RGS-IBG 2017 RACE Working Group Call for Sessions

The Race, Culture and Equality (RACE) Working Group would like to invite proposals for sessions to be sponsored by RACE at the RGS-IBG annual conference 2017 titled ‘Decolonizing geographical knowledges: opening up geography to the world’. A key objective of the RACE Working Group of the RGS-IBG is to promote scholarship on topics of racial inequality, colonization, decolonization and whiteness, and to encourage dialogue on race that advances academic knowledge and progressive practices. The RACE Working Group therefore welcomes proposals on these topics more generally, but we strongly encourage proposals that critically and creatively engage with these topics in relation to the conference theme specifically, for example; by exploring the limitations, contradictions and injustices of organising a conference on the topic of decolonization in western neoliberal academic settings; and/or by examining the contemporary co-option of decolonial thinking in a range of settings. We are also interested in sponsoring sessions and activities by activists and scholar-activists, as well as artists and scholar-artists, that propose and explore practical initiatives for dismantling colonial processes within the discipline, within the university system, and within the RGS-IBG.

Please email proposals to raceworkinggroup@gmail.com by 22 January 2017. Submissions should include a title, an abstract (max 250 words), the format of the session or activity, the number of timeslots requested (if applicable), and name(s) and affiliation(s) of the organizers. The guidelines for organising sessions can be found here http://tinyurl.com/pdrjfek. We will endeavor to respond to organizers by the end of January 2017.

  1. For more on decolonization, please see Tuck, E. and Yang, K. W. (2012) Decolonization is not a metaphor, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), p. 1-40.

RACE Awards & Teaching Workshop now open for registration

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Image: Ellen Gallagher IGBT (2008)

Two exciting things are happening at the RACE (Race, Culture & Equality) Working group.

1) Two of our members, Margaret Byron (our chair) and Parvati Raghuram (committee member) are receiving awards from the RGS-IBG on 6 June. Margaret is receiving the Taylor & Francis Award for the promotion of diversity in the teaching of human geography, and Parvati is receiving the Murchinson Award for furthering geographical understandings of mobility.

2) Our RACE teaching workshop has been confirmed by the RGS-IBG conference organisers. It will take place on the Tuesday of the conference and will be free to attend (no conference registration needed!). The workshop is divided into two themes: Race in the Curriculum and Challenging Exclusionary Spaces. We hope to see you there! You can register for the workshop on our Eventbrite page.

Notes on GIS & methods

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Image: The best part of GIS – flying through 3D models in ArcScene… (there is an actual bird cursor!)

At the moment, I mainly teach on the Research Masters at the University of Glasgow, which, of course, also involves teaching methods. I am very involved in debates around methods, both qualitative and quantitative, so I like to think that I’ve got quite a good overview. Last year, however, I was asked by a student how the content of my talk related to GIS. I hesistated for a moment – what did I actually know about GIS apart from having played around with Google Maps and read a few chapters here and there? Last week, I was given the opportunity to undertake five days of intensive GIS training with my colleagues Jane Drummond and Syed Ali Aqdus. The course included a mixture of lectures and practical exercises that, indeed, prompted a lot of interesting questions about geographical methods and the intersections of qualitative and quantitative methods. In addition, Jane gave a lot of mind-boggling examples that she had come across during her long and varied career, from cartography to programming.

Like geography as a whole, GIS has difficulties being recognised as a science of its own rather than just a weird composite. Having had a taste of this branch of geoinformatics, I can see why, as Jane mentioned, engineers and scientists tend to think that it is lacking rigour or a distinctive identity as a science. At the same time, like geography as a whole, its concern with synthesis to interact with the planet (and beyond) actually seems to be what makes it distinctive. These attempts at synthesis can take on some pretty curious forms that also include political decisions on how to map, some of which were relayed to us by Jane. For instance, latitude and longitude are not always fixed – they vary with the shape of the Earth (the Earth is not a perfect sphere). In addition, different countries use different shapes of the Earth for mapping purposes and even entire grid systems (the first thing we learned was how important it is to know what grid you are working in, since there is no universal one). A further level of distortion is added through the many different map projections, which give rise to entertaining cartoons such as this one that hangs in my office corridor:

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Image source: XKCD

At the beginning of the course, we were reminded of general mapping history and principles, such as sextant measurements. Geographical measurement is often associated with the military and especially imperialism. As Yves Lacoste put it in 1976: ‘La géographie, ça sert, d’abord, à faire la guerre’ (‘Geography, first of all, serves warfare’). At the same time, geographical measurement can, of course, be used for more beneficial purposes, as many projects show that make democratisation (of GIS and with GIS) a focus of their practice. Here, Jane had an interesting example of an attempt to make mapping more accessible, with the explicit aim to help people without a standard address (about 4 billion people in the world do not have a standard postal address). What3Words‘ ‘mission to address the world’ divides the world into 3×3 square metres, with each square being assigned a three random words from a dictionary. This makes about 57 trillion squares! I found this project thought-provoking, because, on the one hand, it puts in question our ideas of ‘standard’ (who is included/excluded; to what standards should we aspire?), on the other hand, its search for a more democratic standard led it to an unusual solution, compared to the ‘accepted’ solutions we have seen so far. This is also highlighted by the geographer, Robert Barr, who speaks at the end of this video:

3 words to address the world from what3words on Vimeo.

Other examples of useful ‘civilian applications’ included the Glasgow City Council’s facilities locator and LIDAR mapping for biomass monitoring purposes. Especially the data collection examples (‘on foot’, aerial photography, satellite, thermal, laser, sound etc) reminded us of the diversity and messiness of geographical information that all somehow had to be brought into relation. Not only is the data itself problematic – but how do we can we process it all together? How can we ask and solve our questions with the kind of data that we have? And, how often do we not think, as human geographers, about the processing history of a map or of data that we are given?

With my design background, I also found much of the problems encountered in image processing (e.g. through Illustrator and Photoshop) mirrored in GIS. Much of the GIS exercises (primarily conducted in Arc GIS‘s Arc Map and ArcScene), involved data conversions, e.g. from tables to points, layers, features, or from vector to raster. Some conversion even involved surprisingly manual processing, akin to the lasso technique or filters in Photoshop. Jane showed us how badly data can be degraded through processing, but also how such limitations can be taken into account. Particularly drastic examples of error came from a lack of consideration for scaling. In order to make maps more readable in smaller format, landscape features have to be smoothed or simplified, and lines have to be thickened in order to make features legible. This is called ‘generalisation‘, and people are still looking for better methods of performing it. Here, Jane noted how mappers are subjected to increasing and unrealistic pressures over the time frame in which this considerable problem can be solved.

Other points of error-related amusement came from misinterpretation of aerial data, resampling and interpolation hazards, lack of terrain knowledge, confusion of data quality and model quality, and misrecognition of building features by various programmes or processing methods. Many such errors especially came out during the 3D exercises, but also in humorous thought experiments such as a hypothetical search for sea monsters (which initially didn’t take the probability for finding sea monsters into consideration). We were also reminded how more mundane human factors play into the quality and accessibility of geographical data, especially the cost in hiring cartographers or data collectors: how much time and labour can be invested in a mapping project?

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Image: Another way of using GIS to find sea monsters (Source: Mirror)

Another interesting problem was posed through colouring and other aesthetic choices. While there are attempts at standardising colours and symbols for maps, there is still a great degree of liberty that can be taken to make maps look ‘appealing’, as Jane put it. One of the first things we learned in ArcMap, after getting a grip on the basics, was how to change colours and what to consider when changing colours (e.g. what might the colours represent?). For instance, when representing slope, many cartographers use a scale that starts with green and ends with white (green valleys, white mountain tops). The defaults often seemed to follow a completely different logic, leading to some rather displeasing or psychedelic renderings, which in turn led to many GOMA and ‘more-than-50 Shades’ jokes, as well as uncomfortable 90s flashbacks (especially in the distance map department – I wish I’d taken more screenshots now!). When preparing the map for presentation in the layout view, we noticed how much you could potentially direct decision-making not only through data processing, but also through seemingly innocent aesthetic choices. Here Jane had more examples of how she had experienced such situations in real life.

What I appreciated about this course, in relation to my teaching, was that I now feel able to better look for resources, such as examples and reading suggestions, for my students. The problems raised by GIS are not only exclusive to GIS, so it is nice to be able to cross-reference issues. If any readers have any particular suggestions from their teaching or research experience, I would be grateful if you could put them in the comments!

