Investigating whiteness and research fatigue in the study of Pacific climate change: A three part series

Post written by Dr Anja Kanngieser

Part 1: Whiteness and research practices

In this three part series I examine the impact of whiteness and research fatigue when considering climate change in the Pacific, and some directions from Pacific Studies on how to address it. Over three posts I will introduce the ways in which I have witnessed and been told about manifestations of whiteness in academic research; how lived experiences and perspectives push against academic inquiry and theorisations of resilience; and some tactics from Pacific Studies and Pacific Research Protocols for building reciprocity and exchange in climate change research. Continue reading

The everyday lives of climate change: Encounters in Kiribati

Post written by Dr Anja Kanngieser

Kiribati, one of the large ocean states most immediately threatened by the effects of climate change, is as remote as it is expansive. Comprising 33 atolls and reef islands, which have a combined landmass of around 313 square miles, Kiribati spreads over 3.5 million square miles uniquely reaching across all four global hemispheres. The population is estimated at around 118, 000 with over 50, 000 people living in the capital South Tarawa alone (around 9, 500 or so people per square mile) – an urban density to rival London or Hong Kong but clustered into small villages and communities rather than channeled upwards into high rises. Sitting at only 2 meters above sea level and with an average width of under 500 meters, the archipelago is defined by its waters – you are quite literally in eye line of both the ocean and the lagoon at almost all times. This is where myself and University of the South Pacific marine conservation student, Krystelle Lavaki, stayed when we went to speak with I-Kiribati climate justice advocates and educators about the impacts of rising sea levels, inundation and coastal erosion. Along with speaking to activists, we planned to listen to and record the marine and coastal environments. Continue reading

Climate change responses in the Pacific

Post written by Dr Theresa Harada

I have just returned from Fiji where I was working with colleague Anja Kanngieser looking at on-the-ground responses to climate change in the region. It has been an amazing experience at the personal level as well as at the academic and professional level. Given the latest announcements about funding from UOW’s Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS) and the Australian government of $10 million that aims to promote the sustainability of the fisheries, I thought it was timely to share some of the experiences of the Pacific with AUSCCER friends. Continue reading

Postcard from the Pacific

Post by Dr Theresa Harada

I am here in Fiji doing fieldwork on community led response to climate change and climate justice. For many of us in Australia, Fiji conjures up images of swaying palm trees, white beaches, romantic sunsets and friendly smiling locals. This is the tourist experience that is marketed successfully by foreign corporations in prime real estate on the north-western coast of the main island of Viti Levu, and offer exclusive resort retreats on the smaller islands close to the mainland. Denarau and Sigatoka on the main island have a large number of high end hotels which focus on cloistering guests, providing goods and services at inflated prices, providing ‘cultural’ displays and privately-operated tours. Continue reading

Volunteer Airport Ambassadors

By Leigh Robinson

The major airports in Australia and some overseas countries, such as New Zealand and the USA, are assisted in their passenger mobilities by dedicated teams of volunteers who are generally referred to as airport ambassadors. These volunteer ambassadors play an important role in the daily functioning of major airport terminals by providing assistance and information to the mobile public as they transit through the sophisticated socio-technical systems that comprise the airport terminal.

Volunteer ambassadors at Sydney Airport

Volunteer ambassadors at Sydney Airport

Non-commercial interfacing with the travellers and visitors in the public spaces and some secure areas of the airport terminals is conducted by the volunteers under the supervision of each airport’s management. My study is investigating the psychological effects of the airport terminal (treated as a geographical place) on the ability of the volunteers to carry out their roles and upon their daily lives. The incidence of the effect of ‘place’ on the volunteers is being investigated as is the impact of it on the operation of a major airport terminal. In doing so, in my thesis I will also debate the perception of airports being placeless entities in the light of the involvement or otherwise of those working within the terminal space of the airports. Continue reading

In search of the innovative urban poor in the Global South

PhD Candidate Razia Sultana reflects on her fieldwork and conference trips made possible by being awarded UOW’s Global Challenges Travel Scholarship.

It is really hard to conduct research with a small HDR fund when your fieldwork is overseas!  The Global Challenges Travel Scholarship opened up a window of opportunity for me to back up my PhD field travel costs and present my research findings within an international arena. I am really fortunate to have that kind of opportunity!

