On Mentoring – Reflections on Academic Caring as a Feminist Practice. By Harriet Hawkins.

Articulated in and to the demands of the university, virtuousness can mean over-extending such that it is impossible to stay apace, to be sufficiently responsive, available, intimate, politicized…a good feminist fails if she[he] cannot attend constantly to the nurturing/facilitating project in every domain of her[his] commitment

(Berlant 1997: 147)

We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something

(Butler 2006)

As part of the team preparing our Geography Department’s Athena Swan Silver application,[1] I have recently drafted answers to questions about the induction and support we provide for staff and students, addressed issues around promotion, grant applications, and career planning and progression. We proudly quote praise from female students who we have helped move ‘through the pipeline,’ from undergraduate to PhD and beyond, from early career scholars who felt supported into post docs and permanent roles, as well as staff lauding the effectiveness of departmental mentoring. Yet when it came to discussing the work load principals (we don’t have a workload model), mentoring, of which we are so proud, did not warrant mention, yet quite clearly was a key formal and informal activity for many staff (male and female alike) and central to creating a departmental atmosphere we were very happy to boast about. Examining our promotional matrix reveals scant reward for practices of care, merely noting mentoring as a possible supplemental criteria and barely managing to take account of collegiality at all. How to make space and time for care –  for our students, for our colleagues, for ourselves –  is an important question in the ever-stretched lives and constant balancing-act that is, for many us, the experience of being an academic, an experience to which the relationships we build are often a central and much valued part.

As mentoring, quite rightly, becomes central to the business of research groups such as Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group and Social Cultural Geography Research groups of the Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers), on both of whose committees I sit, it seems important to spend time reflecting on the dynamics that sit at the heart of mentoring and similar caring practices. This might enable us to appreciate the tensions that often surround these practices – the labours as well as the pleasures they bring for all involved. It might also help us reflect on how to enable sustainable cultures of caring, including care for the self? Valuable resources here are offered by the writings of those feminist geographers who call us towards a feminist ethics of care (Mountz et al. 2015; Parizeau et al. 2016; Mountz 2016). Core to such an ethics is the need to create the conditions to properly value caring in the academy, to prevent the exploitation of individuals who practice care-giving for others, and to refine our own practices of self-care, not least because own self-exploitation often compounds the problem (Mountz et al, 2015; Mountz 2016).

On Caring- tensions

…isolated, individualized working practices; intense workloads and time pressures; long hours and the elision of barriers between work and home; anxieties around job security and contracts (particularly for early career staff); and processes of promotion and performance review that effectively valorize individual productivity, and reward and institutionalize each of the above-listed characteristics

(Horton and Tucker 2014: 85).

The pages of the Times Higher, The Chronicle, the Financial Times and the New York Times and even the Atlantic and the New Yorker are awash with explorations of how, in the words of feminist scholar Lauren Berlant, ‘the nervous system of Higher Education is out of wack’ (1997: 159).  As a litany of recent articles make clear, there are a whole suite of means by which the neoliberal academy works in the ‘production of anxiety’ (Berg et al. 2016: 170; Hall, 2014). Indeed, Richard Hall (2014) goes so far as to describe it as an ‘anxiety machine’.

We live through intimate intersections of our workplaces and our health. That the neoliberalisation of the academy has had negative consequences for the health and welfare of ourselves and our students is increasingly well recognised. Indeed, The Guardian has compiled over forty articles to evidence the ‘crisis’ in mental health in universities and to out the culture which conspires to ensure we either overlook or, perhaps worse, normalise  this crisis. Audits, metrics and hierarchies are cited as perpetuating the ‘maddening’ systems that characterise the everyday experiences of many of us, where feelings of elation, satisfaction and pleasure are often overwritten by experiences of  ‘exhaustion, stress, overload, insomnia, anxiety, shame, aggression, hurt, guilt and feelings of out-of-placeness, fraudulence and fear of exposure’ (Gill, 2009: 229).

To care in the midst of this ‘anxiety machine’ is to occupy a site of tension. On the one hand, more care is required to combat the intensification of the debilitating effects of bureaucratic practices that reduce students and colleagues complete with messy lives (life-course changes, chronic illnesses and personal relationships) to metrics of completion rates, job conversion, and publication numbers. On the other hand, those metrics and performance measures (usually eons behind those in the business world) often fail to make space for, let alone, recognize and reward emotional labours, such as care and collegiality, that are fundamental to the successful functioning of the academy. For the logics of the neoliberal academy aim to allocate resources – whether physical, natural, human or financial – with the greatest possible efficiency. In doing so it devalues those resources – such as care – that sit outside ‘the market’, and would ideally ask us to turn away from those elements of our working practices, private lives, personalities and physicalities that might challenge the demands, and stymie the efficient working, of the system.

Moreover, as many writing of care-work in the academy note, little of it can be planned in advance, and even less registers in our diaries and electronic calendars; the temporalities of such ‘attentive actions’ are rarely ‘registered in a temporal field measured by clock or calendar’ (Berlant 1997: 156). What is more, as Ahmed (2015) notes, ‘the economies of energy in the academy are not evenly distributed and some bodies bear the effects of [this] depletion more than others’.  Yet, for many of us, it seems the relationships we build and the collegiality that we find in our departments, despite the pressures, are part of the pleasures of the job, and inseparable from our wider academic practice and ways of being in the world.

