Monday, July 9, 2018

The Shithole Project

I am thrilled that some research done with Alice Butler, a doctoral student working with me at Leeds, has been published in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, and in condensed form in The Conversation.

The research looks into what people in the UK mean when they call a place a "shithole". The article is part of my longstanding interest in how and why and to what end we say mean things about places. In this case, it turns out that gender really matters.

This paper investigates what people mean when they engage in the discourse of denigration. Building on existing literature on territorial stigmatisation that either focuses on macro‐scale uses and effects of territorial stigmatisation or micro‐scale ethnographic studies of effects, we develop a novel approach that captures the diverse voices that engage in the discourse of denigration by tracing the use of the word and hashtag “shithole” on the social media platform Twitter in order to examine who is engaged in the stigmatising discourse, the types of place that are stigmatised and the responses to stigmatised places. Using a robust data set, we highlight two key findings. First, the majority of tweets were aimed at places where the tweeter was not from, a form of othering consistent with how territories are stigmatised by those in positions of power such as policymakers, politicians and journalists. Second, we note that an important and gendered minority of tweets can be characterised by a “cry for help” and powerlessness, where the stigma is aimed at their own places. We offer an interpretive lens through which to understand and frame these minoritarian voices by engaging with theories of abjection that allow us to see how minoritarian voices relate to place.