Put broadly, my higher degree research addresses one of the pressing global challenges of today-that is, climate change. My field site is in Bangladesh which is one the most vulnerable countries to global climate change and faces various natural catastrophes almost every year. In particular, the issue of climate change has been complex for Dhaka– the capital city- due to frequent rural-urban migration, rapid increase of informal settlement and lack of knowledge about different mechanisms of coping and adaptive capacity of socio-economically disadvantaged. Continue reading

Introducing Climates of Listening

By Anja Kanngieser 

This is the first blog post in a series dedicated to documenting fieldwork I am undertaking across Fiji and Micronesia in 2018. The blog posts will deal with a range of themes, outlining the project, the importance of anti-racist climate justice work and the ethics of undertaking such work as a white settler academic, using oral testimony, field-recordings and data sonifications for climate witnessing, listening to non-human environments as political geographical practice, how climate justice groups elevate and centre Indigenous experience and knowledge, and how to bring together arts and sciences to more broadly communicate experiences of climate change.

Global Climate March Suva, 2015. Image credit tomvierus.com

Across the Pacific, climate justice organisations have been campaigning for increased awareness and intervention into global environmental change, which sees catastrophic events, such as high intensity cyclones, drought, flooding and ocean inundation already occurring to impact the lives of small-island developing nations. While an international audience might be familiar with the high profile public platforms for this campaigning, such as the yearly United Nations Climate Change conferences, most of the work being done by organisations is on the ground, often invisible, working to build community relations and regional networks, to forge connections and to collaborate on strategies for negotiation between government decrees and community desires.

I have recently moved to Suva, Fiji to amplify the work of community–led environmental groups at the frontlines of climate change. Over the next year I will be travelling across Fiji and Micronesia on invitation to spend time with those engaged in climate justice, particularly women and LGBTQIA people who are most affected by environmental inequality, framing the challenges that they see increasingly intensifying in their region as directly correspondent to larger political and ethical positions, which value capital, resource extraction and infrastructure over human and non-human lives.

Continue reading

Uncovering new urban insights at the precarious interface of creative industries and manufacturing

Late last year the good news came through that the Australian Research Council had funded an application that included two AUSCCER geographers – Andrew Warren, and myself – along with our colleagues Carl Grodach (QUT), Justin O’Connor, and Xin Gu (Monash). Entitled Urban Cultural Policy and the Changing Dynamics of Cultural Production, the goal of the project is to undertake comparative international case study research around the changing dynamics of the creative economy, particularly the emergent relationships with a complex urban manufacturing sector.

Carrington Road, Marrickville, Sydney

Towards the creative economy v2.0?

Policy makers have in recent years turned to the creative industries for potential future urban growth and investment, city marketing and employment generation. The creative economy has been positioned as a central part of a knowledge economy defined by advanced services, information technologies, innovation, and a workforce high in human capital. The creative economy, it is argued, drives consumption, attracts mobile knowledge workers, and improves the city image. Cities around the world have spent considerable sums of money to develop arts precincts, flagship cultural destinations, and other cultural amenities. While the consumption-based approach has generated a few success stories, the reality is that this has had limited impact on cultural production. Further, many argue that this approach has contributed to the displacement of preexisting residents and businesses, including many cultural producers themselves.

At the same time, as part of a broader innovation agenda, cities on the leading edge of urban cultural policy are seeking ways to reconnect cultural industries with material manufacture and craft-based production. Mature urban cultural policy is just beginning to consider how to link the cultural industries with other sectors in novel ways that revitalise manufacturing and tap into new opportunities for the development and expansion of a wide range of cultural and craft industries – generating jobs while avoiding the pitfalls of gentrification.

There is a renewed public and policy interest in ‘making things’, encompassing additive manufacturing, bespoke making, and craft-based production. Opportunities abound to pursue urban economic development strategies that build upon, rather than eschew, industrial, migrant and working-class skills and legacies. Cities that foster and deepen relationships between creative industries and urban manufacturing industries, especially in distinctive precincts where the two sectors often organically co-locate, stimulate local jobs and enterprise formation.

