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Representing, Reproducing, and Reconfiguring the Nation: Geographies of Youth Citizenship and Devolution

  • Sarah MillsEmail author
  • Jonathan Duckett
Living reference work entry
Part of the Geographies of Children and Young People book series (GCYP, volume 7)

Abstract

While children’s geographers have showcased the diverse political engagements of young people at the local and global scale – not least in this volume – less attention has perhaps been directed to those at the national scale. Furthermore, in a UK context, devolution is having an increasingly important role in shaping young people’s everyday lives. This chapter highlights how the practices and performances of youth citizenship “take place” within shifting policy landscapes and understandings of national identity. Overall, the chapter reviews literature and current debates on “representing and reproducing the nation” and “national identities and devolution” within political geography and asks what these might mean for those who study the everyday lifeworlds of children and young people. It also highlights some key studies in children’s geographies and the social sciences that engage with ideas of national identity. Finally, the chapter provides two brief examples of current research projects that engage with youth citizenship, national identity, and the “political” in the context of UK devolution.

Keywords

Nation Devolution Youth Citizenship Geographies Scotland Wales National Citizen Service Commonwealth Games Independence referendum 

1 Introduction

Children’s geographers and those from other disciplinary backgrounds studying the political engagements of children and young people have often highlighted the relevance and importance of the national scale. Indeed, the empirically focused chapters in this collection firmly locate their studies within unique national contexts or historical genealogies of nation building (e.g., Azmi et al. in Sri Lanka or Cottrell Studemeyer in Estonia; see also Jeffrey and Staeheli, “Learning Citizenship: Civility, Civil Society and the Possibilities of Citizenship,” this volume). And yet, the core focus of geographical inquiry tends to remain on the local engagements of young people or the global processes influencing young people’s lives (see also Hopkins 2010; Hopkins and Alexander 2010 on this debate). This theme also relates to some wider discussions in children’s geographies about the role of scale in micro- and macrolevel analyses (Ansell 2009; Holloway 2014) and the connections and relationships between the local, national, and global scale in shaping young people’s everyday lifeworlds (Hopkins 2007; Katz 1994; Massey 1998). Furthermore, this scholarship is set against a backdrop of lively and critical conceptual debate on scale within academic geography (e.g., Herod 2010; Jones and Fowler 2007; Marston 2000; Marston et al. 2005; Marston and Mitchell 2004). Nations, and the social construction of nations, have long-standing, powerful, and enduring connections with childhood and youth , utilizing them as key ideological tropes within shifting moral landscapes of citizenship (Gagen 2004a; Mills 2013). It is important to note however that studies on representing and reproducing the nation in political geography have perhaps not fully explicated how discourses of childhood are mobilized and enacted. Furthermore, despite the primacy of identity as a core focus within children’s geographies (Holloway and Valentine 2000a), studies attending to how young people construct, understand, and perform national identity remain surprisingly marginal, as Hopkins (2010) notes (see also Hopkins and Alexander 2010). Indeed, back in 2000, Holloway and Valentine outlined that “one set of issues which has attracted relatively little attention, either in children’s and young people’s geographies, or the new social studies of childhood more generally, concerns the relations between child, childhood, nation, national identity and nationalism” (2000b, p. 336; see also Stephens 1997). In this chapter, we chart the “place” of the nation within the context of debates on young people, politics, and citizenship and also offer some timely reflections on devolution in a UK context – a process reconfiguring nations and national identities in complex ways. In geographical research, devolution has remained a topic firmly located within the subdisciplines of political and economic geography, with studies often centered on public policy and planning (Goodwin et al. 2005; Jones et al. 2005; Shaw and MacKinnon 2011; Woolvin et al. 2014). Here, we argue that most of the opportunities and challenges for young people living in the UK to engage “politically” are increasingly influenced or shaped by the geographies of devolution and that there is scope for these socio-spatial relationships to be further interrogated.

