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