Meet the author, Danny Dorling, and find out what inspired him to write Slowdown

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Photograph of Danny Dorling

Danny Dorling is an award winning academic, highly acclaimed author and much sought after social commentator based in Oxford University, UK where he holds the post of Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography.

A prolific writer and public speaker, Dorling has published 18 books focusing largely on social inequality in the UK and is frequently called on for his expertise as a social geographer by the UK media and government organisations.  

Dorling has also published nearly a dozen "Atlases" showcasing his talent for data visualisation. In this book Dorling brings these two disciplines together, using an adaptation of "phase portrait" graphs to complement his analysis.

Described as "that rare university professor: expert, politically engaged and able to explain simply why his subject matters," by The Guardian newspaper, Dorling's ability to build extraordinary pictures from clouds of ordinary data is equally a delight and an education.

To find out more about Dorling and his work visit his home page, where links to his open access books and data can also be found. To find out more about his favourite hobby, check out his Sandcastle page.

What was your inspiration for Slowdown?

"My inspiration for Slowdown came many years ago when writing "Population 10 billion”. I had one graph in that book, Figure 8.5, that almost no one looked at because it looks so boring. Just as the book demonstrated the slowing down in the growth of world population, this also showed a slowdown but in the growth of GDP across most of the world after 1970.

"It made me wonder what else is actually slowing down long term. Up until this point I had assumed most things were speeding up - but what I found was that very few were (consumption, carbon pollution, flights and university graduates are the most obvious aspects of human life still speeding up).

"Unlike growth, slowdowns are much less likely to be seen as newsworthy. This is partly because there is usually not a single event that can be talked about. It is the same thing happening year after year, occasionally the slowing is slightly faster than before, occasionally it is not as quick - but neither of those stories are newsworthy. And there is also an assumption that everything is speeding up - so a slowdown is seen as an aberration.

"When it does occur - such as in the economy of a country - it is assumed to be a deviation from the norm; rather than seeing that the norm has now changed utterly since the 1950s and 1960s where in many places growth was usual."

What would you like to see slowing down
in the near future?

"I would like there to be a faster slowdown in the number of people dying in wars. That has already fallen dramatically in the last 70 years; but there is no good reason why it could not fall faster. Those countries which base a large part of their economies on selling weapons abroad should be shamed - in the same way that we are now seeing flight shaming and the shaming of industries that result in high carbon pollution.

"Just because the wars tend not to occur where we live should not mean that we see carbon pollution as important and changeable, but the wars our industries and governments help support as inevitable."

Slowdown book cover 

Excerpts from Slowdown by Danny Dorling:

"Old ideas, even when we can clearly see they were misguided, take time to die. New ones are still being formed, not least the ones that can explain slowdown and what humans are now aspiring to— and becoming."

"The geopolitics of slowdown will be a politics of the previously ignored, of the humble, because without great acceleration it is so much harder for a few to trample over the many."

"Capitalism demands change, ever-expanding markets, and increasing consumption: grow or go bust. In many ways, we are now heading toward zero growth, back to very low global interest rates. We are very unprepared for stability and so we try to avoid it at all costs as we burden young people with debt and young countries with dictators."

Danny Dorling building drip sandcastles in Wales
1. Somewhere in Wales ...
Drip sandcastles in Norfolk
2. Gathering a crowd in Norfolk
Drip sandcastles in France
3. South of France 
Danny Dorling building drip sandcastles in Wales spiral
4. Ready for the tide to turn, Wales 

Danny's study of turning tides isn't just the result of a career devoted to statistics and social trends...

...the truth is his interest goes back to his earliest memories on the beach making "drip sandcastles" with his father David.

Ideally made just as the tide starts going out on a beach with tidal pools or streams, Danny can spend anything up to 9 hours building his Gaudiesque installations, pictured left.

So, what exactly are drip sandcastles? "Back in the day," David writes, "when all television was black and white, there was often a problem with programs not fully occupying their slot. The BBC had one of these which showed someone (I think in the Netherlands) making drip sandcastles on a beach. I had never seen one on an English beach."

He and his young familiy soon became enthusiastic converts. He also enjoyed the way they created a great sense of community on the beach. "The really social event is when there is sufficient water flowing down the beach to do water-works with added drip sandcastles. Then you can usually reckon on getting half the children on the beach to participate!"

Danny inherited his father's enthusiasm. "Bucket castle’s very quickly become boring to make and require very little skill. After the first two dozen castles are made the interest goes, it's all the same. But every drip castle is different," he said. "As soon as you start building them they become a magnet to children on the beach, which makes them hard to do when you're single. I had to wait to have my own kids before I could get into them again."

Luckily his children shared his enthusiasm, and their family album is filled with photos of mini utopias and fantasy landscapes that were the backdrop for hours of fun and treasured memories. "Drip castles are all about being in the moment - you don't do them to win prizes," he says.

Along with a good drip technique (see here), these castles require the right kind of sand. His advice is: "Beaches in West and South West Wales and North Devon good. On the North East coast of England from Robin Hood’s Bay northwards to Bamburgh or Mablethorpe and Filey are OK. The south coast of England is less promising, but the beach at Swanage works."

Danny also recommends using Google Earth to identify beaches with streams and heading out the day after rain. "It helps if there is a little elevation inland. Beaches with no hills behind tend to lack good streams. We tend not to put sewage out on our streams nowadays on UK beaches; but it is still worth double checking!"


  • Find a beach with streams or tidal pools. Alternatively dig a hole by your utopia site and fill with water at high tide.

  • Build a small mound to act as your base. If you like you can build a series of bases forming the outline of your drip castle landscape (see photo 4 above). This way you can set helpers to work quickly.

  • Grab a small handful of watery sand from your pool, stream or bucket, and start dripping. To get maximum control let the watery sand drip through your fingers (see animation), with your hand held as if you are sprinkling salt on your chips.

  • For additional fun incorporates streams, drift wood and ice-cream breaks.

animation of drip sandcastle technique