Biography

Research

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Research projects

My publications

Publications

Dymitrow, M., Brauer, R. (2018). Meaningful yet useless: Factors behind the retention of questionable concepts in human geography. Geografiska Annaler. Published online.
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The concepts ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ have long been criticized by geographers for their lack of analytical and explanatory power, yet have remained a vital source for conceptual guidance in human geography. Realizing that the continued use of questionable concepts inadvertently runs the risk of compromising communication, misdirecting resources and downgrading social theory, the current status of ‘rural/urban’ creates a paradoxical epiphenomenon of progress-making in geography. We disentangle this paradox in two dimensions. Firstly, we show how a conflation between meaning and utility is what renders us desensitized to the problem. Secondly, we outline twelve extra-scientific factors likely to actuate the binary’s persistent retention. We finally sketch a sensuous template set out to minimize its undesired impact. We concede that the confusion surrounding ‘rural/urban’ in human geography cannot be understood unless the influence of extra-scientific factors is fully taken into account, revealing the concepts’ vestigiality. This, we argue, is the only way forward if we truly want to embrace the rationale of the scientific approach. The principal contribution of our paper is laying the groundwork for this particularly underresearched dimension of ‘rural/urban’ amidst an exceptionally rich conceptual literature on what ‘rural/urban’ “are” or “mean”.
Dymitrow, M., Brauer, R. (2017). Performing Rurality: But who? Bulletin of Geography. Socio-Economic Series. 38: 27-45.
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Reflective inquiries to better understand ‘the rural’ have tried to embed rural research within the notion of performativity. Performativity assumes that the capacity of language is not simply to communicate but also to consummate action, whereupon citational uses of concepts produce a series of material effects. Of late, this philosophical shift has also implicated geographers as active agents in producing, reproducing and performing rurality. This paper provides a critical evaluation of what this new insistence really means for the production of geographical knowledge. Using framework analysis as a method, the paper scrutinizes several reportedly influential papers on the topic of rural performativity. Our findings reveal that, while indeed reflexive on issues of academic integrity, methodology and ethics, performances of rurality are continuedly placed ‘out there’ amongst ‘rural people’, i.e. in a priori defined and often stereotypically understood contexts, either by way of ‘spatial delimitation’ or ‘activity delimitation’. Effectively, such testimonies provide a truncated state of fidelity, where performance-oriented reflexivity is seconded by contradictory empirics of uneven value and with few commonalities. We conclude that by turning towards performativity as an allegedly more helpful way of obtaining rural coherence, we at the same time overlook our own role in keeping ‘rural theory’ alive.
Krzysztofik, R., Dymitrow, M., Biegańska, J., Senetra, A., Gavriilidou, E., Nadolu, B.,Kantor-Pietraga, I., Grzelak-Kostulska, E., Oureilidou, E., Luches, D., Spórna, T., Teodorescu, D., Wasilewicz-Pszczółkowska, M., Holmertz, G., and Brauer, R. (2017). Landscapes with different logics: A physicalist approach to semantic conflicts in spatial planning. Quaestiones Geographicae. 36(4):29-45.
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This paper deals with the ways of categorising landscapes as ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ using a physicalist approach, where these terms have special meaning. The aim of this paper is to elaborate on the question whether such a division is still meaningful with regard to anthropogenic landscapes, not least in spatial planning. The concerns raised in this paper depart from the increasingly complicated structure of geographical space, including that of anthropogenic landscapes. Our standpoint is illustrated using cases of landscape ambiguities from Poland, Germany, Romania and Greece. Leaning on frameworks of physicalist (mechanicistic) theory, this paper suggests an explanation to the outlined semantic conflicts. This is done by pointing to the relationality between the impact of centripetal and centrifugal forces, the specifics of socio-economic development, as well as the varying landscape forms that emerge from the differences within that development.
Dymitrow M., Brauer R., (2017). When concepts go bad: Iatrogenesis and stigmatization. 7th Nordic Geographers Meeting “Geographies of inequalities”, 18–21 June 2017, Stockholm, Sweden.
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In this paper we address the concepts of ‘urbanity’ and ‘rurality’ as potentially counterproductive ideas in development planning when deployed as guiding perspectives in areas struggling with severe territorial stigmatization. We address this issue through a suburban example; more specifically in the context of a recently finalized development project, whose focus suddenly shifted from ‘urban’ to ‘rural’. Our analysis shows that ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ are not neutral spatial designators but cultural constructs burdened with all the intricacies ‘culture’ may imply. Hence, when used unreflexively in certain spatialities, they may turn into virulent and covertly belligerent concepts, inadvertently adding to the area’s stigma instead of countering it. Here we draw on the principle of iatrogenesis, which denotes any benevolent action that unintentionally produces negative outcomes. We argue that since many areas lack the presumed conceptual foundation for a specific brand of action, development programs labeled as ‘rural’ or ‘urban’ are not only likely to fail, but also to potentially cause harm. Effectively, this failure is blamed on the area’s insolubility (rather than the label), inadvertently upholding stigmatization. We conclude that we need to be wary of this dimension of rural-urban conceptualization, because if we more perpetuate a spatial stereotype than help understand its hyper-complexities, we may turn it into a pernicious conceptual filter that diverts attention from pressing sustainability issues.
