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Triangulation exhibition: VG&M

Maps & Mapping Posted on 17 Jul, 2019 11:22:45


An exhibition at the Victoria Gallery and Museum Liverpool by the photographers Stephanie Wynne and Stephen McCoy as part of LOOK Liverpool Photographic Festival.

18 July – 24 August 2019

Location: Gallery 7, first floor, VG&M


Below is a short written piece I produced to accompany the exhibition:


Triangulation. The word has an air of precision about it. From the careful placing of the theodolite on the trig pillar, to the no less careful eye of the surveyor scanning a point in the distance, through to the geometric delineation of a landscape rendered in two dimensions, it is important to be precise. The rationalising and abstraction of space that defines the process of map-making – a mediation of the world that we are at once immersed within and standing back from – is analogous to that routinely invested in the work of the landscape photographer. Does a photograph map the topographic features being gazed upon by the photographer? Perhaps, perhaps not. It depends on how you are defining ‘map’. But what both forms of media do nevertheless impart is their ‘propositional character’, as Denis Wood suggests in his book Rethinking the Power of Maps. Both map and photographic image throw us something we then take it upon ourselves to do something with by way of response.

In the hands of photographers Stephanie Wynne and Stephen McCoy, Triangulation (the project) invites us to rethink the practice of triangulation and to enter into – or at least be more attentive to – a compelling dialogue unfolding between cartography and photography; between map-making and image-making. The way it does this is by offering us another form of triangulation, one that draws a tentative but discernible line between three discreet fields of knowledge; or, to borrow from cultural theorist Michel De Certeau, between three spatial stories.

The first of these is the story of how the British Ordnance Survey map came into being. Triangulation conjures a history of triangulation that speaks as much to the technological leaps and bounds that helped shaped innovations in cartography since the founding of the Ordnance Survey in 1791, as it does the geographical particularities of Great Britain as an island-nation and as a landmass set apart from continental Europe. Set against the backdrop of a nation grappling with the uncertainties of Brexit, Triangulation helps incite reflection on the extent to which the points we choose to triangulate necessarily need to fall within the political boundaries of the nation-state.

The second spatial story has a much deeper provenance, one that trails its way through cultural histories of landscape, where the process of ‘putting a frame’ (literally and metaphorically) around a part of the world – a cityscape here, an affecting rural prospect there, a Shangri-La beyond the horizon (somewhere over the rainbow) – is a part of how people down the ages have gone about the task of making that world. The aesthetics of landscape can be as rigorously disciplined or as messily chaotic as circumstances and artistic dispositions demand. In Triangulation we are privy to both the exactingly precise and the serendipitous workings of chance. As with the surveyor who has hauled his or her theodolite across a field or up a rocky incline, McCoy and Wynne, having found where X marks the spot, carefully erect their camera and tripod atop the triangulation pillars. What follows is a 360° panoramic scan that is enacted with the same degree of care as that expected of the Ordnance Survey cartographer. But in other respects, aesthetic considerations are obviated by the necessity to frame the view as they find it, whatever the weather and the challenges posed by the relentless buffeting of wind. Happenstance, and the simple need to get the job done, removes much of the burden of agency.

The third spatial story provides a tantalising glimpse into the trials and travails of the getting there. This is a story whose telling takes place outside the frame. It describes the coalescence of ideas and inspiration, of entwined creative ambitions, the gradual emergence of a realisable project, the aesthetic conviction and ‘mapping impulse’ that drives the process through to fruition. It describes a quest or an odyssey of sorts, a tale that is only fleshed out in its telling. It may even be suggested that Triangulation is the enactment of a form of pilgrimage inasmuch as any sacred journey is destined to reap a reward, something that is brought back to the mundane world. If we accept such a conceit, then each of these images may be looked upon as talisman or souvenir whose function is to prompt enunciation, whether this be the telling of the spatial story inscribed in the making of the image, or the calling out of what are otherwise neglected markers of cultural and industrial heritage. We might also consider whether each of these images is perhaps a stepping stone in a pilgrimage that can only be fully realised when all of the primary trig pillars still standing (310 at the last count) have been photographically mapped. But that would be to sketch the contours of a spatial story as yet untold.

Les Roberts, July 2019.

Digital Memories Symposium, London

Talks & Presentations Posted on 19 Jun, 2019 15:45:10

I visited the University of Liverpool in London campus for the first time this week. I remember when the building it occupies was the Bank of Nova Scotia. This was back in the 1990s when I was working in the area for a period (the bus stopped right outside). The building still has the feel and corporate ambience of an investment bank, which I suppose seems appropriate given the ‘trading’ of knowledge that is now expected to take place in the brave new marketised world of the neoliberal university.

Anyway, the reason I was there was to attend the Digital Memories symposium that I nominally co-organised (the bulk of the heavy lifting was done by Jordana Blejmar and Silvana Mandolessi). On the second day (18 June) the Culture, Space and Memory research group (myself, Alyssa, Wallis, and Jordana) presented some current work in progress. This was in a session held in a space called the ‘Executive Room’ (they could have at least given it a different name, one more befitting the kind of activity one would expect to be taking place at an academic conference or a university seminar room). My paper was a slightly revised version of the presentation I gave at the Geomedia Conference in May: ‘Homing in to Dwellspace: Inhabiting The Presentness of Memory’.

Geomedia 2019 recordings – plenary + podcast

Talks & Presentations Posted on 19 Jun, 2019 14:32:54

Following on from the previous post about the 2019 Geomedia conference, John Lynch has made available links to recordings of the plenary talk he organised and chaired (in which I participated) along with a podcast interview I recorded with John. These can be accessed below:

1. Plenary Session: Dreaming of Home: Film and Imaginary Territories of the Real, video recording of session chaired by John Lynch, Wednesday 8 May 2019. Access here.

2. Homing in Through Film, podcast discussion, Thursday 9 May 2019. Access here.


Talks & Presentations Posted on 11 May, 2019 18:10:52

Arrived back last night from this year’s Geomedia Conference in Karlstad. Three plane journeys and nearly 12 hours from door to door made the return journey quite a slog. Next time I’ll make sure to explore other travel options.

