By Alison Fox, on 15 October 2018

Today’s guest post is by Muki Haklay, Professor of GIScience at UCL, and one of the editors of the brand new book Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy It originally appeared here. and is re-used with permission. 

Today marks the publication of the book Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy. The book emerged from the first conference of the European Citizen Science Association in Berlin, in 2016. While the summary of the conference is available in a journal article in Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, the book is providing a set of 31 chapters that cover different issues in the interface between citizen science, open science, social innovation, and policy.

Shortly after the conference, Aletta Bonn and Susanne Hecker, who coordinated it, suggested the development of a book that will capture the breadth of the field of citizen science that the conference captured. Within a month, the editorial team which include Susanne Hecker, Anne Bowser, Zen Makuch, Johannes Vogel, Aletta Bonn, and myself started to work on the concept of the book and the appropriate publisher. We were committed to publishing the book as open access so it can be read by anyone who wishes it without limitations, and also so the chapters from it can be used widely. By publishing with UCL Press, which agreed to publish the book without charges, we had additional resources that we have used to work with Madeleine Hatfield of Yellowback to ensure that the book chapters are well edited and readable,and with Olaf Herling, a Berlin graphic designer, who helped us in developing and realising the graphic design of the book.

The chapters made quite a journey – they were submitted in late 2016, and were peer-reviewed and revised by mid-2017. As always with such an effort, there is a complex process of engaging over 120 authors, the review process, and then the need to get a revised version of the chapters. This required the editorial team to coordinate the communication with the authors and encourage them to submit the chapters (with the unavoidable extensions!). Once the chapters were in their revised form, they continued to be distilled – first with comments from the editorial guidance by Madeleine, but also with suggestions from Mark Chandler from Earthwatch, who provided us with an additional review of the book as a whole.

Susanne & Aletta in ECSA 2016

Susanne Hecker, the lead editor, put in a lot of time into communicating with the authors, the publishers, and the professional editors. Even as late as two months ago, we had the need to check the final proofs and organise the index. All that is now done and the book is out.

The book contains 31 chapters that cover many aspects of citizen science – from the integration of activities to schools and universities to case studies in different parts of the world.

Here is what we set out to achieve: “This book brings together experts from science, society and practice to highlight and debate the importance of citizen science from a scientific, social and political perspective and demonstrate the innovation potential. World-class experts will provide a review of our current state of knowledge and practical experience of citizen science and the delivery of will be reviewed and possible solutions to future management and conservation will be given. The book critically assesses the scientific and societal impact to embed citizen science in research as well as society.

The aim of this volume is to identify opportunities and challenges for scientific innovation. This includes discussions about the impact of citizen science at the science-policy interface, the innovative potential of citizen science for scientific research, as well as possible limitations. The emphasis will be to identify solutions to fostering a vibrant science community into a changing future, with actors from academia and society. Five main sections are envisaged with an editorial introduction and a thorough final synthesis to frame the book.

Innovation in Science: What are the governance and policy frameworks that will facilitate embedding citizen science in agenda setting, design and data collection of research projects and communication? What are innovation opportunities and challenges and where support is needed? How to ensure data quality and IP rights?

Innovation at the Science-Policy interface: What are the opportunities for citizen science to provide an input to better decision making? How is participation ensured across society and how does it lead to enhanced problem-solving?

Innovation in Society: How can citizen science lead to empowerment and enhanced scientific literacy and increase science capital? What is the social transformation potential impact of citizen science?

Innovation in Technology and Environmental Monitoring: What policy and technical issues citizen science and mobile sensor technology bring? How can it contribute to advances in environmental monitoring within existing and emerging regulations? What policy and practical framework can facilitate or harm this?

Innovation in Science Communication and Education: How have new media transformed science and what are the implication to scientists, public and science funders? How can new techniques open new opportunities and to whom? ”

The final book does not follow these exact sections, but the topics and questions are the same.

The book is free and you can now download it from UCL Press website – let us know what you think of it! 

