Mia Gray is the Vice Chair of the Regional Studies Association, and is the Board Representative for Communication and Public Engagement, Secretary/Prize and Awards. An economic and social geographer by trade, Mia is based out of the Department of Geography within the University of Cambridge. We caught up with Dr. Gray recently and talked about her research and involvement with the RSA.
Economic and social geography is a significant aspect of regional studies research. Are you involved with any current projects related to regional research, development, and policy?
Yes – I’m working on a number of projects right now – one of the most engrossing is my work on austerity in the UK, the US, and Canada. After the 2008 financial crisis, many governments turned to austerity policies to reduce budget deficits by reducing labour costs, privatization, and reconfiguring public services. I’ve looked into the ways in which local governments have taken the brunt of these cuts – and the uneven nature of this, the ways austerity has intensified the rescaling and restructuring of the state, and the ways this has affected public space and the public realm. Many cities around the world are faced with growing responsibilities and demands which are intensified by long-term budgetary cuts. Although a lot of this started in the 1980s, contemporary austerity policies in the UK have fundamentally reshaped how and who delivers public services — and this affects workers and citizens, alike. For example, they’ve shut large numbers of Magistrate Courts around the country in order to sell off their city-centre buildings. Not only have numerous public sector workers lost their jobs over this. It has also forced people to either access justice via video links or to travel, often long distances of 2 or 3 hours, to get to the courts.
We’ve also found that a lot of people at the sharp end of austerity feel completely cut out of the public debates around the issues. So many public issues around austerity are shrouded in bureaucratic language, decisions are hidden in complicated spreadsheets, and the public narrative is that “there is no alternative.” Well, there are alternatives, and we wanted to work to create a public forum to let people around the country articulate them. Last year we worked with Menagerie Theatre to devise an interactive forum theatre play based on our austerity research to explore this. The play, The Great Austerity Debate, is deliberately provocative and asks audiences to play out alternative decisions and stories to the ones presented by the play, with the aim of achieving a more hopeful, more empowering outcome for the protagonist. We started touring last year and we now have funding to tour the play around the UK again this autumn.
How did you get involved with the Regional Studies Association?
I suppose the journal, Regional Studies, was my introduction to the RSA. When I was a masters student at UC Berkeley, my professor Anna Lee Saxenian first introduced me to the journal and I became an avid supporter of the journal. When I moved to Cambridge, I was delighted to become a co-editor of Regional Studies from 2002-2005 with a wonderful group of other academics and so became more involved. So, I was delighted to be asked to join the Board and get more involved with the governance issues of the RSA.
RSA has a number of conferences, events, and publication opportunities in 2018. What are you looking forward too most this year?
I always love the winter conference in London – it’s always extremely broad based and allows me not just to keep up with my own intellectual concerns, but to see where the field of regional studies is at the moment. I love meeting friends and colleagues there – but, also it’s a great place to meet younger scholars and new faces. As far as publishing goes, I think some of our relatively new journals are really impressive. For example, Territories, Politics and Governance is publishing some great material and starting some important debates in the field.
Do you have any advice for the Regional Studies community?
I’d say the great thing about the RSA is that it is really open – it’s not a closed shop – but a friendly community of scholars who want to expand the discipline and have links with other fields and policy makers. So there is “institutional space” for those who’d like to get more involved – and that means students and early career scholars.
Are you currently involved with regional research, policy, and development, and want to elaborate your ideas in a different medium? The Regional Studies Association is now accepting articles for their online blog. For more information, contact the Blog Editor at RSABlog@regionalstudies.org.