Anyway, the conference theme was ‘Revisiting the Home’ and my contribution was as part of a plenary panel (‘Dreaming of Home: Film and Imaginary Territories of the Real’) organised by John Lynch. The other contributors were Nilgun Bayraktar (California College of the Arts) and the filmmaker Christine Molloy (Desparate Optimists).

The plenary session was filmed and will shortly be available via the conference website (, along with a podcast that I recorded with John which will be available here.

The plenary paper I presented was called ‘Homing in Through Film: Movement, Embodiment, Dwellspace‘. Below is the abstract:

In this paper I set out to explore a phenomenology of ‘home’ that proceeds from contemplative reflection on three scenes from three very different films. In their own particular way, each of these scenes provide an oblique framing on ideas and affects that I am putting under the conceptual umbrella of ‘dwellspace’. Firstly, via Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (USSR, 1971), we consider home as an ‘island of memory’. In this reckoning, home serves as a transcendental u-topos of memory which corresponds with Henri Lefebvre’s (1991) idea of ‘absolute space’. That is, it marks out a sacred zone of authentic being which is phenomenologically rent from the embodied self situated in the here and now of social space-time. It is a ‘heterotopia’ (Foucault 1986) of home that can only exist outside of space and time, but which, like the cinematic image itself, can be accessed through our stepping in to virtual worlds. Secondly, taking as its example the euthanasia scene from Richard Fleischer’s dystopian thriller, Soylent Green (US, 1973), we consider home ‘as a journey to the other shore’, a metaphor, commonly associated with Buddhism, which refers to the journey of transition between life and death (or the afterlife). In this example, home is a place to ‘go back to’ in the sense of securing a locus of eternal dwelling where the transcendence of nature absorbs the soon-to-be-deceased back into its nurturing (or not-so-nurturing) fold. As with Solaris’s home as an island of memory, home in this example is a place that can only be embraced by correspondingly stepping away from the world: home as stasis and death as opposed to an affect of dwelling from where life and movement continue to flow. Lastly, drawing on Hirokazu Koreeda’s After Life (Japan, 1998), I sketch out the contours of a phenomenologically different affect of home: home as a ‘good place’ (eu-topia) of memory. Paradoxically, although the film centres on the activities of the recently deceased (who are being processed through a transitional space – a kind of metaphysical holding area or celestial or purgatorial waystation – en route to an eternity in the afterlife), the idea – or dwellspace – of home that is crafted for those passing through is curiously life-affirming. The paper ends by extending this idea to consider what home might look and feel like as part of a creative spatial praxis: a creative ‘at-homeness’ which connotes not so much a stepping away from the space-time of everyday life, but rather a deep and poetic immersion within it.

Agnes Varda 1928-2019

Misc Posted on 30 Mar, 2019 17:35:28

Very sad indeed to hear the news of Agnes Varda’s passing. A truly inspirational figure and up there with the greats. I first became acquainted with her films when working on my PhD in the early 2000s and have been smitten ever since. The Gleaners and I remains one of my favourite films of any director. It never ceases to enchant and inspire. Other stand out films for me include Vagabond, Cleo from 5 to 7, Daguerreotypes, The Beaches of Agnes, and the recent Faces/Places. But for me all of her work stands up to repeated viewings. I was very fortunate to see her in conversation at FACT in Liverpool last year as part of the 2018 Liverpool Biennial. The photograph above was taken afterwards outside FACT. I will miss her playfulness, creativity and indefatigable energy.

I-Media-Cities Keynote

Talks & Presentations Posted on 30 Mar, 2019 12:55:28

I-Media-Cities Conference Brussels

March 27, 2019 at Cinematek Brussels, Rue Ravenstein 3, 1000 Brussels

Conference programme here.

I was invited to give a keynote talk at this one-day conference which was held on 27 March 2019 at the Cinematek (Royal Film Archive of Belgium) in Brussels. The conference was linked to the research activities of the Horizon 2020 I-Media-Cities project.

My presentation was titled: ‘Spatial Anthropology and the Archive City: Locating Urban Cultural Memory‘. Presentation slides can be accessed here.


Misc Posted on 20 Feb, 2019 22:39:10

It has been a while since I’ve uploaded anything to the ‘Words‘ page on I am not sure why this is other than the fish just not biting. Not that I’ve really been fishing as far as I am aware. What tends to happen with poetry writing is not so much that I go looking for words, it is rather that they come looking for me. At least, that is how it seems with the poem ‘Gif’. Something snags and refuses to be dislodged. Because of this thing – an idea, feeling, disposition, whatever – making demands on my attention I am inexorably drawn in. Some sort of resolution then becomes necessary. As I started to work through whatever it was the image of a gif called on me to address it became apparent that it was a structure of feeling instilled by the nightmare that is the Brexit ‘process’ (if that doesn’t over-dignify what is otherwise better described as a horrowshow) that was slowly beginning to reveal itself. I don’t think the poem exclusively speaks to this, but the overwhelming feeling of ‘stuckness’ that seems to hang in the air is very much in tune with a national mood that is encapsulated by whatever it is that ‘Brexit’ has come to signify. It is not really a liminal condition as such because there is no obvious sense of an in-between state that is being traversed and negotiated. It seems more like a stutter, a tourettes-like spasm of time stuck on repeat.

The poem ‘Gif’ can be read here.

Spatial Anthropology – acknowledgements

Publication News Posted on 02 Jul, 2018 10:34:01

Spatial Anthropology is now published in hardback and e-book formats (paperback is due in 2019). Great to see it in print finally. Unfortunately, due to some shoddy production work on the part of publishers Rowman & Littlefield, the book is missing the acknowledgements section I submitted. I am informed that this will be rectified for the paperback version and future print copies of the hardback (and the e-book). But for the time-being, the acknowledgements that would have been included in the book had R&L done their job properly are as follows:


In reworked form, parts of this book have been reproduced from articles published previously. ‘Castaway’ (Chapter 3) appeared first as ‘The Rhythm of Non-places: Marooning the Embodied Self in Depthless Space’, in Humanities, Volume 4 (2015). ‘Stalker’ (Chapter 4) is based on the article ‘The Bulger Case: a Spatial Story’, in The Cartographic Journal, Volume 51 (2014). ‘Necrogeography’ (Chapter 7) was published as ‘The Cestrian Book of the Dead: a Necrogeographic Survey of the Dee Estuary’, in Literary Mapping in the Digital Age, edited by David Cooper, Christopher Donaldson and Patricia Murrieta-Flores (Routledge 2016). I am grateful to the publishers of these articles and to the editors and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.