Why I wrote… Mapping Society

By Laura S Vaughan, on 24 September 2018

Today’s guest post is by Professor Laura Vaughan, author of Mapping Society (published today), editor of Suburban Urbanities, and Professor of Urban Form and Society at the prestigious Bartlett School of Architecture.

 

The inception of Mapping Society was over quarter of a century ago, whilst sitting in a seminar room at UCL while studying for my Master’s in Advanced Architectural Studies and seeing Charles Booth’s maps of poverty. The period of the early 1990s was a time when Bill Hillier, the founder of the field of space syntax, was developing his conception of the city as a ‘movement economy’. By identifying a phenomenon of ‘marginal separation by linear integration’, Hillier was using the historical map not only as a source of information on how cities worked in the past, but also as source of inspiration for building a broad theory of how cities work in general.

A few months after my first introduction to the Booth map I was browsing in the Hebrew and Jewish Studies section of UCL library and came across a fragile book from 1901, with an even more fragile map inside: the map of Jewish East London, 1899. Looking at the way the map, with its shadings of blue from light to dark, was used to accentuate the density of Jewish immigrant settlement in the area, immediately struck me as showing some fundamental spatial regularities beyond simply being a ghetto – as it was known then.

In fact, this book reflects two decades of enquiry into the spatial nature of society, with a specific focus on the detailed patterning of social patterns as these are laid out in historical maps. Going beyond placing the data on the map to a deeper analysis of the geographical patterning of the data allows the researcher to pose a variety of questions: regarding the spatial character of the urban setting, regarding whether social data of a single type have spatial characteristics in common, and – in general – to control for spatial effects when analysing social patterns.

For me, the Booth maps have become the quintessential starting point when exploring the relationship between the spatial organisation of cities and how societies take shape over time. This book does so by taking maps of social statistics and developing a close reading of the maps themselves as well as the context within which they were created. A side product of this inquiry has been the discovery of the extent to which social cartography is frequently used not only as a tool for communicating information on patterns of settlement, but also for other purposes: for propaganda, to collate evidence or to support scientific argumentation. The use of social maps as an analytical device is less prevalent and this book will show how a reading of the spatial patterns captured by such maps can reveal some fundamental rules about how cities work according to a specifically spatial logic of society.

Ultimately this book’s ambition is to demonstrate how an interdisciplinary reading of social maps can provide a richer understanding of how society and urban spatial systems interact with each other. Thus, phenomena such as segregation can only be fully understood once we take account of a wide variety of factors, including economic, political, social as well as spatial context – and all this in addition to the changes that cities and their inhabitants undergo over time.

Futures of academic publishing

By Alison Fox, on 5 June 2018

Today’s guest post is by Ilan Kelman, from UCL’s Institute for Global Health and Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction, editor of Arcticness: Power and Voice from the North, and is part of a special series to celebrate UCL Press reaching one million downloads. 

Are the days over of roaming the dusty library shelves for sombre articles by world-renowned-but-never-seen scientific figures? Now, you can sit over ten kilometres up on an intercontinental flight downloading PDFs. Or seek the face of a prominent name through an image search or watching them lecture online.

No more must you queue at conferences to harangue them. On the same flight, or from your phone at home, drop them an email or social media message and skype across time zones.

Then, login to google docs from different hemispheres to co-author in real-time. Or use track changes and comments to edit with colleagues whom you have never met or spoken to.

Academic publishing is changing. New media and new ways of accessing media permeate science. With publishers, we can and should explore what could work or fall flat–while never diminishing world-renowned, cutting-edge, innovative science.

UCL Press already pursues personalisable and interactive PDFs. Images have long been part of manuscripts. Electronic publishing permits audio clips, videos, spreadsheets, GIS files, and other formats as embedded or supplementary material.

Patents and legislation are publication formats which academics can write and which are effectively peer-reviewed. Fine and performing arts accept non-written forms for academic credit, whether a composition, a performance, a painting, or a sculpture.

All disciplines should adopt similar approaches and beyond. Rather than being within, or supplemental to, a publication, different forms and formats could be the peer-reviewed academic publication.