There are important distinctions between citizenship and national identity (Edensor 2002; Kong 1999; Mavroudi 2008; Nagel and Staeheli 2004; Yarwood 2013) and by extension youth citizenship and young people’s national identities (Philo and Smith 2003; Scourfield et al. 2006; Staeheli and Hammett 2010; Skelton 2013; Weller 2007). However, ideas of both nationalism and citizenship are inscribed onto youth (as well as negotiated and resisted; see Section 3). There are also a raft of associated concepts and ideas in relation to young people’s political identities, including belonging and participation. However, it is not the aim of this chapter to map out this conceptual and definitional terrain, or how these concepts are shaped by social difference and globalization, but rather to highlight and review the scholarship surrounding, firstly, representing and reproducing the nation and, secondly, national identities and devolution – with specific reference to children and young people. Both of these lines of inquiry are then illustrated through some contemporary examples relating to our current individual programs of research.

2 Youth and Representing the Nation

In 2007, Rhys Jones and Carwyn Fowler importantly drew attention to “the geographical contexts within which nations are reproduced” and “the geographical concepts and processes that inform the ongoing reproduction of nations” (p. 332; see also Jones 2008; Newman and Passi 1998). Indeed, nations are sustained through staged and imaginative geographies, through the “stories, images, landscapes, scenarios, historical events, national symbols and rituals which…give meaning to the nation” (Hall 1992, p. 293; see also Anderson 1983; Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983; Gellner 1983). Geographers have illustrated and elucidated how discursive meanings around the “place” of the nation are shaped by everyday representations, landscapes, and sites of memory, for example, through film, ceremonies, and material culture (Edensor 2002), monuments (Johnson 1995), architecture (Lorimer 2001), streets and public space (Azaryahu 1997), other expressions and embodied performances (Radcliffe 1999), and powerful imaginative geographies in (post)colonial contexts (Phillips 1997; Radcliffe 1996).

In relation to children and young people, Phillips’ (1997) work is noteworthy for examining how children’s adventure literature between the eighteenth and twentieth century mapped out European and non-European places and people along axis of race, gender, class, and nation. These fictional texts “opened up a cultural space,” where, for example, “readers living in the separate and independent Australian colonies, were able to imagine Australia as a nation within the British empire” (Phillips 1997, p. 87). Other studies have analyzed the symbolic and performative “place” of youth in telling national narratives and stories. For example, Lily Kong and Brenda Yeoh’s (1997) study of National Day Parades in Singapore between 1965 and 1994 identified that a “consistent message” in these parades and related material was “youthfulness,” emphasizing “the importance of youth in nation-building and the relative youthfulness of Singapore as a nation” (1997, p. 232). Here, they argue that a combination of ritual and spectacle at these parade events facilitated the communication of ideas and meanings about the nation and national identity. Indeed, similar themes can be seen in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, with the choreographed performance communicating ideas about the UK, for example, around voluntarism and the National Health Service (Yarwood 2013). It is worth highlighting here the explicit references to, and performances of, youth within that “one-off” ceremony. For example, not only did the ceremony prominently feature connections to childhood and children’s literature as a celebration of imagination and creativity (e.g., J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and P. L. Travers’ Mary Poppins), but more powerfully, it firmly located young people at the heart of the event through a group of young UK athletes lighting the Olympic torch in the finale as an embodiment of the Games’ slogan “Inspire a Generation” (for further studies on children and their position within projects of the nation, see Millei 2014). Despite these clear connections between youth and the nation, the focus within work on geographies of the nation and nationalism does tend to be adult centric (on the political geographies of children and young people more broadly, see editorial introduction; Philo and Smith 2003; Skelton 2013; Kallio and Mills 2015). However, several studies by geographers have importantly examined the institutional geographies of “learning” to be citizens, a process necessarily entwined with national narratives and constructions of identity, alongside the promotion of other scalar connections to local and global communities.

