RGS-IBG Annual Conference, Edinburgh 2012

Chris Philo welcoming us to Edinburgh for the conference

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few weeks, but events at the Science Museum with the exhibition have had to take precedent. So, you followed my posts about recommendations, but what did I actually go to? Well, I didn’t necessarily follow my own advice.

Day 1

Session 1: ‘Acceptability of low carbon transitioning: Conflict, resistance and (in)security’

These papers centred around those practices, routines, identities and performances individuals and groups inhabit, exhibit and contest when living, working and playing in a low carbon future. There was discussion of typologies – flows of rejection and acceptance of change; questions of responsibility, conflict and controversy; relations between humans and non-humans; accountability and ambivalence; as well as change as embraced, promoted and resisted; plus how people imagine change.

I enjoyed this session. I was interested in the emphasis placed on methodology by these environmental/sustainability geographers –  e.g. participatory action research, exhibitions, mail outs, mixed-method approaches, deliberative workshops, web work. I was also intrigued by Patrick Devine-Wright’s discussion of attachment to place. He talked about the varieties of place attachment, intensity, strength, at home. He drew on Tuan, Relph, as well as environmental psychologists. Once again there was a focus  on typologies – place inherited; place discovered; alienated; relativist; placelessness – in terms of people’s attachments to place, I want to read more of Devine-Wright’s work in this area, particularly since I’ve argued with Kate Leyshon elsewhere about the messy relationships people have with place in the context of climatic change.

Session 2: firstly – ‘Designing out (fear of) crime in urban spaces (1): effectiveness and evidence’

I chose this session because I am working on the geographies of architecture project, however, it wasn’t quite what I expected.  I was really intrigued by the mention of  ‘fear’  in the title as we are working on an emotional geographies of architectural enthusiasm paper. However, this wasn’t the main focus of this session, but I did draw a few interesting points from the papers: the role of factors of the physical environment, versus emotions and other reactions (worry), affective reactions; so the built environment and social factors, the subjective relationship regarded as important as the objective; the role that individuals play in pre-designed environments to reduce fear; whether (un)safe space is socially produced.

Secondly – ‘Community and Transition (1): narratives towards low carbon futures’ …the reason I skipped into this session was to hear a paper by Heather Lovell on the communities involved in forest carbon measurement’. I will announce my bigger interest in this in a future blog 🙂 Heather talked about how we conceptualise communities within sociotechnical transitions – social groups, experts, members share perceptions and jargon, also epistemic communities, professionals, and grassroots innovation – local communities. She also talked about WHO is measuring forest carbon. there are experts using remote sensing science, there are communities on the ground. Are they necessarily in opposition? Are they working together? Should a combination of approaches being used? Heather moved on to ask: ‘where are the niche communities?’ local, place-based, expert, international communities not necessarily working at the same scale. How do they begin to work togehter. Heather got some really interesting questions: 1. talking about forest modelling, well, forest ecologists are another ocmmunity; 2. there is an imperative value things. to measure is to value things, i.e. they become important (need to consider history/context of measurement in the first place); and 3) are these communities of place or communities of practice?

Session 3: Chair’s plenary ‘Security and Insecurity at Home: A Spatial Financial Paradox’ Transactions of the IBG

As predicted I attended the plenary session during lunchtime. This was given by Suzanne Smith. She was a fantastic speaker and I am really pleased I got the chance to listen to her. What interested me most about this session – not only did I learn something about housing, mortgages and equity – was her comment that it was ‘time for blue skies thinking for human geography‘. That we need to think bigger and beyond academia is what I took from it and I think it needed to be said.

As the conference progressed I certainly heard the words ‘experimentation’ and ‘intervention’ in relation to what we do as geographers plenty more times.

Session 4: ‘The role of natural environments in health and wellbeing (1)’

This session was v busy. All seats taken in the room, some of us were in the doorway, the rest sitting by the lifts. So what did I hear about…

An interesting paper on affective responses and memories of encounters with place – therapy of the encounter – healthy, unhealthy, dangerous. The second paper was by Cheryl Willis (Exeter). She talked about how we might capture the intangibles of cultural ecosystem services, ie the goods and services produced by the natural environment. Cheryl suggested surveys (ranking) and interviews, as well as landscape diary about participants thoughts and feelings during the visit. The next two papers considered engagements with the environment and wellbeing in relation to hospital users and children respectively. The final paper was given by Nina Morris on community gardens.

Day 2

Session 1: ‘Chair’s plenary (3): (In)secure peoples’

Oh how I wish more people had attended this session. It contained the very best paper of the whole conference for me. Liz Bondi presented a paper to the title ‘insecure selves/feeling insecurities: a personal account in a psychoanalytic voice’.  I don’t really want to say too much about it on here, because I don’t think I could ever do justice to Liz’s words or emotion. Liz recounted three periods of her life last year when she felt differing emotions – experiences of feeling real and/or deadened. It was wonderful, specifically writing therapeutically and the role/method of autobiography within geography. I had to email Liz to thank her for this paper. She took a risk and it paid off.

Liz Bondi presenting in the Chair’s plenary session. Brilliant stuff.

There were also papers by Pat Noxolo and Louise Waite and Gill Valentine, revealing securityscapes and a politics of compassion.

Session 2: ‘Chair’s plenary (4): (In)secure spaces’

Having thoroughly enjoyed the session on (in)secure peoples, I had to stay on for the session on (in)secure spaces. My new research relates to biosecurity and Kezia Barker’s paper was a brilliant introduction. She considered the boundaries and ways in which biosecurity circulates. Why some boundaries/circulations are good and others bad, why some are securitised and others are not. The productive nature of circulation, where new life is formed as things mix, mingle and join forces. Kezia described the weed as a ‘future immanence in present’ – anticipation of species, unknowable, unpredictable. Particularly interesting was her observation around early-warning systems, how institutions monitor local newspapers for emergent diseases, monitoring signals, sharing and co-opting surveillance in this globalised world (via Google searches, news stories, status updates, tweets).

There were also papers by David Nally on the new geopolitics of food, as well as Alan Ingram on health insecurity (v interesting stuff about more equitable ways of living together, a more anticipatory understanding and alternative rationalities and practices).

Session 3: ‘Chair’s plenary: ‘Environmental (In)securities’ (IGU)’

Simon Dalby gave a great paper, he challenged us: who else if not academics on the earth is going to challenge this stuff? This stuff being environmental change – not just climate change, but the re-making of basic planetary processes. He insisted that all humans are involved in ecological secturity. He said this was big picture stuff and people need to take geography seriously.

Session 4: ****The Geography of Enthusiasm**** and Session 5: Modernist Edinburgh walking tour

I talk about these sessions here.

Day 3

Thursday was a bit of a blur in terms of sessions. In the morning I attend the ‘Civic Geographies‘ exhibition where we showcased our work with The Twentieth Century Society. We didn’t get amazing footfall but I think the other exhibitors certainly challenged what constitute civic geographies, as well as what an exhibition at a geography conference might be. There were representatives from the Occupy movement. We had a fascinating chat – particularly the bit about people donating cake (and other food items).

There was obviously time to socialise with friends

It was a superb conference. I had a great time. I felt energised mentally (if not physically – thanks to a very FULL schedule across the 3 days). I think next year’s conference has a lot to live up to. So far plans include a few sessions at the Science Museum…who fancies it?

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