28 Months Later – an on-line community responds to bunkerology

A fascinating thread has erupted today on the www.28dayslater.co.uk urbex webforum. It seems my 2010 Masters dissertation on one aspect of that site’s urbex culture-forming has suddenly inflamed debate. My study looked at how accounts of exploration of former Royal Observer Corps (ROC) mini-bunkers (small underground Cold War stations for monitoring fall out clouds) circulated within that forum and helped to shape at least that aspect of urbex practice. For convenience I adopted the term ‘bunkerology’ (it was a shorter description than ‘the bit of urban exploration that involves seeking out ROC Posts’).

In summer 2010 I’d sent them a copy of my dissertation out of courtesy, but didn’t hear anything until today. Anyway, the forum’s thread makes fascinating reading. I will resist the urge to analyse how most of the contributors seem to be echoing one particular line of attack. That might seems condescending (and I never intended my study to be that, and don’t intend to start that now).

The thread is at:

http://www.28dayslater.co.uk/forums/showthread.php/74209-urban-exploration-dissertation?highlight=bennett

What struck me reading through (3 pages so far on the thread) was that my critics don’t actually say what I’ve missed in my attempt to understand their account-writing practice through studying the accounts posted there. Instead the consensus seems to be that my dissertation is unreadable, not written by a “doer” and fundamentally misses the point (although what the missed-point is, is left unsaid).

The posters sound rather bruised by academic infiltration – whether shallow (as is my charge) or deep (of the Bradley Garrett variety). This isn’t a great surprise. Who wants to be put under the microscope and intellectualised? (well, some people probably…).

Suffice it to say that I will follow the thread with interest. And if someone could actually spell out what’s wrong with my interpretation of their account-making practices, and what I failed to spot or understand then that would be even better.

The one exception so far is a poster who goes by the name ‘The Littlest Jellyfish’ who flags that s/he’s got a paper in peer review that will take issue with my analysis. More than happy to hear that – and I look forward to reading that paper. The more the merrier.

Reflecting on the unspecified criticism of his peers on the forum The Littlest Jellyfish states helpfully:

“But I don’t see too much wrong with Luke’s paper (here) or indeed his whole Masters thesis (elsewhere). It’s one thing to criticise it constructively, but it’s another to write it off with the whole pride-in-ignorance ‘I didn’t understand it, therefore it’s shit’.”

This debate isn’t new, and if anyone wants to see me and Bradley Garrett locked horns over my 2011 article in Environment & Planning D: Society and Space – his attack and my rebuttal, then here’s the link:

http://societyandspace.com/2011/11/21/garrett-and-bennett-on-urban-exploration/

And if anyone wants to read short articles here that try to explain where I’m coming from try (in particular) the following:

https://lukebennett13.wordpress.com/2012/09/01/new-uses-for-old-bunkers-22-doing-ruin-porn-in-churchills-other-bunker/

https://lukebennett13.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/defensive-enthusiasm-anoraks-bunkers-and-the-erotics-of-knowledge/

https://lukebennett13.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/up-on-or-over-the-fence-urban-exploration-and-premises-security/

https://lukebennett13.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/virtually-on-the-ledge-at-el-camino-del-rey-sublime-wondering-and-the-wandering-semantic/

In my response last year to Garrett’s attack, in my dissertation itself and in my subsequent articles I’ve acknowledged the ‘onlooker’ aspect of my study – and have explained my background. As a middle aged academic with connections both to recreational and landowner stakeholders it would not have been possible or appropriate for me to ‘do’ hardcore urbex.

If anyone wants to debate whether ‘armchair’ studies have any validity then I’m happy to take up that challenge.

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About lukebennett13
Reader & Course Leader, BSc Hons Real Estate, Sheffield Hallam University, UK. I TEACH: built environment law to construction, surveying, real estate and environmental management students. I RESEARCH: metal theft; urban exploration & recreational trespass; occupiers' perceptions of liability for their premises. I THINK: about the links between ideas, materialities and practices in the built environment. I WAS: an environmental lawyer working in commercial practice for 17 years before I joined academia in 2007. I EXPLAIN: the aims of my blogsite site here: https://lukebennett13.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/prosaic/ LINKS: Twitter: @lukebennett13; Archive: http://shu.academia.edu/lukebennett. EPITAPH: “He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances.” James Joyce, Dubliners

7 Responses to 28 Months Later – an on-line community responds to bunkerology

  1. S. tyru says:

    Worth mentioning that this is not the first response to this work on the forum concerned – it was discussed at length 18 months or so back. We invited Mr Bennett to comment at the time, and again on this occasion (twice) but no response has been forthcoming.

