Reflections on “sublime encounters” with the media

By Amy Donovan, University of Cambridge


Fire fountain activity from the active fissure at Holuhraun during the early days of the eruption (photograph by Amy Donovan)

In December 2018, I published a paper in Geo: Geography and Environment, entitled “Sublime Encounters: Commodifying the experience of the Geos”. The paper engages with theoretical approaches around the materiality and liveliness of the geos, and the ways in which its nonhuman forces have been commodified via volcano tourism. It then discusses the tensions between this view of the earth as something to be experienced, and the view of volcanoes as risky.

After the paper was accepted, the RGS-IBG press office contacted me and offered to produce a press release to coincide with the publication of the paper. I worked closely with Giulia Macgarr, who did a great job on the press release and supported me throughout the process. It was picked up by numerous media outlets – I was surprised by the amount of interest!

The press release was framed rather differently from the paper – no mention of material geographies or Deleuze! It was focussed mainly on volcano tourism and some of the stories of this from the paper. This got translated in a variety of ways by the media – “Lava lovers told to cool it” in The Times, for example. Many UK-based outlets framed it in this way: as a warning to tourists about the dangers of volcanoes, rather than as a study of the affective experience of eruptions and how this has been marketised. I was also interviewed by Icelandic and Israeli journalists. It was rather odd to be interviewed about volcano tourism as a risk, when the purpose of the paper was much more nuanced and focussed on the need for a balance between the commodified affective qualities of active tectonic environments and the management of risk.


Lava flow front from a couple of weeks later in the eruption (photograph by Amy Donovan)

Another consideration for me in going through this process was the potential impact on collaborators in Iceland – I was reluctant to put out a press release that might generate work for them, or undermine their efforts in managing volcanic risk. The RGS-IBG was very helpful with this – we redrafted the press release several times to minimise any misinterpretation. I was also careful in interviews to make sure that I didn’t let the conversation get onto topics that might be misinterpreted and undermine risk reduction activities. On the other hand, the media exposure did have a potential use in making people in the UK (many of whom visit Iceland as tourists) more aware of some of the risks.

The engagement that I had with the press was generally positive, and I enjoyed sharing my research, even if the focus of the engagement was a little different from the research itself. It was a useful experience and also helped me to think through the ways in which research can be relevant beyond its initial framing.

About the author: Dr Amy Donovan is lecturer in geography and fellow of Girton College, University of Cambridge. 

-> Read the full Geo paper: Donovan, ASublime encounters: Commodifying the experience of the geosGeo: Geography and Environment.2018;e00067.
Selected press coverage of Amy’s article: