Thinking theory

Value is one of the key theoretical concepts my PhD project is based around, given the title ‘Polarising nature-culture: An examination of value in Svalbard’. So, it’s not surprising this slippery little word occupies a lot of my thinking space/ time at the moment. It seems fairly innocent on the surface, we use the word a lot in everyday language: ‘there’s a lot of value in what you are doing there…that’s really good value for money…I value your honesty …’ etc.

This looks like it was a great discussion about value beyond economic growth, or at least growth with less negative impacts… World Economic Forum
When we start thinking about what we mean by the word ‘value’ it becomes apparent that:

  • It is used in a lot of different ways
  • It generally means something positive, of worth, it matters (we often ignore the other end of this scale)
  • It utterly depends on the time, place/space, discipline, practices and processes it is engaged in as to what we mean.

And these factors make it a tricky thing to assess/ examine/ analyse or measure. Measuring and ‘capturing’ value is something on the rise generally in fact, in the culture of austerity most sectors are feeling the pressure, or indeed required to prove and justify their value to the economy, or society more widely (there are some interesting large projects running at the moment in the UK, the Cultural Value Project and Valuing Nature, for example.

Happily, I have found that I am not alone in my mental grapplings with value, even out here in Aberystwyth (!) I recently attended a research seminar here in Aberystwyth, ‘Cultural Values in Wales and Beyond’ that explored and discussed value from a wide range of perspectives that drew people from a diverse range of departments and practice based sectors (Economics, tourism, geography, theatre and performance studies, information studies, heritage, the Arts Council, WWF).


Interesting machine! (photo by Christian Heilmann, Hong Kong 2007)
The following day I continued these cross-disciplinary conversations which branched out to include discussions on valuing nature through ecosystems services (through the work of Sophie Wynne Jones), how this relates to arguments in cultural and heritage values (Gareth Hoskins) looking at values from a psychological and behaviour change perspective(PIRC gave an excellent summary of the work they have been doing in this area with WWF) and began reflecting on values in and the value of higher education. It was an intensely interesting couple of days!

Despite all that, Geography has not had too much to say directly about value in the past. So, I’m really glad that these debates across disciplines and practices are going to continue, and one space in which this will happen is at the RGS-IBG Annual conference in London this year. Myself and Dr Gareth Hoskins are convening a session called ‘Locating Value’, in which we invite contributions that might work towards answering questions such as:

  • How is value produced and reproduced?
  • What roles do (human or non-human) stakeholders and the wider material environments play in value’s generation and reproduction?
  • What effects do value and/or processes of valuation have (for example on place, community, ‘nature’, landscape)?
  • How is value experienced, personally and politically, and what can this tell us?
  • How can the concept of value be usefully applied and theorised?

The deadline for abstracts is coming up (14th February), so if you want to join in, do have a look at the full call for papers and send in an abstract!

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