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Hannah Kettle

Get to know our staff through our Spotlight series.

At the moment, my favourite TV show is Strictly Come Dancing

HannahKettle

Hannah, you’re a new face in the Department. What are your first impressions of Geography & Environment?

As with any new job, it’s always a little daunting to start working with new people, but the Geography and Environment Department have been incredibly welcoming and friendly! I could not have asked for a nicer team to be part of.

As PhD and Graduate Co-ordinator describe a typical day in the office.

A typical day in the office begins with a massive cup of tea and a morning croissant at my desk. It’s followed by catching up with emails, PSS staff, academics & fellows, the PhD Academy, and students.

As it’s Michaelmas Term, it’s all a bit hectic; I’ve been dealing with course choice, seminar allocation, student enquiries, Moodle, along with tying up some loose ends of the previous academic year. Co-ordinating both MSc and PhD students in the Department adds some variety to my day as they have very different academic journeys whilst here at LSE.

What is your favourite TV show?

At the moment, my favourite TV show is Strictly Come Dancing. It’s just great entertainment: the clothes, the drama, the gossip, the music, the highs, the lows, the tears, the laughs, the glitz, the glamour – it’s got it all…not to mention the dancing itself! (In case you were wondering: I’m a terrible dancer).

I’m also really enjoying Taskmaster. Go check it out; it’s really funny!

Hannah Kettle is Graduate Programmes Co-ordinator for MSc Real Estate Economics & Finance, MSc Regional & Urban Planning Studies and PhD programmes.

Spotlight series

Paroj Banerjee

ParojBanerjee

Can you tell us a bit about your PhD and research?

In my research I am looking at how pavement dwellers associate with the idea of 'home' in their everyday lives. I recently finished a year-long fieldwork in Mumbai (Mahim to be specific) where my research took a crucial turn.

Before, I was conceptualising these pavement dwellers and similar groups living on Indian streets as 'homeless'. However, my fieldwork and close interactions with the community of pavement dwellers made me realise that the trope of 'homelessness' is absent in their everyday practices. In fact, framing them as 'homeless' takes away the agency of their efforts to address the extreme vulnerabilities in their everyday life.

This is not to say that the lives they live are ideal, or to romanticise their daily struggles and hardships. What I want to draw attention to is the fact that the construction of the idea of 'home' itself is fraught with contradictions.

The experiences of 'home' are varied and I see the efforts to hold on to the notions of ‘home’ are strategies of addressing the precarious environment that street living entails. I also want to draw focus to the fact that the conceptualisation of terms like 'homeless' is a Western concept and in the Indian context these terms need re-framing. 

What is the best part about being a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department?

This is my first time teaching, and there are several (mostly great) things to say about the experience. First, as a GTA I have immense support from the faculty members leading the courses, my colleagues who have taught the courses before and are currently teaching with me, and the professional services staff. These people are not only very advanced in their field of knowledge but are very approachable. They have been really open to suggestions and forthcoming with help to address any challenges I face. I was super anxious before beginning teaching, but the training from the TLC has been useful.

Second, I am really enjoying teaching the courses GY100 (Introduction to Geography) and GY140 (Introduction to Geographical Research) because they are exposing me to the fundamentals of critical theory in Geography. The first course addresses the 'what' and 'why' of the discipline and the second addresses the 'how'. I have a background in Sociology and Urban Studies and my previous research focus has been interdisciplinary. I did not realise that what I have been doing so far is so intimately linked to Geography. These courses are helping me make crucial connections with my research. 

The thing that keeps me most motivated is the interaction with students. They are really lively, chatty and responsive. I am learning the discipline with fresh perspective from the students. The interactive nature of the classes helps us to understand each other better. For example, in a recent class they were asked to think of a place and explain why they feel connected or detached to it. Very interesting insights emerged from this sharing of experiences, one of them being the gendered experiences of places. What was great was the precise connections they were making with the text while describing their experiences. 