Our project’s goals

To that end, our research project considers the performance of Australian cities against counterparts in the United States, UK, China and Germany, on their efforts to foster and deepen the creative industries/manufacturing interface through spatial planning and policy.

The researchers on this project are: examining the production relationships between cultural industries and urban manufacturing; determining how changing industry, urban development, land use change, technological, and policy dynamics affect cultural production; and identifying lessons for Australian cities to develop new policies around cultural production and manufacturing.

Our first activity for the project was conducting a critical review of existing literature on the creative industries-manufacturing interface, summarising key issues identified and establishing an agenda or future policy development. That review was recently published in the international journal, City, Culture and Society. (If you are interested in reading this, but cannot access the paper due to a paywall, please make contact via email). Related to this, we are currently identifying and analysing specific city-scale policy initiatives from around the world, from which Australian cities could learn. A prominent example is the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center in New York City.

Field work commences

Our second activity is an extensive phase of empirical field work, both in Australia and in cities in North America, Europe and Asia. This field work involves identifying which creative industries and manufacturing enterprises co-locate spatially, and why. As well we are examining what kinds of policy mechanisms are being developed around the world to foster this evolving interface, and their on-the-ground effects.

Sydney is one of the Australian cities included in the study. The Sydney case study we selected in our original grant application was the inner-west suburb of Marrickville and, in particular, two precincts that have both strong industrial histories, with clusters of niche manufacturing activity, and distinctive, growing creative industry concentrations.

Field work began recently at one of these precincts: Carrington Road, Marrickville. In the past few years, Carrington Road has evolved a distinctive mix of creative enterprises and manufacturing firms. In part this is because of its industrial land use zoning, suitable mix of flexible industrial facilities with things like high ceilings, truck access and rigging beams, and generally affordable rent. 

Carrington Road, Marrickville

Craig Lyons, fresh from completing his Masters by Research on the informal urban creative economy at the University of Sydney, has joined the team and hit the pavements with me last week to conduct an initial audit, and preliminary interviews.

We started by documenting all the enterprises present in the precinct. Then, we chose a representative sample across creative industries and manufacturing sectors, and subsequently began interviewing them for information on specific themes, including: employment; locational choices; duration of operation; functional linkages across the city and to other sectors of the economy; and sensitivity to property market fluctuations.

Uncovering hidden gems

Although field work has only recently commenced, it is already clear that this part of Sydney houses an otherwise unheralded cluster of creative industries and manufacturing firms, with impressive diversity, and history.

The largest holding in the Carrington Road precinct is the former General Motors-Holden car plant, which originally opened in 1926. The last remaining Holden plant from this period, this complex has retained its industrial character, now housing scores of manufacturing businesses and creative enterprises, from jewellery makers and clothing designers, to photographers, ceramicists, t-shirt screen-printers, embroiderers, cabinet-makers and architectural leather installation experts (a specialism we didn’t previously know existed). An avenue we aim to explore in more depth in the months ahead is how the changing morphology of the precinct itself mirrors changes in the nature of industrial work over the past 90 years.

Inside Sydney’s leading theatre, film and event prop making supplier, Carrington Road, Marrickville

In addition, we have discovered unique clusters of inter-related enterprises in the theatre, props, stage design and support sectors; niche publishing; food processing and artisanal food production; photography; studio hire (incl. photography, music, theatre rehearsal spaces); fine woodwork/carpentry and architectural installations; events management and related production (incl. bespoke installations, t-shirt screen-printing for the festivals and concert markets); clothing and jewellery design and small-scale making.

Urban redevelopment pressures and uncertainties

Adding to the intrigue is that the very same Carrington Road precinct we have identified for its potential as Sydney’s premiere creative industries-manufacturing interface, is slated for re-zoning, and re-development, as part of the NSW Government’s planned Sydenham-Bankstown metro rail line renewal scheme. The scheme purports to ‘promote urban renewal and development’ through Sydney’s middle-ring industrial suburbs, while ‘also protecting neighbourhood character and heritage’. Whether current plans for the Carrington Road precinct to be rezoned to enable high-rise residential apartment developments fit with this description, is debatable. In years to come much of the precinct may be subject the same real estate pressures that have seen Sydney lose creative industries and enterprises sensitive to rent rises, and that need access to good, functional industrial spaces.