    • Hi Styru – I would have happily commented if I’d received the invitations – I’m not sure where you sent them to, but I didn’t receive them. Could you point me to those discussion 18 months ago? (I can’t find them searching by ‘Bennett’).

      All the best,

      Luke

      • Styru says:

        Well I sent a message to l.e.bennett@shu.ac.uk from two different email addresses (one my personal email, one an academic establishment one)

        Sadly the older discussion is no longer on line – it was deleted from the publicly viewable section of the forum during one of the regular archive/tidy/de-clutter rounds on the forum – as it had run its course.

      • Thanks for that Styru. That’s the correct email address, but neither message reached me I’m afraid. I’d hope that my recent attempts at engagement with the debate show that I would indeed have responded if those emails had reached me. It’s a pity that the previous discussion thread has now gone – that too would have been a fascinating read.

        I’ve checked back and can confirm that I corresponded by email with Turkey (moderator of your ROC Post sub-forum) in April 2010. I sent him a copy of my final draft, indicated that I would be happy to share it with the 28DL community after submission. Turkey kindly gave me permission to use his ROC photos in my document and indicated that I’d need to upload it to an external server before it could be linked to by the 28DL site. Looks like I forgot to close the circle on that bit – it did get uploaded to my Uni’s server later that summer, but I don’t appear to have then sent Turkey the link. Apologies for that oversight. But 28DL members seem to have found it anyway (and the various subsequent items). But here’s a link:

        http://shu.academia.edu/LukeBennett/Papers/667762/Bunkerology_-_a_case_study_in_the_meanings_motives_and_methods_of_urban_exploration

        Anyway, as I’ve said above. I’m happy to engage in debate. I’ve used rather a large number of words already to set out my interpretations of ROC hunting (the dissertation, articles and blog pieces). If any of your community want to put specific questions or charges to me then I’m happy to respond. But as it currently stands I can’t really meaningfully respond to forum comments that write my efforts off as ‘fail’, ‘shit’ or ‘missed the point’. All I could reply in that vein is ‘I don’t agree’ and ‘what’s are the points that I missed then?’, and ‘what did ‘Bradley Garrett and I both get so wrong about 28DL/urbex?’

        All the best,

        Luke

  2. Wendy says:

    I am truly amazed that you put “what did ‘Bradley Garrett and I both get so wrong about 28DL/urbex?” – I’m sorry, but this shows what scant understanding of the topic you have.

    That you could lump yourself in with ‘Brad’ is just staggering – you are aware that he is currently on bail awaiting his court appearance related to his breaking and entering activities?? (having been arrested on a plane at Heathrow airport)

    Bradleys version of crime is so not urban exploration, and if you even consider it o you are a million miles from understanding your topic.

    • Wendy – Bradley Garrett and I have each attempted academic interpretations of aspects of urbex recently. Commentators on the 28DL thread had lumped us together, stating that we had both failed to understand urbex. So that was why I included that question. His and my avenues of interest and approach are different, and he’s on record as not thinking much of my ‘shallow’ approach (his expression). Conversely I’m on record as sympathetic to urbex but also sympathetic to premises manager anxieties, anti-break in, and involved in anti metal theft research.

  3. Paul Mullins says:

    Luke, If your Thesis and research have created any discussion outside academic circles–and the degree to which such work is taken seriously even within those circles is at best uneven–then there is some genuine success. I am absolutely confident that the small handful of academics who are studying abandonment, ruins, and urban exploring (defined however we choose) do indeed want engagement with communities who are focused on finding places, exploring sites, photographing ruined places, documenting their histories, or some combination thereof, but academics and urban exploring communities clearly suffer from some stereotypes of each other. The anti-intellectual tenor of some of the online reactions to the piece are a little demoralizing and risk circumventing a conversation from the very beginning; I do think some of those discussions with archaeologists, ethnographers, and historians would be well-received by lots of urban explorers who have a lot to teach academics, too.

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