On Caring differently

Caring within the academy is a creative diversion- of time, of attention, of affection, of academic positions designed to foster individual achievements and competition. It is a wink of recognition…within a totalizing space. It is an act of resistance… Although it may seem unsatisfactory and insufficient, maintaining possibilities in the face of exhaustion is critical-  it is the basis of everything, including change

 (Simard-Gagnon 2016: 224)

What then can be done? Simard-Gagnon, alongside a host of feminist geographers offer inspirational ideas for how caring could be done differently. They ask, what might it mean to develop spaces and practices of care that offer resistance and push-back against the troubling neoliberal logics of the academy? What might it mean to embrace difficult discussions, where we counter the idea that ‘in environments that privilege endurance and hard work, there is little space for discussion of ailments, burnout and breaking points’ (Mountz 2016: 208). But also how is it that we can take care to ensure that burnouts are avoided and breaking points steered away from to begin with?

As I start getting more familiar with university promotion matrices, job descriptions and so on, for my own and other institutions, I find myself having to reflect time and again on the need to keep in check the terms and conditions of judgement that often seem to rule over these documents and their associated panels. For these seem to consistently devalue the kinds of care that constitute the academic community many of us so value. Easier said than done, and easier done by those positions of power and relative privilege compared to those in precarious roles and caught in the midst of the daily battles of just keeping afloat.

A set of practices I have found inspiring when reflecting on caring within the academy are those of self-care. In some sectors self-care has got a bad press for encouraging selfish behaviours of individuals already disinclined from collegial practices, we all know someone who ‘excels’ at practices of self-care in ways that appear blind to the needs of others.  Treading the line between self-care and selfishness feels like yet another complicated balancing act, but there is useful guidance once again in feminist scholarship.  In a rousing statement, following Audre Lorde, Ahmed (2014) exalts us,

Self-care: that can be an act of political warfare. In directing our care towards ourselves we are redirecting care away from its proper objects, we are not caring for those we are supposed to care for; we are not caring for the bodies deemed worth caring about. And that is why in queer, feminist and anti-racist work self-care is about the creation of community, fragile communities, assembled out of the experiences of being shattered. We reassemble ourselves through the ordinary, everyday and often painstaking work of looking after ourselves; looking after each other. This is why when we have to insist, I matter, we matter, we are transforming what matters.

Self-care as a collective practice however does not mean neglecting the individual. Indeed, strategies for self-care proposed by geographers (especially in a special issue of Canadian Geographer on mental health, 2016, 60[2]) might involve drawing clear boundaries around work-time and relationships, taking up practices that reduce work-related stress, practicing mental hygiene (whatever that might mean to each of us as individuals) and developing and promoting good practice around email and social media use.

For Ahmed, writing in 2014, such practices of self-care and care for others offer ways to create communities of care, to find ‘ways to exist in a world that is diminishing’. Since 2014 the need for such practices have only intensified, but just as they offer a means to ‘devalue and militate against’ the academy, such self-care practices are not always easy to enact. My own experiences have found me struggling to find strength and discipline to changing my own deep-seated behaviours, to stand against entrenched ideologies and cultures of overwork, and place my faith in a mode of practicing academia as a teacher, colleague and friend, that I value hugely, but which can often seem at odds with those individual research practices that undoubtedly yield recognition and promotion more quickly and efficiently.

As academics we tend to offer the worst role models for our graduate students and for a different sort of academy, even cognizant of the issues many of us, myself included, continue to often automatically embrace a model of ‘continuous achievement, and a capacity to take on work that is infinitely elastic’ (Mountz et al. 2015, 273). Performing as good neoliberal subjects we respond, at least on the surface, to practices of meritocracy and individual responsibility, achievement, advancement, persistence, competition and the winner-takes-all ethos. This supports Giroux’s (2014) claim that many academics, and I would count myself amongst them, are ‘complicit in the very processes that have shifted the mission of the university towards market defined ends.’ If sometimes thinking about ‘large scale change’ feels exhausting, then beginning with addressing these issues within ourselves might be a good place to start.


Ahmed, S. 2014 ‘Selfcare as warfare’ http://feministkilljoys.com/2014/08/25/selfcare-as-warfare/ last accessed 27/8/2016

Ahmed, S. 2015 ‘Against students’ http://thenewinquiry.com/?essays=against-students last accessed 27/8/2016

Berg, M. and Seeber, B. 2016. The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, Ontario, University of Toronto Press.

Berlant, L. 1997. “Feminism and the Institutions of Intimacy.” The Politics of Research, ed. E. Ann Kaplan and George Levine (New Brunswick, NJ).

Butler, J.  2006. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, London: Verso.

Gill, R. 2009. Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia. In Secrecy and silence in the research process: Feminist reflections, ed. R. Flood and R. Gill. London: Routledge, 228––244.

Giroux, H.A. 2014. Neoliberalism’s war on higher education, Haymarket Books, London.

Hall, R. 2014. On the university anxiety machine. Richard Hall’s Space, blog post March 19 2014. http://www.richard-hall.org/2014/03/19/on-the-university-as-anxiety-machine

Horton, J., and F. Tucker. 2014. Disabilities in academic workplaces: Experiences of human and physical geographers. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37, 1, 76-89.

Mountz, A. 2016. Women on the Edge. Canadian Geographer 60, 2, 205-218.

Mountz, A., A. Bonds, B. Mansfield, J. Lloyd, J. Hyndman, M. Walton-Roberts, R. Basu, R. Whitson, R. Hawkins, T. Hamilton, and W. Curran. 2015. For slow scholarship: A feminist politics of resistance through collective action in the neoliberal university. ACME: International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 14, 4, 1235-1259

Parizeau, K. Shillington, L. Hawkins, R. Sultana, F. Mountz, A. Mullings, B. and Peake, L. 2016. Breaking the Silence:  A feminist call to action.  The Canadian Geographer, 60, 2, 192-204.

Simond- Gagnon, L. 2016. “Everyone is fed, bathed, asleep and I have made it through another day” problematizing accommodation, resilience and care in the neoliberal academy. Canadian Geographer, 60, 2, 219–225

[1] Athena Swan is the UK Higher Education sector’s gender equality charter mark for Science Subjects. Without accreditation (bronze, silver and gold) departments are unable to apply for certain grants.

