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Geograd Symposium 2018

Please join us for the Geograd Symposium this Friday, April 6 from 8am–noon in Science Hall, Room 450. We have an incredible lineup of graduate research presentations from across the sub-fields. This is a great opportunity to catch up and support each other’s research while eating bagels and drinking coffee!

A sneak peak of our schedule, presentations, and abstracts are detailed below!

8:00–8:15am Coffee, bagels, and catching up

8:15–8:40am Meghan Kelly, Techniques of a Mapped Body

Bodies are complex and surficially read/misread from visible ‘markers’ and presumed identities. Feminist and body theory grapples with the depictions of bodies as visible and invisible forms of identity as well as the complexities at their intersections. Furthermore, bodies are frequently reduced to geographic data with particular dimensionalities and attribute information before being rendered into digital representations. Cartographers and artists alike map bodies in a variety of traditional and alternative ways. Icons are one representation technique that cartographers use to conventionally map bodies. In this paper, I examine feminist and body theory in relationship to mapped bodies and specifically, problematize map icons as techniques of the mapped body. To better understand culturally reinforced bodily norms, I use a critical semiotics approach to interrogate the use of Maki icons—a prominent open source mapping icon set—and their multifaceted portrayal of bodies. My analysis exposes the underlying meanings—conventions, codes, and ideologies—of Maki icons depicting bodies. My findings also reveal a nuanced taxonomy of map considerations that rethink the ways in which bodies are mapped using icons. Although limited to one dimension of data and one icon set, I nudge feminist cartographies forward by exploring the representation of bodies in mapping.

8:40–9:05am Nathan Green, Landscapes of debt: Microfinance and dispossession in Cambodia

Debt has long contributed to land dispossession in agrarian Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, however, debt-driven dispossession has largely escaped theoretical and political scrutiny, despite a rapid growth in microfinance that has pushed more than a quarter of Cambodians into over-indebtedness. Fueled by global investments, the microfinance industry in Cambodia has grown more than 50% per year since 2010 to become the largest industry per capita in the world. Commercial microfinance institutions lend high-interest loans for basic needs to rural households who must rely upon precarious wage-labor and fluctuating agricultural commodity markets to repay their loans. Many rural Cambodians struggling with debt are compelled to sell their land in distress to repay their microfinance loans. In this presentation, rather than seeing dispossession as a singular event, I draw upon 15 months of ethnographic research in the southern province of Kampot to argue that debt-driven dispossession in Cambodia is not only about losing access to land; it also entails re-working the way that land is constituted through social relations of labor. My presentation aims to contribute to our theoretical and regional understanding of how dispossession produces new ways of working and conceptualizing land at a time when agrarian spaces become ever more connected to global financial systems.

9:05–9:30am Rachel Boothby, Armour Thyroid Medication: From Pig Glands to Home Medicine Cabinets

At face value, thyroid medication seems utterly disconnected from the broader US (and global) food system. However, a close examination of the history of this medicinal object reveals the interconnectedness of the pharmaceutical industry with industrial meat processing spanning the past century. Once used by the great Chicago meatpackers of Upton Sinclair’s Jungle to turn a profit on dressed meat sold to far-flung markets at cut-rate value, a medication made from dried pig’s thyroid helped drive local butcher shops out of business and push Chicago dressed pork into self-service supermarkets nationwide. Once housed in the same facility as slaughter, facilities producing desiccated thyroid and other pharmaceuticals made from animal by-products were splintered off and sold in the mid-twentieth century as the massive consolidation of agro-food industry shifted the financial and infrastructural landscape rendering animal life profitable, further removing products such as thyroid hormone from the animal itself. Yet moments of rupture and contestation (lawsuits emerging from the drug’s inability to be fully standardized like synthetic thyroid, concern over Hilary Clinton’s use of the medication, fear stemming from BSE or Mad Cow Disease, and objections from Halal and Kosher communities over the drug’s provenance) reveal that the animal can never be fully removed from the commodity.

9:30–9:45am Niwaeli Kimambo, Detecting Smallholders’ Tree Farms: Mixing and Matching Satellite Imagery

9:45–10:10am Heather Rosenfeld, The sanctuary and the hoard

In much of Western society, animals such as chickens are considered commodities. As commodities in an anthropocentric value system, chickens are valued primarily as eggs, meat, and entertainment — the last in terms of cockfighting. Farmed animal sanctuaries rescue, rehabilitate, and care for these animals. In so doing, they implicitly and often explicitly challenge chickens’ (and other farmed animals’) status as commodities. If not as commodities, how, I ask, do sanctuaries conceptualize human-nonhuman relations? Drawing on mixed methods ethnographic fieldwork, I discuss the more-than-capitalist political economy of chicken rescue and sanctuary, particularly concerning questions of value. I make the case that the work of these sanctuaries sometimes tragically ends, but always begins, with hoarding. Hoarding in a mundane sense is a problem sanctuaries struggle with, whether in terms of rescuing animals from hoarding situations or developing characteristics of ones themselves. Yet, in the sense of taking animals out of a system of exchange value, all sanctuaries practice hoarding. Using Marx’s understanding of hoarding as a process of accumulating without exchanging, hoarding becomes a practice that is potentially radically anti-capitalist: a practice from which different and non-anthropocentric values can emerge. I explicate these multiple meanings of hoarding, how sanctuaries enact and/or struggle against them, and to what ends.

