CFP #AAG2018. ‘Geographies of Sex, Sexuality and Sex Work: Myths, Imaginaries and Realities’. New Orleans, April 10-14 2018

 

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Paul Maginn, Erin Sanders-Mcdonagh and I are pleased to announce the call for papers for this year’s American Association of Geographers Conference in New Orleans in April next year (see more details here: http://www.aag.org/cs/events/event_detail?eventId=1258 ).  Although a geography conference, it is a very interdisciplinary event and we welcome submissions of abstracts from all perspectives on sex, sexuality and sex work.  We have run special sessions on these themes for the last few years at this conference and it is always a really engaging and enjoyable event.  We have also been fortunate in the past to secure some contributory funding for sex workers to attend and present from the conference enrichment fund, and would endeavour to do so again.

Do get in touch if you would like some clarification before submitting something.  The deadline is 16th October to submit an abstract.

 

ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN GEOGRAPHERS CONFERENCE

NEW ORLEANS, 2018

#GEOSEX18 CALL FOR ABSTRACTS/PAPERS

 

Geographies of Sex, Sexuality and Sex Work:

Myths, Imaginaries and Realities

In the past decade questions about sex, sexuality and sex work have come to dominate media, political and social debates. These debates have seen the tectonic plates of ‘conservatism’ and ‘liberalism’ collide and sheer against one another. There is considerable variation in the dynamics of such relations across national and international boundaries. In the predominantly Catholic country of Ireland, for example, a referendum on marriage equality saw the LGBTQ community granted the same rights as heterosexual couples. In Northern Ireland (NI), however, the Protestant-dominated local Assembly has thus far steadfastly refused to pass legislation on marriage equality five times. The failure to pass this legislation has been due largely to opposition from the largest political party in NI –the Democratic Unionist Party – who has effectively vetoed the issue each time it has to a vote. And, in Australia the current Liberal Government has prevaricated on the issue of marriage equality by agreeing to hold a non-binding postal plebiscite on the issue rather than letting the Parliament decide on the issue.

On the matter of sex work, some nations – e.g. Canada, France, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – have recently introduced legislation that criminalises the purchase of commercial sex services in the name of protecting (female) sex workers and victims of human trafficking. This legislation was introduced in these jurisdictions following major campaigning by conservative politicians, religious organisations, NGOs and radical feminist organisations often working together. Relatedly, other state actors have sought to prohibit access to pornography by framing the consumption of adult entertainment as an issue that affects social and mental well-being. For example, participants at the 2016 Republican National Convention in the USA suggested that viewing pornography constituted a ‘public health crisis’. In the UK the government has recently sought to introduce age verification mechanisms and regulations in order to prevent people from viewing particular sexual acts online.

All the while, the consumption of online (heteronormative) pornography continues to grow year-on-year as data from one of the world’s largest free porn websites reveals each year. There is relatively little publicly available data on the consumption of non-heteronormative types of porn, although anecdotal evidence points to significant growth in “feminist-porn and alt-porn”. Camming has also becoming an increasingly popular mode of adult entertainment, with an estimated 20,000 performers online in the US at any given time. Even professional adult performers now engage in cam-work (and other forms of adult entertainment such as stripping and feature dancing) as a means of generating supplementary income due to the de-industrialisation of the porn industry in the wake of free online porn hosting sites. New and improved technologies have therefore created alternative possibilities for sex work landscapes.

Sexual and gender identity have also been the focus of much heated debate, especially in the last 5 years as debates about transgenderism have become more prominent. The increasing visibility/audibility of transgender people and issues related to trans rights have, in some cases, resulted in moral panics about trans people being in public spaces and using public facilities, especially toilets. Ultimately, trans folk have endured stigma and stereotypes because of their gendered/sexual identities and have been subject to discrimination and a denial of their human rights.

Advances in digital technology and the ‘app-ification’ of smart phones have had a profound impact on the socio-spatial dynamics of human sexuality and commericalised forms of sexual services. The emergence of dating websites, online escort agencies and personal ad sites, hook-up apps and web-camming for personal and commercial purposes have enhanced the opportunity for direct and indirect intimate and risqué experiences. Similarly, the rise of virtual reality, smart sex toys and sex robots have raised various questions about the future direction of human, gender and sexual relations.

In light of the highly complex and dynamic sexual landscapes that characterize the 21st century, this special session – #GeoSex18 – calls for papers that offer critical analyses on a range of myths, imaginaries and realities pertaining to sex, sexuality and sex work that speak to one or more of the following broad topics:

  • Community, diversity and mobility within the sex industry;
  • Community, diversity and mobility within the LGBT community;
  • Gender/sexual identities and fluidities;
  • Sexual dissidents, activism and advocacy;
  • Human trafficking/migrant sex workers;
  • Human and labour rights in sex work;
  • Gentrification and its impacts on queer spaces/red light districts;
  • Health and wellbeing amongst sexual minorities;
  • Stigma/stereotypes/social exclusion of sexual minorities and the sex industry;
  • Crime/violence towards sexual minorities and sex workers;
  • Production/distribution/consumption of pornography/adult entertainment;
  • Geographies of swinging/dogging/cruising;
  • Digital geographies of sex, sexuality and sex work;
  • Virtual reality, sexbots and human sexual relations;
  • Stigma and social exclusion of/in the sex industry;
  • Policing, criminal justice and sexed spaces;
  • Labour rights, health and safety issues within the sex industry;
  • Policy, politics and regulation of sexual landscapes;
  • Reproductive rights;
  • Liminal spaces/stigmatisation of sexuality, sex work and the sex industry;
  • BDSM/Kink/fetish spaces/communities; and
  • Censorship and sexualisation.

