Theory, policy and practice perspectives from Royal Holloway


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Geographical Perspectives on “Development” – Where are we going?

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While a summer school beginning in October sounds a bit implausible in the UK, Bonn just about managed to find enough sun to justify the title of its conference!

The University of Bonn was host to the Human Geography summer school 2016, Geographical Perspectives on “Development”. Bonn itself is a green, bike friendly city located along the River Rhine and host to the headquarters of UN agencies, German development agencies, and key international NGOs. Introducing the conference, Professor Detlef Müller-Mahn challenged participants to consider what they themselves mean by “development” through reflecting on theoretical orientations and personal positionality. Questions posed included what do we mean by development, what approaches can be used to generate meaningful results and how research in this field can be conducted in both a critical and constructive way. Through this lens workshops ranged from ‘Politicising global chain governance’ to ‘Manoeuvring challenging research contexts’ and ‘Community owned solutions for sustainability challenges’ run by Royal Holloway’s own Professor Jay Mistry.

In the workshop “Theorizing, researching and (re)politicizing “economic” “entanglements” in the Global South”, participants were challenged to pin the tail on the research and locate yourself between the four points of economic, development, social and other geographies; or if brave enough in the slightly less certain lands that lay outside! Not as simple as it may sound, the exercise provided a means to reflect on where participants feel their research stands and what academic understandings they draw on when conducting research (see Vira and James, 2011 as to what happens when you try to cross economic and development geography). Further discussions on “economic” “entanglements” led to participants problematizing what are Continue reading


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Sustainable Development Goals: Something new or more of the same?

sdg-logoThe 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets were described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as a ‘to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success‘. They are seen as building on the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals, which succeeded in providing a framework for global development cooperation and achieving significant progress in the reduction of extreme poverty, child and maternal mortality, and improved access to primary education. However, the MDGs were criticised for a top-down, Northern-centric framing of development definitions and development practice.

The SDGs were developed through a much more participatory process than the MDGs, with outputs including A Million Voices: The World We Want report.  This is both a response to previous criticisms, but also reflects the way Continue reading


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Learning about Sustainability through Volunteering

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MSc Sustainability students 2015-16 with Dr Mike Dolton (MSc Director) and Professor Laura Spence (Director of the RHUL Centre for Research into Sustainability)

All students on the RHUL MSc in Practising Sustainable Development (including the ICT4D stream) and the MSc in Sustainability and Management have to complete a volunteer placement. While students have to do a minimum of 24 hours of volunteering over a 5-month period, many students do far more and some continue after the course has finished.

The aim of the volunteer project module is to allow students to actively engage with an issue of sustainability in practice and to reflect on that involvement. It is assessed through an individual project report reflecting on sustainability issues in the particular organisation, as well as students’ own reflections on their experience. Students also have to produce a poster and give a short presentation.

The volunteer project is one of the most important Continue reading


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What is Progress?

Craig BennettOn February 8th, the Windsor Auditorium was packed with staff, students and guests anticipating an insightful talk by Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth for our Annual Sustainability Lecture. The audience was not disappointed. Craig kicked off his lecture by puzzling the audience with his claim that rather than talking about his environmental campaigning work, he would discuss a much more fundamental question that needs to be answered first: What is progress?

So what is progress? According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is a linear movement towards a set destination or a development towards a more modern society. So which one is correct? Craig’s answer: neither. Rather, he believes that progress should not just create a more modern society but a better one. While this seems very close to the common understanding of sustainable development, Craig opposes this notion as he believes that the idea of sustainable development has not led to the changes in politicians’ engagements we need to achieve a better society. Rather, the continuous debate about the “right” indicators for measuring sustainable development distract from the underlying issue: where do we want to go and what is the right path?

So where to go from here? To move forward, we can learn from the past. Referring to the book A Short History of Progress by Donald Wright, Craig talked about the progress traps that many Continue reading


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Project COBRA highlighted by European Year for Development

Paulette Allicock

Paulette Allicock, Makushi farmer, North Rupununi, Guyana. Source: Project COBRA. Creative Commons Non-Commerical No Derivatives Licence.

As world leaders meet in Paris to decide on a worldwide agreement to tackle climate change at the Climate Summit, COP21 (21st Conference Of the Parties) this week, the European Year for Development is reminding stakeholders of the inextricable link between climate action, sustainable development and poverty eradication. The EU initiative emphasises that climate change can’t be stopped without working with people facing against poverty, who are already the most affected by climate change, in developing as well as in developed countries.

In this context, an EU-funded project that is empowering Indigenous communities in South America by supporting and strengthening local solutions to conserve forests in the Guiana Shield, led by Dr Jay Mistry, Reader in Geography at Royal Holloway, Continue reading