Paris Day 1: Entertaining encounters…

I arrived in Paris today and things have proved ‘interesting’ pretty much from the start…

Having negotiated through Charles-de-Galle airport (which seems to be a ridiculously complicated task!) I got the RER into Gare du Nord. Shortly after the doors closed a teenage boy started busking in the carriage with a small amp and mic to mini-disk backing. Each song only lasted about 30 seconds and there was so much echo and reverb on the mic it both made it hard to tell if he could sing and understand anything of what he said between songs. As we approached the next stop he went up and down the carriage asking for ‘donations’ and when he received almost none, left the carriage muttering something along the lines of ‘I love doing this’… We then all heard him start up in the next carriage as the train pulled away again.

I think this is the first time I have the ‘captive audience’ situation with buskers. And I can understand why it tends to be the sort of situation that causes the most conflict (i.e. not being able to escape them, as when a buskers in the street perform for long periods of time and those living/working nearby cannot but listen). However, this wasn’t the case here. I’ve written about the positives street music can offer to sociality etc., and in an odd way this did do this, though not in the way I think the performer intended…

When he started up there was an element of mutual bemusement among those on the train. Many had clearly just come off flights/were not French, and in general were looking somewhat anxiously every time another station came into view/clearly weren’t sure of the train system. This was given a slightly more light hearted/surreal slant with his singing – there were a lot of shared looks and smiles, and I think made the situation as little less stressful/a little more farcical!

Having dropped my bags at my rather ‘basic’ hotel (thankfully for the first week only – the en suite is the dampest smelling thing I’ve ever encountered) I went for a wander and encountered some other forms of ‘entertainment’. Not really knowing anything about the area, I headed south down Rue St Denis which, it turns out, is basically the red light district (this was confirmed by Damien later). Oddly, amongst respectably dressed middle-aged people and what looked like decent clothes shops, there was a scattering of sex shops, peep shows and strip clubs, and a number of rather aged prostitutes (whose profession was made crystal clear by their choice of dress). What made this stranger was that it was about 2.30pm! I managed to make my way to a more respectable street parallel to it (apparently it is really concentrated to that one street) and got coffee. I did also see a proper Parisian Arcade off the ‘interesting’ street (should have taken a photo, but slightly reticent to given my surroundings!) and couldn’t help thinking of Aragon’s Paris Peasant and the talk of Arcades/prostitutes in there (if I remember it correctly – should have re-read it before I came out).

From their the day took an upturn with a trip to Damien’s flat where we talked about our plans for my trip and I met his very cute daughter who kept asking my to read her stories. Fortunately, my french could have just about managed it (and probably would have benefited from it too!!).

Off to Cergy tomorrow so should be interesting to meet people there tomorrow…

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Paris Fellowship

Having just got back to Plymouth after my first couple of days at Keele University, I will be heading to Paris tomorrow for four weeks as a visiting fellow at Université de Cergy-Pontoise to work with Damien Masson (who I’m collaborating with on a research project called ‘Sensory Enigmas of Contemporary Urban Mobilities – some details here).

I’m going to try to keep something of a diary of my stay on here which will mix reflections of the writing we’re doing (which will be focused on the themes of ambience, atmosphere, and security/surveillance), fieldwork activities, the touristy things I do, and more general thoughts and reflections. Hopefully this will mean a slightly higher volume on posts on here…

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Well, I guess I can retire…

Not exactly following the geographical slant of Stuart Elden’s discussion of this sort of thing (or especially geographical at all), but timely nonetheless given I was reading his post when it arrived in my inbox…

Was particularly impressed by the use of the National Lottery logo…I’m also slightly tempted to phone up to see who answers, though not sure I have the guts!



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RGS-IBG session – Geography and Post-phenomenology

I’ve just received confirmation that the conference session I had proposed with James Ash for this summer’s RGS-IBG annual conference (and had posted about here previously) has been accepted.

We had some really interesting submission for it – I’ve copied details of the papers/presenters below…


Geography and Post-Phenomenology

Sponsored by: HPGRG

Convenor(s): James Ash (Northumbria University), Paul Simpson (University of Plymouth)

Chair: Paul Simpson (University of Plymouth)


Geography and Post-phenomenology James Ash (Northumbria University), Paul Simpson (University of Plymouth)

De-centred phenomenology and contemporary geographies David Crouch (University of Derby)

Self-reference and structural coupling: New phenomenological thinking in social theory (and geography) Roland Lippuner (University of Jena, Germany)

Ecosophy, Space and Corporeity: The Emergent Subject in Bateson and Guattari Robert Shaw (Durham University)

Sensuous Materialism: Exploring the Sensory Experience of Things from and of a Battlefield Past J.J. Zhang (Durham University)

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Apprehending Everyday Rhythms

I’ve just submitted what should hopefully be the final revisions to a paper I’ve written titled ‘Apprehending everyday rhythms: Rhythmanalysis, time-lapse photography, and the space-times of street performance’. Assuming all goes smoothly with the revisions, the paper should be appearing in Cultural Geographies sometime in the future. I will update here if/when I get a clearer idea of when that’ll be.