Cultural and historical geographers have considered the subtle forms of governance and citizenship training embedded within schemes such as the Youth Hostels Association (Matless 1998) and country code (Merriman 2005) and their connections to rural landscapes and nationhood. There have also been more overt forms of informal citizenship training in rural and urban spaces through British youth organizations – voluntary uniformed schemes that enrolled children and young people into structured programs as an “instruction” in good citizenship (Mills 2013). Formal education and schooling are also closely connected to ideas of nationhood and citizenship; indeed, as key sites for children and young people, schools shape and reproduce diverse place-based and social identities (Collins and Coleman 2008). Previous work on schools, nationhood, and empire – primarily by historical geographers – has analyzed the content of classroom textbooks and educational resources for overt representations of nationalistic ideas, as well as highlighting the powerful role of associated spaces such as playgrounds and other learning environments in shaping national understandings and moral geographies (de Leeuw 2009; Gagen 2000; Maddrell 1996; Ploszajska 1994, 1996). In a more contemporary context, Matt Benwell’s (2014) research on secondary schools in Argentina and the Falkland Islands has considered the role of the educator in the delivery of educational materials (see also Gruffudd 1996). He discusses how some teachers did not blindly reproduce these texts, but instead engaged young people by facilitating space for them to think critically or actively challenge overt narratives of nationalism. Additionally, Benwell suggests that when considering seemingly banal forms of nationalism exhibited in the classroom (see also Billig 1995; Jones and Merriman 2005), it should be recognized that these are locally produced and performed, understood through wider connections and interpretations between other spatial scales such as the region. While this work has developed understandings of how the nation may be produced through the role of educational materials and teachers within the context of the school, there remains scope for further research with children and young people themselves, considering how they receive (and potentially negotiate) this information. These themes have appeared in work on the contemporary geographies of citizenship education. For example, Susie Weller (2007) explored teenagers’ experiences of undertaking citizenship education, introduced into the UK National Curriculum in 2002. She found a statistical relationship between “how participants felt they were regarded by teachers and their level of interest in citizenship education… all of those participants who felt treated like children during citizenship lessons did not like the subject” (2007, p. 79). Furthermore, her qualitative research highlighted how some of the assumptions within citizenship education “presupposes, to some degree, that teenagers are not already engaged in acts of citizenship” (2007, p. 70) and her participants had a divided response to a sense of “belonging” across the local, national, and global scale. The emergence of more fluid and relational understandings of citizenship, as expressed by Weller’s (2007) participants, does raise questions about the perceived decline in affiliation to the nation-state. It is important to stress however that “citizenship education should be seen as a tool in nation- and polity-building” (Staeheli and Hammett 2010) in diverse international contexts. Overall, there remains far greater scope to examine young people’s roles within the reproduction of national ideologies and nation building, as well as how these help to construct (or challenge) their own understandings and sense of national identity.

3 Young People’s National Identities and “ Devolved” Youth

A core focus of scholarship within children’s geographies is “on those everyday spaces in and through which children’s identities and lives are made and remade” (Holloway and Valentine 2000c, p. 9). While the above section outlined how spaces such as schools and youth organizations act as sites for the (re)production of national ideas and discursive meanings about the nation and “good citizens,” this section focuses more explicitly on young people’s own articulations and understandings of their national identities. As Del Casino Jr states, “concepts of social identity and subjectivity are both perceived and experienced differently across the lifecourse” (2009, p. 186), and it is therefore vital that children and young people’s own understandings of the nation and national identities are considered worthy of scholarly attention. The idea that identity is complex, relational, multifaceted, and diverse is now firmly located at the heart of social and cultural geography (Jackson 2014). Indeed, national identity intersects with axis of social difference including class, gender, race, religion, sexuality, (dis)ability, and, in the context of this chapter, age. Diasporic and transnational identities are also important (see Kong 1999; Mavroudi 2008), for example, in how migration in childhood can influence national identity construction (Trew 2009), how young people navigate competing discourses of national identity in divided societies (Leonard 2012), and more broadly in terms of expanding notions of relational citizenship (Hörschelmann and El Refaie 2014).

There have been some important, if not still relatively isolated, studies in the specific area of young people’s national identities. Holloway and Valentine (2000b) explored how other national identities are imagined and understood by children through analyzing “the online interactions between children in 12 British and 12 New Zealand schools” and “their imaginative geographies of each other” (p. 335). The corresponding visions of the 13-year-olds’ different spatial locations varied between descriptive and more nuanced understandings, whereas their imagined perceptions of people and daily lives garnered more emotional responses, for example, the frustrations of some children from New Zealand over the ways in which British children drew upon stereotypes of Australia. Overall, Holloway and Valentine found that “perceptions of each other were a complex mix of highly stereotypical understandings of difference, as well as assumptions of sameness across boundaries” (2000b, p. 353). In another project that explored ideas of nations and nationality, but with younger primary-school-aged children from Edinburgh, Scotland and Syracuse, New York, Euan Hague (2001) collected 127 drawn pictures “about Scotland.” The Scottish children’s drawings drew on historically recognized and essentialized symbols of nationhood, for example, the saltire and tartanry, whereas those from New York State tended to draw houses, hills, mountains, kilts, and bagpipes. Hague concludes that “stereotypical ‘emblem images’ are an important means through which children distinguish nations and that these images are, particularly for residents of the nation concerned, intertwined with personal experiences” (2001, p. 92).

