All posts tagged Geography

  • Three Geographies walk into a bar

    Political Geography, Geomorphology and Economic Geography walk into a bar. Each of them is boasting about how great they are and how they do more work than the others.

    Political Geography explains how it deals with upheavals, coups and oppression, all the most serious and grueling of matters. Geomorphology strenuously objects! It looks at uncomprehendingly powerful forces that shape the very surface of the earth across time, that is real hard work.  Economic Geography is having none of it. It insists that the volatility of the markets, and the chains of production and consumption are truly the most challenging things to study.

    The barkeep looks on bemusingly, when a new geography walks in. Suddenly the three geographies, each proudly boasting its merits, go very quiet and shy away to a far corner. The other geography orders a sandwich and drink, leaving soon after finishing it. The three geographies make their way back to the bar. “Hang on now,” says the barkeep, “each of you were going on about how great and tough you are, but you were all terrified of that geography! What’s up with that?” “Don’t you know?” replied Geomorphology, “That was Psychogeography!”.

  • 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

  • Places, without people

    This photo was taken while all of the pilgrims were attending evening mass on Lough Derg. At this time, the Penitential Beds are devoid of people (except in this case myself). I began thinking about the nature of place without people. The Beds are usually a hive of activity, with people walking around, kneeling and praying; but, here they are still, quiet, deserted. This place now feels completely different, like walking city streets early in the morning or being in an empty sports stadium. While the structures and constructed elements remain, the character that living, moving humans give a place is absent. This changes the place, not necessarily making it less or more, just different.

    The Beds, Lough Derg

  • 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.



  • Star Wars Frontiers

    I came across a video by Sincerely Truman, from their Dear JJ Abrams campaign which aims to “Make Star Wars great again” (presumably a reference to the disappointing Star Wars prequals).

    While it is a very clever and well put together video, the emphasis on ‘the frontier’ stood out to me. The first of the four ‘rules’ they chose to highlight to make Star Wars great again was a geographical concept. The original Star Wars took place on the periphery, the frontier: “It happens out here. Away form civilisation. Amidst smugglers and bounty hunters. Star Wars is a Western.” This presents an inherently spatial understanding of Star Wars. An element of the excitement and danger of the original trilogy was the settings: in mob-controlled territories, frozen hideouts and swampy retreats.

    Indeed, the connection between Science Fiction and Westerns is rather well developed, from Gene Roddenberry’s supposedly selling Star Trek as a western in space and Joss Whedon’s Firefly universe beautifully marrying the two (see my previous post discussing geographical aspects of Firefly/Serenity Universe).

    While the argument may rest on simplistic tropes – an urban civilised core versus a wild adventure edge – it is still a good point which draws attention to the role of place, even in deep space.

  • Making Places Holy

    What makes a place holy? What are the features, criteria or origins surrounding a space that we use to decided on its sacredness? How does the origins of a place relate to its contemporary form? These are some of the questions that define the explorations of holy places.

    The first point to consider is that the idea of a sacred place is based on the concept that the holy or spiritual can become emplaced or embodied in a particular location. The spiritual, ethereal or otherworldly spheres are manifest or at least more easily accessed in these spaces, which therefore mark them out from the rest of the world. Although, I’ve previously written on the idea that this demarcation of sacred and secular spaces is not as strict as previously thought, there are still numerous locations across the world that are considered different and special.

    In many cases, the origin of a holy place lies in some event or intervation. A significant episode in the history of a religion occurred there (Jerusalem in the Abrahamic religions), a divine figure was known to have been there, a saintly individual lived there or an apparition or miracle happened there. Through such elements a place is given its sacred credentials.

    St Patrick's Bed, Croagh Patrick, July 2012: Although the origin of Croagh Patrick as a holy mountain is because of the stories that St Patrick spent Lent on the Reek, its contemporary role lies in the continuation of worship and practices over the centuries.

    St Patrick’s Bed, Croagh Patrick, July 2012: Although the origin of Croagh Patrick as a holy mountain is because of the stories that St Patrick spent Lent on the Reek, its contemporary role lies in the continuation of worship and practices over the centuries.

    However, it is the practices at these sites and the venerations there that sustain these locations as holy places. While the genesis of such sites may be attributed to the divine or sacred realm it is human activities that ensure their continuation. In visiting holy places, in treating them as a distinct special spaces and by engaging in specific rituals at these sites, people are making and re-making these places as scared spaces. Individuals, communities and religious organisations, therefore, have a central role in the creation and maintenance of holy spaces.