A five-minute video of original choreography could express the islandness and urbanity of London or Bangkok as island cities. A dynamic holograph could illustrate decision-making under climate change. A computer programme could provide an online display which automatically collects, processes, and analyses real-time air pollution data.

Any such submission would have to be rigorously peer reviewed, as with papers, chapters, and books. The review process might require as much creativity and open-mindedness as the piece under review.

Other options require careful thought and implementation. Could material submitted for peer review, and peer-review processes, be crowdsourced with anyone contributing, as with wikis? Determining authorship could be challenging, but perhaps no more so than a paper for which the list of 5,154 authors is longer than the manuscript.

With a New Zealand river being granted some legal rights similar to human beings, could environmental features or processes be scientific co-authors? Isaac Asimov’s fiction writings set the stage for robots and other machines to be considered as peer-reviewed outputs and/or authors on them.

Nothing here mean eschewing the lengthy, erudite article or book with humdrum section headings. Nothing here means dismantling libraries or recycling the paper-based journals. It simply means different approaches, forms, and formats complementing and supplementing, not displacing, long-accepted scientific publication outputs.

We must continue standard approaches. We must also embrace and create futures of academic publishing without compromising scientific quality.

We can be creative, innovative, modern, and engaging without losing the positive aspects of what we have. All futures bring forward needed elements of the past.

Brexit and the democratisation of knowledge

By Alison Fox, on 31 May 2018

Today’s guest post is by Benjamin Martill and Uta Staiger, editors of Brexit and Beyond: Rethinking the Futures of Europe, and is part of a special series to celebrate UCL Press reaching one million downloads. 

We started working on Brexit and Beyond in early 2017 when we realised there was a distinct gap in the market when it came to easily accessible yet scholarly works on Brexit. Full-length academic articles were often too lengthy and discipline-specific to appeal to the average reader. In any case, they take a rather long time to reach the market, such that by then the real world often has moved on. Nowhere more so than with Brexit! By contrast, the readily availabile opinion pieces and op-eds through which much of the ‘here and now’ of the Brexit debate took place lacked the rigour of academic works.

So we resolved to create a volume of short, accessible pieces on Brexit which would appeal to a general audience, while being informed by their authors’ long-standing scholarship. UCL Press embraced the idea with enthusiasm.

We also wanted to work with UCL Press because of the benefits of the open access model. Given the acrimony surrounding Britain’s changing relationship to Europe, we felt it was particularly important to bring rigorous discussion of the topic out of the academic ivory tower. To freely provide a volume with some of the biggest names in their field to students and interested citizens alike was, we believed, the easiest – and most direct – way to achieve this. The Brexit vote highlighted a yawning gap between academic debates and the concerns of many British citizens. Meanwhile, the social media ‘echo chambers’ have contributed to divided conversations and the polarisation of viewpoints. Breaking through these divisions and starting a shared conversation on the future of Europe was our aim with this volume.

UCL Press supported our book every step of the way. We had frequent meetings to discuss content, production and marketing, benefitting from the input of all the team members. The book itself came out in January and has been downloaded over 10,000 times in the past three months. What has been most heartening, though, is how pleased readers themselves have been about receiving their ‘free book’. One individual who approached us at our launch event in Brussels couldn’t believe – his words – that such a high quality product would be available for anyone to download. And, more pleasing still, he had sent copies to his friends and family. The hope is that, as more and more people engage with our contributors’ arguments, a greater number of citizens – of the UK and the EU – are brought into the detailed discussions we should be having after the referendum. Only in this way can we attempt to further the democratisation of knowledge. For facilitating these conversations – more and more every day – we are very grateful to the team at UCL Press.

Brexit and Beyond: Rethinking the Futures of Europe can be downloaded for free here.

Global Encyclopaedia of Informality Book Launch Event

By Alison Fox, on 20 March 2018

Join UCL Press and the FRINGE Centre for the launch of the two-volume Global Encyclopaedia of Informality, which marks the first publication in the FRINGE Series.