The #GeoSex18 special session series welcomes abstracts/papers from scholars, policy researchers within government agencies, consultancies, NGOs and sex work advocacy/support organisations and research-minded sex work activists from a range of disciplines and ideological/theoretical/methodological/empirical standpoints. If you are interested in taking part in this special session please send your abstract including: (i) paper title; (ii) author(s); (iii) institutional affiliation(s); (iv) email addresses; (v) a 250 word (maximum) abstract; and (vi) 5 key words to the co-convenors at GeoSex16@gmail.com by no later than 16th October 2017.

Co-Convenors:

 Dr Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia (Australia)

Dr. Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire (UK)

Dr. Erin Sanders-McDonagh, University of Kent (UK)

 

Erin also has a new book out this year, entitled Women And Sex Tourism Landscapes, published by Routledge, which may be of interest to potential presenters!   You can view the details here: https://www.routledge.com/Women-and-Sex-Tourism-Landscapes/Sanders-McDonagh/p/book/9781138814547 .

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TEDxLancasterU 2017 Conference, 13th May 2017

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I’m really excited to be giving a Tedx talk about my brothels in the community research at the TedxLancasterU Conference on 13th May – particularly as I have just found out that popcorn and pancakes are to be served!

You can find information about the speakers here.

My little speaker bio is below:

Emily studied for a BSc (Hons) in Geography at Lancaster University, and remained there to complete her PhD in Human Geography (awarded 2014). The PhD focused on the impacts of living in close proximity to brothels on residential communities in Blackpool.  She joined UCLan in 2016 as a Lecturer in Human Geography and a researcher for UCLan Policing.

Emily’s research centres on how sex, space and society interact, with a particular focus on sex work in recent studies.  She is also engaged in projects relating to female ex-offenders and young people at risk of involvement with serious and organised crime.

Sex work is considered to be a problematic feature of urban areas, largely generating fears around crime and disorder. However, robust and inclusive consultations with residential communities about the effects of sex work remain limited.

This talk will draw from conversations with local residents, authorities, and sex workers of Blackpool (UK) and will provide an insight into this under-researched area. Contrary to the assumption that crime and disorder are the only aspects that brothels bring to residential areas, brothels have several roles in Blackpool’s community. These include: economic contributions, heightening feelings of safety, and, quite simply, just being ‘ordinary neighbours’.

I believe these are live streamed (gulp!) and will also be available on YouTube after the event.  Hope to see some of you there!

#AAG2017 – (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance (Boston, USA)

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We (Paul Maginn and Erin Sanders-McDonagh) are pleased to announce our special session at this year’s AAG annual meeting, which is part of the Mainstreaming Human Rights in Geography and the AAG featured theme and also sponsored by the Sexuality and Space Specialty Group.  Please find below the session details and paper titles but I am also taking this opportunity to promote the fantastic new book by Erin: Women and Sex Tourism Landscapes (published by Routledge) which compares female tourists’ interactions in highly sexualised spaces in Thailand and the Netherlands.   Feel free to ask Erin about this during our sessions!

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1606.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance I: Porn, Pleasure & Performance (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session)

Wednesday April 5th, 4:40 pm – 6:20 pm


ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia

4:40  Gemma Commane, Dr*, Birmingham City University, Kinktrepreneurship and social media: debates, rights and female subjectivity.
5:05  Joanne Bowring*, Liverpool John Moores University, Stigma in the UK Adult Film Industry.
5:30  Jennifer Heineman, PhD*, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Performing the Whore, Performing the Academic.
5:55  Emily Meyer, Esq.*, University of Cincinnati, The Cam Model: Kinship, Community, and Intimacy.

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2106.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance II: 2. Rights, Wrongs and Regulations (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session)

Thursday April 6th, 8:00 am – 9:40 am


ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire

8:00  Laura Graham*, Durham University, The Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry on Prostitution: Is the time ripe for a Human Rights based approach to sex work?
8:25  Emilia Ljungberg*, Karlstad University, The smiling face of the emotional state.
8:50  Elena Shih*, Brown University; Christine Shio Lim, Brown University; Jordan Rubin-McGregor, Brown University; Imani Herring, Brown University, Building a Movement Against Sex Work in Rhode Island: Anti-Trafficking and Academic Industrial Complexes.
9:15  Billie M Lister, Doctor*, Leeds Beckett University, Time for change? : Indoor sex workers experiences of working under quasi-criminalisation in England and Wales and their ideas for legislative change.