Harriet Hawkins is Professor in Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Contact: Harriet.Hawkins@rhul.ac.uk

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The gendered working culture of Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry: A study of women’s experiences of the ‘downturn’. By Georgia Smith

Georgia Smith is the winner of the GFGRG 2016-17 Undergraduate Dissertation Prize. 

The oil and gas industry shapes the lives of every person on the planet – socially, economically and geopolitically (Miller, 2004). In the UK, the industry provides more than 70% of total primary energy (Oil and Gas UK, 2017), and supports an estimated 330,000 jobs (Oil and Gas UK, 2016). But it has often been criticised for a gender imbalance in the workforce and a masculine working culture. Today only around 20% of the oil and gas industry is made up of women, with less than 10% in senior positions and 3.6% working offshore (World Economic Forum, 2016; Oil and Gas UK, 2015).

Growing up in Aberdeen, the proudly self-declared ‘oil capital of Europe’, where 60% of jobs are related to oil and gas (Anderson, Park and Jack, 2007), the industry has also profoundly influenced my own life, and my expectations and understandings of ‘work’. I, like most people in the city, am deeply connected to the industry through family and friends who work there, as well as being steeped in the physical space of a city marked oil and gas (see the figure below). It is this connection and my personal observations of an industry dominated by men that lead me to undertake my research.

A street sign in Aberdeen – Aberdeen’s history is deeply entangled with that of the oil and gas industry, and street signs related to oil and gas exploration reflect its dominance. (Rushton, 2015)

The economic crisis that has gripped the oil and gas industry over the last two years also made this a particularly interesting time to study the sector. In 2016, oil price reached a low of below $30 per barrel, having hovered comfortably and consistently at around $100 per barrel until a dramatic price crash at the end of 2014 (Egan, 2016). This period is referred to in the industry as the ‘downturn’. There is evidence to suggest that economic crises in general have highly gendered consequences (Grown and Tas, 2011). Little more than two years since the oil price collapse, nothing has yet been written on the gendered impacts of this watershed in the industry. Through my research, I sought to address this gap.

Through a combination of in-depth semi-structured interviews with women in a variety of roles in Oil and Gas and the attendance of industry events as a fly-on-the-wall, I collected qualitative data on a gendered working culture. My research highlighted that Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry remains highly gendered and deeply embedded with notions of masculinity. I pinpointed the gendering of roles and division of labour, apparent in the association between women and ‘social’ roles versus men and ‘technical’ roles (Faulkner, 2006).

“All the guys in the room gave me their orders for tea and coffee… I had to explain I was there to attend the meeting too. It was so embarrassing.” [Ola, Chemical Engineer]

My research also revealed an acute association between leadership and extrovert masculinity (Ko, Kotrba and Roebuck, 2015).

“To be high up in the industry you have to be brash, loud, outgoing and often aggressive.” [Beth, Learning and Development Manager]

“The industry has been brought up to be masculine; it’s what the industry wants” [Leanne, Sales and Transportation]

The everyday perceptions and practices in the oil and gas industry, from commonplace stereotyping and sexism, to conscious and unconscious bias, serve to create and sustain these gender roles (Holmes, 2008). The women I interviewed suggested there was merit in the diversity strategies the industry employs to tackle these inequalities, but crucially, highlighted that material change would not be achieved without a fundamental adjustment in attitudes. They suggested that in order to facilitate real change (see the statistics in the figure below), the effort put into creating a culture that genuinely values diversity, should be at least as great as that invested in policy development.

2013 2014 2015
All staff 30% 31% 32%
Graduate hires 33% 37% 46%
Group leaders 18% 18% 19%
Executive team 9% 9% 9%

The representation of women in a major operating company (taken from a shared internal briefing document, March 2016).

By focusing on the oil and gas industry at this particularly challenging moment in its history, my research also served to progress our understanding of how economic crises affect gender dynamics. For example, some women suggested that the downturn had accentuated competitive, extrovert behaviours that serve to marginalise introverted personalities stereotypically associated with femininity (Ko, Kotrba and Roebuck, 2015).

The downturn has at times driven some quite brutal behaviours actually. That hasn’t helped women to feel comfortable. When people are in survival mode, things get quite hard.” [Mary, Chief Executive Officer]

However, some women revealed a contradictory and perhaps unexpected consequence of the downturn. They claimed that the shared experience of combatting an economic crisis made them feel more included and less marginalised.

“I did an internship in the boom time, the good old days. Everything was a lot more decadent, almost a bit seedier as well, more out of control. Before the downturn, I know they had a team building event and they all went to Norway and went on a speed boat and drank whisky all night… you’d never have that sort of team building event now. It was not very inclusive.” [Emily, Operational Statistics]

Therefore, I found that people’s anxieties over the downturn played out in a variety of ways, sometimes reinforcing a gendered working culture, and other times serving to dismantle gendered stereotypes and barriers to women’s progression.

While my research has suggested that the culture of Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry remains deeply entangled with notions of masculinity, the empirical data collected also points to the possibility of change. For example, a number of women thought the ‘downturn’ provided a genuine opportunity to improve diversity, suggesting that it could be used as a catalyst for the industry to reinvent itself as a modern, forward thinking and more universally inclusive part of the UK’s industrial economy. They suggested that this transformation would attract a diverse range of talented and dynamic women. These contributions imply hope for the future.

Through my research, I hope to have contributed to an important ongoing dialogue and broader struggle, aimed at undermining and challenging sexism and marginalisation in society and particularly, in the world of work. I also hope that my research, in some small way, sheds light on the experiences of women working in oil and gas during this period of downturn. I am truly honoured to have been awarded the 1st place prize in the Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group by RGS-IBS, and am really grateful to have my research recognized in this way.


