Embarking on utilizing autoethnography to research sexuality for my undergraduate dissertation at Royal Holloway was a tough decision. Nevertheless, it seemed like an interesting and potentially transformative methodological avenue to adopt to research the construction and contestation of homosexual identities in rural Essex as I was endeavouring to accomplish. Indeed this case has proven true as 18 months since the completion of the original empirical research, I am preparing a paper composed from this empirical research. When my dissertation supervisor initially suggested I submit a paper for submission for a conference, I never thought it would be accepted. It seemed to me to be an experience I would only be successful in procuring in latter years of academic study, not as a Masters student as I currently am. Therefore receiving the email in the first week of the New Year that I had been accepted secured me a disconcerting ensemble of anxiety, excitement, worry and self-doubt. I must report in the four weeks hence, since the news has had more time to percolate, I still feel the same way.
On the 16th of May, I will be presenting my paper entitled “(Re)defining Rural Geographies of Sexualities through Autoethnography: Picturesque and Idyllic Fields and Farmlands as Masculine Sanctuaries within Landscape” at the Masculinities in the British Landscape conference held at Harlaxton College. Here is the abstract for the paper:
“This paper adopts autoethnography in order to explore the hidden, intricate and interwoven nature of the construction and contestation of male homosexual identities within the landscapes of public spaces in rural Essex. Specifically, it analyses the co-constitutive relationship between homosexual male identities and the rural landscapes, citing the importance of analysing emotional responses to the landscape in understanding the intricate webs of spatialities of male homosexual identity. Challenging normative notions of the hegemony of heterosexual identity within rural areas, analysis of thirty-four days of consecutive analytic autoethnography demonstrates how fields and farmland evoke a unique emotional experience. The nuances of this experience are discussed in relation to three themes: sanctuary, wilderness and nostalgia. Overarching these three themes is a broad recognition of how the mediation of homosexual male identities by rural landscapes is fundamentally therapeutic against a background of hegemonic heteronormativity embedded into rural society. In concluding, this paper emphasises the potential utility of formulating such emotional self-cartographies for comprehending the symbiotic relationship between sexual identity and landscapes, and more broadly underscores the need to consider emotion when researching rural geographies of sexualities.”
With sessions entitled ‘Bloodied Landscapes’, ‘Imagined Landscapes’ and ‘Emotional Landscapes’, it is shaping up to be a fascinating opportunity to see the interdisciplinary interaction and scholarship currently happening within landscape studies from different arenas around the academy. This is evident in the ‘Emotional Landscapes’ session that I will be presenting in, whereby my paper regarding the geographies of sexualities sits besides a discussion of romance, grief and masculinity in Moreland as well as a presentation on the literary portrayals of the Clerical Rambler. I feel honoured to have the opportunity to partake in such interdisciplinary discussion.
One nagging question however remains rather prominent for me, something dominating my thoughts of late whenever thinking of this particular opportunity. How do I feel about having to intimately portray my sexuality and its everyday spatial and temporal idiosyncrasies to the world? This concurrent concern I knew all along was going to be an inherent part of adopting an autoethnographically-oriented methodological attack, yet its evident significance and meaning is only just becoming realized to me 18 months down the line. However I reason that in invoking such self-display I will hopefully be following in the fascinating footsteps of some other socio-cultural geographers who I would argue have advanced geographies of sexualities scholarship considerably through invoking their own experiences, emotions, feelings, behaviours and cognitive sensations as their core empirical material. Through chatting with other members of this academic community, I have gathered that this concern is very much characteristic of the requisite nerves synonymous with your first conference presentation. My mind is therefore (momentarily) eased. Nonetheless, I cannot wait to grab this opportunity and see where it takes me.
Oliver Knight, MA Cultural Geography (Research).