Climate and the Working Academic

Part of the (re)growing night train network in Europe

I’ve been a environmental activist since I was in my teens. I stood for the Green Party as a student, I was a direct action activist against road-building, illegal logging on Indigenous lands, and much more. I’ve never learned to drive a car, and that was entirely deliberate. We built a Passive House, and are aiming at a net-zero life (you can read more about that here).

But there is one aspect of my life as a working academic that is difficult to reconcile with this, and that is flying. Air travel is one of the worst sources of greenhouse gasses and it’s even worse because the emissions occur higher in the atmosphere. And yet, academics fly a lot. Partly this is about conferences – scholarly associations do love to have their events scattered all over the world – but partly it’s about research – we have to go to places to do observation, interviews etc. etc. – don’t we?

Well, perhaps not. Or perhaps we are not being imaginative enough. The pandemic has shown that many smaller seminars and workshops can happens perfectly well via the internet, and with VR, that’s only going to improve. I don’t think our Surveillance Studies Centre seminars, which have been entirely virtual this year, have been worse, indeed we’ve been able to invite people from further afield than we would normally do. I’d also argue that a lot of more distant research visits could be replaced by a combination of internet connection and on-the-ground work carried out via partnerships with local researchers.

I don’t think we can replace the magic of face-to-face interaction and chance meeting and discussion entirely. But we can minimise the environmental damage we do. A lot of this is strcutural and therefore it is a matter for funding agencies, scholarly associations and universities. We should be seeing research funding taking into account excessive travel proposals when evaluating grant applications etc.

But I think it is also necessary that we take personal action, especially those of us who in the most priviledged academic positions. My personal climate pledge is this: I will take no more than one long-haul return flight a year from now on –– forever. I’m not going to be doing lots of short-haul flights either –generally speaking, I will take none– but I do leave open the possibility that I would take one very occasionally.

This is ‘inconvenient’ but it just means I have to take decisions about what I do, when, and where I go. For example, I know the Surveillance & Society / Surveillance Studies Network Conference is every two years, in Europe. This means I can plan for a month-long conference / research and friends and family visit trip in 2022: I’ll be doing 4 conferences (ICA – Paris, SSN – Rotterdam, EuroS&P – Genoa, Beyond Smart Cities – Malmo), a mountain marathon in Leichenstein, and visiting family & friends in the UK, all by train (mainly night trains) and ferry. 2023 will have to be a family trip to Japan, but could also involve a significant research visit.

If I’m invited anywhere else overseas outside of this, I will either insist on virtual presentation or if that is not possible, I will just turn it down. I’ve been working out how to get to places I might need to go in Canada and the USA. It’s possible to get to most major cities by train. You just have to accept it’s going to to take longer, but since you can work on trains, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the worst part of it is generally the Canadian elements: Canada desperately needs to invest in its railways and espcially in frequency and speed. It’s ridiculous that you can’t get to Montreal or Ottawa from Kingston much before midday. Anyway, we’ll find out how well this is going to work when I go to New York by train via Montreal, in April next year.

Now, who’s going to join me?

SSN 2014 Barcelona



Thursday 24th – Saturday 26th April 2014

Contemporary surveillance is characterised by ambiguities and asymmetries. Surveillance results from different desires and rationales: control, governance, security, profit, efficiency but also care, empowerment, resistance and play.

Furthermore it can have both positive and negative outcomes for individuals and these may lead to intended or unintended consequences. Surveillance is never neutral. Surveillance is always about power and that power is increasingly asymmetric. Surveillance practices are also changing and as ‘smart’ surveillance systems proliferate utilising and generating ‘Big Data’ new forms of ambiguity and asymmetry arise. In this context the conference wishes to explore the key themes.

Check our registration guidelines and fees.

Please contact the conference organisers with any questions:

Negotiating (In)visibilities

There’s an interesting new research network called ‘Negotiating (In)visibilies‘, one of those fascinating interdisciplinary collaborations (or collisions) that spans architcture, urban studies, cultural studies, arts and information (and probably). I’ve been asked to be an advisor and will also be giving one of the keynotes at what looks to be a really great opening confererence in Copenhagen, February 1-2 2012. Should be fun!


Royal Geographical Society-Insitute of British Geographers (RGS-IBG) Annual Conference, Edinburgh UK, 3-5th July 2012.

Call for papers, sponsored by the Surveillance Studies Network / Surveillance & Society

“Surveillant Geographies”

Convened by David Murakami Wood (Queen’s University, Ontario) and Steve Graham (Newcastle University)

In this era of risk and security, surveillance is intensifying, expanding, rescaling and reterratorializing. New  organisational practices, new technologies and new spaces of surveillance are replacing, adding to or overlaying existing forms. Surveillance is becoming something that is far removed from the binaries of State/Citizen, Public/Private or Self/Other. Surveillance is both being globalized and at the same time enables neoliberal economic globalization and military power projection. But beyond this there is a complex and contingent spatiality and temporality to surveillance. Nation-states and national cultures still matter, however, the most significant differences are not national. Surveillance is increasingly not only targeted at the unwilling masses, but is something embraced by a mobile global elite to ensure the predictability and safety of in the spaces in which they live and work. Specialized marketing combined with revanchist redevelopment are generating material and virtual sociospatial forms that come with surveillance ‘built in’. At the same time, globalization means a shift to more fragmented, uneven and dangerous spaces for many, where what is not seen matters as much as what is. There is an emerging geography of secure and surveilled enclaves counterposed to spaces of exclusion and disappearance, at every scale. Surveillance is also becoming a feature of everyday interpersonal practice through social media and consumer culture, and this too has complex relationships with the construction of space.

We invite submissions on any aspect of the geographies of surveillance. Key topics could include:

The globalization, reterritorialization and rescaling of surveillance
Critiques of dominant theorizations of surveillance, and new directions from / in geography
Comparative studies of surveillance
The political economy of surveillance
Surveillance, intelligence and the ‘war on terror’
Emerging geographies of surveillance, e.g. social networks, online gameworlds etc.
Historical geographies of surveillance
Surveillance and culture(s)
Reaction and resistance to surveillance
Geographies of openness, transparency and exteriority
Geographies of closure, privacy and interiority

Please send a title and short abstract (max. 250 words) by Friday 20th January 2012 to the session organisers, David Murakami Wood ( and Steve Graham (

Security and Surveillance session at AAG 2012


Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, 24-28 February 2012, New York

Geographies of Security and Surveillance

Convened by David Murakami Wood, Queen’s University, Ontario, and Steve Graham, Newcastle University UK.

This session will provide a space for the discussion of the growing interest in geographies of security and surveillance. We welcome submissions on any aspect of this broad area, but would particularly encourage papers on:

  • International comparative studies of security and surveillance
  • The political economy of security and surveillance
  • Surveillance, intelligence and the ‘war on terror’
  • The globalization, reterritorialization and rescaling of security and surveillance
  • Critiques of dominant theorizations of security and surveillance, and new directions from / in geography
  • Emerging geographies of surveillance and security, e.g. social networks, online gameworlds etc.
  • Historical geographies of security and surveillance
  • Security, surveillance and culture
  • Geographies of openness, transparency and exteriority
  • Geographies of closure, privacy and interiority

Potential presenters should first register for the meeting at:

They should then send their name, affiliation, conference ID number, and a 250-word abstract to David Murakami Wood

The deadline for submission is: 21st September 2011

Successful submitters will be notified before 28th September 2011, when the full session will be submitted to the AAG