Where is the most memorable place you have visited?

I love travelling, so every place I have visited has had an impact on me. The experiences have been enriched because of the company that I have travelled with. I travel a lot with my family and friends.

But if I had to pick a place, it would be a solo trip I made to Japan when I was really young. I was excited for several reasons, particularly as I sensed freedom and responsibility at the same time.

I know you asked for one, but I will cheat and say that one image that is imprinted on my mind and will be forever was from a recent trip to Nubra Valley, in Ladakh. I have never seen such a stunning star-filled sky. It still gives me goose bumps. 

Paroj Banerjee is PhD candidate in Regional & Urban Planning.

 

Ryan Centner

ryanspotlight

What are you currently working on in your research?

My work is moving in several different directions right now, but they’re all linked by a core interest in urban transformation at the nexus of social, spatial, and economic change. That’s to say that I focus on how the built environment as well as people’s conditions and experiences are linked together, always with a view to how shifting broader economic projects and circumstances mediate these. 

More specifically, I am completing a longstanding ethnographic project on how three neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, Argentina, have fared in the long aftermath of IMF-sponsored reforms that reshaped the Argentine economy from the early 1990s onward. These were never “urban” reforms, but they have created a plainly urban legacy in terms of the redevelopment of places and the transformed livelihoods of Buenos Aires residents across the socioeconomic spectrum. I’m finishing a book that presents these “urban afterlives” as a way of understanding what these kinds of economic restructuring – sharing similarities with Greece and Puerto Rico, among other cases – leave in their local wake, well beyond the original intentions of policy.

Other streams of research I have been working on, in a range of sites, include:

1) Comparing the implementation of “the right to the city” as an idea, and often a law, across Latin American contexts, from São Paulo to Caracas to Santiago de Chile to Mexico City to Havana.

2) Examining the contentious nature of increasingly heterogeneous urban middle classes (which is emphatically plural) in Brazil, Turkey, and South Africa as rapidly changing middle-income countries.

3) Exploring the links between urban innovations, inequalities, and the everyday politics of what we might call the “self-regard” of cities. I look specifically at the three major urban areas of North America’s Pacific Northwest region – Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland – which are collectively hailed as green, creative, progressive, and hip; this reputation is clearly known to residents and is unavoidable in the daily experience of these places, which are plainly cities in love with themselves. As I come from Portland myself, I train a critical eye on how the distinct assemblage of innovations in each city exacerbates, or sometimes relies on, inequalities.

4) Tracing how the speculative expansion of aviation into new geographies is related to city-building through investments in infrastructure and the forging of new inter-urban linkages. I am particularly interested in the rapid proliferation of airline networks in Africa over the last decade, but I am interested in comparing these to transformations that have unfolded previously in parts of the Middle East and Latin America.

5) As I always find it important to do local research, wherever I may be based, I have begun an inquiry into how gentrification is specifically affecting LGBT nocturnal geographies – essentially, the spaces and nature of gay nightlife – in east London. This is part of a set of papers I am working on editing with collaborators at other institutions on “Gay Male Urban Spaces after Grindr & Gentrification.”

As organiser of the undergraduate field trip, what do you enjoy most about this experience? 

I think fieldwork, and really digging into a local context, is one of the most rewarding – if challenging – experiences in the critical social sciences. And for geographers in particular, fieldwork is a must. I love to see the proverbial light bulbs go on in students’ heads as they begin to discover new understandings about a place, sometimes even a place they already thought they knew well. 

A great joy of leading a field course is to be a part of that interpretive project; instructing in the field, and being able to make connections between theoretical or historical lessons and the visible stuff all around us in the moment is one of those amazing opportunities to make teaching really come alive. 

What is your favourite film ? 