Brauer R, Dymitrow M. (2017). Understanding the telos of ‘research impact’ – or how to survive the new tourism-studies agenda. 9th International Congress on Coastal and Marine Tourism, 13-16 June 2016, Gothenburg, Sweden
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Studies on coastal and marine tourism, as well as tourism studies in general, face significant problems regarding streamlining, organization and subsequent financing due to the divergent character of tourism studies as a discipline (cf. Tribe and Liburd, 2016). In order to overcome these difficulties and to justify their relevancy, UK tourism-studies faculties have started to embrace research impact (i.e. the influence of research beyond academia) as a way to secure future funding opportunities. This strategic move elevates research impact as an overarching research objective (telos) for tourism research in general. The aim of this paper is to unpack the practical difficulties that arise in accounting for one’s own research impact and what can be done to secure potential future funding. In this paper, we present insights derived from having discursively studied the assessment process of the governmental research evaluation institution in the UK , which ranked universities according to their research impact, based upon self-reported material. Furthermore, in order to better contextualise the submission of the seven tourism studies faculties, ten UK tourism researchers’ were also interviewed. The results show a general acceptance of the research impact agenda, but also several difficulties in presenting and evidencing research impact, such as accounting for causality, reach and significance. Moreover, the interviews emphasized the difficulties of utilizing research impact in order to secure future financing, in terms of; lack of marketing skills and resources, time constraints and other conflicting strategic considerations. The implications for the individual tourism researcher are as follows; research impact is a promising avenue in order to distinguish oneself from other researchers in order to secure future funding. However, acceptance of research impact as a telos also requires researchers to gain proficiency in non-academic areas of expertise (e.g. as political activists, entrepreneurs or regional planners etc., depending on the type of impact). Thereby, in order to survive in the current UK tourism research sector, academics need to acquire new skills or need to collaborate with individuals who already possess these types of expertise. Acknowledging research impact as a strategy increasingly employed internationally to justify research funding, in this paper we present a number of practical considerations that can be taken into account in order to “survive” this new agenda.
Brauer R, Dymitrow M. (2017). Understanding conceptual vestigiality within social sciences from an ecosystem perspective. 3rd Nordic Science and Technology Studies Conference, 31 May–2 June 2017.
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Given that conceptual frameworks always guide our thoughts, judgments and actions, the ways in which we relate to concepts are crucial for how we organize the society. The different ‘turns’ in social sciences (linguistic, cultural, performative, ontological, material, etc.) have had enormous impact on conceptual development, including efforts to reconceptualize, modify or abandon ‘old’ concepts (e.g. class, gender, race, etc.). Nevertheless, despite fierce criticisms, some concepts have managed to “[survive] the onslaught of material reality and philosophical repositioning” (Cloke & Johnston, 2005:10). In biology, this property is known as vestigiality, where it refers to genetically determined structures that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function, but have been retained in spite of evolutionary development. With regard to social sciences, the epiphenomenon of vestigiality is seldom reflected upon and hence less understood, despite the fact that continued use of denunciated concepts is likely to exert undesired impact on knowledge production within any given discipline. As such, understanding vestigiality as an aspect of conceptual development is not only important in assessing how concepts develop; it can also yield insights into the human influence on knowledge production without invoking “context” (cf. Asdal, 2012). Departing from an actor-network theory perspective, in this presentation we sketch out a theoretical framework for understanding vestigiality in a social-science context using the parable of an ecosystem. By merging sociomaterial components with psychological factors, such a move acknowledges that conceptual developments are evolutionarily contingent upon both internal (motivations, biases, cognition) and external (materiality, power, group behavior) forces. Departing from the ecosystem idea, we elaborate on 12 drivers most likely to regiment the academic enactment of vestigiality.
Brauer R., Dymitrow M. (2017). Human Geography and the hinterland: The case of Torsten Hägerstrand's 'belated' recognition. Moravian Geographical Reports 25(2): 74–84.
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Seeing human geography as a nexus of temporally oscillating concepts, this paper investigates the dissemination of scientific ideas with a focus on extra-scientific factors. While scientific progress is usually evaluated in terms of intellectual achievement of the individual researcher, geographers tend to forget about the external factors that tacitly yet critically contribute to knowledge production. While these externalities are well-documented in the natural sciences, social sciences have not yet seen comparable scrutiny. Using Torsten Hägerstrand’s rise to prominence as a concrete example, we explore this perspective in a social-science case – human geography. Applying an STS (Science and Technology Studies) approach, we depart from a model of science as socially-materially contingent, with special focus on three extra-scientific factors: community norms, materiality and the political climate. These factors are all important in order for knowledge to be disseminated into the hinterland of human geography. We conclude it is these types of conditions that in practice escape the relativism of representation.
