Critically analyse assignment Identify: Negotiate and critically analyse adoption in Britain

Critically analyse assignment Identify: Negotiate and critically analyse adoption in Britain

For this essay it must be 1500 words. It must have all three reading in the essay. Write an essay-centered on

analysis of the close readings that bring all the sources together. It must be written in formal essay style;

however, the title is of your own choosing.

First you will read on the novel, then the notes on it, then on the 3 concepts. And that is when you have to

state which of them out of the three to have chose to write about in the essay as well. They would be either

Human-Nature Relation, Anthropocentrism or place. It must be clear in the introduction(and/or essay title) which

concept you are looking at.
Then you will read up on the Extract: Key thinkers on Space and Place in: Key thinkers on space & place/

edited by Phil Hubbard, Rob Kitchin & Gill Valentine. London: Thousand Oaks:Sage, 2004.pp306-310,330-336.

Here you look at the ideas and issues it is trying to articulate. Draw from it directly in to the essay: cite

it(quote passages) and work through them, referring them to the other reading . Do they agree/contradict

eachother. Analyse language closely, look for particular pharases, use of first or second person pronoun. Think

of any other effects symbol, metaphor, lyricism etc. Look at the words, shapes, patterns, movements from

paragraph/chapter to paragraph/ chapter, pay attention to its development.
Please have a reference page at the end.

Notes on Edgelands.

Vast in total area, but somehow unnoticed, it is a mess of scattered wasteland, unkempt shrub and frayed

grassland, randomly littered with the unloved infrastructural organs of our frantic society. Amid scruffy

fields, bits of woodland and overgrown derelict sites lie marshalling yards, car-crushing establishments, sewage

treatment works and travellers’ encampments. There are no visitor centres or tourist offices, but, instead, a

self-seeded dreamscape has emerged. Wildlife diversity here is often far greater than in the surrounding

countryside and many of the structures are more fascinating than those of nearby towns and cities.
Marion Shoard (review of Edgelands, Oberserver 6 March, 2011).
Background: Edgelands and the Question of Human Contact with Nature
Something new is at stake. Twentieth century environmentalism has successfully deleted the hubristic human

subject from the scene of nature. In addition to this, ecologists have killed off an old version of what we used

to mean by the word ‘nature’ ‘ something independent from us. So how now to fit the human back into the site of

nature/ crisis / wellbeing via writing? This is an important question for students of literature, particularly

when looking at texts that we are claiming as ‘environmental’ texts. Stop for a moment to consider what is

important about this question: how might human technology (writing) enable particular relationships between

humans and the more than- human to come into being, to be distilled into works of art, and thus to come into our

collective and individual mind (culture)? How are these texts mediated to us? Who makes them available to us/

how do we access them? Moreover, how might that double cultural bind (writing-culture) relate to ‘nature’,

whether this is a concept that no longer holds ‘ as it has been deprived of its independence from us ‘ or whether

it is only conceivable now, in our moment in history, as something partly constructed/created by Humans?.

When Alice Oswald’s writes on the academic reception of her work, she restates John Kinsella’s rebuttal of

ecocriticism’s distance from the real but named world ‘ referents ‘ that operate within a poem, as they do within

a world:

Oswald: I’m continually smashing down the nostalgia in my head. And I am
trying to enquire of the landscape itself what it feels about itself rather than
bringing in advertising skills. There’s a whole range of words that people
use about landscape. Pastoral? Idyll? I can’t stand them.


Kinsella: Language comes out of ”ecological processes” because they are
scientifically constructed views of nature in any given place ‘ it becomes
impossible to separate language (poetic or otherwise) from the ecological.
”Nature” as construct is surely not the same form of discussion-point when
you are ”inside” it: referents are realities and have real implications in
terms of survival, and all genuine ”caring” about environments is
conditioned by the mode of publishing and broadcasting one’s views on
what constitutes those ”ecological processes of nature.”2