This might seem a bit obscure, but it’s a movie that has resonated with me for a long time now: from Argentina, Daniel Burman’s Abrazo Partido (2004), usually translated as Lost Embrace. It’s a very funny but also moving story about personal relationships that manages to tie in history, geopolitics, economic globalization, immigration, and a lot of good Argentine sarcasm, all in an area very near where I conducted much of my fieldwork in Buenos Aires. And if you don’t speak Spanish, I can confirm from the various friends (and even some students) whom I’ve forced to watch the movie in the past, it’s still very good with subtitles!

Ryan Centner is Assistant Professor of Urban Geography.

 

Megan Ryburn

Megan spotlight

What are you currently working on in your research?

In 2018, I will be publishing a book, tentatively entitled Uncertain citizenship: Everyday practices of Bolivian migrants in Chile, with the University of California Press. It explores how Bolivian migrants to Chile experience citizenship across borders in their daily lives.

There is an urgent need to address intra-regional migration in Latin America, which is rapidly increasing and challenging the ways in which citizenship in the region is understood and experienced. Globally, too, people are moving in great numbers, with much of this movement happening within under-researched contexts of the global South. My book, which is based on multi-sited ethnographic research in Chile and Bolivia, hopes to contribute to debates on the meaning and practice of citizenship in Latin America, connecting these to broader discussions around citizenship and migration.

Over the rest of the summer I’ll mainly be working on revisions to the book manuscript, ready for final submission at the end of September. I also have ideas percolating for my next research project, which is an exciting place to be.

Your research involves a lot of fieldwork, what do you enjoy most about carrying out research abroad?

I guess there are two main aspects that I enjoy, and which motivate me. First – and this applies as much to research I’ve done in the UK and New Zealand as in Chile and Bolivia – I feel very privileged to listen to research participants and find out about their lived experiences, and to be trusted to document and analyse this. I have had so many interesting, surprising, moving, and entertaining conversations, and learned so much during the different projects I’ve undertaken.

Second, I enjoy the sense of challenge. Contacting new people, navigating new places, speaking another language all the time – all of this can be daunting, but there is a great sense of achievement when you finally start to piece together the puzzle at the heart of your research.

What is your favourite non-academic book?

Tough question! I always have a novel or two on the go, and some equally keen friends and I recently started a reading group (which, it must be said, is also a good excuse to catch up over a glass of wine). We’re currently reading Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn, which is something of a fable for our times.

In terms of all-time favourites, I’d be hard-pressed to pick just one… Pride and Prejudice would certainly be up there. I adore Jane Austen’s talent for witty observation, and the timeless, complex female characters she wrote. Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera is in my top few as well. His beautiful prose transports you so utterly. Finally, I often return to my anthology of New Zealand poet Lauris Edmond’s work – she perfectly captures both grand events and the minutiae of daily life.

Megan Ryburn is LSE Fellow in Human Geography.

Nancy Holman

NancySpotlight

We’ve reached the end of the academic year. What will you be working on over the summer? 

This has been a very good year in terms of research. I have just finished up a project with colleagues on short-term letting and planning deregulation, which produced an academic paper and some interesting content in terms of a short film and an animation.

I will be working on a larger bid to put forward to funders on the ‘sharing’ or platform economy in London over the summer. There is so much rhetoric surrounding the sharing economy – both positive and negative – that it is hard to think about what sensible regulation might look like. Our project hopes to address this. 

I will also be on sabbatical in the Michaelmas term so I am looking forward to re-working my optional course Planning for Sustainable Cities to get it ready for 2018-19.

What first inspired your interest in Urban Planning?

After university, where I studied politics, I lived in Austin, Texas. Two things spurred me on to study urban planning. The first was that I loved the neighbourhoods and the historic districts of Austin.  I was fascinated by the way certain neighbourhoods worked where others seemed to fail miserably in terms of both built form and as social space. I wanted to understand these processes better.

