The following are the sessions sponsored by SCGRG at the RGS-IBG 2023 Annual Conference in London.
Feeling at Home in Non-normative Living Spaces
Organisers: Andrew Power (University of Southampton), Sophie Bowlby (University of Reading)
Presenters: Melanie Nowicki, Katherine Brickell, Ella Harris, Peter Hopkins, Robin Finlay, Matthew Benwell, Josefina Jaureguiberry Mondion, Beverley Clough, Henrietta Zeffert, Beverley Clough, Henrietta Zeffert, Aline Desmas, Janet Bowstead
This session sought to explore the often difficult processes of home-making that people undertake in settings that do not fit with normative home environments. The call for papers for this session generated significant interest, with a wide range of good quality submissions to present papers (19). Following a difficult selection process, we selected nine papers for inclusion as well as a discussant slot to explore cross-cutting themes, led by Andrew Power. The two parts of the session (before and after morning coffee) were very well attended by scholars across SCGRG and beyond, with interesting presentations and debate. The non-normative settings presented in the papers ranged widely and included the dwellings of refugees, homeless people, and temporary residents occupying remittance houses. Each paper focused on the novel home-making practices of their respective residents, albeit often at the margins, including cosplay by autistic young people. One paper covered the feminist legal geographies of home-making, which helped to enhance the conceptual engagement with the topic. We felt that we had hit upon a topic of significance. The methodologies used in the studies that were reported were varied (virtual and face-to-face ethnographies and interviews, conceptual analysis) although not unusual within social and cultural geography. The topic of living in non-normative ‘homes’ is one that clearly brought together the theoretical interests of researchers examining apparently diverse topics. The questions and discussion showed a lively interest in the opportunity for theoretical cross-fertilisation amongst presenters and attendees and an interest in sharing findings and approaches. We hope to facilitate this with some form of publication such as a special issue or book arising from the sessions.
Spaces and Subjects of Impotentiality
Organisers: Vickie Zhang (University of Bristol & Guangzhou University), Thomas Dekeyser (Royal Holloway, University of London), David Bissell (University of Melbourne)
Presenters: Gediminas Lesutis, Paul Harrison, Farai Chipato, Alex Cullen, William Jamieson, Victoria Jones, Vickie Zhang, Merle Matthew Davies, Jonathan Pugh
The first session opened with a brief introduction by the chair, Thomas Dekeyser, who summarised the impulse behind organising the session as the desire to offer a supplementation to, and modest questioning of, the prevalence – in geographical thinking – of ‘potentiality’ and ‘capacity’ as necessarily possible or desirable. In anticipation of the nine presentations, he formulated three modes of impotentiality: a) as an originary ontological status for (certain) being; b) as a collective structure of feeling characteristic of our contemporary political moment of sensed disempowerment; and c) as localised affective experiences. Picking up on the first of these modes, Paul Harrison kicked off the session with a challenge to ‘lively work’ in new materialism and posthumanist thought, proposing impotentiality as a way of avoiding the lure of redeeming existence. Farai Chipato located impotentiality within the ontological status of black subjectivity, and offered thoughts on how one might, methodologically, look towards attending to such spaces of impotentiality. Gediminas Lesutis and Alex Cullen each approached impotentiality as a feeling of incapacity in the face of wider political forces, examining – respectively – the impossibility of redress in Kenyan mega-infrastructures, and the impoverishment of radical climate action.
We were very pleased that the RGS-IBG were able to include a hybrid session, which meant presenters more distantly located could speak. Things kicked off with a pun with William Jamieson’s exploration of the paradoxical omni(m)potence of Singapore’s territorial expansion, refracted through Marxist analogies of growth and accumulation. Merle Davies Matthew incisively critiqued the politics of the hopeful gesture to potential often made in critical scholarship, questioning its politics by identifying its shared characteristics with the more obviously problematic capitalist versions of attunement to potential. Victoria Jones delivered a moving performance presentation on the underperformativity of emotion for furloughed workers in the UK, whilst Jonathan Pugh and Vickie Zhang both spoke to the idea of non-relational subjectivity, albeit through different conceptual traditions – in Caribbean studies and via continental philosophy respectively.