The abstract is copied below. I have a pre-proof version I can send to anyone interested…


This paper develops means of apprehending the rhythms of everyday practices and performances. Emerging from the context of recent calls for more explicit engagements with issues surrounding research methods and methodologies in the doing of cultural geography, and in particular in the examination of the geographies of practices, the paper responds to critiques of recent discussions of urban and social rhythms which highlight limitations in the articulation of methods for actually apprehending everyday rhythms. As such, in conversation with Lefebvre’s portrait of the rhythmanalyst and other works interested the significance of rhythm to social practices, the paper proposes time-lapse photography as a useful component of such a rhythm-analytical, and more generally practice-orientated, methodology. In doing so, the paper draws attention to this method’s ability to document and facilitate the reflection upon the complex durational unfolding of events and the situation of key occurrences within this polyrhythmia. This is illustrated in relation to the everyday rhythms of a specific urban space in Bath, UK and a street magician’s variously successful attempt to intervene into the everyday life of Bath.

[note: paper is fully accepted and I’ve checked the proofs (31st May) so, although not sure when will appear in the journal/early online, is getting there…]

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An eventful start to 2012…

So, things have been rather eventful over the past 3 weeks or so and I’m still catching my breath a bit…

Firstly, and most fundamentally, I’ll be moving again this year. This will be the 3rd time in 4 years. Given I’ve got the signed paperwork sat in front of me it seems safe to make it public: I’m moving back to Keele University in the spring to take up a permanent post as Lecturer in Human Geography there. Very happy to be returning to Keele as really enjoyed my time there previously and is a significant relief to have a permanent contract. That said, are a lot of people here at Plymouth I’m going to miss, not to mention the setting. Officially start at Keele at the start of April.

Second, my first couple of days at Keele will be followed by a stay in Paris – I recently found out I’m spending much of April living in Paris/as a Visiting Fellow at Université de Cergy-Pontoise (just north of Paris). That time will be spent working with Damien Masson, a collaborator on the ‘Spatial Enigmas’ project I’m a part of (details here). I’ll also hopefully find time to drink lots of coffee and read in Parisian cafes!!

Finally, I’ve spent the last week in London doing fieldwork for that project in St Pancras. Have a whole load of notes to write-up and video/photos to work through from it (and hope to post some reflections on here once I have them), but was a really interesting, and eventful, week (including the French members of the team being taken away to ‘a room’ in King’s Cross Station for taking photos without permission/looking a little suspicious…).

Apart from that I’ve just finalised the IBG session line-up with James Ash – we’ve received some really interesting papers – and getting on with a chapter on ‘Mobile Video Methods’ for a ‘Handbook of Mobilities‘ I’ve been asked to contribute to. And continuing to organise stuff for the wedding. I have a feeling the coming couple of month will be rather hectic…

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CFP RGS-IBG 2012: Geography and Post-phenomenology

A call for papers for a session at the upcoming RGS-IBG conference in Edinburgh being organised by James Ash and myself…

Feel free to post/email me if anyone reading this is interested or has any questions…

‘Geography and Post-phenomenology’

RGS-IBG Annual Conference, 3rd – 5th July 2012, Edinburgh

Session conveners: James Ash (Northumbria) and Paul Simpson (Plymouth)

Sponsored by the History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group

Geographers for some time now have been interested in phenomenology – the school of thought which, described most simply, can be defined as an approach which “tries to give a direct description of our experience as it is, without taking account of its psychological origin and the causal explanations which the scientist, the historian or the sociologist may be able to provide” (Merleau-Ponty 2002: vii). Most evidently, this interest could be seen in the humanistic geographies of the 1970s and early 80s. However, recently there has been something of a (re)turn to phenomenology in geography under the development of what has been called a ‘post-phenomenology’. As the title suggests, there is something distinct about this emerging engagement with phenomenology. This distinction comes in that this work has re-read phenomenological texts and ideas, often through the lens of post-structural writers such as Deleuze, Derrida and Levinas, and, in so doing, has aimed to “extend the boundaries of the phenomenological focus upon the experiencing subject” (Lea 2009). As such, this engagement with phenomenology has been less embracing of phenomenological ideas than the previous engagements mentioned above, but also, more specifically, there has been a move away from the assumption of a subject which exists prior to experience towards an examination of the ways in which the subject comes to be in or through experience. While humanist geographies were interested in the experiencing subject and how felt experience is both constitutive of, and constituted by, place (Lea 2009), now post-phenomenological geographies are interested in the trans-human and thus the decentring of the experiencing subject. This re-figures experience in terms of an experiencing ‘with’ the world rather than an experiencing ‘of’ the world (Wylie 2006).

