Dr. James Riding

Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow

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Image of Dr James Riding

Room number: C02
Telephone (internal): 27990
Telephone (UK): 0114 222 7990
Telephone (International): +44 114 222 7990
Email: J.Riding@sheffield.ac.uk
Research Website: www.newregionalgeographies.wordpress.com

James Riding joined the University of Sheffield in 2013. He holds a three-year Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellowship, entitled New Regional Geographies (For Sarajevo). Before joining the University of Sheffield, he completed a PhD in Cultural Geography at the University of Exeter in 2012, and briefly worked in the Archives at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Research Interests

  • Historical and Cultural Geographies
  • Literary Geographies
  • New Regional Geographies
  • Critical Theory
  • Landscape Phenomenology
  • Poetry
  • New Nature Writing

Current Research

New Regional Geographies (For Sarajevo)

Reasoning: Why now?
Sarajevo represents a scar on the conscience of the New Europe. It is the dark under belly of the expansion of Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Block. Twenty years ago, catastrophic events, caused in part through new regionalisms and nationalisms and an emergence of ethnic, racial, and religious tensions, lead to the longest siege in modern warfare. It is time we revisited the region to reassess the things that were at stake in the mêlée: place, culture, and identity. During this most horrific time, a heroic resistance was undertaken by writers, scholars and artists, who continued to perform and exhibit at the Sarajevska zima festival.

Aims: New Regional Geographies (For Sarajevo)

  • To contribute to the recent and on-going re-evaluation of Regional Geography, which is at the forefront of current explorations being undertaken across the Social Sciences and Arts and Humanities, by animating the unfashionable (dangerous) Geographical construct of the Region, for Sarajevo.
  • To formulate a renewed creative Regional Analysis of the constructed ideas of place and identity, through embodied, performative, and creative memory-work, furthering the developing research field of Literary Geographies.
  • To undertake a contemporary re-evaluation of Geographic Regionalism, extending and complicating established understandings of place and identity, in order to help prevent any future reduction to pure identity.
  • Explore how the geographical framework of the Region might help us to move beyond the casual naming of places as sites of trauma, doing more than documenting sites of memory; honoring and continuing the creative resistance shown by artists and writers at the Sarajevska zima festival.

Theoretical and Interdisciplinary Context: New Regional Geographies
Regional Geography has for a long time been out of fashion: a dangerous, conservative, sub-discipline, which can easily be drawn upon by nationalistic factions, through a simplification of identity politics. Recently though, Regional Geography and the Region as a Geographical Framework has begun to be re-assessed, becoming Relational Regionalism or New Regionalism (Wheeler, 2002). It has so far been a new emergence based primarily in Planning, Urban Design, and mainly quantitative research methodologies. There is though an opportunity, due to the significance of non-representational and relational approaches to place and landscape, and the motilities turn - which has proved influential across the Social Sciences - to create a New Regional Geographies where place-based creative writers and artists, cultural geographers, and academics across the Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences can undertake dialogue, and produce important interdisciplinary research, which is extensive in approach. This project incorporates creative environmental writing, personal and autoethnographic research, and embodied ethnographic accounts of a region, as a method for critical social and cultural analysis. It considers the formation of identity, regions, and places, through an exploration of embedded cultural formation, unpicking the networks of relationships and ideologies, and revealing the processual, slippery, and messy nature of places, regions, and identities. It demonstrates how places, regions and identities change over time (and indeed were never pure from their conception) - asking what next for regions of conflict, regions of religious embeddedness, and regions of economic, technological, cultural, social and environmental change, writing these through a newly animated and reinvigorated New Regional Geographies.