Anderson, A., Park, J., & Jack, S. (2007). Entrepreneurial Social Capital. International Small Business Journal, 25(3), 245–272.

Egan, M. (2016). Oil crashes to $30 a barrel. CNN Money [online]. Available at: http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/12/investing/oil-prices-below-30/ (Accessed: 25 February 2016)

Faulkner, W. (2006). Genders in/of engineering: A research report. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh. Available at: http://extra.shu.ac.uk/nrc/section_2/ publications/reports/Faulkner_Genders_in_Engineering_Report.pdf (Accessed: 20 March 2016)

Grown, C., & Tas, E. (2011). Gender Equality in U.S. Labor Markets in the “Great Recession’’ of 2007–10. In M. A. Starr (Ed.), Consequences of Economic Downturn: Beyond the Usual Economics New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, pp. 167 -186.

Holmes, J. (2008). Gendered Discourse at Work. Language and Linguistics Compass 2, 478– 495.

Ko, I., Kotrba, L., & Roebuck, A. (2015). Leaders as Males?: The Role of Industry Gender Composition. Sex Roles, 72(7/8), 294–307.

Miller, G. (2004). Frontier Masculinity in the Oil Industry: The Experience of Women Engineers. Gender, Work & Organization, 11(1), 47–73.

Oil and Gas UK (2015). UKCS offshore workforce demographics report 2015. Available at: http://oilandgasuk.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/EM014.pdf (Accessed 3 October 2016)

Oil and Gas UK (2016). Economic Report 2016. Available at: http://oilandgasuk.co.uk/economic-report-2016.cfm (Accessed 3 October 2016)

Rushton, S. (2015). Energy Solution’s in Scotland: What’s next for Europe’s Oil Capital? Occupy.com. Available at http://www.occupy.com/article/energy-solutions-scotland-whats-next-europe’s-oil-capital (Accessed: 22 February 2017)

World Economic Forum (2016). Closing the Gender Gap in Oil & Gas: A Call to Action for the Industry. Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_AM16_Closing_Gender_Gap_Oil_Gas.pdf (Accessed: 25 February 2017)

Contact: georgiasmith95@hotmail.co.uk

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CfP: Traversing Landscapes of Gender Based Violence (GBV) – RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2018

Convenors: Dr Claudia Eger, University of Warwick, Dr Heather Jeffrey, Middlesex University – Dubai, Dr Paola Vizcaino, Bournemouth University

Sponsored by the Geographies of Leisure and Tourism Research Group (GLTRG) and the Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group (GFGRG)

In 2017, women around the world marched against gender inequality. A salient element of gender inequality is gender-based violence (GBV). GBV has been defined as any act “that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” (UN 1993). A diverse body of research on gender and tourism has explored the commodification of children, women and men in the global sex trade (e.g. Cacho, 2015; Davidson, 2005; Jeffreys, 2008; Kempadoo, 2001; Kibicho, 2016; Sanders-McDonagh, 2016). Studies have also explored sexual harassment in the tourism and hospitality sectors (e.g. Cañada, 2015; Cheung, Baum & Hsueh, 2017; García 2016; Guerrier & Adib, 2000; Poulston, 2008; Pritchard & Morgan, 2006; Ram, 2015) and the constraints experienced by female travellers, including violence (Jordan & Aitchison, 2008; Lepp & Gibson, 2003; Wilson & Little, 2008). Research in tourism and hospitality could benefit from a more rigorous theorisation and analysis of GBV. In this session, we are interested in exploring current debates on gender-based violence and sexual harassment alongside feminist movements and their mobilities. The session welcomes papers addressing the following areas:

  • The movement of socially held beliefs on gender
  • Landscapes of inequality and their intersections with violence
  • Private and public landscapes of gender-based violence
  • Global feminist movements concerning various forms of gender-based violence
  • Forced mobilities and gender-based violence
  • Migrant workers and gender-based violence
  • Submerged and immobile voices on gender-based violence
  • Tourist movements and gender-based violence
  • Sexual harassment in the hospitality/tourism workplace
  • Theorisations, conceptualisations and contextualisation of gender-based violence as a multifaceted phenomenon

We are currently seeking contributions for a paper presentation session involving five presentations each lasting around 15 minutes with time for questions. The presentation may be executed in a traditional or innovative style, and we actively encourage a wide range of styles; including snapshots and Pecha Kucha.

The RGS-IBG Annual International Conference will take place at Cardiff University on 28th – 31st August 2018.

Please send abstracts (approx. 250 words) with author contact details to Dr Paola Vizcaino (lvizcainosuarez@bournemouth.ac.uk) by the 1st February 2018.

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On Intimate Economies, Immigration Detention, and Silencing. By Deirdre Conlon

Over the past few years I have been working on a project investigating ‘Intimate Economies of Immigration Detention’ in collaboration with Dr. Nancy Hiemstra (Stony Brook University, NY). The project critically interrogates the infrastructure and operation of immigration detention in the U.S. The U.S. immigration detention system is vast and expanding with substantial revenue generation and profit making for a wide array of private and public sector actors. The system has expanded 75 per cent since 2003, with 34,000 immigrants detained per day in over 200 detention facilities throughout the U.S.[1]  By comparison, in the UK, on average between 2,500 and 3,500 immigrants are detained daily and a total of 28,908 people were detained in 2016.[2]  When it comes to the economics of detention, a good deal of attention focuses on the ‘macro-level’ cost, that is the daily rate received by detention facilities from the federal government to house immigration detainees. This figure is $124 (£92.00) per day in the U.S. (The estimated average per day cost is £86.00 in the UK.) Our project, in contrast, focuses on additional ways that revenue and profit are generated from immigration detention. We trace and examine contracts and subcontracts in order to investigate what we describe as the micro-level, intimate economies of immigration detention. You can read about the project here, here, and here.

