Race, Culture and Equality Working Group Award for Undergraduate Dissertations

The Race, Culture and Equality Working Group would like to recognise research conducted by undergraduate students on any issue related to the geographies of race, racism and equality. The winner will receive a cash prize.

Nominations are requested from Dissertation Supervisors or Heads of Department at any UK geography department. There is no limit of submissions per institution, but nominated dissertations should not be submitted for consideration for any other RGS-IBG prizes. Students taking joint degrees are eligible to enter for the prize, provided that at least half their course is in geography. The dissertations should be circa 10,000 words in length and submitted for formal assessment in the current academic year.

Please send the following via email or link (e.g. Dropbox) to Dr James Esson; 1) a single PDF file of the dissertation (fully anonymised); 2) a copy of the appropriate departmental dissertation regulations; and 3) contact details for the student (post-September). Nominations should include “RACE UG dissertation submission” as the email subject.

Submissions to: (Dr James Esson, Loughborough University)

Deadline: 15 August 2022


Past winners:

2021 Winner – Adwoa Amankona (University College London)
“You have to be excellent. You can’t just be or just exist’: Exploring the cultural principles associated with Black Excellence and its placement on black students attending Golden Triangle universities”
This dissertation is a cultural geographical exploration of black student identity through ‘Black Excellence’ and space-making in the UK’s Golden Triangle universities and how these affect students. Golden Triangle universities consist of the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London, and London School of Economics and Political Science. In addition, the space-making of black students attending Golden Triangle universities is analysed to find out how black space-making is practiced in elite institutions possessing forms of colonial legacies.
Individual semi-structured interviews were employed to investigate the cultural politics of black students through their lens’, providing their valuable contributions. Empirical data analysis showed, whilst Black Excellence can be a motivational and unifying concept, it becomes exclusionary to some and idealistic towards rising above a certain level based on external expectations. Black Excellence’s placement on students made them even more hypervisible in university spaces, recognising the experience of their actions being doubly observed. Findings on the space-making of black students revealed black space-making in social circumstances is extremely complex and alters dependent on space and others occupancy of space. However, participants disclosed their ability to apply cultural capital in different spatial situations played a key determinant in their space-making and acceptance.
Whilst this study provides distinctive insights into black cultural politics, findings do not seek to homogenise the wide diversity of black identities. Although, this study does offer valuable contributions towards the understanding of black identities in Golden Triangle universities, during a period of heightened black student population in such institutions.

2020 winner – Camille Laylor (Queen Mary, University of London)
“The Windrush descendants: explorations into 21st century experiences of Britishness through politics, race and culture”

The Windrush generation were amongst some of the 600,000 Commonwealth migrants from the Caribbean reported to have arrived in Britain before 1971. Having resided and worked in Britain for the majority of their lives and having gained legal right to British citizenship – a right also passed onto their descendants – reports of detention, deportation, loss of employment and denial of services caused by new immigration rules, no doubt sparked public outrage. Whilst apologies for the consequences of the hostile environment policy in contributing to the Windrush scandal have now been served; it remains to be seen how the aftereffects of such policies have altered Windrush descendants sense of connection to Britain. This paper explores the challenges Windrush generation descendants face in pursuing or maintaining a British identity. Drawing on the analysis of 13 semi-structured interviews, conducted on third and fourth generation Windrush descendants living in Manchester, this dissertation argues and concludes, through explorations of politics, race and culture, that hostile environment policies, ‘othering’ and the over policing of Caribbean culture, rely on racialised practises legitimated through citizenship based discrimination, that determines how ‘Britishness’ is constructed for and experienced by this group.