The Region: For Sarajevo
In 1993, against a background of Post Soviet, ethnic, racial, and religious tensions, Jean-Luc Nancy wrote, Eulogy for the Mêlée (For Sarajevo, 1993). The piece specifically asks questions about how we come to create an imaginary of a place: how we give somewhere an identity. He comes to the conclusion that the way we identify a place or a region is always reductionist. And furthermore, that it is a dangerous compulsion, to reduce, in order to leave a simple, pure, identity. Identity as being simply your roots, where you are from, is a divisive fantasy. It pre-constructs the self, and traps the individual. Cosmopolitanism is the enemy of nationalism, regionalism. For writers and scholars the act of memorialising or narrating the event that Sarajevo has become has proved difficult - they have narrated the event and not the region. They have become entangled in the issue pointed out by Jean-Luc Nancy in 1993 - the reduction to pure and naked identity. What is necessary is a newly animated idea of the region; the mêlée of region. For Jean-Luc Nancy, mêlée, is action rather than substance. I would propose that a region could be conceived of as action rather than substance also, as could place. In this vein I would like to take a number of journeys around the region, through places, none of which were pure from their conception, in order to write the Sarajevan landscape. The reason for choosing Sarajevo, is that it, as Jean-Luc Nancy so eloquently wrote, was reduced - and still is, to a certain extent - to what happened there, which has consumed its identity, amongst the other cosmopolitan Europeans. It perhaps more than any other European city, needs a renovated Regional Geography, in order to write it beyond a moment in time.

I am interested not in Sarajevo, the event, but Sarajevo, the place, the Sarajevan landscape. Sarajevo has a rich multicultural heritage and represented a crossroads of cultures, religions, and civilisations: an extraordinary climate of natural, tangible, cultural and spiritual diversity was formed in Sarajevo’s valley. 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination that sparked World War One, 20 years ago the city had to deal with the longest siege of a capital in the history of modern warfare, and 30 years ago the city hosted the Winter Olympics, it is also the 60th anniversary of the European Convention on Culture, and the 30th anniversary of the Sarajevska zima festival. It was hoped that in 2014 the city would be made European Capital of Culture, due to the poignancy of the date for the whole of Europe, under the slogan ‘Peace, Art, Freedom’. There will be a festival to mark the year instead, called ‘Sarajevo 2014 - European Cultural Bridge’, as part of the annual Sarajevska zima festival, which over its almost 30 years of existence has become an inseparable part of city life and has become a symbol of the freedom and creativity of Sarajevo, and a place for familiarizing with diverse cultures and civilisations. It has come to represent the cultural diversity of the region, even the region itself, and is an important part of the remaking of the region post war, enabling changes in the politics of the region, and helping the process of reconciliation, emphasising the role the arts play in the development of a society.

Whilst research in recent years has concentrated on regions such as the one in which Sarajevo finds itself (Caruth ed. 1995; Winter and Sivan eds. 1999; Bal, Crewe and Spitzer 1999, eds; Ley 2000; Cappelletto 2003 and 2005 ed.; Janz 2000; Butler 2010); the region, and how we might narrate it, has not been a concern. Regions of conflict are frequently addressed, as simply that, regions of conflict, and unpacked through concepts such as personhood, trauma, and dispossession and loss of identity. Despite the pioneering work of Woodward (2004), academics still seem curiously reluctant to think geographically; about how war and conflict scars places, regions or countries. This research will explore how the geographical framework of the Region might help us to move beyond the casual naming of places as sites of trauma - a writing of Sarajevo and its surrounds which would do more than documenting sites of memory (Pearson 2012). I am interested in how people have come to terms with the trauma, how they understood these places at the time, and how these understandings were reworked through narration, remembering and forgetting, after the conflict, which the Sarajevska zima has been pivotal in (see Sebald 2004, on the importance of writing after war). If we write animated regions, we add a question mark, when there is an inevitable reduction to identity.

