Current projects

Queer experiences of disasters, intersectionality, and the spatial dimension

Funding: 2019: Early Career Visiting Fellowship, Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space (ACCESS), University of Wollongong (AU$4,000), with Christine Eriksen and Scott McKinnon.


The “Progress” pride flag. Image: Daniel Quasar

Consideration for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and queer (LGBTQ) people is often absent in disaster management strategies, yet they experience unique vulnerabilities linked to inequality and marginalisation. Where LGBTQ people are considered, it is often as one uniform group, but LGBTQ people are not homogeneous, with diversity of experiences both between and within subgroups. Framing LGBTQ experiences as homogeneous is insufficient and risks contributing to further inequalities, with the voices of more visible or dominant groups, such as gay men, viewed as representing all LGBTQ experiences.

A central aim is to investigate how space influences diversity of queer experiences of disaster, and how activities such as participatory mapping may be useful as both research tools and vehicles for advocacy. Here I include online space, with platforms like hook-up apps and social media proving important for LGBTQ people during disasters. Through internet and technological advancements the public can contribute to geographic knowledge production and maps in unprecedented ways, yet even in this context marginalised groups remain under-represented.

I aim to explore the following questions:
1. How do varying experiences of marginality within the LGBTQ community influence disaster risk?
2. How can activities such as participatory mapping be used as research tools and vehicles for advocacy in reducing disaster risk among diverse marginalised populations?

The writing on the wall: reading social realities through graffiti and street art in conflict-affected societies

Co Chief-investigator with Eric Lepp, Birte Vogel, Catherine Arthur, and Dylan O’Driscoll.
Funding: 2019: HCRI Research support fund (£3,230)

Street art and graffiti represent a diverse range of artistic, social, cultural, and political practices in urban landscapes, whereby writers publicly mark their different intentions, forms of expression, and potential impacts on communities. Graffiti defines places in dynamic spatial and temporal ways, and often garners divided views. Graffiti is frequently understood as either vandalism or art, but this dichotomy under-represents graffiti; it provides rich insight into societies and social life, including different cultures, social issues, trends and political discourse, and spatial and territorial identities. As both a contributor to and commentary on contested spaces, graffiti is particularly valuable in (post)conflict societies undergoing social and political transformation as it furthers knowledge of peace and conflict practices.

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Street art in the north of Nicosia, June 2019 (Photo: Billy Haworth)

For this project we will draw on existing data that project members collected on previous research trips to Timor-Leste, Colombia and Iraq, and build on it with new empirical data from a further, distinct (post-)conflict region: Cyprus. Cyprus is physically, politically, and culturally divided, and presents an excellent case to examine how the political (or non-political) and artistic acts of graffiti and street art maintain or challenge narratives of conflict.

We aim to explore the following questions:
1. What can be gained from an analysis of graffiti writings and occurrence for the management of contested spaces, promotion of peace, and everyday experiences of politically-divided territories?
2. To what extent does graffiti play a role in not only commenting on public and political discourse relating to peace, but in shaping it?
3. How can participatory action research tools, such as walking interviews and qualitative GIS, be useful in advancing understandings of the relationships between graffiti, space, and peace?

Disaster simulations for the geography school curriculum

Co Chief-investigator with Lisa Ficklin.
Funding: 2019: Royal Geographic Society (with IBG) Innovative Geography Teaching Grant (£1,000)


Emergency flood response in the UK. Image: AFP/Getty via the Independent

Hazards feature in the geography national curriculum at every key stage. This provides opportunity for connective and consolidated learning across the secondary year groups and allows for the integration of physical and human geography through enquiry based learning and contextualised problem solving.

In co-teaching hazards and critical disaster studies in Higher Education we have developed teaching strategies and materials that combine hazard and disaster learning objectives that feature in the Key stage 3, 4 and 5 curricula. These strategies combine knowledge and analysis skills on climatic and tectonic hazards, differentiated vulnerabilities, and the importance of context and place in disaster governance and response. This project will adapt these materials and strategies into a hazard toolkit for secondary geography teachers.

The toolkit focuses on the simulation of a disaster event from different actor perspectives in real time. Students will analyse data from images, GIS data and policy documents to produce a dynamic response strategy that responds to changes in the simulation. Strategies are constrained by the financial and political resources of each assigned actor. Students receive information incrementally, demanding responsiveness and flexibility. Students must negotiate their positioned preferred outcomes with each other. In this way, students connect geographical knowledge and skills to evaluate how hazard events create different outcomes according to place beyond being able to describe development trends.

Humanitarian mapathons

With Jonny Huck.
Funding: 2018/19: Social Responsibility and Cultural Engagement Fund, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures (£1,655)

A significant challenge faced by the Global South is a lack of access to high quality mapping. Detailed maps are vital for many development activities, including efficient and effective deployment of resources, and disaster response. Areas not ‘on the map’ are frequently excluded from provision of services such as healthcare. This issue is compounded as it is often the most vulnerable people who are left off maps. Mapping contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including those related to disaster risk reduction, poverty elimination, transport, sustainable cities, refugee response, public health and the environment.

Freely available online mapping platforms are enabling volunteers across the world to contribute to filling these gaps in spatial information. OpenStreetMap (OSM), as an example, is a volunteer-contributed internet mapping platform. OSM has many applications, but humanitarian efforts have gained considerable attention, particularly for regions with poor spatial information. A “Mapathon” or mapping party involves volunteers working collaboratively over a short period of time (e.g. a day; afternoon) on mapping tasks of real datasets that contribute to assisting real humanitarian efforts. Mapping requires no prior skills or knowledge, with basic training provided, and involves new skill and knowledge acquisition and networking opportunities for participants, in addition to the mapping contributed.

1. Generate mapping data for global humanitarian efforts and research in areas that are currently under-mapped. Focus on northern Uganda to support on-going University of Manchester (UoM) research and aid provision in the area.
2. Educate students and Manchester community members on the importance of spatial data for humanitarian aid and related Global South challenges
3. Develop skills in spatial mapping techniques for UoM students, and local community groups and international schoolchildren
4. Increase engagement of schools with university research, humanitarianism, and promote geospatial literacy

Planned activities
1. UoM/HCRI Mapathon, March 2019, aimed at HCRI and Geography PGR, PGT and UG students, as well as being advertised widely across the University.
2. Mapathon for wider public/community, including inviting a selection of Manchester charity and community organisations (e.g. Rethink Rebuild, In Place of War) to raise the profile of our humanitarian mapping activities, and to attract more participants to participate in humanitarian mapping. We aim to  build community engagement with the University in which  knowledge and skills are shared, also increasing the visibility of our research.
3. Develop “Schools and Groups” packs (under 11, 11-16 and 16+ level) to make it simple and attractive for schools and groups (scouts, cadets, youth clubs etc) to participate in mapping activities.