To Kinsella, poetry is political consciousness, and thus consciously beyond nature. By extension, Kinsella’s

alternative environmental imaginary of Australis deconstructs a sense of poetry as art ‘about’ a world by moving

in to place and offering up the language of place itself.3 His is a difficult project for us to contend with

right now. Lets go back to Oswald: with less transparent and self-reflective emphasis on how the human construct

(poem) might attune to and attend the unfolding poeisis (making) of the world, Oswald takes time to show you the

perspective of woods and rivers from the outside and the inside. Take a look at her work: her poetic maps and

songs of natural elements (or the non-human) are drawn from deeply embodied relationships with space that brings

forth the experience of place. Something speaks: it is not the person in place (as with Jamie), and it is not a

place without the human; it seems to be the voice of nature for humans, written in our language and yet helping

us to think in ways that are quite different to the ways of thinking that have brought our species to sit on the

verge of planetary collapse. This world is one that we have (partly) created.

Oswald has banned ‘pretty’ and ‘idyll’ from her vocabulary, but beauty survives because, “there’s a kind of

terror in beauty that I can cope with”. Immanent global crisis is not on Oswald’s mind; however, ‘balance’,

‘harmony’, ‘purity’ and particularly ‘calm’ are no longer on the horizon, no longer present on the poet of

nature’s palette. Kathleen Jamie, too, resists the (somewhat masculinised) urge to ‘escape’ and locate the wild.

Turning to prose, seeing that there is clearly something germane to poetry and other forms of language, Jamie is

invective when reading Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, in 2007:

There’s nothing wild in this country [Scotland]: every square inch of it is
‘owned’, much has seen centuries of bitter dispute; the whole landscape is
man-made, deforested, drained, burned for grouse moor, long cleared of its
peasants or abandoned by them. It’s turned into prairie, or designated by this
or that acronym; it’s subject to planning regulations and management plans.
It’s shot over by royalty, flown over by the RAF [Royal Air Force, UK], or

2 See John Kinsella, ‘The School of Environmental Poetics and Creativity’, Angelaki:
Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 14.2 (2009): 143-148. Text available here:

3 For more information, take a look at Kinsella’s dwelling project as documented by Tom
Bristow in The Australasian Journal of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology, PDF
available for download from this link:

trampled underfoot in the wind-farm gold-rush. [‘] And if we do find a
Wild Place, we can prance about there knowing that no bears or wolves will
appear over the bluff, because we disposed of the top predators centuries
ago, and if we do come unstuck there’s a fair chance that, like the man on
Ben Nevis, we’ll get a mobile signal, and be rescued.4

Critical of the Cambridge-based writer speaking of Scotland, Jamie’s review offers a
detailed thumbnail sketch of the post-pastoral in Britain i.e. landscape and countryside that is no longer a

space that is remote/ distanced/ disconnected from the ‘noise’/pollution/technology/presence of humans. In

Britain, according to Jamie, there is no outside to culture: we have gone everywhere.

Let’s take a step away form the ‘natural environment’ of wide spaces, far beyond our
cities and places of work. Let’s consider edgelands: the peripheral sites within
cityscapes, and the bleeding, fading edges of urban environments that dissolve into the rural (if such a thing ‘

‘rural’ ‘ still exists) and less human populated spaces. It might be enough for us to consider these spaces as a

hybrid of the binary opposites of rural and urban (if these terms can actually hold anymore); they might also

offer our thought processes a little more evidence of landscape as ‘man-made’, of the invisibility or non

presence of the wild.

Outline: Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness

A British Tradition
Geography has wielded a signifier for the urban phenomenon ‘edgelands’ described
above: ‘the interstitial interfacial zone between urban and rural’ (Shoard)5. As Frances Spalding has noted,

while the term is new, the space in the British imagination, freshly brandished by discourses upon this word,

has been present for some time: Somehow we know immediately the meaning of ‘edgelands’. The word
evokes zones where overspill housing estates peter out or factories give way
to black fields or scrubland; where unkempt areas become home to allotments, mobile-phone masts, sewage works,

cooling towers, dens, places of forgetting, dumping and landfill.6

4 Kathleen Jamie, ‘A Lone Enraptured Male’, London Review of Books, 30.5 (March,
2008), 25-27.
5 Marion Shoard, ‘Edgelands of Promise’ Landscapes 1.2 (2000): 74-93. See also:
Shoard et al., ‘Inspiring England’s urban fringes: multi-functionality and planning’ Local
Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability 9.3 (2004): 217-
6 The full text of Frances Spalding’s review in the Independent (25 February 2011) is
available here:


