May 2013

Academics are increasingly using social media, such as blogs and twitter, to communicate their work and ideas and to engage a wider public.  In a forum in the most recent issue of Dialogues in Human Geography 3(1) we discuss in detail the opportunities, challenges and risks of academics utilising social media, reflecting on our experiences of blogging on IrelandAfterNAMA.  In response are six commentaries that engage with, extend and critique our ideas.  The forum as a whole provides an interesting discussion about the politics, circulation and audiences of academic knowledge production and how social media is reconfiguring the way in which academics share their work and take part in public debate.  The issue is open access and we’re happy to continue the reflection and debate here.

Public geographies through social media, p. 56-72
by Rob Kitchin, Denis Linehan, Cian O’Callaghan and Philip Lawton

Whose geography? Which publics? p. 73-76
by Jeremy W Crampton, Jay Bowen, Daniel Cockayne, Brittany Cook, Eric Nost, Lindsay Shade, Laura Sharp and Malene Jacobsen

Social media and the academy: New publics or public geographies? p. 77-80
by Mark Graham

Blogs as ‘minimal’ politics, p. 81-84
by Andrew Davies

Academics’ diverse online public communications, p. 85-86
by Jenny Pickerill

Social media experiments: Scholarly practice and collegiality, p. 87-91
Chris Gibson and Leah Gibbs

Public geography and the politics of circulation, p. 92-95
by David Beer

The creation and circulation of public geographies, p. 96-102
Rob Kitchin, Denis Linehan, Cian O’Callaghan, and Philip Lawton




AIRO have developed an interactive graphic showing Exchequer Tax Receipts from 2000-2012 as reported by the Department of Finance.

The data provides an interesting overview of the volume of receipts, but also the relative proportion of tax generated from different sources.

There is a marked change in the relative proportion of different tax receipts between 2006 and 2012. Income tax has grown from 27.2% of all tax receipts in 2006 to 41.4% in 2012, VAT has dropped slightly from 29.5% to 27.8%, excise duty is roughly the same rising from 12.3% to 12.8%, corporation tax has fallen to 11.5% from 14.7%, stamp duty has fallen to 3.9% from 8.2%, and capital gains tax has fallen to 1.1% from 6.8%.

In other words the burden of tax receipts has very strongly shifted to individual income tax.  In fact, the trend on corporation tax has been declining since 2002, when it peaked at 16.4% despite the latter boom years and the fact that since then the volume and value of exports has grown.

The introduction of a local property tax is another tax burden on individual families.  It seems unconscionable that the relative share of the tax burden is only 11.5% for corporations and it does appear time that we had a full and open debate, with some decent scenario modelling as opposed to anecdote, spin and threats, on corporation tax and what the various implications of raising the rate, even by a modest amount, might be.

tax receipts

Rob Kitchin and Eoghan McCarthy


Below is the keynote address to the Conference ‘Innovation, Reflection and Inclusive Societies: The Role and Contribution of the Humanities and Social Sciences’ by Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn at the The Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, Tuesday, 7 May 2013.

It sets out a very clear and strong position regarding the value of the social sciences and humanities research and scholarship and it is heartening to hear a politician speak about HSS that both understands and champions why HSS is a vital part of the academy and the contributions it makes to society.  Certainly one of the best political speeches I’ve been in attendance at and I’ve no doubt I’ll be waving it under the noses of funders and university administrators quite regularly in the coming years.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here at the Royal Irish Academy at this Irish Presidency event. I would like thank the organisers, Professor Kelleher, Dr Geary and Dr O’Brennan, for inviting me.

As the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, over the last three years I have had many chances to discuss, with many top researchers, issues such as the science of climate change, innovation and new technologies in energy and transport, or breakthroughs in cancer research.

Areas like these grab the lion’s share of the research headlines and are sometimes perceived as the ‘hard’ sciences, in comparison to the ‘softer’ areas of research, such as the social sciences and humanities.

But to my mind, yours are the hardest sciences of all. If there is one thing that I have learned in my years in politics and public service, it is that nothing ever stays the same. The world is constantly changing.

And big changes force hard choices. Hard choices for politicians like me. We need the social sciences and humanities to analyse the options, situate the decisions and guide and inspire the choices.

Ireland, for instance, has seen profound changes in only the last five years, and many since it joined the European Economic Community forty years ago.

It takes great insight and depth of knowledge to really understand the changes and how they affect us.

We need to keep asking who we are and what our identity and culture means to us.

That is why the social sciences and humanities are more essential than ever.