Brauer R, Dymitrow M. (2016). ‘Rethinking participation: Ruralities, urbanities and the sociomaterialities of transposition’. Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers): "Nexus thinking", London, UK, 30 August - 2 September 2016
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Departing from the idea that cultural mechanisms are capable of allowing for conceptual dichotomies to create injustice, participation comes across as a valuable asset to obtain a more just society. Participation brings forth first-hand stories of people’s everyday lives that can assist us more than any other form of representation in understanding spatialities from within, including their changeability over time and role as exclusionary devices. Of these conceptual dichotomies ‘rural-urban’ is the oldest but also the most pervasive one. While local participation is considered a key tenet of so-called rural and urban development projects, the latter face difficulties relating to people’s needs and ultimately fail to engage them. In efforts to increase participation, one (if not the main) aspect is often overlooked – namely the question of who has the right to define ‘rurality/urbanity’ in the first place. For instance, if policymakers or geographers look for ‘everyday problems’ in ‘rural areas’, they will find ‘rural problems’ (cf. Law, 2004). This, in turn, impacts the value of participation, because whenever there is a crevice between identity and problem formulation, it gives rise to exclusion from setting the agenda. Using a novel STS-approach, in this paper we outline some principal socio-material and cognitive drivers that not only construct, but also dictate ‘ruralities/urbanities’, which then are transposed onto the ‘world out there’ to be lived, performed and embodied. To avert such paradoxes of ‘projected participation’ our aim is to problematize this tacit top-down approach as counterproductive in the process of letting people define their problems.
Dymitrow M, Brauer R. (2016). ‘The other side of ‘everyday ruralities’. Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers): "Nexus thinking", London, UK, 30 August - 2 September 2016
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If ’rural space’ is a figment of imagination then “everyday ruralities” belong to those who imagine them. Departing from the today commonly accepted notion that rurality is constructed, it is fair to assume that those ‘everyday practices’ are in fact rurality. However, pinpointing those practices to “lay rural people” overlooks that whenever we look for ‘everyday problems’ in ‘rural areas’, we will find ‘rural problems’ (cf. Law, 2004). The premise of this paper is simple: whenever ‘rural practices’ are deliberated, one important group is usually omitted: the principal constructors of rurality, or, simpler, we – geographers. Here, we are particularly concerned with geographers’ continued use of ‘rurality’ as an analytical lens despite a plethora of geographical work dismissing its usefulness. Understanding scientific progress not only as the launching of sophisticated ideas, but also seeing those ideas actually being adopted by the larger scientific community, the persistence of rurality in geographical research would suggest that progress has not been achieved. Ergo, this paper aims to address the concept of rurality by shifting attention towards the practices of geographers, whose proclivity to “[think] critically about rurality but nonetheless thinking about it” (Halfacree, 2012 [interpreting Woods, 2009]) is – we argue – synonymous with ‘everyday ruralities’. Using an STS-perspective, we outline some principal drivers that not only maintain, but also shape ‘rurality’, which then is transposed onto the ‘world out there’ to be lived, performed and embodied. In conclusion, it is primarily our everyday practices as geographers – not those of some “rural people” – that effectually determine what the nexus of rurality “is”.
Dymitrow, M., Brauer R. (2016). Land or people? On the iatrogenesis of conflation. ACTA Geobalcanica, 2(2): 63-75.
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In a wish to abandon essentialism to contingency, this paper looks into whether the rural-urban binary could be a cultural burden so incompatible with the layered realities of advanced deprivation that instead of helping the deprived, it deprives the help of its carrying capacity. Departing from the idea that cultural mechanisms are capable of allowing for conceptual dichotomies to create oppression, this paper addresses the concepts of ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ as potentially counterproductive ideas in policy and planning when deployed in areas of severe social deprivation. Using a local example, this problem is addressed in the context of a recently finalized development project, whose focus of approach shifted from ‘urban’ to ‘rural’. We demonstrate how ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ are not neutral spatial qualifiers but problematic filters superimposed onto the already problematic concept of “social sustainability”. Here, we draw on the principle of iatrogenesis, which denotes any benevolent action that inadvertently produces undesired outcomes. We argue that since many areas lack the presumed conceptual foundation for a specific brand of action, development programs labeled as ‘rural’ or ‘urban’ are not only likely to fail, but also to potentially cause harm. We conclude that more context-sensitive understanding of the human condition beyond inflexible labeling is needed in order to arrive at more adequate interventions.
