THE INDEXIFICATION OF POVERTY: THE COVERT POLITICS OF SMALL AREA INDICES ANTIPODE (2023) (WRITTEN WITH ED KIELY)
In recent decades statistical indices have become a dominant method for measuring many features of the social world. While the resulting enumerations are regularly cited by critical human geographers, the wider political stakes of indexing the world remain unaddressed. In this article, we theorise indexification as the process through which composite statistics transform theoretical constructs into epistemic objects, and then geographically bounded rankings. Rather than a neutral process, we argue that these epistemological manoeuvres can mask various forms of violence. Through a detailed analysis of the UK's Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), we highlight the clandestine politics of indexification and their tendency to conceal harms meted out by the state. Seeking a more critical reckoning with indices, we conclude by calling for and outlining a project of radical indexification—a participatory, democratic, and transparent endeavour that takes spatial justice as its organising principle
LOVE IN THE SPACE-TIME OF INEQUALITY: ATTACHMENT AND DETACHMENT ACROSS UNEQUAL LIVES THE SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW (2023), 71(2), 370-386
This article examines the changing experience of love at a time of deepening inequalities. Drawing on the ‘love story’ of one resident of London’s Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – arguably the UK’s most unequal space – it builds a relational account of love to describe the forms of attachment and detachment that accompany everyday life in an increasingly divided place. This approach signals three wider contributions. First, by tracing love through life course and life world, this article conceptualises the sustained and far-reaching way inequalities are lived and felt in everyday life. Second, the foregrounding of love stories as methodology highlights the roles of agency and narrative in how we tell and write about inequalities. In drawing these points together, this article thirdly conceptualises inequality as processual, situated and contested – as an emergent process of ‘becoming unequal’ through which we can trace shifting relations between space, time and power.
TAKING BACK TASTE IN FOOD BANK BRITAIN: ON PRIVILEGE, FAILURE AND (UN)LEARNING WITH AUTO-CORPOREAL METHODS. CULTURAL GEOGRAPHIES (2023), 30(3), 453-470
Food banks are a growing feature of austerity Britain. Despite this, little research has focused on the object central to their operations: the food they provision. In charting an attempt to “open” food bank parcels to greater scrutiny, this article highlights the need to take back taste from predominantly nutritionist framings of food. Drawing on recent work in more-than-representational and visceral geography, it is argued that taste must be understood as an embodied, sensorial and social phenomenon. However, this article highlights the ethico-political dilemmas that accompany such an undertaking, and the wider implications raised by studying the tastes of socially and economically marginalised groups. These tensions are explored through recourse to the political, ethical and epistemological stakes of auto-corporeal methods—in this case, employing my own tasting body in consuming a “food bank diet.” In arguing that such an approach is necessarily wedded to forms of failure and privilege, this undertaking reveals the need to scrutinise the more-than-tasted features of power and space that shape the relational landscapes of Food Bank Britain. By working with these failures, this article concludes that the potential of such corporeal methods lies not in producing “data,” but instead in unlearning and scrutinising one’s embodied privileges in the face of poverty.
SOCIAL & CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY (2022), 23(9), 1333-1350
This paper analyses the scopic regime established by images of UK food banks. Analysis of three popular images of ‘Food Bank Britain’ reveals the persistence of historical practices for visualizing hunger – namely, the dominance of faciality, infantilization of the hungry, and erasure of geographical context from visual frames. Drawing on the work of Judith Butler, this paper demonstrates how such images serve to ‘frame’ austerity – where framing describes the link between the bounding of the literal edges of an image and the epistemic, affective frames for understanding and feeling austerity that are mobilized. Rather than attempting to portray ‘real’ images of food banks, this scopic regime is instead marked by the production of ocular affects that structure the feelings of the viewer towards certain political ends. It is concluded that this framing of hunger denies the political life of food bank users, a process that in turn effaces the radical questions necessary to address the causes of hunger at a time of austerity.
THE WORK OF LOOKING FOR WORK: SURVIVING WITHOUT A WAGE IN AUSTERITY BRITAIN BEYOND THE WAGE: ORDINARY WORK IN DIVERSE ECONOMIES (2021), 45-70
This chapter examines the everyday lifeworld of Jeff, an unemployed individual living in the Welsh Valleys—a highly deindustrialised area that is one of the UK’s most deprived regions. Jeff’s story demonstrates the damaging effects of austerity policies that have introduced greater levels of coercion and conditionality for the unemployed, accompanied as they are by heightened political rhetoric framing waged labour as the route to citizenship. Not only are these transformations callous: they also work against the ability of the unemployed to secure waged labour. Rather than a ‘workless’ existence, Jeff’s story illustrates the many and often desperate works that punctuate his attempts to survive without a wage—works that unfold socially and collectively through the politics of community and place.