I was also in a terribly tedious job that filled me with dread each morning. So, when the opportunity came along to study for a Master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning I decided to do it. As a result, I have worked in both the US and the UK in planning and got my PhD in Urban Policy here in the UK. The result is that I now never dread going to work in the morning. 

What do you enjoy outside of LSE and the Department?

I enjoy doing a wide range of things – I like to go mudlarking on the river Thames – if you don’t know what this is think wellington boots and rubber gloves looking for treasure on the foreshore. My best find so far has been a shoe buckle from the 1760s but more regularly I find dead fish and trash.

I have also recently taken up learning to skateboard, which is something I always wanted to try but never did. I am not sure if taking this up in my 40s is the best plan but it is fun none the less – my goal is to be able to Ollie – my hope is to not break my neck.

Nancy Holman is Associate Professor of Urban Planning.

Neil Lee

NeilLee

What are you currently working on?

The biggest issue faced by the UK at the moment is Brexit. In academia we’re generally obsessed with migration, with good reason, but we’ve tended to overlook the experience of people who don’t move. But only a minority migrate – around 60% of the UK population lives within 20 miles of their place of birth. I’m particularly interested in people who don’t move, but whose local area experiences significant change – economic decline, large-scale migration or population loss. Does this make them more likely to vote for Brexit or a particular party, as a way of taking back control? 

Another big issue the UK faces is stagnant real wages. A lot of this is driven by low paid work in low-productivity sectors. The government is currently working on an industrial strategy and targeting particular sectors could be an important part of that. I’m working on a project – led by Professor Anne Green at Warwick – which looks at which sectors perform particularly badly, and the type of interventions which might help reduce low pay. (Lots of the reports are available here.)

What is the best feature of the Department of Geography and Environment?

We’re really lucky here – LSE Geography never feels like an ivory tower, separated away from the rest of the world, but can have a real impact on the world outside. Just this morning, my colleague Hyun Bang Shin was on TV talking about the South Korean elections. The Department has some of the leading institutes working on public policy - the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth is one example. We’re in a privileged position to study issues we think are important. Plus I have great colleagues and the students are top class. 

What's the most memorable place you've visited?

When most of my colleagues head off to the mediterranean to get a tan, I normally go to the rainy, windswept Orkney islands – an archipelago just to the north of Scotland. It’s a beautiful place, with stunning views and clean air. The local whisky is also amazing. I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have gone there out of choice, but my wife’s family are from there so I was made to visit. Now, if I don’t go once a year I really miss it.

Neil Lee is Assistant Professor of Economic Geography. 

Clare Barnes

ClareBarnes

Clare, you’re a new face in the Department. What are your first impressions of Geography & Environment, and of LSE more generally?

I am not only new to LSE, but also to London and to a certain extent the UK academic environment, after spending the last thirteen years abroad. I have been working at Utrecht University in The Netherlands for six years, teaching on Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development programmes, and conducting PhD research in Environmental Governance. I’ve been made to feel really welcome in the Department and appreciate everyone fielding my many questions on how things work (and always with a smile!).

I am really jealous of the students that get to study here! The wide range of courses to choose from mean students can put together a very exciting and challenging programme. I am also impressed by the level of support on offer to help students study, which seems like a really important resource to help them make the most of their time here and, importantly, have fun at the same time.

For me personally, it is great to be exposed to different perspectives on the environmental issues I work on. We all need our assumptions to be challenged from time to time to help us refine our thoughts and grow academically, and I look forward to doing that with colleagues and students at LSE.

What areas of the environment does your research focus on?

I am really interested in the governance of natural resources in the Global South. Nine years ago I spent six months volunteering for a small NGO in a rural area of Cambodia with alarming rates of deforestation. My time there made me confront my naïve assumptions about forest dependent communities and opened my eyes to the complexities of managing forest resources. Local teenagers gave me a glimpse into their lives – aspirations, fuel wood collection, hunting, farming, family, school, the looming threat of eviction by illegal and legal logging companies, fetching water, friends, dancing, a sensitive political climate etc. – and it made me question how interventions by NGOs aimed at reducing deforestation play out when confronted with such complex realities.