We were inspired to see the different versions of impotence emerging in the papers across the two sessions – from critiques of worlding, liveliness and potential, to impotentiality as incapacity to act, as immobility, futility, affective performance, historical inheritance, misplaced attachment, and more. We thank the presenters for their insightful presentations and look forward to engaging with the potent and forthcoming work being undertaken in the orbit of impotentiality.
Session Summary: “Seasonal Cultures: Elements of Change”
Organisers: Hester Parr (University of Glasgow), Shawn Bodden (University of Glasgow), Hayden Lorimer (University of Edinburgh)
Presenters: Helen Wilson, Michelle Bastian, Shawn Bodden, Rowan Jaines, Maximilian Hepach, Frederick Hubble, Felicia Liu, Pablo Arboleda, Scott Bremer, Caitlin DeSilvey
At this year’s RGS-IBG conference, we hosted two sessions on the theme of Seasonal Cultures. Our interest in seasonality and experiences of seasonal change took on additional significance within the context of the Chair’s theme of Climate Changed Geographies: in a series of terrific presentations, our sessions’ speakers described how learning to live amid disruptions to familiar seasonal rhythms and the emergence of new weather patterns has produced changing social, cultural, emotional and affective geographies of environmental life. A major theme across a number of the presentations was the importance of local and intimate seasons for understanding the changing cultural geographies of climate change. Presenters shared examples of how gardens, apple trees and bird migration can become sites of intimate encounter with the threat of climate change, but also of struggles to read local environments to discover ways to preserve cherished forms of life. A closely linked discussion emphasised the value of understanding seasons as sense-making in the face of disruption, anxiety and feelings of ‘global weirding’. Through rich examples from a range of geographical locations, such as accounts of a new ‘haze season’ in Southeast Asia or Norwegian beekeepers’ modification of seasonal repertoires of practice, presenters addressed ways in which communities interpreted, named and responded to changing patterns of weather and atmosphere. A final major interest was the digital mediation of seasonality. Public perceptions of seasonal patterns and disruptions can be shared through social media platforms, offering insight into experiences of climate change as well as opportunities for innovative, participatory and creative-led research methods. This is also reflected in the development of new forms of popular digital media to simulate seasonal atmospheres, such as Yule Log videos and other ‘ambient’ media. Seasons are not simply times of year we find ourselves in: people watch, learn from, respond and even seek to make them. The Seasonal Cultures sessions suggested new avenues for studying changing experiences of seasonality and opened up a number of key questions about how to learn from those particularly affected by seasonal change—be it through their profession, location, or mental health—and how to build new forms of supportive seasonal life together.
Mapping for a changing world: qualitative, arts-based, participatory methods
Organisers: Heather Miles (University of Manchester), Barbara Brayshay (Royal Holloway, University of London), Mike Duggan (King’s College London)
Presenters: Alice Gorman Eveleigh, Buck-Matthews, Ersilia Verlinghieri, Chiara Chiavaroli, Rachel Andrews, Jina Lee, Heather Miles, Clare Qualmann
The Mapping for a Changing World double session sought to showcase, and consider challenges and further development, of diverse and innovative mapping approaches. Different mapping approaches can focus on contrasting forms of data and knowledges, often simultaneously and as such are an important transdisciplinary method. The mapping approaches are valuable methods for social and cultural geographers to use together, with other geographers and other disciplines, and with other communities, when these collaborators have contrasting practices of knowledge-making. The mapping approaches explored in the sessions included creative arts-based mapping, deep mapping, GIS and qualitative GIS, body mapping, participatory creative mapping and walking approaches.
As such, our presenters and audience came from a range of different backgrounds, including different academic disciplines as well as practitioners outside academia, and from a range of mapping traditions, from GIS to art. The sessions attracted a large number of attendees (around 30) and each presentation, workshop and the end of session discussion prompted many audience questions and contributions. The discussions included the topics of positionality, project and map legacy, and how such projects can shape policy.
