Dr Merle M Patchett

MA(Aberd.), Mres(Glas.), PhD(Glas.)

  • BS8 1SS

Personal profile

Research interests

A cultural-historical geographer by training, my research broadly focuses on theories, histories, and geographies of practice. This focus has led me to engage empirically with a range of specialised skills (e.g. taxidermy and plumasserie), practitioners (e.g. artisans, artists and architects), and places of practice (e.g. museums, galleries and archives) and to develop practice-based methodologies.


I can categorise my work into four main themes:


1. Historical geographies of craftwork, skill and apprenticeship.

This body of work largely draws on my AHRC-funded PhD research into the development and practice of the craft practice of taxidermy. By examining how this craft is worked through bodies (both human and animal) in the past and present, this research has sought highlight the importance of: 1) the body-work of taxidermists in the past and present; 2) apprenticeship as a historical practice and mode of contemporary research; 3) the site of the workshop for examining historic and contemporary craft cultures.

Developing on this latter theme I have more recently been examining the crafts of the plumassier (feather-maker) and fleurist (flower-maker) at high-end fashion ateliers. This empirical focus is enabling me to examine the historic gendering of skill and the ‘preservation’ of these endangered crafts in the present-day by global fashion giants.   

For publications see: Witnessing Craft, The Taxidermist’s Apprentice, Taxidermy Workshops, Historical Geographies of Apprenticeship, The Last Plumassier, Five Advantages of Skill.


2. Writing and curating more-than-human histories

This collaborative curatorial work draws out my PhD research examining what a taxidermy specimen is and can do through the performative presentation of the practices of their making. This has included working with contemporary artists Kate Foster and Andrea Roe to re-display the rare remains of an extinct antelope (Blue Antelope Correspondences) and stage contemporary art interventions in zoological museums and collections (Out of Time).

Building on these projects I developed the international touring exhibition Fashioning Feathers: Dead Birds, Millinery Crafts and the Plumage Trade whilst a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta (www.fashioningfeathers.info). Examining the lives, deaths and fabricated afterlives of birds involved in the plumage trade, this exhibition highlights: 1) the killing and craft practices of the plumage trade; 2) the near mass extinction of birds due to the trade; 3) the environmental and feminist activism that emerged in response; and 4) the exhibition as ‘academic output’.

For publications see: Tracking Tigers, Repair Work, Hollow-eyed Harrier, Alternative Ornithologies, Ruffling Feathers, Blue Bird of Paradise.


3. Experimental geographical methods: practicing posthumanism

Post-humanist theoretical innovations currently shaping contemporary human geography require us to rethink the empirical demands and responsibilities of geographical research. Central to this has been the call to develop more ‘experimental’ orientations to research and practices that problematize methodological assumptions pertaining to rigour, reliability and representation. I engage with and explore these questions and problematics in my M-Level course ‘Experimental Geographical Methods: Practising Post-Humanism in Social Research’ and on my blog Experimental Geographies in Practice

For related projects and curations see: Terrible Karma: Reverberations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, Reframing the Canadian Oil Sands

For publications see: Speaking with Spectres, Reframing.


4. Petro-cultures and architectures

This work largely draws on my Postdoctoral research project "Strip Appeal: Reinventing the Strip Mall" working with the City-Regions Study Centre, University of Alberta. Funded by SSHRC, Strip Appeal (www.strip-appeal.com) was an ideas design competition and traveling exhibition, intended to stimulate and showcase creative design proposals for the adaptive use of small-scale strip-malls. Over 100 design ideas from 11 countries were submitted to the competition and the winning and shortlisted submissions were showcased in exhibitions at the Univeristy of Alberta, University of Calgary and University of Buffalo. The competition catalogue can be purchased as a coffee table book here or through the University of Alberta Bookstore.

More recently I have worked on the project Archiving Oil with the artist Neville Gabie. The project seeks to create an archive of our relationship and dependence on an oil-based economy.

For publications see: Strip Appeal, Experiments in Strip Appeal.


Structured keywords and research groupings

  • Cultural Work


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