), a Norwegian film from 2010, is a dark fantasy story which uses the ‘found footage’ style (popularised by the Blair Witch Project) to explore the world of trolls in modern Norway. It is a quirky fun film which weaves fieldwork, folklore, conspiracies and the Norwegian landscape together. The story follows three students whose research on bear poaching brings them in contact with Hans, who works for the Norwegian Government’s clandestine organisation (Troll Security Agency) that controls the troll population.

    Conceptually, it explores how folk creatures would be dealt with if they were real and in doing so builds on legend while applying modern understandings. For example, UV lights reacts with trolls’ calcium making them solid, or exploding, which provides an explanation for why trolls turn into stone in daylight. However, this process also undermines and dismisses modern knowledge by reintroducing the folkloric into the present. One way Hans checks for troll activity is to examine rocks in the landscapes, the result of trolls battling each other,  for any recent changes. This builds on tradition which explains natural features, such as stray rocks or glacial erratics, as being the work of supernatural  being (in the case of Ireland giants are responsible for random patterns of odd rocks), which counters geographic explanations of physical forces that  shape the landscape. When legend becomes real, realities and accepted understanding become fractured in different ways, but they are also brought to bear on the legendary.

    Elements of the research process are part of the story, even if told in broad strokes. Firstly, the students respond to what they find in the field, abandoning the bear poaching story to pursue the much more enticing, and (fatally) dangerous, troll scoop. While obviously being a dramatic and unrealistic change is does capture a sense of what it is to be researching and the necessity to make decisions that have consequences for your work, as a result of what you find. Secondly, there are questions of access and permissions with Hans initially refusing to talk to them and warning them off, only for him to later agree that they can film him and his work, once they agree to do what he says (including covering themselves in Troll ‘scent’); however, Han’s superior Finn Haugen is not happy with the project and tries on several occasions to have them stop. In realty this is a ethical nightmare, but it does show how greater questions concerning the importance of revealing an important story can come in conflict with practical and ethical issues.  Thirdly, they persist. Even when one of them is killed, they continue, once a new camera-person arrives that is!

    The Norwegian landscape is also a prominent aspect of the film, with shots taking in fjords, tundra and forestry, giving a sense of the Scandinavian lands. The rough and sparsely populated regions  are set up well as the potential locations for trolls.

    Whether you are curious about trolls or some of what I said resonates with you, I’d firmly recommend the film. Perhaps, it may inspire you to go on your own folkloric or Scandinavian adventure?

  • Conferencing 2014 (1): AAG and PGF Midterm

    My conference season for 2014 opened with two back-to-back conferences, which were very different in many ways.

    Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers – Tampa
    The AAG is one of the largest geography conferences, attracting geographers form all over the world. Due to the scale of the event in terms of location and sessions, I would recommend that you forge your own way through the event, making careful plans as to what you want to get out of it. The conference app did make planning much easier, allowing you to highlight sessions and plan a daily schedule. Also, if you see someone you want to talk to do so there and then, as you may very well not see them again!

    Tampa Convention Centre

    Tampa Convention Centre

    Tampa Convention Centre on the river side

    Tampa Convention Centre on the river side

    I had co-organised a session with Dr David Butler (Geography, UCC and the Irish Ancestry Research Centre, UL) entitled “Routes and Rootedness in Sacred Landscapes”. I would firmly recommend this approach if you do not come across sessions of interest to you. With the large numbers involved sessions can get lost and papers which are only tangentially related can be clustered together. Also, it is very rewarding to be involved in organising a session and shaping a forum around a topic of interest to you.

    Following our call for papers, we had sufficient interest to run two sessions which had many excellent contributions. In different ways many of these papers spoke to each other and hopefully added to ongoing discussions surrounding sacredness and space. For my part, I was very happy with my paper and its reception, with several very helpful comments and conversations following.

    Session Abstract: This session aims to engage with sacred landscapes as fractured spaces, being located at the confluence of the past and present, the physical and spiritual, the practiced and believed. As Dewsbury and Cloke (2009, p. 698) have recently outlined, there is a ‘tension between what is solid, present, corporeal and material and that which inheres in the material as something mysterious, elusive, and ethereal’. In building on research over the past decade, which has explored ‘how place is sacralized’ and de-sacralization (Kong 2001, p.213), we are eager to examine sacred landscapes, both theoretically and empirically, as arenas of tension which are continually unfolding, most obviously between the sacred and the profane, but also between new movements and established faiths, development and preservation, presences and absences, materiality and immateriality, stability and change. Papers are invited which address sacred landscapes as spaces that are rooted – historically, geographically, ethnically – and routed – performed, practiced, evolving. In doing so, it is intended to consider how these spaces are affected by socio-cultural, economic and political changes that create clashes and apprehensions through multiple discourses and actions from established religions, alternative faiths, emergent denominations, Secularism, civil authorities, indigenous peoples, commercial developers, tourist industries and security services.

