New Orientations was set up in 2020 by MA Environmental Humanities graduate Jonathan Eldridge. Originally created to explore how we might foster more ecologically conscious ways of thinking about and interacting with places, it has since developed into a place-based framework, utilising the concepts of creativity, care and criticality to approach complex issues, and understanding how we can challenge ourselves to create genuinely regenerative cultures. Having grown up in London, Jonathan was particularly interested in urban environments and the way they shape behaviour. Jonathan has applied this approach as a writer, curator, researcher and co-creator of The Ideas Bank. Scroll down for more information about the things that have shaped Jonathan’s ideas.

The context

In October 2019 I began an MA in Environmental Humanities. This involved studying multiple humanities disciplines within an ‘environmental’ framework. I also took a creative writing module called ‘The Writer and Place’.

For a long time, I have been interested in place and how it affects us. When I was younger, I’m sure I did not think that I had a peculiar interest in ‘place’, but I was conscious of the difference in feeling that accompanied being in different places; The Lake District, as opposed to London, for example. This awareness might have grown from a sense of displacement, growing up on suburbia’s inner edge in a city that was constantly redefining what place was (go back 60 years or so and my childhood home would have been in Essex, not London). Whilst the form of that change may have altered, the pace has not. Perhaps this is why when I began writing prose it was heavily descriptive and characterised by a desire to have setting/place be a fundamental component. Far from being a backdrop for (predominantly) human action, I felt that place played an important role in shaping narratives and, therefore, in creating identities, including my own.

In 2015 I wrote my undergrad dissertation on setting and landscape in film adaptations of 21st century literature, exploring the extent of ecological sentiment of these texts in the way they gave narrative significance to setting and place. I was studying the texts themselves, rather than the intent of the authors. Later, as my understanding developed during my post-graduate degree, I came to see place not merely as a fixed area delineated by stable boundaries, but a negotiated ‘pause’ (Tuan in Bryson, 2005) in space formed by the relationships between different aspects: the past, the present and the future; urban grids which channel movement and people who constantly search for shortcuts; vegetation and concrete; abandoned spaces and lived-in dwellings; insects and motorists; far-away places which produce the material of the quotidian and our unruly sense of immediacy which blinds us to these ‘shadow places’ (Plumwood, 2008).

Another reason for my focus on place during my MA was a desire to move away from using the concept of ‘nature’ – familiar, romanticised, sublime, fear-inducing, comforting – as a foundation for ecological ethics, especially in urban contexts. I am not against calls to protect nature or the natural world, rather, it seemed to me that there was (and is) a difficulty in defining humanity’s place within, and relationship to, nature. This feels problematic because it concerns our spatial, social, psychological, ethical, and ecological orientations, all things which shape how and why we act. Yet, it is not as though the concept of place is without issue, especially when it is deployed in the context of political and social exclusion. As much as I want to draw attention to the importance of place, I also want to disrupt simplistic and damaging discourses of belonging, which are increasingly divergent from the complex actualities of place at both micro and macro scales.

This is the basis for this project. It is a mixture of art, ethics, and politics. It is a complex statement. It is personal. It feels at times beautiful, at others confusing, and at others terrible. It encourages different ways of looking at, thinking about, intra-acting (Barad in Bawaka, 2008) and becoming with place. It is, in the words of Stuart Hall, “without guarantees”, but seeks to open up the possibilities of place. Who we are is, in part, the projection of where we are and where we have been into the confusing space of the future. It is a transformation of this openness into place, into a pause which makes sense, if only for a brief moment. That is why I believe understanding place is so important for where we will end up, both as individuals and collectives.

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