We will be consolidating our findings into an interim report, that we will share with the NSW Government and relevant local council planners and community groups, as well as analysing the data for academic papers, and for future policy recommendations. A new dedicated website for the project is also up and running, where you can stay tuned and learn more as the local and international field work progresses.

Chris Gibson is Professor of Human Geography with AUSCCER and the Director of Global Challenges Program – a strategic interdisciplinary research initiative at UOW. You can follow him on twitter @profcgibson. 

Risk Assessment

Pondi Unleashed Bulleteers, south India

I have nervously watched the institutionalised mayhem of Indian traffic for years, ‘safely’ as a passenger: India has the highest number of annual traffic incidents in the world. This year I actively took part – in Pondicherry I rented a Royal Enfield ‘Bullet’. Old style, heavy, single-cylinder 350cc: lovely motorbike design dating from the year I was born.

Joining the traffic in the Bullet taught me many lessons – no helmet is better (improves peripheral vision); check the fuel tank (we pushed it down dusty roads for a kilometre the first day); it’s a delicate balance between assertion and deference in Indian traffic, and almost every Indian out-asserted me. Ananth Gopal was the perfect pillion passenger: balanced, navigating, laughing. Risk is broadened on a motorbike: Ananth, me, the people on the bikes next to me I might bump, pedestrians… It is all about flow: after ten days it was just exhilarating to negotiate insanely crowded intersections and nudge through crowded marketplaces. Continue reading

Art, air and ideas in the Anthropocene: field notes from Berlin

Within the space of a week my world has been inverted. From experiencing unseasonably warm autumnal days on Australia’s east coast I’ve been transported to a cool spring in eastern Germany where the daytime highs are half the night-time lows from where I’ve come. Just before dawn the air temperature is a little above freezing, and I’m now wearing all the clothes I’m travelling with, standing on an old airfield just south of central Berlin. The sun has not long risen and its rays are only just beginning to find their way over the tops of buildings and trees. Huddling with others, also gathered here on the field, we intuitively position ourselves in patches of growing sunlight, warming ourselves from the early morning chill.

I’ve come to Berlin to be a a part of an extended workshop bringing together some 120 or more scholars, researchers and artists interested in issues that the Anthropocene concept exposes. This is the second ‘campus’ that the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Culture) in Berlin has organised, with this one focused on investigating the idea of the ‘Technosphere.’ As part of a workshop we have been invited here, to Tempelhofer Feld, an airfield used until only recently and now a recreational reserve, to participate in the launching of some artistic sculptures by Berlin-based artist Tomás Saraceno. Saraceno’s work grapples with Anthropocenic issues and today we will have first-hand experience with some of this work – large sun-powered lighter-than-air membranes – what he terms aerosolar sculptures.

Gathering at dawn for the aerosolar launch, Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin.

Gathering at dawn for the aerosolar launch, Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin.

Put more simply, these are large balloons fuelled only by the warmth of the sun which, warming the internal air air of the structures, has the potential to power it indefinitely. This removes the device from the grip of petrochemical power – both physically and politically. And for Saraceno these sculptures – indeed the wider aerosolar project – provoke a rethinking of our engagement with energy, elemental forces, space and each other:
To become aerosolar is to imagine a metabolic and thermodynamic transformation of human societies’ relation with both the Earth and the Sun.  It is an invitation to think of new ways to move and sense the circulation of energy. And, it is a scalable process to re-pattern atmospheric dwelling and politics through an open-source ecology of practices, models, data—and a sensitivity to the more-than-human world. (Saraceno, Engelmann and Szerszynski 2015)

But more than just a piece of conceptual art, aerosolar experiments take different forms. One configuration – Museo Aero Solar – is a large aerosolar membrane fashioned from everyday plastic bags and contributed to by different groups in different locations around the world. Indeed by taking the simple idea out into the world – into communities and inviting people to engage with the making process (the materials required are in their basic form plastic bags, sticking tape and sunshine) engages people with the concept in more everyday ways. And at the same time – in its simplicity – they are an iteration of the sociality it calls attention to: a networked, social and ultimately less hierarchical model that might operate both spatially and politically.