They’re not the cherry on the cake or an indulgence when we can afford it.

We need them to understand ourselves, our society and the challenges we face.

A knowledge society needs to know itself, and the social sciences and humanities are the keys to do this.

They are the hardware of society, on which all the other sciences depend.

Society is hardwired by ethics, identity, belief, reflection, psychology and culture. There is no science without reason. No reason without understanding. No understanding without humanity. Without Greece, there is no Rome.

The scale and importance of the task demand excellent standards.

Excellent researchers generate new knowledge. And that’s what drives progress. And, if Europe is about anything, it’s about progress.

So, excellence in research is an aim in itself, and aiming for excellence is a conscious political decision that we have made at the European level.

I know that you share this ambition for the social sciences and humanities. Indeed, I understand that one of the primary goals of the Royal Irish Academy is to ‘vigorously promote excellence in scholarship’.

Excellence in the humanities and social sciences is as exacting a standard as excellence in the natural sciences.

And we need excellence across all disciplines, to create the research biodiversity that acts as the foundation of a sustainable knowledge economy and a vibrant society that produces the ideas and innovations needed to tackle its biggest challenges.

We also need this rich biodiversity of research disciplines to be ready for the problems and challenges that we can’t yet predict.  For example, we are now turning to historians, social scientists, political scientists and psychologists to make sense of the motivations, ideologies and identity politics that are leading to new conflicts and terrorism in different areas of the world.

Answers to the toughest questions can’t always be found in a laboratory. You are the key to decoding some critical problems, not least in Europe. Decoding is not just for DNA!

Europe has arrived at a critical point in its development, a development that has seen us shift numerous times between integration and fragmentation.

We need institutional and political innovation to resolve issues that weren’t even on our radar ten years ago. And for that to work, we need to understand our diversity and what binds us together. We need to understand each other’s histories and perceptions of the past. To plot any course, you need to know where you have come from.

We can’t improvise. We need to dig deep into our understanding of our history and our present, and deep into issues concerned with our identity and culture and our sense of belonging.

But events are moving so quickly that, in the heat of the moment, there is less and less time to dig deep, to reflect and weigh options.

So my challenge to you is to use your insights – whether societal, political, economic or cultural – to give us the answers we need, to provide clear options for Europe’s future.

‘Made in Europe’ doesn’t just mean cars, aeroplanes, chemicals or financial services.

It doesn’t just mean excellent design, world-beating food or fashion.

‘Made in Europe’ also means ideas, culture, art.

These are intrinsic to identity – whether we are talking about our identity as someone from  Dublin, or Ireland, or Europe.

As Jean Monnet, the father of the European project said… “If I had to do it again, I would begin with culture”.

The great movements that changed the world for the better were ‘Made in Europe‘: the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution – Democracy itself.

Unfortunately, many of the most damaging movements and events were also ‘Made in Europe’, whether, genocide, colonialism or totalitarianism.

These ‘-isms’ are vital areas of research. Remembering and studying the past is essential to understanding the present and key to making a better future.

We see this in Ireland, where the past echoes in politics and everyday life, even as Irish society moves through immense changes.

Solutions to conflict and violence will only be found in understanding. And lasting solutions will only survive if we keep on remembering and we preserve and respect our cultures.  We will soon reach some very important anniversaries for Europe and Ireland. We will look to the social sciences and humanities to help us remember the events of 1914 and 1916 and understand how they still shape our world today.

The humanities and social sciences can influence nearly every aspect of our lives. Few of us perhaps realise the extent of that influence. So many concepts that were nurtured on the fringes of academic debate have moved into the mainstream and have profoundly altered the way we live.

Simone de Beauvoir, for example, thought that “One is not born a woman, one becomes one.” Just think of the power of that idea. It revolutionised our lives, making us think that age-old stereotypes were not set in stone and eventually leading us to start breaking them down. This led to the entry of women into the labour force, probably the most significant and lasting change of the 20th century.

Europe is a world leader in SSH research. I want to help maintain that position. Indeed, I hope we can build on it and increase our lead. I am ambitious for the social sciences and humanities. I know you are too.

Our collaborative research programme in the Social Sciences and Humanities is already the world’s largest.

So far, over 2,000 institutions have participated in 200 projects under the 7th Framework Programme for Research – FP 7.

It will have invested an estimated 623 million Euro in Social Sciences and Humanities research by the time it finishes at the end of this year.

One of the success stories of FP 7 is the HERA network. It is made up of Humanities Research Councils from across Europe.

