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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  People  /  Academic Staff  /  Tatiana Thieme

Tatiana Thieme

TT Headshot.jpgTatiana A. Thieme, Lecturer in Human Geography

Room 110
26 Bedford Way
London.
WC1H 0AH.

Phone: x27563
E-Mail: t.thieme@ucl.ac.uk

Office hours during term: Tuesdays 11-12:30; Thursdays 2-3:30

 

Tatiana Thieme graduated from Cornell University (New York, USA) with a BA in Anthropology and Dance (2000), where she was awarded a grant from the Cornell Council for the Arts. She completed an MSc in Law and Anthropology at the London School of Economics (2004), and an MPhil/PhD in Human Geography at the University of Cambridge. She was an Honorary Cambridge European Trust Scholar (2008) and her PhD was funded by an ESRC Case Studentship (2013). She worked as a Lecturer in the Geography Department of the University of Cambridge and a Director of Studies at Fitzwilliam College from 2013 to 2015. Tatiana joined UCL’s Geography Department in October 2015.

Since 2011, she has also been affiliated with Paris based Social Business/Enterprise and Poverty Chair at Haute Ecole de Commerce (HEC), and has been a visiting lecturer at Ecole Normale Superieure (ENS) for their Masters modules on “Economie et Société”. She is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a member of the Association of American Geographers, Association of American Anthropologists, British Institute of East Africa (BIEA), Institut Francais de Recherche en Afrique (IFRA), and the University of Cambridge African Research Forum. Tatiana is also passionate about the convergence of critical academic reflection and practice. She has worked as an academic advisor on numerous action research projects in Kenya, India, Philippines, and South Africa focused on improving access to urban sanitation, nutrition, and energy for the urban poor, and is one of 20 members of Paris-based think tank Re(Source), focused on tackling water, sanitation and energy poverty.

Journal articles

  • Thieme, T (forthcoming), "The toilet as humanitarian object and luxury good: reflections from Nairobi’s sanitation-scape" for Special Issue on Little Development Devices and Humanitarian Goods (eds. Jamie Cross and Peter Redfield). LIMN
  • Thieme, T. & Richardson, L. (accepted), "Intimate Emergencies: Planning Working Futures on Edge." Cultural Geography.
  • Thieme, T. & Kovacs, E. (in revision), "Seeing the Nexus: Urban political ecologies of slums and makeshift urbanisation", Environment and Planning.
  • Thieme, T & Lancione, M. & Rosa, E. (2017), "The city and its margins: Ethnographic challenges across makeshift urbanism", Introduction for a Themed Special Feature at City: Analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action. CITY. Vol. 21, Iss.2, pp. 127-134.

Book chapters

  • Thieme, T. 2016, "'This upgraded place is my bedroom, but the ghetto is my living room': Negotiating doing (too) well and belonging in the 'hood' of Nairobi slums." in Assembling Life at the Margins (Ed. Michele Lancione) [available upon request]

Book reviews

  • Thieme, T. 2010, "Book Review of Capital Interrupted: Agrarian development and the politics of work in India, Vinay Gidwani. University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota (2008)", Political Geography, January 2010.

Other publications

At a broad level, my research interests engage with different aspects of entrepreneurial and makeshift urbanism. My recent research has focused on alternative cultural and economic geographies related to the politics of urban poverty, informal work, and everyday strategies in contexts of precarious urban environments. The three sub-themes of my research are: Urban political ecology of sanitation and waste; Youth geographies and "hustle" economies; enterprise-led development.

Urban Political Ecologies of Waste, Provisioning, and Repair

My doctoral research involved ethnographic research conducted in Kenya, examining the informal waste economies in one of Nairobi's largest and oldest informal settlements. The research examined the effects of unplanned urbanization and economic liberalization on the generation of Kenyan youth raised in the "slums" and left to their own devices to make a living in the highly unregulated urban economy. The research also explored the narratives of "hustling" that features prominently amongst youth referring to their everyday waste work in informal settlements. The research also studied the actors (corporate, NGO, state) purporting to address the challenges of urban poverty through efforts reflecting assorted discourses of entrepreneurship, rights, and public health. Youth engaged in waste work were often criminalized and harassed by local authorities, while serving as entry-points for various development interventions focused on urban ecologies including sac farming and sanitation services. In both instances, the urban environment was at once subject to entrepreneurial urbanism in the absence of public provisions, and also to everyday negotiated practices and tensions within neighbourhoods and the city more broadly.