At its core the project is one of reimagining; reimagining how we might do things differently in light of the intractable problems we face at the seeming culmination of the modern project. In Anthropocenic terms, if we consider the Technosphere to be the assemblage of material and immaterial technologies that envelop the surface of the planet, this project inserts a wedge into this to open up other ways of configuring technology and resultantly our relationships with others entities – both human and other.

Nurturing the balloons for flight

Nurturing the balloons for flight

Back on the ground, I’m reminded of the kind of attention that this activity calls for. Working with these simple and abundant elements – air and sunlight – calls for a close attentiveness to conditions. The weather, of course, is a key determinant. Having sunlight is necessarily determined by the presence – or not – of clouds. The amount of wind also impacts the viability of launch – as well as determining trajectories of travel; and the reason for the dawn scheduling is because this time of day often best provides still atmospheric conditions. Indeed we have been blessed with a clear and still morning for this launch.

The impact of such attentiveness has two particular outcomes. Firstly, it is an ongoing attunement to elemental conditions; and enhanced awareness of the environmental conditions – weather in relation to season, also geography, but also an understanding of how different elemental conditions impact the activity. What comes with this reliance on conditions of environment is the requirement for patience and timing. One has to wait for the right conditions; there is no guarantee that they will occur when you want them, and indeed no way to induce them. They require you to wait; to have an understanding that your own desire to act must yield to agencies beyond human control. In a sense you must learn to be humble; to relinquish the ability to control.

Waiting – an integral part of the experience

Waiting – an integral part of the experience

And, as we wait in the warming sun there is a bustling of activity on this now disused runway. The conditions have been deemed suitable for launch, and two nylon membranes are unpacked and the process of inflating these takes place. The procedure for filling these with air appears to be – rather simply – trailing them behind someone running. If nothing it is effective. Once inflated these structures have the appearance of gigantic otherworldly creatures. They sit, after their initial expansion, grounded. As the surrounding air begins to warm, it gently stirs these creatures making them seem somehow alive. And over the next hour I’m interested to watch the amount of attention these gentle structures require in being nursed to life. They are well attended; inspected and adjusted, as they prepare for activity. The process is highly tactile. There is much touching, stroking, prodding and adjusting, I assume providing feedback on things like temperature and pressure. This technology, with its relationship to elemental forces and its sensitivity to conditions calls for a nurturing disposition, and a continued attentiveness to conditions as they change.

What comes to mind is ideas of ‘working with’ – with elements, conditions, currents – which has sensibilities of eastern philosophy, notably Taoism. One has to be able to let go thoughts of expectation, to be patient, to let go a certain human desire to control. Critical Anthropocene scholarship points to fundamental flaws in modernist thinking, and suggests this needs serious rethinking. Simply, we need new and different models for understanding and engaging with the world – quite differently, and less on our own terms.

Artist Tomás Saraceno tests the lift potential in one of the sculptures

Artist Tomás Saraceno tests the lift potential in one of the sculptures

The Aerocene project makes some wild suggestions: aerosolar travel, aerosolar communities, aerosolar space exploration. These are best not to be taken as practical proposals. Rather, I read them as design fictions: imaginative proposals which aid us in thinking more wildly about future possibilities. What makes these proposals slightly more intriguing is that the technology they employ is actually simple, practical and real – it’s not based on some yet-to-be-invented configuration.

But, rather than seeing these as end points, the real point is in experimenting with the ideas that these technologies and ideas open up. For example, there has been a recent collaboration with the Red Cross/Red Crescent which is exploring the use of aersolar technology to launch camera payloads to map disaster affected areas. My designer mind appreciates seeing artistic ideas taken into the world and finding distinctly practical application.

At its heart the Aerocene project shows that simple ideas have the potential to have large impacts; and these can be driven by different kinds of sensibilities than we are used to. In the same vein it avoids the trap of trying to offer solutions. Rather its proposals open up possibilities and stimuli for novel thinking about how it might well be applied. In the context of considering the implications of the Anthropocene and navigating new and different pathways through this, the provocations of the Aerocene help spur us to consider the possibilities provided by the potential of the very air around us.

Aerosolar launch 5