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Call for Papers: Troubling Exposures and Hopeful Geopolitics for the Anthropocene: The Telling Times of Earthly Archives

RGS-IBG 2019  Geographies of Trouble/ Geographies of Hope

Sponsored by the RGS Political Geography Research Group

Conveners: Daisy Sutcliffe and Deborah Dixon, University of Glasgow

The Anthropocene – broadly outlined as a fossil-fuelled, planetary condition that has a continually updated geosynchronous signal of anthropogenic radionuclides and plastics, and a raft of rapidly intensifying exposures, vulnerabilities and securitizations – has afforded troubling times for Geologists and other exponents of an Earthly deep time. To tell time is a telling act (Swanson 2016), as accounting for the anthropocentric forcing of physical processes transforms Geology into a science of attribution with profound political consequence, identifying not only where, when and whom will be exposed, but also from where, when, and by whom (Rudiak-Gould 2015). What is more, and despite its theological controversies, Geology has traditionally provided a measure of surety about the world, and the place of humanity within it (O’Connor 2017). Geosynchronicity places materials within a stratigraphic record, and as such is a key product of a 19th century Geologic imperialism that effectively projected an evental history on to the planet itself. Where Geologists once looked to the subterranean for evidence as to a planetary history, the Anthropocene has inverted this gaze. Carbon-fuelled economies have poured materials upwards and outwards, warming oceans and atmospheres in the process. Deep time is no longer to be told from vertiginous field sites alone, but from vast, proliferating drifts of matter that permeate alongside, beyond and within bodies. It is this geologic subtending of life on Earth that has helped prompt a critical return to the ‘geo-‘ of geopolitics (Bobette & Donovan 2018), and a questioning of what kind of ‘geopolitics’ emerges when melting, fracturing, dissolution, calcification, crystallisation, subducting and so on are envisioned not as external threats or triggers, nor even as standing reserves for an evolutionary-based life, but as an Earthly vitalism that can and does proceed otherwise.

This session seeks to explore the politics and geopolitics of an Earthly vitalism.  We welcome papers or other formats that consider any of the following suggestions, or that contribute to this discussion in other ways: 

  • How has Geology as a discipline been enabled by, and promulgated, an imperial world order? And, what understandings of the lithic stand outside of/challenge such an imperialism?
  • How does Geology as a science of attribution trouble politics? And how do politics trouble Geology?
  • In what ways does the geology that we conserve as ‘heritage’ reveal and influence politics?
  • How does a stratigraphic geologic imaginary allow for and enable the congealing of other imaginaries of life on Earth? And how might non-stratigraphic accounts trouble these?
  • What are the ramifications of a geological subtending for debates on order and chaos, violence and security, creativity and destruction?

Please send abstracts or proposals of up to 250 words and a short biography including name(s) and affiliation(s) to Daisy Sutcliffe: daisyksutcliffe@gmail.com by 6pm on February 11th.


Bobbette, Adam & Donovan, Amy (eds.). 2018. Political Geology: Active Stratigraphies and the Making of Life. Palgrave.

O’Connor, Ralph. 2017.  Earth on Show. University of Chicago Press: Chicago ILL.

Rudiak-Gould, Peter. 2015. The social life of blame in the Anthropocene. Environment and Society 6.1: 48-65.

Swanson, Heather Anne. 2016. Anthropocene as political geology: Current debates over how to tell time. Science as Culture 25.1: 157-163.


Officially a Doctor of Philosophy

This week I received my formal letter notifying me that I have been awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Geo-Social Science.

My thesis ‘Reworlding World Heritage: Emergent Properties of ‘Kinservation” is now available on the University of Glasgow Library website

It has been a long time coming, and quite a journey to say the least – more the life part than the academic part, but both are entwined.  This turbulent journey has lead me to write about emotions and especially loss and grief in the age of the anthropocene both in my thesis and now, in further work that I am doing.

In short, my thesis suggests that there are many worlds; an infinite number.  They are constantly changing.  Each of our worlds emerge from moment to moment as we move through them, interact with them and respond to them.  Our legislative culture struggles to cope with this, and I call for a deeper engagement with our worlds and those of others, human and not.  This engagement is our heritage, which is also constantly in motion, emerging, as is its meaning.