The ideas developed throughout the book and the research projects around which much of the discussion is based stretch back over a decade or more, pretty much spanning the period that I have been living and working in the North West (although, living as I do in North Wales – and Anglocentrism aside – this regional descriptor has necessarily blurred edges). Accordingly, the people who have in some way or another had a hand in the shaping of the book’s contents – whether as interlocutors, colleagues, discussants, students, informants, sceptics, detractors, fellow travellers, sounding boards – are far too numerous to mention. However, I would especially like to thank Sara Cohen and Julia Hallam, colleagues in the Institute of Popular Music (School of Music) and Department of Communication and Media at the University of Liverpool, with whom I worked closely on a series of research projects between 2006 and 2013. Many of the exploratory and formative incursions into what would only later acquire the name ‘spatial anthropology’ came about as a result of opportunities, and the intellectual freedoms they helped nurture, that were afforded me during this period of immensely collaborative research activity. Also, in addition to those who helped me secure permission to reproduce images (and to Rob Wright
for his captivating photograph of Stanlow Refinery included in Chapter 9), I am grateful to Andy McCluskey and BMG for generously allowing me to reproduce lyrics from the song ‘Stanlow’ by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (a big thank you too to Paul Gallagher from the Museum of Liverpool for his help with this).

As the bulk of Spatial Anthropology was written during a period of research leave (February to September 2017) it would be remiss of me not to extend thanks to the School of the Arts and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Liverpool for granting me the requisite space and time to bring this project into fruition. I am grateful to series editors Neil Campbell and Christine Berberich for accepting Spatial Anthropology for publication as part of their excellent Place, Memory, Affect series. Lastly, I am, as ever, indebted to Hazel Andrews for helping me sharpen and refine my anthropological sensibilities, and for sharing the road (and the load) as we ramble and rove through this world of our making.

Les Roberts, March 2018.

‘Covert autoethnography’ and other research ethics anomalies: making the case for ethics-in-practice

Spatial Humanities Posted on 27 Apr, 2018 00:22:39

In this blog I wish to sound off about – or provide some considered critical reflections on, you decide which it is – the process of obtaining research ethics approval for projects that employ what may broadly be understood as autoethnographic methods. The subject matter for this blog entry has come about as a result both of observing (in ways that, I guess, qualify as autoethnographic reflection) how research ethics considerations are being administered procedurally, and as part of a process of broader critical engagement with questions of method as these apply to debates and practices in the spatial humanities. In respect of the latter, these thoughts have been developed in more expansive form in two publications that I have been working on for the past year or so, a monograph Spatial Anthropology: Excursions in Liminal Space (Roberts 2018a), and a special issue of the online open-access journal Humanities, which I guest edited under the title of: Spatial Bricolage: Methodological Eclecticism and the Poetics of ‘Making Do’ (Roberts 2017-18).

But first of all let me address the titular reference to ‘covert autoethnography’. To date, the only occasion that I have been confronted with this most intriguing of methodological strategies is at a procedural level (i.e. as raised in the course of trying to secure institutional ethics approval for a research project). My initial response when presented with the idea of ‘covert autoethnography’ was one of bemusement. Covert ethnography clearly makes sense and is entirely legitimate to raise in relation to research ethics considerations. But covert autoethnography made about as much sense to me as the idea of covert masturbation (try it, see if you can go all the way without noticing). Then I pondered it some more and, while I would maintain that it is unquestionably a meaningless term and entirely unworkable as a concern premised on the delivery of a practical response, it does nevertheless raise interesting questions as to the where a line may be unambiguously drawn between autoethnography and ethnography in terms of the ‘visibility’ of the researcher (as distinct from a ‘regular’ individual going about his or her everyday business). This is where the masturbation analogy doesn’t hold up so well. If I am autoethnographically attuned to the world of phenomena to which my attention is turned, then, in the first instance at least, it is myself to whom I am accountable. For it not to be so would be to abrogate any sense of my being able to authoritatively reflect on matters based on what I myself have directly observed and understood from what is going on in the world around me. As with the art of sexual self-service, this does not pose too great a problem when the activity is confined to the individual in his or her capacity as a lone operator. The minute the autoethnographer and/or onanist then plies their trade in public we are confronted with an altogether different ethical scenario. One of these figures will end up being bundled into the back of a police car and driven briskly away, and few would see this as any major infringement on basic human rights. The other – the autoethnographer – is saddled with a less conspicuous sense of social responsibility whereby any potential ethical transgression is less (nakedly) transparent. Its realisation can only ever be deferred if, indeed, it is ever made manifest at all. Any ethical concerns will only be revealed as such to the extent that any other parties that are drawn in to the orbit of the working autoethnographer feel they have been misled or taken advantage of in some way. The autoethnographer clearly does not operate in a social vacuum, and in that respect, unless making their researcher ‘identity’ a matter of very evident disclosure (perhaps by wearing some sort of hat with the words ‘autoethnographer at work’ emblazoned on the peak, or by requesting written consent before engaging in any and every form of social interaction), s/he is by definition acting ‘covertly’. And therein lies the rub.