It links national research programmes and has resulted in the creation of two joint research programmes.

It is making an important contribution to the development of the European Research Area, and I am very pleased that Ireland is playing a leading role in it. I know that Professor Sean Ryder, who chairs it, is with us today.

It must be said, however, that only around 1% of participants in the FP7 social sciences and humanities programme come from Ireland, and those participants have drawn down less than 1% of the available funding.

I want you to work together to improve this record under Horizon 2020, and initiatives like the new Humanities Alliance is a very positive step in the right direction.

I am delighted that you have put such a strong focus on preparing for Horizon 2020.

The European Commission’s commitment to the social sciences and humanities will not  change under Horizon 2020.

But we want to do things differently. Multi-, inter-, or even transdisciplinary approaches are often needed to tackle today’s highly complex challenges.

That is why, instead of programmes dedicated to particular disciplines, we will have programmes focused on our biggest challenges, such as climate change, health and food, and energy security.  SSH in all its various disciplinary guises will be firmly embedded in each of these challenges.

The Commission’s proposal for Horizon 2020 has not, of course, been adopted yet, but this vision is shared by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

This is a bold, new vision. It will require openness on all sides. I know that there are major obstacles to multiple disciplinary approaches. I hope that the way in which we have constructed Horizon 2020 will help to encourage this kind of research.

For the vision to work, both humanities and social sciences researchers will have to be fully involved in the decision making about how the challenges are developed and implemented.

They must be present in the relevant advisory groups and programme committees. I will ensure that this happens.

The addition, at the request of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, of a new activity called ‘Reflective Societies’ is, I think, a positive step. It will allow us to better capture the full range of possible contributions of humanities research.

SSH research will also continue to be supported under the first pillar ‘Excellent Science’, including through the European Research Council, as well as the Marie Skłodowska Curie actions and research infrastructures.

In September, the next Presidency of the Council, the Lithuanian Presidency, will hold a conference on the future role of the Social Sciences and Humanities.

This will give us an opportunity to further discuss how best to apply, over a wide range of challenges, the knowledge, methods, and experience that the Social Sciences and Humanities have to offer.

Ladies and gentlemen, In his ‘Two Cultures’ lecture, over 50 years ago, C.P. Snow lamented the gap between the sciences and the humanities. He fretted that the sciences were  undervalued. In today’s climate, we may be at risk of making the opposite mistake.

But this debate as to the relative value of the arts and humanities is a senseless one. They are both valuable and they are inter-twined.

Europe is focusing on research, technology and innovation as ways to renew our economy. There is a strong justification for continuing to invest in these areas even when public finances are tight.

This can put the humanities and arts on the defensive, and similar economic arguments are used to justify expenditure in these areas.

The economic arguments are certainly there; just think of how important the content industry is becoming. It is a major focus area for us in Europe.

But the economic justification is a reductive way of looking at the humanities and social sciences.

To borrow an idea from Oscar Wilde, a society that focuses only on the economic benefits of knowledge is one that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Indeed, I am reminded of John Henry Newman’s belief that students should receive a ‘balanced, well-rounded, tranquil and moderate’ education, which would produce freedom of thought.

He was right!

What matters is not whether a particular discipline belongs to the humanities, the social sciences or the natural sciences, but the quality of the scholarship. Excellence is the key.

So, I am a friend of the natural sciences, certainly, and a champion of the social sciences.

But I am also aware of what Matthew Arnold called “sweetness and light” – in other words, the intelligence and beauty that the humanities bring to life.

Thank you.

While Irish Independent advertisements suggest that the difference between Greek and Irish responses to austerity is a matter of individual choices, new research from NUIM Dept of Sociology indicates that matters are a little more complex than that. Understanding European movements: new social movements, global justice struggles, anti-austerity protest, published today by Routledge and edited by Cristina Flesher Fominaya and Laurence Cox, is the first systematic attempt to situate Europe’s anti-austerity movements in their historical and cultural context.  Cristina Flesher Fominaya (Aberdeen) starts a two-year Marie Curie fellowship at the Dept. of Sociology in September, working with Prof. Sean O Riain on a comparison between anti-austerity movements in Ireland and Spain, while Laurence Cox co-directs the MA in Community Education, Equality and Social Activism, jointly based in Sociology and Adult and Community Education.