A small island, a large community; is there any space in the UK that remains untouched by humans? Is there any

space that sustains life in an ecological fashion that appears historic, or pre-historic? These might not be the

right questions. Perhaps, we might ask this: does ‘nature’ survive in ‘unkempt areas’, sights of ruin, pollution

and decay?

Mabey informs the work of Robert Macfarlane and the writers of Edgelands: Journeys Into England’s True

Wilderness, Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts. In their analysis of the ‘double life’ of canals ‘ adopted

as natural features where they cut through the countryside, dumping grounds when found in urban spaces – Farley

and Symmons Roberts question how this ‘broken network’ can be ‘reconnected and revived’ (118). It is as if this

once energised, productive, culturally important machine network (based on natural resources, i.e. the river,

and the wood of the boats) invites the authors into a weird version of nostalgia: to reclaim the past (the

energy, the vibrancy) and yet not to step back into the lifeways of the past. How to move forward in this

complicated ethical and intellectual terrain? The approach seems to be this: to offer a critically antinostalgic

text, which enables a two-fold binary to be explored: past and present, rural and urban. This is exemplified in

the author’s particular representation of an imaginary realm that seeks ‘romance’ on the canal’s narrow boats:

Just as the ancient frost fairs allowed for revelry and licentiousness, because the law of the land did not

extend to frozen lakes and rivers, so life on a canal seems to offer an escape from convention and restriction.

Walk past a mooring and your eye is drawn behind the lace curtains, where couples who have dodged the rat race

wave to you, their matching bicycles strapped to the deck of the garishly painted Lady of Shallot, kettle

whistling on the stove, and an open copy of The Wild Places on the table. Now, across England’s canal network,

boat-hire companies let you taste this reverie for anything from half a day to a fortnight. (118)

Yes, the backbone of the world’s first industrial nation has been reduced to leisure
product, to afford an affected bourgeois-conservative lifestyle ‘ who would have

Farley and Symmons Roberts seek to expose an ideology here: the possibility of escape to past-times. Tennyson’s

1833 ballad recasts Arthurian legend to evoke a lost England and incite a medieval British imaginary; and yet

his emphasis on material conditions ‘ ‘Long fields of barley and rye, That clothe the world and meet the sky’ (1

-3) suggests something beyond nostalgia. It portends a poetic subject cognate with Farley’s and Symmons Roberts’

connections between industrial capital, utilitarianism and human needs in Edgelands. However, Tennyson’s poem is

mobilised for its superficial sense of nostalgia; rather than look to a past ‘ whether to articulate an

unrealised potential in the present (Tennyson’s real subject) or for historical values ‘ the authors of Edgelands

have a singular project in mind: to keep focus on the modern. Their attention is firmly fixed on the fibre-

optics underneath the canal towpaths connecting cities, companies and communities (119); not on the less worldy

(i.e. less human-oriented) repose of the predigital age. It is thus that Macfarlane’s text, The Wild Places

(2007) is sarcastically framed within an anti-nostalgic, a-Romanticised space that belies the celebration of the

edgelands as constructed, unreal, fragmentary.

Clarifying the Space
Edgelands undertakes many excursions through terrains and academic disciplines to
articulate anti-nostalgia. In the chapter ‘Ruins’ ‘ do think about this title! ‘ genomics
offers fresh ground for polemical attack on conservative thinking.