10:10–10:35am Rebecca Summer, Saving Alleys to Save Neighborhoods: Alley Closures and Contestations over Public Space in 1970s Washington, DC

In Washington, DC, in the mid-1970s, it became common practice for real estate developers to petition the DC City Council to close public alleys in residential neighborhoods. According to the Street Readjustment Act, once alleys were deemed “useless and unnecessary,” they could be “closed,” or removed from the public realm. Abutting private landholders—often the real estate developers who initiated the closing—then acquired the land. For developers buying up plots in residential neighborhood, this practice allowed them to consolidate their properties on a given block. It not only gave them more land on which to build, it allowed them to build higher buildings according to the city’s floor-area-ratio policy. In DC neighborhoods like the West End and Dupont Circle, residential areas located close to downtown, alley closings provided developers a way to circumvent zoning intentions and build high-rise office and residential developments. Residents vehemently protested these alley closings, knowing they would lead to development that would change the character of their neighborhoods. They were largely unsuccessful however, I argue, because their defense of the character of their neighborhoods appealed to comprehensive land use planning, a concern of the Zoning Commission, whereas the law they were in fact challenging concerned only the “necessity” of alleys behind their homes, an issue under jurisdiction of the Committee on Transportation. In failing to defend the material alleys, residents’ challenges to development threats in their communities had little legal standing.

10:35–11:00am Will Shattuck, Smallholders and sahai: the Communist Party of Thailand’s lasting impressions on contemporary Thai politics

This paper considers protests staged over falling natural rubber and palm oil prices in southern Thailand in August and September 2013, which involved weeks-long blockades of two major highway and railroad corridors and occurred shortly before a particularly significant political moment: demonstrations in Bangkok that challenged the administration of then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and which ended with the Thai military deposing Yingluck in a coup d’état. Heading up the latter was the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, whose leadership comprised primarily political leaders from southern Thailand and Bangkok. In this paper I draw from qualitative interviews conducted in southern Thailand between 2015 and 2017 to consider how these two sets of events were related and to examine ways in which protests over falling agricultural commodity prices were in large measure made possible through resilient networks of former members from the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT), or sahai in Thai, that linked villagers, many of whom had once been sahai in the 1970s and 1980s, with influential members of Thailand’s parliament from the southern provinces. Not only were many of these politicians key members of the PDRC; some had also once been sahai themselves. Through close consideration of these sahai networks and regional legacies of the CPT in southern Thailand, studying the orchestration, execution, and transmission of different forms of protest yields insights into the ways in which national political agendas were bridged with the material, economic circumstances of smallholder farmers in rural southern Thailand, in turn bolstering regional-political identities and alliances.

11:00–11:25am Karen Russ, Geographically-Driven Thermodynamic Prediction of the Hydrological Cycle in Paleoclimate Simulations

Held and Soden (2006) predicted global-mean water vapor change with the Clausius-Clapeyron (CC) relation applied to global-mean surface temperature; Back et al. (2013), first demonstrated the importance of accounting for geographic variability.  The purpose of our study is to determine a method for prediction of global-mean water vapor and precipitation using surface temperature, accounting for geographic variability with empirical orthogonal functions (EOFs).  Four 19-22-ka paleoclimate simulations driven by individual forcings (orbital, greenhouse gas, ice, and meltwater) and one full 22-ka simulation provided our data.  We mathematically derived a prediction formula for water vapor and tested it on the five data sets.  The formula generally improves the prediction ability beyond the level of Clausius-Clapeyron (applied to global-mean surface temperature) with each addition of the two EOFs used.  Thus, adding the EOFs successively to the CC prediction improves the prediction slope towards the ideal 1:1 line.  For example, the slope for the orbital simulation improves from 0.44 to 0.90 to 0.96.  However, CC plus EOF1 is a good predictor for water vapor in the GHG case due to the symmetry of the planetary surface temperature response to GHG forcing.  EOF2 improves water vapor prediction in the case of the other three individual forcings due to asymmetrical temperature response.  The full simulation is driven mostly by the GHG forcing and thus suffices with CC plus EOF1.  This study produces a new prediction formula for water vapor response and further demonstrates the importance of geographic variability in temperature changes as a predictor.

11:25–11:50am Luke Leavitt, Art District Without Artists: Aesthetics, Politics and (disrupting)   the Teleology of Gentrification

This paper revisits the politics of making art, DIY-style, in the context of the super-gentrification of the “creative” city,” looking specifically at Denver’s River North (RiNo) neighborhood. We draw together the film Buildings are Heavy, which tracks the lives of neighborhood artists, families and activists as they negotiate impending displacement, with original research on the relationship between art-districting, development and displacement in the same area. Bringing film and research together situates acts of DIY practice and creative resistance within the broader processes, discourses and affects that shape gentrification. RiNo’s sudden and rapid development in 2013 leads us to reconsider the prevalent narrative that artist must become “victims of their own success,” after “pioneering” neighborhoods for more affluent gentrifiers. We point out that developers and governance entities like art districts, rather more so than artists themselves, channel capital in order to reterritorialize neighborhoods as centers of art-making. Through branding, art-district redrawing, cultural wayfaring, and real estate development, developers and art districts help expand the gentrification “frontier” for profit making. In light of these processes, we ask, what role does DIY art making play in resisting or conforming to gentrification? We note that spatial territorializations like art-districting prefigure the contradiction that RiNo might become Denver’s first art district without artists (as artists have been displaced or priced out of their supposedly designated territory). By unfolding at such a rapid speed, RiNo’s gentrification may actually open up ways of thinking and doing that delink artists from their spot in the teleology of gentrification.

12:00–1:00pm Brown Bag Lunch with Dr. Am Johal (Yi-Fu Tuan Lecture Speaker)

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