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2206.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance III: 3. Governance, Policing and Design (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session)

Thursday April 6th, 10:00 am – 11:40 am


ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Gemma Commane, Birmingham City University

10:00  Nicole Kalms*, Monash University, Sex Shop / Pole Dance / Street Work: Heteronormative Architectures of the Neoliberal City.

10:25  Erin Sanders-McDonagh*, University of Kent, Pushing sex work to the margins: The sanitization of Red Light Districts in Amsterdam and London.

10:50  Paul J. Maginn*, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire, On-street, Off-street, And Online: The Dynamic Liminalities Of Sex Work.

11:15  Alison Better*, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY, Constructing Space and Community for Sexual and Gender Exploration at Sex Toy Boutiques

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2406.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance IV: 4. Production, Consumption and Reflection (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session)


ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire

Thursday April 6th, 1:20 pm – 3:00 pm

1:20  Yo-Hsin Yang*, Negotiating/resisting stigma of sexscapes: gay men’s sex moral performances on tour.

1:40  Victor Trofimov*, European University Viadrina, From commercial sex to homonormativity: changing landscape of male street sex work in Berlin.

2:00  Katharine Parker*, Northumbria University, Public Sex Environments in Contemporary Sexscapes: A Case Study from North East England.

2:20  Nick McGlynn*, University of Brighton, Too Fat, Too Thin, Just Right?: Stigmatised Bodies in Bear Spaces.

2:40  Philip Birch*, Western Sydney University, Prostitution and Procuring Sexual Services: Why men buy sex .

____________________________________________________________________________________________2506.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance V: 5. Mobilities, Immobilities and Boundaries (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session) 

Thursday April 6th, 3:20 pm – 5:00 pm


ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University

3:20  Rachel Wotton*, Sex workers who provide services to clients with disability.

3:45  Alison J. Lynch, J.D., M.A.*, Associate Instructor, Mental Disability Law and Policy Associates, Sexuality, Disability and the Law: Beyond the Last Frontier?

4:10  Bella Robinson*, CoyoteRI; Elena Shih, Brown University, Policing Modern Day Slavery: Sex Work and the Carceral State in Rhode Island.

4:35  Laura Connelly, Dr*, University of Salford, Caring for and controlling the subaltern body: Politics, policy and practice within a rescue industry.

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I will be hopefully writing up a blog post after the sessions as usual for those who cannot make it.  Please follow the hashtag #geosex17 and #aag2017 for live tweets!

COST Action ProsPol Conference, Displacing Sex For Sale – Copenhagen, 2017

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I am currently at the fantastic COST Action ProsPol Conference, Displacing Sex for Sale, in Copenhagen and have enjoyed an inspiring first day.  I’ll update this post later with my notes from the sessions I attended, but I just wanted to do a little plug for our (@Planographer) paper tomorrow, entitled “On-Street, Off-street and Online: The Dynamic Liminalities of Sex Work“. Here is the abstract:

Sex work has long been the subject of labelling and stigma with sex workers, predominantly women, being the subjects of moral authority. Relatedly, the physical and virtual spaces in which sex work is produced and consumed have been subject to ‘territorial stigmatization’ (Wacquant, Updated:23 March 2017 16 2007). That is, commercial sex spaces have been marginalised – physically, socially and economically – by framing them, and those that occupy them, as immoral, deviant, dirty, disorderly, and dangerous. Sex work spaces are thus constructed as major ‘blemishes’ (Wacquant, 2007), not only on the urban landscape but the very fabric of society. Simultaneously, however, sex work spaces constitute ‘counter-spaces’ (Lefebvre, 1991) where ‘sexual boundary crossers’ (Hausbeck Korgan et al, 2016)[1] can engage in transgressive behaviours and express and celebrate their minority sexual identity status. Sex work spaces are also liminal in character in that they are often caught between the grey space of legality and illegality; ‘a space between sex and work whilst also being neither/both’ (Smith, 2015)[2]; a space that can be simultaneously physical and virtual; a space where different personas and/or alter egos can be portrayed and performed; and, a space where fantasy meets reality. This exploratory, conceptual paper will consider the key liminal characteristics across three distinct spaces where sex work is produced and consumed: (i) the street; (ii) indoor spaces (e.g. the home, hotels and brothels); and, (iii) the virtual (e.g. online escorting; social media and camming). It will be argued that the moral posturing, stigma and regulations imposed upon sex workers gives rise to the exercise of ‘liminal stigmatisation’. Simultaneously, however, the very liminality of sex work spaces, especially virtual ones, allows sex workers to mobilise and challenge this liminal stigma from above.

The presentation is part of the panel session Sex Work in the Digital Age, chaired by Prof. Teela Sanders, in Building D, Room 3.114 (3rd floor) between 9.15 and 11am.  Hope to see some of you there!

Bothered by a brothel? How sex work can improve your neighbourhood

Paul Maginn (@planographer) and I recently wrote this article in The Conversation – read the full version here – based on my doctoral research.  You can find more information about the project in this article: http://sex.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/05/27/1363460715616949.abstract

Bothered by a brothel? How sex work can improve your neighbourhood

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Dr Emily Cooper (University of Central Lancashire)
Assoc. Prof. Paul Maginn (University of Western Australia)

The sex industry, specifically sex work and prostitution, has long been perceived and regulated as a “dirty and disorderly” feature of residential communities. The stereotypical, and unfair, view of sex workers is that they are vectors of disease and social contagions; it’s a moral hangover from the Victorians.

