The programme for Summer 2014
The snappily titled RGS-IBG Postgraduate Forum Midterm Conference was taken by storm on Monday by a seven (wo)man contingent of Royal Holloway cultural geographers. Whether it was a biscuit induced sugar rush or academic inspiration can’t be definitively determined, but either way, everyone left the opening key note speech by Hilary Geoghegan feeling enthused about the conference to come.
The conference was arranged into six blocks of two or three sessions, with four or five papers in each session. The organisers had tried to theme the sessions, but given the mix of physical, human and cultural geographers, this was a bit of a challenge, and some papers fitted their themes better than others. Each presentation was ten minutes, with two or three minutes for questions from the audience. Every session was well attended and we had some interesting questions and lots of opportunity to follow up with conversations in the breaks.
The Royal Holloway gang talked on a range of subjects. Here’s an overview – in order of appearance…
I presented a paper entitled ‘Space, Place and Contentious Politics in the Gordon Riots.’ By the time I had defined contentious politics and given some background information on the Gordon Riots I only had half of my ten-minute presentation left, but I feel I managed to illustrate the relationship between space, place the riots well in the remaining five minutes using two case studies. I’m glad a chose to focus on the Gordon Riots rather than trying to explain my entire PhD; I think it allowed a good balance of breadth and detail in the time we were given. I got several questions from the audience, several of which made me think about issues that hadn’t occurred to me before, which I will definitely consider as my project progresses.
I presented a paper which set out to illustrate some of the human geography theory on people’s relationship with nature – in particular in the ways that that is changing as we come to terms with the idea that (1) we live on a planet of rather unstable climates which, (2) we ourselves are making the climate even more wobbly than it is on its own and (3) the forces that drive the climate really don’t give a toss about us, but we probably need to give more of a toss about them.
When I looked over the conference listing I realised I was the only non-physical geographer in the ‘climate and cryosphere’ session, which consisted of a fascinating delve into means of measuring the thickness of the Greenland icesheet, ‘plumes’ from glacial outbursts in Svalbard and a rather extraordinary remote control plane to analyse the topography of Iceland. To say I was nervous would be a gross understatement!
My talk began with “and now for something completely different…” and I discussed pictures and descriptions of my own artworks while using them as a starting point for exploring some of the theory I’d been looking at. To be honest, I was very nervous as I wasn’t sure what my group of scientists would make of me and pictures of bits of chalk and snowballs – but I got such arrestingly interesting questions and positive feedback I was overwhelmed.
I’m so pleased that it was a success, and I met absolutely some fascinating people (I reckon it definitely helps to present early on, so people approach YOU over coffee and biscuits… ) I’m also so pleased I got to have a great chat with keynote speaker Hilary Geoghegan who’s work I’ve been really interested in for a few years now. Let’s hope the annual conference in August is as positive an experience as the post-grad one…
The first day was rounded off with drinks and a wedding reception thinly disguised as a conference dinner. With the bright lights of Loughborough being extinguished by 11pm, it was an early night for all. Day 2 began bright and early with a keynote on environmental issues in China by Professor John Anderson, who doused the flames of enthusiasm by concluding that we are all f*@ked.
I gave a poster presentation and also made some reflections on the conference here: http://souvenirgeographies.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/a-reflection-on-rgs-ibg-pgf-mid-term-conference/
The presentation I enjoyed most is Professor John Anderson’s ‘China and Global Change’ (on the second day). I feel excited to look at China from a different angel. Professor John Anderson pointed out lots of problem in China, while showing his affection for the country. All the problems he pointed out are realistic, I admit it. The central government thought we can take the same way as the western took in the 20 century, but now it realizes that the damage to environment will be too huge to fix if we have the same way of developing (economy first, and then we will fix the environment). So it is taking action now. I was in Chine during Feb 2014, and in this month, several (7 or something like that) iron and steel plants and some cement hills in suburban Beijing had been torn down, to control the producing of steel in order to control the building of new houses, and to control the usage of coal in order to pollute the environment less.
Although some action have been taken, I still think the problem is serious and I like the ending of Professor John Anderson’s presentation: if the Chinese continuing taking the same way as the western did, and if the West of China has the same developed level as the East of China, ‘WE ARE F**KED!’ I like how he deals with the conclusion and makes it sound more serious. The more serious the problem sounds, the worse the situation we are in, the central government will pay more attention to the environment. It was a very great presentation! And I am touched about Professor John Anderson’s feeling of China. He must love it and hate it!