Date: Thursday 22nd March 2018
Time: 16:00 – 20:00
Location: IAS Common Ground, Wilkins Building, UCL

Register your attendance

Alena Ledeneva invites you on a voyage of discovery, to explore society’s open secrets, unwritten rules and know-how practices. Broadly defined as ‘ways of getting things done’, these invisible yet powerful informal practices tend to escape articulation in official discourse. They include emotion-driven exchanges of gifts or favours and tributes for services, interest-driven know-how (from informal welfare to informal employment and entrepreneurship), identity-driven practices of solidarity, and power-driven forms of co-optation and control. The paradox, or not, of the invisibility of these informal practices is their ubiquity. Expertly practised by insiders but often hidden from outsiders, informal practices are, as this book shows, deeply rooted all over the world, yet underestimated in policy. Entries from the five continents presented in this volume are samples of the truly global and ever-growing collection, made possible by a remarkable collaboration of over 200 scholars across disciplines and area studies.

An open access edition of both volumes of the book is available to download free from UCL Press, in addition hardback and paperback editions.

Publishing with UCL Press – an author’s perspective

By Alison Fox, on 6 November 2017

Today’s guest post is by Gabriel Moshenska, Senior Lecturer in Public Archaeology at UCL and author of Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, a textbook produced as part of JISC’s Institution as E-Textbook Publisher study

The book is out. It has gone where academic books are supposed to go: a copy in the library, a copy to my parents, one to my former PhD supervisor, and one placed casually on the coffee-table in my office as if to say ‘Oh this? Just my latest with UCL Press’. In these moments of pride, it’s easy to forget the blood, the sweat and the tears, so let’s take a few minutes to look back.

The colourful cover image of Stonehenge is a visual cliché in archaeology, and Key Concepts in Public Archaeology is a textbook example. Public archaeology is a mixture of science communication and science studies focused on archaeology and the ancient world, and UCL has been a leader in research, practice and teaching in this field for decades. The textbook draws on UCL Institute of Archaeology’s undergraduate module and the MA degree in public archaeology, and most of the authors of the chapters are regular guest lecturers on these courses.

Collections of papers by multiple authors are challenging to edit: one or two recalcitrant authors can delay publication and strain professional relationships, while the need to maintain a consistent standard and ‘voice’ requires a considerable effort, particularly for a textbook that needs to be more straightforwardly readable than other academic texts. The finished product, beautiful though it is, is considerably later and marginally slimmer than originally intended, but the Press remained supportive and encouraging throughout.

Public archaeology is grounded in a philosophy of openness and sharing scholarship, so the opportunity to publish an Open Access textbook with a Creative Commons license was extremely welcome. To combine this with the high editorial and production standards and the prestige of a University Press was a unique and brilliant opportunity. As chapter authors dragged their feet the Press decided to take advantage of the open, digital publishing format to launch the volume as a ‘living book’ to which additional chapters could be added until the final version appeared in print, pdf and a variety of other digital formats. This willingness to innovate was a significant part of the pleasure of working with UCL Press.

The print-runs for many academic books have dipped from the hundreds into the tens, while their prices have gone in precisely the opposite direction, and production values have apparently fallen out of somebody’s window. In contrast to this, UCL Press have produced a high-quality textbook that is improbably, gloriously free to download in pdf (as nearly two thousand people have discovered), and very reasonably priced in print. From an author/editor perspective the process has been exemplary, and I very much hope to work with UCL Press again in the future.

International Translation Day Excerpt: On Translation

By Alison Fox, on 30 September 2017

This excerpt, by Andre Lefavre, is taken from Poems of Guido Gezelle: A Bilingual Anthology, where it is entitled “Translating a National Monument”

I think that of all the activities open to those who like to think of themselves as literary scholars, translation is the most scientific. I know this goes against all received opinion, and yet if one accepts, with current philosophy of science, that the demarcation line between the scientific and the non-scientific is inter-subjective testability, it is easy to see that what a translator does to a literary text is much more easily testable than what a critic, for example, does to it. I try to translate accordingly.