    The session papers:

    • Alyson Greiner (Oklahoma State University): Sacred Space and Globalization: Constructing an Intellectual History
    • Ruben Camilo Lois-González and Xose Santos (USC): New and old pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago
    • Richard Scriven (University College Cork): The Emergence of Liminality: Pilgrims, place and practices at Lough Derg, Ireland
    • Edward H Davis (Emory & Henry College): The spirit made flesh: Jazz performance and sacred space
    • Anton Gosar (University of Primorska): Western Society’s Heritage In Focus By Asian Visitors
    • Lance F Howard (Clemson University): A Labyrinth for Clemson? A project-based inquiry into place apprehension.
    • David J Butler (University College Cork): An unlikely harbinger of pre-/early Christian ritual: The Church of Ireland and its churchyards
    AAG Session: Routes & Rootedness in Sacred Landscapes

    AAG Session: Routes & Rootedness in Sacred Landscapes

    As part of the conference, I attended the meetings of several of the specialty groups. Myself and seven others joined the board of the welcoming Geography of Religions and Belief Systems Group (GORABS). I’m looking forward to working with them over the next year on matters related to the religious/spiritual and the spatial.

    Geography of Religions and Belief Systems Specality Group Meeting

    Geography of Religions and Belief Systems Specality Group Meeting

    RGS-IBG Postgraduate Forum (PGF) Mid-Term Conference
    The annual midterm is a wonderful conference run by postgrads for postgrads. The midterm two years ago in the University of Nottingham was the first academic conference I spoke at and it was a excellent supportive and stimulating environment. This year was no different with the more relaxed and egalitarian atmosphere helping participants present their work and share experiences. In particular, discussions around methodologies, ethics and the practicalities of research tend to arise, which especially useful as these areas tend to be overlooking in academia, or at least sidelined. I would highly recommend the conference to any geography postgrads.

    My paper on the role of audio in my research and as a geographic methodological tool was very well received. It seemed to prompt numerous discussions and comment throughout the conference, which was reinforced by a workshop I ran with Emma Spence (PhD Candidate, Cardiff University) and Dr Robin Smith (School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University) on Innovative Methodologies. I discussed the role of audio and other more-than visual methods in which the use, potential and challenges of these approaches were trashed out.

    Midterm Opening exercise

    Midterm Opening exercise

    Midterm Conference Dinner

    Midterm Conference Dinner

    Abstract for my presentation:
    Journeys through/with/of sound: using audio in explorations of the embodied, experiential and immediate aspects of pilgrimage
    This paper presents an audio engagement with the embodied practices of pilgrimage as a means of exploring and speculating on the corporeal, experiential and momentary aspects of these spiritual performances. Over the past 20 years, the role of sound, audio and the sonic has been increasingly appreciated as being central to spatial experience and the creation of place. While human geography tends to remain ontologically and methodologically orientated towards the visual-textual, numerous geographers have argued for and demonstrated the opportunities offered by engagements with the aural sphere. My research applies developments within the mobilities field and nonrepresentational approaches to the study of pilgrimage practices in contemporary Ireland. Drawing on my ethnographic fieldwork, I present a collage of audio recordings to access the interactions, entanglements and tensions between self and setting in the performance of pilgrimage. I consider how the sounds, which reverberate with meaning, provide a means of linking the present and absent, the embodied and immaterial, the earthly and spiritual. In concluding, I speculate on the conceptual and practical approaches to and challenges for the use of the audio in research, writing and disseminating.

  • Beach

    A Sunday morning walk in Myrtleville, Co. Cork.

    Ge-og-raphy
    Although my knowledge of physical geography is rather basic, I was taken in by the features of my coastal walk, which were shaped by the forces of the sea and weather meeting the rock and land. The toll of the numerous winter storms were evident even on this calm, bring Spring morning. The patterns of the deposited worn rocks, in successive shelves, crafted by the waves were especially impressive, as I walked along one such shelf about 1.5m above the waves breaking with a further shelf rising c.1m further up again.