At the mid-term RGS conference, I chose to present a paper illustrative of anticipations-in-action, delivered as introductory and as an overview-in-progress review; navigating the nexus of current operative empirics concerning the Cultural Geographies of Dyslexic Creative Writing and Writers.
In this session, the paper laced the narrative and (auto)ethnographic fibres that knit together this research’s fabric on a specific Creative Practice. It tailored how Dyslexic Creative Writing and Writers are apprehended and approached both as a ‘subject-of’ and as a ‘method-of’ Geographical inquiry. Furthermore, this dual-perspective approach to Dyslexic Creative Writing and Writers is underlined by finer threads of research objectives, that run through these empirics; these were Geographically framed and termed as materialities, sociabilities, corporealities, spatialities and mobilities of Dyslexic Creative Writing, and were applied to collective and intimate sites of fieldwork inquiry. After travelling in tandem and mapping a journey of empirical outsets and intentions, the paper arrives back to the theoretical territory of the thesis’ overarching aim; to understand how Dyslexic Creative Writing’s interrelatible processes of consumption and production underlie contentions of Geographical imaginaries and subjectivities constitutive of a ‘Dyslexic’ voice, narrative-self and translatory world.
Despite this paper’s focus on the ethnographic ventures in the pursuit of research so far, of particular interest were instances that delved into the creative and more experimental methods that were devised in sensitivity and sympathy to the nature of this writing subject of this Geographical inquiry. Explanations of the implementation of creative methods and experimental approaches, sought how they demonstrated to negotiate the footpaths, unmarked trails and forested terrains in the biography-scape(s) of the writing process, practice and performance of Dyslexic Creative Writers. The genesis of this paper targeted contributions to and extending dialogues-of-interest in respective Geographical discourses spanning Creative Geographies, Disability-Aesthetic Geographies & New Geographies of Storytelling.
(Augmenting The Everyday: Emerging Places For Digital Research.) Presenting at the RGS mid-term was the first opportunity I’ve had to present my work to an audience of purely geographers. Great news I thought. However, being asked to present to a group billed, as ‘Business, technology and the economy’ was certainly a daunting task. No pressure then, I thought. I needn’t have worried. Presenting an outline of my work from its early conceptualisations to preliminary methodological ideas, the group stuck with me, which was evident in the questions I was asked both during the Q&A and later sessions. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the conference was its informal atmosphere. Not being afraid to ask a silly question is always a great position to be in, and the environment fostered at the conference really helped encourage that. I’ll look forward to next year.
My presentation explored the idea that the language which pop-ups use in their marketing rhetoric is borrowed from, or at least reminiscent of, nonlinear science. I argued that this appropriation does, amongst other things, a specific (political) job – in that it helps to re-brand what are in actuality circumstances of recession (insecurity, disorientation, uncertainty) as desirable and marketable qualities of pop-up events (complexity, immersion, secrecy). I suggested that this idea was one way into thinking about the imaginative geography of pop-up, and that it also raised questions around the work that nonlinearity is put to in geography – given that nonlinearity is often seen as grounding radical and critical politics (e.g. turbulence, vital materialism) but that here its purpose was actually to foreclose critical conversation by masking the failings of neoliberal economics.
I got a couple of good questions and a nice chat with a 1st year geographer from Queen Mary after the presentation. It was really useful to get a sense of how what I’m working on will be received by a. people who aren’t me and b. people who aren’t cultural geographers and hopefully the experience will stand me in good stead for the ‘adult’ version of the RGS in summer!
After lunch a series of workshops had been arranged on the subjects of funding, publishing and innovative methods. Run by experienced academics, they were all informative and engaging.
My presentation covered the intended theoretical approach to my research, focusing in particular on ‘domicide’, the intentional destruction of home, and the extension of its meaning to consider the ways in which the home can be destroyed socio-symbolically, as well as through the physical destruction of or displacement from the dwelling. I explored this extension using my two research case studies, Section 144 (the criminalisation of squatting in a residential building) and the bedroom tax (removal of the spare room subsidy for council tenants). I discussed the ways in which the home of the squatter and the social tenant is unmade through these policies via reducing their ability to establish and maintain secure homespaces, and through their subsequent outcasting as social miscreants either unable or unwilling to engage in normalised rhetorics of homeownership-as-aspirational. I then linked this to wider theoretical considerations of Foucauldian governmentality/technologies of governance, to consider the ways in which domicidal policies such as Section 144 and the bedroom tax are able to occur via technologies of governance that praise the homeowner as the successful pinnacle of homemaking, and equally condemns those who do not engage in such rhetoric as failed citizens.