What approaches do NGOs employ when they work with community forest institutions set up to manage forest resources? Can they influence the creation of a supportive policy environment? How can we measure their success? These questions eventually turned into PhD research on interventions in community forestry in three states in India, theoretically informed by common pool resource theory, international development literature and critical institutionalism.

Of course this work raised more questions than it could answer and I’m currently exploring angles for future empirical research on how and with what effects NGOs scale out interventions in natural resource management beyond the initial small pockets of success. Having spent most of 2016 writing up my PhD, I’m looking forward to tackling my ‘post PhD reading’ folder and getting back out into the field!    

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Hopefully I’m lucky enough to still be in a function that allows me to spend my time researching and teaching about the environmental issues I feel passionately about. It is a pretty luxurious position to be in to get to work with intelligent, engaged students whilst developing my own thinking and research on the governance of natural resources. I’m excited to see where my new research project on scaling out NGO interventions in natural resource management takes me and who I’ll get to meet along the way.

Clare Barnes was LSE Fellow in Environment (2016-17). 

Simona Iammarino

Iammarino

What are you currently working on in your research?

I have several works-in-progress with different co-authors, mostly around what traditionally has been my main research area: Multinational enterprises (MNEs), innovation and regional economic development. The current research focus is on the impact of MNE operations on local industries and regions – in terms of various indicators (e.g. innovation, jobs, structural change) – looking at both inward foreign investment and outward investment abroad and considering new policy approaches.

I have a few forthcoming talks on this topic, as for example, the Lezione di Economia Marche 2016, a public lecture at the Facoltà di Economia 'Giorgio Fuà', Ancona, 30 May 2016;  again as a key-note speaker at an event organised by the Italian Confindustria and British Council in Sofia, Bulgaria, 13 - 15 June 2016; and as discussant at the Workshop 'Smart Specialization in a Comparative Perspective: Challenges and Ways Forward', European Commission, DG for Regional & Urban Policy, Brussels, 27 June 2016.

Another active research area is that of the relationship between supply and demand of skills and local economic development in Italy, for which my co-authors and I will present a new paper at both the Workshop on 'Risk and Resilience: A Regional Perspective', Roma Tre University, 31 May - 1 June 2016; and the Uddevalla Symposium hosted by Birkbeck, University of London, 30 June - 2 July 2016.
 
How do you divide your time between research and Head of Department duties?

This is a difficult question, as I am not sure that my balance is ideal! However, being HoD is a big responsibility and a highly demanding task, and one has to be prepared to put research on a side as there are other priorities. I learnt that adjusting my own expectations is crucial not to feel permanently frustrated. Thus, I do less than before, more focussed on maximum a couple of research lines, and I think that for the moment I have different sources of personal reward, first and above all the appreciation of my colleagues. Obviously, I look forward to my sabbatical when my mandate is over in summer 2017!

What do you enjoy most about working in the Department of Geography & Environment?

The people. All of them, academics and administrators, LSE Fellows and GTAs, and the students both UG and PG. I am very lucky as my Department is a good working environment, where people are open, collegial and like getting together socially.

Simona Iammarino is Head of Department (until July 2017) and Professor of Economic Geography. 

Austin Zeiderman

Austin Zeiderman

We have reached the end of the academic year. What will you be working on over the summer? 

I’ve just finished teaching an LSE Summer School course, An Urbanising World, together with my colleague Hyun Shin. We had a lot of fun, thanks to a great group of students, and I came away newly energised about my summer research plans.

Having just finished a long-term project on security, risk, and political life in Bogotá, Colombia, I’m starting to think ahead to what comes next. To help get the ideas flowing, I’ll be spending a good month or so making my way through a stack of new and exciting books, which have been impatiently winking at me from my bookshelf. I’ll be reviewing a couple of them, but for the most part I want to immerse myself in the latest stuff coming out of geography, anthropology, Latin American history, and urban studies.