Beyond ideas of representation, the work of Peter Hopkins has cemented the importance of the national scale and national identities in young people’s geographies. The core of Hopkins’ work to date has examined the lives of young Muslim men in Scotland (2004, 2007; although see Hopkins and Hill 2006 on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and Hopkins 2014 on young Sikh men). In doing so, his research has contributed to debates on gender, religion, race, and age within social geography. Of particular relevance to this chapter’s discussion is that firstly, Hopkins’ research illustrates the importance of “Scottishness” as a concept in understanding “the claims of national identity made by the young Muslim men, highlighting the multiple ways that the young men feel simultaneously included and excluded from being Scottish” (2004, p. 260) and, secondly, that Hopkins has explicitly outlined the difference that Scotland makes/made to his research, especially on race and racism (2008). These factors include “continuities and connections between the Scottish context and that of the rest of the UK,” but also “discontinuities and disjunctures” (2008, p. 114). Hopkins also flags up how issues relating to Scottish politics and governance mattered in diverse ways when considering the geographies of race and racism. This discussion leads directly into the next focus of this chapter on devolution.

Devolution in the UK in the late 1990s led to the formation of the National Assembly for Wales , Scottish Parliament, and Northern Ireland Assembly. The significance and reach of this new legislative landscape has reshaped the British state in complex ways (Goodwin et al. 2005; Hardill et al. 2006; Jones et al. 2005; Shaw and MacKinnon 2011; on devolution in non-UK contexts, see Hough and Jeffery’s 2006 edited volume; Rodiguez-Pose and Gill 2003). Geographical research on devolution has tended to focus on the political and economic “institutional unevenness” as the state has been “filled in” (Goodwin et al. 2005, p. 433), and although there is a broader interest in the identity politics of Celtic regions (Harvey et al. 2001), the focus in the literature remains firmly on public policy and practices of governance (Raco 2003; Jones et al. 2004). This focus on policy and governance is incredibly important; indeed, children’s geographers have critically demonstrated how policy and reforms, for example on education, directly influence young people’s lives (Holloway and Pimlott-Wilson 2012; see Kraftl et al. 2012 for a range of studies on international policy contexts and youth). However, the impact of devolution and state restructuring on young people’s lived experiences, political engagements, and sense of identity is also worthy of study. There are some isolated studies from the social sciences within this vein. For example, a 2009 study by Mark Drakeford and colleagues examined the views of children from Wales aged 8–11 on their “perspectives on different levels (and places) of government” (2009, p. 247). Here, the various scales of governance (in this case, the UK parliament and Welsh Assembly) were explored, with children discussing issues of decision-making and the impacts of national and broader-scale government on their local, everyday lives. Ultimately, the authors found that notions of civic identity were present, in the form of “a rather diffuse and (as yet) shallowly rooted sense of ‘Welshness’ [that] is accompanied by sharper dimensions of civic awareness, in which localism matters most” (Drakeford et al. 2009, p. 263). Indeed, national civic institutions “reinforced” and “validated” this notion of “Welshness,” but the authors found that “without some reinforcement, either at home or at school, civic institutions, by themselves, provide only a weak and background contribution to ‘Welsh’ identity formation” (Drakeford et al. 2009, p. 262; see also Scourfield and Davies 2005). Overall, the connections between devolution, identity, and politics have yet to be fully engaged with by children’s geographers, especially in relation to teenagers and older young people. Clearly, work within children’s geographies has examined UK youth beyond the English context: not least, Hopkins’ research discussed earlier, but also Vincett et al. (2012) on young Christians in Scotland, Skelton (2000) on teenage girls in the Rhondda Valleys, South Wales, and Leonard (2006, 2010) on young people’s experiences of territory and place in Northern Ireland. However, the unique and nationally specific opportunities for young people currently living in the UK to engage “as citizens” (both “in the making” and “in their own right”) are changing, at the same time as the “national” itself is being reconceptualized. It is therefore an opportune moment for geographers to critically examine the spatialities and subjectivities of youth citizenship in the context of this shifting landscape.

