Geography and the New Empirics

The SCGRG’s workshop on Geography and the New Empirics took place on the 20-21st of January 2001, at UCL and the Royal Geographical Society in London.  The event was a great success attracting around 50 participants from Geography, Sociology, Anthropology and Art. The event addressed the changing nature of the empirical in terms of the new forms of data (such as the emotional and the affective) and the new scales of data Geographers deal with. Following workshop discussions, researchers presented their work, and the event’s themes were drawn together and expanded on through a keynote address by Alan Latham, and a panel discussion with Ben Anderson, David Demeritt, Malcolm Fairbrother and Celia Lury.   The event was organised by Chris Bear, Harriet Hawkins, Amanda Rogers, Alex Tan, with help from others on the committee. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to the event’s success. We are currently exploring ways of taking these discussions forward.

Rationale for Event

Recent years have seen a renewed engagement with the empirical, witnessing the emergence of research methods and dissemination activities that critically engage theory and practice in new and exciting ways. These vibrant approaches have included: participatory and action research methods; performative and non-representational work; engaging with more-than-human entities; forms of creative address; as well as interdisciplinary and beyond-the-academy working practices. Yet undertaking this kind of research has, arguably, created a shift in the form and nature of the empirical, leading to a series of challenges surrounding how we make sense of, work with, and write about, these contemporary forms and expanded volumes of qualitative and quantitative data. Re-thinking the empirical is an emerging agenda throughout the social sciences (e.g. Adkins and Lury, 2009) and while similar debates have been played out in geography (e.g. Harvey, 1969; Smith, 1987; McDowell, 1993; Dewsbury, 2003), the range of emerging perspectives has yet to be collectively examined. Whilst these debates necessarily include methodological concerns, they also engage epistemological and ontological questions about what and how we research.

In an intellectual context that celebrates uncertainty, complexity and multiplicity, this workshop engages with the practicalities and demands that these ideas place on the doing and dissemination of research. This workshop aims to bring together post-graduates and early career researchers from across social and cultural geography to engage with ideas of the empirical and to address some of the issues and challenges of research in this contemporary context. The workshop begins on the afternoon of Thursday 20th January with a series of discussion/reading groups. These are designed to allow space for sharing the experiences, practicalities and problems raised by the changing nature of empirical research. The groups are organized around four themes: generating and gathering data in face of excess; experimentality, encounters and ethics; collaborating and distributing expertise; interpretation and the challenge of making sense (further details below). Friday 21st January will compromise a series of paper sessions followed by a panel session. Confirmed panellists include Ben Anderson (Geography, Durham), Kye Askins (Geography, Northumbria), David Demeritt (Geography, King’s College), Malcolm Fairbrother (Geography, Bristol), Alan Latham (Geography, UCL) and Celia Lury (Sociology, Goldsmiths).