I believe that what I should do is to give readers the most complete set of materials for their concretization of the text. How they use them (i. e. what the text eventually comes to signify for them) is none of my business. I have no poetics of my own to justify distortions of the source text; what is more, I am not allowed to have one. Again contrary to received opinion, I do not create: I transmit. What I do is as ‘artistic’ or ‘non-artistic’ as what any translator of any text does. Of course I have to know about literature in order to translate it, but does that give me the right to call myself a ‘literary’ translator and cordon myself off from the common herd?

Others have to know about chemistry, say, or biology in order to be able to translate a text. Does that make them ‘chemical’ or ‘biological’ translators? The main thing to me is what is now more and more called the ‘pragmatics’ of the text, which roughly amounts to what used to be called something like its ‘total impact’. This means that I try to find out what effect a text makes on its readers in the original language. But that is not the end of it. I also try to imagine, in some cases, what effect it could have, and I try to find ways to remedy the fact that it does not have that effect. This also means that I translate texts, not words or sentences. It means, moreover, that I translate texts written by very specific writers at a very specific time, not ‘anonymous’ texts.

 

Losing weight without a diet: manipulating a type of brain cell gets results in mice

By Alison Fox, on 2 August 2017

Today’s guest post is by Nicholas Lesica, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow at UCL and author of A Conversation about Healthy Eating. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Evidence for a link between obesity and brain inflammation is getting stronger.
Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock

Nicholas A Lesica, UCL

A new study has found something remarkable: the activation of a particular type of immune cell in the brain can, on its own, lead to obesity in mice. This striking result provides the strongest demonstration yet that brain inflammation may be a cause, rather than a consequence, of obesity. It also provides promising leads for new anti-obesity therapies.

The evidence linking brain inflammation to obesity has been building for some time. Consistent overeating causes stress and damage to cells in the body and brain. This damage results in a response from the immune system that has a wide range of effects.

Some of these effects help to reduce the problems caused by overeating, but others seem to make things worse. For example, in the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that controls, among other things, eating and activity – inflammation causes problems such as leptin resistance that interfere with the regulation of body weight.

Computer Hope
The hypothalamus controls eating and physical activity.
stefan3andrei/Shutterstock

Leptin is a hormone that is released by fat cells and provides the brain with information about the amount of energy stored as body fat. Normally, neurons in the hypothalamus that are sensitive to leptin will use this information to regulate eating and activity as needed to maintain body fat within some desired range.

In obesity, however, these neurons become insensitive to leptin. As a result, they no longer trigger the decrease in hunger and increase in energy expenditure that are necessary to lose excess weight. This is why the vast majority of attempts by obese people to lose weight fail– inflammation causes the brain to fight against it every step of the way.

So brain inflammation clearly plays an important role in sustaining obesity. But could it also be one of the primary causes of obesity in the first place? The onset of brain inflammation coincides with the other changes that take place in the body and brain as a result of overeating and weight gain. But whether brain inflammation actually causes the development of obesity is not yet clear. The results of the new study, however, demonstrate that the activation of a particular type of brain immune cell, microglia, initiates a cascade of events that do indeed lead directly to obesity.

Manipulating microglia in mice

In the study, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Washington performed experiments on mice. They found that altering the activity of microglia in the hypothalamus allowed them to control the body weight of the mice independent of diet.

The researchers began by testing the effects of reducing either the number of microglia or their level of activity. They found that both manipulations cut the weight gain that resulted from putting the mice on high-fat diet in half.

They then tested the effects of increasing the activity of microglia. They found that this manipulation caused obesity even in mice that were on a normal diet. This latter result is particularly surprising. The fact that obesity can be induced through microglia – rather than directly through neurons themselves – is an indication of how strongly the brain’s supporting cells can exert control over its primary functions.

Computer Hope
Obesity can be induced by manipulating microglia.
Janson George/Shutterstock

So artificial brain inflammation can cause obesity in mice. Of course, that doesn’t mean that natural, diet-induced brain inflammation does cause obesity in humans. But these new results suggest that this idea is worth taking seriously, particularly given that fact that potential solutions to the obesity crisis are in short supply.