Unlike UNESCO, and much of the conservation world at the moment, I prefer meaning to value as this moves away from a reductive tendency in neoliberal capitalist cultures to attempt to value everything by monetizing it.  I play on the word ‘properties’, meaning both the way in which World Heritage Sites are formally referred to by their managers and UNESCO, implying definition, boundaries and ownership, and, also, the dynamic, emergent ‘properties’ of the plural worlds I argue that we inhabit, and which cannot be owned.  The attempt to own, define and boundary (or bind) our worlds leads to a congealment of them, which does not serve them or conserve them.

I suggest that rather than conserving the world, we reimagine our place in it through notions of kinship with all life, human and more-than-human.  I call this ‘kinservation’.

Have a read and let me know what you think.

Earth Echoes: Resonances between arts, geology and wellbeing.

Last year I was fortunate enough to be asked to evaluate Earth Echoes: A Song of Stone for the English Riviera Global Geopark.  Earth Echoes was a large scale community opera, devised and written by the people of Torbay under the expert leadership of a team of artists and arts organisations from the region, that formed the opening ceremony of the seventh International Conference on UNESCO Global Geoparks.  It told the story of the earth and how we have reached the anthropocene.


The project started in February 2016 and culminated last September.  My report and the other materials from the project including a film can be found


having just been published in time for the 10th Geopark Festival on the English Riviera, which is taking place now. My background is in producing participatory projects, and like many others I have had the privilege to work on, it was an extraordinary journey to travel with a diverse group of talented people, and the trust and generosity that developed throughout the process made my work much easier.


The theme of the conference was ‘health and wellbeing through creative and active engagement’, and I was asked to evaluate the impact of the project on the wellbeing of the people involved. In keeping with my PhD research, the philosophies of Deleuze, and also the group’s response to the story that they were telling, I explored ideas of emergence, in Global Geoparks, in health and wellbeing, and in the artistic process.  None are static entities.


They constantly come into existence as they are experienced differently from moment to moment, person to person, making them very difficult to ‘pin down’ and for causality to be categorically proven. A key desired outcome of the evaluation was the ability of the findings to speak to many audiences across arts, health, wellbeing, earth sciences, tourism, community engagement and marketing and I chose a selection of methodologies that I hoped would build a picture through statistics and stories.  All suggested that taking part in the project had beneficial impacts on participants’ wellbeing.


The conference was attended by 700 delegates from 63 countries, and I presented my findings with Mark Laville in the key note session of the conference after an address by Dr Mat White, ‘The relationship between natural environments and health and wellbeing (and what has been missed)’ that explored how Geoparks can engage with ideas around health and wellbeing.  This was followed by a panel discussion involving:

Mark Laville – Artistic Director, Barbican Theatre Plymouth and Earth Echoes Artistic Producer
Patrick McKeever – Secretary of the International Geoscience and Geoparks Programme Chief of Section, UNESCO
Marko Pogacnik – UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and Artist for Peace
Artur Sa – Associate Professor and UNESCO Chair on Geoparks, Sustainable Regional Development and Healthy Lifestyles, Univ.Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro
Iain Stewart – Prof Geoscience Communication, Plymouth University, Patron of English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark
Sue Waite – Associate Professor (Reader) in Outdoor Learning
Mathew White – European Centre for Human Health

…and me.


It was a privilege to be entrusted with some very personal stories by some of the participants and to be made to feel such an integral part of the delivery team.  Thank you to all involved in an extraordinary project.





Visualising the Conserved Anthropocene


This is an area that I have been rummaging around in for several years now, so my colleague Phil Nicholson and I have decided to convene a session at this year’s Royal Geographical Society with International British Geographers conference to explore it further.

Here is the call for papers.  We welcome provocations from all walks of life, although as ever, there’s no money to pay for your time, which might limit us.  We can arrange for a live link rather than having to attend in person though – just let us know if you’re interested.