Regardless of their legal status, wider society still tends to stigmatise those who provide commercial sexual services, with street-based sex workers often most the subject of public, political and police scrutiny. This is reflected in the regulation and marginalisation of sex work by local and national government policies to dark and secluded areas of cities.

This marginalisation and stigmatisation is because many people’s knowledge and understanding of sex work is generally limited and informed by moral panics and stereotypes – particularly surrounding issues such as STI rates and trafficking. While it is important to recognise that such problems may occur in sex work, it is also important to stress that these are not experienced by the majority of those engaged in consensual sex work and should certainly not be portrayed as being the most important factor in all sex worker narratives.

Nevertheless, local councils and police forces periodically engage in “clean-up” campaigns that seek to purge local areas of sex work. The police raids in Soho during December 2013, when around 200 police targeted dozens of premises, have been one of the most high-profile examples of this strategy.

Such raids are generally justified by the media and local authorities on the basis that locals, especially women and children, need to be protected from the harmful effects of “sleaze”.

Interestingly, however, there has been little detailed or systematic research on the impacts of sex work on residential communities. Generally speaking, local authority “clean-up” strategies tend to be based not on science, but on a small number of complaints from a vocal minority who assert particular moral agendas.

The evidence that sex work is a problematic issue is rather limited, but it is clear that sex workers themselves are not considered community members and are rarely consulted about their own concerns and needs. Sex workers are just ordinary people – someone’s mother, aunt, brother, friend – trying to make a living.

Research by Phil Hubbard and colleagues, Penny Crofts, Sarah Kingston, and Emily Cooper’s own work suggests that sex work contributes to residential communities in much more complex ways than is commonly portrayed in the media.

Sarah Kingston’s research on the impact of sex work on residential communities in Leeds highlights that the presence of sex workers can actually generate positive outcomes. For example, they (and associated clients, etc) provide passive surveillance against criminal activities and will report crimes. In addition, sex workers and their clients also contribute to local economies via the renting of premises, booking hotel rooms and spending money in local shops, bars and restaurants.

The Blackpool community

Cooper’s research on massage parlours and surrounding residential communities in Blackpool, reinforces these findings. 53 in-depth interviews were conducted (often more than once) with local residents, as well as a number of sex workers, police officers and council officers. Observations were also made over an 18-month period.

Those parlours surrounded by other non-sex work businesses and residences were often referred to by nearby non-sex work business workers as a means of breaking the ice and building rapport with customers, because of questions asked about the parlours being there. Reputedly, for some residents, the parlours also brightened up the mundane routine of peoples’ daily social and work lives. This was also reinforced in Kingston’s findings.

More crucially, some residents highlighted that the parlours – and their 24-hour vibrantly neon-lit presence – engendered a feeling of security in an area that is commonly frequented by “either nobody or large groups of stag parties, which can be a bit intimidating” (quote from resident).

Such views dismantle the common narrative, which suggests that the sex industry is something that attracts criminality rather than a feeling of security.

The Blackpool Gazette often uses “dirt and disgust” rhetoric to characterise the impact of massage parlours and the subsequent “clean-up” campaigns by regulatory bodies. Despite this, plus the ongoing effects of the recent recession, the massage parlours have shown resilience and remain an integral part of the social and economic fabric of Blackpool.

The stigma and stereotyping that tends to surround sex workers (and their clients) has the effect of alienating them and diminishing their sense of safety when working.

Very few residents in the study explicitly stated that they would like to see the sex industry removed. Those that did so were coming from either a stereotypical view of sex work as being inherently harmful or criminal, or from a desire to protect sex workers, who they considered friends and neighbours, from “dodgy clients”. Many residents discussed spending time with sex workers, as they would with any other neighbour.

Despite the fact that several sex workers in my study area lived locally, the long-established presence of massage parlours in Blackpool, and the friendly relationships between sex workers and wider community members, sex workers were still excluded from certain community spaces.

One sex worker, for example, noted that although she had a good relationship with residents adjacent to her place of work, she and another worker were asked to leave a Police and Community Together meeting by other residents because the meeting was “partly about them”.

Moving forward

Such exclusionary actions merely serve to reinforce the stigma imposed on sex workers and deny them their basic democratic rights. Community-based policy and consultation processes need to be more inclusive and appreciative of the fact that sex workers are as much a part of the local community as the next person. Their presence in and near residential communities needs to be viewed through a wider lens based on evidence, rather than a narrow moral one under the control of a vocal minority.

Emerging research suggests that the role and impact of sex work on local areas is more multi-faceted and less extraordinary than is commonly portrayed in the media or television dramas. The urban mythology and regulatory fetish surrounding sex work needs to be dispelled.

A more productive policy approach to regulating commercial sex premises would be to treat them like any other business. Ultimately, sex work should be decriminalised as this regulatory approach offers what other approaches don’t – it guarantees the greater safety, health and well-being of sex workers.