Brauer R, Dymitrow M (2016). ‘Trust vs. indirect harm of research: Introducing the defiltration maxim’. RSA (Regional Studies Association) Conference: “Towards Impact and Contributions to Knowledge”, Newcastle, UK, 27-28 October 2016
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“Trust is central to our social world (…) and to the knowledge claims we make as academics” (Withers, 2016). In the context of human geography and other regional studies, however, trust has not been subject to detailed review, including inquiries into under what conditions trust in the testimony of geography can be warranted, and possibly lost. While research ethics committees represent a formal accountability system set out to ensure that geographers follow ethical guidelines in order not to cause harm, for research-induced harm to be identified there must be a direct connection between research and victim. This raises the question of what to do when there are premises suggesting that research may cause harm indirectly. How can we as researchers deal with this dilemma until the link between research and harm has become formalized through an accountability system? In this paper, we address this problem through the example of collective research practices of human geographers, whose central analytical categories of ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ are amenable to harmdoing when emulated by policymakers in subsequent so-called “rural” and “urban” development programs. Realizing that raising awareness about the potential harms of research is a time-consuming process, there is a need for provisional solutions in the meantime. In this sense, informal accountability procedures play an invaluable role as they offer guidance to individual researchers how to scrutinize their own positionalities. In this presentation, we propose a new informal accountability procedure that can help the individual researcher evaluate the analytical value of some potentially harmful concepts in order to minimize their impact. Given that human geography has been defined less by its canonical works but rather by its canonical concepts (Johnston & Sidaway, 2014), we must ensure that the canonical concepts we rely on are of such quality as to ascertain solid geographical inquiry. This is particularly important in times of greater academic transparency, when uncritical use of canonical concepts is likely to undermine trust in human geography.
Brauer R, Tribe J, Morgan N, Dymitrow M. (2017). ‘The value of the negative’. 4S (Society for Social Studies of Science) / EASST (European Association for the Study of Science and Technology) Conference: “Science and Technology by Other Means”, Barcelona, Spain, 31 August–3 September 2016
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Assessing the value of research results is long-known to be a difficult task. The problem lies in distinguishing between positive and negative results, because this demarcation always depends upon the underlying value system. Regardless of this philosophical difficulty, research assessments largely focus on positive results (i.e. positive impacts of research). For example, UK's 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) reported that an "impressive [array of] impacts were found from research in all subjects" (REF 2015); accordingly, no negative impacts were reported. This effectively marginalises negative results in favour of positive results, inadvertently deeming them 'valueless'. As a marketing strategy for research, it is indeed a powerful approach. However, as an objective scientific standard to justify what research gets funded (or not), due to this one-sided focus, it is less useful. However, negative results can be cognitively and sociologically extremely beneficial (cf. Pinker 2002, Taleb 2014). The paper explores the construction of REF's impact assessment in the case of tourism studies. We show that the impact criteria not only shift the emphasis on positive results, but also emphasize economic gains and short-term impacts. By unpacking the underlying values implicit within the REF, we propose a new socio-material approach that does not marginalise the value of negative results. By using Collins and Evans' (2007) notion of 'interactional expertise', we argue that the underlying value problem can be addressed sociologically.
Brauer R, Morgan N, Dymitrow M, Tribe J. (2016). ‘How to write a REF impact case study? Critical discourse analysis of evidencing practice’. Making an impact: Creative constructive conversations” International Conference, School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK, 19-22 July 2016
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This paper applies critical discourse analysis to scrutinize submissions to the “REF [Research Excellence Framework] 2014 Impact Case Study” platform. More specifically, it focuses on the rhetorical practices used within these submissions to evidence research impact as outlined by the Higher Education Institutions (HEI) within tourism studies. The evidencing practices used within the submissions to Panel 26 (Sport Science, Leisure and Tourism) included quantitative sources and measures (e.g. Google Scholar, citation counts, journal ranking scores, monetary value of research grants, value of policy investment, industry revenue figures, etc.) and implicated ‘high status’-end users (e.g. government bodies, the UN, industry, NGOs) as their main type of evidence. The evidencing of impact did not differ depending on whether the research was of quantitative or qualitative character, neither on the type of research impact claimed. Instead, the disciplining of the epistemic evidencing practices was enforced by the outlined guidelines for submission (verifiable evidence, word count, type of impact). Leaning on Collins and Evans’ (2007) notion of ‘expertise’ used to conceptualize evidencing practices, this paper discusses the implication of such evidencing for an evaluation practice that sets out to assess the quality of research impact. The rhetoric such evidencing evokes, however, is not necessary indicative of the impact claimed. Furthermore, the evidencing practices used within the REF marginalize so-called negative impacts (failures), despite their specific value for research and, consequently, for societal progress at large.
