Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: identity

Congratulations, Amy

Amy Wilson (left) defended her MSc Rural Sociology in hybrid mode.

I enjoyed participating as a committee member on Tuesday as Amy Wilson defended her MSc in Rural Sociology at the University of Alberta. Frequent collaborator John Parkins was her supervisor for her project about the Grassy Mountain coal mine impact assessment process, called Navigating Conflict and Contention in Coal Country. Issues of identity associated with coal production has been an interest of mine for awhile, and serving on this committee allowed me to explore it vicariously. The defense led to a great conversation between the candidate and the examining committee, and sparked lots of ideas for where to go next. Congratulations, Amy!

Oilfield landscape brand

The logo of the new Halifax-based clothing brand.

The logo of the new Halifax-based clothing brand.

I have been seeing a few new t-shirts around lately, riffing on the East Coast Lifestyle brand (the logo of which centers on a classic nautical anchor), but proudly featuring a spurting oil derrick, and the name ‘Oilfield Lifestyle’. It turns out this is a Halifax product, indeed by a member of our school family. I have always known, as someone who grew up in a pulp and paper town, how otherwise unattractive infrastructure that provides a livelihood can become an important landscape feature (e.g. for giving directions) and doggedly defended as part of local identity. I think this new brand is another example of that kind of normalization. It suggests that not only can people become accustomed and attached to infrastructure that provides a recognizable recreational and aesthetic amenity (like a headpond), but even that without such assets. It is not surprising this derives from the east coast; many east coasters do the long commute to Alberta to work in the oil sands, and so the lifestyle this brand supports is one that includes many red-eye flights. As a landscape scholar, however, I am interested by the use of a stylized but archaic-looking derrick rather than pump jack, pipeline or open-pit mine. I wonder how accurate this branding is of the landscape in which its wearers toil.

Tectonic quilt

Students examining Tectonic Quilt, which they help to create with artist Ben Volta.

Students examining Tectonic Quilt, which they help to create with artist Ben Volta.

Becalmed in Philadelphia enroute to ISSRM, a highlight of my airport layover has been some time spent with the so-called Tectonic Quilt, an ink-on-paper public artwork collectively created by Ben Volta and local fifth grade students. The artists used country boundaries filled with abstracted national symbols and colours as overlapping puzzle pieces to reconstruct the continental shapes most of us find familiar. A close look causes consternation – are those watersheds? – and then surprise – is that New Zealand where Japan should be? Finally, however, it challenges this Geographer’s self-conception of familiarity with the globe. Plucked from their context, the shapes lose meaning. I think the students are suggesting perhaps our national differences should, too. I could take objection to the stars and stripes forming the ‘ocean’, connecting it all, but I think their heart is in the right place. There could be a wink here towards the notoriously poor knowledge of world geography of US citizens, especially youth. Frankly, I’m not feeling much more geographically literate, today. I couldn’t find Canada – maybe it was overlooked?

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