The fall speaker series for the MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance has been announced, and I’m excited to be sharing the stage with some great minds on Oct 15th to talk about climate change adaptation policy in Atlantic Canada. Additional to a bio I was asked to provide an answer to “why does policy matter?”. I gave the shortest answer: “because empathy is failing us”.
Just back on the weekend from a trip to my first IVSA (International Visual Sociology Association) conference, in Saratoga Springs, NY. What a fascinating group of people: sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, documentarians and artists all come together to explore the intersection of visual culture and society. A very international group, too, and welcoming to new members like me. I think I’ll have to straddle IVSA and ISSRM as academic homes from now on. Hoping to get to Dublin for IVSA2020.
Highlights were many. John Grady’s categorization of picture-making traditions was compelling, as was Anna Sarzynska’s typology of the unintended impacts of tourist photography and Celine Missoorten’s observations on reasons for the rebirth of analog photography and slow media. Dee Britton took a compelling semi-quantitative approach to explore Civil War memorials spatially and over time, feeding into documentary footage from Charlottesville shared by Joyce Sebag and Jean-Pierre Durand, and a reimagining of the Virginia state flag by Eric Sencindiver. Relebohile Moletsane explored the academic push-back she has received about using PhotoVoice with South African girls documenting their sexual abuse. One session about using photos and PhotoVoice in the university setting had lots of great ideas for my qualitative class, and inspired a fascinating discussion about how to represent minority students in university marketing. Australian documentary filmmaker Catherine Gough-Brady explored our capacity to empathize without a hero, and US filmmaker Kathy Kasic described her ‘sensory verite’ approach in documenting Antarctic ice core research. Documentaries were playing in an adjacent room, of which I caught Expect Delays (by Gough-Brady) and parts of Arrhythmia and The Area. Plenary guests Youth FX/Rogue FX blew us all away as a model for empowerment and training.
Canadians were outstanding, as is to be expected: Carolina Cambre and Christine Lawrence shared work on teens and selfie filters in Canada; Jean Slick painted the Fort McMurray evacuation experience from YouTube videos from dash cams (see one above); and Guillaume Clermont passed over a dozen paintings around the room to make tangible his points on reproduction, ‘originality’ and the ‘image flood’. The sessions were very well organized thematically, with lots of time for rich discussion. My discussion of culturomic tools was well received, fitting nicely into Paolo Faveri’s exploration of GPS tracking tools and other means of revealing the forces that drive how people use our urban spaces, and Christine Louveau de la Guignereye on the challenges of engaging with new media including coding literacy, asking: “is multimedia like Esperanto, a false good idea?”
While loathe to leave, I was excited to hop back on the Amtrak to Montreal, by which I’d also arrived. The trip is a stunning one, along Lac Champlain and adjacent rivers, looking across high water levels and heron-rich wetlands to Mountains in Vermont. Well worth the US$92 return price. I’d do it just for fun, but the train was almost empty. People of Montreal, what are you doing?
I had a sunny lunchtime meeting with Nathan Sayre when I was in Berkeley a few weeks ago, and ordered his new book as soon as I got back. While I regularly devour fiction within days, rarely do I do it with non-fiction, which can be more of a plod with pencil in hand. But Sayre’s volume was a good read, as well as being a book that I needed to read. I have stumbled somewhat into rangeland research, through my post-doc in Australia, and now my new research on livestock grazing, including fieldwork in the Falklands. But I don’t have a rangelands background. Sayre’s book thus played a remedial role for me, as well as placing some of the scientific chauvinism that I have experienced in a broader context.
Ever the geographer (Sayre leads the UC Berkeley Department of Geography), the recurring theme is one of scale, including the poor fit between the scale of rangeland science (i.e. experimental plots and fields) and the scale of rangeland management. Moreover, however, he brings a critical perspective to unexamined assumptions and justifications in the study and administration of rangelands: governance can drive management priorities of land (e.g. overgrazing is great for fire control); that no commons can be sustainable; that equilibrium is inexorable and singular; or, that fences are better than shepherds. Sayre also illustrates the hubris of ‘command and control’ approaches to landscape, such as species eradication.
Allan Savory gets perhaps surprisingly little attention, but what is given is insightful. Sayre contrasts the grassroots though fringe popularity of Savory’s holistic management, which proceeds despite the alarm of range scientists, with the forceful, colonial and paternalistic division of rangelands in places like Africa (that can lead to violence e.g. when drought pushes former pastoralists against imposed fencelines):
Holistic management’s popularity raises the possibility that a scientifically flawed theory–if willingly embraced rather than imposed–may in some cases induce improvements in range management for reasons that cannot be–or at least have not yet been–reducible to controlled experimental testing (p. 208, italics in original)
When Alexandra Harris describes, in Weatherland, the slow introduction of real skies in English paintings, leading up to the cloud obsession of Constable in 1821-22, I cannot help but think of the Falkland Islands. My first trip I spent looking at the landscape, at large scales and small. This time, I was captivated by skies. As any visitor to the prairies knows, a lack of trees makes for big skies. But nothing is quite like the skies of the Falklands. No filters needed, or photographic skill. (It was hard to choose road trip music to suit such majesty, but I settled on London Grammar’s 2013 If You Wait.) The experience begged the question of where ‘landscape’ – my chosen research topic – ends: these skies are likely as fundamental to local identity as terrestrial (or marine) properties. A small sample of my pictures follows, in which land plays a very minor role indeed.
I have a new Legacy scholarship opportunity open for very high-GPA domestic students aiming for MES entry in September 2017. Please get in touch if you think you might be a good fit, or to discuss other opportunities that close this fall such as Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarships (also open to international students) and SSHRC (domestic only).
Landscape impacts are oft-cited barriers to changes that are otherwise agreed to be necessary, such as those implied by a transition to renewable energy sources. Many examples exist, however, of deep attachment to man-made and otherwise purely functional landscape features such as lighthouses, factories, hydroelectric dam headponds, that in some cases extend far beyond their utility. The landscape of the Tantramar Marshes, the low-lying area that links New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, presents a unique opportunity to explore how people attach meaning and form attachments to large, utilitarian infrastructure. A natural experiment is occurring in the region, by the overlap of the 2014 dismantling of the Radio Canada International (RCI) shortwave transmission towers (constructed in 1944) and the construction of 15 2.1 MW wind turbines in Amherst in 2012 by the Sprott Power Corp. Prospective students might use interviews, archival data, social media and/or spatial analysis to:
- Understand the process by which attachment is formed to man-made, functional landscape infrastructure, over time;
- Understand what drives the acceptance of and attachment to functional landscape features by locals; or,
- Build insights about how to facilitate functional landscape change without sacrificing sense of place.