CFP: RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2017: ‘Decolonising geographical knowledges: opening geography out to the world’. London, 29th August – 1st September 2017
Visualising the Conserved Anthropocene 

Convenors: Daisy Sutcliffe (The University of Glasgow), Philip Nicholson (The University of Glasgow)

Sponsored by: Postgraduate Forum (PGF)

‘Conserving’ our environments in the Anthropocene throws up new conceptual and practical challenges, not least that the organisations that are charged with supporting this conservation such as UNESCO, the IUCN and WWF were set up by Western cultures in the mid-twentieth century. Here, the environment was largely framed within a classical geopolitical, modernist thinking with humans at the pinnacle of a hierarchical structure with responsibility for an appropriate stewardship of a Nature conceived of as other. As numerous commentators have observed, the Anthropocene has challenged the ‘rootedness’ of philosophical debates on a life well lived, instead placing emphases on material ontologies of exposure and vulnerability, symbiosis and depredation. Furthermore, it has exhausted established modes of visualising Nature, from photos of doomed polar bears, maps showing the borders of inscribed sites of conservation, to the transects that reveal a geological archive. What are the implications of such material ontologies for ‘visualising’ the Anthropocene? How might new modes of visualisation be developed for the Anthropocene and how might these be applied to conservation policy and practice? This session will explore these fraught, yet productive, tensions between the Anthropocene, conservation and visualisation, with an emphasis on work in progress.

We invite provocations reflecting on some of the challenges of conservation and visualisation of environments in the Anthropocene. We ask, how might these new modes of visualisation be productive for the conservation of environments in the Anthropocene?

Such provocations might include, but are not limited to:

•       Insights from artist residencies
•       Curating the Anthropocene
•       New approaches in geographic information science
•       Creative Geo-visualisations
•       Field encounters across disciplinary and cultural boundaries
•       New or novel institutional structures
•       Experimental and interdisciplinary approaches to conservation

Contributors will have up to 10 minutes to outline their provocations. We welcome presentations in the form of traditional papers but also encourage alternative formats such as PechaKucha style, photo or video essays, short film screenings, performances etc. These will lead to a facilitated discussion.

Please submit title, name & affiliation and an abstract of no more than 250 words to p.nicholson.1@research.gla.ac.uk and Daisy Sutcliffe (daisyksutcliffe@gmail.com) by Monday 6th February 2017.



Entanglements with nature


My crazy world:

I got to thinking last night as I looked out of the dark window of the plane at the orange branded wing tip cutting through the latest storm to hit the west coast of Scotland, horizontal rain drops like static lit up by the flashing wing light.

How come I live in a world where it makes sense for me to live in Bristol, work in Devon, study at the University of Glasgow and miss all my far flung friends and family so much?

The irony of it being quicker, easier and cheaper to fly through the ‘climate chaos in action’ than to get the train is noted. Not to mention that I’m doing this in order to study natural heritage that is under threat from this. From us. Hopefully not from me and my fairly frugal life, but I’m certainly not doing only good.

My crazy world. Postmodernism in practice?

Perhaps I’m over thinking it, but I am doing a PhD.


Beaches, birds and other beasties

P1000190There are a few beaches close to the house. The first one we saw runs along the front of the town under the malecón or what we might call the promenade. It is sandy, but has a slightly dirty feel, perhaps because it is in town, perhaps because it is usually covered in sea lions, and perhaps because the sand here is browner than other beaches. We walked along this beach on the way to the house on our first day, and have seen it almost every day since, both during the Sally Lightfoot Crabday and in the evening. It doesn’t seem to be a place where people hang out, but the town’s children commandeer the pier after school for children’s antics throwing each other into the water, running, screaming and generally playing and showing off to each other.

We watched this as the boat that we traveled on from Puerto Ayora pulled into the harbour last Sunday. The other thing that struck me then were the crabs; so many of them crawling around on the rocks at the shore. Ivan later told me that they are Sally Lightfoot crabs, the large P1000191ones seem to take on a beautiful red colour and pattern and the smaller ones are darker, also beautifully patterned with paler spots, and harder to see against the volcanic rock.

