RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2008, London

Just over a week to go before the Royal Geographical Society’s Annual Conference begins in London. For non-geography readers, this conference is a large gathering of geographers from across the numerous sub-disciplines and an opportunity to present new work and get feedback from your peers. Looking at this year’s programme there are lots of interesting sessions across the three days of the conference. I will plug a few here that look particularly relevant:

*         How was it for you? Towards shared imaginaries of qualitative data analysis, writing up, and the research trajectory (Pernille Schiellerup (University of Oxford) & Tara Duncan (University of Otago, New Zealand))


The starting point for this session is that relatively inexperienced researchers can often find themselves a bit lost in two ways (and perhaps even more experienced researchers too…?). The first way is with respect to qualitative data analysis as such, how to do it, how to write up, how those relate to each other, and to the overall process of enquiry. While there are normative accounts, the shared imaginary of what it is really like is less often committed to print, or otherwise shared in formal ways. Access to such a shared imaginary would help less experienced researchers situate their own experience of data analysis and writing up. Moreover even for the more experienced we think there can be value and pleasure in sharing the nitty gritty of such aspects of social scientific practice. The other way that one may find oneself lost, is to do with the research trajectory proper, and this is probably not particular to qualitative enquiry. Here being lost pertains to having little or no grasp of the shape that research trajectories may take, and therefore little or no idea of where one is on this journey. This can be quite disempowering. For both of these topics there is the possibility to open up to the sensualities, materialities and emotionalities of either data analysis and writing up and/or the research process as a whole. It is also possible to interrogate what Thrift’s call for methodological innovation implies for analysis and writing up.


*         Building heritage: cultures and sites of architectural conservation (Bronwen Edwards & Ian Strange (Leeds Metropolitan University))


In the last decade we have talked a lot about heritage. Geographers have contributed important knowledge about the complexities of searching for and producing the partial and plural past in contemporary society. This session is concerned with broadening our understanding of the specifically architectural aspects of our ‘cult’ of heritage (Lowental 1998). It will explore the kinds of heritage produced in urban and rural built landscapes, and in buildings ranging from the domestic and social, to the commercial, military and industrial, buildings that are protected and those that are neglected. We are particularly concerned with identifying the contributions geographers can make to the current debate about building conservation policy and practice, for example in the UK context debates surrounding the White Paper Heritage Protection for the 21st Century (2007). The session is also motivated by a desire for geography to engage more confidently with the aesthetics and materiality of design, with surface and fabric as well as space. This involves addressing the problematic, often hidden, role of ‘taste’ and changing historical sensibilities within conservation processes and cultures, and the ways in which theses are narrated and legitimised. This session brings together a collection international case studies by new and established researchers working within geography, planning and architecture. Together they consider built heritage in terms of policy and custodianship; urban renewal and sustainability; networks and communities. 


*         The promise and problematic of Technology: (Re)thinking bodies, spaces and times (Sam Kinsley (University of Bristol) & James Ash (University of Bristol))


Recent geographical research has been haunted by the assumption of the increasingly integral concept of ‘Technology’.  This paper session offers a forum for critical discussion and theorisation of technology.  Further, an opening is suggested to unpick how such theorisations are mobilised in geographical accounts of the world.  Drawing on the ubiquity of technology in everyday life and its manifestation in particular commercial, political and cultural realms it seeks to interrogate how technologies shape times, spaces and bodies, whilst asking what is meant by the term ‘Technology’ itself. As such, this session asks how particular narratives and theorisations of technology are written into accounts of the world and the power and the potential of technology in constituting particular embodied subjects. The session therefore seeks to draw together empirical and theoretical accounts of technology to think through the blurred boundaries between the human and the technical, in both a performative, ontological and discursive sense. The session then welcomes papers on a variety of topics including: •  Technologies as commodities, practices and things •  Critical theorisations of technology itself •  Performativity and technology •  The intersections between biology and technology •  Technology and temporality •  Gender and technology 


*         (Re)Thinking Expertise: Spaces of Production, Performance, & the Politics of Representation (James Porter (King’s College London) & Joseph Hillier 9University College London))


What does it mean to “be” an expert? Although social constructionism has identified similarities between science and other social practices, recently a controversial call for a “Third Wave” of science studies (Collins & Evans, 2002) has drawn attention to the problem of Extension – the infinite regress encountered when looking for techno-scientific advice if we can no-longer tell the difference between expert and lay-knowledge. Expertise has previously been understood to be the unyielding pursuit of authoritative knowledge that is honed through practice and enforced by political and academic institutions. In this sense, the professional identities presented to the outside world are carefully crafted so as to conform and exhibit ideological norms not dissimilar to Merton’s ideals. Such readings, however, arguably present an overly romantic, simplistic, and homogenous rendering of experts and their expertise. What is needed is examination of how experts’ identities are constructed (when and by whom), how they are negotiated between actors and institutions, the historical context in which they are played out, and ultimately how they function (or don’t) instrumentally to serve or suppress certain realities.


*         Matters of Interdisciplinarity: Archaeology meets Geography (Divya Tolia-Kelly  & Richard Hingley (Durham University))


In this session we aim to link to the conference theme ‘Geographies that Matter’ and bring together current interdisciplinary research which bridges the disciplines of Archaeology and Geography as they attend to national heritage and history. In recent geographical research the influence of Anthropology has been significant in the areas of materiality and landscape. Many of our archaeological colleagues are also engaged with a post-processual approach to landscape, monuments, ruins and sites which engage with memory, phenomenology, emotional experience, sensory textures of touch, light and sound as well as making analyses of various antiquarian sites and texts through varied theoretical approaches, including post-structural theory, post-colonial theory, cultural materialism and issues raised through political economy. The session is inspired by the AHRC’s Landscape and Environment programme which is currently funding many interdisciplinary collaborations.  


 For more information on the conference and other excellent sessions that I didn’t have room to mention here please visit: http://www.rgs.org/WhatsOn/ConferencesAndSeminars/Annual+International+Conference/Annual+International+Conference+2008.htm

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