Taking into account the term ‘progressive detachment’, Farley and Symmons Roberts unpack a naturalist’s sense of

freedom, of being out in the open, within (and part of) the wild. The underlying idea is this: genetic faults

and errors switch off certain parts of the genome over time, which results in a species being alienated from

instinctive behaviour:

If a blackbird’s genome dictates that at the first sign of spring it must make a
cup-shaped nest lined with mud and grass, then that’s what it will do. Once
that part of the genome is inactive, the animal is simultaneously blessed and
cursed. If you lose the deep, instinctive pull to make a certain kind of shelter
in a certain place at a certain time, then you can, in theory, make whatever
kind of shelter you can think of, from an igloo to a skyscraper. (165)

Next time you are in a philosophical mood, turn to this quotation and think about the
relationship that life has with history. In Farley’s and Symmons Roberts’ words ‘liberation from instinctive

behaviour’ leads to ‘the birth of civilisation’. Humans, in the
authors’ view, have evolved from a deep map of instincts; yet, due to the pull, we ‘wax lyrical about hills,

forests, rivers, moors?’ Moreover, and more wittily, the authors claim that if genetic science had not created

the term ‘it would have been necessary for wilderness writers to invent it.’ Note that term: ‘wilderness’.

Homesickness, the wild places and the pursuit to be feral are all claimed as nostalgic
yearning in Edgelands; as a ‘misanthropic edge.’ (166). The authors have established a clear polemical space into

which they can situate their manifesto of edgelands urbanism:

We would like to start a counter-movement. Rather than escaping to the
forests of the Highlands, park your car at Matalan and have a walk around the
edgelands woods. This has the added advantage that you won’t die of
exposure if you take a wrong turn. And if we must visit mountains, let’s make
sure there’s always a caf’ near the summit, so we can have a drink and enjoy
the company of our fellow travellers. Snowdon has already taken this bold step. Now all we need is a Premier Inn

on the top of Ben Nevis and a Little
Chef on Scafell Pike. Let the campaign begin.

If the reader is deaf to satire they might be mistaken to read only a sarcastic tone. It’s worth our time looking

at this closely. The critique of nostalgia is coupled to a critique of unbridled fetishisation of consumerist,

late capitalist security ‘ a cultural practice that comes at a significant cultural cost. Such is the challenge

to our reception, enjoyment and involvement in nature today. We shall endeavour to consider whether this

position, which is understood well by British poets, is internalised in prose forms of new nature writing eg

Edgelands, or if there is something quite different operating in prose inquiries into the human experience of

the late natural world.

Farley and Symmons Roberts step close towards clich’ when they write ‘we take the
metaphors for our lives from the language we inherit, but we shape and colour them from our own experience’ (32).

The emphasis here on experience, a world formed through movement and action, is underlined by the authors’

polemic: they are speaking of the need to break free from traditional forms of writing, in-so-doing they are

advocating for new forms of nature, or the acceptance of post-nature in our lives (or ours in its). This

modernism is central to the critical impulse in Edgelands that negates nostalgia and, albeit amusingly, asserts

some value in the understated, undervalued and overlooked places of becoming:

Well, our spiritual path would be a track worn down by dog-walkers and
schoolkids, on the outskirts of a north-west English conurbation. It would
start on scrappy grass, then weave its way through a copse of feral trees.
Every now and then a makeshift den or tree house can be seen, or a water
tower looming where the trees peter out. Charred bonfire patches crop up
one on side or the other and the sky is overcast above. (33)

It is clearly their home territory; a place known well and revealing a range of elements ‘ the site of play,

unkempt green, the feral and the tatty, the edge of nature and ubiquitous energy technology, the signs of the

temperate climate ‘ things that are hardly surprising to them.

A Counterpoint to the discourse of Edgelands
Robert Macfarlane celebrates Edgelands as a promiscuous ‘delight.’ He also shapes his review of the text to

clarify two things: the extent to which this geographical term and literary approach is innovative, or modern;

and his own opinion on emotion and

Farley and Symmons Roberts are not the first to venture into the edgelands, nor is the region nearly as ignored