At night the beach is literally covered with sea lions which also spread onto the piers, the pavement, the benches along the front taking on the appearance of a huge group of vagrants, and roaring like worried sheep. IMG_0498There must be a significant proportion of the world’s population of around 50,000 (Jackson, M. 1993), living in the capital town.

During the day the sea lions are joined by blue footed boobies, pelicans and frigate birds. There is also a lonesome lava gull that has made the pool illustrating the geography of the Galapagos along the malecón (and designed and made by the father of the family with whom I am staying) its home.

lava gull

The second beach that we visited was Playa Mann. This is a small beach, with course white sand. It is still quite close to the town, opposite the Institute for the Arts and Sciences, but has a totally different feel. This is where many people head in the late afternoon for a swim and mess around in the waves. There is a kiosk and often a BBQ stall at the back of the beach selling roast maize. P1000339

When we first went, there was a sea-lion allowing itself to be washed around in the waves directly in front of us, and as we wandered down the beach looking for somewhere to sit for a while we saw that there was a whole colony of sea-lions at the other end, holding court with the passing tourists and their cameras. We sat for a while, and watched pelicans take off from some rocks further down the shore and seemingly P1000312pounce on the water, scooping the surface water into their beaks. They have the look of pterosaurs. Swooping higher up in the skies above them are usually at least one, and usually more like ten, frigate birds, also looking rather reptilian in their posture and behaviour. It is sometimes hard to believe that this island wasn’t here for 60 million years after the dinosaurs became extinct.


P1000317Walking on from Playa Mann, about another ten minutes along a dirt road and then when that runs out along a little path through some scrub, is Playa Carolla, also known as love beach where couples go and hang out at sunset. The path is full of sand lizards and ground finches. The beach is bigger than Playa Mann and also steeply sloped coarse white sand and shells including the pencil sized spines of the pencil urchin which is common on the rocks off the coast. P1000217We went there looking for a cove that we had been told is good for snorkelling, Las Tijeretas (‘the Frigate Birds’ in Spanish, as there is a colony of them that nest in the trees on the cliffs above the cove). We had been told that this was at the very end of the path, so we walked all the way down the beach, past sea-lions and marine iguanas sunning themselves along the edge of the scrub at the back, past a few people, although there were not as many as on Playa Mann, and off the end P1000261past the lighthouse. There was a little path with a tough looking plant forming a thick carpet on either side which reminded me of the island in ‘The Life of Pi’ somehow, and frightened me as I walked across it with my bare feet.

The path ended in a few bushes, one with a yellow warbler in it, and it became clear that we were not going to get to Las Tijeretas this way, P1000224so we went back to Carolla, and settled in the sand for a while.

I had borrowed a snorkel and mask from one of the other residents of the Casita, and after a while lying on the beach and watching the sea-lions playing I braved the waves. I put my head under and a whole other world opened up. There were dozens of beautiful tropical fish of every shape and size. Given that the marine reserve here is 133,000 square kilometers, and the land mass is 45,000, it is by far the larger proportion of the World Heritage Site.


On our way back to the town, we saw a paved path heading back into the scrub about half way along the beach and thought we would explore.  It wound through some more native scrub, and back towards town with a few turns which were obviously the paths to Las Tijeretas, P1000244ending up at the Interpretation Centre.

We came back along this path the following day and approached the cove down a path, looking out along the back of the cove to our right we could see a pelican balanced on top of the cliff and a great blue heron feeding under it at the water’s edge.


The snorkelling was indeed amazing, swimming with sea lions, although trying to get past them and into the water without annoying them was a bit more challenging.

Again the fish were amazing, shoals of silver flashes, a haughty looking parrot fish which must have been nearly two feet long making its way past, joining a large group in the shallows, and huge shoals of yellow-tailed surgeonfish, and the occasional hieroglyphic hawkfish emerging from its camouflage to mention just a few. P1000266We had been told we might see turtles, but no such luck. I had expected there to be coral for some reason, but the amazing sea life here is supported by the volcanic boulders scattered along the sea floor.

I eventually felt cold for the first time since we got here, and climbed out, joining Matt and the sea lions on the rocks and watching the frigate birds soaring and swooping over the headland above us.