Conlon and Hiemstra (eds.) 2016. Intimate Economies of Immigration Detention: Critical Perspectives. Abingdon: Routledge.

At presentations and in teaching about this research one question that comes up frequently is ‘why intimate?’ There are numerous ways this project resonates with critical feminist perspectives on ‘intimacy’. Some scholars emphasize the closeness and knowledge that develops when in close proximity to someone or something. Others highlight a level of scrutiny that intimate familiarity allows. Feminist scholars and political geographers, in particular, call attention to the politics of scale and to the ways intimate, everyday experiences and processes of production and exchange are embedded in complex relationships that reverberate beyond the personal to scales from the domestic to the global.[3]

Recently, I presented some reflections from the Intimate Economies project at the Human Geography seminar series at the University of Exeter alongside a presentation by Naomi Millner from the University Bristol. I spoke about some of the frustrations and challenges of trying to get hold of and then decipher documents received using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the division of federal government that administers the U.S. immigration detention system.[4] Even though the government is required to respond within 20 days of receiving a FOIA request, delays are all-too-common. In our case we were kept waiting 14 months before receiving a massive digital file that, in total, gave us a data set comprised of over 2,000 pages detailing the infrastructure and day-to-day operations of several detention facilities in the New York and New Jersey region.

Adding to our sense of frustration was the fact that almost 40 per cent of pages included redactions. This means that any/all information related to money, personnel, immigrant detainees, service providers as well as other contract and subcontract details are obscured or hidden. In effect, the intimate details about the operation of detention centers are rendered invisible. Efforts to discern who is involved in immigration detention (beyond ‘big name’ corporations such as GEO Group and CoreCivic in the U.S. or Serco and G4S in the UK), how money is made, and how profits are generated, are, effectively stymied and quite readily silenced by such redactions.

Deirdre Conlon presenting on FOIAs and U.S. Immigration Detention (photo from the Second Annual Carceral Geography Conference, University of Birmingham, December 11-12th 2017).

In her presentation Naomi Millner spoke about the ways participants are silenced in research and, reflecting on her broad based experience with participatory fieldwork, discussed the complexity of research relationships and efforts to ‘represent’ participants’ experiences. Naomi identified a number of principles that work toward countering the silencing that takes place in academic research. She called attention to listening, writing with the voices of others, attending to the more-than-human elements of exchanges, and voicing, in distinction from voices.

All in all this was an interesting and inspiring seminar and our presentations complemented one another in unexpected ways. Implicitly and explicitly our presentations demonstrated the significance of the ‘intimate’ in research. Both presentations also highlighted how ‘silencing’ registers as power in and across multiple domains, from relationships between the researcher and participants, to state dynamics and their effects. It also seemed apt that the seminar took place at a time when the ‘me too’ campaign has unveiled the silencing that besieges sexual harassment and assault within the public at large. This seminar, then, provided me with a timely opportunity to contemplate and critically reflect on silencing in research and in academia more broadly. Importantly, too, it affirmed how feminist perspectives can contribute to amplifying the challenges as well as alternative ways of producing knowledge and developing social relations where matters of intimacy and urgency are not silenced.


[1] See Detention Watch Network (2014) www.detentionwatchnetwork.org.

Note: These figures are for 2014. The average number of immigrants detained on a daily basis in the first few months of 2017 was 41,000; see D. Conlon (2017) Immigration enforcement, asylum and economic value in Trump’s first 100 days, Society and Space, July 4. http://societyandspace.org/author/deirdre-conlon/

[2] See The Migration Observatory (2017) Immigration Detention in the UK, May 2. http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/immigration-detention-in-the-uk/. While the UK detention estate is small by comparison to the U.S. it is the largest in Europe, capacity has grown since the early 1990s, and it is largely privatized.

[3] See, for example, Lauren Berlant (2000) Intimacy. Chicago: Chicago University Press; Geraldine Pratt and Victoria Rosner (eds.) (2012) The global and the intimate: feminism in our time. New York: Columbia University Press.

[4] The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a U.S. federal law that allows members of the public access to information held by government agencies upon written request. Government agencies are required to release information unless it falls under specific exemptions. The UK has similar laws in place and individuals can file Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for information held by public authorities.

Dr Deirdre Conlon is based in the School of Geography, University of Leeds.

Contact: d.conlon@leeds.ac.uk

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GFGRG 2016-17 Dissertation Prize

We are delighted to announce the winners of our 2016-17 dissertation prize:

First prize

The gendered working culture of Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry: A study of women’s experiences of the ‘downturn’. 

Georgia Emily Smith, University of Edinburgh

This dissertation explores the everyday experiences of women in the oil and gas industry in Aberdeen in Scotland, during a time of economic crisis; an area which has received inadequate academic attention. Drawing on insights from in-depth interviews and attendance of corporate events, this research examines how a gendered working culture is (re)produced through the everyday practices and perceptions that circulate in the oil and gas sector. As a traditionally ‘technical’ industry dominated by men, the oil and gas industry is an interesting and important area through which to study gender dynamics at work. Guided by feminist geographies, this research will interrogate how the roles in oil and gas have become gendered (Faulkner, 2006), and how leadership positions in this industry have become associated with extrovert masculinity (Ko, Kotrba and Roebuck, 2015). Following on from this, the study will highlight the critical ways that women ’on the ground’ suggested gender inequalities should best be tackled. This research will all be situated and contextualised within the economic crisis, or ‘downturn’, that the oil and gas industry has faced for the last two and a half years (Oil and Gas UK, 2016). By using the downturn as a backdrop, my research will suggest that the economic crisis has crucially transformed the gendered working culture of oil and gas. I will suggest that the anxieties people have following the downturn have played out in varied ways, serving to strengthen the gendered working culture in some ways, while, counter-intuitively, breaking it down in others. This leads me to conclude that how people feel is crucially informed by the everyday realities of being a woman in the oil and gas industry during a period of economic crisis.