‘In practice,’ argues American communications scholar Arthur Bochner, ‘autoethnography is not so much a methodology as a way of life. It is a way of life that acknowledges contingency, finitude, embeddedness in storied being, encounters with Otherness, an appraisal of ethical and moral commitments, and a desire to keep conversation going’ (2013: 53). If we accept that autoethnography is a way of life, or that, in practice, it is indivisible from how we might routinely engage with others as part and parcel of everyday social discourse, then clearly it is not a ‘method’ that can (or should be) rigorously policed through the imposition of a standardised code of institutional research ethics. The regrettable connotation that the term ‘covert autoethnography’ undoubtedly helps reinforce is the idea that the practice of autoethnography can be neatly assigned to a specific social arena or period of time. This does, of course, depend as to what (or where) constitutes the ‘field’ of research practice in any given instance. But more often than not the researcher does not find themselves in a position where they might purposely declare ‘OK, I’m ready – now I am going into the field, putting my autoethnographer’s hat on and getting down to business’. It generally doesn’t work that way. Autoethnography may not necessarily be thought of as autoethnography at the time and place from whence narrative observations have been reflexively drawn; it is entirely conceivable that their significance may only be registered as noteworthy retrospectively (i.e. in the form of autoethnographic memory).

In ‘Spatial bricolage: the art of poetically making do’ (Roberts 2018b), I address these and related concerns with specific reference to the idea of the ‘researcher-as-bricoleur’ (Denzin and Lincoln 2011) and to an interdisciplinary understanding of space and its practice as a form of bricolage: of methodologically ‘making do’. As I note in that article, the eclecticism of bricolage methods can invite accusations of superficiality and lack of rigour. In such circumstances the researcher-as-bricoleur comes across as a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ (and, by implication, master of none), someone who plays fast-and-loose with established research methods and paradigms. By way of illustration, critical pedagogist Joe Kincheloe describes problems he and his students encountered at university committee meetings and job interviews when advancing the merits of bricolage (and by extension interdisciplinary) approaches to their work as academics. ‘Implicit in the critique of interdisciplinarity’, he writes, ‘and thus of bricolage as its manifestation in research is the assumption that interdisciplinarity is by nature superficial’ (2001: 680-1). A commitment to research eclecticism – of ‘allowing circumstance to shape methods employed’ (Kincheloe et al 2011: 168-9) – can thus be seen, by some, as inherently problematic and something that shouldn’t really be encouraged. Putting what Norman Denzin refers to as the ‘Performative-I on stage’ or seeking to get recognition of autoethnography as a ‘disruptive practice’ (Denzin 2014: 11, 23) are not the easiest of propositions to sell to the average ethics review committee or institutional review board:

The IRB [institutional review board] framework assumes that one model of research fits all forms of inquiry, but that is not the case. This model requires that researchers fill out forms concerning subjects’ informed consent, the risks and benefits of the research for subjects, confidentiality, and voluntary participation. The model also presumes a static, monolithic view of the human subject. Performance autoethnography, for example, falls outside this model… Participation is entirely voluntary, hence there is no need for subjects to sign forms indicating that their consent is ‘informed.’ The activities that makes up the research are participatory; that is, they are performative, collaborative, and action and praxis based. (Denzin 2003: 249-250)

In a similar vein, bringing a performative and autoethnographic sensibility to the sociocultural study of space is to take it as read that our understanding and experience of space is itself action and praxis based. To question a space by the simple act of stepping into it is, by definition, already a breach of boundaries. We cannot roam wherever we like whenever we like but where lines are ‘legitimately’ drawn in any given scenario is fuzzy at best. However much (or little) truck a university ethics committee might have with the argument that researchers themselves should be at liberty to exercise some degree of ethical circumspection, the fact remains that, within the framework of what is deemed possible (if not necessarily defensible), the responsibility for action lies with the actor. As Marilys Guillemin and Lynn Gillam point out, procedural ethics and ‘ethics in practice’ are not the same thing; the latter – the day-to-day ethical issues that arise during the course of research activity – are subject to the reflexive considerations that the researcher is faced with as s/he responds to events and experiences as they present themselves in practice. Reflexivity thus ‘comes into play in the field, where research ethics committees are not accessible’ (2004: 274), making it, from a procedural point of view (i.e. that of a research ethics committee or institutional review board), a concept that is not even afforded any ethical significance (as if the ethical ‘work’ can be got out of the way at committee stage and any subsequent reflexivity on the part of the researcher restricted to matters solely practical, not ethical).

Reflexivity lies at the core of how and why the autoethnographer does what s/he does. Attention is thrown back on to the researcher in the field, not as an exercise in self-indulgence, but to recognise that the process of ‘making do’ requires the researcher to step in to any given space in ways that her presence – her creativity and performance; her intersubjectivity; her body; her experience – becomes constitutive of that space. In this respect, the spatial bricoleur is as autoethnographically invested in the space or spaces he immerses himself in as he is in any other that are routinely encountered in everyday life. For the autoethnographer ‘in the field’ it is no more possible to maintain a non-dialogical distinction between procedural ethics and ethics-in-practice as it is in any other socio-spatial context. This does not mean that ethical considerations made ‘in practice’ automatically trump those made procedurally, or that they extend licence, by default, to the reflexively aware researcher. What it does point to is the pedagogic presumption of what Denzin calls a ‘communitarian dialogical ethic of care and responsibility. It presumes that performances occur in sacred aesthetic spaces where research does not operate as a dirty word’ (2014: 80, emphasis in original). On the part of the institution, it may not be that the risks themselves are considered high or of any immediate concern in terms of the research outline being proposed. It may instead simply be that the very idea of academic research as ‘bricolage’ or that methods may be applied in an ‘eclectic’ fashion (or, indeed, that the merits of chance, provocation or performativity are being earnestly promoted) is enough to raise the alarm bells (not to mention the eyebrows of administrators and the legions of bureaucrats who have secured a well-established foothold in the neoliberal academy). On that basis alone, the case for making autoethnography and the researcher-as-bricoleur as a focus of critical discussion is, I am suggesting, persuasive and cogent.