    A beautiful example of a sea cliff

    A beautiful example of a sea cliff

    Different layers of deposition and erosion

    Different layers of deposition and erosion

    Coastal
    The pleasant waves appear a little off shore before coming in to meet the exposed rock, with slight splashes made. It is at this place, in these actions, that the sea and land meet. The back and forth of the waves creating a liminal layer between these two worlds.

    (Re)Sounding Emergence
    Recorded using my phone and the Soundcloud App, I capture some of the ambient waves followed by my own treading across two of the beach surfaces. The audio of my walking captures the interactions of my feet on the stones, with my prescence being felt in the very action of each impact. With only the sound as the evidence of this process, the beach and I have equal roles in creating these moments. When the feet are mid-stride, in air, they are absent, it is only when the surface and I come into to contact that we are made present, made be.

    Beyond
    For a superb exploration of coastal areas and experiences, see Anna Ryan’s Where Land Meets Sea: Coastal Explorations of Landscape, Representation and Spatial Experience

  • The Postbox: History, Nationalism and novelty

    Postboxes, once essential pieces of communications infrastructure which connected villages, crossroads and neighbourhoods to the rest of the world, are still noticeable features of landscapes and roadsides. Public postboxes in the Republic of Ireland, administered by the semi-state organisation An Post, are green. While more recent boxes tend to be more functional, older ones had distinct designs such as the hexagonal-sided Penfold or the familiar small box attached to a telegraph pole.

    VR for Victoria Regina 1837 - 1901

    VR for Victoria Regina 1837 – 1901 Greenmount Cork

    ER for Edward Rex 1901 - 1910

    ER for Edward Rex
    1901 – 1910 Douglas Cork

    Postboxes also have symbols, representative of the time of their production. Previous to the current An Post there was P&T (Dept. of Post and Telegraphs) and  Saorstát Eireann (Irish Freestate). However, there are even older boxes, still in use, which feature the royal insignia from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when all of the island of Ireland was part of the UK.  You can still find boxes with ER (Edwardus Rex) or VR  (Victoria Regina) which date from the period 1901 – 1910 and c.1850s-1901 (although Queen Victoria’s reign was 1837 – 1901, postboxes didn’t come to Ireland until at least the c.1850s) respectively. Although rather solid and simple devices, it still is marvelous, if not surprising, that they have survived so long. It is nice to consider the thousands of letters (with the intentions, news, connections and emotions they contained)  that would have passed through them.

    It is noteworthy that these very clear, albeit ordinary, symbols of the British Monarchy survived in places through times when such things were readily destroyed. While statues, flags and buildings were attacked for nationalistic reasons, these objects survived, possibly being saved because of their very ordinariness or usefulness. Also, when the majority of Ireland transitioned to becoming a Free State, these boxes did pose an issue; however, a rather straightforward, yet clever, and utterly Irish, solution was to paint the red British boxes green. This transformation has lasted for over ninety years. The symbol of British Monarchy, covered over by green paint can be a metaphor for so many features in the Irish state, from Primary Schools to Common Law.

    On your travels throughout Ireland, and even in your own neighbourhood, check the postbox, you may find an interesting piece of heritage, geography, symbolism and materiality. However, make sure you get there before 4.30pm .

    For more:

    Irish Postal History site

    An Post: History and Heritage: The Post Box

  • Social Geography: Street Harassment and Everyday Sexism

    Social geography considers how individuals and groups experience and use spaces. In particular, the everyday lives of people – how they move through the world, what they do where, who controls behaviours – are of interest.

    Social concepts, such as gender, class and ethnicity influence our everyday lives. Social geographers, therefore, pay attention to how these elements affect people and spaces. For example, think about how different people move through the city. Can everyone roam freely (as is the ideal in a modern free-society)? Or, are there barriers, both real and perceived? The redirecting of a traffic flow makes a road unsafe for children to play, an elderly person walks the long way around avoid a group of teenagers, a busker is moved along, a deaf person doesn’t go to the cinema because of a lack of subtitles.  All these show how space is used, misused and controlled by people, groups, ideas and institutions.

    The Everyday Sexism Project and Stop Street Harassment are two examples of social projects that demonstrate how gender continues to define how people use and experience the world. These projects catalogue and comment on the daily harassment that women, of all ages, but especially young women (very young in some cases), and LGBQTIA people experience in their everyday lives.

    A search through Twitter for #EverydaySexism or #StreetHarrassment will get a barrage of results that indicate the unpleasantness, aggravation and abuse that women suffer on a daily basis.