Second prize

A Bosnian girl: Understanding the female gender and nationality, in post-conflict, post-socialist Sarajevo.

Rebecca Collinson, Cardiff University

Whilst the nationalist driven war of Yugoslavia produced immense consequences felt by all Yugoslavs alike, suffering was not experienced in the same way or to the same degree between the sexes. Therefore, if feminist geographers seek to transform gender relations, the intersection between gender and other identities such as nationality and religion must be explored. Using qualitative interviews, this research investigates the hidden acts of multiple discrimination women in Sarajevo experience today, within the socio-political networks of a post-conflict and post-socialist city. Key findings of this research are presented through three themes. Firstly, nationalism and wartime rape of women. Secondly, the complex relationship between national identity and religious identity and finally, the role of the economic decline in producing and reproducing gendered identities. Overall, this research will explore the complexity of female identity construction, and how it is simultaneously bound with other identities through reflection of the self and ‘other’, within the urban context of Sarajevo.

Third prize

Women’s empowerment, development discourse and shifting subjectivities: Everyday performances of gender in rural Uganda.

Caragh Bennett, University of Oxford

This dissertation explores the gendered impacts of the introduction of a women’s empowerment programme by a development NGO in Uganda. Through a post-colonial feminist approach, this dissertation aims to uncover dominant discourses within the organisation and observe the impact of the presence of the women’s empowerment programme on gendered subjectivities. A case study approach is adopted using the example of Empower a Child in Zirobwe village. This research has engaged in qualitative data collection through ethnographic methods carried out over three weeks in the village of Zirobwe. This dissertation argues that expected gender performances are changing in Zirobwe as women on the programme can negotiate competing discourses to choose where to position themselves as subjects. The study finds that the discourse of the NGO contains gendered and racialised hierarchies and that ‘zones of contention’ have been created between competing and overlapping discourses from the NGO and the local norms. The study also finds that the women’s empowerment programme has still been largely unsuccessful in transforming local norms on a wider scale, and that impact in this way is at present limited to a younger group of individuals. This dissertation builds on and contributes to existing Gender and Development literature in Uganda such as Ochieng 2003, Guma 2015 and Wyrod 2008.

Congratulations to our winners.

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Call for Papers for the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

New and Emerging Research within Gender and Feminist Geographies


Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group (GFGRG)


Harriet Larrington-Spencer, Department of Geography, University of Manchester harriet.larrington-spencer@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk

Melike Peterson, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow h.peterson.1@research.gla.ac.uk


These sessions are aimed at postgraduates and early career researchers who would like an opportunity to present their research in a supportive and constructive academic environment and at researchers at all stages of their careers that are interested in presenting papers that actively engage with discussions on current and emerging theoretical or methodological innovations in the field of feminist and gender geography.

‘Gender and Feminist Geographies’ is intended to cover a broad spectrum of research and papers are welcome from any area of feminist and gender geographical inquiry, with the aim of bringing together current and emerging themes, issues and approaches. Papers are especially welcome that connect with this year’s theme ‘geographic landscapes/changing landscapes of geography’.

Researchers at any stage in their research process are welcome, making the session a great opportunity for early career and postgraduate researchers to gain experience presenting their work. The sessions will also provide a forum to meet and discuss emerging ideas with other researchers in a friendly and relaxed environment, as well as opportunities to explore possibilities and relevance of engaging with feminist theory and methods within research.

Session Organisation:

Sessions 1: Paper presentations: involving five presentations each lasting around 15 minutes with time for questions

Sessions 2: Snapshot presentations: involving ten to fifteen presentations each lasting 2 minutes (with the option to use pictures or creative approaches), followed by an open discussion. Whilst this session is open to anyone, we hope it will provide an opportunity for those not yet ready to present full papers to engage in the conference in a constructive and productive way. This session is also suitable to those wishing to explore the possibilities and relevance of gender and feminist theory to their research.

Abstract Submission:

Please email prospective contributions or any queries to Melike Peterson (h.peterson.1@research.gla.ac.uk) or Harriet Larrington-Spencer (harriet.larrington-spencer@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk). The deadline for submission is Thursday 1st February 2018. Please include:

A title for your presentation;

An abstract of max 150 words;

Your name, affiliation and contact details (email address).

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GFGRG Call for Session Proposals – RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

The Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group (GFGRG) of the RGS-IBG is pleased to extend an invitation to sponsor sessions at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018. The conference will take place at Cardiff University from Wednesday 29 to Friday 31 August 2018, with workshops on Tuesday 28 August. The conference Chair is Professor Paul Milbourne (Cardiff University) and the theme of the conference is ‘Geographical landscapes / changing landscapes of geography’. Full details can be found here:


For further information on the GRGRG, please follow us on Twitter (@GFG_RGSIBG), Facebook (Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group) and via our Listserve email network (GFGRG@JISCMAIL.AC.UK).

The deadline for session proposal submissions to GFGRG is Monday 18 December 2017.

Please email submissions to Johanna Waters (johanna.waters@ouce.ox.ac.uk) including the following details:

i)             session title;

ii)            abstract (up to 300 words);

iii)           name(s) and affiliation(s) of the session convener(s);

iv)           planned session format (e.g. 5 papers; 4 papers and a discussant; panel, etc.)

Conveners will be notified in due course as to whether GFGRG will be able to provide sponsorship for their session. If sponsorship can be provided, full session details (with all proposed papers and presenters) for final submission to the RGS-IBG will be due on Friday 16 February 2018. The details on organizing sessions can be found at:


We look forward to hearing from you. If you have any queries, please contact Jo Waters.