In seeking to cast a much-needed critical spotlight on the regime of qualitative research ethics scrutiny it is important to stress that my intention is not in any way to play down the seriousness of ethical matters as they relate to academic research practices and methods. Nor is it to suggest that research ethics should be wrested free from all forms of procedural governance and administration. My aim is not even to make the rather obvious point that the current system of research ethics scrutiny is demonstrably out of step with the practical realities faced by many academics and their students working in research environments where eclecticism, interdisciplinarity, some degree of bricolage, or of creativity and performativity, has long been the norm. Rather than making a case against the imposition of research ethics frameworks, my intention, if anything, is the opposite. It is to make the case for research ethics to be thought about differently; to persuade those that need persuading that procedural ethics and ethics-in-practice are, or should be, a conversation: an open, flexible, and above all dialogical ethic of care and responsibility. Procedural ethics should not be just an instrumental mechanism to dictate what ethics-in-practice unbendingly need to comply with, with all the inflexibility and standardisation that such a one-way discourse helps cement. A procedural ethics that understands and respects the idea of experiential ethics-in-practice is one that recognises that qualitative researchers, as with any other academic, whatever their methodological orientation, are qualified professionals whose skill-set, by definition, extends to their having to make ethical judgements and reflexive decisions ‘on the go’ (that is to say: in practice). They do not park their ethical responsibilities once they’ve been given institutional approval and set out for the field with the knowledge that they’ve been ‘cleared’ for ethically appropriate action. They bring ethics to their practice as critically reflexive and socially engaged researchers whose responsibility, as they see it, also extends to the provision and sustainability of productive research environments for their students. A procedural ethics that understands and respects this ethos is one that recognises that students also need to be given the space to work through ethics-in-practice as part of their own journey towards becoming critically reflexive and socially engaged citizens, wherever their professional careers may take them. From a critical pedagogical standpoint, talk of ‘covert autoethnography’, with its Orwellian overtones (the implication that critical reflection should be held in check lest the very act of thinking infringes on the rights of others) thus more than justifies a committed ethical response. In making the case for ethics-in-practice, this blog provides a small, but hopefully not too insignificant contribution to this unfolding conversation.

Les Roberts, April 2018


Bochner, Arthur P. 2013. ‘Putting Meanings into Motion: Autoethnography’s Existential Calling’, in Stacy Holman Jones, Tony E. Adams, Carolyn Ellis (eds.), Handbook of Autoethnography. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, pp. 50-56.

Denzin, Norman K. 2003. Performance Ethnography: Critical Pedagogy and the Politics of Culture. London: SAGE.

Denzin, Norman K. 2014. Interpretive Autoethnography. 2nd Edition. London: SAGE.

Denzin, Norman K. and Yvonna S. Lincoln. 2011. ‘Introduction: The Discipline and Practice of Qualitative Research’, in Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. 4th Edition. London: SAGE, pp. 1-19.

Guillemin, Marilys and Lynn Gillam. 2004. ‘Ethics, Reflexivity, and “Ethically Important Moments” in Research’, in Qualitative Inquiry 10 (2): 261-280.

Kincheloe, Joe, Peter McLaren and Shirley R. Steinberg. 2011. ‘Critical Pedagogy and Qualitative Research: Moving to the Bricolage’, in Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. 4th Edition. London: SAGE, pp. 163-177.

Kincheloe, Joe. 2001. ‘Describing the Bricolage: Conceptualizing a New Rigor in Qualitative Research’, in Qualitative Inquiry 7 (6): 679-692.

Les Roberts. 2017-18. Special Issue on ‘Spatial Bricolage: Methodological Eclecticism and the Poetics of “Making Do”‘, Humanities, 7.

Roberts, Les. 2018a. Spatial Anthropology: Excursions in Liminal Space. London: Rowman & Littlefield.

Les Roberts. 2018b. ‘Spatial bricolage: the art of poetically making do’, in Les Roberts (ed.), Special Issue on ‘Spatial Bricolage: Methodological Eclecticism and the Poetics of “Making Do”‘, Humanities, 7.

Posthuman Buddhism

Selfhood & Body Posted on 26 Mar, 2018 15:36:29

The manuscript for Spatial Anthropology: Excursions in Liminal Space is now well into the production stage. The book is due to be published by Rowman & Littlefield in June 2018.

In the meantime, I have started work on the next monograph, a provisional outline of which is as follows:

Posthuman Buddhism is a new book project currently in development. Ideas for the monograph have their root in a number of different theoretical domains but share common ground insofar as they variously confront questions of selfhood and embodiment in the digital age. The book approaches these questions by framing its discussion around philosophical and anthropological perspectives that span two very different fields of study. Firstly, addressing debates in communication studies that explore phenomenological and non-media-centric approaches to digital media practices, Posthuman Buddhism provides insights into the embodied materialities of posthuman media cultures, where digital communications serve as much an ontological as instrumental function (provoking the question ‘what does it mean to be posthuman in the digital media age?’). Secondly, grappling with some of the spatial and temporal implications of posthuman media materialities, Posthuman Buddhism draws on ideas that speak to, and are illuminated by, strands of Buddhist thought and practice (provoking the question ‘what does it mean to be “mindful” in the digital media age?’).

The motivation for writing the book stems from a desire to explore more fully a number of interrelated themes, some of which have started to feed into content covered on a course I teach at the University of Liverpool called Media, Self and Society (which, from 2018-19, will be re-named Posthuman Culture and Society and co-taught with my colleague David Hill). The introductory lecture on the course was written in the days following the death of David Bowie in January 2016. Responding to that event, the lecture sought to examine concepts of the ‘postmodern self’ by reflecting, in part, on the shape-shifting and fluid identities that were a hallmark of Bowie’s cultural persona. It did so by bringing the idea of creative changefulness, exemplified by Bowie, into dialogue with Buddhist notions of impermanence and non-self (and by briefly touching on Bowie’s own long-standing flirtation with Buddhism). Posthuman Buddhism builds on these introductory reflections on culture, media and the postmodern self to consider broader issues that draw together posthuman media materialities and Buddhist praxis. These include the use of digital devices and mindfulness apps as tools to aid meditation practice; the rhythmanalytical and experiential affects of ‘slow media’ on embodied understandings of time; and the production and consumption of mediated ‘spaciousness’ and its impacts on everyday phenomenologies of the self.