    This interpretation centres on a core idea of human geography, that people and places define each other. While there maybe be some otherwordly origins to these sites, it is the actions, ideas and believes of humans, sometimes over many centuries, that ensure the continued presence of these spaces in the landscape.

    Suggested Readings: 

    Belhassen, Y., Caton, K. and Stewart, W.P. 2008. The Search for Authenticity in the Pilgrim Experience. Annals of Tourism Research, 35 (3), pp. 668–689.

    Hughes, J. D. and Swan, J. 1986. How Much of the Earth Is Sacred Space? Environmental Review: ER, 10 (4), pp. 247-259.

    Kong, L., 2001, ‘Mapping ‘new’ geographies of religion: politics and poetics in modernity’, Progress in Human Geography, 25 (2), 211–233.

    Sacred Destinations

  • The ‘Verse

    Can know all the math in the ‘verse but take a boat in the air that you don’t love? She’ll shake you off just as sure as a turn in the worlds.- Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, Serenity, 2005

    Far as I see it, you people been given the shortest end of the stick ever been offered a human soul in this crap-heel ‘Verse. – Jayne Cobb,  Jaynestown 1.7, 2002

    The ‘Verse is the colloquialism for the known Universe in the science-fiction TV series Firefly (2002-03) and the follow-up film Serenity (2005). The series/film, created by Joss Whedon, are a Sci-Fi Western or Space Western drama set in 2517 when people have colonised a new star system after a mass-exodus of ‘earth-that-was’ due to population pressures.  The show, which was cancelled after only series/season (although it has a considerable cult status) and subsequent film, follow a motley band of characters on a Firefly-class space ship called Serenity. In doing so, like all good science-fiction, it explores deeper political, social and cultural issues. The ‘Verse is a rich terrain for geographic observations.

    Map of the 'Verse: CNC (Celestial Navigation Chart of the Verse)  Version 1.06  Source: Accessed 8 Feb 2013

    Map of the ‘Verse: CNC (Celestial Navigation Chart of the Verse) Version 1.06 Source: Accessed 8 Feb 2013

    The ‘Verse is one star system, consisting of a cluster of five stars and several brown dwarfs, in which people are spread over dozens of planets and hundreds of moons (all mostly referred to as worlds). This is a more limited setting than other sci-fi shows and, therefore, creates a situation that balances the expansiveness of space and the containment of a single star system, albeit a large system consisting of several minor ones (facilitated by the absence of faster-than-light travel). The ‘Verse then is the sphere in which these peoples operate, it is the ‘known’ universe in as much it is the region of life and existence.

    The ‘Verse as a vast yet bound space is ideally suited to examinations of cores and peripheries, with the central worlds being centres of government, civility and high-culture and the peripheral (or Rim) worlds being unruly, rough and rustic. Themes which are central to the stories, such as the controlling (semi-authoritarian) state, the dominance of mega-corporations, and individual’s and group’s search for freedom and self-determination, can unfold nicely in this universe.

    Related to these ideas, is the employment of (US American) Western tropes, including lawlessness, survival, persistence and evangelicalism. In many ways, it is as much a Western as a Science-Fiction tale. The peripheral worlds are literally frontier places. It is in these spaces that the taming and ‘civilising’ forces and the wild elements of the edge come in contact. The protagonists of the series/film occupy this space well as they are mostly anti-heroes who engage in illegal or at least para-legal activities, while adhering to their own code-of-honour. The lifestyles, landscapes, architecture, clothing, folk customs and dialects evoke the ‘Wild West’.  And, as a Western, of course, there is plenty of room for horses, shoot-outs, bar fights and train heists.

    Union of Allied Planets flag (episode Bushwacked), a mixture of the US and Chinese flags. Source: accessed 9 Feb 2013

    Union of Allied Planets flag (episode Bushwacked), a mixture of the US and Chinese flags. Source: File:Flag_of_Alliance_(Firefly).svg Accessed 9 Feb 2013

    Language is a strong component of the world-making. Firstly, the occasional use of Chinese in the dialogue represents the survival as English and Chinese as the primary languages of humanity. The Union of Allied Planets, the corporate super-government, is a blend of US American and Chinese culture and all the worlds of ‘Verse have a Chinese (Sino) and and English (Anglo) name. The implicit geo-politcal statement being the continued roles of the US and China as the dominant world powers into the future.