We now turn to two brief case studies that outline our current programs of individual research and connections to youth citizenship, nationhood, and devolution. First, Mills’ project on National Citizen Service – a state-funded voluntary youth scheme launched in England in 2011 – and second, Duckett’s work on young people, the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and referendum on Scottish independence.

3.1 National Citizen Service

Over the last 30 years, successive UK governments have launched citizenship education programs, either under the auspices of tackling youth unemployment or dealing with the “democratic deficit” (Cockburn 2009). Informal citizenship training, by contrast, has been delivered through a range of voluntary youth organizations since the late nineteenth century, and this practice continues today (Mills 2013). As such, both these formal and informal arenas – discussed as young people’s spaces earlier in this chapter – act as a useful lens through which to critically examine wider debates on youth, voluntarism, and civil society over time (Buckingham 2002; Hilton and McKay 2011). Crucially, the nature of this service provision has been blurred in recent years through the latest incarnation of a government scheme – National Citizen Service (NCS). NCS is a short-term “citizenship training” voluntary scheme for 16- and 17-year-olds delivered through a range of charities, private sector partnerships, and youth organizations that purports to give participants “the tools to change the world around them” (NCS 2014). The 3-week NCS program involves two residential experiences and a series of training workshops and volunteering activities, culminating in a youth-led social action project to foster a “more cohesive, responsible and engaged society” (Mycock and Tonge 2011, p. 62). Between 2011 and 2013, 64,500 young people participated in NCS, with a recent IPPR “Condition of Britain” report recommending that “half of young people aged 16–17 are taking part [in NCS] by 2020” (IPPR 2014, p. 4).

An ESRC-funded project led by Mills (2014–2017) positions this new scheme within the historical context of youth citizenship development in the UK and explores the state’s motivations behind, the third sector’s engagement with, and young people’s experiences of, NCS in England. However, it is worth noting in the context of this chapter’s discussion on devolution that NCS now runs in Northern Ireland following a pilot in 2013. In addition, an NCS pilot was launched in Wales in autumn 2014. It is therefore interesting to note how this government-funded youth program has already been shaped by the landscape of UK devolution. For example, while the scheme costs young people from England £50 to attend (with bursaries available for some “hard-to-reach” groups), it was free to those on the 2014 pilot scheme in Wales (BBC 2014a). NCS articulates a vision of an ideal “national” (young) citizen, for example, as an active local volunteer, yet the scheme now “takes place” in three UK jurisdictions, each with their own unique national genealogy and relationship to the current, contested “Big Society” rhetoric within which NCS sits (Woolvin et al. 2014; Mycock and Tonge 2011). Overall, this brief overview of the emergence and delivery of NCS demonstrates how a wider moral landscape of youth citizenship can be shaped through the everyday geographies of devolution, policy, and practice.

3.1.1 The 2014 Commonwealth Games and the Scottish Independence Referendum

Duckett’s current research explores the prominence of the nation in the lives of young people through two uniquely coupled events of national significance in Scotland during the summer of 2014. This considers the sporting “mega event” of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games together with the “once-in-a-generation” political opportunity to decide the future of the nation through the referendum on Scottish independence (Sharp et al. 2014). For the first and only time anywhere in the UK, the vote was afforded to 16- and 17-year-olds living in Scotland to participate in this historic national moment. This therefore presents an important point to study the intersection of young people’s national political identity and agency as well as reflecting on whether young people fight for this enfranchisement to be extended to future elections. Indeed, this is a clear example of where the geographies of devolution are (re)shaping young people’s political geographies.