CFP: The Production of Location

Conference CFPs Posted on 18 Dec, 2017 21:23:09

The Eighth International Tourism and Media (ITAM) Conference

5-7th July, 2018 Liverpool, UK

The Production of Location

The eighth ITAM conference aim is to continue the network’s exploration of new ideas and debates sprung from the intersection between tourism industries and practices and those that broadly relate to the fields of media and communication. In this vein, the conference will aim to provide a forum where, taking their lead from Rodanthi Tzanelli’s concept of ‘global sign industries’ (2007), interdisciplinary research conversations gather pace around what are increasingly convergent fields of study and practice. While trends in scholarship on tourism and media are often reflective of discreet disciplinary dispositions, particularly those linked to perspectives in marketing and business, the necessarily open and ‘undisciplined’ terrain that defines the critical landscapes of media and tourism today demands a similarly open and undisciplined approach to keep pace with what is an ever-shifting and multi-stranded field of study.

The overarching theme of this conference is The Production of Location and we invite contributions that critically address questions of cultural brokerage in media tourism whilst continuing to welcome submissions from the inter- and cross-disciplinary traffic that informs the research on media and tourism and addresses a range of topics pertinent to both areas.

Dates: 5-7th July 2018

Location: School of the Arts, University of Liverpool, UK.

Keynote: Dr Rodanthi Tzanelli, Associate Professor of Cultural Sociology, University of Leeds (

Abstracts of 250 words should be submitted by 30th March 2018 to:

For enquiries please contact:

Dr Maria Månsson University of Lund, Sweden :

Dr Hazel Andrews, Liverpool John Moores University, UK :

Dr Les Roberts, University of Liverpool, UK :

The conference fee is £175 (conference meal and excursion optional extras TBC)

Further information will be posted on the conference website in due course:

Cities and Memory – sound mapping

Maps & Mapping Posted on 13 Feb, 2017 10:59:02

Details about the Cities and Memory project(s), from

What is Cities & Memory?

Cities and Memory is a global field recording & sound art work that presents both the present reality of a place, but also its imagined, alternative counterpart – remixing the world, one sound at at time.

Every faithful field recording document on the sound map is accompanied by a reimagination or an interpretation that imagines that place and time as somewhere else, somewhere new.

The listener can choose to explore locations through their actual sounds, to explore reimagined interpretations of what those places could be – or to flip between the two different sound worlds at leisure.

There are currently over 1,400 sounds featured on the sound map, spread over more than 55 countries.

The sounds cover parts of the world as diverse as the hubbub of San Francisco’s main station, traditional fishing songs on Lake Turkana, the sound of computer data centres in Birmingham, spiritual temple chanting in New Taipei City or the hum of the vaporetto engines in Venice.

The sonic reimaginings or reinterpretations can take any form, and include musical versions, slabs of ambient music, rhythm-driven electronica tracks, vocal cut-ups, abstract noise pieces, subtle EQing and effects, layering of different location sounds and much more.

The project is completely open to submissions from field recordists, sound artists, musicians or anyone with an interest in exploring sound worldwide – more than 350 contributors have got involved so far.

The lie of the land: when map makers get it wrong

Maps & Mapping Posted on 13 Feb, 2017 10:37:19

Australia’s inland sea: Some maps are purely speculative, but the cartography can be striking nonetheless. This map accompanies Thomas J Maslen’s The Friend of Australia (1830), a work of pure theory in which the English writer suggests that there could be a wealth of river and fertile paradise lying hidden in the heart of Australia. The centrepiece of this colonial fantasy is a great lake the size of a small sea, placed plum in the desolate centre of what is now known as the Simpson Desert.

The history of cartography is littered with mistakes, myths and mendacity. From the magnetic mountain at the north pole to Australia’s inland sea, Edward Brooke-Hitching charts five centuries of misrepresentative maps…

CFP – Psychogeography, Creative Walking and Spatial Justice

Conference CFPs Posted on 13 Feb, 2017 10:29:11

RC21 Leeds :
September 11-13, 2017
Rethinking Urban Global Justice: An international academic
conference for critical urban studies

More Than Pedestrian: Psychogeography, Creative Walking and Spatial Justice

It is sixty years since Debord wrote The Theory of The Dérive, and psychogeography has evolved in many different artistic, activist and academic directions, often at an apparent loss of its political intentions. However many recent practitioners have been using walking as way to interrogate, destabilise and affectively remap space. Many now recognise that there is an emerging “new psychogeography” identified by Richardson (2015) as being, amongst other things, heterogeneous, critical, strategic, and somatic. This richness and diversity is embodied in members of the Walking Artists Network. They exhibit a wealth of contemporary creative walking, much of which is at least in part inspired by psychogeography. This suggests the dérive has the potential to transform the everyday, to illuminate and challenge narratives of privatisation, commodification and securitisation of space, and navigate increasingly blurred boundaries between public/private. This session aims to explore what the theory and practice of psychogeography and creative walking can offer Urban Studies.

This call is for panellists offering papers on the following areas of walking practice and psychogeography:

• How psychogeography and creative walking practices can engage with and interrogate the urban environment

• New interpretations of Situtationist ideas

• Innovations, issues and debates around creative walking methodologies

• Issues of urban spatial injustice highlighted via imaginary, temporary and mobile spaces

• Activist, community and radical mapping practices

The presentations will be followed by a roundtable discussion and questions from the audience.

Given the interdisciplinary nature of the subject we are very open to presenters who have audio visual material or unconventional presentation methods.

Please send abstracts (approximately 300-500 words) to both the session convenor Morag Rose, The University of Sheffield and the conference organisers Deadline 10th March 2017

More about the conference here:

Psychogeography festival, 23 Feb

Cities & Space Posted on 13 Feb, 2017 10:23:24

Terminalia, the Festival of Psychogeography on 23 Feb 2017.

Line up:

* 11am London, Vauxhall Bus Station: Exploring Boundaries and Monuments.

* All day, Anywhere: Terminalia Synchronised Walk

* 12pm Cambridge, Castle Mound: Burn British Psychogeography!

* 12.40pm Leeds, Kirkgate Market: WorkersLunchTime

* 1.30pm Leeds, Kirkgate Market: Threads – a market mis-guide

* 5.55pm Leeds, “Centered: Threshold / Hearth”

* 6pm Leeds, Central Road: Beating the Bounds – Circular walk around
medieval boundary of Leeds.