Well-known for being a friendly and easy-going conference, the Midterm did not disappoint as an opportunity to present papers and network in a friendly and supportive environment. The conference provided us with the opportunity to meet and mingle with like-minded Geographers all at a similar stage in their academic careers, as well as fatten ourselves up on the complementary lunches and snacks.
H.A, M.B, A.Z, K.B, M.D, E.H, & M.N
I have always loved Geography and always will. I often get asked why I chose to do Geography, to which I reply, I am fascinated by how spaces and places operate and interact with each other, this is why I chose to become a Geographer. So what exactly it is that Geographers do? I find the best way to explain to people is that we take aspects of different disciplines like economics and add a spatial component. Am I cultural Geographer? You could say I suffer from imposter syndrome, because of my diverse Geography education background.
My undergraduate degree was in physical Geography, concentrating mainly on applied physical Geography and environmental management. From this I began to develop an interest in the more human aspects of it and undertook courses in urban Geography, which led to my Masters degree in human Geography. I found this a difficult transition at first and often wondered if I had made a mistake in taking on something I had no idea about. I had never read or heard of Marx, Gramsci, Freud, or Lacan. I was out of my depth. But after a lot of very slow reading, perseverance, and encouragement I began to feel more comfortable with this kind of material.
My MA research looked at how Aboriginal people in Vancouver, Whistler, and the surrounds were engaged in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games planning process, considering the specific claims of Canada’s Aboriginal population to the right to participate in public processes. Although it was largely based on social sustainability, I began to find myself reading a lot on cultural Geography, and became interested in it as it played a significant role in my research. More specifically I was interested in the questions of commodification and appropriation of culture, and the extent to which Aboriginal participation in the 2010 Olympic Games was a spectacle. It was this, and a certain Geography professor at Simon Fraser University (you know who you are!) who encouraged me to peruse cultural Geography at Royal Holloway and work with Professor Phil Crang.
I began to develop my interests in the commodification and consumption of culture by moving on to look at the consumption of diasporic Iranian culture, and in particular food. I still have a slight case of imposter syndrome, but I am a cultural Geographer, not because of what I study but the ways in which I study it. Again, I had chosen to dive straight into the unfamiliar, researching a diaspora and topic I knew very little about. I chose to take an ethnographic approach to my research, by going to various Iranian cultural events (I also found it was a great way for my parents to learn about what it is that I do!), learning some Farsi, meeting with Persian people, and of course eating lots of Persian food. I found that best way to try to understand the unfamiliar was to immerse myself into it. But more seriously it allowed me to gain the access I needed when conducting my fieldwork.
Am I cultural Geographer? I suppose I am, although I feel that I am just a Geographer as I like to dip and dive into other aspects of Geography like GIS, urban Geography, and geomorphology. I was advised that one should venture outside their research comfort zone by attending different sessions at conferences like the AAG. For example, attending a session on curation in cultural economies at the 2013 AAG in LA has been helpful in the analysis and writing process of my empirical chapter on the designing of diasporic Iranian commercial food spaces. In addition to expanding my network, it has led me to co-organise a session on curation integrating a cultural and economic geography approach at the 2014 RGS*.
My name is Priya, and I am a cultural Geographer.
Priya Vadi (PhD Candidate)
* For full details on the session please go to http://www.egrg.rgs.org/conferences-symposia/rgs-ibg/ and click on the “Where culture meets economy: co-producing conceptual understandings of curation” link
On Tuesday 18th February, we held a special extended Landscape Surgery in conjunction with visual urbanists from Goldsmiths, which explored how materiality of place can be engaged through visual practices. Surgeons enjoyed four presentations that brought together academic investigations and photographic work, by Mia Hunt (RHUL), Rachel Sarah Jones (Sociology, Goldsmiths and the International Association of Visual Urbanists), David Kendall (Visiting Fellow, CUCR, Goldsmiths), and Ben Murphy (University of the Arts London and ‘Landscape Surgeon’). Vibrant discussion was chaired by Philip Crang.