The ConversationThis new study alone has already identified several possible targets for anti-obesity drugs. Intriguingly, one of the same drugs that was used in the study to decrease activity in microglia is also being tested in human cancer trials, so initial indications of its effects on body weight should be available soon. But either way, a deeper understanding of the role of brain inflammation will help to clarify the causes of obesity. And hopefully prompt ideas about how it can be avoided in the first place.

Nicholas A Lesica, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Reflections on publishing Memorandoms by James Martin

By Alison Fox, on 17 July 2017

Today’s Guest Post is by Tim Causer, editor of Memorandoms by James Martin and Senior Research Associate at the Bentham Project.

Memorandoms_of_James_MartinThose of us researching the history of convict transportation to Australia are extraordinarily fortunate in terms of resources, as some of the most important have, for several years, been available digitally on an open-access basis. For instance, we can search colonial-era newspapers in the National Library of Australia’s Trove, or consult the Tasmanian convict records, a body of material unique in its detail about the tens of thousands of ordinary people transported to Van Diemen’s Land.

As a callow undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen, making a first foray into Australian history fourteen years ago, such resources were the stuff of dreams. The university library’s holdings on Australian history were largely limited to landmark secondary texts such as Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend (1958) and A. G. L. Shaw’s Convicts and the Colonies (1966). The most recent work we had to hand was almost two decades old: Robert Hughes’s blockbuster, The Fatal Shore (1986). Hughes’s brilliant, terrible book is beautifully written, but is ultimately frequently misleading. But a major strength of The Fatal Shore’s was its use of convict narratives, giving it an immediacy rare in many earlier histories which relied heavily upon parliamentary papers and official correspondence.

Convict narratives fall into two main types. The first, and most common, are those published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, during or around the period in which convicts were transported to the Antipodes. For instance, two of the most well-known are Martin Cash’s The Bushranger of Van Diemen’s Land (1870) and Mark Jeffrey’s A Burglar’s Life (1893), both of which were ghost-written by the former convict James Lester Burke.

Of course, published narratives such as these present issues of interpretation. How much of Cash’s autobiography is authentically his voice, and how much is that of Burke? Ghost-writers often sanitised their subject’s life into a redemption parable, walking the fine line between titillation while still seeking to attract a respectable audience. Those narratives written by the few transported for political offences—male, middle-class, well-educated authors—are unrepresentative of the experiences of the majority of convicts. There is also a racial and gender imbalance, with the overwhelming majority of narratives dealing with the lives of white convict men—Reverend James Cameron’s partly-fictionalised biography of the Spanish transportee, Adelaide de Thoreza, is a rare exception.

The second type of narrative exists only in manuscript. They are often more exciting to deal with: they were not written for publication, do not have to meet the conventions of any genre, and are often more revealing, explicit, and subversive. For instance, the Irish convict Laurence Frayne’s narrative is a graphic account of his punishment and contains a sustained character assassination of James Morisset, a commandant of the Norfolk Island penal station during the 1830s, which would never have been fit to print.

Memorandoms by James Martin is one such unpublished manuscript which, thanks to UCL Press, is now available in open-access for the first time. The Memorandoms tells the story of the most famous of all escapes from Australia by transported convicts, that led by William and Mary Bryant. On the night 28 March 1791 the Bryants with their two infant children, James Martin, and six other male convicts stole a fishing boat and sailed out of Sydney Harbour and out into the Pacific. They reached Kupang in Timor on 8 June, though were subsequently identified as escaped convicts and the survivors were shipped back to England to face trial—where James Boswell lobbied the government for their release.

The group’s 69-day, 3,000-mile journey has been the subject of two television series, poetry, novels, and innumerable history books, with a focus on Mary Bryant. Yet the modern historical accounts are frequently unsatisfactory and derivative; what then, the reader might wonder, could be said about this story that has not been said so many times before?

Quite a bit, it turns out. Memorandoms by James Martin is the only extant first-hand account of the escape, and it provides a fresh perspective to this often formulaically-told tale. Despite the Memorandoms being spare and prosaic, it provides a sense of the hardship of the journey, the terror of those in the boat as it is pummelled by storms and churning seas, and of the party’s fascination and fear in their encounters with Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. The Memorandoms also strikingly reveals just how far some modern historians have departed from the historical record when telling the story.