Stanlow/Oil is the Devil’s excrement

Publication News Posted on 27 Jan, 2017 10:47:57

Currently working on a co-authored article (with artist David Jacques). This is for a forthcoming book, Practising Place, being edited by Elaine Speight. The abstract for our article is below. Above is the video ‘Oil is the Devil’s Excrement’ (David Jacques, 2016, 11m 46s).

Oil is the Devil’s Excrement: a confluence of trajectories

Les Roberts and David Jacques

In this chapter we sketch the dovetailing of ideas and critical interventions that have sprung from the politico-magical properties of oil. Ruminations on death, putrefaction, myth and geo-politics vie with those that take as their starting point the spatio-temporal rhythms of a petrochemical installation situated on the banks of the River Mersey. While each of these trajectories represents an invocatory response to the same diabolical putrescence visited upon the dying Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, founder of OPEC (a visitation that was to usher a final ‘dark night of the soul’), at the same time they carve out their own singular, yet intertwined pathways through the sump of critical terrain that probes oil’s dark sentience and socio-political burden. In the hands of Jacques we plunge headlong into the defecatory slipstream, anointing ourselves by way of immersion and infusion in a substance whose alchemical power lies in its capacity to tap and drill deep into the geological bedrock of the human soul. Roberts, on the other hand, skirts the perimeter fences of an industrial colossus that dwarfs the surrounding landscapes as commandingly as it harbours and secretes a (death’s) cargo that remains impenetrable: a secret that lies beyond the reach of those who can but yield to its gift. In this vein, the chapter sees Jacques set out the ground-work for a creative process whereby Alfonzo is envisioned through an interweaving of literary, scientific and mythical threads which link the quest for power and wealth with traditional stories of the ‘devil-pact’, interpreted as critiques of Capital by the Marxist Anthropologist Michel Taussig. By way of countervailing narrative, for his part, the chapter follows Roberts as he sets out, bricoleur-style, to weave auto-ethnographic yarns out of a process of immersive, site-specific engagement with Stanlow refinery in Cheshire. Conceived of as a form of pilgrimage, like Jacques, his quest is one bent on ritual invocation. Oil as foil, creatively, politically or as poetic license. Turning shit into gold need not be the preserve of the oil industry.

Alternative maps of NYC

Maps & Mapping Posted on 25 Jan, 2017 10:38:16

John Cage: 49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs, 1977

Take a left at Drool Avenue: alternative NYC maps

A new book brings together odd maps of New York City, from cityscapes made of jelly to avant-garde musical compositions by John Cage…


Maps & Mapping Posted on 18 Jan, 2017 13:37:56

Diane Hodson and Jasmine Luoma (2014)

unmappable is a documentary short that weaves together the life and work of iconoclastic psychogeographer and convicted sex offender, Denis Wood. This meditative portrait will unveil the inner workings of a man whose work is lauded as poetic, artful and innovative – a man who unapologetically pushes boundaries both personally and professionally. The film explores the events that have defined his life by pointing at ideas, thoughts and beliefs that we usually do not think of as being mappable or explainable.

Iconoclastic Mapmaker With a Sordid Past Is the Subject of a
New Documentary
Wired feature, 17 October 2014.

Sentimental Cartography

Maps & Mapping Posted on 18 Jan, 2017 13:20:31

Reblogged from SubmaP: Mapping Sao Paulo Development Blog

Sentimental Cartography

Suely Rolnik

“To encounter is to find, to capture, to steal, but there is no method for finding, only a long preparation. Stealing is the contrary to plagiarizing, copying, imitating or doing as. The capture is always a double-capture, the stealing, a double-stealing, and this is what makes not something mutual, but an asymmetrical block, an a-parallel evolution, marriages, always ‘outside’ or ‘in-between’.”

-Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues Cartography: a provisional definition
To geographers, cartography-distinct from maps which are representations of a static whole -is a drawing that accompanies and creates itself at the same time as the transformation movements of the landscape.

Psychosocial landscapes can also have cartography. Cartography, in this case, accompanies and creates itself at the same time as the dismantlement of certain worlds-its loss of sense-and the formation of other worlds. Worlds that create themselves to express contemporary affects, in relation to which the cogent universes became obsolete.

If the task of a cartographer is to provide a language to demanding affects, it is basically expected of him that he would be immersed in the intensities of his time, and aware of the languages he encounters, he devour those which seem to him possible elements for the composition of those cartographies that deem themselves necessary.

The cartographer is first and foremost an anthropophagite.

The cartographer

The practice of a cartographer refers to, fundamentally, the strategies of the formations of desire in the social field. And little does it matter which sectors of the social life he chooses as an object. What matters is that he remains alert to the strategies of desire in any phenomenon of the human existence that he sets out to explore: from social movements, formalized or not, the mutations of collective sensitivity, violence, delinquency. . . up to unconscious ghosts and the clinical profiles of individuals, groups and masses, whether institutionalized or not.

Similarly, little matters the theoretical references of the cartographer. What matters is that, for him, theory is always cartography-and, thus being, it creates itself jointly with the landscapes whose formation he accompanies (including, naturally, the theory introduced here). For that, the cartographer absorbs matters from any source. He has no racism whatsoever regarding frequency, language or style. All that may provide a language to the movements of desire, all that may serve to coin matter of expression and create sense, is welcomed by him. All entries are good, as long as the exits are multiple. For this reason the cartographer makes use of the most varied sources, including sources not solely written nor solely theoretical. Their conceptual operators may equally arise from a film as from a conversation or a philosophy treatise. The cartographer is a true anthropophagite: he lives of expropriation, appropriation, devourment and delivery, transvalorized. He is always searching for nourishment to compose his cartographies. This is the criterion for his choices: to discover which matters of expression, mixed to which others, which language compositions favor the passage of intensities that traverse his body in the encounter with the bodies he intends to understand. In fact, “to understand”, for the cartographer, has no relation whatsoever with explaining and least of all with revealing. For him there is nothing high up there-skies of transcendence-, nor down under-the mists of essence. What there is high up there, underneath and everywhere are intensities looking for expression. And what he wants is to dive into the geography of affects and, at the same time, invent bridges to undertake his crossing: bridges of language.