Call for submissions: Everyday racism/sexism/homophobia in Geography

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Message from Association of American Geographers president Mona Domosh:

Hi all,

I’m asking for your help (again!) for my next Newsletter column. I want to call attention to the everyday ways that many of us experience sexism/racism/homophobia; the so-called ‘small’ ways that people treat us differently because of our perceived ‘otherness.’ These everyday racisms/sexisms/acts of homophobia (that include comments, looks, actions, etc.) are pervasive, insidious, and damaging, but are often overlooked as ‘official’ forms of discrimination and harassment. To call attention to them, I’m asking for fellow geographers to email brief descriptions (no names please, just what happened) of the incidents that they are experiencing over a three-week timeframe, from April 4-25. My plan for the column is to start with a brief introductory paragraph, and then simply include an annotated and anonymous list of ‘everyday’ isms that geographers have experienced over a set time period.

So, from April 4-25 (including the AAG conference if you are going), please keep track of these everyday incidents, and email a brief description to me at: everydaygeogisms@gmail.com<mailto:everydaygeogisms@gmail.com>.

With thanks,
Mona

Mona Domosh
Professor of Geography
The Joan P. and Edward J. Foley Jr. 1933 Chair
President, Association of American Geographers
Dartmouth College

CFP: Seminar on Caribbean Literature & Space

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Image source: Race in the Americas

The announcement below was posted by Patricia Noxolo on the Critical Geography Forum and looks very exciting. My forthcoming article ‘We are the world? Between geopoetics and geopolitics’ discusses some proposals for rethinking human-world relationships from French-Caribbean theory and literature (in comparison with Simone Weil). Having come across authors such as Daniel Maximin, Édouard Glissant, Maryse Condé, and Suzanne and Aimé Césaire quite recently, I was struck by how their work had not been taken up in geography more widely, especially in the discourse around materiality. It is great to see that the seminar is setting out to discuss the spaces and spatial flows of Caribbean literature as well as their conceptual offerings.
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Dr Patricia Noxolo, on behalf of the Race in the Americas (RITA) group, seeks papers from postgraduate students and established academics on the theme of Caribbean literature and space.
The seminar will be held on Friday 8th November, in the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield, and attendance will be free of charge.
Submissions on any aspect of the spatialities of Caribbean literature are welcome. These might include:
* The spaces within Caribbean literature (how authors and works describe and theorise space and spatiality, e.g. mythological or fantasy spaces, global space, regional, national, rural or urban spaces, communal spaces, the home or the body as a space);
* The spatial flows of Caribbean literature (how Caribbean literature has been published, distributed and read in different places or along different global routes);
* The ‘spaces’ occupied by Caribbean literature (positions taken by Caribbean literature in different disciplines, and the role it has played in global and local reading cultures)
 DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACTS:  Monday 16th September 2013.  Please send all submissions to info@raceintheamericas.com
Please note that a limited number of postgraduate travel bursaries will be available to support participation in this event, funded by the Sheffield Institute for International Development (SIID) (http://siid.group.shef.ac.uk/).  To apply, please send a CV along with your abstract, including a brief outline of your postgraduate research and current institutional affiliation, and an estimated breakdown of your travel costs.
The Race in the Americas (RITA) group is holding a series of four seminars across the UK during the academic year 2013-14 as part of the Regional Seminar Series, which is funded by the Institute for the Study of the Americas (http://americas.sas.ac.uk/).  Full details of the seminar series are available at www.raceintheamericas.com.

CFP: Art and geography – aesthetics and pratices of spatial knowledges


Image: Helen Scalway, Image from the Grid & Graphite Series, part of the MiceSpace project with geographer Gail Davies

Just got a CFP for an Art and Geography themed conference in Lyon, France. The conference is apparently bilingual. Here is the abstract:

‘With the latest developments in how space, place and environment are experienced in contemporary art, it is necessary to take a critical look at how relevant the various geography responses to this “spatial turn” have been. The conference “Art and geography: aesthetics and pratices of spatial knowledges” aims at exploring the contemporary contours of what is “geographical” and at questioning the boundaries between cultural activities (in this case, art and geography). It also seeks to examine the latest geographical approaches to and the hybridization of geographical knowledge in contemporary art as part of a broader discussion of their respective contributions. The conference is at the crossroads of contemporary geography and art and ambitions to unravel the implications – in factual, methodological, theoretical and epistemological terms – of the convergence between contemporary art and geography.
We welcome proposals from geographers and artists from diverse backgrounds and with varying experiences in the field. All liberal arts researchers with similar interests in the spatial or geographical dimensions of art are also welcome to contribute.’

The full CFP can be downloaded here.