    • “”Hey baby, you need a ride? I’ll treat you nice” and then, “bitch, I asked you nicely” Why do I leave my house?”
    • “Being told you have to take precautions against men creeping in parking lot. How about security is provided instead?”
    • “Hate it when middle aged blokes in a van think it’s ok to beep at you as you’re crossing the road with your shopping”
    • “Bloke on the train just said ‘I’d love to have sex with you, love’”

    These are real examples of what people have to experience.  It is in all out interests to counteract and challenge these behaviours and circumstances when they arise. Projects and organisations such as these are doing amazing work at highlighting very real and troubling issues, which are very obviously of concern to us all, not just social geographers.

    #SHOUTINGBACK (Extended Version)

    Everyday Sexism: Laura Bates at TEDxCoventGardenWomen

  • Cork Christmas: SHARE

    One of the most distinct aspects of Christmas in Cork is the presence of SHARE collectors throughout the city centre in the week leading up to Christmas Day (which, obviously from my point of view, creates unique geographies). SHARE (Students Harness Aid for the Relief of the Elderly) is a Cork-based charity which supports older people through housing, socialising and activities. It is a most excellent organisation that does a massive amount of work throughout the year. Also, it involves a special connection between older people and students in the city.

    The annual Christmas collection is one of the charity’s main fundraising initiatives. It is run by young volunteers, mainly 16 and 17 year olds from secondary schools across Cork city, with a core group organising the project since September and hundreds of volunteers who give up their time to collect during the hectic days of Christmas shopping.

    The SHARE Crib acts as a focal point for the week's activities.

    The SHARE Crib acts as a focal point for the week’s activities.

    The presence of collectors across the city centre, with their distinctive yellow jackets and vests, gives the city a unique feel in the lead up to Christmas. Although, other worthy organisations and causes may be collected for, during this week Cork is SHARE territory. Collectors can be found on every street corner, while some go on fasts and collect throughout the night. The sheer volume of volunteers, along with their enthusiasm, means it is in your own interest to support them and get a yellow sticker, which provides you with an ‘immunity’ from other collectors. In an age of chuggers, the earnestness of the collectors and transparency of the organistion ensure the support of the shoppers.

    The SHARE sticker, found on every coat for Cork people, leading up to Christmas.

    The SHARE sticker, found on every coat for Cork people, leading up to Christmas.

    The devotion and passion of the students, the local cause and the festive tradition combine to give SHARE a special status in the life of the city. The patterns of giving, the spread of volunteers, the shaking of the collection boxes, the meaning of the stickers, the Crib and the sentiments behind students helping the elderly, produce some of the geographies I feel compelled to mention!

  • The Lough, Frozen

    The Lough

    The Lough (pronounced lock) is one of Cork city’s most well known features. It is a freshwater lake, with a selection of birds and fish, that serves as a centre of recreation. December 2010, when the photo was taken, was first time I’d ever seen it frozen, with the abnormally cold temperatures that winter causing many freak events. Until then, I never thought, I would actually see the Lough like this. The place has been forever changed, maybe enriched, after this, I am always aware of the potential changes that exist within the waters.

    Reflecting from a much wilder winter, I am struck at how relatively minor temperature fluctuations have significant impacts on our understandings and experiences of place. Although my preference for human geography has involved me moving away from climatology and meteorology, it is still important to acknowledge the power of physical forces in defining and shaping our worlds.

  • The Geographers

    They move freely among you; but, there is no cause for alarm. They are, generally, a pleasant, inquisitive and benign bunch. Despite your conceptions, almost prejudices, they are not what you think. Lima, Ulan Bator and Ottawa are not a chief concern of theirs (well not for the reasons you think), neither necessarily are interlocking spurs and V-shaped valleys (although, they may be for a few). They will, however,  refer to place in reverential terms. It is invoked and received with much agreement in their gathers. But, they also have a vast array of other particular words in their lexicon: esker, talus, flâneur, hetertopia, hydrofracturing, and cultural landscape, to name but a few.

    They are a curious and diverse collective. Some look up at the skies, others wander the coastal zones, many cluster in cities, while more talk to farmers, or parents, or, even, the homeless. They measure and observe. They wear body warmers and hard hats. They carry notebooks. Notebooks filled with insights, sketches, diagrams and scribbles.

    They care; about the planet, about people, about life, about the future. Read this carefully, for you may be able to identify one – a colleague, a friend, a loved one, a stranger on the street – and read even more carefully, and you might discover you are one.