We see that language, for the cartographer, is not a vehicle of messages-and-salvation. It is, in itself, creation of worlds. Flying carpet. . . Vehicle that promotes the transition to new worlds; new forms of history. We may even say that in the cartographer’s practice history and geography integrate themselves.

This allows us to make two further observations: the problem, for the cartographer, is not that of the false-or-true, nor of the theoretical-or-empirical, rather it is that of the vitalizing-or-destructive, active-or-reactive. What he wants is to participate, embark in the constitution of existential territories, constitution of reality. Implicitly, it is obvious that, at least in his happiest moments, he does not fear the movement. He allows his body to vibrate in all possible frequencies and keeps inventing positions from which these vibrations may find sounds, passage channels, a lift towards existentialization. He accepts life and surrenders. With body-and-language.

It would remain to know which are the cartographer’s procedures. Well, these do not matter either, for he knows that he must “invent them” based on what the context in which he finds himself demands. For this reason he does not follow any type of normalized protocol.

What defines, therefore, the profile of the cartographer is exclusively a type of sensitivity, which he sets himself to make prevalent, wherever possible, in his work. What he wants is to place himself, whenever possible, in the surroundings of the cartographies’ mutations, a position which allows him to welcome the finite unlimited character of the process of production of reality that is the desire. For this to be possible, he makes use of a “hybrid compound,” made out of his eye, of course, but also, and simultaneously, of his vibrating body, for what he looks for is to apprehend the movement that arises from the fecund tension between flux and representation: flux of intensities escaping from the plan of organization of territories, disorienting its cartographies, disrupting its representations and, in this way, representations stagnating the flux, channeling the intensities, giving them sense. It’s because the cartographer knows there is no other way: this permanent challenge is itself the motor of the creation of sense. A necessary challenge-and, in any way, insurmountable-of the vigilant coexistence between macro and micropolitics, complementary and inseparable in the production of psychosocial reality. He knows that the strategies of this coexistence are countless-peaceful merely in brief and fleeting moments of the creation of sense; as well as countless are the worlds that each one engenders. This is basically what interests him.

Since it is not possible to define his method (not in the sense of theoretical reference, nor in that of technical procedure) but, only, his sensitivity, we may ask ourselves: what type of equipment does the cartographer take, when he sets afield?

Cartographer’s manual

What the cartographer carries in his pocket is very simple: a criterion, a principle, a rule and a brief route of preoccupations-this, each cartographer defines and redefines to himself, constantly.

You already know the evaluation criterion of the cartographer: it is that of the degree of intimacy that each one allows oneself, at each moment, with the finite unlimited character that desire prints on the desirous human condition and its fears. It is that of the value that is given to each one of the movements of desire. In other words, the criterion of the cartographer is, fundamentally, the degree of openness towards the life that each one allows oneself at each moment. His criterion takes as its premise its principle.

The principle of the cartographer is extra-moral: the expansion of life is his basic and exclusive parameter, and never a cartography of any kind, taken for a map. What interests him in situations with which he deals is to what extent life is finding channels of effectuation. It may even be said that his principle is an antiprinciple: a principle that obliges him to constantly change his principles. For both his criterion as well as his principle are vital and not moral.

And his rule? He has only one: it is a sort of “golden rule.” It provides elasticity to his criterion and his principle: the cartographer knows that it is always in the name of life, and of its defense, that strategies are invented, no matter how preposterous. He never forgets that there is a limit to how much can be borne, at each moment, the intimacy with the finite unlimited, the base of his criterion: a limit of tolerance for the disorientation and reorientation of affects, a “threshold of deterritorialization.” He always evaluates the extent to which the defenses that are being used serve or not to protect life. We could name his instrument of evaluation the “threshold of possible disenchantment,” since, after all, this deals with evaluating how much can be borne, in each situation, the disenchantment of the masks which are constituting us, their loss of sense, our disillusion. How much can disenchantment be borne so as to free those recently emerged affects to invest in other matters of expression, and with this allow new masks to be created, new senses. Or, on the contrary, the extent it is being upheld for not being able to bear this process. Of course this kind of evaluation has nothing to do with mathematical calculations, standards or measures, but with that which the vibrating body captures in the air: a type of feeling that varies completely based on the singularity of each situation, including the limit of tolerance of the vibrating body itself that is evaluating, in relation to the situation that is being evaluated. The rule of the cartographer is thus very simple: never forget to consider this “threshold.” Rule of prudence. Rule of gentleness towards life. Rule that expedites yet does not attenuate his principle: this rule allows him to discriminate the degrees of danger and potency, functioning as a warning sign whenever necessary. Because after a certain limit-which the vibrating body recognizes quite well-the reactivity of the forces ceases to be reconvertible in activity and begins to act in the sense of pure destruction of one’s self and/or of the other: when this happens, the cartographer, in the name of life, can and must be absolutely impious.

With these informations in hand, we can attempt to better define the practice of the cartographer. We affirmed that it refers fundamentally to the strategies of the formation of desire in the social field. Now we may say that it is, in itself, a space of active exercise of such strategies. A space of the emergence of nameless intensities, a space of incubation of new sensitivities and new languages throughout time. From this perspective, the analysis of desire ultimately refers to the choice of how to live, to the choice of criteria with which the social, the real social, is invented. In other words, it refers to the choice of new worlds, new societies. Here, the practice of the cartographer is immediately political.

Extracted from Suely Rolnik, Cartografia sentimental, transformaç§es contemporéneas do desejo, Sâo Paulo: Editora Estaçâo Liberdade, 1989, p.15-16; 66-72, translated from the Portuguese by Adriano Pedrosa and Veronica Cordeiro.

Artist Fuller’s Hand-drawn City Maps

Maps & Mapping Posted on 18 Jan, 2017 13:14:47

Artist Fuller’s intricate hand-drawn maps accepted by Bristol and London museums

BBC News 27 April 2016:

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