Dymitrow M, Brauer R. (2016). ‘Conflating land with people a.k.a. the iatrogenesis of rural-urban ideations’. Proceedings of the 2nd International Scientific Conference "Geobalcanica", Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, 10-12 June 2016
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In this paper we address the concepts of ‘urbanity’ and ‘rurality’ as potentially counterproductive ideas in policy and planning when deployed in areas of severe social deprivation. Using a local example we address this issue in the context of a recently finalized development project, whose focus shifted from ‘urban’ to ‘rural’. We argue that these concepts are not neutral spatial designators but problematic filters added to an already problematic concept of “social sustainability”. Here we draw on the principle of iatrogenesis, which denotes any benevolent action that inadvertently produces negative outcomes. We argue that since many areas lack the presumed conceptual foundation for a specific brand of action, development programs labeled as ‘rural’ or ‘urban’ are not only likely to fail, but also to potentially cause harm. We conclude that more context-sensitive understanding of the human condition beyond inflexible labeling could help arrive at more accurate interventions.
Brauer R, Dymitrow M. (2016). ‘Extra-scientific factors and the dissemination of (un)popular ideas’. Proceedings of the 2nd International Scientific Conference "Geobalcanica", Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, 10-12 June 2016
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This paper investigates the dissemination of scientific concepts and ideas through a focus on extra-scientific factors. While scientific progress is usually evaluated in terms of intellectual achievement of the individual researcher, we tend to forget about the external factors that tacitly yet critically contribute to knowledge production. While these externalities are well-documented in the natural sciences, social sciences have not yet seen comparable scrutiny. Using Torsten Hägerstrand’s rise to prominence as a concrete example, we explore this perspective in a social-science case – human geography. Applying an STS (Science and Technology Studies) approach, we depart from a model of science as socially-materially contingent, with special focus being put on three extra-scientific factors: community norms, materiality and the political climate. Echoing Annemarie Mol, we conclude it is these types of conditions that in practice escape the relativism of representation.
Szmytkie R, Krzysztofik R, Dymitrow M, Kantor-Pietraga I, Pełka-Gościniak J, Spórna T, Brauer R. (2015). ‘Degraded towns and urban abandonment’. In (eds.) Krzysztofik R, Dymitrow M. Degraded and restituted towns in Poland: Origins, development, problems (Miasta zdegradowane i restytuowane w Polsce. Geneza, rozwój, problemy)
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One important element in the interaction between the natural and the human environment is the negative impact of the first on the latter when seen through the prism of urban destabilization. Within this scope, the issue of urban abandonment and disappearance holds an important place, the indirect cause of which are the specifics of local and regional natural subsystems. Small towns are especially susceptible to the negative forces of the natural environment. Since most cases of urban abandonment have happened in historical times, there is a linkage between abandonment and formal degradation, but this linkage, until now, has not been systematically approached in research. The aim of this chapter, hence, is to elaborate on the impact of environmental factors on the phenomenon of urban abandonment in the context of degraded towns in Poland. We draw that in order to avert unnecessary urban degradation we must pay greater attention to the dangerous relationship between humans and the natural environment, not least by drawing lessons from the past.
Brauer R, Morgan N, Tribe J. (2015). ‘Negative impact’. Association for Tourism in Higher Education (ATHE) Annual Conference 2015: Creating impact, Oxford, 10-11 December 2015
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The REF 2015 assessment of the universities in the UK included “impact of research” for the first time as an assessment criterion. Universities were asked to fill out impact templates and provide case studies on the impact of their research. Unsurprisingly, universities reported exclusively ‘positive impacts’. Due to the universities self-interests, literarily only ‘half of the picture’ is usually reported. Because, scientifically this excludes the negative side of ‘research impact’. Historic cases such as thalidomide showcase the benefit of analysing the ‘negative impact’ of research. More societal benefits were discovered and implemented, genuinely changing society for the better. We suggest that by unpacking assumptions regarding the definition of impact used by the REF, consensus forming mechanisms can be discovered. That allow researchers also to report the negative impact of research. We explore the notion of interactional expertise within the assessment panel for tourism studies of the REF 2014 impact assessment.
Dymitrow M, Brauer R. (2015). ‘Dancing tango and herding camels as ways to combat social deprivation?’. Geographical Imagination: Interpretations of Nature, Art and Politics. 6th Nordic Geographers Meeting, Tallinn & Tartu, Estonia, 15-19 June 2015
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Marginalization and social deprivation in urban areas are hardships not necessarily limited to developing countries. Around 80 million Europeans today live in conditions that fall within the definition of poverty. However, certain areas are more prone to affliction than others. Such estates usually consist of concrete slab high-rise buildings and are often characterized by high levels of ethnic segregation, unemployment and crime, as well as low levels of education and health. In the Swedish equivalent of this type of environments, the current situation is not encouraging despite the many urban development programs launched to address the issues at hand. In a wish to eschew conventional explanations of failure, we instead turn our attention towards some more systemic flaws in the conceptual design of these programs, arguing that one of these flaws could be the idiomatic elephant in the room. In this presentation, we undertake a discussion about the probability that, in areas where social deprivation is the greatest, not all signifiers of the presumed concept of urbanity are met. Hence, rigid adherence to ‘urbanity’ as a guiding force in development programs might in fact contribute to counterproductive plans of action. On the basis of experiences from two Swedish suburbs, we problematize the ’urban bias’ of large-scale actions set to target complex issues of social deprivation, whose character may not easily align with a conceptual rural-urban axis. We conclude that more context-sensitive understanding of the human condition beyond inflexible labeling could help arrive at more accurate inferences.