    Secondly, the manner and style of speech plays a large role in creating this universe. The Rim Worlds’ dialects and turns-of-phrase conjures up the folk speak of the West, while also differentiating those from the Rim Worlds – the fronters’ people, including some of the main cast (Mal, Zoe, Jayne and Kaylee) – from the civilised peoples of the core worlds – which also includes a number of the crew (Inara, Simon, River and Shepherd Book). Rim Worlds’ speech includes elements such as truncating the “g” from “ing” words (“schoolin’”), using “don’t” instead of “doesn’t, no -ly on adverbs from adjectives and misuse or malforming of verbs (Firefly Wiki Accessed 9 Feb 2013).

    Examples of dialogue:

    • Mal: And I’m thinkin’ you weren’t burdened with an overabundance of schooling. So why don’t we just ignore each other until we go away? Lund: The In’e’pen’ents were a bunch of cowardly, inbred piss-pots. Should’ve been killed off of every world spinnin’.
    • Jayne: Oh, I think you might wanna reconsider that last part. See, I married me a powerful ugly creature.
    • Mal: “Jayne, your mouth is talking. You might wanna look to that.”

    Due to the short run of the series, many elements of the ‘Verse remain unexplored; however, the setting and the worlds created did offer interesting speculation of futures that will, or at least may be.

    Further reading: 

    The Firefly Wiki article on The Verse

    The Wikipedia list of the Firefly universe Planets and Moons

    Image of the Verse

  • Holy Places: Islands?

    Where are holy places? And conversely are not holy places? Can there be such a thing as an anti-holy place (as opposed to an unholy place)? While these may seem like questions with obvious answers, they actually touch on larger ideas that are worth exploring a little.

    In general, the Western conception of holy places, following Judea-Christian and Greco-Roman thought, is that holy places are distinct special spaces. That is, holy places are like islands of sacredness in the surrounding secular world. They are marked out from the rest of the world and are treat differently. This strict demarkation is found in ancient Greece shrines to the gods or in the traditions concerning the Hebrew Temple. Although, Christianity was initially opposed to the concept of holy places – as it was a universal faith not to be restricted by either location or ethnicity – it gradually took on these ideas, for example the ideas of monasteries as being separate from the rest of the world.

    This schema is still a well-established contemporary concept. Equally, it can be present in descriptions of natural or new age sites of spirituality whereby certain locations are deemed to have a special character, that they are in some way closer to another plain or sphere of an other, the spiritual or the divine.

    Stalls selling holy items in Knock a Marion apparition pilgrimage in the West of Ireland. It shows an intermixing of the sacred and the profane.

    Stalls selling holy items in Knock a Marion apparition pilgrimage in the West of Ireland. It shows an intermixing of the sacred and the profane.

    However, some academic discussions of holy places are proposing that we should not treat the profane and the holy as being disconnected. On greater consideration, it can be seen that there is a blurring and entwining of the two spheres.  No space can be entirely one or the other. Sacred spaces frequently contain commercial areas, with the larger religious sites having vast industries centred on them; for example, the stalls found lining the streets of pilgrimage sites or souvenir shops in famous Cathedrals. Conversely, profane spaces have numerous religious and spiritual elements: streetscapes are filled with religious iconography or names and airports and hospitals contain prayer rooms and chapels. Moreover, perspectives which see nature and the natural world as inherently sacred disrupted simple dichotomies.

    Word Cloud generated at

    A way of viewing the intermixing of the sacred and the profane in the world. Word cloud generated at

    Like, many aspects of contemporary thinking, a scale or a spectrum might be a more suitable way of conceiving of the sacred and profane, or, at the very least, a venn-diagram. Models based on clear categories are being increasingly challenged, not necessarily because the modern world is any porous or mobile than before, but because we are increasingly recognising that it was always so, in some ways anyway.

    Possible Readings:

    Gesler, W.M. 1996. Lourdes: healing in a place of pilgrimage. Health and Place, 2 (2), pp. 95-105.

    Hughes, J. D. and Swan, J. 1986. How Much of the Earth Is Sacred Space? Environmental Review: ER, 10 (4), pp. 247-259.

    Kong, L., 2001, ‘Mapping ‘new’ geographies of religion: politics and poetics in modernity’, Progress in Human Geography, 25 (2), 211–233.

    Yorgason, E. and della Dora, V. 2009. Editorial: Geography, religion, and emerging paradigms: problematizing the dialogue. Social & Cultural Geography, 10 (6), 629-637.

    Also, Sacred spaces in Profane Buildings seems like an interesting project.