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New Approaches: Postgraduate Forum

This informal forum enabled postgraduate students to showcase some of the new approaches to cities and/or theories of the global that form the subject of current postgraduate research.

Constructions of Havana: Visual Representations of Havana in the Twentieth Century

James C. Kent (Department of Hispanic Studies, RHUL)

Outline of Current Research

Whilst images of the city of Havana are well documented worldwide, the actual state of the city’s image is often one which is misconstrued or idealised. My doctoral research project engages in exploring alternative ways of reading Havana as both a construct, and as a cultural product, ultimately aiming to provide an understanding of how and why we ‘see’ the city as we do. By exploring spatial representations of the city on a number of levels (geopolitical/metaphorical), my doctoral research project endeavours to explain how image-makers and cultural producers present the city (through photography, material culture and documentary film), whilst also surveying the processes and effects which manifest these visual constructs.

Imaginaries of Pop-Up Art Spaces in London and Beyond

Mara Ferreri (School of Geography, QMUL)

Outline of Current Research

Vacant spaces have become in recent years important symbolic battlegrounds for strategies of urban governance aiming at smoothing the visible symptoms of global uneven development, and, more recently, of recession. With the diffusion and dissemination world-wide of ‘creative cities’ regeneration policies, cultural practices have increasingly been enrolled to reuse empty sites not only in order to promote different urban imaginaries, but most importantly to actively perform seamlessly vibrant urban economies. Short-term art projects and ‘pop-up’ shops come to inhabit the temporary time-space of vacancy and abandonment, and in doing so encroach upon traditional forms of urban social action such as political occupations and anti-gentrification campaigns. From a discussion of frictions and overlaps between cultural and political empty space reuse in London and beyond, my research is concerned with the spatial knowledges and strategies behind projects of reuse, and with their potential to experiment with and disrupt existing imaginaries and lived experiences of the city.

From City to Post-City: The Rural’s Ingress into the Urban

Dea van Lierop (Department of Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam)

Outline of Current Research

Dea van Lierop is currently completing a Research Master of Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.  Her current research examines idealistic computer-generated representations of so-called eco-cities by questioning how, or if, elements of these often utopian images can be incorporated into constructed realities, while simultaneously providing increased food and job security to the rising global population in an era of gradual oil depletion.  Her greatest concern for the future of cities is not only how they can become more environmentally sustainable, but also, how power relations within states are changing amidst this time of transition from the twentieth century city to the twenty-first century environmentally conscious post-city.  Her goal of implementing new approaches in how academic researchers, planners, and policy makers can work together to combine theory with practical skills to engage in real world planning, ensuring that innovative eco-technologies and “green” communities will be available to all socioeconomic levels and become normative rather than alternative in future urban centres around the world, has motivated her to further her education by pursuing a degree in Urban Planning at McGill University, in Montreal, Canada in September 2011.

Curation and Banal Britishness in London’s Ad Hoc Consumption Spaces

Mia Hunt (Department of Geography, RHUL) 

Outline of Current Research

My research interests relate broadly to the vernacular production of everyday consumption spaces and ad hoc materialities.  For this project I am interested in examining what I call “one-stop shops”.  A shop at 17-21 Euston Road, for example, houses a souvenir shop, a coffee shop, a convenience store, a desk selling and unlocking mobile phone, an internet café, a currency exchange, and a post office – each operating under separate management structures.  These businesses are often owned by members of London’s multicultural communities.  As well as the relationship between the branded materiality of the objects and their ad hoc organisation, I am particularly interested in the curation of objects in these places and the entangled biographies of objects and people.  Seeing as many of these shops offer tourist-oriented services and products, I am particularly fascinated by the curation of banal and iconic Britishness in these multicultural spaces.  I am currently exploring multiple methods, including a photo-oriented field blog, the production of craft that respond to rhythms and flows of these places, and creating biographies of families of objects.  This project is in the very beginning stages, as such, comments are most welcome.

Liverpool 8 and Overseas: the International and Local in Merseybeat

Helen Taylor (School of English, RHUL)

Outline of Current Research

Comments: I have just finished a chapter on the importance of the city and port of Liverpool in the creation of the Merseybeat movement, due in part to the trade links with America and the world: Liverpool has been described as ‘in England, but not of it’, and exists as a world city as a port looking out across the Atlantic rather than inwards to the metropolis. My next chapter is on the American Antecedents of the movement, and would be interested in discussing the international/local phenomenon which I see in Liverpool at this time – Merseybeat takes its influences from major avant-garde European movements as well as the American literary cultures of Beat, the New York School, Black Mountain, and so on, yet appropriates these with a very English sensibility.

Claiming the Past, Presenting the Present, Selling the Future: The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games

Gladys Pak Lei Chong (Department of Media Studies, University of Amsterdam)

Outline of Current Research

Gladys Pak Lei Chong’s research belongs to part of a larger NWO-funded project – Celebrations and Contestations of Chineseness: The Beijing 2008 Olympics and 21st Century Imaginations of Place, Culture and Identity. Her research examines how the Chinese government uses soft power to govern internally and to promote itself globally. The Beijing Olympics served as a point of reference to trace these processes. Gladys’ research interest lies in the area of (cultural) governance, image-making, place-imagination, and national identity. The rapid urban development in Beijing since the 1990s has generated a lot of discussion about the disappearance of the once familiar landscape, and the adverse impacts urban development brings about (e.g. demolition, decay, stagnation, traffic congestions, speed and stillness). This discussion reached its height during the period around the Beijing Games, centering predominantly on the destructive aspects of urban changes. Her fieldworks in 2007 and 2008 motivated her to (re-)think and to engage with some of the discussions on urban transformation. In her dissertation, two of the five case studies take Beijing as the material and visual site for analysis. The first one studies memory and identity formation through place-representation. Drawing on Ackbar Abbas’s concept of disappearance (as a form of misrecognition) in reading cities under transformation, she examines how Chinese government seized the Olympics moment to imagine and represent a Beijing that shaped people’s views about the city, China and Chineseness. Her analysis is structured according to three temporalities: the past, the present and the future. In the second case study, Gladys reads the everyday lives of a changing city through the prism of Beijing taxi drivers. She compares taxi driver to the flâneur, a unique figure whose experiences of the city were hardly reflected upon.

A Current Investigation of Sustainability in Letchworth – the First Garden City

Isabel Braga

Outline of Current Research

Current research involves issues on sustainable cities. I have a particular interest in cities in the developing countries which are facing an urban expansion, which also implies an increasing number of workers commuting in those areas. In the Northern hemisphere, Europe and America are thinking about the relation between cities and workplace and also about issues like health and happiness, community and environmental sustainability (Smedley, 2010). International agenda initiatives in which I am interested include European organization towards a sustainable city, like the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, the United Nation´s Sustainable Cities Programme, teh European Commission´s Green Paper on the Urban Environment and so on. Local agenda initiatives include those of the UK government and also the principles of the climate change strategy for North Hertfordshire, touching upon questions of governance and policy formulation, as Letchworth is currently facing a debate on its revitalization.

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