Brauer R., Dymitrow M. (2014). Quality of life in rural areas: A topic for the Rural Development policy? Bulletin of Geography. Socio-Economic Series, 25(25): 25-54.
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Contemporary transformations of rural areas involve changes in land uses, economic perspectives, connectivity, livelihoods, but also in lifestyles, whereupon a traditional view of 'the rural' and, consequently, of 'rural development' no longer holds. Accordingly, EU's 2007-2013 Rural Development policy (RDP) is one framework to incorporate aspects labelled as quality of life (QOL) alongside traditional rural tenets. With a new rendition of the RDP underway, this paper scopes the content and extent of the expired RDP regarding its incorporation of QOL, in order to better identify considerations for future policy making. Using novel methodology called topic modelling, a series of latent semantic structures within the RDP could be unravelled and re-interpreted via a dual categorization system based on RDP's own view on QOL, and on definitions provided by independent research. Corroborated by other audits, the findings indicate a thematic overemphasis on agriculture, with the focus on QOL being largely insignificant. Such results point to a rationale different than the assumed one, at the same time reinforcing an outdated view of rurality in the face of the ostensibly fundamental turn towards viewing rural areas in a wider, more humanistic, perspective. This unexpected issue of underrepresentation is next addressed through three possible drivers: conceptual (lingering productionist view of the rural), ideological (capitalist prerogative preventing non-pecuniary values from entering policy) and material (institutional lock-ins incapable of accommodating significant deviations from an agricultural focus). The paper ends with a critical discussion and some reflections on the broader concept of rurality.
Brauer R, Dymitrow M, Fridlund M. (2014). The digital shaping of humanities research: The emergence of Topic Modeling within historical studies’. Enacting Futures: DASTS 2014 Conference (Danish Association for Science and Technology Studies), , Roskilde University, Denmark, 12–13 June 2014
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The epistemological affordances of technologies such as the Internet and computers are – yet again – offering promising and threatening opportunities to reshape humanistic research. The large digitization efforts within humanities has created new kinds of ‘big data’ textual source materials only a ’mouse click away’ (e.g. Google books, JSTOR or the Bodleian Digital Library). This socio-technical development presents new epistemological challenges for research within various humanities disciplines. To aid this effort, some researchers are turning to new kinds of (digital) data-mining methods to tackle this complexity. The subject of this study, topic modeling (TM) is such a digital humanities method. The presentation systematically surveys academic applications of topic modelling – an algorithm that parameterizes word concurrences – within historical research. The aim is to answer questions such as; what are the stated benefits of TM, whether there is qualitative differences between TM and traditional methods, and what new epistemological challenges TM creates for historical research? Our starting point is 2004 with the first peer-reviewed historical article and end point in 2013 with the publication of a special journal issue on applications of TM. Our preliminary results show that TM indeed affords new possibilities of innovative qualitative approaches in historical research. However, for all practical purposes TM is, as of yet, not a ‘black-boxed technology’ as many of its key variables still lack general agreed upon standards. This incorporation of TM within historical studies appears to be analogues to earlier developments in disciplines such as; human geography or psychology. These earlier introductions of quantitative tools and methodologies into previously qualitatively dominated disciplines ultimately changed the character of these disciplines. If this will occur within historical studies or humanities remains to be seen.
Kantor-Pietraga I, Dymitrow M, Szmytkie R, Brauer R, Pełka-Gościniak J. (2014). ‘Environmental hazards as a driver of urban abandonment in Poland’. 26th session of the Permanent European Conference for the Study of the Rural Landscape, Gothenburg & Mariestad, Sweden, 8-12 September 2014
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The modern society is often perceived robust enough to withhold the calamities of adverse natural forces, while the phenomenon of complete settlement abandonment might seem as a thing of the past. However, due to an increased rate of environmental change, the issue of human vulnerability becomes all the more pertinent. In this presentation, we focus on the emergence of rural landscapes as a result of urban abandonment due to environmental hazards, here seen as an element in the functioning of the concept of environmental drivers. The underlying assumption is that a characteristic of environmental hazards is their spatial and temporal constancy of impact, whereby processes and phenomena having taken place in the past have their analogies in the present. In order to generate considerations for future research and policy development, there is a need to pay greater attention to the dangerous relationship between humans and the natural environment, not least by drawing lessons from the past. The presentation clarifies the dynamic interactions of drivers and their progression through various stages of urban abandonment with both an analysis of some general trends and an in-depth examination of three selected case studies from Poland. It has two objectives. The first one is to identify the historical role of environmental drivers in the process of urban abandonment, while the second one is to contribute to the typology of environmentally related processes of urban abandonment in order to better identify future calamities. In the first respect, the findings reveal that the relation between environmental hazards and urban abandonment is pertinent in regions with specific geographic conditions and pertains only to certain categories of urban settlements. In the second respect, by drawing on these findings, we propose some alterations and amendments to McLeman’s comprehensive model of settlement abandonment in the context of global environmental change.
