Recommendations for RGS_IBG #acwri 2012, Day THREE

Oh wow … the conference starts on Tuesday. I still need to pack and write this post about my recommendations for DAY THREE of the conference. Well, as if ‘enthusiasm’ hasn’t monopolised enough of Wednesday afternoon, it is going to do a bit of the same on Thursday.

Sessions 1 and 2: ‘Civic Geographies: securing geography in civic life” – exhibition and panel session are where I will be early morning. My colleagues and I on the architectural enthusiasm project will be setting up our stall at the exhibition and looking forward to hearing how much you love concrete or have a passion for modernist architecture. Or perhaps how much you absolutely can’t stand 20th century buildings.

The full-size banners

This will be followed by a panel session convened by Kye Askins, Ian Cook and Chris Philo – where we will discuss the ‘civic geographies’ – what they describe as:

There will clearly be linkages across to the domains of both participatory and public geographies, and perhaps too activist geographies, as well as across to other (very different) terrains of inquiry into the historical-cultural geographies of/in civic life (eg. Finnegan, 2009; Morin, 2011). The proposal is that there should be a session at Conference which debates the possibilities, prospects and problems for engaging with civic geographies, for ‘securing’ them as a subject-matter worthy of study and indeed as a practice beyond the academy.

When proposing our exhibition stand as part of these sessions, I put the following text together – hopefully it will reveal our motivations for involvement:

In the context of our collaboration with The Twentieth Century Society (c20society), we conceptualise the term ‘civic’ in relation to cultures of enthusiasm, participation and citizenship, whether in groups and societies or individually. The civic geographies revealed through our research so far hint at a ‘civic comportment’ to complete tasks for the public good, creating relationships, knowledges and experiences that are meaningful and productive. Yet, to be ‘civic’ does not necessarily require co-presence, but it does entail motivation and a will to do something ‘well’ or ‘good’ for others. Whilst it is possible to be a member of the c20society for simple ‘delight’, a desire to preserve, campaign, engage or research is often forefront. Civic engagement is a core rationale for the c20society. In their own words: “The Society’s prime objectives are conservation, to protect the buildings and design that characterise the Twentieth Century in Britain, and education, to extend our knowledge and appreciation of them, whether iconic buildings like the Royal Festival Hall or everyday artifacts like the red telephone box”.

It can be easily argued that buildings, place and space are integral to the c20Society, forming the centre of the membership’s attention, enthusiasm and action. Our work with c20society focuses upon their walking tours in the UK, specifically examining the role played by their volunteer guides in articulating, experiencing and interpreting 20th century architecture for interested others. In the context of this exhibition, our work with the c20society offers a useful juxtaposition to more radical and fluid notions of what ‘civic geographies’ entail, for example the Occupy movement. Indeed, our work begins to expose some of the aspects of civic engagement and geographical practice (specifically exploration and field work) that are often overlooked in favour of something ‘cooler’ and ‘trendier’ (we’re thinking here about urban exploration). We argue, there is much to be learnt from amenity societies such as c20society, which form part of a long tradition of preservation in the UK (Samuel 1994). We include here family historians, museum volunteers, local history clubs, metal detectorists, DIY enthusiasts, steam preservation societies and the list goes on and on. Perhaps, they can be described as the ‘invisible hands’ of geographical enquiry. Raphael Samuel calls conservation “one of the major aesthetic and social movements of our time.” Our exhibition will tune in here to work on the public history movement, as well as the value of amenity societies to conservation and civic engagement in light of the Big Society and Localism Act.

There are plenty of other sessions that I’d also like to recommend for Thursday morning. They include: ‘Encountering the City: Sensing the city and The Urban Social‘, ‘Absences 1 and 2‘ (from which I will be absent), ‘Mapping, technologies and (in)securities‘ and finally, but by no means least, a session that has NEVER disappointed: ‘New and Emerging Research in Historical Geography: 1 and 2‘. These PGR and early career researcher sessions are invaluable to the geographic community, often showcasing cutting edge work and plenty of enthusiasm from postgrads who so obviously LOVE what they do.

Session 3:  I won’t surprise you if I tell you I will be at the ‘Progress in Human geography sponsored lecture: In quest of a New Humanism: Embodiment, Experience and Phenomenology as Critical Geography‘. This session, or rather PLENARY, will be of interest, or rather should be of interest to all geographers at the conference, it is an opportunity for the quantitative and qualitative to mingle over a discussion of future trajectories within human geography. If we look back at the list of illustrious speakers who have given the PiHG lecture in the past, we won’t be disappointed.

Session 4: I’m not sure what to go to in the penultimate session – there are a couple of things that caught my eye. The second half of the ‘ Social and Cultural Geographies of Impact session: Answers on a postcard‘ – looks good, ‘impact’ being a buzz word that no geographer can really avoid these days. The other session that sounded quite good fun is: ‘Feet, Hooves and Wheels: Moving through social and physical landscapes‘. I’ve just reviewed two books on ‘railways’ and I’ve spent plenty of time gazing out of the window of a FGW train between Reading and Truro.

Session 5: My first plea is DO NOT GO HOME! There are still 12 sessions to choose from in the final session of the conference. ARGH – energy is flagging – but where to go? Well, I have two sessions lined up for you. The first is the ‘Scottish Geography plenary lecture: The Enlightenment and geographies of cosmopolitanism‘ – well, we’re in the right city for it, plus our friend Professor CWJ Withers is the speaker. The second is really picking up my renewed interest in citizenship so a session with the title: ‘ Citizens, community, professionals: practices of design and planning‘.

Advice: during the conference make your own mind up about what to go and see – sometimes following the crowd isn’t always the best policy. I remember being at the AAG conference in Chicago. Nigel Thrift was speaking and they’d put his session in a tiny room. There was a crowd gathering outside the room, nobody could hear a word, but I suppose they could say, ‘oh I went to the Thrift session’. But what really was gained. If a session is over-crowded or actually your interest is peripheral, take a second look at the programme – often sessions with early career researchers have lots to give. They’ve had more time to work on their paper and they will be taking it very seriously. I’m not saying dismiss big names or popular sessions – just make the conference one you want to attend. Oh and grabbing a cup of tea with friends or even taking an afternoon off is also no bad thing – conference fatigue is a v common complaint.

It is now the end of the conference – I will be in need of a rest – having fun (I mean working) is tiring. If there is time I hope to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia on Friday – it’s less a royal thing and more of a ship thing. You see, I really think there is more work to be done on luxury cruise ship geographies – don’t you agree? Although I doubt anyone is going to fund my auto-ethnographic study of the world cruise.

This is me on the balcony of a cruise ship wrapped in my duvet.

Bon voyage to Edinburgh!

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