This session aim to bring together geographers interested in such critical engagements with phenomenology so as to consolidate this developing area and set agendas for its future development and pursuit.

We welcome submissions on any aspect of this theme, but would particularly encourage papers which:

– Critically engage with specific phenomenological conceptions of subjectivity and intersubjectivity
– Explore themes of perception and sensory experience, particularly in terms ‘other’ senses (smell, taste, hearing, etc.)
– Elaborate understandings of phenomenality and appearance
– Explore the relationship between phenomenology and speculative realism and object-oriented ontologies
– Critique phenomenology as a form of idealism
– Question the residual subjectivism / humanism of phenomenology
– Respond to the purported ‘bodilessness’ of certain strands of phenomenology
– Explore the situation of gender in phenomenological thought
– Address the lack of attention paid to the socialization of body-subjects in phenomenological work

Expressions of interest and abstracts should be emailed to both James Ash ( and Paul Simpson ( by Friday 13th January 2012 [PLEASE NOTE – DEADLINE NOW 20th JANUARY].

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Busy busy busy…

I’ve not posted much on here in the past month or so as things have been rather hectic as term has gotten into full swing/I’ve been through my busiest teaching spell within it (as well as trying to keep research ticking over). Starting to come out the other end now but has left a rather large amount of commitments sneaking up on me… Some highlights of the past few weeks (and coming weeks) include:

1) Spending a couple of days in Oxford both giving a seminar to the ‘Technological Natures Research Cluster’ in geography and running an informal workshop discussion with DPhil students there on the transition from doctorate into the job market/a job. Was hard to not be horribly negative in the latter given the current climate, but hopefully gave some useful reflections based on having been through it recently. This drew in large part on my post here. The paper I presented in the seminar was titled ‘Ecologies of Performance‘ and hopefully should be working it’s way in the review process of a journal early next year. It builds on some nascent ideas in my thesis from the likes of Bateson, Guattari, Ingold, Bennett and others in outlining an ecological approach to the understanding of embodied practices/the complex relatedness of the body in practice (Illustrated with some reflections on my auto-ethnographic experiences of street performing). Some really useful feedback from the questions (and from Andrew Barry, Derek McCormack and Craig Jeffery in particular) which are going to be a big help in revising it and interesting conversations with Joe Gerlach while there too made it a great trip. Also parted with too much money in the Blackwell bookshop while passing time there (Guattari’s ‘Machinic Unconscious’ and a collection on ‘Phenomenologies of the stranger’).

2) I also presented a version of that paper in Exeter last week which again led to some very useful questions and comments from Pepe Romanillos, Paul Cloke, David Harvey, Nick Gill and John Wylie (who actually sewed the seeds of the paper with some of his comments in my PhD viva). Again, should help even more with the re-drafting process…

3) I’ll be submitting a book chapter to a collection called ‘Medicinal Melodies’ very shortly (draft completed this morning). The chapter again draws on material from my thesis to discuss the ways in which, despite a lot of arguments to the contrary, street performers can contributed to the production of convivial, and so ‘healthy’, public spaces through their presence/the social interactions they can encourage/the affect their music itself can have on listeners.

4) I’ve received invites to write chapters for a couple of other really interesting looking books. First is for a ‘Handbook of Mobilities’ edited by Pete Adey et al on mobile video methods which will draw on the research i’m just about finished doing on cycling. Will be a bit different reflecting on the methods used so immediately after completing the fieldwork (will literally start writing about a week after finishing). Second is for a ‘Media Geography Companion’ and is loosely titled ‘Spaces of Affect’. Not due until April next year, but I’m thinking of focusing on sound, media and affect and particularly thinking about the spatialities of sound and the immersive aspects of sound/the affects of this rather than the screen-based focus of a lot of work I’m familiar with on affect. A nice space to try to open up some new ideas/gives me a good excuse to read a fair few books that have been clogging up my shelves…