Dymitrow M, Brauer R. (2014). ‘Social deprivation and urbanity as the elephant in the room’. In (eds) Efe R, Onay T T, Sharuho I, Atasoy E. Urban and urbanization. St. Kliment Ohridski University Press, Sofia.
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Social deprivation and marginalization in urban areas are hardships that are not necessarily limited to developing countries. Around 80 million Europeans today live in conditions that fall within the definition of poverty. However, certain areas are more prone to affliction than others. Such estates usually consist of concrete slab high-rise buildings and are often characterized by high levels of ethnic segregation, unemployment and crime, as well as low levels of education and health. In the Swedish equivalent of this type of environments, the current situation is not encouraging despite the multitude of urban development programs launched to address the issues at hand. Not only does the condition not improve, it deteriorates. In a wish to eschew conventional explanations of failure, we instead turn our attention towards some more systemic flaws in the conceptual design of these programs, arguing that one of these flaws could be the biggest and most obvious of them all – the idiomatic ‘elephant in the room’. In this chapter, we undertake a discussion about the probability that, in areas where social deprivation is the greatest, not all signifiers of the presumed concept of urbanity are met. Hence, rigid adherence to ‘urbanity’ as a guiding force in development programs might in fact contribute to counterproductive plans of action. In short, an urban development project may lack a satisfactory urban foundation and, by lack of congruence with the formulated ideation of urbanity, is likely to fail. On the basis of experiences from two Swedish suburbs, we problematize ‘the urban’ – or simply ‘the urban bias’ – in large-scale actions set to target complex issues of social deprivation, whose character may not easily align with a conceptual rural-urban axis. We conclude that more context-sensitive understanding of the human condition beyond inflexible labeling could help arrive at more accurate inferences.
Dymitrow M, Brauer R, Holmertz G, Apostolovska-Toševska B, Holmberg F. (2014). ‘Transcending the rural-urban meme: Hammarkullen – a landscape caught in-between’. 26th session of the Permanent European Conference for the Study of the Rural Landscape, Gothenburg & Mariestad, Sweden, 8-12 September 2014
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People’s different relations towards their environment are always the result of how they perceive it and how different spatialities are ascribed symbolic meaning. Taking into account these relations when formulating policies aimed at solving various problems could offer valuable knowledge for more sustainable planning and management. In certain areas, however, achieving this goal might prove extra problematic due to the preconceived vision of how problems associated with certain spatialities ought to be handled. Hammarkullen, a suburb of Gothenburg, is an extreme example of this. For decades facing socio-economic and structural problems, the struggles of Hammarkullen could be described as a “wicked problem”. Many programs have been undertaken to address it, the latest of which is one of Sweden’s largest EU-projects within urban development. In light of the considerable criticism it has received, we evaluated its inadequacy to solve the identified problems through three case studies. We conclude that a major contributing factor is the urban bias impregnating the design of urban development projects. It happens because the concept of “urbanity” is not one-dimensional (there are at least 40 attributes defining it); moreover it is juxtaposed “rurality” as its conceptual counterpart. Since any of the constitutive attributes is neither fully “rural” nor “urban”, different spatialities assume manifold overlapping combinations. Although Hammarkullen has an urban morphology, many of its attributes fall within the conceptual range of “rurality”, and should be addressed accordingly. However, since urbanity is most often viewed as morphology, the “urban shell” of Hammarkullen inadvertently prompts “urban” development projects. In that light, we resort to a landscape approach as an alternative conceptual tool to circumvent the rural-urban impasse in problem-solving. As a relational, non-essentialist technique, a landscape approach has the potential to capture the individual needs of each spatiality, including those that are not necessarily aligned with a conceptual rural-urban axis.
Brauer R, Fridlund M. (2013). ‘Historizing topic models: A distant reading of topic modeling texts within historical studies’. Cultural Research in the Context of "Digital Humanities”: Proceedings of International Conference, St Petersburg, Russia, 3-5 October 2013.
