On Friday 31st May, the Centre for the GeoHumanities (Royal Holloway, University of London), in collaboration with the Department of Geography at the University of Portsmouth and the Department of Geography at Stockholm University, welcomed a network of scholars from the UK and overseas with a shared interest in methodologies for exploring social media, specifically blogs, vlogs and blog/vlogospheres. The purpose of this interdisciplinary workshop was to bring together scholars in discussions around understanding social media activities and spaces, and the associated opportunities and challenges involved in both their production and their examination.
Jenny Sjöholm (Centre for the GeoHumanities, RHUL) opened the workshop by highlighting a series of questions and debates: Why do women create such spaces of memory? In what ways do these creative spaces matter? How can we understand and approach these spaces? How do women’s pre-digital-era detailed accounts of everyday life – such as travel diaries, pocket diaries and photo albums – compare and contrast with their online equivalents? Are we in need of new tools and perspectives? How can we balance our understanding of the personal elements of such constructions with their professional and commercial aspects?
Following this activity, we were invited to explore the outdoor space of Bedford Square. Under the shade of the trees, scholars were invited to be involved in a ‘speed networking’ event. Here, we had a chance to network with other members of the workshop to find out what everyone else was working on. This networking continued back in Bedford Square over a working lunch. It was really exciting to find parallels and cross-overs between work on emotional ‘care’ work, the fashion industry, travel bloggers, food cultures and Eurovision, all in the context of social media and blogs, which will hopefully open the way for some potential collaborations and cross-overs in the near future!
After some much-deserved refreshments, Dr Sally Bayley (University of Oxford) led an interactive mini-workshop based on her recent study of the diary and journal as a form of literary and social self-construction. Her book The Private Life of the Diary from Pepys to Tweets: A history of the diary as an artform (2016) explores diary-making as a form of private and public identity as it is constructed across history. Sally opened the mini-workshop by introducing the group to the diary of Sylvia Plath. The group were invited to attempt to decipher both the words and the meanings of the images on the page. Sally also discussed the ideas of micro-space and the associated geographies of the page in relation to practices and processes of self-recording.
Keeping with this idea of geographies of the page, participants were then invited to think about their own acts of self-recording in relation to the micro-geographies of the page space. Using individual raffle tickets (which together comprised one page of a raffle ticket book or one distinct spatiality), we were asked to think about and draw out a private space we had inhabited that day. Each raffle ticket, therefore, represented both a micro-space of the geographies of the page and of the personal space. Together, in a roundtable discussion, we then discussed our spatial maps. This exercise prompted discussions around both the intimacies and subtle differences of each participant’s account of self-recording.
Reflecting on these self-recordings, for the final exercise of the day, we were then asked to write a short ‘diary’ entry about these images. Participants were asked to make a conscious choice about the distinctive materiality they used to make this recording (from the phone notes app to the invoice book to the humble notepad itself). In doing so, participants were invited to think about and discuss the constraints and affordances which their distinctive choice of ‘page’ afforded them. This activity led on to some lively discussion around ideas of aesthetisation of the blog as diary online and the blog/diary as public versus private space.
We hope this workshop provided an opportunity to serve as the foundation for establishing a network of scholars working on such issues around social media data, blogs and blogospheres in the GeoHumanities and beyond. With huge thanks to my co-organisers, Jenny Sjöholm (Centre for the GeoHumanities RHUL), Taylor Brydges (Department of Geography, Stockholm University), Carol Ekinsmyth (Department of Geography, University of Portsmouth) and also to the Centre for the GeoHumanities (RHUL) for all of their help and support in making this event a success.
Written by Nina Willment, edited by Alice Reynolds and Jack Lowe