I am a cultural geographer writing about race and racism, urban multiculture, industrial ruins, and everyday life.
Much of my research to date is also concerned with how social scientists understand and theorise race and racism. My thinking has been shaped by engagements with recent theoretical debates in cultural geography and beyond about emotion and affect, as well as more-than-human accounts of social relations. In particular my ethnographic work focuses on what race does in interaction. My research develops performative accounts of how race comes to matter in social encounters, theorising race as a technology of differentiation that sorts and judges human difference.
The concept of assemblage informs a lot of my work in a number of ways. I'm not an assemblage evangelist but I have found the idea of assemblage helpful in thinking through my research and developing a particular analytical lens.
And so assemblage creeps into a lot of my work, whether it is trying to understand racism and the quick processes through which bodies are sorted and judged in passing encounters; or analysing how processes of neoliberal urbanism hit the ground in specific cities, and how these processes might best be contested and resisted; or re-thinking what we understand as economic in economic geography by focusing on the labour geographies of working with unruly materials and industrial technologies and infrastructures on steel plants.
One of my favourite books on research methods is John Law's After method: mess in social science research. In the book Law argues that the methods social scientists tend to use often make a mess of dealing with the complexity, contradictions, and messiness of the real world because these methods tend to tune out the noise of day-to-day life and reality becomes distorted into clarity. But most of all After method is an invitation to think more imaginatively about methods and it has influenced the ways in which I do research, whether its doing ethnographic fieldwork on multiculturalism in a former mill town; tramping through the ruins with photographers in post-industrial landscapes in Dortmund; writing about cities; or touring steel plants...
Much of my research is ethnographic, and involves participant observation - described by one ethnographer as a kind of 'deep hanging out' (Wogan, 2005) and other qualitative research methods including interviews, participant diaries, archival research and photography. For my PhD I lived in Keighley, West Yorkshire, for the best part of a year studying the doing of living with difference and everyday geographies of race and racism. I have also done ethnographic fieldwork while botanising the asphalt with photographers in Dortmund's industrial ruins, during escorted tours of steel plants across north west Europe, and with Iranian migrants in Vancouver.
I use a lot of visual materials in my research. And while I am no professional photographer I take a lot of pictures. I am using more and more images in my recent writing on everyday multiculture in Keighley, blending photographs and narrative to produce different modes of knowing and understanding places where multiculturalism is often understood to be going awry. I also write about photographs, most notably about photographs of ruins and post-industrial landscapes.
I'm also really interested in the craft of geographical writing and questioning what counts as good writing in the academic social sciences. In particular I am interested in developing more literary and poetic ways of communicating my ethnographic research to evoke the experiences of living with difference in former mill towns in northern England. This work draws inspiration from psychogeographies of the city (through the writing of Situationists, but also contemporary psychogeographers like Iain Sinclair, Patrick Keiller and Sukdev Sandhu) and ethno-fiction (through ethnographers and writers like Michael Taussig, Kathleen Stewart, Marc Augé, and Shiloh Krupar).
Walter Benjamin, and in particular his unfinished Arcades Project has been an important inspiration for much of my work. I first encountered Benjamin through Allan Pred's wonderful books on Sweden (Even in Sweden and Re-cognizing European Modernities) and ever since I have been seduced by the possibilities offered by montage for teasing out and playing with messiness and contradiction through the work of juxtaposition. (See in particular Afterimages of Steel).
In future projects I am interested in using arts practice in my research. In cultural geography there have been some exciting collaborations that use visual arts, theatre and film to produce engaged publics and communicate research. I am particularly interested in examining new ways in which verbatim theatre, photography and participant video might be used to experiment with encounters and produce moments of collaboration and engagement. The aim here would be to develop imaginative and durable experiences that inform ways of better living together.
Since 2008 I have been working on the journal CITY: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy and action. Currently I am the senior the editor for the journal. Before taking on this role in 2013, I was an editor (2010-2013) and correspondence editor (2007-2010).
CITY is an exciting journal to work on. It is an academic journal, but has the ambition to reach beyond the academy and provide a space for a many voices. Another remarkable feature of the journal is its commitment to diverse perspectives and talking across - and breaking down - the boundaries of academic disciplines. The result is an incredibly lively journal that provides powerful insights and analyses of cities.