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Topic modeling (TM) is a method used within the new ‘digital history’ that represents a data driven methodology that might be closest to fulfilling literary historian Franco Moretti’s promise of making possible ‘distant reading’ of large text quantities. Inspired by this promise, TM has been used for historical studies since the early 2000s and this study provides a survey of the state of the art of TM among historical studies by giving a historical and methodological introduction into the use of TM within historical minded research. TM’s was first being developed for data mining within natural language processing and machine learning in the 1990s and had as its overwhelming benefit its ability to cover magnitudes more of data as compared to traditional methods. The primary topic model used is the Latent Dirichlet Allocation that allows TM to be used as a search function, a quantitative check of intuition or as a summarization tool for large corpora of texts. Having many competing theories and assumptions that are constantly being challenged and developed TM in itself currently represents a very active area of research within computer science. The survey of historical texts take its starting point as the first peer-reviewed historical article in 2006 and end point the publication of the firs research monograph in 2013 and identified 23 historical studies employing TM. To provide a general overview of the field the studies were examined using a distant reading quantitative approach and analyzed according to authors’ academic background, gender, academic seniority and country of academic institution; corpora’s type, language, chronology, and geographical focus. The results showed most authors being junior untenured male researchers, primarily affiliated with US-universities and the texts consisting of a substantial number of non-standard online texts. Despite the application within historical studies TM still comes across as a technology driven approach with majority of authors having a background in technical disciplines. Corpora where primarily focused on English texts with a US or global focus and with an emphasis on recent history. All in all TM appear to an emergent rather than established historical methodology. Keywords: topic modeling, digital history, digital humanities, historical methodology, Latent Dirichlet Allocation.
Brauer R, Dymitrow M. (2013). ‘Using topic modelling to analyse EU’s Rural Development policy’. Systematizing and digitalizing Nordic policy studies: Emergent perspectives within Swedish and Finnish research, Symposia, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland, 27 November 2013.
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Any social research at some point always touches upon issues dealing with the situatedness of the researcher. Policy analysis is no exception, and there have been many quantitative attempts to mitigate problems that arise from human biases. The general concern is that, for the most part, these methodological approaches remain fairly basic (e.g. word frequencies) in comparison to the semantic nuances a human reader would normally experience. In that light, the here presented approach explores the possibility of using topic modelling as a way to quantitatively assess policy without forgoing those finer nuances of human analysis. In this presentation, the material subject to topic modelling is EU’s Rural Development policy for 2007–2013 (RDP). It proclaims itself as the first European rural policy to in its conceptual framework cover aspects labelled as quality of life (QOL). In this paper, we treat this particular statement as a hypothesis, to which topic modelling is used to investigate if this really is the case. For any concept (not just QOL) to be incorporated into a policy and to retain its influence, it must be both mentioned and linked to other parts of that same policy, elsewise it could strike as merely a rhetorical strategy. Thereby, the hypothesis is that the more themes (topics) relate to a particular concept the more relative importance the policy allocates to that particular concept. In order to gauge this relative importance of QOL within RDP, we created a categorisation based upon: (1) the RDP’s own conceptual understanding of QOL, and (2) definitions provided by contemporary cutting-edge research dedicated to QOL. The analysis shows that only about 4 % of the topics found within the RDP relate to the issues of QOL. These particular topics only mention aspects of QOL without any explicit signs of implementation. This marginal position of QOL within RDP has been corroborated by other audits of the RDP using traditional qualitative techniques. Therefore, with further methodological development, this experimental application of topic modelling in policy analysis might represent one potential alternative to traditional qualitative methods.
Brauer R, Dymitrow M. (2013). ‘Digitally modelling regional development in Europe: A new methodological approach to policy analysis’. Integrated development of cities and regions. Man-City-Nature, 9th International Conference, Toruń, Poland, 14-15 October 2013.
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Sustainable regional development faces the complicated task of integrating socio-demographic, environmental and economic goals into a functioning policy proposal. The challenges of the 21st century are further complicated by the new nature of rural-urban relations that render traditional dichotomous approaches counterproductive. The latest EU rural development initiative proclaims itself as a fundamental break from older efforts that primarily focused upon agribusiness. This new humanistic vision includes improved quality of life, environmental sustainability and economic diversification alongside traditional agricultural tenets. New research takes this realization further, expressing a need for new conceptual tools to handle this ‘new rural’ reality seen as a composite of material and social aspects. Since older conceptualizations of the rural as agriculturally dominated might still linger on, the achievement of new humanistic planning goals is a complicated task. Policy planning – a complex actor-network of different interests – heterogeneously engineers different interests into a unified framework. In this case, the major refocus within policy planning, including re-conceptualizations of the ‘new rural’ and the new rural-urban relations, should, accordingly, be accommodated within the actual policy documents. If not, the proclaimed focus of the regional development goals could strike as empty political rhetoric. Due to their size, policies are often summarized. A policy summary should consequently be an unambiguous representation of the policy as a whole. Qualitative summarizations, however, may be problematic due to human biases. To circumvent this problem, this study borrows a technique from the digital humanities called topic modeling. This technique was applied to the framework of EU’s rural development policy for 2007–2013 and compared with the proclaimed development goals. First indications of the analysis show that there are indeed attempts to accommodate these new conceptualizations. However, the primary focus is still on agribusiness. Thereby, the humanistic focus of seeing the rural as more than agriculture-dominated areas does not appear to be strengthened. By adhering to a rationale different than the assumed one, such tendencies may possibly complicate the fulfillment of sustainable socio-economic development goals.