Maxwell A. Ayamba, PhD Black Studies
"My research builds on the Government's 25 Year Environment Plan and the Julian Glover Review attempt to promote access to the countryside for everyone, especially Black and Minority Ethnic Communities."
What is your thesis on?
"My thesis explores the geographic studies of the spatiality of the Peak District National Park, in relation to access and use by people of Black African ancestry in the diaspora.
Drawing on the cultural landscape of the Peak Park and political ecological paradigms, I will, through ethnography/field notes, examine the 'lived experience' of participants."
How will you collect this type of data?
"I am employing ethnography as a qualitative research methodology in my field data gathering exercise. This includes walking interviews, participant-observation and focus group interviews. These methods involve use of semi-structured interview questions and probes to prompt and stimulate discussions to gather information recorded on a digital voice recorder during field trips to various locations in the Peak District National Park.
In addition, I am using photovoice where some participants use either a digital camera or mobile phone as tools to record descriptions and perceptions of the Peak Park space and also take pictures of landscapes. Another method I am applying is described as the Mental-Dictaphone - a form of memory retention research, as well as field notes to record observations of participants during walks.
My use of ethnography as a qualitative methodological approach is because my research questions are designed to discover, explore and understand a phenomenon as well as the meaning of how this is experienced in the lives of Black individuals. Phenomenology which is part of qualitative research uniquely positions me to learn from the experience of others as it focuses on the study of an individual’s lived experience within the world."
What drew you to this area?
"I want to understand the differing experiences and perspectives of Black British people of the English countryside as this reflects on social justice, equality and diversity in terms of access considerations.
The objective of the thesis is therefore to investigate the centrality of Black British people of an African ancestry use of the Peak Park as a 'social space'.
This is in relation to nature connectedness specifically where it involves life transitions characterised by histories of migration, geography, mental/physical health trajectories and intergenerational. How values of nature motivate more intentional contact and in what ways is this negotiated and enacted.
My research builds on the Government's 25 Year Environment Plan (2018) and the Julian Glover Review (2019) attempt to promote access to the countryside for everyone, especially Black and Minority Ethnic Communities.
This has necessitated scholarly research both political/popular discourses to promote National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) as democratic 'social spaces' for use and access by everyone, irrespective of race, class or economic status.
As a Black academic, I am therefore undertaking this thesis to expand on the conversations of racial identity and countryside access, to broadly highlight the lived experience and perceptions of people of Black African ancestry in the UK.
This is against the backdrop of recent conception of Black studies advocating 'postpositivist' realism in the socially constructed nature of racial and ethnic identity in relation to the natural environment in the UK."
What are your other research interests?
"My research interest also transcends the trajectories of race, ecology and environmental justice in the UK and the genealogy of people of Black African ancestry and the natural environment in the UK, from the Roman times to enslavement, empire, and colonialism."
What is your background?
"Prior to commencing my PhD at the University of Nottingham, I worked as an Associate Lecturer/Research Associate at Sheffield Hallam University, after completing a masters of science degree. I am also a trained journalist from the University of Cardiff.
In 2004 I co-founded the 100 Black Men Walk for Health Group - featured in The Guardian newspaper, ITV and Channel 4 News, titled, 'Black Men Walking: How walking hobby became a symbol of identity'. This also inspired the production of the national play 'Black Men Walking', by Eclipse and Royal Exchange Theatre Production 2018/19.
I was the first Black person appointed on the board of Ramblers Association UK in 2006.
In 2016, I set up the Sheffield Environment Movement charity, to promote access and participation in the natural environment for people from Black and Minority Ethnic Communities.
In February 2021, I featured in Joanna Lumley’s 'Home Sweet Home' series, exploring the concept of walking among people of colour in the UK."
Have you contributed to any reports?
"My PhD is funded by the Midlands4 Cities AHRC Doctoral Training partnership. I have, in May 2021, contributed to two national reports; Out of Bounds - Equity in Access Opportunities to Urban Nature report published by Groundwork UK and Defra’s Enhancing Access Opportunities Test & Trials report, co-ordinated and produced by Kent Downs AONB Unit.
In 2013, I also contributed to the publication of the Imperial College Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) Explore Nature Community Environment Report - Exploring Nature Together, launched at the House of Lords. And in 2009 I produced a working manual 'Engaging Black & Ethnic Minority Communities' - Vols. 1 and 2 (unpublished) for the Environment Agency of the North East Region."
How is your research progressing?
"On 10 May 2021 I had the opportunity to meet the Secretary of State for Environment, Rt Hon George Eustice MP.
This was at an event hosted by the CPRE as part of its ‘Countryside for All’ roundtable discussion on a peer led access to nature for people of colour project, which I was involved in producing."
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