The RGS-IBG Postgraduate Mid-term conference, Cardiff University 19th – 21st April 2017: A reflective account

Jamie Halliwell, PhD candidate, Manchester Metropolitan University
Website Officer for the SCGRG

Its been a month since the RGS-IBG held its mid-term postgraduate forum which was held between 19th and 21st April. The honour of hosting the event went to Cardiff University and attracted over 100 international postgraduates and early career researchers. For me, this was my first RGS related event which gave me many opportunities to network with other postgraduates, researchers and academics in a relaxed and more intimate atmosphere. I thank the SCGRG for sponsoring my bursary to attend this excellent event.

My PhD Research and conference presentation

On the Friday morning of the conference, I presented my research which explores the construction of identities through Eurovision Song Contest fandom. I presented preliminary findings and data which I had collected through interviews with Eurovision fans at the contest in Vienna in 2015 and through interviews that I conducted over Skype. I also discussed my proposals on how I intend to continue my research. This will involve engaging with digital research methods, such as netnography, and use social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to explore how Eurovision fans engage with the contest on an everyday level and how their identities are constructed through the contest. Fans also create their own fan websites and blogs, which also intersect with social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. This is as a result of the increased use and development of internet and smartphone technologies, which provide fans with greater spatial mobility in interacting with the contest and with other fans. Eurovision fan websites are an interesting research area, as they allow fans to accrue cultural and subcultural capital and assist in creating fan communities. As a member of a fan website, there are many opportunities to attend the Eurovision Song Contest and its spinoff events as a ‘fan journalist’. This involves meeting and greeting with Eurovision artists, interviewing them for fan websites and attending their press conferences. During the main Eurovision event, fan journalists also have access to country rehearsals and they occupy the same backstage spaces (known as the ‘press centre’) with other fan websites and official journalists from country state broadcasters, such as the BBC.

The press centre was the main space where I conducted my interviews in Vienna and one of my key arguments and questions is to deconstruct the contest’s perceived representation as a ‘gay event’, even though it is not constructed as such. Where contest organisers are increasingly acknowledging and producing narratives aimed at a gay audience, gay men that I interviewed explained how it causes internal conflicts with their identities. Some felt that gay narratives through the contest weren’t entirely representative but subjective, making them question their own gay identity. Gay men also identified the difference in atmosphere between the contest and inner city gay clubs. One respondent believed he felt other gay men constructed impressions of the way he dressed and looked. As opposed to Eurovision event spaces as appearing less sexualised and the collective interest in Eurovision helped break the ice when conversing with other fans. Moreover, there was evidence to suggest the negotiation of Eurovision fandom between Facebook and Twitter by heterosexual male fans. Fandom was seen to be restricted to Twitter which provided more freedom to produce Eurovision-related content and engage with other fans, whereas Facebook is seen as a platform where fandom is restricted. Facebook is seen to be used more for everyday social organisation and these fans believed that their families and friends who can view their Facebook profile would not be interested in their Eurovision fandom. This may also suggest a ‘closeting’ of fandom from Facebook, as their heterosexuality maybe challenged, given the common perception of the contest as a gay event.

The Postgraduate mid-term conference, Cardiff University 19th – 21st April 2017

The Glamorgan Building of Cardiff University, where the conference took place
The Glamorgan Building of Cardiff University, where the conference took place

The conference provided ideal opportunities to network with other delegates, academics and RGS-IBG research groups. On arrival, I met up with fellow social and cultural research geographers during the research social before attending the first keynote lecture by Dan Raven-Ellison. A keen guerrilla geographer and face of the National Geographic, he has explored how moving through different spatial environments impacts on his body and stress levels. He is also campaigning to designate London as a the first ‘National Park City’.

The Thursday morning saw another keynote lecture from Professor Mark Jayne of Cardiff University discussing his research into geographies of alcohol and violence and the socio-cultural underpinnings of drinking cultures. These activities were likely to take place on a ‘night out’ in the inner city to attend clubs, drink excessively and engage with binge drinking. Jayne showed the audience clips of these activities, some of which involved drunk working class males performing hyper-masculinity when getting into fights with other drunken males.

The postgraduate presentations took place across the Thursday and the Friday, which ran across parallel sessions. Luckily they all took place within the Glamorgan building within the geography department, so you didn’t have to travel far if you wanted to go to different sessions! Some postgraduates presented their proposals for their PhD research, share their ideas and feedback on their presentation or on how to develop their ideas. As well as the presentations, we also had workshops on a variety of topics; one that I attended was the thesis proofreading by Dr Bertie Dockerill. This was an excellent workshop and gave me insight into the proofreading process, Dr Dockerill was an effervescent and dynamic communicator and definitely perked the audience up! The conference also had a big social media presence which helped to promote everyone’s research and document the conference.

We also were treated to three presentations on Estonia, here’s one of them…!

I was the only postgraduate to represent my university (Manchester Metropolitan), but with all the social events associated with the conference (as well as the conference dinner on the Thursday evening, many of use went for food and drinks after the conference on the Wednesday and Friday!) it was easy to chat and share ideas with other delegates. From attending the American Association of Geographers conference in Boston, USA two weeks previously (which attracts around 4,000 delegates each year), it was nice to come back to the UK for a smaller and intimate conference. The Cardiff University and Postgraduate forum organisers were fantastic, everything ran smoothly and they were always happy to help! I would definitely recommend attending this conference to anyone and I will hopefully be there next year!