An Indigenous Feminist’s take on the Ontological Turn: ‘ontology’ is just another word for colonialism

Urbane Adventurer: Amiskwacî

Personal paradigm shifts have a way of sneaking up on you. It started, innocently enough, with a trip to Edinburgh to see the great Latour discuss his latest work in February 2013. I was giddy with excitement: a talk by the Great Latour. Live and in colour! In his talk, on that February night, he discussed the climate as sentient. Funny, I thought, this sounds an awful lot like the little bit of Inuit cosmological thought I have been taught by Inuit friends. I waited, through the whole talk, to hear the Great Latour credit Indigenous thinkers for their millennia of engagement with sentient environments, with cosmologies that enmesh people into complex relationships between themselves and all relations. 

It never came. He did not mention Inuit. Or Anishinaabe. Or Nehiyawak. Or any Indigenous thinkers at all. In fact, he spent a great deal of time interlocuting with a Scottish…

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Cake Pops

I’ve seen cake pops rise in popularity in magazines and online and decided to try them out.The silicone mould, bought online was just over £3 (they can be as much as £12) and used a ginger cake mix for the first batch.

cake pops

cake pops

Tip number one:

Grease the mould just right. Not enough and the pops stick – as in the photo above. Too much oil and the pops are greasy. I used margarine, but spray oil would work too.

I topped them with icing and orange and lemon sprinkles (hundreds and thousands in the UK), golden stars and dust and chocolate popping candy (from Heston’s range).

sprinkles, gold stars and popping candy toppings

sprinkles, gold stars and popping candy toppings

My second batch were much more successful. I used a chocolate cake recipe and then dipped them in melted chocolate. The toppings were the same as the ginger pops.

Tip two:

The packaging says to bake the pops for 20 minutes. This is way too long and the first batch of ginger pops was dry. The trick is to get the balance between pops that are firm and will hold together and pops that taste good. 12 minutes is just about right.

The conclusion is that these pops are largely style over substance. But then sometimes that is what is required. Oh, and lots of lovely friends to eat them while watching the Eurovision Song Contest.

Giro d’Italia comes to Northern Ireland

Normally, everyone ignores Northern Ireland (unless there is something Troubles-related). But for the last few years, people have begun to take an interest. First it was the promotion of the Giant’s Causeway as a World Heritage site which has brought more tourists here and the Olympic torch sprinted through in 2012. Game of Thrones is being filmed in quite a few locations: Armoy, Murlough Bay and Ballintoy harbour. This week the Giro d’Italia cycle race (map here) comes through, starting in Belfast, but traveling round the province.

Hanging about waiting for the race to start

Hanging about waiting for the race to start

Last week I went to visit my mother in Ballycastle and was interested to see how the town is responding to the race. Excitement is mounting. It seems like everyone in Ballycastle has gone bike-mad.

more pink than you can shake a stick at

more pink than you can shake a stick at

Pink cycles have popped up all over the place round Ballycastle and out on the coastal cycle route to Ballintoy (pic here).

Charity shop goes pink too!

Charity shop goes pink too!

There are several walls painted pink, place signs have the pink bikes with flowers in their baskets and the wooden sculpture of the man and horse ploughing at the Glenmore Guesthouse along Whitepark Rd have received a make-over with pink wigs!

Pink cakes in the cake shop

Pink cakes in the cake shop

The town has bicycles everywhere: in shop windows, hanging outside and just in front of houses and shops. There are lots of Giro-themed cupcakes in the cafes and the cake shop has even dyed its pies and cakes pink. Apparently there is even a pink sheep wandering about somewhere.

Snips fabric shop

Snips fabric shop

My favourite is the little button and sequin runner from the Olympic Torch window display in the fabric shop who has reappeared on his bicycle!

Balycastle: cycle-ready

Balycastle: cycle-ready

The cycles are serious, though. The Rotary Club collect, fix up and ship them to Africa. But for this occasion they have been sprayed pink and loaned out. Afterwards they will be de-pinked and continue their journey.

