Doctoral Study Beyond the MSc

Four of the MSc students from the 2014/2015 cohort – Jethro Brice, Catherine Midwood, Sam Berlin and Ciara Merrick – have remained in the University of Bristol’s School of Geographical Sciences to embark on PhD study. They recently completed the first year of their PhDs and are preparing to progress from being MPhil students to PhD candidates. Progressing to PhD candidacy requires students to complete an ‘upgrade’, which entails a presentation to the department and a report detailing the research to be carried out, followed by a panel discussion. Below you can view the abstracts for each of their upgrade reports, giving an idea of the topics MSc students go on to pursue in doctoral research.

Jethro Brice

Thinking Ecologies: Developing artistic practices of renaturalisation in contested wetland landscapes

This practice-led doctoral study mobilises the generative potential of art practices to explore the tangled cultures of humans and common cranes (Grus grus) in two contested and highly managed wetland environments – the wider Severn Estuary, and the Huleh Valley wetlands that mark the northern tip of the Jordan Rift Valley. In particular, contemporary drawing and animation are explored as a method for opening up ‘space to reconnect’ with the nonhuman world (Grosz, 2008; O’Sullivan, 2001). The project takes as its starting point a radically distributed ontology of nature, centred around three key problems: the continuity of the human subject with(in) nature (Massumi, 2014; Sharp, 2009), the co-implication of matter and thought in processes of worldly becoming (Bennett, 2010; Deleuze, 1991), and the politics at work in the ‘storying’ of landscape, nature and conservation (Dewsbury, 2015; Tsing, 2015; H. Lorimer & Parr, 2014). It asks what are the epistemological implications for thinking through the political, cultural and material processes that come together in the making and playing out of particular landscapes and species? This provocation informs the development of a methodological imperative, developing on Hasana Sharp’s framing of vulnerability to others as the condition of possibility for wisdom (2011, p. 41), and expressed through two methodological proposals: ‘observational drawing as situated practice’, and ‘found materials’. The submission takes the form of a series of artworks and exhibition documentation, alongside a written thesis.


Catherine Midwood

Chalk art-ing: An embodied theorization of temporary interventions in urban spaces

This project uses an embodied theorization to explore temporary interventions in urban spaces. I aim to explore how encounters with temporary interventions alter or expand bodies’ capacities, as understood through Spinoza in terms of a body’s power to act. My embodied theorization consists of five main aspects: embodied subjectivity, the senses, the materiality of the built environment, affective relations between bodies and matter, and habit. My theoretical approach will engage with theorists from a variety of disciplinary of backgrounds although key influences throughout the project include work by Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Michel Serres, Felix Ravaisson, and Elizabeth Grosz. In addition, engaging with non-representational methodologies, my fieldwork consists of holding participatory chalk art-ing events as temporary urban interventions (with a view to develop this into other kinds of interventions that are less visible) and non-representational ethnography. Chalk art makes manifest a myriad of relevant concepts such as materiality, temporality, haptics, etc. rendering it a useful method to engage with. This research will contribute to the growing field of literature on temporary interventions, geographical work on the body, sensuous geographies, and discussions about the use creative methods in geography. By bringing these elements into productive dialogue with one another, I will produce a distinctive account of temporary interventions and their implications for bodies. The project will also develop an understanding of health through the idea of bodies’ capacities, exploring the ethicopolitical implications of this research perspective.

Sam Berlin

The Sense of Capitalism: Rural-Urban Migration and Sexuality in China

China is engaged in an economic reform that has transformed the lives of nearly all Chinese people. Now, people do not fulfil the role determined by the planned economy, but are expected to serve the nation through their entrepreneurialism (Rofel 2007). Relying largely on a discourse-power analytical framework, researchers have documented the emergence of cosmopolitan desiring subjectivities like the urban gay or lala (lesbian) (Rofel 2007; Engebretsen 2005; Ho 2008). Additionally, due to the overwhelming scale of migration and the legal, economic and social inequity that underlies it, much of this research has investigated subjective change among rural-urban migrants (Hoy 2007; Kong 2012; Pun and Lu 2010; Rofel 2010; Sun 2008; 2009; 2012; 2016; Yan 2003; 2005), focusing on the uneven geographies of desire under capitalism. Left unanswered is how discourse is able to effect material change, and what besides discourse underpins the ways bodies emerge in capitalism. In this project, I hope that, by focusing on the non-discursive relations of sense and coding that (in)form (Manning 2010) bodies in ways that do not necessarily invoke or produce a subject, I can provide a deeper explanation of social change in reform-era China that shows how economies and bodies are co-constituted (Deleuze 1992; Lazzarato 2014; Massumi 2015). This will entail a change of perspective away from meaning and towards sense and affect. I propose an alternative narrative of the body in capitalism that prioritises difference, focusing on the ways that bodies are informed through sensuous processes that involve both affective relations between bodies and their (capitalist) milieus and between bodies and themselves, always preceded by a foundational difference (Deleuze 2004; Smith 2005). By bringing these insights into a situated and reflexive ethnographic practice, I will investigate what processes of information and differenciation look like through a focus on sensuous experience.


Ciara Merrick

Breathing Shared Worlds: Northern Ireland, territory and peace

This doctoral project is concerned with analysing the political materialities of self, other, community, and the embodied potentials of everyday peace building in post-conflict Belfast, Northern Ireland. It does so by mobilising Luce Irigaray’s philosophical thinking of the encounter, a relation of embodied differentiation in proximity. I argue Irigaray’s approach to encounter holds the capacity to destabilise Belfast’s territorial manifestations of zero-sum identity politics, and in so doing, reveal processes of extant peace making already present in shared worlds within everyday Belfast. Geographies of encounter can benefit from an engagement with Irigaray’s work, which provides three concepts for thinking in spaces of encounter: difference, breath and sharing. Embodied encounters invariably happen in-between a sharing of breath: a generative relation in-between the self and other within which difference is continually becoming. Such Encounters are political to the extent that they constitute the activity of everyday city life (polis).

Pockets of shared encounter already take place on a sustained basis throughout Belfast. These dynamic spaces hold the potential to transcend forms of territorialisation that pervade identity politics and its normative political processes. I argue there is a need to think with, and what is more in, these relational, shared spaces to trace how they weave alternative spatialisations of the political, and so prospectives for understanding peace. The project will engage sustained encounters within shared micro-publics of everyday Belfast by putting breath, its materialities, and movements at the centre of my research. To think with breath is to think encounter into spatial and material realms. The materiality and movement of breath is not reducible to the logical structure of language and signification. Thus, I seek to illustrate how tracing breath, both theoretically and methodologically, necessitates a conversation in-between Irigaray’s philosophical thinking and geographies of affect, non-representational theory and the thinking of new materialities. It is with an affective Irigarayan methodology I will explore spaces of encounter in Belfast city – an amateur dramatic group, Irish language classes, a community choir and ladies rugby teams – to activate a listening-to ‘breath worlds’ in life history interviewing, and co-created spaces of performative encounter.


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