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