Unfortunately, I won’t be there for the actual race, which is passing through Ballycastle on Saturday, but had a lot of fun wandering around, looking at the cycles.

Rotary club bikes

Rotary club bikes

Halloween Gingerbread Persons

Inspired by the Great British Bake-off, and needing a break from writing, I tried my hand at baking gingerbread persons for Halloween. The recipe came from the BBC website.

lying about waiting to be eaten

lying about waiting to be eaten

Next time I make these I will knead the dough a little bit more and use a bit more flour when rolling out because I found the first roll-out was too soft. Later ones were better; easier to roll, cut out, lift and turned out more crisply than the earlier ones. It is also best to leave them overnight to develop the ginger flavour.

Icing skills obviously need more work, but overall I was quite pleased. They don’t look scary: they look like they just need a cuddle.

And because there is always a little dough left over:



Sustainability – the problem of cups

Climate change is “a condition under which human beings will have to make choices about such matters as economic development and the way we govern ourselves” ⁠(Rayner 2009:xxii). One of the ways people have responded to climate change is by becoming more sustainable. But, as we know, it is not always clear what sustainability is.

People have said all sorts of things about it – as if it is a ‘thing’ that can be defined. But mostly, they have tried to make ‘rules’ about what it is and how we can determine what the best course of action might be. This has been difficult at best, with consensus difficult to build.

For example, Meadowcroft (2000) decided sustainability is an accommodation between economic growth and environmental security, while Beckerman calls it an all-embracing concept “with no clear analytical bite” ⁠(2008:1). Giddens ⁠(2009) says it is a slogan; others, a positive vision; Dryzek ⁠(2005) a discursive construct; Kates et al., ⁠(2005) call it an evolving idea; Adger & Jordan ⁠(2009) decide it is a process; and along with Lele (1991): an inevitable outcome. 

During fieldwork, I came across the way different people work out sustainability in interesting ways. On one day I attended a seminar at the Garden Museum and afterwards we had tea and coffee. A little note was put above the cups to explain why their china cups had been replaced with plastic ones. As the museum is housed in an old church, the floor is paved with flagstones. It turns out that too many cups were being broken on this hard

floor that in the balance of all factors it was more sustainable for the museum to serve coffee and tea in plastic cups.

Garden Museum

Garden Museum

One week later, I was attending a meeting in The City, in a building of an entirely different kind: one of the contemporary, bright and light glass buildings (don’t say I don’t get around) and at coffee time I spotted a sign above the cups explaining why they were china and not plastic: in order to be sustainable!

Expectation. In the garden museum the expectation of customers and staff is that we have china cups, which are then washed and reused. In The City, deep in ‘coffee culture’, the expectation is to have hygienic, portable, one-use, individual cups. The reversal demanded an explanatory note.

Calculations. The working through of ideas of sustainability depends entirely on context. In the case of the garden museum the cups were breaking so often that buying new ones which continued to be broken became unsustainable. Money, time, effort, accidents all conspired to make plastic – widely considered unsustainable – the oddly sustainable choice, solving the problem of cups.

However, in the modern office environment, unsustainable plastic has been replaced by reusable china. This will involve paying someone to load them into a dishwasher, but these economics are now part of the calculation of sustainability. Sustainability here also involves offsetting the material qualities of objects and their relationship with time. The initially expensive but long-lasting china cups now signal sustainability over the temporary, but recyclable plastic ones.

Shiny offices in The City of London

Shiny offices (not exact location, but similar)

And what is the decisive factor in the calculations? Flooring. In the museum, the hard flagstones makes china unsustainable and in the office, the carpet means that dropping a china cup, while causing a mess, will probably not result in breakage.

The capacity for excess, or ‘superfluity’ ⁠(Buchli 1999a:11) contained within the idea of sustainability allows it to be adaptable but that also means it is completely context-dependent. The concept can have everything to do with ecological matters, or nothing. This has spawned an industry dedicated to the interpretation and implementation of sustainability (Kates et al. 2005:11). Some believe that defining it further is counterproductive (Adger & Jordan 2009) while others (Rayner 2009) view the lack of definition as an obstacle to agreement and a hindrance to effective action.

