Monthly Archives: March 2016

John Urry in memoriam

John Urry, a pioneer of the spatial turn and one of Space and Culture‘s first board members, has passed away.  The Sociology Department at Lancaster has posted an obituary. This is a true loss.  John shifted the direction of British sociological thought more that once – pioneering place-based investigations, the turn to culture and to space with iconic works such as The Tourist Gaze.  He was prolific and a generous editor, collaborator and co-author.  His later work courageously assesses a future After the Car and pushed social science to move beyond the limits of the nation state in Sociology Beyond the State.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

The Politics of Scale: David and Goliath

Is that Salmon versus LNG or LNG versus Salmon?

Like David and Goliath, there is a mismatch between the scale at which environmental impacts are assessed under Canadian legislation and the geographical scale of environmental, human rights and economic risks. The Provincial Government of British Columbia is promoting the development of liquified natural gas (LNG) shipping terminal at the mouth of the Skeena River estuary by Petronas.   Based on both cultural attitudes to the environment and scientific research, the proposal and and offer of $1.5B compensation has been rejected by the Lax-Kw’alaams First Nation on whose territory the LNG terminal would be located.  Effectively this would be a form of expropriation approved by the Provincial government and is reminiscent of 19th century scrip practices in Canada, by which indigenous individuals were offered rations and money to extinguish their aboriginal rights to land and traditional hunting and gathering.  An article published in Science (7 Aug 2015) by Jonathan Moore and others (Moore et al 2015) notes that this estuary is the site of the second-largest salmon-production in Canada, largely by First Nation communities. ‘Although terminal proponents and government have recognized interests of First Nations from the estuary during environmental assessment, they have ignored interests of upriver First Nations who also harvest salmon’ (see Stantec Consulting Ltd. Pacific Northwest LNG Environmental Assessment Certificate Application (Burnaby BC 2014) cited in Moore et al 2015).

Lax Kw’alaams in title action on Lelu Island Lax Kw’alaams in title action on Lelu Island

‘Identifying the proper spatial scale for environmental decision-making is a fundamental challenge for environmental policy and ethics. Whether it is migratory animals like salmon that transmit impacts, hydro-electric dams that deprive downstream farming communities of water (see Glenn et al 1995 in Biology 10.1175), or carbon emissions from industrialized countries that raise ocean levels and threaten low-lying islands (see Barnett et al 2003 in Climate Change 61, 321), decisions can impact distant ecosystems and people. Science can and should inform the scale at which environmental decision-makers weigh risks to the environment and human rights against potential economic benefits’ (Moore et al 2015)

-Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

After Moore et al 2015 Selling First Nations down the river. Science (7 Aug) Online: accessed 20 Mar. 2016.

See Lukacs, Martin 2016 By rejecting $1bn for a pipeline, this First Nation has put Trudeau’s climate plan on trial Guardian (20 Mar.) Online: accessed 20 Mar. 2016.

In Memoriam, Doreen Massey

Just after International Womens Day 2016, Doreen Massey passed away suddenly last Friday.  I met her at the Open University where she was an exceptional host.  In a short obituary (here) for CLASS, The Centre for Labour and Social Studies, Rachel Yates described her legacy in the following terms:

one of the most influential thinkers on the left. Her work on space, place and power has been recognised all over the world – including in the UK with an offer of an OBE, which she declined. She grew up on the Wythenshawe council estate in Manchester following World War II, and later went to the University of Oxford. She served as Emeritus Professor of Geography at the Open University until 2009.

…With Doreen it was easy to forget we were in the presence of greatness, thanks to her warmth, her laughter and her generous spirit.  She made an effort to listen to people, to recognise the hard work of others, and never to assume that all of her achievements meant that she knew better (although she usually did).

…Her feminism was not just theory; it was something she did, and something she passed on. We will always be grateful for what she gave us.

Dictatorship by Cartography

Naypyidaw, capital of Burma. Guardian Cities March 2015

In 2007, writing for Himal Southasian magazine, Siddharth Varadarajan called Naypyidaw, the underpopulated capital of Burma, built by the military regime, “dictatorship by cartography, geometry”:

Vast and empty, Burma’s new capital will not fall to an urban upheaval easily. It has no city centre, no confined public space where even a crowd of several thousand people could make a visual – let alone political – impression.

The building of cities is a massive infrastructural undertaking, a spasm that reflects and requires the concentration of political, economic and affective power.   Are cities where there is no “right to the city” by the people cities at all?  Materially perhaps but not in intangible, virtual terms: While constructed like cities, they lack urbanity, the quality of the urban.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)