5) Finally, and again book related, I received a huge amount of books from a retired ex-behavioural geographer currently living in Plymouth who is moving to Australia so needed to get rid of his books (my fiancé works with his wife who is also a geographer, having done a PhD at Exeter). Images below of some of them, but more Marx than I’m likely to ever digest, a whole load of humanistic geography classics, great classics for teaching, and also some phenomenology (especially Shultz who I’ve not read before). I already have too many books lined up to read, so they can sit in the corner and make me feel guilty for a good while…I did feel like a bit of a vulture thumbing through his collection while he watched over my shoulder, but had a really interesting chat with him and think he was happy to see them find an interested home…

Right, back to writing and paper edits…

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UCU = useless crap union??

I just came across an interesting post on Stuart Elden’s Blog regarding the ongoing dispute with pensions in HE (I don’t remember getting the email Stuart received, but I’m not sure if that’s because I’m in the TPS, not the USS, or if it is yet another failure of the UCU’s communications…).

The email outlines the next step in the pension dispute which involves a ‘Working to contract’ policy as of next week. As quoted on Stuart’s blog, this entails…

  1. work no more than your contracted hours where those hours are expressly stated, and in any event not to exceed the maximum  number of hours per week stipulated in the Working Time Regulations;
  2. perform no additional voluntary duties, such as out of hours cover, or covering for colleagues (unless such cover is contractually required);
  3. undertake no duties in breach of health and safety policies or other significant employer’s policies;
  4. set and mark no work beyond that work which you are contractually obliged to set and/or mark;
  5. attend no meetings where such attendance is voluntary

In some senses tying into my previous post about working as an early career lecture and the demands placed as part of this, I fully agree that this seems to be an idea of someone with little to no knowledge of what is actually involved in working as a lecturer in HE.

My contract at Plymouth states that the University operates on a notional 37 1/2 hour week (approx.) and that, in spite of this, I am expected to work the hours required to undertake the various aspects of my role. Therefore, there is very little that should change under this action (still doing my teaching, marking, admin etc. as usual). The only potential things I’d miss out on would be doing the interesting/fun things I’ve agreed to do like going and giving guest seminars (I’ve a couple lined up for November and December in Oxford and Exeter respectively and there’s no way I’m cancelling them), doing peer-reviews for journals, reading/writing and other research related activities. Equally, at the moment most of the time I work above the standard nominal hours will be doing such research related activity and not doing these will only harm my future employment prospects/the progression of my career. Stopping doing these research-related things will have absolutely no negative effect on my employer in the foreseeable future (I’m certain this won’t run onto the REF, and I already have a submission for that already…).

One interesting thing here though is that is does highlight how in many ways as a lecturer I sort of see my self as separate from my employer and, especially being on a fixed-term contract, that I am almost a sort of free-lance researcher/teacher whose services the University has employed for a time. There isn’t necessarily all that much connection between  the priorities or agendas of the University on a day to day basis and what I need to prioritise to ensure my future employment. It is really different to other areas of both education and industry where you might have a CV to build, but this happens through your engagement and performance on your actual job, not a whole load of separate stuff that doesn’t necessary fall within the core aspects of your role and/or are not especially valued by your employer.

Anyway, I’m certain this, along with the previous pension-related actions, will be a resounding failure. We need to speak to the guy from the London Underground Union that’s been in the news this week…

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Paper early online – Street Performance and the City: Public Space, Sociality, and Intervening in the Everyday

I’ve just received notice that my paper ‘Street Performance and the City: Public Space, Sociality, and Intervening in the Everyday’ is now available early online in the journal ‘Space and Culture‘ here. I believe the article will appear in the final issue of this year (so, coming out sometime in November).

The abstract for the paper is as follows:

This article examines the performative transformation of street spaces into performance places by considering the practices of street performers. Street performance here refers to a set of practices whereby either musical or nonmusical performances are undertaken in the street with the aim of eliciting donations from passersby. Drawing on ethnographic observations undertaken in Bath, U.K., and situating the discussion in recent conceptions of everyday life and public space, the specific sociospatial interventions that street performances make into Bath’s everyday life are considered. In doing so, the article focuses on the fleeting social relations that emerge from these interventions and what these can do to the experience of the everyday in terms of producing moments of sociality and conviviality. This is also reflected on in light of the various debates that have occurred in Bath as a result of these interventions relating to the increased regulation of street performances. The article then highlights the conflicted and contentious position that street performers occupy in the everyday life of such cities.

If you don’t have access to the journal (like me!!) I have a pre-proof version I’m happy to send on.

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