 

RGS-IBG Geography and Employability Event, 19 May 2016

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Due to marking season, it’s been a few days since I could sit down and write a blog about the fantastic ‘Geography and Employability’ event that was organised by the RGS-IBG (http://www.rgs.org/OurWork/Research+and+Higher+Education/Research+and+Higher+Education+events.htm) for those that couldn’t make it.  I was hopeful that the day would provide some good tips for how to embed employability into degree schemes/extra-curricular activities for our undergraduates and postgraduates – and thankfully the event provided several of these.  I was also lucky enough to bump into the fantastic Prof. Fiona Tweed (@ProfFionaTweed) from Staffordshire University, who was invited to do a presentation at the event (more info to come later) and she kindly agreed to co-write the blog post with me.  So what follows is a collective summary of the event from both of us.

 

‘Geography is in good health!’

Led by Stephanie Wyse and Catherine Souch, we began with a very positive discussion about the popularity of geography in relation to uptake by GCSE/ A Level students in recent years (which was also picked up by the media – e.g. see http://geographical.co.uk/rgs/news/item/625-geography-student-numbers-increase and http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/13/the-guardian-view-on-geography-its-the-must-have-a-level).  Geography at degree level also typically does very well in NSS scores relating to student satisfaction and, according to evaluations (e.g. see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationpicturegalleries/9852535/Ten-recession-proof-degree-subjects.html?frame=2472759), seems to demonstrate a recession-proof strength in relation to employment figures post-graduation.

 

Key findings in recent employability studies

We then discussed the changing policy context for geography and employability – including the well-publicised white paper and Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – and some recent findings in employability studies. We won’t list them all, but here are some key points:

  • Careers advice needs to be tailored to subject; career options introduced early in studies and reinforced throughout the course
  • Responsibility for improving employment outcomes needs to be shared between HE providers, employers and students – this should be a partnership (both Wakeham/Shadbolt 2016)
  • Many students/graduates are, from the employer’s perspective, unable to make themselves stand out from a crowd
  • Employability offerings by HE providers are considerable and diverse, but students are dissuaded by some offerings (e.g. certain sectors/recruitment channels), and take-up needs to be more strategically timed (early/throughout degree) and targeted by subject/course
  • Employers have relatively limited engagement with HE providers but messages conveyed by employers carry more weight for students (all 3 IEW/IFF Research/QAA 2016)

Of course, the workshop participants also recognised the issues with data capture strategies and, as outlined by the organisers, there is an urgent need for improved longitudinal data about graduate employment.  One of the key messages to come out of the later discussions was that, for geography in particular, routes after graduation often involve the individual becoming a ‘global citizen’ (e.g. by undertaking voluntary roles). Therefore, a significant proportion of geography graduates may not have chosen traditional graduate routes, linked to graduate salaries, which are the measure of success in the alumni capture methods.  Some other key factors affecting the outcomes post-degree are:

  • The potential disparity between student and employer views of ‘graduate preparedness’
  • The changing graduate labour market (regionally and nationally) and the changing nature of employment, alongside the processes by which graduates are matched with graduate jobs
  • The role of universities as intermediaries (before and after graduation): subject-based support, careers services, other interventions

After some discussions of graduate attributes more broadly, we moved on to how geographers specifically are more employable.  Answers from the room included: diversity of contact time (fieldwork, lectures, lab work, seminars) and diversity of assessment (exams, traditional essays, data visualisations, oral presentations, reflexive journals, etc); a breadth of transferable skills (alongside subject-specific skills); a holistic understanding of world issues, which draws on several disciplines; geography is an ethical subject – graduates therefore leave University as global citizens as well as graduates.

 

Developing employable geographers

The event then moved on to a series of presentations offering a range of different approaches by various institutions, which are focused on enhancing employability. We haven’t included everything – what follows is a summary of some of the key messages from each presentation.

‘Re-chartering our employability offering’ – Jonathan Potts (University of Portsmouth)

Jon outlined a series of actions that have been embedded into the geography schemes at Portsmouth as a result of a multi-faceted, applied approach (involving academic and non-academic staff).  Key parts to this plan include:

  • An employability working group, including academic staff, technical staff and students (to brainstorm and roll out strategies)
  • A professional advisory group (consisting of external organisations and alumni students)
  • Employability resources embedded in all units and at all levels of study, including:
  • Introducing new placement (sandwich) degrees for 2016-17
  • Introducing a new ‘Employability for Geographers’ unit at L6 (feedback from students suggests this is also desired at L5). Assessment includes a reflexive journal and a portfolio
  • A dedicated Moodle site (feedback from students did, however, suggest that this was not particularly useful – and so a more social media-based strategy is to be adopted)
  • Guest speakers in units – former students (again emphasising the importance of alumni) and professionals
  • Monopolise key research skills and research contacts of staff!

 

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Related to the final point, another important message – and problem – that was mentioned is that it is often not just the issue of trying to engage students to think about employability that presents barriers; sometimes staff are difficult to get on board.  Similarly, educating employers is also key – so involve them in such strategies wherever possible.