I’ll also be reading everything I can find on Colombia’s most prominent and storied river, the Río Magdalena. As many will already know, a negotiated peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC is on the horizon, and the country is anxiously anticipating the end of one of the world’s longest running armed conflicts. I’m particularly interested in the literal work going into building Colombia’s post-conflict future, and a major initiative to revive shipping traffic along the river is arguably one of many large-scale infrastructure projects motivated by the elusive promise of peace. I’ll be in Colombia in August and September to start interviewing people involved in the Río Magdalena project and to spend some time along the river itself, watching oil barges float downstream to the coast and dredging operations excavate centuries of sediment.

Colleagues at the Universidad de los Andes will also be kindly hosting an event to mark the launch of my recent book, so there will some time set aside for celebration, as well. 

Your first book, Endangered City, has just been published. How did the book come about? 

I’m always intrigued by that question, as well as by how I find myself answering it. In the preface, I tell the story of arriving in Bogotá for the first time in 2006. I was immediately struck by how often friends and strangers alike would go out of their way to inform me about the dangers of everyday life in the city. There was something oddly familiar about this, since it reminded me of how, as a kid, I had learned to navigate my own hometown of Philadelphia. It also seemed to be a particularly good example of a wider, perhaps global trend whereby cities are increasingly preoccupied with potential hazards lurking on the horizon. But this seemed paradoxical in Bogotá, since by all accounts the city was now far safer than it had been for quite a while, and urbanists and security experts from around the world were busy heralding its rebirth.

How, why, and to what effect do concerns about security and risk continue to shape the political life of the city? That was the question I would spend years trying to answer. But this was only part of the story. I began my research at a time when many Colombians were justifiably wary of yet another gringo coming to study violence in their country.

One couldn’t ignore the turbulent and traumatic history of the armed conflict, but it felt necessary to look at what else was going on. So rather than studying violence and insecurity directly, I decided to come at these topics from an angle by thinking about threats and dangers of all kinds—especially those seen to originate in nature rather than society.

I made contact with the municipal housing agency, which was relocating populations out of areas defined as “zones of high risk” for landslides and floods. For me, this became a way to analyse how concerns about threat and danger, about security and risk, were reconfiguring what it meant to be an urban citizen. The rest is history (or geography), so to speak.  

What do you think is unique about Geography and Environment at LSE? 

I came to the LSE in 2012 after finishing a doctoral degree in anthropology at Stanford University. I was trained in a style of anthropology that took the discipline’s history and methodology quite seriously, but that also encouraged engagement with a wide spectrum of research topics and intellectual traditions.

I spent a lot of time reading and learning from the work of geographers, and often felt that had I not ended up studying anthropology, geography could have been an equally good fit. So when I joined the Department of Geography and Environment at the LSE, to a certain degree I suspected I would feel right at home. What I didn’t expect was for the department to be as inclusive, collegial, and supportive a place to work. I attribute this to the fact that we’re such a diverse group of staff and students from all over the world with an astoundingly wide range of backgrounds and interests: from bona fide, card-carrying geographers to those with training in economics, sociology, urban planning, architecture, development studies, social policy, and much more.

I may be the lone anthropologist, but I’m never lonely. For one’s disciplinary training is rarely the primary identifier that determines how we interact with one another. I often find myself wondering what, then, holds us together—what it is that we all, to some degree, share—and I’ll go ahead and hazard a guess: a strong commitment to generating unconventional insights into questions of public and political relevance on the grounds of rigorous empirical work that takes seriously the specificities of space and place. I’m sure many of my colleagues in the department would put it differently, and perhaps even disagree—but I bet they would disagree with a smile.
 
Austin Zeiderman is Assistant Professor of Urban Geography.