2019 winner – Monisha Jackson, University of Leeds
“I’m Not your SISTA”: Queer Black Women’s Experiences in LGBTQ+ Night-­time Spaces (PDF)

Navigating and negotiating LGBTQ+ night-­‐time spaces can be difficult for any person trying to explore their sexuality or establish community outside of heteronormativity. For queer Black women, it can be even more challenging, due to the intersectional oppression that occurs within these public spaces. This research investigates the experiences of queer Black women navigating and negotiating both mainstream LGBTQ+ night-­‐time spaces and QTIPOC night-­‐ time spaces. Semi-­‐structured interviews were used in order to best provide and centre the voices of the queer Black women who were involved in this research. The study found that whilst participants desired to engage in night-­‐time spaces that were not heteronormative, mainstream LGBTQ+ night-­‐time spaces were sites where numerous incidents of intersectional discrimination occurred. Homonormativity also structured general LGBTQ+ night-­‐time spaces in creating a distinction between undesirable and desirable clientele, informed by processes of capitalism. These spaces therefore were found to cater to gay white men whilst excluding other members of the LGBTQ+ community, specifically queer Black women. As a result of the intersectional discrimination that participants’ experienced in general LGBTQ+ night-­‐time spaces coupled with QTIPOC night-­‐time spaces offering increased comfort, safety and acceptance for queer Black women, this research found that QTIPOC night-­‐time spaces transformed queer Black women’s experiences of navigating LGBTQ+ night-­‐life in a largely positive way.

2018 winner – Tobias Wapshare, University of Manchester
“Encountering difference on the London Underground: an Asian man’s embodied (im)mobility” (PDF)

This paper examines the everyday (im)mobility of young Asian men as they embody their routine commute on the London Underground. Filling an empirical lacuna in the New Mobilities Paradigm, for the first-time research opens the London Underground up to analytical import, exploring the formation of relational geographies on the move and the bodily encounters, affects and racial practices they encompass. Through go-along mobile interviews, research shadows three young Asian men on their daily commute, critically engaging with their individual capacity to affect and be affected by the dynamic sociality of Tube travel. In particular, this paper gives specific attention to how race surfaces on the move, through non-discursive negative affects that transcend space and impact a young Asian man’s experience of the London Underground. It demonstrates how the everyday realities of race come to life in mobile spaces, as they repeatedly position young Asian man as out of place- further (re)constructing a young Asian man’s understanding of ‘self’. In doing so, this paper valorises the London Underground as a crucial site of everyday encounter, mundane racism and identity (re)configuration, through which wider processes of exclusion and belonging are understood.

2017 winner – Esther Chidowe, University of Leicester
“Black Hair: Centring the Offline and Online Geographies of Young Black British Women” (PDF)

This study is concerned with black British women’s offline and online hair journeys. Situated within the framework of Afrocentricity, the study seeks to transgress traditional Eurocentric theorisations of African experiences and instead illustrate the weight of an African centred framework when discussing the lived realities of the African diaspora. Embodying afro hair often dictates how one takes up space, whether this is in the school setting, work place or online, afro hair has an inherent geography which signifies ones belonging and identity. By analysing black women’s engagement with the online Natural Hair Movement, this study reveals the fluidity of their identities, which cannot be compartmentalised exclusively to online or offline spaces.

2016 winner – Omar Clarke, University of Nottingham
“Performance, Identity, Spectacle: The Notting Hill Carnival” (PDF)

Drawing on the use of archival, interviews and participant observation methods, this study explores the imaginative geographies that are involved in the Notting Hill Carnival. In doing this, the study adopts the perspective that artistic spectacles are not separate from the realm of power and politics. The paper seeks to explore why Notting Hill is a significant place for the diasporic West-Indian community in Britain. Secondly, the paper assesses how negative imaginative geographies of the event can serve to legitimise greater regulation of the event. In conjunction with this, there is deconstruction of how the commercialisation of the event has impeded on the carnival’s cultural expression. The greater licencing and controlling of the carnival is reflective of significant changes to the processional routes and the freedom that the performers have to express their culture. The study maintains its sensitivity to the sensory practices of the carnival. This allows an uncovering of the battles for the appropriation of space between different types of carnival performers. The study finds that the celebration of the carnival is becoming more fixated on the festivities of the event rather than remembering the deep-heated history associated with its origins. However, with this changing dynamic, increasingly practices of resistance at the local scale helping to keep the origins of the event alive.

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