Understanding European movements is the first publication from the Council for European Studies’ research network on social movements, which is chaired by the two editors and brings together 178 scholars from 23 countries and 18 disciplines working in the field. The book’s
15 chapters include authors based in 11 countries whose analyses are all grounded in ethnographic and historical research on these movements – in Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Romania, Spain and the UK as well as transnational relationships. The book offers a comprehensive, interdisciplinary perspective on the key European social movements in the past forty years and sets present-day struggles in their longer-term national, historical and political contexts. Its four sections discuss the European tradition of social movement theory, the relationship between European movements from 1968-99 and contemporary anti-capitalist movements, the construction of the “movement of movements” within the European setting from the late 1990s onwards and the new anti-austerity protests in Iceland, Greece, Spain and elsewhere.

The book will be launched by leading social movements scholar James Jasper (CUNY) at the CES conference in Amsterdam next month. Other network events at the conference include two mini-symposia, five panels, a workshop and a roundtable on understanding contemporary waves of protest. Together with the ECPR’s and ESA’s standing committees on social movements, the CES network is also organising a symposium on social movements and the European crisis at the Transnational Institute, Amsterdam.

Cristina Flesher Fominaya and Laurence Cox, eds. (2013) Understanding European Movements:
New Social Movements, Global Justice Struggles, Anti-Austerity Protest. London: Routledge (Advances in Sociology series).

304 pp. hardback, ISBN 978-0-415-63879-1

Over a year on from the publication of the Mahon Tribunal Report the Government has moved to implement one of its key recommendations – the establishment of an office of the Planning Regulator (OPR). The OPR will entail a radical transformation of the way in which planning policy has been implemented in Ireland to-date. I have previously posted on the dilemma which has been facing the Government in crafting the policy response to Mahon’s recommendations – Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who watches the watchmen?). I argued that the OPR should have independent oversight authority to issue Section 31 Directions to planning authorities but with a failsafe mechanism built in so that the Minister would have the power to override the OPR in the unlikely circumstances where it fails to act or acts inappropriately. However, the Government has plumped for an alternative option whereby Section 31 powers remain with the Minister of the day. The role of the OPR will be to advise the Minister on the content of development plans and where appropriate provide recommendations (which will be published to ensure accountability) on whether the plan should be amended or rejected.  The new OPR will also have the authority to initiate investigations following complaints from the public and will be an independent corporate entity staffed primarily by redeployment from An Bord Pleánala.  An Bord Pleanála is one of the few planning bodies to come out of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ with its reputation relatively untarnished. Since its establishment it has developed a strong culture of independence and impartiality and has, on occasion, been unafraid to ruffle some feathers on major planning decisions.

While a new oversight regime is important, since the introduction of the 2010 Planning Act the latitude for planning authorities to stray from national spatial policy has been greatly diminished. Of much greater potential is the new role which will be mandated to the OPR to carry out research, training and education in planning and the built environment. Public education on the key role that long-term planning plays in society has been sorely lacking in Ireland and we are today paying the cost. In the context of the reform of local government and the mooted review of the National Spatial Strategy there has never been a greater requirement for bringing research and education to the policy front. It remains to be seen how the OPR’s new role in research and education will pan out and whether there will be sufficient funding allocated to carry out this critical work. Drawing on the extensive research capacity and experience which has developed within Irish academic institutions over the past decade should surely be part of the plan.

Gavin Daly

GraftonStreet1956I have commented on Grafton Street before (here and here), while also discussing Schemes of Special Planning Control (SSPC) and Architectural Conservation Areas (ACAs) (here). In light of the current draft for the renewal of the Grafton Street SSPC, there are, I feel, a number of elements that need to be discussed about the relationship between land-use, social space, and heritage in Grafton Street, which are, to a certain extent, reflective of wider dynamics in Dublin more generally. The revision of the Grafton Street SSPC provides the opportunity to redress the bias towards elite notions of heritage and instead celebrate the role of contemporary social life in the street.

The current draft of the Grafton Street SSPC opens with the following vision: “To reinvigorate Grafton Street as the South City’s most dynamic retail experience underpinned by a wide range of mainstream, independent and specialist retail and service outlets that attract both Dubliners and visitors to shop, sit and stroll, whilst re-establishing the area’s rich historic charm and urban character.” The language of such documents tells a very interesting story.  There is an explicit perspective within the Scheme of Special Planning Control that the area of Grafton Street has somehow lost some form of character that needs to be re-established or reinvigorated. How this is to be achieved is perceived to require a set of processes that promotes certain forms of land-use over and above others.