Works cited:

Adger, W. N., & Jordan, A. (2009). Governing Sustainability. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Beckerman, W. (2008). “The Chimera of ‘Sustainable Development’”. Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development, 1, 1.

Buchli, V. (1999). An Archeology of Socialism. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Dryzek, J. S. (2005). The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses. Oxford: Oxford Universisty Press.

Giddens, A. (2009). Politics of Climate Change. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kates, R. W., Parris, T. M., & Leiserowitz, A. (2005). What is sustainable development? Environment, 47(3), 8–21.

Lele, S. M. (1991). “Sustainable Development: A Critical Review”. World Development, 19(6), 607–621.

Meadowcroft, J. (2000). “Sustainable Development: a New(ish) Idea for a New Century?” Political Studies, 48, 370–387.

Rayner, S. (2009). Foreword. In M. Hulme (Ed.), Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity (pp. xxi–xxiv). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sustainability and the Home Front(ier): Between governmentality and embodied environmentalism?

In August, I’m chairing a panel which looks very exciting indeed. If you are interested in sustainability and are in London, come along. The panel has been convened by the Sustainability, Environment and Culture of Materials Research Group at UCL – and mainly through the hard work of Saffron Woodcraft.
Sustainability and the Home Front(ier): Between governmentality and embodied environmentalism?

Urban Geography Research Group Sponsored Panel Session at Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British GeographersAnnual International Conference 2013, London

Thursday August 29, 2013 2.40 – 4.20 PM

The household is a critical geographic scale for understanding how urban governmentality and everyday practices of sustainability collide. This panel will interrogate the household as a frontier for policy interventions promoting “sustainable behaviours”, exploring normative understandings of house and home and addressing important questions about sustainability and social justice.

Michelle Shipworth from UCL’s Energy Institute will lead a discussion in response to four papers:

Domesticating environmental responses through rainwater harvesting in Mumbai Cat Button, Newcastle University

Retrofit policy ‘done to’ the occupants: how does this dynamic affect the outcomes? Jennifer Love, University College London

Practicing Renovating: From “I change furniture like once a month…” to “…that extra room would really add to a better quality of life while we stay here.” Charlie Wilson and Lucy Crane, University of East Anglia

How are policy interventions received at the scale of the home? Findings from an investigation of fuel poverty Kate Simpson, Loughborough University, and Faye Wade, University College London

Full details of the panel theme and session abstracts can be found here. This panel has been convened by the Sustainability, Environment and Culture of Materials Research Group at UCL. Queries to:

Panel theme
The household “looms very large” in debates about urban environmental sustainability (Lane & Gorman-Murray 2011). Mitigating the environmental impact of cities is no longer framed as simply a public issue or the duty of legislative bodies, but as a collective concern to which citizens should contribute within their own homes. Although ‘home’ and ‘city’ have never been discrete private and public spheres, ‘green governmentality’ has meant they are more deeply entwined in material and behavioural networks than ever before. Interventions include strict recycling regimes, reducing household energy demand through retrofitting schemes and increasing so-called “sustainable behaviours” such as energy monitoring, ethical consumption and local food and power production. Consequently the household is a critical geographic scale for understanding how urban governmentality and everyday practices of sustainability collide.

However, as Hawkins identifies, the household in environmental policy is “highly normalized and constituted through specific empirical processes” (2011) that often overlook the complexity of home as a site of cultural meaning, a political space, and frontier for interactions between public and private bodies, ideologies, technologies and materials (Gibson et al. 2011; Blunt 2005) that shape domestic sustainability practices. Such normative understandings of house and home matter for how city-wide policy interventions are conceived and implemented, and raise important questions about sustainability and social justice.

The London Brownie Inspectorate

If you haven’t seen our new blog The London Brownie Inspectorate – click on the link and see what we’ve been nibbling on!