as they suggest. For decades the edgelands

7 NB If you are unfamiliar with the culture that Farley and Symmons Roberts are drawing
upon, don’t be defeated: use the internet to find out what is meant by all the proper names
here: ‘Matalan’, ‘Snowdon’, ‘Premier Inn’, ‘Ben Nevis’, ‘Little Chef’ and ‘Scafell Pike.
have been crawling with chroniclers: psychogeographers,
biopsychogeographers, autobiopsychogeographers, deep topographers, and
other theoretically constituted lovers of the detrital, gleaning their
ruminations on ruination.8
While reaching far and wide to underline that the cultural space has been well theorised
and explored through various literary modes, Macfarlane draws from a range of (male)
writers and filmmakers that are transforming the nature writing tradition in the UK;
Patrick Keiller, Chris Petit, Richard Maybe, Kenneth Allsop and Iain Sinclair are all
listed as exponents of a ‘modish’ and ‘debatable space’, which he qualifies as follows:
brownfield sites and utilities infrastructure, crackling substations and pallet
depots, transit hubs and sewage farms, scrub forests and sluggish canals,
allotments and retail parks, slackened regulatory frameworks and guerilla
To dispense with the popularity of the urban outskirts of liminal Britain for a moment; as
previously indicated: there is a critique of capital operating here. The fall-out from
industry, economic cycles, the political shortcomings of ‘regulatory’ policies ‘ all
perhaps requiring scrutiny rather than unchecked celebration.
Macfarlane follows this up, in what might be construed as further conservatism, that
which is identified by Patrick Wright: ”the New Baroque sensibility,’ characterised by a
romancing ‘interest in debris and human fallout’9 wherein the ‘thought-crimes’ of
traditional landscape writing i.e. ‘the editing out of particular people, the excesses of the
lyrical impulse’, are ‘re-performed’ in ‘just a new setting.’ Thnk about this: all these
authors (as is Jamie) are concerned with placing the human BACK into the environment.
As far as a literary tradition is concerned, it reminds us just exactly how radical
Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads were in placing the troubled conditions of
pastoral spaces at the centre of their collection, which heralded the dawn of new British
poetry at the end of the eighteenth century.10

Moving On
To recoil before moving forwards: we are now aware of a debate amongst contemporary
British writers concerning spatial preferences for lyrical and non-lyrical treatment; a
concern for mode ‘ the politics of celebration, critique or the known site of experience in
this post-natural age; and the need to bring together these two items to clarify how and
why space and the experience it affords can be named wild, wilderness or simply the fallout
of urban developments, the fading noise of built environments that interface with
more green, less busy places.
9 Macfarlane is citing Patrick Wright’s novel, A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days
of London (1991).
10 The frontispiece of volume 1 of the 1802 edition is a case in point.
Alongside Marion Shoard, the other presiding spirit to Edgelands is Richard Mabey.
Most particularly, The Unofficial Countryside (1973): a ‘study’ of the ‘vitality and worth
of urban edges’ (5) the Edgelands authors note; however, they concede that Mabey’s
focus ‘was on the resilience of nature in these waste places, rather than a celebration of
the places themselves’ (6). Thus, Farley and Symmons Roberts wish to take that final
step: to celebrate new spatial formations, ‘to break out of the duality of rural and
urban landscape writing’ to explore the unobserved or unnoticed, the unremarkable
edges of cities that are ‘places of possibility, mystery, beauty’. ‘ An aside: this point
about mystery might make us think that while we seem to instinctly know what our home is, and when we ‘feel at

home’, our home is the most unfamiliar place to us. ‘ While Macfarlane is critical of two aspects to this project

– the modish mode (celebration of detritus) and the emphasis on space as subject (erasure of the human) ‘

Edgelands also appears to be spatialising nature by moving away from the detailed naturalist tones of Mabey’s

awe-inspired exposition of flora and fauna thriving in these city-spaces, moving towards a geographic frame

aligned to socio-economic discourse.11
Questions of connection and escapism (detachment)
Macfarlane hits back: his text has been tarnished with the word ‘escapist’ ‘ to write of a solitary walker in

broad open spaces is ‘misanthropic’ it puts humans at a distance, it ignores the reality of our urban and highly

populated experiences; Macfarlane claims Edgelands has the same problem: it removes humans from the scene of

inquiry. But is Edgelands escapist? Is it simply a form of connection to post-nature in contemporary