In drawing on an imaginary of some unspecified ideal time, the document naturalises the connection between elements such as prestigious forms of consumption and architectural conservation: “A number of uses on Grafton Street are of special significance through their long association with the street. Businesses such as Brown Thomas, Weir and Sons and Bewley’s Cafe are now an essential part of the street’s character and continue in the tradition of providing prestigious products and fine service in high quality surroundings.” When taken at face-value, such language might seem innocuous, and it is difficult to dispute the relative importance of such establishments to the commercial core of Dublin. However, when looked at in more detail, I would argue that in privileging the connection between what are deemed as prestigious land-uses with notions of ‘character’, the SSPC presents an elitist ideal of what the street should be, and, by connection, whether it is intended or not, who Grafton Street is for.

This is not a desire to argue for the retention or promotion of poor signage and shop fronts (however they may be defined), but to seek to expand the remit of what is valued beyond the supposed virtues of exclusive high-end retail and a loosely defined notion of what the street is imagined to once have been. From a broader perspective, it can be argued that in light of the evolution of Dublin over the last number of decades, Grafton Street – and Dublin city centre more generally – has to distinguish itself to compete with the out-of-town centres. Yet, there is also a need to at least try to imagine or think through what the social life of the street might actually look like if the vision of the SSPC, as it currently stands, is achieved. Would it still be a container of a rich variety of social life that it is today? Would it be the street of buskers and flower sellers? Would it still be the street on which younger age-groups gather outside McDonald’s?

The street has and will evolve in response to the dynamics of wider social and market changes. Yet, there also seems to be a need to actually think through what the social dynamics of such streets are beyond the conception of notions of urban character and heritage-value as being directly connected to upmarket land-uses alone. Celebrating those social dynamics of the present and recent past which serve to define the everyday life of Grafton Street rather than decrying some loosely defined imaginary of what has supposedly been lost would be a start to such.

Philip Lawton

City branding is a tricky thing.  Cities are complex constellations of people, places, and events that although perhaps characterised by particular overarching ‘auras’ are nevertheless experienced in subjective ways.  Moreover, city branding is also generally concerned with presenting a marketable version of the city that can be used to attract inward investment.  So there is a constant tension then between giving voice to a version of the city that is reflective of the reality of urban life and presenting one that is going to be appealing to an external audience.  Even outside of such economic concerns, there are many different ways to represent the city in both positive and negative terms.  The city is a many-splendored thing that also encompasses the less desirable aspects of urban life that banding campaigns tend to obfuscate.

This may have been a lesson learnt by many in Ireland’s capital last week when the Uniquely Dublin competition announced its perhaps unlikely winning entry.  Uniquely Dublin was organised by Dublin City Council and the Little Museum, along with Tourism Ireland and Dublin Bus.  The competition website gave the following instructions:

“We’re looking for entries that celebrate Dublin today. If you have something original to say, we want to hear it. Show us something that surprises or delights us. It could be a cartoon of your favourite character or a poem on Sandymount Strand. It could be a poster for the new Dublin or a piece of local slang as we’ve never seen or heard it before. It could be a painting, a slogan, a piece of propaganda or even a song. Make us look at Dublin with fresh eyes. Your eyes.  All you have to do is make a piece of work in one of the competition categories [film, animation, photography, graphic design, written word, visual arts, music] and send it to us. Works will be shortlisted by our distinguished panel of judges and then the public will decide the overall winner”.

Some of the shortlisted entries (which can be viewed here and here) are earnest in tone, but the eventual winner took a more irreverent approach to representing the city.  The winning video entry entitled “Dublin City: a Radical Science Guide”, produced by Oisin Byrne and Gary Farrelly, has been described as “Flann O’Brien-esque satire” by the competition organisers.  In the video we are guided through a Dublin where Liffey water cures syphilis, the national parliament shares its premises with Europe’s largest brothel, and the Spire is a commemoration of Ireland’s space programme.  But as with any satire worth its salt, underneath the absurdity the video also presents an exaggerated depiction of current social realities in Ireland: gorgeous Georgian frontages masking cheap social housing and ‘Grafton Street’ a consumer wasteland of boarded-up shops.

Though tongue-in-cheek the video stands in clear contrast to the version of Ireland Inc that has been presented to the world, a depiction that frequently underplays the impacts of austerity in favour of putting a positive spin on the country.  That the overall winner of Uniquely Dublin was decided by public vote is perhaps significant.  Who knows, maybe the fantastical depiction of Dublin presented in Byrne and Farrelly’s video seemed more real to the voting public than the rosy outlook of the official discourse.

Cian O’Callaghan