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GFGRG’s Response to Decolonising Geographical Knowledges at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2017. By Heather Jeffrey and Eveleigh Buck-Matthews.

The Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group was well represented at this year’s RGS-IBG Annual International Conference. The research group sponsored sessions spanning a variety of themes in response to the overall conference theme ‘decolonising geographical knowledges’. Sessions focused on: The Costs of Decolonizing the Discipline; Transformative Stories: Trauma, Therapeutic Geographies and Hope; Home futures: towards a critical feminist geography of housing, ageing and health; Rethinking decolonial and postcolonial knowledges beyond Regions; Innovative Research within Gender & Feminist Geography; Que(e)rying Gender, Tourism and Mobilities; and Geographies of Safe Space.

These sessions attracted numerous papers and the abstracts can still be found in the online program.

The calls were popular, several had two or more sessions due to the numbers that answered the call and all pulled in full audiences. Often overrunning with conversations and discussions about challenging oppressive hegemonic practice.

We would like to take the opportunity to thank all those that participated. Everyone who ran and organised sessions, chaired sessions, presented papers and to those that came to hear our messages, stories, projects and musings! There are too many to thank individually but you all opened up some very interesting spaces to discuss and talk about the role gender plays in decolonizing knowledge and the ways in which we can progress, break down, broaden and deepen gender and feminist geographies within the academy and outside.

If you couldn’t attend the conference, you can get a sneak peek at some of the goings-on: https://storify.com/HLJeffrey/gfgrg-tweets-at-rgs-ibg

In addition to the amazing and vast research topics considered in these sessions, GFGRG was delighted to sponsor the Erin Sanders-McDonagh’s monograph launch. Erin’s book Women and Sex Tourism Landscapes works to shift essentialising conceptualisations of not just women tourists, but also sex tourism.

The group also successfully ran the Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group mentoring and networking session for the second year running. This workshop-style session was headed up by Eveleigh Buck-Mathews, who utilised appreciative inquiry to get participants thinking through mentoring in order to identify needs, spaces and good practice to inform GFGRG’s idea and practice of mentoring in the future.

Heather Jeffrey and Eveleigh Buck-Matthews are the GFGRG’s out-going Postgraduate Representatives.  The group would like to thank them for all their hard work over the past two years.

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A facilitator’s story: Reflecting on the RGS-IBG’s Qualitative Methods Postgraduate Workshop. By Eveleigh Buck-Matthews

In July, the GFGRG co-sponsored the ‘Reflecting on Qualitative Research Methods’ workshop.  In this second post from the workshop, one of the workshop organisers reflects on her experience of the day.

This is the second year I’ve run a postgraduate workshop at the RGS-IBG. The RGS-IBG and the research groups are happy to let us postgrad reps run free and explore the building, supporting and creating a space for us, the geographical academics in training or otherwise known as PhD researchers.

It has been a bottom up process. Me and my fellow GFGRG postgrad rep, Heather Jeffrey saw a need. We didn’t feel our institutions offered us enough methods training during our PhD studies and because both of us weren’t in geography departments we had to go outside our universities to seek out workshops. I also had a social need, I was one of only three PhD’s to start in my new research centre. I was lacking in geographically likeminded people. I also had no opportunities to teach which I had always wanted to engage with, so the solution was to ask the RGS-IBG if we could run a workshop. Courage, enthusiasm and energy arrived in the guise of my fellow postgrad rep for GFGRG. We soon became thick as thieves!

We had about 15 PhD students for our first workshop, we had a fantastic key note; Dr Erin Sanders who walked us through her research, a sensory ethnography of Soho and her thoughts on her PhD and subsequent early career experience. It was a warm workshop and a pleasure to facilitate, a friendly environment. The feedback, it was needed. We had got what we needed – confirmation that it was wanted and had been helpful and supportive.

Therefore, 2017 rolled up. We had some tricky times, we had to push back the workshop later in the year as Viva preps and hand in dates meant we had to give ourselves more time. However, we took on a friendly face in the form of Dan Casey which gave us the breathing space and support we needed to pull a larger event together.

We were so lucky to have Prof Gillian Rose speak on her work on #smartcities and digital geography methodologies. It was methodologically fascinating as well as being visually beautiful. Following lunch I was up with a free writing workshop, it’s purpose was twofold. To get researchers to reflect on who their participants were and what their needs may be. Secondly, to put forward an alternative way to write and to think about writing. To break down the barriers we may put up against the process of writing and break into ways to encourage creative thinking. My last session looked at mapping, we are geographers after all. The glitter came out and people had the choice to body map or produce imagined maps based on their own research idea’s. A workshop designed to help researchers reflect on their work and research practice and to play with some creative methods of data collection.

(Photo courtesy of @TheaShahrokh)

After a tea break we were back with a session on reflexivity in research. Vignettes framed the ethical jungle that research fieldwork can be. We problematised and worked through how to deal with sometimes dangerous, awkward, confusing and tricky situations that come with primary research. There was strength in having talked through these situations and we practiced the ways in which we may write up reflexivity as well as deal with difficult situations at the time.

It was an exhausting yet fantastic day. The feedback we received was glowing and so pleasing to see. Feedback received such as “Very friendly, supportive, with lots of practical info and advice. Made PhD research seem fun again …!” makes the day worthwhile. People had taken so much from the day and also given us some constructive feedback which we can take forward with us if running similar events in the future. I would again like to thank everyone involved, especially the research groups that supported us:

Participatory Geographies Research Group (@pygyrg) Social Cultural Geographies Research Group (@SCGRG_RGS) Postgraduate Forum (@PGF_RGSIBG) Gender & Feminist Geographies Research Group (@GFG_RGSIBG) Geographies of Leisure and Tourism (@GLTRGuk)

I’d ask that if you are a PhD who has had a good experience, a light bulb moment, a space created you feel has helped please consider actively creating one yourself. It is a lonely experience doing a PhD and it doesn’t take a lot of energy to create a space with and for others, even if it’s just an email around seeing if people fancy the pub. Give back, however, whenever you can and if you’re looking for a way to do this consider becoming a postgraduate representative? running a session? running a workshop? Once you become confident, pass it on and show others it doesn’t have to be lonely, I made sure mine wasn’t.