Methodology, Outcomes, and Dissemination: Slippery Places, Representing Regions

  • Explore the lived in and loved places of everyday lives, regional culture, embodied practices, nature-society relations, the more-than human, visual and material artefacts, and landscape theory; essentially the small stories that are missing from places such as Sarajevo.
  • Use an original and innovative methodology, which brings together a theoretical re-evaluation of the Phenomenological tradition with a deeply ethnographic application of in-situ embodied approaches to landscape and historiographic analysis of the region; investigating voices, presences and absences, interweaving biographical analyses with sensuous and material attentiveness.
  • Intertwine rigorous Social Science Qualitative methodologies (interviewing, archival research, participant observation, mobile and video methodologies, site-specific analysis) with place-based creative environmental non-fiction, as a tool for critical social and cultural analysis (incorporating poetry, performance, installation, film, sound, sketching, photography, and mapping).
  • Work with artists (installation, performance, images) and writers (poetry, prose, philosophy) who are involved in the Sarajevska zima festival, over the three years of the project, and exhibit and present this work at the festival at the conclusion of the collaborative project.
  • Present and convene sessions (Slippery Places, New Regional Geographies, Representing Regions) at conferences (AAG and RGS) and create an exhibition which would be exhibited at major international events (Sarajevska zima, AAG, RGS)
  • Interdisciplinary networking (the project is interdisciplinary methodologically and theoretically: due to the political and cultural scope of the project and contemporary cross-disciplinary research methodology) with academics across the Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences (Politics, History, Geography, English, Sociology, Philosophy, Creative Writing, Slavonic and Eastern European Studies) through a series of research networking workshops, and a one day symposium at the University of Sheffield on the concept of Region, and writing Regions (involving renowned writers, artists, and academics).
  • Creation of lasting institutional relationships between the University of Sheffield and the University of Sarajevo (become a part of the AHRC/ESRC Connected Communities funding stream).
  • Publish a paper called New Regional Geographies: For Sarajevo, in the journal Progress in Human Geography and two more papers relating to specific moments in the research, such as the Sarajevska zima; produce a travelogue and exhibition, called For Sarajevo; create a blog called New Regional Geographies.
  • Project is achievable within the timeframe and has real project development opportunities (possibility of significant external funding, through the AHRC ‘Care for the Future: thinking forward through the past’ funding stream, creating a large scale, interdisciplinary, expansive project, working on many Regions simultaneously).

Bibliography
Bal, M. and Crewe, J. V. and Spitzer, L. 1999 (eds.), Acts of memory: cultural recall in the present. Hanover: Dartmouth Press Butler, J. 2010 Frames of war: when is life mournable? Verso (2010 reprint) Cappelletto, F. 2003, “Long-term memory of extreme events: from autobiography to history” in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 9: 241-260 Cappelletto, F. 2005 (ed.), Memory and World War II: an ethnographic approach. Oxford: Berg Caruth, C. 1995 (ed.) Trauma and memory. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press Janz, O. 2006, ‘The Cult of the Fallen Soldiers in Italy after the First World War’ In: Olaf Farschid/Manfred Kropp/Stephan Dähne (eds): The First World War as Remembered in the Countries of the Eastern Mediterranean. Würzburg: Ergon, 203-211 Ley, R. 2000 Trauma: a Genealogy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Nancy, J-L. 2000, Being Singular Plural, Stanford: Stanford University Press

Teaching

GEO265 Researching Human Geographies

Key Publications

Articles

  • Riding, J. (Forthcoming) 'A geographical biography of a nature writer', Cultural Geographies.
  • Riding, J. (Under Review) 'Landscape, memory, and the shifting regional geographies of northwest Bosnia-Herzegovina', GeoHumanities.

Chapters

  • Riding, J. (2015) 'Death drive: final tracings', in Geographical Aesthetics: Imagining Space, Staging Encounters, eds. Hawkins, H. and Straughan, E, 181-196. Ashgate: Surrey.
  • Riding, J. (Forthcoming) 'Witnessing moving images of war torn regions: seven pieces of film from Bosnia', in Reanimating Regions: Ethnographic Explorations of a New Regional Geographies, eds. Riding, J. and Jones, M. Routledge: London.

Books

  • Riding, J. and Jones, M. (Forthcoming), Reanimating Regions: Ethnographic Explorations of a New Regional Geographies. Routledge: London.
  • Riding, J. (Under Review), In Pursuit of Spring (A Recycling). Penned in the Margins: London.

Films

  • Wake-Walker, J. and Riding, J. (Forthcoming), A Bosnian Chronicle. Funded by The University of Sheffield and The Leverhulme Trust.

Previous Research

Bookmarks - in the footprints of Edward Thomas

My thesis; Bookmarks - in the footprints of Edward Thomas - supervised by Dr John Wylie and Dr Pepe Romanillos - was about a semi-mythical region of southern England known as the South-Country. It paid particular attention to regional identity and cultural heritage, using descriptive and experiential creative writing as a method to unsettle, and constructively critique certain geographical accounts of landscape. Fragments of landscapes were written, which took phenomenological accounts of being-in-the-world and human dwelling elsewhere, and intertwined the seemingly separate realms in geography of the representational and non-representational. My approach is innovative and creative. I drew upon the work of Graham Harman and speculative realism and also Jean-Luc Nancy and his philosophy which goes beyond phenomenological understandings of dwelling in a landscape. I asked questions of whether geographers could become nature writers, positing poems and literature as objects to be found in the landscape.