Mia opened the afternoon by presenting a paper in press with Geography Compass, entitled Urban Photography/Cultural Geography: Spaces, Objects, Events. The paper draws from her visual ethnography of London’s Ad Hoc shops and her experience at Goldsmiths’ Urban Photography Summer School, which she attended in 2011. It set out ways of attending to material and place with the camera that chime with contemporary concerns in cultural geography: by evoking the feeling of place and its material richness; opening work to ambiguity and chance to create space for interpretation; playing with value, hierarchy, and the agency of matter; and highlighting the matter of our own bodies caught up in events. The paper focused not only on images, but on the practice of doing urban photography as a performative methodology. The images she showed – both her own and by others – were not only evidential, but also depicted atmosphere and emotion. Here, images are both self-explanatory and mysterious; space, light, and time are described, but often revealed as unknowable. (An earlier version of the paper is available on her blog at: http://keepingshop.blogspot.co.uk/.)
Next, Rachel Sarah Jones showed a series of vivid abstract urban photos: Landscape of Disappearance. At once, these images highlight urban materiality, immateriality, legibility, and illegibility. Rachel discussed how she works with coloured filters, light reflections and layerings of images to create abstractions that respond to the flow and pace of urban life. She spoke of how mundane urban experience often occludes place in favour of speed and movement. The Landscape of Disappearance in her photographs is a response, but one that seeks to cross between place’s materiality and immaterial states of being. Her collaborative approach to working with place highlights its affective vibrancy while allowing it to disappear. (You can see more of Rachel’s photographic practice at http://rachelsarahjones.com/.)
David Kendall then shared a budding project on mobility and interstitial spaces in Doha. Like Rachel, his work interrogates the velocity of urban experiences and the illegibility of the city. Before revealing the project’s first images, David described his own feelings in Doha: his sense of being out of place, his experience walking along highways and other overlooked sites, and the feeling of the climate on his body. His images – flattened, desaturated, graphic, and textured – describe the limits of his access, both socially and in terms of built form, and capture his sense of disorientation as an outsider. (You can see more of David’s work at http://www.david-kendall.co.uk/.)
Finally, Ben Murphy showed images of temporary settlements in southeast Spain from his on-going doctoral research. The project considers how the materiality of these dwellings constitutes alternative settlements and new relationships to ‘mainstream’ lifestyles and rejected urban environments. His use of a large format camera brings a heightened reality to his images and the things they describe. These people-less portraits are rich with feeling. They awaken and lay bare the material of these counter-cultural lives. (You can see more of Ben’s photography practice at http://benmurphy.co.uk/.)
A number of themes worked across these bodies of work and were drawn out in an animated discussion. Collectively, the work could be seen as problematising the common distinction between photography as aesthetic and as evidential. The images shown were aesthetic objects that permitted a new engagement with materiality of place. Evocative and feeling, they contribute to academic work in ways that go beyond the documentary and the illustrative. The materialities of photography are deployed as a way to think through the material of place. Images become a way of reflecting. That said, through blurring, disappearance, and illegibility, much of the work critically reacted to our inability to know place. Themes of visibility and invisibility recurred. Photography here is a way of attending to place while showing that it cannot be pinned down or captured.
Many images captured the material and movement of place, while also engaging with the material of the photographic process. The acetate filter, the bulk of a large format camera, the undulation of the film in a pinhole camera, the corporeal experience in a foreign place… visual practice was shown to be as material as the places it attends to. This in turn has implications for how photographic work is shown and seen within academic cultures and economies. There are questions about the relations between image, speech, and text, as well as about the capacity to publish photographic work for social science and human geography ‘readers’. Overall, though, the session’s discussion of the materiality of photographic practice enhanced the shared sense that photography can work with place in a spirit of collaboration to evoke its material and feeling.
Mia Hunt (PhD Candidate)
Originally posted on Jographies:
The Perils of Commuting
Trains hey. Love them but they are not the most reliable and certainly susceptible to “inconveniences” being caused. Yesterday I had a stark reminder of this. My journey back from Royal Holloway to Guildford requires two changes, fortunately I was offered a lift to the first change en route and was looking forward to getting home earlier than anticipated.
O how naive.
Due to the very sad occurrence of someone being hit by a train, I had an hour wait for a train to arrive to take me the 10 minutes from Weybridge to Woking. Upon alighting, I was faced with another hour wait for my connecting train to Guildford – again a ten minute journey. With no buses running that late, I had a choice between waiting for the train or paying for a taxi.
In the end, I decided to run. A route I…
View original 1,101 more words
The preliminary programme for the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers has recently been published. The Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London will be strongly represented by both staff and doctoral researchers (detailed below).
Innes M. Keighren
Thank-you everybody who attended and contributed to the Landscape Surgery session last week on top-tips (21st Jan 2014).