The double session provided both presenters’ reflections on using their different mapping methods (Session 1), as well as providing attendees with practical experience in using a creative and a walking method of mapping (Session 2). The creative aspects of the session reflected the recent increased uptake of creative methods in geography and explored the distinctive contribution such methods make to understanding people’s experience of place, space and environmental processes and practices.
The critique of critique: new perspectives on the future of critique
Organisers: Victoria Ridgway (Durham University), Philip Conway (Durham University)
Presenters: Victoria Ridgway, Philip Conway, Mark Jackson, Gediminas Lesutis, Maria Rusca, David Seitz
This session discussed various modalities of critique, the possibilities to do critique otherwise or to let go of critique altogether. Several papers traced brief genealogies of critique, which emphasized its position as a prominent feature of the edification of the Enlightenment and its related subject positions, as well as its conflation with negative modes of interpretation that debunk and reveal. Participants’ engagements with the question of the ‘critique of critique‘ or ‘critique after critique’, mainly varied along the line of the possibility to carry on with critique, and the general critical ethos that supports much of academic work today. While some argued in favour of bettering critique either through more ambivalent, rigorous or ethically informed modes of interpretation, others argued for the subversion of critique through an engagement with more collective and caring modes of knowing. The papers contributed to advancing our understanding of what it means to be critical in cultural and social geography. They specifically engaged with the questions of what doing critique otherwise would look like, and how shifting our understanding of how different modes of criticism are already deployed outside of academia can help us better understand how people relate to the world. Furthermore, the discussion engaged through this session directly spoke to recent debates within cultural geography which question the mobilization of hope and affirmation in critique and politics, by opening this debate for further considerations of what more ambivalent modes of criticism could resemble.
Sounding Elements I & II :Listening to weathers, waters, atmospheres, and Listening across scales, measurements
Organisers: Samuel Hertz (Royal Holloway, University of London), Indira Lemouchi (Royal Holloway, University of London), Sasha Engelmann (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Presenters: Samuel Hertz, Indira Lemouchi, Sasha Engelmann, Nicola Di Croce, Eleni-Ira Panourgia, Carla J. Maier, Ivo Louro, Kat Austen, Kaya Barry, Margarida Mendes, Alex De Little
The two sessions comprising our SCGRG-sponsored block ran successfully—with both sessions having an impressive turnout—and to an enthusiastic and engaged audience. Totalling nine presentations from 11 presenters over the two sessions, the block offered a wide range of experimental responses to concepts of sonic materialism and the elemental, fusing fields such as activism, public policy and data science to artistic responses in the form of architectural installations, field recording and dance film. Researchers and artists framed the ways in which sound offers new perspectives on grappling with changing landscapes, and in particular offered examples of how a sonic elementalism/sonic materialism may function as a geographic method itself.
The common trait shared amongst all presentations in the two sessions was an acknowledgement of sound’s potential to uncover new relationships between the practical effects of anthropogenic climate and environmental change, and the broader cultural and geographic ontological viewpoints that can be derived from participatory and experiential sonic methodologies. The presentations gracefully reinforced each other through a complex and
diverse set of practices, and both shared points of reference as well as shared terminologies suggested a strong conceptual and practical coherence between the previously undiscussed practices among the two sessions. Topics discussed included atmospheric acoustics of traditional Portuguese windmills, to workshops on inter-scalar listening, hacked instruments for listening to water as well as landscapes of drought.
The presenters and the conveners alike were very enthusiastic about each other’s presentations, and there was an immediate conversation following the end of the second session on developing further work in the form of a publication or special issue. The conveners are planning to meet at the end of September to discuss further possibilities and potential avenues within which to continue these exciting and generative conversations.