The first part of the PhD was an ethnography of literary societies - structured around a series of walking interviews with various arts-based groups and community groups who wander the landscape in the footprints of writers and poets; re-inserting poetry and prose, site-reading, summoning, and unearthing. The second involved a single journey across the semi-mythical region, following the route of a book by a poet synonymous with it; Edward Thomas. The book was a bike ride from one border of the region to the other and ended at the holy poetic site of Coleridge Cottage and the archive there. What comes to the fore is the griminess and decay that is often unwritten when following in the footprints of poets. It is an innovative new take on the nature writing genre; a take which has long been hidden from view.

The thesis as a whole muddies the idea of singular being, tracing the footprints of nature writer and poet Edward Thomas, from the beginning of his epically creative final four years, to the site where he died in 1917, during the Battle of Arras. It is a series of creative interventions, engagements with landscape, writing, and poetry; affective mapping, chasing memory-prompts, bookmarks and the shock of the poetic. The journeys seek to return to an ‘open’ idea of the geographical imagination, negating a negative, reductionist form of geography; shifting the focus away from sociologically determined notions of mobility. A resident of England for all his life, but with Welsh heritage, Edward Thomas believed he belonged nowhere. His texts: little time capsules, admixtures of social commentary, environmental action, and personal musings, are archaeological exercises, presenting a complicated picture of loss, demonstrating the value of artistic imagination. Loss - and subsequent estrangement from the world - would become his poetic source. Bookmarks is about trying to understand the relationship between poetry - indeed all ‘land writing’ - and place. How it affects in-place, what it does in-place? To understand this relationship properly it was necessary to consider why, as humans, we write? To find out what the subjective condition of the poet, or writer, emerges out of - in order to relay the experience of meeting poetry in-place with literary societies and community groups. Edward Thomas began as a nature writer and became a poet after much agonizing. This made him a useful subject (object) (neither). Furthermore he suffered a long period of introspection and had a knowledge of Freud and psychoanalysis - which he underwent in 1912. This was played out in what Edna Longley (2008) terms; ‘poetic psychodrama.’ His poems often feature a split self or switch between patient and analyst (Longley, 2008). The Other Man, is his doppelganger, who he plays himself off against: the poems are, as such, multi-voiced, counterpointed, intersubjective. Delueze and Guattari wrote in A Thousand Plateaus (1988: 3): ‘since each of us was already several, there was already quite a crowd.’ Edward Thomas knew this all too well. From the beginning of this ambulatory homage my psyche became inextricably linked with his.

I drew upon many philosophical strands - phenomenology, non-representational theory, post-structuralism, psychogeography, speculative realism - which were woven through the whole piece. My external examiner was Dr Hayden Lorimer and my internal examiner was Dr Ian Cook. The completed thesis is intended to be read as a collaborative piece of nature writing, including poems, photographs, drawings, and maps, and is currently under review at Faber & Faber, entitled First Known When Lost – Journeys in Pursuit of Edward Thomas.

First Known When Lost – Journeys in Pursuit of Edward Thomas

First Known When Lost traces the footprints of nature writer and poet Edward Thomas. A resident of England for all his life, but with Welsh heritage, Edward Thomas believed he belonged nowhere. His texts: little time capsules, admixtures of social commentary, environmental action, and personal musings, are archaeological exercises, presenting a complicated picture of loss, demonstrating the value of artistic imagination.

The book is presented as a series of engagements with landscape, writing, and poetry; chasing memory-prompts and the shock of the poetic. It loops his home in the South Downs on foot and recycles one of his long journeys out of London westward. What comes to the fore is the griminess and decay that is often unwritten when following in the footprints of poets.

‘It’s elegant, scrupulous, and unusual’
(Robert MacFarlane)

‘This is a political treatise for being artistic in an age of targets and outcomes’
(Hayden Lorimer)