While sport has been explored by geographers as a nation-building strategy (Koch 2013) and “organizing opportunity” (Wills 2013), the performative moments of sports mega events provide important spaces for the often overt communication of national narratives and collective memory alongside more subtle and nuanced performances. Children and young people have historically been actively encouraged to participate in the support of the nation and its athletes across the world (Gagen 2004b). While many young people may independently choose to participate in these activities, it is the social construction of children and young people as constituting ‘our future’ that underlies the desire of many adults to encourage young people to participate in such performances. Ultimately, this shapes and educates future society along lines of adult idealist constructions (Collins and Coleman 2008), but fails to entitle children and young people to ‘become-other’ through their own trajectories. Rather, this privileges the developmental view that adult society holds of its aspiration for children to become like itself (Aitken et al. 2007). The 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, like other major sporting events before it, positioned children and young people as a key site to communicate visions of the nation on and through. This was exhibited in the lead up to and during the Games through the encouragement of children and young people to (re)produce the nation through competitions to design a Commonwealth tartan and mascot for the Games in support of the event and their home nation. The Commonwealth Games also partnered with the children’s charity UNICEF to “put children first” both in Scotland and around the Commonwealth, by raising money throughout the Games to help save and change children’s lives (Glasgow 2014). While these adult-led practices through the Commonwealth Games encouraged particular visions and traditions of Scotland to be imparted on and through children and young people, the independence referendum provided a space for a new generation of young voters to voice and mobilize their own ideas about the nation’s future. Overall, this project seeks to understand how newly enfranchised voters in the independence referendum engaged with official and unofficial representations and performances of Scottish national identity during the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and how these resonated with their own visions of a future Scotland as young Scottish citizens. This research also reflects on how the enfranchisement of 16- and 17-year-olds during this historic decision may affect their own engagement as citizens throughout their political life course, potentially reshaping the future political landscape of Scotland and the UK through a possible extension of the vote for this age group in all political decisions (Lewin 2014).

4 Conclusion

In 2004, Elizabeth Gagen stated that “discourses of childhood are invariably located in particular spaces: the home, school, playground, street, countryside, city, nation” (2004a, p. 407, emphasis added; see also Holloway and Valentine 2000a). This chapter has provided a broad overview of how the nation is represented and reproduced in relation to such discourses of childhood, as well as reconfigured through young people’s lived experiences and own articulations and understandings of national identity. Throughout this chapter, we have charted some of the core geographical studies in these areas and introduced summaries of our individual programs of current research. In part, these projects reflect on the impact of devolution in a UK context for young people’s engagement with “politics” (broadly defined; see editorial introduction) (Kallio and Mills 2015). For example, in the most basic sense, one can observe how, during the summer of 2014, 16- and 17-year-olds living in Scotland would not have been eligible to participate in “National Citizen Service” – the voluntary scheme designed to encourage young people to become active citizens – as the program is so far only running in England and Northern Ireland (with a pilot in Wales). However, young people of exactly those age ranges did have the opportunity to actively participate in the referendum on Scottish independence (BBC 2014b). This formal expression of citizenship through exercising the right to vote could be seen as a more powerful engagement with ideas of nationhood and civic identity than participating in citizenship “training.” Furthermore, this scenario highlights the fragmented and often contradictory spaces of youth citizenship and participation within the current UK political landscape, demonstrating the wider tension hinted at in this chapter between the positioning of young people as citizens “in the making” or “in their own right” within national narratives and frameworks.

In drawing this chapter to a close, it is important to again emphasize the importance of the national scale within and beyond the subdiscipline of children’s geographies. One relevant area of exciting research bringing together core themes in political geography and children’s geographies is the recent flurry of work on critical geopolitics and youth. In a co-convened session on Children, Young People and Critical Geopolitics at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference in 2013, Matt Benwell and Peter Hopkins emphasized how young people’s lives are shaped by geopolitical events (not just as victims, but as active participants too) while also importantly stressing that these events are not just “global” or “local” but also take place – and have repercussions at – the national (and regional) scale (Benwell and Hopkins 2015; see also Hopkins and Alexander 2010). Indeed, we want to echo these sentiments for more critical debate about the national scale as well as to make a wider call in the context of this volume on politics, citizenship, and rights for more scholarship that critically engages with concepts of national identity, nationalism, and, in certain geographical contexts, devolution. Overall, we would argue that the “place” of the nation both shapes, and is shaped by, the lives of children and young people and that there is far greater scope for more dialogue between political and children’s geographers on the themes of representing, reproducing, and reconfiguring the nation.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyLoughborough UniversityLeicestershireUK

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