‘Employability day’, or, as they called it (and I really enjoyed!), The ‘Bath Spa Treatment’ – Becky Schaaf (Bath Spa University)

Becky introduced the presentation by explaining why they had introduced an employability day; namely to try and get students to think about what they want to do after their degree and figure out what values are important to them early on (at Level 4).  This was a non-compulsory day (although, as attendance was outlined as an issue, making the day compulsory is being considered).  Below are some of the activities included:

  • A reflective skills/values audit with paired discussions
  • Discussions around what is possible in their subject, and from students as individuals
  • Relatedly, making students think about the ‘you-shaped’ hole in employment opportunities; what is unique about them and how to sell this in applications and interviews
  • A creativity/enterprise activity involving being given data from a local council to develop an idea to improve the community – with a prize for the best idea. This activity encouraged students to use data in a creative way (and enables creativity to be seen as more than just art and design – including how to apply this to a professional environment) in order to solve problems. This idea was then mapped out onto a business canvas and pitched back to the group; another key skill
  • The feedback was very positive, with all participants saying they would recommend the event
  • Issues – this was not subject specific, so the presenters discussed the possibility of making this solely a geographical-based event

‘Alumni Networking Events’ – Kean Fan Lim (University of Nottingham)

Co-coordinated with the careers office, Kean outlined the alumni network events that University of Nottingham run for Geography. He mentioned how key the events team were for promoting such events (weekly bulletins), and that the Geography society were also involved in promotion.  The events are run as follows:

    • Informal setting, usually in a pub (and with a budget – for one drink on the house!)
    • 7-8 alumni students from different sectors and at different career stages are invited
    • Speed-dating set-up, with students moving round each visiting alumni
    • Informal setting meant that students felt relaxed, could talk honestly and openly about their experiences, and ask questions
    • Around 70 attendees at the last one, indicating a positive response

 

‘The Geography Undergraduate Research Assistantship Module – Fiona Tweed (Staffordshire University)

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Fiona outlined the introduction of a research assistantship module into geography degree schemes; this module originated as a research-engaged learning exercise. While it still operates as such, she emphasised the benefits of such a module as an employability tool– enabling students to gain valuable research assistant experience, to ‘demystify’ the research environment for them, and to make them stand out in an interview panel.  Fiona also noted the broader benefits for academics – such a process boosts research culture in a department and makes students feel more included.  A brief overview of the format is below:

  • The module is for Level 6 (3rd year) and totals 150 learning hours, which can be spread over one or two semesters
  • Assessment comprises an oral presentation and a reflective report, including a work diary
  • Projects are advertised and students apply for them, providing a CV and cover letter. Students’ skills and aptitudes were assessed against the requirements of the post, as they would be in an ordinary employment situation. Interviews then take place, should decisions not be made from the written process alone.

A more comprehensive outline can be found in:

 

The journal article (Tweed and Boast, 2011) also discusses how the module was evaluated – namely by two key measures: student performance and student/staff/client feedback.  Students generally perform very well, with upper second and first class marks gained for the module – and, most significantly, excellent research outputs are often produced.  Feedback contained a plethora of very positive responses from students relating to the depth of the knowledge in specialist subjects gained; the research, presentation and organisational skills that were enhanced; and their belief that the module had enhanced their employability.  Staff reported that they felt the assistantships allowed the reinvigoration of their research, plugged a gap in resources and acted as a spring-board for future grant applications.  Client feedback included in the article described the impactful student projects, the more effective consolidation of working relationships between academia and external clients, and enabling clients to conduct research where only limited resources are available.   Overall, the module has multiple benefits for multiple stakeholders.

 

‘Bristol Q-Step Degrees’ – Rich Harris (University of Bristol)

Rich began by highlighting that, generally, quantitative analysis aptitude is poor for social science students. Bristol Q-step is, he outlined is, ‘part of a £19.5 million initiative designed to promote a step-change in quantitative social science training in the UK. A set of three (B.Sc.) and four year (M.Sci.) degree programmes are offered, with a shared cross-disciplinary pathway designed to boost confidence in analysing, presenting and interpreting quantitative data, as well as promoting understanding of quantitative social science’.  Examples include BSc/MSci Geography with quantitative research methods – with the latter deliberately being tagged in the degree title to emphasise its presence.  The QAA statement for Geography, he stated, clearly emphasises the need for numeracy and numerical skills, for attention to spatial statistics and scale, and to being able to use a range of statistical data collection and analysis strategies.

Rich outlined that students are taught there is more to quantitative geography than ‘just numbers’; they are shown how to turn quantitative data into useable formats, to do creative things with it, and to communicate it effectively.  Importantly, this strategy is also very much about employability – Rich draw from this report http://www.niesr.ac.uk/publications/state-nation-review-evidence-supply-and-demand-quantitative-skills#.V0iGzWf2aUk which reviewed the evidence on current levels of demand for quantitative skills (QS) from employers the UK, and the extent to which this demand is matched by supply. This clearly showed an increase from 1997 to more recent years in the levels of which more advanced maths/stats skills are considered essential/important for candidates. Rich was not making a case for quantitative methods to be the only relevant aspect of a degree; rather he was highlighting the need to reinvigorate them in geography degree schemes, keeping the view of the holistic discipline that covers several methodological bases in mind.

