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Ideas in Focus

Ideas in Focus was a photography competition that asked students and researchers in the arts, humanities and social sciences for a photograph that illustrates their research. You can see these photographs displayed on bus shelter boards throughout Cambridge during October.

Thomas Aquilina

Postgraduate, Department of Architecture

Curbside Economies; Lusaka, 2013

My research focuses on the methods, designs and tools for visualising African urban futures. I am trying to reveal the significance of urban form but also its unequal distribution. In Lusaka, I documented the lives of people engaged in all manner of small-scale and informal economies, particularly street vending. These vendors are connected by their independent means of exchange and their resourcefulness to make things anew or to reposition what already exists. Their economies are mostly street-based and mobile, their spatial movements gradual and steady. They trade in things disassembled, at hand, available in parts, singles of stationary items, cigarettes, fruits and foodstuffs. These minute-scale operations caught in a movement between formal and informal, legal and illegal, inclusion and exclusion, visible and invisible, were described by local trader, Eddie, as the “small, small shops” that make the city durable.




Holly Corfield Carr

Postgraduate, Department of English

Desire Lines: A line of greener grass or a line of poetry in Richard Long’s Boyhood Line

There have been a few weeks since the artist Richard Long installed ‘Boyhood Line’ on Ladies Mile in Bristol and the July sun has started to yellow the grass where visitors have walked up and down the length of the installation.  Where the rocks have sheltered the grass, however, the grass is brilliantly green.  Long has installed his work over a ‘desire line’, a path designed and constructed by countless individuals who don’t even know they’re working – or walking – with each other.  As each person cuts across the grass, inadvertently but instinctively following the same invisible path, the hidden power of our walking marks a line on the earth.  The path, publically produced, becomes a public work of art and as you can see here, the public are not afraid to intervene: a three rocks have been removed, revealing patches of bald soil.  This is a public performance, a kind of sculpture but also, I would argue, a kind of poetry.  My PhD seeks to establish how contemporary sculpture and poetry might operate either side of a line like this, helping us achieve a better understanding of language and how it marks the earth.



Edward Anderson

Postgraduate, Faculty of History / Centre of South Asian Studies

Indian Community and Culture Association, Mill Road

This photograph of Cambridge’s Hindu temple speaks to some of the core themes of my research about Hindu organisations and identity in Britain. Most people in Cambridge, even those who walk past the former Victorian public library on Mill Road every day, don’t realise it exists. This reflects a broader lack of visibility that is often a source of anxiety for Hindus in Britain. The two flags – just visible at the top of each window – represent both the hyphenated identities, and various tensions, often felt by ethnic and religious minorities in the UK. For many Hindus, Indian-ness and British-ness are dually important, often indivisible, parts of their identity. But there is also enduring identification and connectivity – emotional, kinship, cultural, business – with India. This is even the case for those who were born in Britain or Africa (as many British Asians arrived from the former colonies of East Africa). The tricolour flag also suggests a (contentious) conflation of Indian and Hindu. The Union Jack hints at tensions associated with the need to display or ‘prove’ British-ness.



Mikołaj Grochot

Postgraduate, Department of Politics and International Studies 

Long dry river to freedom

A man on a bridge over the dried out Zayanderud river in Esfahan, contemplating an Iranian flag in the distance. It is perhaps an obvious but crucial realisation that ordinary citizens don’t always reflect the militant rhetoric of their leaders. With my research focusing on the relations between Iran and North Korea in the wake of Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speech, this understanding prompted a less state centric approach to my further study. In evaluating the impacts of international stigmatisation, I have therefore aimed to look at personal perceptions of the North Korean defectors and Iranians, along with the sphere of global politics.




John Fahy

Postgraduate, Department of Social Anthropology

Tradition and Transformation

My research looks at ethics of self-cultivation and urban transformation in Mayapur, West Bengal (India). Home to an international community of Vaishnavs (popularly known as the Hare Krishnas) since the early 1970’s, this small rural town near the Bangladesh border has undergone dramatic social, economic and cultural change in the forty years. This photo was taken at a wedding where an Indian woman was marrying an American man. An important symbolic and ritual offering, pouring grains onto the fire reflects important themes that underpin my research, including tradition and transformation.





Sasha Amaya

Postgraduate, Architecture and Urban Studies

Iqaluit! The capital city of Canada’s Inuit province, Nunavut, at dusk

I focused on exploring different expressions of politics and nationalism manifested in the built environment. A particular focus was the history of the built environment in the central Canadian arctic. This area has a diverse, fascinating, and surprising history. Especially impressive were the ways in which the Inuit have been extraordinarily creative and resilient in the way they live and operate their homes against successive waves of trade, financial depression, health crises, and the imposition of pre-fabricated housing. In interesting and unexpected ways, particularly their use of interior household space, Inuit have kept alive many traditions and cultural values that continue to be overlooked by most contemporary bureaucrats and architects.



Elizabeth Wagemann and Ana Gatóo

Postgraduate and researcher, Department of Architecture

Bahay Kawayan, A Transitional House for the Philippines. View of the roof structure during the construction process.

This is the prototype of a transitional bamboo house we designed for the Philippines and built in July 2014 in Cambridge. The Philippines was affected in 2013 by Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest typhoon ever recorded. We designed a low-cost structure based on the traditional Filipino house, the Bahay Kubo, as a way to explore a resilient solution for imminent hazards using vernacular building techniques and local materials. Our prototype won an award in the International Conference on Vernacular Heritage, Sustainability and Earthen Architecture (September 2014). We published the project in detail in a book called ‘Bahay Kawayan. A Transitional House for the Philippines’, (Gatóo A., Wagemann E., Ramage M.H., 2015, ISBN: 978-0-903428-36-1).