To clarify, Farley and Symmons Roberts quote from Kathleen Jamie’s Tree House (2004)
‘ to explore the ‘unique vista’ offered by a den ‘ and if the post-industrial wastelands of Edgelands are one

thing, they are the childhood den of its authors. Once up high in the tree, the human fades out and the

landscape comes forth:
I was unseeable. A bletted fruit
hung through the tangled branches
just out of reach. Over house roofs:
sullen hills, the firth drained
down to sandbanks. ‘The Tree House’ (ref)
The adult eye is keen to observe things gone to seed (fruit over-ripening) and to offer a post-Romantic (i.e.

not idealised) entanglement of nature and culture (the drained coastal water). And this immersion into an

ecological ‘ or at very least relational ‘ perspective, rather than either collapsing human subjectivity or

taking on the view of nature, is
something afforded by the environment. It is a space for children during certain times
11 Richard Mabey: ‘the greatest shock in the present transformation is that it has come
about not so much from an invasion by urban sprawl or industrial development, but from
insidious and often unobserved changes in the internal workings of the countryside itself’
(The Common Ground, London, Hutchinson, 1980, 22).
of the year. Farley and Symmons Roberts’ ‘den-building’ is part of the practice of
temperate summers, for ‘that border ditch could flood with rainwater or agricultural runoff
come autumn; [and] no amount of tarpaulin could withstand a winter gale’ (40). The
terms of their nostalgia are quite apposed to what they appear to be suggesting of
Macfarlane: den-building is seasonal; and it can be remembered within one’s own
lifetime, can be reimagined and connected to adult life experience wherein a more
critical, spatial eye can bring a post-Industrial perspective to the site of play. This is not to confused with

yearning for lost genomes.

Nostalgia and degrees of connection or immersion are key operating concepts in
Edgelands. Reworking these varying modes of human expression and relation does not
by necessity require a critique of a solitary figure walking out into the wide, untouched
spaces of nature, and yet the figure of the masculine walker out in the wilds is never too
far from satirical exposition of the impossibility ‘ and the irrelevance to urbanism ‘ of
noble savagery or ‘hermitic and lonely journeying’ (41).12 In part, this indirect critique of
nature-fetishism is attentive to the need for adults to be resourceful in either recreating or
simply accessing the spaces ‘of solitude and apartness’ that they once found so easily
when children. Our near-past life has been packaged up, sold back to us and incorporated
into the rhetoric of engagement with nature:
In 2006 the Forestry Commission issued a booklet titled ‘Rope, Swings,
Dens, Treehouses and Fires’, which carried the detumescent subtitle ‘A riskbased
approach for managers facilitating self-built play structures and
activities in woodland settings’. A tree is ‘a den on legs’. The booklet
correlates den-construction and den location and use into levels of ‘low risk’,
‘medium risk’ and ‘high risk’. On this scale, ‘low risk’ means dens built from
natural materials, ‘such as branches, bracken, leaves and other vegetation’,
while the use of pallets, old kitchen units or, worse still, metals and asbestos
and cars, together with tunnelling and deep excavations, takes the den into the
‘high risk’ category. Edgelands dens would typically fail these building regs,
being of necessity a bricolage of available natural materials and human waste.
Reading this booklet, you realise how far we have come from public
information films warning of the dangers of children entombing themselves
12 Feel empowered: go to google scholar and look up ‘noble savage’, think about the
European debates in the late eighteenth century (and look at the dates between
Rousseau’s writing and the publication of Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s Lyrical
Ballads). These historical dialogues remain relevant today.
in fly-tipped refrigerators on waste ground. You also realise how separate our
official countryside is from our edgelands. (43)
And this is a meeting point between Edgelands and Macfarlane: that there is another
world beyond this marketed, risk-managed nature. Farley and Symmons Roberts dispute
the implicit binary and self-evident dualism in the phrase ‘human-nature relations’;
Macfarlane takes us away from this theoretical noise to allow a clear voice of humantraversed
nature present itself for our listening.

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