Dr Gavin Brown

Lecturer in Human GeographyDr Gavin Brown

Contact Details

  • Tel: 0116 252 3858
  • Email: gpb10@le.ac.uk
  • Fax: 0116 252 3854
  • Office: Bennett Building F57

Research Interests

I am a social and cultural geographer interested in individual and collective identities in relation to processes of social change.  My work primarily investigates how ‘social movements’ (in the broadest sense) articulate a sense of shared identity in order to alter social relations in specific locations and at different spatial and temporal scales.  In examining these questions, my work expands beyond the traditional boundaries of social and cultural geography to consider political and economic issues in both historical and contemporary settings.

To date, most of my academic research has been concerned with the spatiality of gay men’s lives and the potential for reworking geographical applications of queer theory. I am currently engaged in three overlapping research projects, which are outlined below in greater detail.  These are:

  • Geographies of sexuality: diverse economies and ordinary cities;
  • Geographies of solidarity and social movement activism;
  • Young people’s identities, aspirations and the future.

Two cross-cutting interests run through all these projects.  These are:

  • A concern for how social change in conceptualised and envisioned; and,
  • The lived experience of time and different ways of relating to the future.

Geographies of Sexuality: diverse economies and ordinary cities

I am best known for my work on sexual geographies. There are two strands to my work on the geographies of sexuality.
My current research is developing a theoretical model for charting the diverse economies of lesbian and gay life and articulating the sexual politics of austerity. To this end, I have undertaken studies of the non-commercial, autonomous spaces created by anarchist-inspired radical queer networks. I have also reconsidered sites of cruising and public homosex as a unique form of ‘commons’ that fosters a unique set of socio-sexual interactions between non-heterosexual men beside the mainstream commercial gay leisure economy.  I am currently conducting historical research on the archives of lesbian and gay social movements from the 1970s and 1980s that offered alternative models of gay life to the metropolitan-focused lifestyles and economies that were being consolidated at that time.

I have used the diverse economies approach to challenge the focus of sexual geographies on inner city leisure economies in the metropolitan centres of the Global North – applying a comparative ‘ordinary cities’ approach to the study of urban sexual geographies, and bringing the whole city back into view, demonstrating that all aspects of the urban infrastructure and built environment are structured by normative assumptions about sexuality. This has spurred a new line of research considering English provincial gay life beyond metropolitan centres.

Geographies of solidarity and social movement activism

I have an interest in the spatiality of social movement activism. I have published research on the spaces of radical queer activism in Britain and Europe. The main focus of my current work on social movements is a Leverhulme Trust funded project recording the historical geographies of British anti-apartheid solidarity activism in the 1980s. This project examines important questions about the transformative power of standing in solidarity with distant others. Specifically it examines the history of the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy in London.  The (mostly) very young supporters of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group (City Group) maintained a constant presence outside the embassy in Trafalgar Square, between April 1986 and January 1990, achieving their goal to remain until Nelson Mandela was released from prison.  Their political cause was serious, but their practice was infused with youthful exuberance.  Solidarity is at the heart of this historical account of how the Non-Stop Picket practiced its politics and the transformative effects being in solidarity had on the consciousness of its youthful protagonists.  Rather than simply tell the story of the Non-Stop Picket, this project examines the long-term impact on the lives of picketers of being non-stop against apartheid. For further details of this project, see: http://nonstopagainstapartheid.wordpress.com

Through my work on the Non-Stop Picket, I have become part of the Protest Camps research collective.  Together we have organised a number of workshops and conference sessions examining trans-disciplinary approaches to the study (and practices) of historical and contemporary protest camps, occupations and other forms of long-term, emplaced protests.

With others in the department (Kraftl, Pickerill and Upton) I theorized different conceptualisations of ‘transition’ and social transformation. This work examined recent academic and policy debates around sustainability transitions (and the transition to a low carbon economy) by setting these specific uses of the concept of ‘transition’ in dialogue with previous theorizations of individual and societal transitions (e.g transitions across the lifecourse; post-socialist transitions; and, the transition to a post-apartheid state in South Africa). This work seeks to expand current debates about sustainability transitions to question what the end goal of these transitions is conceived to be and to challenge normative assumptions about the actors included in these processes to advance greater environmental justice and the inclusion of diverse publics in them.