It seemed like everybody had lots to say, and we have a set of topics stored up for the next top-tips session which will be after easter. In the mean time, here is an attempt to collect together all the great resources and tips that came through in the session and that people posted on twitter and e-mailed me.
Here is a link to the storified tweets ( thanks Simon and Laura for pointing me towards this)
Thanks all for your contributions…
Please keep adding via the comments function below or reposting
Dealing with those reviewers…. you know- the ones that never agree….
I’ll do that later…tomorrow… next week… procrastination:
When it all gets a little bit out of perspective…
Do you ever think one day everybody else is going to realise you don’t belong here?
Academia, PhDs and depression/ anxiety: exploding the tyranny…
It was never meant to happen. I was just curious; experimental. I mean, it was my first year at university – this is what you’re meant to do right? I was just messing around but I knew where my passions really lay. Yet before I realised, something changed – my flirting was no longer just harmless, tangential fun. It meant something. I had to be honest with myself – I no longer liked what I used to, I was into something different and it was exciting.
Starting my undergraduate degree at Plymouth, I was an ardent physical geographer. My experience of geography up till that point had told me that human geography was pretty boring and it was in the physical sciences where it was really happening. Indeed I remember being quite taken aback during sixth form when someone suggested that I must favour the human side of discipline. I could not dispute their reasoning (based on my very social science/humanities A-Level subjects) but the conclusion almost repulsed me. A similar feeling of steadfastness was experienced in my first lecture at Plymouth when Dr Richard Yarwood ‘guaranteed’ that the majority of us in the room would favour human geography by the end of the degree.
I was tempted within two weeks.
The introductory lectures in human geography were nothing like what I had experienced hitherto – they were exciting, intriguing and seemed to be about real life – about people, places, the world. In comparison, the physical lectures seemed dated, dull and if I am going to be honest – too sciencey for me. I was slowly being seduced by human geography. I found it fascinating that you could use poetry in geographical enquiry, that a coastal walk could be cutting edge fieldwork. By Christmas I was a fully-fledged human-geography-convert when I was introduced to Yi-Fu Tuan. Assigned an essay about my sense of place, I discovered the idea that peoples’ feeling, emotions, actions, thoughts and opinions about things really mattered, in life and in geography. What a revelation that was, since that point I haven’t taken a single physical geography module – I was a human geographer and proud.
The remaining two and a half years at Plymouth were spent finding my feet, I was still cagey in this new ground; unsure of what human geography really was, what held it together and what type of human geographer I was. I was definitely having a crisis of identity, struggling to articulate to my family and friends what it is I was studying and how it all related to geography. Unfortunately this is not a story of epiphanic realisation or how I became a born-again cultural geographer. Truth be told, I still have the same difficulty – sometimes I say I am a cultural geographer, sometimes a social-cultural geographer, sometimes a human geographer, sometimes a geographer and sometimes just a researcher. I have a fuzzy academic identity but I know I have found a home in cultural geography.
I ended up at Royal Holloway, studying the MA Cultural Geography, not because I decided I was a cultural geographer (in fact I had never had a cultural geography lecture before I enrolled) but because so much of the geography that really excited me was coming from here. If I have assumed the label of a cultural geographer because of that, I am ok with it because I feel cultural geography and me are well-matched. In my first seminar here we discussed what culture and cultural geography were. We concluded that we did not know. The concept of culture is too difficult to pin down, the remit of cultural geography is broad beyond compare and cultural geographers come from such diverse disciplinary backgrounds – there is no archetypal cultural geographer.
It appears that cultural geography is also very fuzzy. While I may struggle to explain at a party what I do and why I do it in a catchy sound bite, I am happy to embrace all this fuzziness and run with it – the results of which are enthusiasm, excitement and fascination. While I recognise the jack of all trades, master of none argument, I am not concerned by it. I prefer to think of cultural geography, not as a list of researchable topics, but as a disposition and way of thinking. To me cultural geography explores how spaces, places, people and things are, how they become meaningful, how they are experienced, and how they are perceived, imagined and practised by different people / things. It is about how we live our lives, the places we live in, how we create meaning and the affects/effects of such things and yes, that is very broad but also of incredible importance.
I am curious about the world, and cultural geography not only accommodates this widespread concern but actively encourages it; constantly questioning, challenging and pushing me to think in different ways, research in different ways and see the world from different perspectives. 3 years 4 months ago, I would not believe it but: my name is Simon Cook and I am having an affair with cultural geography.
Simon Cook (M.A Candidate)