Memorandoms by James Martin is also important in a second sense: it is the only known narrative written by a member of the first cohort of convicts sent to New South Wales with the First Fleet 1788. The Memorandoms was acquired at some point by one of Britain’s great philosophers, Jeremy Bentham, one of the first and most influential critics of transportation to Australia. The vast Bentham archive is, of course, held in UCL’s Special Collections, and the Memorandoms is but one of the many jewels in the College’s collections.

Now, thanks to UCL Press, the Memorandoms manuscripts are available for the first time, and for free; readers can now access the original narrative for themselves, rather than mediated by some rather dubious historical accounts. The colour reproductions bring the document to life in a way which would not otherwise be captured by publishing a transcript, and I am inordinately grateful to UCL Press for bringing the Memorandoms out in this way. My younger self in Aberdeen would have been thrilled to have had a resource like this to hand, and I hope that those who today may not have ready access to unpublished narratives like the Memorandoms will be equally pleased.

Why the suburbs are important

By Alison Fox, on 4 April 2017

Today’s excerpt, by Mark Clapson of the University of Westminster, is the foreword of Suburban Urbanities, a multi-contributor volume edited by Laura Vaughan, UCL Bartlett.

In recent years there has been much debate within urban studies as to which came first in the evolution of human settlements, the countryside or the city. There was always a third context to this discussion, however, and that was the suburb. Life beyond the city walls was a distinctive feature of ancient urban civilisations from Persia to Minoan Crete, and today in the Anglophone world the suburban population is a majority. How surprising, then, that few scholars have attempted to understand the nature and agency of suburban living as a dominant characteristic of human settlements. This was symptomatic of a wider academic indifference and even hostility towards ‘the suburban’ which has only (ridiculously) recently been challenged by a new generation of scholars who take suburbs seriously.

Suburban Urbanities is a hugely important contribution to understanding our suburban world. Drawing upon scholarship within the now rapidly expanding field of suburban studies, synthesising historical geography with space syntax theories and methods, and the sociology of everyday life, it sheds new light on the historic and spatial evolution of the city. It shows that suburbia is not a synchronic caricature of a life-less-lived, but a dynamic context of metropolitan agency and creativity. As an historic process, suburbanisation is not something that evolved beyond the city to suck the life out of it, but was intertwined with trajectories of growth, with the socioeconomic patterning and structuring of cities large and small. It is impossible to grasp the meaning of class relations, of gendered lifestyles, of ethnic segregation and integration, of urban economies and patterns of mobility and communications, without placing suburbia at the forefront of the analysis. The universality of the themes of Suburban Urbanities is obvious: the dynamics of growth are significant historically because suburbs are starting points in change over time, not the end of the line. Old suburbs were once new, and today’s new suburbs, springing up rapidly across the world, will one day be old. As dynamic environments they continue to act as vectors of social, economic and political development, locally, nationally and globally.

The book is timely in another important sphere, and that is the personal subjectivity of suburbanites. To those who live in them, suburban lives have meaning. Back in 2013, I went for a walk in Fort Totten, an AfricanAmerican suburb of Washington, DC. On a sweltering August lunchtime, as I took photographs of the comfortable suburban homes of middle-class black people in roads that were empty except for flowering trees and parked cars, a woman’s voice called out to me with a gentle but audible ‘good afternoon’. Across her neatly trimmed front lawn I began chatting with a woman in her sixties who was taking tea with a friend on her veranda. She had left downtown DC in 1976 and as she stated with some passion, ‘I couldn’t wait to get out’. Fort Totten had its problems, but it was an attractive and spacious place to raise children, and well connected to the city. Her story is an important one because it is one of millions of inconvenient truths being ushered out of view by the current urban policies that demonise suburbia, and by the retro-fitting of suburbs that were, until very recently, doing just fine. Myriad examples of successful suburban living and suburban happiness and of triumph over social exclusion can be found if academics want to look for them. Suburban Urbanities looks for them, and understands that they are part of an ongoing pattern of human settlement that stretches from the ancient past to the present, and will persist long into the future.