TOWARDS A GEOGRAPHICAL ACCOUNT OF SHAME: FOOD BANKS, AUSTERITY AND THE SPACES OF AUSTERE AFFECTIVE GOVERNMENTALITY
TRANSACTIONS OF THE INSTITUTE OF BRITISH GEOGRAPHERS (2021), 46, 73-86
This paper is about shame, its geographies, and its role in the government of conduct in austerity Britain. Drawing on ethnographic and interview data from a Trussell Trust foodbank in the Valleys of South Wales, the geography of shame is investigated through its spatiality, temporality, and politics. Together, these avenues demonstrate how shame not only acts over those individual bodies experiencing food poverty but also realises an operation of power for pushing austere conducts onto collective populations. Reading shame in this fashion necessitates two critical interventions. First, this paper builds a geographical account of shame that provides an alternative route through psychological and sociological understandings – culminating in a re‐definition of shame as the feeling that emerges from a contested un‐covering of out‐of‐placeness. Second, this paper adds a geographical contribution to emergent theorisation of “affective governmentality.” By positioning “shameful subsistence” as a specific affective governmentality at a time of austerity, this paper departs from previous studies of governmentality that tend to emphasise the numerical and statistical as the primary “technical factors” used to govern life. This paper demonstrates how shame is not limited to the spaces and users of foodbanks: rather, shame is a central framework for understanding the contemporary politics of austerity both in the places it creates and through the feelings, behaviours, and values it encourages.
DEBT AND AUSTERITY: IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINANCIAL CRISIS (2020), 151-173
This chapter explores the changing relationship between debt, inequality and social reproduction in austerity Britain. By recounting the experiences of Cheryl, a single parent living in the Valleys of south Wales, this chapter argues that the gaps in provisioning created by austerity are at the same time being pursued as opportunities for the penetration of debt into everyday life. This double movement - of the increasing porosity of state-funded support alongside the heightened financialisation of reproductive labour - is theorised as austere social reproduction. This concept allows us to think about debt, social reproduction and austerity not as separate phenomenon, but as a nexus that is driven by, and further exacerbates, inequality.
GEOFORUM (2020), 110, 211-219
This paper contributes to emerging geographical literature on what is here conceptualised as ‘actually existing austerity’—referring to the uneven ways through which austerity is felt, negotiated, embodied and contested in the varied spatial tapestry of everyday life. Through theorisation of the contemporary operation of food banking in the UK, it will be argued that the gaps in provisioning (in this case, of food) left by welfare reform and state spending cuts in the UK under the guise of austerity are engendering new forms of responsibility that are unevenly distributed and performed—often by those already excluded, marginalised and impoverished. This localisation of responsibility has crucial implications for how austerity becomes embodied and negotiated, as well as the unequal material implications it holds for different people and places. This paper concludes by arguing for a future research agenda concerning actually existing austerity, signalling the need for 'thicker' and more grounded accounts of austerity at scales beyond the nation-state and/or city alone.
INTERNATIONAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HUMAN GEOGRAPHY (2020), 55-59 (VOL. 2)
A long encyclopedia piece on the topic of 'people's geography.' People's geography centres on the relationship between the production of geographical knowledge and its everyday usage. It proposes that the central purpose of our discipline is not simply to study the world, but to intervene in it.
BOOK REVIEW IN URBAN GEOGRAPHY (2020), 1-2
A book review of Rowland Atkinson's 2020 book Alpha City: How London was Captured by the Super-rich (published by Verso Books)
POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY (2019), 75, 1-10
This paper develops a Foucauldian reading of the phenomenon of UK foodbanking. Rather than providing straightforward subsistence, Trussell Trust foodbanks exercise a vital politics that acts over hungry bodies at a time of austerity. Through conceptualisation of the vital technologies of biopower, this article draws attention to the three underpinning logics of this system: interpretation, provisioning and improvement. These techniques reveal a power over life that not only seeks to provide subsistence, but to transform hunger into a technical object through which needy bodies can be improved out of existence. However, this paper also highlights the limits of this biopolitical and disciplinary system by drawing attention to its scalar politics, specifically emphasising the everyday power of living that undermine techniques over the vital life of bodies and populations. In so doing, this paper calls for more sustained attention to how the politics of life is lived and lively, situated and multi-scalar, through conceptualisation of its vital geographies.
THE KING'S REVIEW VOLUME: EXTREMES (2017), 78-88
To understand what poverty is, we must first contemplate where it takes root. In attempting to do so, this article offers three in-depth ethnographic insights that go beyond simply mapping poverty, and instead bear witness to the acts of neogitation, organisation and survival that mark everyday life in deprived areas.
POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY (2014) 42 117-120
A long review commentary examining the recent Channel 4 television series 'Benefits Street' and its impacts upon viewings and perceptions of poverty, brought into conversation with several other key texts in the field.