 

Finally

The event finished with a series of very short, sharp presentations on what the RGS-IBG offers to complement such strategies in degree schemes. These include:

 

The appendix of the handout also contained an executive summary of the fabulous project undertaken by Dr Anna Laing (@AnnaFLaing) while she was a Research Associate at Northumbria University, entitled ‘Embedding Employability in the Geography Department’.  This included several tips for departments to research the effectiveness of their employability strategies, alongside some important findings.  Contact Anna for more information.

Overall, the event was a great way to share ideas and best practice, alongside prompting some really positive discussions about why we all think Geography is such a great subject to study and teach. It was thoroughly enjoyable and we highly recommend similar events.

Sex in the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt – AAG #Geosex16 sessions in San Francisco (March/April 2016) **POST 5/5 – SESSION V**

V – Spaces of Empowerment and Social Inclusion

Paul J. Maginn (@planographer) (University of Western Australia) and Alistair Sisson (@alistairsisson) University of Sydney): “‘Orgasmic Geographies’: The Socio-spatial Distribution and Cultural Significance of Sex Toys in Australia

Paul’s paper centred on adult retailing in Australia – he began by outlining how adult retailing in Australia has come a long way since the first sex shops (opening in the early 1970s), where mainly pornographic material was sold (Sullivan, 1997). He explained that the number of sex shops has proliferated and the range of shops have diversified with 3 broad types of physical stores now identifiable – ‘seedy and sleazy’; ‘corporate chain stores’; and ‘erotic boutiques’ – that cater to particular client bases (Maginn and Steinmetz, 2014). Paul’s research – conducted with Alistair Sisson (University of Sydney) – focuses on “historical sales data from two online retailers, one Australian and one international, and uses GIS to map the socio-spatial distribution of sex toys and other related adult products across Australia at different spatial scal”es. More specifically, their research examines the “gendered, political and socio-economic aspects of the sale of adult products” to ascertain just how socio-spatially and -culturally mainstream sex toys have become in 21st century Australia.

 

Paul then briefly outlined the conceptual framework for the research. He discussed how the emergence of feminist adult literature, sex toy businesses (see Prof. Lynn Comella’s work) and ‘stylised pleasure’ has “situated sex shops as sites of cultural production AND retail production; thus perpetuating changing cultural norms around adult retailing and pleasure”.  Paul discussed the paralleled changing aesthetics of adult retail stores, “promoting style” as opposed to just phallocentric aesthetics, and becoming more ‘vanilla’ (drawing on Prof. Clarissa Smith’s work).  Paul dubbed this a “depornification process”, removing the notion of seediness and sleaziness and promoting the “commodification of pleasure” – he outlined how sex shops have capitalised on wider cultural sexuality eg the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon.  He commented on the ways in which the FSOG phenomenon has, regardless of the attitude towards the quality of the book itself, had a marked impact on the demand for the accompanying adult retail market.

Paul then went on to discuss the range in products available – ranging from basic, entry level to luxury goods, e.g. a gold vibrator selling for £10000 (which he dubbed as more collector’s items)!  He outlined the 3-pronged sex shop typology in more detail, and then discussed the Perth context.  Paul explained that there are not many small, boutique stores in Perth but these are beginning to emerge across Australia more broadly.

Some findings (**I was chairing this session so didn’t get many results down in detail**): in relation to the socio-spatial distribution of sales, Paul explained that they currently had 2 years’ worth of data but that this does not provide information on who the customers are.  He outlined that there were high levels of sales in Perth and Sydney (with plenty of sex shops in Sydney). NSW is the most populous state but had fairly small sales numbers as a whole.  He explained that therefore sales analysis should be studied at more of a regional scale, with the micro-geographies of sales being particularly interesting. Paul also explained that, so far, it is suggested that political voting makes no difference to sales.

Paul finished the talk by stating that sex toys have gone through a staged evolution: ‘from marital aid, to sex toy/pleasure, to a collector’s item’.  The changing nature of shop/website aesthetics and the dilution of phallic display ‘raises interesting questions about who-should-see-what in sex shop windows’.

 

Lesley Gabriel (@muckybooksblog) (Birmingham City University): “50 Shades of Suburbia: The BDSM Scene in Birmingham, UK”.

Lesley’s paper described the ongoing research for her PhD into the BDSM scene in Birmingham, UK.   Although in the early stages of her PhD, Lesley explained that it is likely her research will take the form of an ethno-history, with interviews conducted with participants from the Birmingham BDSM scene.  These participants, she stated, will range from those who first established the Birmingham Bizarre Bazar (BBB – a monthly fetish market and after party), right through to newer members of the community who may have been led there by the claim on the BBB’s website: “If you liked 50 Shades, you’ll love the BBB!”  The Birmingham scene revolves around the Birmingham Bizarre Bazar (or BBB) which attracts a wide range of attendees from across the UK and Europe.  She also stated that the project will also provide a “thorough discussion of how the internet has changed the scene by enabling better communication as well as education and kink-related commerce”.