Young people’s identities, aspirations and the future

Young people and even children were central to sustaining the Non-Stop Picket.  In addition to examining questions of solidarity and protest, this research questions what those young people’s youthful engagement with global political issues can reveal about adolescence?  Through their shared commitment to anti-apartheid solidarity, these diverse young people grew up together and learnt to cope with the everyday pressures of adolescence.  The anti-apartheid movement was not a backdrop to these young people’s adolescence; I argue they grew up through their political engagement.  This research argues that young activists’ political commitments are always entangled with the everyday politics of adolescence. It questions accepted understandings of who young activists are, whether ‘radicalised’ youth are a social problem, and what it meant to grow up in Britain in the 1980s.
As part of my broader interest in conceptions of social change, a final strand of my research has examined young people’s aspirations and ambitions for adult life. Work funded by a Royal Geographical Society Small Research Grant (entitled “The place of aspirations: emotional geographies of young people’s ambitions for adult life”) examined the emotional consequences of young people’s involvement in initiatives designed to raise their educational and career aspirations. I have argued that while the growth of a politics of aspiration since 1997 seeks to mobilise young people to advance the competitiveness of the British economy globally, it also serves to fix in place those working class youths whose ‘aspirations’ are not deemed to be high enough to contribute to this national project. Previous findings from this research can be read at: http://placeofaspirations.wordpress.com/

 

External Activities

  • Editorial Board Member, Social and Cultural Geography (2011 – present)
  • Editorial Board Member, Geography Compass (2012 – present)
  • Member of the ESRC Peer Review College (2013 onwards)
  • Chair of the Space, Sexualities and Queer Research Group of the RGS-IBG (2009 – 2012)

PhD Supervision

Current

  • Thomas Grant - ‘Educational Aspirations in Place and Beyond Place’ (with John Williams, Sociology)
  • Grace Sykes - ‘Perceived risks of university to past, present and future students’ (with Dr Peter Kraftl)

Completed

  • Ali Abubrig – ‘Towards a Holistic Islamic Urbanism: Planning for Tripoli in the New Libya’ (with Dr Angus Cameron, School of Management).
  • Adam Barker - ‘(Re­)Ordering the New World: Settler Colonialism, Space, and Identity’ (with Dr Jenny Pickerill)

Research Areas for PhD Supervision

  • Geographies of sexualities (and applications of queer theory in geography);
  • Spaces of activism, solidarity and direct action; the spatialities of anarchist theories and practice;
  • Geographies of education and young people’s lives;
  • Urban geography – with particular interests in urban social movements tackling social inequality and injustice;

Human Geography Research Themes

Enquiries: If you are interested in studying for a PhD in one of these research areas, please make informal enquiries via geogPhD@le.ac.uk

Selected Publications

Brown, G. (forthcoming), “The revolt of aspirations: contesting neoliberal social hope,” ACME: an international e-journal for critical geographies.

Brown, G. and Yaffe, H. (2013), “Non-Stop Against Apartheid: practicing solidarity outside the South African Embassy,” Social Movement Studies 12(2): 227 – 234. DOI:10.1080/14742837.2012.704355

Mason, K, Brown, G. and Pickerill, J. (2013), “Epistemologies of participation, or what do critical human geographers know that’s of any use?” Antipode, 45 (2): 252 – 255.

Anderson, JE., Azzarello, R, Brown, G, Hogan, K, Ingram, GB, Morris, MJ and  Stephens, J (2012), “Queer ecology: A roundtable discussion”, European Journal of Ecopsychology 3: 82–103.

Brown, G. (2012), “Homonormativity: a metropolitan concept that denigrates ‘ordinary’ gay lives,” Journal of Homosexuality, 59 (7): 1065 – 1072.

Brown, G., Kraftl, P., Pickerill, J. and Upton, C. (2012), “Holding the Future Together: towards a theorisation of the diverse spaces and times of transition,” Environment & Planning A, 44: 1607 – 1623.

Springer, S, Ince, A, Brown, G, Pickerill, J. and Barker, A, J. (2012) “Reanimating Anarchist Geographies: A New Burst of Colour”, Antipode 44 (5): 1591 – 1604.

Brown, G. (2011), “Emotional geographies of young people’s aspirations for adult life,” Children’s Geographies 9 (1): 7 – 22.

Brown, G. and Browne K. (2011), “Sedgwick’s Geographies: Touching Space,” Progress in Human Geography 35 (1): 121 – 131.

Brown, G. and Pickerill, J. (2009), “Space for emotion in the spaces of activism,” Emotion, Space and Society, 2 (1): 24 – 35. doi:10.1016/j.emospa.2009.03.004

Brown, G. (2009), “Thinking beyond homonormativity: performative explorations of diverse gay economies,” Environment & Planning A. 41: 1496 – 1510. doi:10.1068/a4162
Updated and reprinted in Portuguese as: Brown, G. (2013), “Pensando Alem da Homonormatividade: Exploracoes Performativas de Economias Gays Diversifcadas” Revista Latino-Americana de Geografia e Genero 4 (1).  doi:10.5212/Rlagg.v.4.i1.3045

Brown, G. (2008), “Ceramics, Clothing and Other Bodies: affective geographies of homoerotic cruising encounters,” Social and Cultural Geography, 9(8): 915 – 932.

Full listing of publications

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