To look at the day, check out our Twitter story: https://storify.com/eveleigh_bm/rqms


Twitter: @eveleigh_bm


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Re-figuring the city: A feminist walk of London’s monuments to women. By Rosie Martin and Louise Rondel.

… [T]he normative figure of leadership and especially in battle has been masculine.  Women’s inclusion into the nation has been quite specific.  Certainly, ample qualities of stone have been utilised to carve female statues of the nation.  In these, though, women predominantly feature as symbols of virtue, beauty, nurture and justice … It is men, however, who are metonymically linked to the nation.   Women feature as allegorical figures that signify the virtues of the nation.  It is men who literally represent and defend the nation.

Nirmal Puwar (2004) Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies Out of Place  

The nation’s story is told and retold in those who have been memorialised in stone, bronze and brass in its streets and squares.  London is, in part, made by these statues as well as by those who visit them, pausing to read the plaques attached to them, having their photograph taken with them or indeed passing by without noticing them.

Feminist journalist and activist Caroline Criado Perez (2016) documents that, of the 925 statues listed in the UK national database of the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, ‘a mere 2.7 per cent are of historical, non-royal women’:

If you’re a woman, your best chance at becoming a statue is to be a mythical or allegorical figure, a famous virgin, royal or nude.

Googling ‘female statues in London’ and taking out those of allegorical figures or royalty – we want to visit ‘real women who have done real things’ – we find sixteen statues (and it must be noted that of these sixteen, thirteen are of white women) and design a walk that takes in eleven of them starting in Gordon Square and ending at St Thomas’ Hospital.

Violette Szabo
Special Operations Executive
Albert Embankment, SE1

Louisa Blake
Tavistock Square, WC2

(For practical reasons, we do not visit the statues of preacher Catherine Booth in Champion Park, SE5, a woman holding a baby as a memorial to women of the Caribbean in Stockwell Memorial Garden SW9, musician Amy Winehouse in Camden NW1, actor Sarah Siddons in Paddington Green W2 and ballerina Anna Pavlova at the Victoria Palace Theatre SW1).

Noor Inayat Khan
Allied Special Operations Executive
Gordon Square, WC1

Leaving Gordon Square where groups of people are enjoying one of the first warm spring evenings amongst the blooming flowers and budding trees, we make our way alongside commuters rushing to get to the tube station at Holborn from where we cut through Covent Garden heading towards the tourists and living statues of Trafalgar Square.

Virginia Woolf
Tavistock Square, WC2

Margaret MacDonald
Social reformer
Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2

Edith Cavell
St Martin’s Place, WC2

As we approach the tall, imposing monument to Edith Cavell, a German tourist with her son stops to ask us directions to an attraction, and we think through what we know of the area from past experiences here, and check maps on our phones in order to help her navigate accurately across Trafalgar Square and onwards. Surrounding the base of the Edith Cavell statue is a group of real women, older women wearing black and holding signs that reference the lives of women in Yemen affected by UK arms sales.  The Women in Black claim the space around Edith dramatically. As we take a photo of the statue, they ask us who we are, we reply ‘nobody’, explain our mission, then move on too.

Florence Nightingale
Waterloo Place, W1

We walk along Whitehall and discuss the last time we were together, standing here at a rally outside Downing Street on a cold January evening to protest Trump’s ‘travel ban’.  Amongst the tourist crush, we arrive at Westminster Bridge, everyone trying to get a photo of themselves with Big Ben whilst we try to navigate around them to get to the statue Boudica, the plaque now hidden by a stand selling London souvenirs.

Boudica and her daughters
Queen of the Celtic Iceni Tribe
Westminster Bridge, SW1

We pass through Parliament Square and out to the quiet of the river.  Reaching the memorial to Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in Westminster, we speak about the story of Emily Wilding Davison who hid in the crypt of the Houses of Parliament on the night of the 1911 census, so that she could emerge and have her address registered in the House Of Commons. She was indeed enumerated there, and died just two years later when she famously threw herself under the King’s horse.

Emmeline Pankhurst
Victoria Tower Gardens, SW1

Monument to Women of World War 2
Whitehall, SW1

Finally crossing Lambeth Bridge, tired, the light fading and the last few commuters cycling past us back to south of the river, we wander along Embankment reaching the end of our walk at St Thomas’ Hospital.

Mary Seacole
St Thomas’ Hospital, SE1

Throughout the evening, we are walking at a different rhythm to those around us, our eyes are drawn elsewhere and our attention is focused on what others are oblivious to as we search for the statues, feeling elated when we find them.  We feel that we are occupying a different city to other people and through this occupation, we are making the city differently.

Rosie Martin is a writer and sewing blogger who makes simple instructions so that anyone can make their own clothes.  She takes a hackers’ approach to clothing, opening it up so the power to make it is in everyone’s hands.  She has written DIY Couture: Create Your Own Fashion Collection and No Patterns Needed: DIY Couture from Simple Shapes.  For more information see her website.

Contact: diycouture@gmail.com

Twitter: @diycouture  

Louise Rondel is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London.  She is interested in the relationship between bodies and cities, the beauty industry, sensory methods and feminist geographies.

Contact: l.rondel@gold.ac.uk

Twitter: @LouiseRondel

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