Tag Archives: research

The questions we ask: environmental justice and ecocriticism

51PGPTD2KZL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve been working on research proposals and job applications, along with working on articles, and slowly growing into how I think theoretically about my many years as a community worker and organiser, and how I can work in my new role to make this world better. Whatever my new role comes to be exactly, given how few jobs exist, and without ceasing to be an activist as a volunteer for this, that and the other of course. So much of our work and thought is driven by the kinds of questions we ask, and nowhere have I found more difference than in the kinds of questions people ask and think are worth finding answers to.

In a large project, few things are as important as your research question.

So the fact that within the wonderful Environmental Justice Reader (mostly blogged here) someone sat down, and wrote out typical questions for the different areas of ecocriticism was wonderful, and impossibly useful to me. I think this should be done for every field. Not as a way of limiting our questions, but as way to help you position yourself, of knowing who you most want to be in conversation with. Of not judging others unfairly, because they never started off knowing what you wanted to know.

Then of course, there is the whole question of knowing what other people want to know, and how your own questions fit into that, so you can get funding. But that just drags a whole exciting world of curiosity and possibility into the dust, and there’s no need to do that in a blog post. I will save that for my paralyzing moments of existential questioning.

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img_7438Reed, T.V. ‘Toward an Environmental Justice Ecocriticism’ (145-162)

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Marshall Berman on the Intellectual

I separated out this little section from Berman’s All That is Solid Melts Into Air because in a way it is a little more personal, cuts a little more closely to the bone. I completed my PhD only a couple of weeks ago from an institution that is, for the most part, churning out highly educated kids of privileged background to fill positions in investment banks and other major corporations. There is still some wonderful research emerging from the place, and I still enjoyed teaching students where they engaged in learning. Yet in my quest for a position as an intellectual and a teacher that I hope will contribute to changing the world for the better, and yet will allow me to afford more than a tiny cold room in someone else’s flat while also helping to support my mum living in a stone-age society, so much of being an academic troubles me so deeply. Berman spoke in some really interesting ways to this conflict I see in my work and my politics. In discussing Marx he highlights this:

To bring out one of the paradoxes of their historical role: even though they tend to pride themselves on their emancipated and thoroughly secular minds, they turn out to be just about the only moderns who really believe that they are called to their vocations and that their work is holy. It is obvious to any reader of Marx that in his commitment to his work he shares this faith. And yet he is suggesting here that in some sense it is a bad faith, a self-deception.

The basic fact of life for these intellectuals, as Marx sees them, is that they are “paid wage-laborers” of the bourgeoisie, members of “the modern working class, the proletariat.” (116)

It can’t be denied I worry that my best efforts and greatest labours of love will be not just in vain, but also coopted and utilised. This points to the ways we need to seriously think about how we do our work and what work it is we do:

Bourgeois society, through its insatiable drive for destruction and development, and its need to satisfy the insatiable needs it creates, inevitably produced radical ideas and movements aimed to destroy it. But its very capacity for development enables it to negate its own inner negations: to nourish itself and thrive on opposition, to become stronger amid pressure and crisis than it could ever be in peace, to transform enmity into intimacy and attackers into inadvertent allies (119).

Not that Berman really has any answers, but I suppose this will do for a start:

As for the orthodox modernists who avoid Marxists thought for fear that it might strip them of their haloes, they need to learn that it could give them back something better in exchange: a heightened capacity to imagine and express the endlessly rich, complex and ironic relationships between them and the “modern bourgeois society” that they try to deny or defy (122).

The rest of my thoughts on Berman can be found here. I apologise for the overabundance of the word ‘love’, but I can’t be bothered to go change it.

Who Owns Britain

1563440Kevin Cahill (2001)

This is absolutely chock full of data, tables, and dense, well-researched information on key landowners in Britain — along with a good explanation of why this research is so hard and still so incomplete. Cahill may be a little strident, but I think it’s his right as pulling together all of this information in the teeth of concerted effort to hide it requires a certain level of patience and commitment that must be hard to extend further to the rest of the world.

The book centers on the fact that over a third of the land in Britain is not actually to be found in the Land Registry of England and Wales. Those large, landed estates and properties which have not changed hands over the centuries — an astonishing amount of land — remains outside the registry’s databases. And so Cahill has uncovered a mostly unknown and unused resource: The Return of Owners of Land, in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, commissioned by Parliament and published in four volumes between 1874 and 1876. This tells us who owned what in 1870, their address, the extent of the land and gross estimated rental — all information impossible to access today through the land registry.

Anyone would agree there is a lot of self-interest in burying this information on the part of the country’s biggest landowners. The charts and figures are great, and this and the encyclopedic entries on the principle landowners are the key feature of this book, but IĀ  loved the occasional tidbits of social constructions of land and power. This quote from the 15th Earl of Derby who explained in 1881:

The object which men aim at when they become possessed of Land in the British Isles may, I think, be enumerated as follows. One, political influence; two, social importance, founded on territorial possession, the most visible and unmistakeable form of wealth; three, power exercised over tenantry; the pleasure of managing, directing and improving the estate itself; four, residential employment, including what is called sport; five, the money return — the rent (p 8, quoted in Shoard This Land is Our Land).

I’m reading Shoard in the near future. So just to finish this off, who are the largest owners of land?

The Forestry Commission……..2,400,000 acres
The Ministry of Defence……………750,000 acres
The National Trust E & W………….550,000 acres
The Pension Funds……………………..500,000 acres
The Crown Estate……………………….384,000 acres
The Duke of Buccleuch………………277,000 acres
National Trust for Scotland……….176,000 acres
Duke of Atholl’s trust………………….148,000 acres
Duchy of Cornwall………………………141,000 acres
Duke of Westminster………………….140,000 acres
Church of England……………………….135,000 acres

Those whose lands are centered in London are making the most from them of course, like the Duke of Westminster’s 100 acres in Mayfair and 200 in Belgravia. These estates are also still being added to, Cahill claims that the Duchy of Cornwall (Prince Charles himself) has more than doubled in size since 1872, buying 20,000 acres as late as 1999 (and who knows since?). I’m very interested in them as they still own a large portion of Kennington. Interesting though, that this attempt to replenish the royal estates has taken place in great part since the agricultural depression of the 1890s, and WWI’s huge impact on landowning familes (much royal land had been lost during the Civil War if you’ll remember).

There’s much more in here, but it is encyclopaedic, and defying my description. A good reference, though I’d definitely head to your nearest archive to see more about land ownership in your local area. I know the amazing Minet Library has the old tithe maps and more for Lambeth, all free to access. Still, that doesn’t give you the national picture of land ownership and residence, and the call to uncover this is an important one.