Building on my PhD, one of my current projects investigates and theorizes contemporary trends in socio-technical and socio-ecological systems through comparative research theorizing from my research on informal economies of waste in Nairobi, Kenya, and examining emerging London-based forms of repair and re-use. Cultures of repair have long-established histories as crucial aspects of human productive effort, yet they have often been invisible to mainstream measures of production, economic activity, and consumption. In Nairobi, everyday survival depends on prolonging the usable lives of material things, especially in low-income areas experiencing rapid urbanisation and inadequate public service provision. Conversely in London, where 'make do and mend' practices integral to wartime coping strategies were replaced in the second half of the 20th century with disposable consumption, repair is experiencing a revival. Grassroots initiatives are seeking to prolong the durability of objects through practices of mending, re-use, and up-cycling, yet little is known about the motivations of 'bricoleurs' and to what extent these practices challenge and even reverse the take-make-waste models of production and consumption. These 'inner' circular economies are pro-business but also reflect practices of frugality, improvisation and adaptation, challenging the consumption-discard nexus and planned obsolescence of capitalist modes of production, and in today's context of austerity also reflect frugal economic rationalities.

Geographies of Youth, Hustle, and Austerity Urbanism

Spending Time

This British Institute of Eastern Africa research project aims to bring together researchers and practitioners whose work engages with questions related to Spending Time. Studies on the cultural constructions of time have long fascinated scholars, with notable emphasis on how conceptions of the future grant meaning and purpose to the present. This project draws on a rich tradition of anthropological and geographical scholarship challenging inherent assumptions of linearity that characterize the relation between present and future. Considering non-linear temporalities as a point of departure, the goal of this project is to investigate diverse conceptions and experiences of time in everyday contexts of informality, precarity, and improvisation that have come to characterize urban life across different spheres of human activity (e.g. work/labour, leisure, domestic, social, personal life) in the East Africa context.

Making work outside of prison: Young Offenders and Informal Economies

Funded by a Cambridge University Humanities Grant (2015-2016) and in collaboration with Dr. Lizzie Richardson (Cambridge Geography), this research draws together four disparate disciplinary perspectives to theorise the cultural and economic geographies of informal economies and their effects on young people living in precarity. The informal sector in the UK is increasingly prevalent, but poorly understood. This project addresses this deficit by investigating the skills, aspirations, and risks associated with informal and/or illicit economies amongst young offenders in austerity Britain who are serving short-term prison sentences. It addresses the empirical gap between the statistics indicating the rise in insecure forms of employment in austerity Britain and the growth but under-documentation of the informal economy in the global North. Through long qualitative interviews with young offenders serving short-term sentences, the research will document young offenders' conceptions and experiences of 'work' together with the future aspirations and perceived opportunities associated with it, seeking to understand calculations of risk and reward; and social and economic rationalities associated with street culture. Broadly, the research will demonstrate how appreciation of the changing spaces, times and legalities of employment is vital for policy connecting future welfare and work, to adapt to a climate where workers are simultaneously more flexible but less secure.

In relation to this project, Tatiana co-convened (with Geography colleagues Dr. Lizzie Richardson and Professor Brendan Burchell of Cambridge University) a research group titled Rethinking work following a Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) grant.

 

Temporary migrants or new European citizens? Geographies of integration and response between ‘camps’ and the city

This is a new project (2017-2018), bringing together my research interests in informality, labour limbo, and social navigation of uncertain urban life. Funded by the British Academy UK International Challenges award, and in collaboration with Dr. Eszter Kovacs (University of Cambridge) and Dr. Kavita Ramakrishnan (UEA) the project aims to provide an alternative account of the European ‘refugee crisis’, where the arrival of over 1.5 million refugees since 2015 has stretched EU and individual state capacities; tested formal registration and arrival procedures; and (reignited) debates around continental ‘margins’ and geopolitical power differentials between east and west Europe. In this project, we provincialise and challenge narratives of ‘the crisis’ through an engagement with the evolving duties of care, needs and agencies of refugees and providers on the arrival ‘frontlines’. Our multi-sited research will engage with the myriad forms of arrival settlement, from the makeshift and temporary camps along the Hungarian-Serbian border to the sprawling tent communities in Lesbos, and the disintegration of the ‘Jungle’ in Calais. By ‘thinking from the south’ and vantage of post-colonial cities, we will capture and explore the improvisation, precarity, makeshift practices and alternative scripts of citizenship that refugees and local agencies utilize alongside how state rules and norms are negotiated.

 

Corporations and Development

I am interested in applying an anthropological and geographical lens to the claims and counter-claims of enterprise-led approaches to poverty alleviation. This is an area that has been, to date, under-studied by geographers and yet environmental problems have become fertile sites for social entrepreneurs. My work seeks to critically evaluate the processes, discourses and impacts of enterprise- and corporate-driven development encounters with low-income communities. A number of hybrid development models are founded on the premise that the survival strategies of the poor are sites of potential opportunity and partnership, giving way to particular forms of "ethicised" capitalism. As such, new potential sites for ethnographic and geographical research have opened up, to study how the social, cultural, and economic structures of low-income communities become refashioned as entry points for the incubation of various enterprise-led solutions to poverty alleviation, development and sustainability strategies. My PhD research incorporated project ethnography of SC Johnson's "Base of the Pyramid" initiative (2005-2013) in low-income urban communities of Nairobi focused on community-led sanitation services. The research explored the complementary and contradictory perceptions and definitions of "success" amongst diverse institutional and community-based actors, grounding the qualitative study of one company's sustainability efforts and encounter with “hustle economies” within the broader politics of enterprise-led development.

I am committed to teaching and outreach activities that go beyond formal University halls. Since 2013, I have been a Contributor and Dissertation Supervisor for the Masters in Sustainable Leadership, at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership (CISL). Between 2010 and 2012, I engaged as a Tutor for mature students undertaking a Certificate in International Development through the Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge. I have also given lectures to non-academic audiences for the Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2014, Cambridge University Reunions Week-End (2015), and engaged in outreach events including the Progress in Geography Day for prospective students (Fitzwilliam College, 2013-2014).

I am also interested in coupling research with audio-visual media.

Story Yetu (Our Story) 2010.

During the first 12 months of fieldwork in Nairobi (2009-2010), I worked on a documentary in partnership with Ghetto Films Trust, a grassroots film production company, documenting the untold stories of youth entrepreneurship in waste management across Nairobi's Mathare Valley. The documentary, STORY YETU (Our Story), can be viewed online. Story Yetu has been featured at community venues in Nairobi, and at universities and film festivals in France and in the UK including the Cambridge African Film Festival in 2014.

STORY YETU (WP) from Tatiana Thieme on Vimeo.

Nairobi Hustle 2017

More recently, in collaboration with local cinematographers Patrick Shomba, Dave Mwangi and Charles Kimani and musician/composer Seb Thieme, I have produced a short documentary called "Nairobi Hustle", filmed during fieldwork conducted in 2016. The aim was to provide a window into the everyday practices and moments that make the city move, are difficult to pin down, and too often go unnoticed. The video can be viewed here:

 

Resilient Urban Economies

In collaboration with Soapbox and the British Academy, I was also involved in the video production in support of a workshop on Resilient Urban Economies held at the British Academy. The video can be viewed here:

 

Photo Exhibit

I have also curated a photographic exhibit in the Geography Department Library, collaborating with photographers Claudia Pursals and Sasha Turrentine, titled “Waste and Recycling in an Urban Slumscape: A Window into Slum Lives and Spaces”.

 

Applied research and publications for wider audiences

Alongside my academic commitments, I have worked as an advisor and applied researcher for social enterprise projects in Kenya, Togo, India, Philippines, and South Africa, which focus on improving access to urban sanitation, nutrition, and energy for low-income urban communities. This includes a research study on Last Mile Delivery in collaboration with a consortium of Paris-based NGOs, academics, and private sector partners and the support of the Veolia Institute, and co-authored work with sustainability practitioners on the challenges of enterprise-led development.

Following an award from the Economic and Social Research Council "Nexus Network" with the Science Policy Research Unit at University of Sussex (2014), Dr. Eszter Kovacs (Geography, Cambridge) and I are engaging in comparative urbanism in relation to the Nexus in informal settlements across scales of urbanization. The purpose of the Nexus Network is to bring together researchers, policy makers, business leaders and civil society to develop collaborative projects and improve decision making on food, energy, water and the environment.  As rates of urbanization grow across cities but also and especially small towns, we are interested in the comparative politics of provisioning and urban services across the rural to urban continuum, and investigating how the politics and economies of waste in particular have become deeply entangled with other forms of basic provisioning in processes of urbanisation across geographies of the global South, and yet often remains overlooked in conceptualisations of the Nexus.

Undergraduate

  • GEOG1007 Global Geographies
  • GEOG2014 Development Geography I (Convenor)
  • GEOG2001 The Practice of Geography
  • GEOG3038 Water and Development in Africa
  • GEOG3069: Postcolonial Geographies of African Development
  • GEOG3076 Urban Political Ecology

 

Postgraduate

  • GEOGGO13 Environmental Knowledges
  • GEOGGO47 Precarious Urban Environments (Convenor)
  • GEOGG021 Interdisciplinary Approaches to Global Migration