Indigenous ontologies, decoloniality and the naming of difference
Organisers: Mat Keel (Louisiana State University), Mitch Rose (Aberystwyth University)
Presenters: Emily Hayes, Kate Maclean, Dumisani Moyo, Mariana Reyes, Mitch Rose
The aim of the session was to explore new geographic work on indigenous ontologies. In particular we asked authors to explore the potential paradoxes imminent to the study of ingenious thought – i.e., the problem of acknowledging the radically different thinking of others without falling into the trap of essentialism. This was a theme that came through many (if not all the papers). For example, Emily Hayes’ paper explored Viveiros De Castro’s concept of multinaturalism and its antecedents in 19th century geographical thought. Kate Maclean, meanwhile, focused on the complexities of indigenous political identity, particularly when it intersects with political economies that exclude the experience of indigenous women. Similarly, Mariana Reyes examined two Brazilian museums – the Museum of Tomorrow and the Rio Art Museum – to illustrate the singular and reductive manner that indigeneity is represented within a museum space. In a slightly different vein. Dumisani Moyo, drew upon Mdembe’s notion of ‘necropolitics’ to query the appropriateness of concepts such as ‘indigeneity’ to characterize economic practices that are also exploitative. And Mitch Rose queried the alternative future that is often promised by work on indigenous ontologies, as well as critiqued the overall idea that there can be ‘better’ or ‘worse’ ontologies. All together the papers brought some critical questions to bear on the notion of indigeneity as well as its mobilization in various decolonial practices. Indeed, for many papers, the concept of indigenous ontologies – while useful for engaging how others think – also had the danger of reinforcing the strong ontological divides which are a hallmark of Western conceptions of difference.
More-than-human archives: reflecting on geographers’ archival interventions
Organisers: Lena Ferriday (University of Bristol), Austin Read (University of Bristol)
Lena Ferriday, Austin Read, Jessica Lehman, Catherine Oliver, Merle Patchett, Hayden Lorimer
This panel session on more-than-human archives and geography’s archival interventions prompted a rich and interesting discussion, featuring four mini presentations by each of the panellists where they presented a more-than-human archive that they work with, followed by a wide-ranging discussion involving the audience. The session drew upon and developed several key themes of cultural and social geography, including:
- Corporeality. The presentations and following discussions foregrounded, in multifaceted ways, the presence of raced, gendered and specied bodies in the archive. What emerged through the session was that geographical engagements with the archive are particularly crucial for sensing the fleshy, corporeal more-than-human bodies that both do archival work and are present in the archives.
- Labour. The session focused both on the labour of the archival researcher and the other kinds of labours that make their research possible – in the session we heard about the labour of archivists, oceanographers, chickens, birds of paradise and rocks. This discussion of labour was conceptually rich and theoretically adventurous – for example, prompting musings about whether if a chicken egg is an archive, is a chicken an archivist? What emerged here was that cultural geographic approaches to more-than-human archives, then, are perhaps particularly useful for reflecting both on method – the work it takes to do historical research – and for analytically foregrounding the different forms of more-than-human work that the archive can lead us to.
- Power. The session focused on the importance of taking a critical approach to archives, given that archives and archival work are both always-already saturated with power. We’ve also had been cautioned about taking an overly celebratory approach to “alternative” archives – even creative and insurgent archives have territorialising functions, silences and gaps. What emerged through this session was the importance of not trying to escape silences, instead paying attention to them by foregrounding the patches and the gaps in our knowledges and archival sources. We heard from multiple critical geographies, including affective and postcolonial geographies, but feminist analyses emerged as particularly essential. Feminist fieldwork ethics seems to inform how many social and cultural geographers are approaching the archive, foregrounding awareness of situated knowledges, of strong objectivity that does not fetishize “truth” or authority whilst remaining committed to the integrity of careful research and of notions of care and caregiving.
- Particularity. The session celebrated source-led commitment to materials – including map collections, eggs, and feathers. They also reminded us of the importance of beginning with particular histories rather than abstract ontologies. Each panellist drew on passion, love or some other form of affective connection when present the archive that they work with.
In sum then, the session contributed to social and cultural geography by staging a broad discussion about one of its key methods – archival research – that opened expansive, creative dialogue on some of social and cultural geography’s key concerns, including questions of gender, power, race, affect, humanism, materiality, care, knowledge, and many others.