Lesley outlined the justification for her PhD project in the presentation.  She began by stating that BDSM is a blended acronym and a colloquial term for kink, and providing some context on the study site.  Birmingham, she explained, is the “birthplace of the industrial revolution and a rock capital, with a large-yet-currently-undocumented BDSM scene”.  She said that while there is a concentration in the literature on global hubs for BDSM activity such as San Francisco or London, nothing has been published about the UK’s second city – despite the scene being a large and cohesive one.

Through an ethno-history approach inspired by Kuhn (2002), Lesley is interested in “what participants in the scene do, how they identify themselves and the words they use to describe what it is they do/are”.  She outlined how, regardless of what one thinks of the 50 Shades of Grey books, it is difficult to ignore their popularity and influence over the BDSM scene, including bringing issues of consent to the discussion.  Lesley outlined how recent research has shown that, despite some from the BDSM scene wanting to project it from people from the FSOG movement, one of the opinions is that ‘if you are going to come to the scene because of FSOG, then learn something about it’. Lesley finished by stating that coming to the AAG2016 had been “instrumental in learning the role of sex workers in the BDSM community” – and that she would like to include such voices in her research.

 

Susan Buckingham, Prof and Monica Degen, Dr (Brunel University London): “Transformational space and gendered and sexed identities” **I didn’t take any useful notes during this presentation – chairing commitments made these difficult to decipher!**

Abstract: The proposed paper examines the potential of space to be transformational for a group of vulnerable women for whom their identity is more than usually closely tied to their sexed and gendered bodies. Our discussion emerges from a research project which explored yoga as a research methodology (Buckingham and Degen, 2012), and research in progress on sex workers’ identity with different spaces. Through these projects, it is becoming clear that how the women felt, identified and behaved was powerfully shaped by the spaces they inhabited (Tuan 1977). From the domestic space of the women’s centre in East London in which the participants accessed facilities and services, through their local regenerated neighbourhood, and distant places to which they were introduced, we discuss how three particular places enabled these women, otherwise stigmatized as marginal through being ‘homeless’, ‘substance abusing’, and/or prostitutes in their habitual spaces, to produce an alternative re-formulation of their self-identities (Keith & Pile 1993; Knowles & Alexander 2005).  Employing an ethnographic approach, the paper considers how a high specification architect designed support centre, third sector spaces, and a coastal holiday location each offered such vulnerable women spaces in which they could expand the boundaries of their profoundly gendered and sexed identities. Finally, we consider what the broader implications of our findings are for theorizing a ‘politics of difference’ for vulnerable groups in contemporary neo-liberal cities (Young 1990).

 

 

Christina Bazzaroni (PhD Candidate – Florida International University): “Sex Positive Culture Creation: Kinky Salon and the Sex Culture Revolution

Christina’s paper discussed her PhD research on Kinky Salon, which she outlined is an “arty, sexy party” providing an alternative space for sexual exploration to typical sex clubs that are “often impersonal and intimidating”. Christina outlined that these events happen in 12 cities around the world, reproduced in the same way across space, and that “each party has a theme and dress code to foster community and fun”.  She stated that Kinky Salon positions itself as a global sex positive community (with a strong complementary online community) that aims to “facilitate cultural and political change by adopting strategies and ideologies of co-creation and cultural revolution”. The events, Jennifer argues, cultivate a sex-positive community organized largely around individuals that are “participation and activism oriented”, politically aware, ethical actors. Furthermore, she says, the KS community of participants and volunteers often develop lifestyles that “embrace various configurations of ethical non-monogamy”.  Its core values are: “playful, safe, inclusive, creative, community spirited, socially conscious, and sexually progressive”.

Some key questions in Christina’s PhD research include: What is it to be sex positive (e.g. the type(s) of freedom it relates to)? What is sex positive culture/community? What is the sex culture revolution? She contextualised these questions initially by discussing that the sex and sexualities field is moving away from centring on LGBT enclaves alone, and focusing on ordinary cities as well as global tourist centres (drawing on Phil Hubbard’s work).  She argued that the field is now wanting to ask more questions about “how alternative sex communities garner more positive sexually expressive spaces” – and alternative partnering strategies such as polyamory and ethical, consensual non monogamy – drawing from feminist geography literature.

Jennifer outlined that a central feature of KS is the idea of sex positivity – and serves to challengeconventional negative norms around sex, and shame around bodies”.  Jennifer outlined how the AIDS crisis of 1980s created fear around sex, and that “KS, as part of the new generation, has grown divorced from tragedies from past generations”.  She outlined the centrality of issues such as consent to the culture, and that the events have a clear charter outlining the norms/orders of the venues.  Jennifer explained that often the individuals involved are politically aware and have an action-based political agenda: “wanting individuals to enter the door, change their lives and re-enter society”. 

The paper concluded by asking questions regarding how these sort of events/venues could reach out to other people, and asked for suggestions from conference attendees.  Jennifer also outlined that there is still a way to go with mainstreaming BDSM sexual expression.

 

Final note:

Paul, Clarissa, Martin and I are exploring publication options for the papers from our sessions and so further details will hopefully be available soon.  (Particularly if you have stuck with me for all 5 posts), thanks very much for reading and I hope all of my post-conference ramblings made sense!